29 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 11: Taking Stock

I've been working from the premise that Being just is Becoming. That flux—emergence, growth, decay, and demise—is foundational to everything that is. I've looked at A.N. Whitehead's systematic analysis of Reality and the processes that describe it. In the last few posts, I've considered the notion of Minkowski world lines and its depiction of entities as spacetime travelers.

As I noted, though, this reductionist approach implies both materialism and determinism. And, of course, realism in that it is grounded in the belief that there is some reality out there that can be accurately known and described (even if we can't necessarily do it now given the current state of our knowledge).

I pointed out how Whitehead's notion of feelings (generally, what he calls the processes of prehension and concrescence) leaves room for some degree of self-determination. This is due to the internal, subjective aspects of actual entities.

It is this latter aspect where I am mostly concerned in this series of posts. For it is in this space of feelings (again, in Whitehead's sense) where we should be able to make some sense of consciousness, identity, creativity, and the like—the sorts of things traditional metaphysics and scientistic approaches tend to want to gloss over.

And, what's more, it is in this space where we might be able to make some headway in grounding these "soft" facts in Reality—and not in supernature or transcendence.

So, I'm asking questions such as: How is it that such features as life and consciousness and even self-consciousness and identity can be explained consistently with the known laws of the physical world? How is it conceivable that Life, as we know it, can emerge from rocks and light?

And then I'd like to bring it all closer to home by posing such further questions as: Where am I? Who am I? What, specifically, is the locus of my identity? Is it, say, somewhere behind my eyes? And, who acts when this "I" performs some act such as, say, raising my hand to scratch my nose, reciting a Shakespeare soliloquy, running a marathon, drafting a blogpost, revising my novel, plotting long-term revenge on my enemy?

Stay tuned.

24 March 2013

Pictorial Interlude

Young Wisdomie is home from Honolulu where he is a first-rate Scuba instructor and student at UH. If you're heading there and want to learn to dive, drop me a line (either to my email at the right or in the Comments) and I'll put you in touch with him. He's home for two weeks! There'll be lighter than usual posting.

How it should be: Saturday Morning in Decatur
Now how is Wisdoc s'posed to get any work done
Do you have kitchen help like this?
Something not quite: bridge to nowhere, stairway to nowhere 
Creek bank
Choo-choo cha boogie
Casa H from the woods
Camelias in bloom
Lucky 3-legged frog
Hello Kitty
Laughing Buddha
(as always, click pics to embiggen slide show; scroll over for secret message)

And here's Wisdomie introducing himself to Sasha, our newest family member. That is until Lily gets jealous:

20 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 10, Time Travel: A Thought Experiment

"Vishnu is pictured as the divine dreamer of the world dream. Vishnu sleeps on a great serpent, whose name is Ananta, which means "Endless." The serpent floats on the universal ocean, called the Milky Ocean. ... Vishnu, the God, sleeps, and the activity of his mind stuff creates dreams, and we are all his dream: the world is Vishnu's dream. And just as, in your dreams, all the images that you behold and all the people who appear are really manifestations of your own dreaming power, so are we all manifestations of Vishnu's dreaming power." Joseph Campbell

Here's a thought experiment: Try to imagine you're not a spacetime traveler.

Go ahead. It's hard but not impossible—just ask the ancient Hindus.

To do so, of course, you have to imagine yourself not having a physical dimensional body (a vehicle) existing in (traveling through) spacetime.

Now, imagine further that this non-physical, atemporal You wants to design a vehicle that could withstand the rigors of traveling through (traversing) the entirety (eternity) of spacetime. You fully understand the costs in self-consciousness, identity, and even entity integrity. What do You come up with?

We can infer from the paltry experience of the short-burst of consciousness that we've called our world lines that You would need some form of longitudinally adaptive, evolvingly self-regenerative, multiform becomingness. Some sort of foamy process not unlike Life itself.

What else?
Musics for your meditation:

17 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 9: Is Time Travel Possible? And How Much Does It Cost?

