Process/Mysticism Presentation—Entry for February 01, 2006

BELNET Public Form Presentation:

Modern Mystics Series

“Process Philosophy/Theology and the Mystical Surrender to Divinity

By Aliman Sears

We’re not here to talk about:

  • Eckhart
  • Plotinus
  • St. John of the Cross
  • Teresa
  • Neoplatonism
  • Sufism
  • Kabalah





Alfred North Whitehead said: “The modern world has lost God and is seeking him.” (RM)


Who is Alfred north whitehead?  Taught at Cambridge and Harvard.  Father of Process Philosophy/Theology.  Mathematical & Logical Genius (Published Principia Mathematica with Russell 1913).  Developed a theory of relativity similar to Einstein’s, Understood the details and mathematics of quantum mechanics.  Deep understanding of history, religion, philosophy, science, He put this vast repertoire of experience and wisdom, in his later years, into the first entire metaphysical system since Hegel.


Many Theologians don’t like him because he was too scientific, and embraced a different concept of God; Non-religious Scientists don’t like him because he devised an entire metaphysical system, with God at the center.


I.       By the early 20th century, the scientific worldview was running the whole show.  He wanted a metaphysical system that would explain all human experience (especially religious experience), and he knew he had to re-invent a new ontology (study of being), or a new metaphysics in order to do it.


his basic mantra was:



 He knew that this radically new way of looking at the world would stretch language beyond its capacities….stretch our brains into areas where it was difficult to go:


For purposes of our talk here tonight, we’ll say that he had to change at least two things:


The way we think about MATTER…..

The way we think about GOD……


The doctrine of Matter was that it is dead stuff that robotically obeys Newton’s physical laws.  There’s no:

  • inherent power
  • activity in matter,
  • no internal relations,
  • no “life” in inanimate matter. 
  • A dead rock was just a dead rock—that’s common sense.


Let’s look at the doctrine of Matter:


A.    Mechanistic doctrine—Descartes and Newton:


Descartes and Newton were responsible for starting this MECHANISTIC DOCTRINE, but were not responsible for the resultant mechanistic worldview:


1.     Descartes:


Descartes and Newton didn’t cause the split by themselves.  In fact, they were spiritual and religious people.  Take Descartes: When he was 23 years old, he had intense visions and dreams—he said God sent beings to him and gave him answers to his metaphysical questions.


“Descartes’ overheated mind caught fire and provided answers to tremendous problems that had been taxing him for weeks.  He was possessed by a Genius, and the answers were revealed in a dazzling, unendurable light.  Later, in a state of exhaustion, he went to bed and dreamed three dreams that had been predicted by this Genius (Davis 3).”


Those experiences told him that the entire universe could be based on mathematics, and that geometry, physics, cosmology, and religion could be integrated into one conceptual framework. 


In order to do this, he split the universe into two kinds of substances—“physical substance” (matter) and “mental substance” (mind).


THUS, Matter was split apart from life and was devoid of life.


  • Math and Science were in charge of the physical/matter world, and
  • God and religion was in charge of the world of the mind/spiritual world.


2.     Newton:


Newton split apart the “energy” or “mind” component from matter by saying that his equations about physics only pertained to matter, and that the realm of mind should be the domain of religion.  MATTER WAS ONLY EXTERNALLY RELATED TO ITSELF.  John Cobb says:


“By denuding physical nature of all power of self-motion, [Newton] magnified the power of God.  […] He ridiculed the idea that material bodies at a distance could exercise any influence on each other by any inherent power 


.  The explanation had to be in terms of ‘spiritual forces’ which meant, ultimately, God (Cobb, in Griffin Reenchantment of Science 103).”



 B.    But God, inherent power or activity in matter, internal relations, “life” in matter, got thrown out the window after Descartes and Newton


In the next 100 years or so, the purely mechanistic view became so successful that the notion of God or spirit or mind got discarded.  Newton and Descartes shuttered in their graves.  Humanity had lost sight of a critical part of the world picture.


To be successful, the mechanistic model had to ignore the exact details of the issues of causality, sentience, and effects at a distance.  By ignoring these issues, mechanism was able to quickly advance:


“Newton’s methodology for physics was an overwhelming success.  But the forces which he introduced left Nature still without meaning or value.  In the essence of a material body—in its mass, motion, and shape—there was no reason for the law of gravitation. […] Yet the notion of stresses, as essential connections between bodies, was a fundamental factor in the Newtonian concept of nature (MT 183)”


He’s not BLAMING Newton for not figuring out how and why Gravity works (we’re still trying to figure it out in 2006), he’s only saying that matter is MUCH MORE than Newton’s equations are able to DESCRIBE.


