Peter Sjöstedt-H introduces Whitehead’s organic awareness of reality.

4 Replies, 621 Views

Peter Sjöstedt-H introduces Whitehead’s organic awareness of reality.

Quote:For Whitehead the bifurcation of the world into organic and inorganic is also false. Consider descending a line of complexity from Homo sapiens to starfish, to cells, to DNA molecules, to less complex molecules, to atoms, and then to the subatomic. For Whitehead this descent is towards what he calls ‘actual entities’ or ‘actual occasions’, or ‘occasions of experience’, which we might think of as ontologically non-composite events.

Whitehead asserts everything to be organic. As he succinctly puts it: “Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms” (Science and the Modern World, VI, 1925). The in/organic division is then ultimately false, sanctioned by the purported mechanical universe idea, once again resulting from Descartes’ mind/matter split. Most importantly here, to Whitehead, actual entities have a degree of sentience – of awareness, feeling and purpose – as do systems, or ‘societies’ as he names them, that are organically constructed from actual entities. Consciousness as we humans have it is therefore a complex nested system of subordinate sentiences: the redefined ‘organisms’ we traced in the path from Homo sapiens to subatomic particles, each of them being self-organising systems, are also sentient to degrees, according to the integrated complexity involved. Each cell in our body is such an instrument of sentience – instruments which focus their effects in the hall of the skull. Such consciousness requires a human brain because the brain channels together the awarenesses of the subordinate entities. Where actual entities have formed into non-self-organising aggregates – such as doors and windows – there is no unified sentience associated with the aggregate itself – only the myriad lesser sentiences of which the aggregate is composed: the sentiences of the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. Note the implication that although a brain is required for high-level animal-type consciousness, a brain is not required for mere sentience. Analogously, although an orchestra is required for a symphony, an orchestra is not required for a violin solo. Sentience, or experience, already exists as part of reality.

The concept of universal sentience is known as panpsychism, or as it is called with respect to the philosophy of organism, panexperientialism. Although panexperientialism may seem extreme to many of us raised in a post-Cartesian culture, it is arguably the most logical and parsimonious outlook on the nature of reality. The hard problem of how sentience evolutionarily emerged from insentience is resolved by denying the existence of insentience. Sentience has always existed, only its complexity evolved – a change in degree rather than the problematic change in kind.

To support Whitehead’s thinking about this, it may be noted that we have no evidence demonstrating that (so-called) matter is insentient. It may be retorted that we neither have evidence that (most) matter is sentient – a leveling that has no immediate default position. But the panexperientialist position is more parsimonious and able to resolve many traditional problems in the philosophy of mind, and so is the plausible account. It is parsimonious in that it reduces a dualism to a monism: matter and mind are one, that is, the same thing – both terms are merely abstractions from a unified concrete reality. Or we might say, matter is mindful – emotive and creative. This position also eliminates any mysterious causal connections between mind and matter (as seen, for instance in epiphenomenalism), and it fully adopts the causal efficacy of the mind as well as of matter, since they are of the same kind. So-called mechanical causes as such, involving physical force, are but abstractions from the concrete reality that includes the associated mentality. In this respect, Whitehead is akin to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) with his idea of Will as the inner affect of observed external forces, or Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) with his notion of the Will to Power. Wielding Occam’s Razor, in organic realism we directly perceive causality because perception is causality: it’s the flow of so-called ‘external objects’ fusing into, and thereby altering, the subject. This makes David Hume’s ‘Problem of Causality’ – that we do not perceive causality itself – false; and therefore it makes Immanuel Kant’s critical project (that is, his whole later metaphysics) based on Hume’s purported problem of causality redundant. It seems Kant woke from his dogmatic slumber into an axiomatic blunder.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


[-] The following 1 user Likes Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • Oleo
Thanks for that, because Whitehead's ideas are something I have never got to grips with, and that is the clearest description of what he is saying.

However, I guess I disagree with him!

1)        Ordinary chemistry lumps together the organic and the inorganic, even though lectures are usually subdivided into organic and inorganic for practical reasons. I suppose materialists don't treat biology as being fundamentally distinct from organic chemistry either - they have one continuum.