So, how does it feel to be a time traveler?

Not sure? Well, let's recap. While not necessarily theoretically impossible, I've shown that it's damned hard to give a complete answer to the simple question, 'where are you now?' because you're travelling through three-dimensional space at mindbogglingly unbelievable speeds. And that doesn't even account for the time element involved—which itself, many believe, is emergent and thus has its own sort of velocity.

So, you are travelling through this four-dimensional spacetime thing along your own personal world line, the sequential path of personal human events that just is your history and your experience. Logically, of course, you can't reflect on the entirety of your personal history and experience until all the events that make up your world line are complete.

(That's, of course, that Gödelian principle once again, but in a relevant, meaningful sort of way. Am I saying there's no 'meaning' to life? Isn't that the question philosophy is supposed to answer? Well, more like it, philosophy is supposed to help us formulate the right questions and try to imagine what a good answer might look like. And in this instance, from the logical point of view, the question of the 'meaning of life' can only be answered from outside of life, from a 'meta-life' vantage point if you will. I.e., Only after it has been completed can the full meaning of a life (or all lives) be truly reflected upon. From the vantage of death or extinction. In fact, Whitehead's and Hartshorne's theology explicitly address this issue.)

From a purely physics point of view, your world line should be determinate. Predestined, as the theologians might say. Other external spacetime events impact it, other world lines intertwine with it, and other things interact with it, all in theoretically predictable ways given the laws of causality. If, with perfect knowledge we could analyze and identify all those factors, we could pretty much predict or lay out the course of your, or anyone else's, world line. (But we don't have such perfect knowledge, you might object. True. In metaphysics, however, part of the game is to imagine whether there is a possible world in which such knowledge, and thus such an answer, could be had.) This is a materialist, reductionist formulation. And just because your world line might be predictable doesn't mean it has meaning!

Whitehead (arrrggghh! not him again), by contrast, seems to make room for some degree of self-determination. Freedom of the will, as those same theologians might say. And what makes you free according to him? Feelings, nothing more than feelings. (Of course, for Whitehead 'feelings' has a special definition, but, summarily, it's a species of prehension.) Feelings are internal judgments which accept or reject (where possible) these interacting, intertwining, impactful events acting upon you on your world line journey through spacetime. His is an idealist, though non-reductionist materialism.

So, yes. Time travel is not only possible, it is inevitable. You are doing it right now. And now. And now. It is the basis of becoming. It is what becoming is. And becoming is the ground of Reality.

And what is the cost of travelling through spacetime, the cost of becoming? What is the cost of feeling? This is an easy one, readily observable from within our conscious experience: The degradation of the vehicle doing the travelling, i.e., the deterioration of your physical body.

You Must Remember This by Captain Wilberforce on Grooveshark

14 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 8: Where Are We Now?

First of all, I'd like to apologize. This series has gotten a little out of hand. I mean, five long posts on stodgy old A.N. Whitehead's philosophy? Gimme a break. And that little snit I had yesterday? I'm over it. Hope you are too.

Now that's out of the way, I want to take stock. And I promise to keep it short and non-technical—relatively so. So, where are we?

I've been tracing the "adventure of an idea" through history: the history of the idea of flux, or becoming, as the foundation for understanding everything. An archaeology of knowledge, to borrow a term from Michel Foucault. And interestingly, it's come full circle: from a provocative, almost poetic formulation in the fragments of Heraclitus, to its resurrection in the logic and methodologies of Hegel and Marx, to it systematic analysis and presentation in Whitehead's later work. Taking a last-minute detour (because I'm a fiction writer) by applying the general notions of prehension and concrescence to propose a specific theory of fiction.

That's not really a circle, though; it's more like a helix. And that proves instuctive.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, if a metaphysics is to work, it has to account for both rocks and creativity. It can't, like most scientistic, substance-based schemas, bracket inconvenient facts like Life and Consciousness and Thought. Process philosophy claims to give us a unifying paradigm for both inner and outer experience.

