“In formal logic a contradiction is the signal of a defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.”

~~~Alfred North Whitehead

Scientists use contradiction to overcome old theories. Especially if you’re part of the old guard whose theory has generated the contradiction, you’re in trouble. Your theory is scuttled. This is the basis of good scientific thinking. Out with the old, and in with the new. But there’s a problem with saying that contradiction is a sign of defeat. E.g., the MARS (Materialistic, Atheistic, Reducitonistic, Sensationistic) scientist may claim, “Oh, sorry, the Mind-Body Problem renders your metaphysics contradictory, thus there is no mind, thus Materialism is true.” However, this boarders on scientific hegemony. Should we use a scientific bat to clobber a metaphysical view? Maybe we should use the contradictions in metaphysics (and in religion and spirituality) as an opportunity, just like scientists do. The scientists of the late 19th century kept coming up with contradictory results. Einstein used those contradictions to, as Whitehead would say, “progress toward a victory.” Once Einstein abandoned the ontology of reality as ultimately “stuff” operating in the vacuum of space, a “stuff” that independently moved through time, suddenly, the other shoe dropped. Once the new view of Special Relativity was put into place in 1905, those anomalous scientific results of the past 30 years made good sense.

In philosophy and theology we have hosts of problems and contradictions. The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Induction, the Mind-Body Problem. The problems pile high into the sky. Why? Because we’re still thinking along the lines of the old metaphysics and the old ontology. How can a non-material mind connect with a material body? It’s a huge contradiction. But Materialists haven’t even digested Einstein’s ideas from 100 years ago. In Process metaphysics we’re talking about using the contradictions to make a radically empirical move into a new metaphysics. We’re dumping Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, matter, materialism, dualism, and moving into something new.

What’s new? Well, our old metaphysics forces us into contradiction and problems. We’re all still addicted to a “metaphysics of things.” Whitehead says that we don’t live in a world of “things.” Materialism is dead. We live in a world of “events.” Spaciotemporal events, to be exact. He called them “Actual Occasions.” Once we realize this, and reject a materialistic/reductionistic metaphysics (which derives from the 16th and 17th centuries, by the way!), then most of the contradictions disappear. When we realize the world is event-driven rather than stuff-driven, the other shoe drops. Take the Mind-Body problem. At the fundamental level, mind and body are already connected because what we call matter is only an abstraction of the more real spaciotemporal events–Actual Occasions. Actual Occasions are the final real “things” of the world, and they have internal and nonlocal connections so that primitive “experience” flows at the basic level of reality. All of reality is nonlocally connected, so there’s no problem with mind and body being connected, given that they’re in the same ontological reality.

Importantly, this destroys the old false dilemmas of subject-object, fact-value, and body-spirit. Thus religion, mysticism, spirituality, and morals and values, may be elevated from the level of “mere subjectivity” to their proper ontological place in our everyday experience. The Subjective becomes the Real, also. Contradictions have helped us move toward a victory.

Materialism, Mechanism, and Evidence

Materialism is inconsistent with the evidence, if we take “materialism” to mean a “mechanistic view of nature.”

A.  What do I mean by a “mechanistic view of nature?”

1–The questionable idea that all causation between real entities (ultimate units of nature) must ONLY be efficient causation (as opposed to final);

2–The questionable idea that what are actually composite entities (humans, rocks, pencils, etc.) are taken to be real and final entities;

3–The questionable idea that there’s only one type of causal relation, and this causal relation is an external relation (as opposed to the view that there are two kinds of causal relations, external and internal);

4–Given 1-3 above, the questionable conclusion that all real entities are devoid of any kind of “experience” or “prehension” or “primitive feeling” or a “receiving data into the constitution” of another entity.  (I.e., the parts of the world are utterly separated from each other at the fundamental level.)