2)        The only difference I see, then, is that Whitehead asserts that there is a bit of sentience all the way down. I guess all this was worked out before QM came along, with its requirement that all electrons are identical (the same for other particles such as protons) - so if electrons feel pain, they all say ouch at the same time - across the universe!

3)         His ideas don't seem to make a lot of sense in connection with NDE's, and other evidence for life after death, because sentience is completely tied to matter. They seem to rationalise the facts in a pre-QM world with no psi phenomena.

Maybe I am missing something!
[-] The following 1 user Likes David001's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
I have to say I'm a little confused. Is the author of the article saying that Whitehead was a panpsychist? If so, ok, but there are things about panpsychism that I don't go with (for similar reasons to those identified by Kastrup) so I guess that Whitehead was not as close to my own thinking as I had previously thought. 

David001's point (1) about materialists treating biology and organic chemistry the same is also confusing to me. Firstly I would have thought that materialists treat biology and ALL chemistry as a continuum (life from non-life, abiogenesis, etc.), not just organic chemistry. Secondly, so does idealism but from a radically different perspective (the continuum is mind).
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
[-] The following 1 user Likes Kamarling's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
(2019-01-20, 05:08 PM)David001 Wrote: Thanks for that, because Whitehead's ideas are something I have never got to grips with, and that is the clearest description of what he is saying.

However, I guess I disagree with him!

1)        Ordinary chemistry lumps together the organic and the inorganic, even though lectures are usually subdivided into organic and inorganic for practical reasons. I suppose materialists don't treat biology as being fundamentally distinct from organic chemistry either - they have one continuum.

2)        The only difference I see, then, is that Whitehead asserts that there is a bit of sentience all the way down. I guess all this was worked out before QM came along, with its requirement that all electrons are identical (the same for other particles such as protons) - so if electrons feel pain, they all say ouch at the same time - across the universe!

3)         His ideas don't seem to make a lot of sense in connection with NDE's, and other evidence for life after death, because sentience is completely tied to matter. They seem to rationalise the facts in a pre-QM world with no psi phenomena.

Maybe I am missing something!

All electrons are identical? I've heard this before but not sure I would agree, could you elaborate?

Regarding NDEs I agree that - AFAIK - Whitehead didn't say much about these things. Eric Weiss, however, has extended Whitehead's metaphysics by combining it w/ the ideas of Sri Aurobindo. This gives us a potential way to relate the spiritual worlds with the mortal one, as well as answer if cells have souls and what it means to have a transphysical person that controls a body made of cells made of atoms...

(2019-01-20, 07:17 PM)Kamarling Wrote: I have to say I'm a little confused. Is the author of the article saying that Whitehead was a panpsychist?

Yeah I think one *could* read him that way but it isn't that simple, one could have a Neutral Monist reading of Whitehead as well given AFAICTell Whitehead is not privileging Mind nor Matter.

So the idea that atoms have a bit of consciousness inside their material form would not be in agreement from Whitehead as I understand him...which admittedly isn't that well.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


[-] The following 1 user Likes Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • Kamarling
(2019-01-20, 11:52 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: All electrons are identical? I've heard this before but not sure I would agree, could you elaborate?
Well the problem is that the Schroedinger equation of QM can be written down for a small system, like a hydrogen atom, or for a much larger system - even the whole universe (solving it would be a different matter of course). 

Now the only acceptable wave-functions are those which change sign if you swap the coordinates of a pair of electrons - any pair! Changing the sign of the wave-function doesn't alter the probabilities at all.

Thus it doesn't really make sense to think of individual distinct electrons - even though people do all the time. It is vital to remember that particles like electrons aren't exactly what we normally mean by particles.

Of course, that is just current physics, and maybe it is somehow misguided, but in any case I don't think pushing the idea of sentience down to actual particles is very useful. Maybe panpsychism kicks in a bit further up in scale (i.e. that there is some new physics operating at a slightly higher scale). My gut feeling is that mixing mystical ideas with physics often doesn't work well. After all, physics is presumably going to have to change a lot to incorporate psi phenomena - so it is technically wrong as it stands!
(This post was last modified: 2019-01-21, 11:13 AM by David001.)
[-] The following 1 user Likes David001's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel

  • View a Printable Version
Forum Jump:


Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)