So, where are we?

In the early 20th Century, Hermann Minkowski proposed that space and time should not be considered as separate entities, but rather as a four dimensional unity: spacetime. Movement through spacetime could be represented by "world lines".
"...a world line of an object (approximated as a point in space, e.g., a particle or observer) is the sequence of spacetime events corresponding to the history of the object. A world line is a special type of curve in spacetime. ... A world line is a time-like curve in spacetime. Each point of a world line is an event that can be labeled with the time and the spatial position of the object at that time. 
For example, the orbit of the Earth in space is approximately a circle, a three-dimensional (closed) curve in space: the Earth returns every year to the same point in space. However, it arrives there at a different (later) time. The world line of the Earth is helical in spacetime (a curve in a four-dimensional space) and does not return to the same point."
World Line of an Orbital Body
The point being: even if you sit still for a year while the earth revolves around the sun, you don't return to the same place in spacetime.

But, even more, you aren't really sitting still. You only have the illusion of sitting still. The rotational speed of the earth at the equator is over 1,000 mph. It slackens as you approach the poles, but that's beside the point. This rotating rock is travelling around the sun at over 66,000 mph. The sun itself is moving (and taking us earthlings with it) at about 43,000 mph. But even that is relative because the sun and its solar system is orbiting the black hole at the galactic center of the Milky Way at something like 490,000 mph. It's mind boggling. But there's more: the Milky Way and its attendant "local group" cluster is speeding away from the big bang at something like 1.3 million mph.

Vector me that, mathletes!

So, not only are you a verb (or, better, an adverb), you are a time traveller (or, better, a spacetime traveller).

 Changing views of spacetime along the world line of a rapidly accelerating observer. In this animation, the dashed line is the spacetime trajectory ("world line") of a particle. The balls are placed at regular intervals ofproper time along the world line. The solid diagonal lines are the light cones for the observer's current event, and intersect at that event. The small dots are other arbitrary events in the spacetime. For the observer's current instantaneous inertial frame of reference, the vertical direction indicates the time and the horizontal direction indicates distance.
Given that, the question 'where are we now?' seems a silly one.

12 March 2013


Help me, somebody. I'm falling down the rabbit hole of the internets. First it was BDR who linked to this Levi Asher post which pointed me to @FunnyJMCoetzee on the Twooterville. That's like 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back. Not that I'd want it necessarily. I'm just sayin'...

#distractedfromdistractionbydistraction [or something]

But if there were a real FunnyJMCoetzee, he'd be the perfect person to blurb EULOGY [my as yet unpublished (but getting there) novel].

Guarantee: More people will read and comment on this post than that last Whitehead piece articulating what I felt was a fairly coherent (and fairly original iissm) Process Philosophy theory of fiction. It's making me feel like BDR when he goes into DC United mode.

Hell, more people have hit the obscure pop playlist post already than that one. And I put that shit up late last night.

Okay, then, fuck it. More Power Pop:

Love In Stone by The Summer Suns on Grooveshark

Interlude: Feeling (Mostly Obscure) Pop

Random playlist from my iTunes. No significance other than I like to listen to them, especially when I run:

10 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Part 7: Flux and Fictional Narrative

Matter, Life, Consciousness, Emotion, Knowledge, Society, Civilization, Art, the Universe, Reality: For A.N. Whitehead, these are all Processes. Call them Adventures of Becoming. Flux is at their foundation(-s). This is the premise of his Process Philosophy.

Relatedness (or Interdependence) and Interiority (or what he calls Feeling) are its key mechanisms. From quantum entanglement to Minkowski world lines to emotion to linguistic communication, Process Philosophy holds explanatory power. (It isn't just some naive Romantic poetic notion.)

To understand these processes of Becoming—these Adventures—requires more than propositional logic (as, say, Gödel demonstrated w/r/t mathematics).