Whitehead will eventually say that given Newton’s equations, and especially given quantum mechanics, that matter is in some sense “Alive.” 


Even given Einsteinian relativity, matter is the same as energy, like ice is the same as water.


It’s more rational to believe that all matter is in some sense sentient, rather than saying that at some point in history, dead, inert, lifeless matter suddenly, somehow, became sentient.


Nature at large has some kind of primitive experience at the quantum level.  Matter is INTERNALLY RELATED to itself across space and time, not just EXTERNALLY RELATED:


At a fundamental level, at the level where Intuition and Wisdom and Creativity and God reside, matter IS EXPERIENCE that undergoes a process of Becoming—it is not a static stuff devoid of experience.


After Newton & Descartes, science divided the world into two parts:


Clear Ideas Misperceptions/Vague Ideas
Distinct Ideas Emotions/Hopes/Fears
Easily Referenced Ideas Complex/Questionable Ideas that don’t fit the paradigm
Objective Ideas Hallucinations/Subjective Ideas*
Order Dilemmas
Scientific Ideas (new ones were even better) Religious Ideas (new ones were VERY bad!)
Pure, Dead, Inert Matter That Only had an EXTERNAL relationship with itself Matter that was somehow “Alive” or had any kind of “Inherent power” or had “Internal Relations”


*Mystics and Holy Persons throughout history were hallucinating and having bizarre experiences.  Moses, Jesus, Muhammad were all hallucinating wildly in the desert at different points in history!  That hallucinatory experience was absolutely REAL.  That doesn’t mean all hallucinations are real, by a long shot.  I work in the field of psychiatry.  But SOME hallucinations are connected to reality and are beneficial and valid experiences.


Half of John Nash’s hallucinatory visions and delusions were real—they won him a Nobel Prize 1994.


EVEN POST-MODERN SCIENCE ITSELF DECLARES THAT MATTER ISN’T SIMPLY INERT, DEAD STUFF:  Consider the overall behavior of sub-atomic particles and quarks:

  • non-locality,
  • virtual particles,
  • quantum coherence effects,
  •  “decision” at the quantum level, etc. (the photonic 2-slit experiment)


Rather, Whitehead held that the most basic, general truth of the universe was that ALL THINGS FLOW (INCLUDING SO-CALLED MATER):


C.    “All things flow via ACTUAL ENTITIES.”  THE UNIVERSE IS PROCESS NOT SUBSTANCE.  Everything in the universe, physical structures, social structures, everything, has this “flowing” PROCESS character.


D.    ACTUAL ENTITIES are the most fundamental “particles” or “occasions of existence” in the universe.  They are the ultimate little “drops of experience” that flow into and out of each other and are all connected to each other.


  • For lack of a better way of saying it, this happens at the sub-sub-sub quantum level.  The most FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL POSSIBLE.


EVERYTHING FLOWS (PROCESS OF CONCRESCENCE) and is composed of Actual Entities:


Sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, cells, macro-bodies, plants, animals, people, social and political systems, religions, business & commerce…


Three step process to this flow or “CONCRESCENCE”:  Past, Present, and Future: 






PAST:  An Actual Entity receives or inherits into itself Energy or Data or Primitive Experience (NOT substance) from the past.  (PREHENSION—IT PREHENDS THE PAST)


PRESENT:  It processes that energy or data, performs a function on it, shapes it, changes it, makes decisions about it, hopefully adds some value to it—CREATES IT INTO SOMETHING.


FUTURE:  It produces that product and packages it, and passes that NEW, CHANGED Data/Energy/Primitive Experience onto the next Actual Entity in the future. 


This process occurs 1000’s of times a second for each A.E.



Whitehead saw this process at every level throughout the entire universe: 


        —Quantum Level;

        —Atomic Level;

        —Cellular/Biological Level;

        —Macroscopic Material Level (level of medium-sized physical objects);

        —Macroscopic Human Level (level of our physical bodies manipulating the environment;

        —Social/Political Level,     ETC……



—-Political Level:  (Always dangerous to talk politics—just generic example):


1.     THE PAST:  The Administration inherits from the past a war in Iraq, healthcare in disarray, Social Security up in the air, etc., (and some good things, too!).

2.     THE PRESENT:  It performs its function on those situations, changes them, shapes them, maybe extricates us from the war, maybe repairs international relations a bit, hopefully adds some value to the process….etc.

