Fantasia: A Process Appreciation
Walt Disney described animation as a voyage of discovery into the realms of color, sound, and motion. The music from Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird inspires such a voyage. And so, we conclude this version of Fantasia with a mythical story of life, death, and renewal. (Angela Lansbury)
Voyages: There are many kinds of voyages: artistic, emotional, scientific, familial, nationalistic, religious. As we undertake these voyages, they become part of who we are. At least this is how Process Philosophers and Buddhists understand things. They say that our very lives are voyages. Imagine a girl growing up. The growing up is part of who she is. Imagine her father aging. The aging is part of who he is. We cannot separate who we are from how we are becoming. We are people, to be sure, but we are also voyages. We are voyagers voyaging, and we change ever so slightly with every voyage.
The Universe: We are not alone in our voyaging. Atoms and molecules, stars and planets, hills and rivers, plants, and animals -- all these beings are acts of becoming. All are voyages. Indeed, says Whitehead, the universe itself is a vast and fathomless network of intersecting voyages: some atomic, some molecular, some stellar, some cellular, some biological, some spiritual. Together they form a vast and infinitely complex network of inter-voyaging. The deepest voyage is God. God is the voyaging Voyager in whom the voyages unfold.
Lures: Animators and other artists are in the business of providing lures for voyaging. Animation takes us on an artistic voyage which, in some circumstances, can also be a religious voyage. The voyage is a religious voyage if it brings us closer to the deep Voyage whose essence is love and who seeks the well-being of all life.
Creativity: In creating their voyages, animators are collaborating with a deeper creativity which is everywhere at once. Whitehead calls it Creativity. Creativity is the production of novelty out of preceding events. Considered creativity is neither "good" nor "evil." The explosion of an atomic bomb is the production of novelty and so is a simple act of kindness in human life. Nevertheless, in these and other activities, moment by moment, something new is coming into existence which, in its particularity, never existed before. There is novelty.
God: God is the ultimate expression of creativity, but not the only expression. An act of cruelty is an instance of creativity, but it is not God. God is like a mother in whose womb the universe unfolds. The living cells in the universe have creativity and so does the mother. She seeks the well-being of the cells inside her womb, but she is not all-powerful. Things can happen inside her womb that even she cannot control.
Callings: They feel her desire for their well-being as an inwardly felt calling, moment by moment, to survive with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand. They are called by the Mother to live and to live well and to live better. And the mother feels what is happening in them, too. After all, they are part of her very body. The cells have creativity of their own which transcends the mother, and the mother has creativity which transcends the cells. They are mutually immanent and mutually transcendent.
Art: The outcomes of the creativity of the universe are manifold: atoms and molecules, stars, and planets, and, on our small planet, plants, and animals. If art is a name for outcomes of creativity, then the whole universe is an evolving collage of different forms of art. The living beings on our planet are themselves forms of art. But they are a special form of art, and perhaps more specifically of dance. Always we are dancing inside our minds and hearts, always there is movement.
Dancing: Our dancing may or may not involve motion. We can sit in one place -- like a cat crouched on a boulder -- and still be moving in our minds. Awareness itself is a form of dancing without movement. One value of modern dance is that is presents subjective states which may dwell within people and other living beings even when they are not moving. If music is what feelings sound like, and colors are what feelings look like, then dancing is how feelings move.
Wildness: Some forms of dancing are delightfully wild. Without a sense of wildness, we cannot play. And without protecting what we call "wild" forms of life, our imaginations sink into oblivion, and we diminish a great deal of value on Earth. In The Unsettling of America Wendell Berry reminds us that it is important to preserve wild places for three reasons. Wild places are invitations to remember our roots in the natural world; wild places provide us with the invaluable experience of leaving something alone; and wild places provide a standard by which we can measure the results, positive and negative, of our use of land.
Kindly Use: Berry is no romantic. He does not think that we can live by wildness alone. He knows that we will inevitably use the natural world around us for human and hopefully humane ends, and his life work is to show how, with help from agriculture and culture, our use can be in his words, kindly use. Thus, we need to have an appreciation for the living and organic quality of all life, including the life of soil. Whitehead would add that we need to have a sense that everything is alive one way or another. Even mountains are alive in their way.
Mechanistic Thinking: Why don't we do this? The problem of modern times is that we have forgotten or lost our capacities to see and feel the natural world as an expression of this vitality. We see living realities as reducible to dead realities: to small bits of inert matter whose behavior is entirely determined by pre-existing conditions and whose actions are products of collisions. These bits of inert matter lack any agency of their own. We forget Whitehead's lesson: that reality is composed on events not lifeless particles, and that all events are happenings with a certain creativity of their own. Every event in the microscopic world is an activity by which many influences are gathered into the unity of a single moment, which adds something new to the universe. There is a perpetual production of novelty even at the submicroscopic realm. There is no dead matter. If creativity is the production of novelty, then there is creativity within the depths of matter.
Atomized Thinking: Another problem is that we so often think in atomistic terms rather than relational terms. Atomistic thinking lies in imagining the universe as composed of self-contained substances which exist all by themselves and then, only as an afterthought, enter into relations with other substances. Sometimes people imagine God this way. They think of God alone in heaven, and then entering into relationship with other things. Sometimes people think of themselves this way. They think of human beings as individuals who have identities and existence apart from their felt relations with other people, the natural world, and God. And sometimes people imagine submicroscopic particles this way. They think of these particles as self-contained atoms -- like the monads described by Leibniz -- which exist apart from being related to other atoms.
Relational Thinking: Whitehead encourages us to think of all realities as relational rather than atomistic. The things of our world emerge out of their relations with other things. As a Buddhist might put it, there are no beings floating in isolation existing all by themselves without any relation to other entities. There are only inter-beings. Descartes should not have said "I think therefore I am." He should have said "We inter-are therefore I am." And he should have added that any given I who emerges out of the fulness of inter-being is influenced, not only by other human beings, but by the body and its movements, by plants and animals, by soil and sun, by dreams and visions from the past, by hopes and dreams for the future. All of these realities are present in each moment of experience forming the objective constitution of the experience itself.
Event Thinking: Never in our lives are we merely one. We are always many, too. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin; we are the many realities, some of which we perceive through our senses, which are being gathered into the unity of our experience in the present moment. In Whitehead's words, we are always the activity of many becoming one. This activity -- the activity of the many becoming one -- is the essence of each and every event. It is what is happening in us all the time, and other animals all the time, in living cells all the time, and in atoms and molecules all the time. Beings are becomings.
Divine Relativity: Whitehead agrees with the Buddhists and sees God as an expression of inter-being, too. He believes that love is one of the defining features of God, and that what makes God "God" is not that God exists alone, but rather that God is most relational reality there is. The philosopher Charles Hartshorne speaks of this as the divine relativity. God is relative in many ways. God is perpetually adapting to each new circumstance in the universe, providing possibilities for creativity -- for the production of novelty -- relative to the circumstances at hand. God is perpetually affected by each new circumstance, "feeling the feelings" or "prehending the prehensions" of
Life, Death, and Renewal: Even the themes are collaborative. Life and death and renewal are not original to human life. They are part of the natural world itself. Some deaths are happy, and some are sad. The animation from Fantasia presents a story of life, death, and renewal that can be interpreted in many ways. Is the fire natural or unnatural? Is it tragic or hopeful? The story is subject to various interpretations, but the intent of the artists is clear. We must live within, not apart from, the creative rhythms of life and death; respectful of the larger web of life; and trustful - so process thinkers will add -- of the divine relativity.