How do we tell the story of the history of the universe? How do we tell the story of life emerging from cold, dark matter? How do we tell the story of the emergence of consciousness and even self-consciousness and empathy? How do we tell the story of the rise of agricultural? Science? Civilization? Creativity? How do we tell the story of how mass emerges from, say, the Higgs Boson? How do we tell the story of Jack falling in (or out) of love with Jill? How do tell the story of Wally finding meaning in the death of his father? How do we tell the story of an injustice done to Billy? How do we tell the story of Becky's rise and fall?

Each of the narratives we seek to tell takes time to develop. Or, to put it generally, Processes take Time. Time is the ground of Process.

Moreover, each process takes time to recount. Stories take time to be told. Time is also the ground of narrative.

Now we're getting closer to the point of this, admittedly, abstruse series of posts. Or at least one of the points.

Process is the condition of narrative, and narrative is itself a process. Narrative has a certain mimetic power which is not propositional. Rather, it enacts process at the same time as it recounts it. Narrative has the power to represent Reality truthfully.

Truth, however, as A. N. Whitehead points out, is a limited concept, much more so than Beauty:
"...Beauty is a wider, and more fundamental notion than Truth. ... Beauty is the internal conformation of the various items of experience with each other, for the production of maximum effectiveness. Beauty thus concerns the inter-relations of the various components of Reality, and also the inter-relations of the various components of Appearance, and also the relations of Appearance to Reality. Thus any part of experience can be beautiful. ... But Truth has a narrower meaning in two ways. First, Truth, in any important sense, merely concerns the relations of Appearance and Reality. But in the second place the notion of 'conformation' in the case of Truth is narrower than that in the case of Beauty. For the truth-relation requires that the two relata have some factor in common. ... 
"[Yet]...the general importance of Truth for the promotion of Beauty is overwhelming. ...[T]he truth-relation remains the simple, direct mode of realizing Harmony. ... The type of Truth required for the final stretch of Beauty is a discovery and not a recapitulation. The Truth that for such extremity of Beauty is wanted is that truth-relation whereby appearance summons up new resources of feeling from the depths of Reality. It is a Truth of feeling, and not a Truth of verbalization. The relata in Reality must lie below the stale presupposition of verbal thought. The Truth of supreme Beauty lies beyond th dictionary meanings of words." Adventures of Ideas, p. 265-67
Fictional narrative allows us to go (Gö-del?) outside the propositional facts of our lives and create models of meaning. It is an Adventure.

Fiction writing is modelling. Fiction writers create models of selves in the process of becoming. Ideally, these model selves are at hinge points in their fictive lives. Crises. The character is affected by this crisis and must either change or, importantly, decide not to change in some meaningful way as a result.

These models are pictures of the process of becoming as embodied in a realized fictional character. Such change will be a result of both external (social) as well as internal (emotional) factors. This is where the fiction writer's artistry is important.

If we accept the premise that Being just is Becoming, i.e., that the process of growth/change/decay/resistance is the foundational quality of selfhood in human beings, then fiction (at least humanistic fiction) is ideally suited to present us with a model—call it a case study—of this process in all its over-determined detail.

Fictional narratives can create instructive models of the process of becoming, most often and usefully in individual characters at specific, critical points in time. Consistent with Whitehead's systematic (prehension—>concrescence) analysis, such a model must, at a minimum, contain, i.e., depict/portray:
  • (a) an existing subject, 
  • (b) some specific interaction with an Other (character, nature, society), 
  • (c) the subject's perceptions of same (conscious or unconscious), 
  • (d) the subject's emotional state, 
  • (e) the impact on the subject (externally and internally), 
  • (f) the subject's emotional coloring/filtering of the significance of the interaction, 
  • (g) the subject's judgment to accept certain aspects of the interaction and reject others (to the extent such are in the subject's control) into the subject's self-identifying trajectory, 
  • (h) the change in the subject wrought by the interaction, and
  • (i) the effect (external and emotional) of this change on the subject and all his/her future interactions.
This is a Process schema for fictional narrative.