In other words, the entities of materialism are actual, but they’re “vacuous actualities.”  They are totally inert, inactive, dormant, idle, and lifeless.  They are exactly like a rock or a pencil–completely passive–unless they are thrown at something and move it by striking it (purely an external relation, and purely efficient causation).  (Note that the non-materialist or non-mechanistic view (the process philosophical view) DOES NOT espouse that actualities express CONSCIOUSNESS!  Self-awareness and consciousness come 15 billion years later in the form of animal nervous systems.  Self-awareness and consciousness are entirely different from prehension or primitive experience or internal relations.) The paradigm of the mechanistic view, of course, is David Hume’s is mechanistic cosmology (started by the “material” side of Descartes’ ontology).  Hume’s view spawned positivism, behaviorism, and sensate empiricism (and other related worldviews which were picked up by the scientific community starting in the 19th century).

B.  The mechanistic view of nature is inconsistent with the evidence in about a googol different ways.  I will only mention one or two.

First, the mechanistic view provides no logical basis for causation/induction.  We feel that we are causal agents and that thus we cause things.  We also feel that things in the environment cause other things.  Science (induction) is based on this assumption.  There’s a lot of evidence for induction.  But as Hume argued (in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding) on the mechanistic view, causation is impossible.  Further, no one yet has countered Hume’s argument, and in principle it CAN’T be shown to be false–simply put, Hume’s arguments (with his ontological assumptions) were 100% right.  This is why Quine, Ayer, and Putnam have all said that Hume cannot be logically countered, but we just have to “give up” and be logically inconsistent for the time being, because “science works.”  Maybe Hume will be answered some day, they say, but not now.  Also, Colin McGinn has said that the mind-body problem and the problem of causation are “cognitively closed” to humans, where this means there IS a solution, but our brains cannot comprehend the solution.  Indeed, science works, but just not in the way Hume and others think it works!

Second, there are some scientific reasons why mechanism as a worldview isn’t adequate.  The mechanistic view gives no reason why there should be anything like gravitational stresses between purely externally-related actualities (Whitehead argues this in his book “Modes of Thought”).  A corollary is that the flow of time itself makes little sense such that it’s an “accident” (a contingency) rather than being essential (necessary) in relation to actual entities (I think Whitehead argues this on p. 50 of his book “Science and the Modern World,” as well as in “Modes of Thought”); another corollary is that purpose (as well as sentience itself) has no place in the mechanistic cosmological scheme.  One of my favorite quotes from Whitehead (it’s in Function of Reason) is, “Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.”  As David Griffin says, it is hopelessly futile to explain complexities like human experience and behavior purely in terms of a mechanistic view with the locomotions and external relations of vacuous actualities.

BTW, for those who want to dismiss this entire post because they think physics “proves” there’s no such thing as prehensive or experiential action at the most fundamental level, they should realize that physics itself takes no position about the nature of the final actualities of the world.  The current range/scope of scientific investigation cannot (yet) address this question.

Now, of course, if by “materialism” you mean something different than a purely mechanistic worldview, then that’s an entirely different story.  Some people try to argue that materialism can still mean that the ultimate actualities of the universe are internally related, prehensive etc. (especially given evidence in quantum mechanics), but this doesn’t really keep with the spirit of “materialism” does it?  (No pun intended about the “spirit of materialism.”)  Webster’s says materialism is “a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.”  Note that the word “matter” is critical in this definition.

Of course, if one is utterly wedded to the word “matter” they may redefine “matter:”  The argument can be made that matter is ultimately energy, and that energy is ultimately prehensive.  On this definition, energy/matter is not limited to external relations, and is dynamic and internally related to itself.  But nevertheless “matter” (in this sense defined) is still fundamental.  OK, I certainly buy this argument.  It’s essentially Whitehead’s argument; one thing he’s doing is redefining matter.



NORMAL DUALISTIC SITUATION: We normally think of mind and body as different kinds of things. The mind is spiritual and the body is material. Seems simple enough.