3.     THE FUTURE:  It then packages it and passes that situation onto the future Administration.


That Administration then inherits what is now the past, and the process continues….etc.


There’s you sitting on your sofa on Oahu watching CNN and getting hot and bothered about what this new administration is doing…


The Waianae power plant inherits coal from the past, produces electricity in the present, and passes on that electricity into the future…. And it’s received by your motorized fan…


—-Macroscopic Material Level:  A motorized fan:


  1. THE PAST:  The fan inherits into itself electricity from the past

2.     THE PRESENT:  Performs its function of rapidly turning the blades…it adds some value because the moving air is more valuable on a hot day…

3.     THE FUTURE:  The fan passes that moving air into the future, which helps cool you down from being hot under the collar about what you’re seeing on CNN…


You then inherit that cool air from the past, it both relaxes you and gives you energy, you then take that new-found energy and get up and wash the dishes…. The same process continues….



—-Cellular Level:


  1. THE PAST:  A liver cell inherits dirty blood from the past

2.     THE PRESENT:  Performs its function of cleansing the blood by separating only specific molecules and leaving the blood cells completely intact

3.     THE FUTURE:  Passes the waste off in one direction which eventually gets eliminated, and passes the clean blood into the bloodstream to be used in literally millions of different other processes




All Actual Entities are connected to each other.


The data of an actual entity is like an email message where the “Reply” text continually gets forwarded.  Each time data is passed along into the future, new data is added, and the old data is retained.  (Some data may be lost because an Actual Entity may choose, when it is creating in the present, to EXCLUDE certain parts of what it has inherited—but most of the time we retain most aspects of we say and do and decide.)  Each Actual Entity carries alongwith it it’s history.

Or, said a different way, at the level of an Actual Entity, everything is connected.  When that air hits you from the fan and cools you, you receive that data/primitive experience directly from the moving air, the work of the fan motor, the electricity running the fan, the power generators at Waianae, the coal used to power them, and the miners that minded that coal.  This is why we are all connected to the recent coalminer tragedy—at the metaphysical level they lost their lives for our sake. 

This is why in Buddhism, it is your responsibility to work until all sentient beings are enlightened, because you are connected to them.  More than that, you ARE THEM:  Consider family ties: Actual Entities in the bodies of your grandparents ARE the very stuff of your grandparents life, memories, experiences, etc.  That genetic material from your grandparents is the ACTUAL ENTITIES that make up the bodies of your parents.  So, your parents are practically the same as your grandparents.  The same relationship holds between your parents and you.  (And between you and your grandparents—you are as close to your grandparents as you are to your OWN ARM.  Since we are all one big human family, we’re intimately connected throughout space and time.


If all matter is in some sense “Alive” we are in principle one with our environment and with each other.  The only difference between the Actual Entities in by body and this table is that I’m more complex.  I’m connected directly to you, at the level of the actual entity.  We’re all woven directly into the fabric of reality.



II.     the second major fundamental assumption of Western History: The Incoherence of the Doctrine of God. (God as Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibeneficent, infinite, all-controlling, atemporal, changeless, and Transcendent.)


The notion of God in current theology (called traditional theism) is an incoherent mixture of the Ancient and Middle Age notions (otherwise known as the Medieval Synthesis).


IMMANENCE WAS GOOD:  Aquinas, Augustine, et al., inherited Platonic concepts of God, and inserted a doctrine of Divine Immanence: the immanence of God in the person of Christ, and the immanence of God in the world in general (Holy Spirit). 


BUT TRANSCENDENCE ISN’T:  But then they turned around and made the irrational decision to place God wholly outside the metaphysical categories used to conceptualize the world.  They borrowed the isolated and remote notion of God from Aristotle (his Prime Mover).


“[God was the] one absolute, omnipotent, omniscient source of all being, for his own existence requiring no relations to anything beyond himself. …God was necessary to the world, but the world was not necessary to God.  (AI 169).”


Again, Humanity needs God, but God does not need Humanity. 


These are the kinds of problems that the Medieval Synthesis causes—God is infinite, transcendent, and atemporal, yet we are finite, immanent, and temporal.  Two such beings cannot be in a personal relationship.




If someone objects, “Free Will Theism”—God is omnipotent b/c essentially has all the power, but voluntarily gives power to creatures so they can learn and grow spiritually through suffering—so they can chose the right thing.