How does this tie in to our Ur-story framework (see Pages in the right column and remember to read from the last post to the first)? That was a look at what I was calling the "Substance" of literature—the coming to consciousness of mortality and the ways to deal, or not, with this fundamental situation. This is, of course, a look at the formal Process.

(to be cont'd)

07 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Part 6(c): More Than a Feeling

For Whitehead, the only way to comprehend Reality is through the rigorous analysis of and abstraction from our own experience. Everything we sense, feel, and, ultimately, know of Reality is necessarily filtered through and limited by our experience. But, at the same time, we are embedded in that same Reality we seek to understand—created by it and, interestingly, creating it in turn. It may be a fair criticism of Whitehead to say that he has a humanistic, or even biological, bias. But that does not get us past the limitations of our own minds.

It is the abstraction element of the above statement that takes Whiteheadian metaphysics out of the subjectivist or solipsistic (or Romantic) mode. Humans are not the only reality, but they participate in Reality. We are not exempt from the world, and every aspect of our experience—including, but not limited to, our spiritual or mental or emotional aspects—must be accounted for in/by the system.

Our subjective experiences are therefore instructive, but naive. They may provide models and even templates for understanding Reality, but those models and templates are always and everywhere subject to correction when they bump up against facts in the real world.

Our scientfic knowledge grows as our consciousness (that is to say our capacity to perceive, which would include such things as telescopes, Large Hadron Colliders, supercomputers, etc.) grows, and our knowledge of ourselves grows as our science develops. That is, as our knowledge confronts and is tested by Reality we gain a deeper sense of who we are.

If Kant's is a critique of pure, or transcendental, reason, Whitehead's is a critique of immanent reason. There is no "pure" stance. Immanent means immersed in the world, part of it, and interconnected with everything in it. Everything in the world "feels" everything else. Feeling is, for Whitehead, the primary mode of experiencing, i.e., processing, the world.

Individuals (actual entites, occasions of experience, events, etc.) are integral parts of the world, and each of them processes (feels) the world uniquely. This is how novelty happens. Creativity is an integral part of the process of universal interaction, its result. And for this reason individuals are never pure, isolated, transcendent.

In some sense, then, (as I mentioned in my previous post) as Buckminster Fuller once proclaimed, if "I seem to be a verb," then what I am is an adverbial process. I filter the Reality I feel through the lens of my own self-generated identity. I process Reality: I feel it (externally I am acted on and internally I self-define), I select out certain aspects and include them in my on-going self-definition, I reject others (some by virtue of their lack of impact or proximity, say), I forget parts of myself and re-self-define, and I emerge a new entity (i.e., a new occasion for further experience). This process repeats until I "satisfy".

Or, as Whitehead says: "how an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is." Process and Reality, Part I, Chapter II, Section II, p.23