PROBLEMS: However, if mind and body are two radically different kinds of things, then this presents a problem. In one guise we call it “The Mind-Body Problem.” How do two utterly different things, one substance and the other spirit, effect each other? A mental decision that we make is a purely mental or spiritual activity. If I decide to eat something sweet, and a moment later I grab a fork and eat half a chocolate cake, then how did that purely mental (non-material, non-physically extended mental event) “cause” my arm to grab the fork, and dig into the cake? The problem is that a decision in my mind or soul doesn’t have anything to “bang up against” in my nervous system or arm. The electrons in my nervous system, which tell my arm’s muscles to move and grab the fork, are material, while my mind or soul, and the “thought,” are non-material. My immaterial mind can’t connect–in any possible way–with my material nervous system and muscles.

Thus it seems that the mind and body are incompatible.

But we do feel–and we do believe–that our minds and bodies interact. How do they interact?

SOLUTIONS: DEMOCRATS vs. REPUBLICANS:  Mind and body are two high level abstractions that are connected by a deeper reality. Here’s an analogy: Mind vs. Body may be like Democrats vs. Republicans. On the surface it seems as if they are incompatible. But there’s a more fundamental reality. The Democrats and the Republicans both tap into a realm of common fundamental values. For example, the value of human life, the value of personal freedom, and the desire to live a good life. It’s similar with mind vs. body. With the advent of electromagnetic theory in the mid-19th century, and General Relativity in 1905, and the quantum mechanics in the 1920’s, Alfred North Whitehead realized that mind and body were connected at a more fundamental level. It became widely known that the supporting basis of matter is energy. But Whitehead doesn’t say that energy connects mind and body. He goes a step further. His speculative claim was that there is something even more primary than energy: at the fundamental level, reality is not spiritual, or energetic, or material stuff. Then what is it? Reality is ultimately a series of spatiotemporal events, or Actual Entities. At the sub-sub quantum level, reality is a flowing process of these spatiotemporal events, each a sort of primitive experiential entity which exists for a fraction of a second, and passes its experience onto the next Actual Entity. Nature is alive! It’s the fundamental level where what we call “matter” and “mind” and “soul” are actually one kind of entity. The spiritual and the material are really different aspects of the one fundamental reality of Actual Entities.

Thus, spirituality (and materiality) are happening right here, right now. But the material realm and the spiritual realm are the same thing. There’s only one reality. Welcome to it!

YOU: Static Stuff or Dynamic Process?

Click for new article by Olav Bryant Smith: The Social Self of Whitehead’s Organic Philosophy

This is a new way of thinking about “a self” and about reality in general:

From the Introduction:  “Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy has commonly become known as process philosophy. Whitehead himself regarded his philosophy as the philosophy of organism. His organic philosophy is understood through various types of process that occur in the becoming of actual organic entities in relationship with one another. Whitehead’s conception of the self is one that provides an alternative foundation for psychology, helps to make sense of personal identity over time amidst a series of changing experiences, and offers a ground for understanding an ethic based on shared bonds between self and world. The mind-body problem is solved in the philosophy of organism, and a ground for understanding the lived body is provided.”

Evidence: Raw sense data?

Troy, nice job on THIS BLOG ENTRY about whether or not to dismiss or evaluate a claim, and if evaluation is merited, then how many resources should be used and to what extent it should be investigated (if at all). You lay out a good approach. Rejecting out of hand illogical claims and non-verifiable anecdotal claims makes good sense. To go into a little more detail: You perspicuously point out, regarding your approach to dismissing or evaluating claims, that there must be “…some sort of evidence obtainable that will meaningfully demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claim.”

First, I submit we take another step back—the interest level of a claim is more important than its truth or falsity. Logicians tend to think that truth/falsity of a claim is paramount, but our experience in the world says otherwise.