Griffin’s 10 reasons that make God’s goodness questionable given Free-Will Theism (FWT):  1. Can a carcinogenic and holocaust universe be the product of an all-Good God—the universe could have been similar to ours without having the capacity to produce cancerous cells and nuclear weapons. (Like giving a gun to a kid “so he can learn to make good decisions and cooperate, and if he misuses the gun he’ll learn and grow from the suffering.”)  2.  Much of the suffering in the world leads to poverty, hunger, crime, war, rather than to industry and cooperation and learning and growing.  (BUT, counter-argument is: true, there are injustices, but God will make it right in the afterlife—God will sort it out in the afterlife.  BUT, counter-counter arguments: “Sorting it all out in the afterlife” means you must believe in an afterlife. b) “Sorting it all out in the afterlife” drains the here-and-now of purpose. c) “Sorting it all out in the afterlife” means that God can’t get it right in the first place—why not just sort it all out NOW?  Certainly God is not incompetent.  3.  If humans had no freedom to go against God’s will (like we do on FWT), then we would enjoy far more personal, social, and political freedom than we do now (i.e., than we do under FWT).  4. If we help eliminate a person’s suffering, we are talking away their possibility of growth—we’re undermining God’s purposes.  5. What about the suffering of innocent animals? Do spiders and mice suffer to learn and grow spiritually?  Also, if God gives freedom to human beings so they can make bad decisions and grow/learn from them, what about natural evils (hurricane Katrina, etc.)?  6.  FWT may deny that genuine evil exists.  But it’s implausible to hold that a man walking into a 7-11 and blowing the head off the pregnant clerk to get money to buy a plasma TV really isn’t evil.  Especially if that clerk is your daughter.


III.   Whitehead holds that the only kind of God that can be both temporal and atemporal, and still conform to God as given in the scriptures and other holy books, is a dipolar God:


A.                      God as dipolar: 


1.     God has a temporal/finite and thus worldly aspect (called the Consequent Nature of God) which relates to the world and has


  • personal relations with creatures.  The Consequent Nature is in a sense conscious, so it can interface with conscious beings such as us. 


2.     God also has an atemporal/infinite aspect (called the Primordial Nature of God) which

  • relates to the Eternal/Potential realm, and is not conscious and so this aspect of God cannot dialogue with conscious creatures. 


3.     The Primordial Nature surveys the realm of infinite possibilities, and provides the best possible action for each creature. 


4.     The Consequent nature prehends those results—weaves them into and provides those results, via the Divine Lure, to the actual entity in the midst of concrescence—this is God’s loving guidance.




  1. Not omnipotent:

God does not possess all the power & truly gives actual power and actual freedom to creatures who CO-CREATE reality with God.


  1. God persuades rather than controls:

Consider the message of Jesus: one of humility, suffering, peace, and love, but couched within and balanced with power:


“The life of Christ is not an exhibition of over-ruling power.  Its glory is for those who can discern it, and not for the world.  Its power lies in its absence of force. (RM 57).”


A CEO Persuades, doesn’t “do” the work (efficient cause)

Persuasive Power is fundamentally the most powerful kind of power.


  1. God provides Divine Lure to each actual entity at the metaphysical level

God provides the “Initial Aim” or “Divine Aim” in the process of concrescence for each Actual Entity—God is continually guiding us billions of times each second.


“Cleave the wood and I am there.”







We can follow the Divine Lure, which is felt in Religious Intuition, via the body.


The mystic surrenders to the will of God, and suspends belief and disbelief.  You don’t surrender to God to GET something or for a specific reason.  You surrender and bracket the operations of your mind.  You’re simultaneously open to those bodily feelings that are continually arising via the Divine Lure.  With some grace, that connection to a deeper reality may arise.  These are raptures, epiphanies, ecstasies, etc. 


Objections about Primordial Nature=Classical God and Consequent Nature=Jesus or Holy Spirit.


A) Jesus only an example, in terms of a human walking the earth—we have a relationship with the Consequent Nature of God, but no one has a relationship with Jesus.  Relationship with Christ, yes, but then Christ occupies the same metaphysical position as God and the Holy Spirit.  THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS for Classical Theism:  Does any person of the Trinity LACK something and need creatures?  No.  Does God require anything beyond Godself?  No.  In terms of being infinite, atemporal, and transcendent, is God unconscious?  No.  Is God truly NOT omnipotent in that God does not possess all the power & truly gives actual power and actual freedom to creatures who CO-CREATE with God?  No.  SO, ON WHITEHEAD’S VIEW, THE CLASSICAL GOD REALLY CAN’T FULFILL WHAT SCRIPTURE SAYS.

Philosophers can never hope finally to formulate these metaphysical first principles.  Weakness of insight and deficiencies of language stand in the way…Words and phrases must be stretched…and they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap (PR 4).