The Nature of Reality"The Western world begins by making splits, then drawing boundaries, then solidifying those boundaries," according to anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1978). In his statement, there is a basis for Gestalt considerations about life, the world, and reality. A "Western world" philosopher such as Bateson describes makes a basic assumption that humankind, the world, life itself can be defined by creating lists of characteristics, traits, or objects, each of which is separate and distinct from each of the others. He then creates sets of categories into which the characteristics, traits, or objects may fit, and describes what is real according to these categories.
A philosopher who espouses the Gestalt perspective does not begin an exegesis with sets of objects or categories, but with the assumption that the nature of reality—of life, humankind, and the world—can most profitably be regarded in terms of an ongoing, constantly changing process. There are persons and things; they are recognizable; they exist; they do not exist as static objects or as collections of characteristics. Any aspect of the world is an event, a phenomenon, a performance happening in the immediacy or each moment. These events or happenings are primary phenomena; their primary feature is that they happen and then are gone, transformed by the incoming new elements of the ongoing process.
Objects of which the world seems to consist (such as chairs, cups, books, tools) are processes. First of all, they are combinations of small processes; they consist of molecules, atoms, electrons—moving, shifting, whirling constantly, changing positions. That these minuscule processes cannot be seen without special equipment attests only to the lack of differentiation in the senses. With the help of special equipment, ways have been and are being devised to penetrate and to pass through a supposedly solid "object," with x-rays or lasers, for example.
Viewing these same objects, people, chairs, cups, books, and tools objectively, they may be understood according to their functional processes, their overt ways of participating in events. Chairs are mainly used for sitting, sometimes for alternative activities, but in any event are conceived as part of the process that is going on, and as changed and changing in the process. Cups can contain liquid or solid. Their functions as containers are basic to their existence. Books are read, tools are used in various ways to join, separate, or hold other "things."
A process existence may be recognized in other phenomena. For example, fire is a process of consuming or transforming matter into energy, of producing heat and light. Fire may be described as if it were separate from "things," but, patently it does not exist except as a relation between other processes. It would not proceed without combustible materials such as oxygen. Fire as an observable process is more spectacular than a chair as an observable process, but they are essentially the same with the differences accruing out of their duration, their intensity, and their observable qualities, as well as their physical and chemical makeup.
Sometimes it becomes convenient in a process orientation to note an object as an entity that may exist in its recognizable form. However, in general, Gestalt therapists assume that this condition of existence is not possible. All things exist in relation to some other thing or things and, as long as they do, they are engaged in a process. The process, the relation, defines what and how an object is; thus, the characteristics of "things" as processes constitute their existence; the main features are change, flow, mutability, and "happening."
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