Second, exactly what kind of evidence is required? In sensation-based empiricism (Hume’s work is the quintessential example), the only elements admissible as evidence are sense data. However, the sensationist theory of perception and its accompanying epistemology don’t permit causality or induction. Hume’s arguments are clear, cogent, and forceful on this score. However, we have to know that the same process happens today as happened a billion years ago when two hydrogen atoms combine with one oxygen atom (production of water), and on the sensationist epistemology, we can’t know that. Further, it’s more than just causality and induction which are in question. The status of the continuity of time, the status of mathematical objects, and the status of truth itself are also in question on the sensationist ontology (but never mind as there’s plenty of grist for the mill to simply focus on induction and causality!).

A.J. Ayer and others have simply thrown up their hands and say we just have to assume it’s rationally possible to conduct science in the way we’re doing it now, and can’t sit around and wait for the logical problems to be solved! The irrationality coming from such an otherwise amazing mind is—well—mind-blowing. Isn’t there a good REASON that logic dictates major problems on this score?!?!

Anyway, one answer is Whitehead’s theory of perception, which combines Hume’s sensationism with modern science’s view of the human nervous system and its visceral/kinesthetic modes of operation. Thus Whitehead’s theory of perception is holistic and doesn’t succumb to the logical problems of a purely sensationist/empirical theory of perception. Rather than the constituents of reality being hard material stuff which hits our sense organs and activates them in an externally-based sense, reality is actually internally related to itself and data is passed directly through it from moment to moment. As our brains and nervous systems interact with reality there’s a lot more going on than just photons hitting the body and causing (woops—there’s that logical snafu again) reactions on the skin, eardrum, etc.

But therein is the problem for the materialistic, atheistic, reductionistic, sensationistic ontology and accompanying epistemology: The Process ontology explains how real causality and real induction are possible and the exact same set of arguments also show how time, mathematical objects, and universals are real, and how the correspondence theory of truth makes complete sense. And they don’t want to hear about realism.

Talk about Bass-Ackwardness! The process philosophy and theology requires realism, while so-called objective, scientific empiricism has to deal in coherence and pragmatic theories of truth, and has to argue for ultimate relativism and anti-realism! Post-modern science has really gotten itself into a terrible snafu.

However, my guess is as science, especially neuroscience, gets deeper and deeper into the details of the operations of the brain, that the neuroscientists will be among the first to admit that spatiotemporal events which are actually internally related to each other are at the base of reality rather than material stuff. Once there’s scientific energy put in this direction, Whitehead and others will be re-discovered and their work hailed as visionary. (This is for another post, but this is the reason Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and the Existentialists probably won’t experience the same kind of re-discovery, because they didn’t take on science and accept science qua science like Whitehead did.) Aloha

Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?

Troy, you ask the most fabulous questions!  HERE You asked:

“Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?”

I know your question is asking about Objectivity considered as impartial or detached fact, considered apart from Subjectivity as a kind of wishful thinking or bias or partiality.  It’s about clear thinking based on objective evidence as opposed to believing something because, well, you darn well WANT to.  But I can’t resist going a bit deeper and talking about the philosophical basis of Subjectivity vs. Objectivity.  The reason is because, on a deeper level, there is less difference between them than it seems.

Consider a different ontology where subject and object aren’t so distinct (process ontology and its accompanying epistemology).  Some of this is paraphrased from A.N. Whitehead’s “Adventures of Ideas” and “Process and Reality.”

The Cartesian appeal to clarity and distinctness, and accompanying radical split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.  This assumption is based on the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present, and that there’s nothing “real” in the process of the actual perception.  (By “actual perception” means what’s happening at the sub quantum level.)

Whitehead points out if we define ‘perceptions’ as “…experiential functions which arise directly from stimulation of various bodily sense-organs, then the argument ceases…” (AI 178) and he’s willing to accept this definition, but says that while it’s true, it’s only superficial.  That definition of perception relies tacitly on a deeper analysis.  The deeper analysis is that human experience (and perception, and subjects and objects, and everything else) is based on real things called “actual occasions…the final real things of which the world is made up…” A chair or desk is fundamentally actual occasions “…and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far off empty space…” (PR 18).