Some quotes:
"A feeling—i.e., a positive prehension—is essentially a transition effecting a concrescence. Its complex constitution is analysable into five factors which express what that transition consitss of, and effects. The factors are: (i) the 'subject' which feels, (ii) the 'initial data' which are to be felt, (iii) the 'elimination' in virtue of negative prehensions, (iv) the 'objective datum" which is felt, (v) the 'subjective form' which is how that subject feels that objective datum." PR, Part III, Chapter I, Section II, p. 221
"A feeling is the appropriation of some elements in the universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject." PR, Part III, Chapter I, Section X, p. 231.
"I contend that the notion of mere knowledge is a high abstraction, and that conscious discrimination itself is a variable factor only present in the more elaborate examples of occasions of experience. The basis of experience is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an affective tone originating from things whose relevance is given." Adventures of Ideas (1933), p. 175-76. [btw Adventures is a much easier read than PR, a good place to start your foray into Whitehead.]
"An occasion of experience is an activity, analysable into modes of functioning which jointly constitute its process of becoming." AI, p. 176
"The creativity of the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact. It is the flying dart, of which Lucretius speaks, hurled beyond the bounds of the world." AI, p. 177.
"The creativity is the actualization of potentiality, and the process of actualization is an occasion of experiencing. Thus viewed in abstraction objects are passive, but viewed in conjunction they carry the creativity which drives the world. The process of creation is the form of unity of the Universe." AI, p. 179
"[P]erception is consciousness analysed in respect to those objects selected for this emphasis. Consciousness is the acme of emphasis." AI, p. 180
"Suppose that for some period of time some circumstance of his life has arounsed anger in a man. How does he now know that a quarter of a second ago he was angry? Of course, he remembers it; we all know that. But I am enquiring about this very curious fact of memory, and have chosen an overwhelmingly vivid instance. The mere word 'memory' explains nothing. The first phase in the immediacy of the new occasion is that of the conformation of feelings. The feeling as enjoyed by the past occasion is present in the new occasion as datum felt, with a subjective form conformal to that of the datum. Thus if A be the past occasion, D the datum felt by A with subjective form describable as A angry, then this feeling—namely, A feeling D with subjective form of anger—is initially felt by the new occasion B with the same subjective form of anger. The anger is continuous throughout the successive occasions of experience. This continuity of subjective form is the initial sympathy of B for A. It is the primary ground for the continuity of nautre. 
"Let us elaborate the consideration of the angry man. His anger is the subjective form of his feeling some datum D. A quarter of a second later he is, consciously, or unconsciously, embodying his past as a datum in the present, and maintaining in the present the anger which is a datum from the past. In so far as that feeling has fallen within the illumination of consciousness, he enjoys a non-sensuous perception of the past emotion. He enjoys this emotion both objectively, as belonging to the past, and also formally as continued in the present. This continuation is the continuity of nature." AI, p. 183-84.
"An occasion of experience which includes a human mentality is an extreme instance, at one end of the scale, of those happenings which constitute nature." AI, p. 184.

04 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 6(b)

Alfred North Whitehead's Process and Reality is a notoriously difficult book. Legendarily so.

If you don't know who he is, that's okay. Not many do. Along with Bertrand Russell (from whom this poor blog filched its title), he was the author of the Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913, 1927),  a massive, monumental work that sought to "discover" (that's a problematic word in the philosophy of mathematics, Platonism v. Intuitionism or some such, but that's beside the point) the logical basis, i.e., the foundation, of all maths. That is, they attempted to set out a logically consistent, coherent, and complete set of axioms and rules of operation which could be used to prove all mathematical propositions; the true ones that they're True and the false ones that they're False. If you took a symbolic logic course in college—you know with truth values and truth tables, p's and q's, tautologies, 'and's 'or's 'if-then's and 'not's, formal syntactic propositions, rules of introduction and substitution, and the like, then you dipped your toes in the waters Whitehead and Russell attempted to navigate and circumscribe. In other words, they sought to show through logical proofs how we know that '1 + 1 = 2' is always and everywhere True.

Kurt Gödel subsequently proved that no such system can at once be both consistent and complete, that is to say, mathematics is not reducible to formal logic. To prove every possible statement is either True or False, that is to say there are no contradictions such that some statement is at once both True and False under the axioms and derivation rules presented, one must step outside the system. To prove that the system is complete (in other words that it will generate every possible True statement) likewise requires a statement that cannot be generated by the system. In other words, resort, ultimately, must be made to meta-language, i.e., language about language. The popular book Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979) by Douglas Hofstadter attempted to bring some this esoterica to the intelligent reader.

