A wave travelling through water is not an object - it is a process. The water it flows through is affected by the energy of the wave, causing it to move up and down, but it doesn’t move along with the wave. If you place a rubber duck, for example, in the path of the wave, it is not swept along with it – it merely rises and falls as the energy wave passes under it. When the wave hits the beach, the water crashes and some of it surges up the sand or pebbles, only to retreat again once the energy has dissipated, not having actually travelled very far.
A flame, likewise is not an object, but a process. We can follow it as it burns down the candle, or even from one candle to another, but it is not a solid, enduring thing. It is a process that moves the atoms around it from one state to another. What makes up the actual fire changes by the moment.
Over a longer time span, it is possible for a ship to have a different plank changed every time it comes into port until there is no longer a single piece of wood remaining from the original construction. We see it as the same ship, as an enduring object, and yet it could easily be said that the ship is a process too, not unlike the wave or the flame. The only difference is the time scale.
In fact, if we had a time-lapse camera sequence long enough, we would see that even mountains, planets and stars are also processes. They rise and fall, are built and consumed, are created and dissipated and the atoms that make them up are constantly changing.
And of course, we are no different.
To think of ourselves as unchanging and permanent is a misconception in the same way as thinking a wave, a table, a mountain or a star is. We only appear to be an object because of the timescale in which we view ourselves. But we are a process as much as a wave or a flame. The cells of our bodies are constantly dying off and renewing. It is reckoned 98% of our cells are replaced at least every year.
I might think I am more or less the same person as I was last year – a little older, a little heavier, a little greyer, but essentially still me – and yet only 2% of me is the same as the person who wrote about photographing The Sex Pistols Experience tribute band 12 months ago.
We are like the wave travelling across the ocean. Even though the atoms that make up the wave change from moment to moment, the energy has a momentum that keeps it moving in a direction until eventually it runs out of steam, or hits something and is dispersed. But while it is moving, it creates the illusion of being an object.
The only real difference is we have gained self-awareness, even if we often mistake what it is we are aware of – falling for the illusion of permanence.