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.


Tengrain said...

Well, any post that ends with the Feelies is bound to be a winner!



Jim H. said...

Hear hear. If you listen to one song...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

which way to go
Can't Feel My Soul
Can't Let Go

something something snow?

Randal Graves said...

Thank the good devil for Darkthrone, 'cause I always feel stoopid after reading your s-m-r-t posts.

Jim H. said...

Snow? What's that? I live in the ATL. It's 60º here today. I'll be running barefoot. No really. (There are posts about it hereabouts.)

Eddy Current Suppression Ring may be one of my favorite band names evuh, especially in context.

Okay, RG, now I'm getting scared.

Frances Madeson said...

This post made my heart race faster. Honestly I think you should seek syndication for your philosophical series. You break things down so well, you summarize so incisively, and synthesize so entertainingly. A joy to read you!

Jim H. said...

@FM: I'm blushing. Good to hear from you. I expected to turn off and away many from these pages when my thoughts turned to Philosophy. But it's not like people weren't warned: it's right there in my header—"fiction and literature, PHILOSOPHY and theology, politics and law..." I'm still trying to boil A.N.Whitehead down even further (to make it somehow relevant) w/out getting into all the categoreal operations and such. If for no other sake than my own...

Frances Madeson said...

Just keep lining it up to you, Jim. It's working for me!