The move from thinking about the foundation of mathematics to thinking about the foundation of the natural sciences, or metaphysics, was Whitehead's next with Process and Reality. By nature (or at least habit) a systematizer, one would expext Whitehead to analyze the system that properly generates (True) propositions about Reality (i.e., science) in the same way he did mathematics. Listen:
"Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language. Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that, in a physical science, pre-existing appliances are redesigned. It is exactly at this point that the appeal to facts is a difficult operation. This appeal is not solely to the expression of the facts in curent verbal statements. The adequacy of such sentences is the main question at issue. It is true that the general agreement of mankind as to experienced facts is best expressed in language. But the language of literature breakes down precisely at the task of expressing in explicit form the larger generalities—the very generalities which metaphysics seeks to express.
"The point is that every proposition refers to a universe exhibiting some general systematic metaphysical character. ... Thus every proposition proposing a fact must, in its complete analysis, propose the general character of the universe required for that fact. There are no self-sustaining facts, floating in nonentity. ...
"One practical aim of metaphysics is the accurate analysis of propositions; not merely of metaphysical propositions, but of quite ordinary propositions such as 'There is beef for dinner today,' and 'Socrates is mortal.' PR, Chapter I, Section V, p. 11.
Part of the problem, he tells us, has to do with with the nature of our object language (the language we use to describe objects in the real world): its Subject/Predicate structure is essentially misleading. Whitehead has an almost extreme distrust of language, including the propositional form. Propositional form forces on us an inevitable dualism between thought and thing. After Aristotle, there are Beings, or Substances, about which we can posit Attributes, i.e., nouns and adjectives: 'Socrates is mortal,' 'the sky is blue,' 'the mountain is tall,' 'the ship of Theseus is wooden, 'etc.

Essentially, for Whitehead, verbs and adverbs should predominate in our analysis. Privileging Becoming over Being, Process over Substance, is like saying when the sky is blue, it isn't the sky that's central, it's the blue. The point is not a grammatical one or even a scientific one. It's a metaphysical one. The sky when it is blue is not the same sky as it is when it's gray. Like Heraclitus's river, it is never the same sky twice. For Whitehead, everything is a verb, an event, a happening interconnected with every other event or happening, rather than a solitary thing. Here:
"That 'all things flow' is the first vague generalization which the unsystematized, barely analysed, intuition of men has produced. It is the theme of some of the best Hebrew poetry in the Psalms; it appears as one of the first generalizations of Greek philosophy in the form of the saying of Heraclitus; amid the later barbarism of Anglo-Saxon thought it reappears in the story of the sparrow flitting through the banqueting hall of the Northumbrian king*; and in all stages of civilization its recollection lends its pathos to poetry. Without doubt, if we are to go back to that ultimate, integral experience, unwarped by the sophistications of theory, that experience whose elucidation is the final aim of philosophy, the flux of things is one ultimate generalization around which we must weave our philosophical system. 
"At this point we have transformed the phrase, 'all things flow,' into the alternative phrase, 'the flux of things.' In so doing, the notion of the 'flux' has been held up before our thoughts as one primary notion of further analysis. But in the sentence 'all things flow,' there are three words—and we have started by isolating the last word of the three. We move backward to the next word 'things' and ask, What sort of things flow? Finally we reach the first word 'all' and ask, What is the meaning of the 'many' things engaged in this common flux, and in what sense, if any, can the word 'all' refer to a definitely indicated set ofthese many things? 
"The elucidation of meaning involved in the phrase 'all things flow' is one chief task of metaphysics. ... 
"...The other notion dwells on permanences of things." PR, Chapter X, Section 1, p. 208.
Using his own rather abstruse vocabulary, Whitehead refers to 'events' as "actual entities" or "actual occasions". For him, an electron is an event. These are all general terms, of course. In the current state of knowledge, we might posit that the so-called 'god particle', Higgs Boson, is an actual occasion, in fact the limiting event. Differential mass emerges from a nexus of the interactions of these particles. But we might also say that the entire physical universe is likewise an event comprised of a vast multiplicity of other events, all the way down to the Higgs Boson level. For Whitehead, an event or an occasion is the act, or process, of becoming. Each such occasion is unique because it creates something new—something unique emerges—but also because it is formed from a unique nexus of events.