Objects are linked to subjects and visa-versa, because the only way there can be continuity in nature (such as memory, or even the flow of time) is if at the sub quantum level the constitution of one actual occasion enters into the make-up of the next actual occasion.  Matter/energy has both external AND internal relations with itself.  I.e., because matter “is” energy at a fundamental level, reality is a process of interrelated “drops of experience” pushing their way “into each other” from past, to present, and into the future.  Data is actually passed between them.  Of course, the current ontology thinks about reality like a bunch of pool balls, with bits of matter banging into other bits of matter, primarily enjoying only external relations (and not internal).  But if this is true, there can be no continuity in nature.  (Nor can real causation exist, as Hume argued, and this discontinuity creates a host of other problems for the modern ontology.)

In both PR and AI, Whitehead brilliantly deconstructs Hume’s arguments about causation, and says with ONE TWIST, Hume’s entire argument in Part III of the ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ can be accepted as valid, and Hume’s conclusion can be changed to argue FOR (yes, “for”) causality, not against it!  Why?  Because Hume’s entire set of arguments about ‘custom’ and ‘constant conjunction’ assume that “…one occasion of experience enters into the character of succeeding occasions…” (AI 184).  That’s the one twist.  And it’s really only a variant interpretation of Hume, because Hume’s argument does logically assume it!

I think it’s worth quoting Whitehead (from AI p. 185-6) at length regarding this continuity in nature, because it’s important vis-a-vis Subject and Object.  Remember, this next quote is about occasions of experience in the human brain and nervous system, and he’s talking about memory between events, causality between events, and the flow of time between events:

“The science of physics conceives a natural occasion as a locus of energy… The words electron, proton, photon…matter, empty space, temperature…all point to the fact that physical science recognizes qualitative differences between occasions in respect to the way in which each occasion entertains its energy.  … Energy has recognizable paths through time and space. …  physical energy …must then be conceived as an abstraction from the [fundamental] energy… It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete [and fundamental, at the base of reality] fact from which that abstraction is derivable.”

So he’s saying energy as defined by physics is really based on a more fundamental kind of “energy” at the base of reality (yes, he’s speculating!).  Above I said the “split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.”  So, it’s erroneous to think the person, the subject, is an entirely separate “thing” which resides “in here” and has to connect across an ontological gap somehow–has to connect with the world and with objects “out there.”

Look at neuroscience and quantum mechanics.  We’re finding out that we, as subjects, our way of knowing, actually shapes what can be known.  (This is Kant, sort of, but to comment on the accuracy of that is another story…).  As you pointed out, “perfect objectivity is not possible” and Whitehead would say it’s not possible because any ontology which separates knower and known, that makes knowledge somehow entirely objective, makes no sense.  Going back to what I said above, about “the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present…”  Whitehead would say there’s no such thing as bare, uninterpreted, detached, objective “sense-data” which just floats in from nowhere and is completely disconnected from the knowing subject.  Sense data meet our various bodily organs, and at the sub quantum level enter into and become one with, and are  appropriated by the actual occasions of our bodies, and visa-versa.  Our bodies influence those sense data.  (Again, as we’ve spoke about before, this is why “eye-witness testimony” is the most UNTRUSTWORTHY kind of evidence in court—subject and object can’t be utterly separated.)

Oh, regarding your question, I think Objectivity has a WAY HIGHER priority than mere Subjectivity.  (:


Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #5 (of 10)

I added in a sentence in this explanation which was missing which clarifies the idea of “analyzability:”

Core Doctrine #5: “All enduring individuals are serially ordered societies of momentary ‘occasions of experience’.”   From Griffin, “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 6)

This is how process deals with the issues of efficient and final causality, and freedom vs. determinism.  All things, such as chairs, minds, electrons, and elephants are not actually and fundamentally those things per se, rather they are firstly analyzable into atoms, subatomic particles and quarks, and secondly (actually and fundamentally) they are analyzable into momentary events (occasions of experience), on the most basic level.  Griffin says (p. 6): “…each enduring individual, such as a living cell or a human mind, oscillates between two modes of existence: the subjective mode, in which it exerts final causation or self-determination, and the objective mode, in which is exerts efficient causation upon subsequent events.”

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #4 (of 10):

Core Doctrine #4: “Panexperientialism with organizational duality, [holds that] all true individuals –as distinct from aggregational societies–have at least some iota of experience and spontaneity (self-determination).”  From Griffin, “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 6)

Modern ontology (Cartesianism) claims there are two kinds of actual entities, purely material ones which lack any kind of primitive experience or internal relations.  These are the entities of modern and post-modern science, bits of insentient “stuff” be they matter or energy (and they really all boil down to energy).  The second kind of entities are immaterial “mind stuff” which account for mind and consciousness.  Presumably because they’re immaterial they are internally related to each other, and may even enter “into” each other.  However, this part of the ontology was never developed by anyone; Descartes tried to defend it when people brought up the “mind-body problem” of how the two kinds of actual entities could interact, but Descartes could not articulate a sufficient answer–probably because it’s not logically possible given two distinct kinds of actual entities.

On the process ontology there is only one kind of actual entity, and it has the capability to behave as “matter” as well as “mind.”  We ARE, in fact, sentient beings, so to think sentience irrationally floats in from nowhere, or manifests somehow at the animal level while it exists nowhere else in the universe, makes little sense.  Rather, actual entities are drops of primitive experience, which if enough build up, and are housed in a protective environment such as a body with some type of nervous system, the thing can have what we call sentience or experience.  Note it’s not the sheer numbers of actual entities which matter, but the complexity of their organization, so chairs and rocks and mountains can’t have self awareness, but a cell or a beetle or a person may.  The old ontology requires a miracle because animal consciosuness comes out of nowhere (somehow), but on the process view, a primitive kind of “experience” is inherent in the very nature of the most fundamental structures of the universe (actual entities).

This is NOT, and is very different, from Idealism, from Vitalism, etc.

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #3 (of 10):

Core Doctrine #3:   “Whitehead’s nonsensationist doctrine of perception [holds that] sensory perception is a secondary mode of perception, being derivative from a more fundamental, nonsensory ‘prehension’.”  “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 5)

Unlike the sensationist doctrine of perception (which holds that perception is based only on raw sense data such as light waves and sound waves) , Whitehead’s more robust and true-to-our-experience doctrine allows for:

—Direct perception of religious experience;

—Direct perception of moral norms;

—Direct perception of causality;

—Direct perception of the past;

—Direct perception of the external world.

Core Doctrine of Process Philosophy #2 (of 10):

Core Doctrine #2: ”Hard-Core Commonsense Notions [are] the ultimate test of the adequacy of a philosophical position.”  From: Griffin, David R. “Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism” (p. 5)

Hard-Core Common Sense notions are notions that are presupposed in practice by all human beings. (Not only, e.g., people in the West or the East, but all people.)  To deny one of them violates the law of noncontradiction, because in order to act in the world we must implicitly affirm it, but because our philosophy or epistemology explicitly denies it, there’s a violation of noncontradiction. E.g., Materialistic, Sensationistic Empiricism may deny causality and deny human freedom, however, we all at least intuitively know events cause other events (and we act as if they do), and we all feel our actions are at least partly free.  This is why we find someone guilty in a court of law and put then in jail for the rest of their life for committing a crime–they freely did wrong and are morally responsible for their free actions.  To deny this and say human actions are predetermined by scientific law, or by God, is a violation of Griffin’s Hard Core Common Sense.  This particular example shows that an epistemology which holds human beings are not free (such as some interpretations of materialistic empiricism) is inadequate as a worldview.