If Aristotle's classic logic ('All men are mortal,' 'Socrates is a man,' hence 'Socrates is mortal.') has been dwarfed, essentially been rendered a footnote by the great analytic logics of Leibniz, Frege, Whitehead and Russell inter alia, then, by a similar token and in similar fashion, Aristotle's classic metaphysics of substance has been superceded by Whiteheadian metaphysics of flux. Yes, you need nouns. But nouns act and are acted upon in reality. One might even say buffetted about. And all nouns are interconnected. It is this process of relating and buffetting that is primary and, thus, should be the primary concern of metaphysics, according to Whitehead.

Leibniz (1646-1716), the first great analytic philosopher (and co-inventor/-discover with Newton of the calculus), anticipated this, to a certain extent, in his Monadology. His monads are solitary individuals whose courses are pre-determined by God. They do what they do and encounter whom or what they will, expressing their "essences" blindly. They are "windowless", helpless to act on behalf of themselves because God, having set them in motion, has created them to exemplify this "best of all possible worlds."

For Whitehead, actual occasions, or events, are at the apex of his ontology. Actual occasions, or events, do what they do and encounter whom or what they will, but they select, to varying extents, how the things they interact with affect them. As Donald Sherburne has pointed out, they are "all window." The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 852.

Pure individuality is an illusion in a Whiteheadian reality, for we (each event) are defined by our relations not only with our environment but with others. In Whitehead's definition, everything "feels" everything else. And, through a process of "selection" (which may or may not be conscious, depending on the event and actual entities involved), each event either takes up into itself or rejects each other event. He calls this process "prehension". Human perception is one, fairly complex form of prehension. But so is photosynthesis. So is the eight ball going into the side pocket upon being struck by the cue ball. Every event is the prehension of other events.

Whitehead, like Leibniz before him, gets into the weeds of theism. For him, God, too, is an actual occasion, an event which prehends the universe (at least in one aspect of the Whiteheadian deity). In fact, a process theology such as Charles Hartshorne's makes a great deal of (philosophical) sense to me (or at least it did when I was in grad school). But, to my mind, a process philosophy does not necessarily require supernature.

(to be cont'd)
*“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.” Venerable Bede (673-735).

01 March 2013

Being v. Becoming, Pt. 6(a)

Historically, Hegelian dialectical systems have met with a certain distaste in Anglo-American philosophy. This is at the root of the great (Phenomenology/Analytic) divide in academic philosophical research programs.

Nonetheless, a great Truth is a great Truth.

On the Analytic side of the divide, we find the first sustained assault on the primacy of the notions of Substance and Being in the work of the mathematical philosopher A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947). His Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929, corrected edition 1978, The Free Press)("PR") is the first to posit a system based on the notion of the experience of Becoming as central to the cosmos, to Reality. Not a bug but the central feature.

He terms his project the 'Philosophy of Organism.' A complete "cosmology [must] construct a system of ideas which brings the aesthetic, moral, and religious interests into relation with those concepts of the world which have their origin in natural science." PR, Preface, xii.

Another way of phrasing it might be: How can a philosophical project grounded in the objective natural sciences account for the rise of consciousness? or, How can a general theory account for the emergence of such features as life, sensation, feeling, consciousness, self-consciousness, experience, abstract thought, morality, creativity, and even religious conception from a world comprising naught but rocks and raw energy in space and time without resort to, e.g., miracles or other forms of divine intervention?

The Kantian tradition (exemplified by the likes of Hegel and Marx and their followers) emphasizes critique of "the objective world as a theoretical construct from purely subjective experience," PR, Preface, xiii. Whitehead believes the work of criticism, philosophically, is complete, but this project needs to be supplemented by a more sustained effort of constructive thought. "[T]he true method of philosohical construction is to frame a scheme of ideas, the best that one can, and unflinchingly to explore the interpretation of experience in terms of that scheme." PR, Preface, xiv. All critical projects are necessarily grounded in some such scheme, he asserts. The work of philosophy is to articulate them, make these explanatory schemes explicit and thus more powerful.

 [to be continued]