Jeremy W. Hayward

Process philosophy was first proposed by that great English gentleman, mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, fifty years ago. Whitehead takes great care to show process philosophy to be a natural outcome of the Western tradition and to provide solutions to many of the seemingly intractable problems that had arisen in that tradition. It arises as a criticism of Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and Descartes, especially, but goes all the way back to find its roots in Plato and Aristotle. Whitehead himself is regarded by many as the greatest Western philosopher since Plato.(1)

Yet, in spite of Whitehead's demonstration that process philosophy is not antagonistic to the Western tradition, it nevertheless makes a profound break with this tradition. It is essentially a non dualistic philosophy in which the disastrous dualism between "mind" and "matter," "subject" and "object" is avoided at the foundation. There is therefore in process philosophy a very strong similarity to Buddhist doctrine, and it has in fact provided an important bridge between Buddhist and Christian as well as between scientific and Christian viewpoints.(2) We will particularly be discovering (in Chapter 15) a very close parallel between Whitehead's analysis of perception and that of the Buddhist Vajrayana tradition based on meditation experience. This parallel is all the more surprising since Whitehead does not speak explicitly of how he came across his understanding of process in perception, and he seems to have very little knowledge of the Buddhist tradition. Nevertheless, the quality and genuineness of his writing are such that one feels sure that he had direct experience of it rather than merely some theoretical acquaintance. Process philosophy is important for our discussion in that it provides the necessary link between the deeper understanding of perception that we are discussing and the abstraction and objectification of the scientific view. It is important also in that it demonstrates that the view of perception described in the Vajrayana tradition is not dependent on Buddhist doctrine as such. It is, rather, a cross-cultural discovery based purely on precise observation and analysis of the body/mind process.

Whitehead was trained as a mathematician and, at the age of fifty, he published with Bertrand Russell the revolutionary Principia Mathematica, an extensive and ground-breaking enquiry into the foundation of mathematics and logic. He then became dean of science at University College, London, and entered a very practical period of concern for education and educational administration, while continuing his work in mathematics. In 1924, at the age of sixty-three, he took up an appointment at Harvard University and lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until the end of his life. It was during this last period of his life that he developed the view of life known as "process philosophy." He appears to have been a very gentle and compassionate man as well as having extraordinary breadth of intellect.(3) This comes out very clearly in all his writings and his philosophy. Here is a description of him by Victor Lowe in Understanding Whitehead:

"I cannot describe his face or recall any printed photograph or sketch that does justice to it. I can only confirm what Edmund Wilson wrote when he introduced Whitehead (as "Professor Grosebeake") into his early novel, I Thought of Daisy: that when you looked at him you felt that you were seeing a real face, in comparison with which others looked like mere masks. The general impression given by Whitehead's presence, I should say, was one of kindness, wisdom, and a perfectly disciplined vigor. Both his conversation and his writings showed a wonderful combination of urbanity and zest, rather like the tone of Plato's dialogues. He loved to follow the minds of young people, and when you came to him to talk about his philosophy, the meeting always began with the eager question, 'Tell me what you've been doing.' "

I will give a brief, summary overview of the main points of process philosophy which we will be interested in, and then we will go into each point more thoroughly. Whitehead regarded space, time, and matter as high-level abstractions from the immediacy of our felt experience. To mistake such abstractions as elements of concrete reality is to commit what Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." Whitehead takes as primary the "unity of the perceptual field," which is "what it claims to be: the self- knowledge of our bodily events."(4)

Such actual bodily events are moments of experience of finite duration, in which aspects of all immediately preceding events (the past) are "grasped into a unity." This grasping into a unity of aspects of the immediate past is at the level of "prehension" or feelings rather than conscious perception. The final occurrence of the unity of the felt moment is the emergence of value in the world.

Whitehead describes "all that is" as consisting of:

1. Actual entities, i.e., finite moments of experience.

2. Potentialities (which he also calls "eternal objects"), which constitute both what is and what is not but might have been. Each actual entity varies in the degree of inclusion in it of the potentialities. For example, a perception of a leaf might include" green" or "yellow."

3. The primordial nature of "God," which is an actual entity with a special status. The primordial nature is the unconditioned envisagement of the entire multiplicity of potentialities.

4. The consequent nature of "God," which is "the realization of the entire actual world in the unity of its nature."

5. A principle of creativity: each actual entity is self-created although it receives its lure and goal for self-creation, its aim toward satisfaction, from the primordial nature. Each actual entity aims for "satisfaction" or completeness, which is a relative grasping into a unity of feelings received from all the actual entities of its past. This the process of creativity. When a given, actual entity achieves satisfaction as a "subject," it passes over to being "object" in the immediate past for the next actual entity.

Enduring objects, such as electrons or the individuality of persons, are due to repeating patterns of potentialities included in particular series of actual entities or "societies" of actual entities that prehend each other. If there is little or no novelty entering into such a series, it constitutes a physical object. The degree to which a series is "living" is the degree to which novel potentialities can enter.

I might add a brief note, at this point, concerning the apparent conflict between Whitehead's view that the "atoms" of reality are moments of experience and Bateson's view that there are no atomic minds and that to attribute "consciousness" to electrons is fallacious. Bateson appeared to believe that Whitehead was attributing "consciousness" to electrons, and that therefore they were in fundamental disagreement. Leaving aside the question of "consciousness," we seem to have two different levels of analysis here. Bateson is suggesting that at the level of ordinary perceiving and thinking, we Whitehead says, characterizing this traditional view, "Such an account of the ultimate atom, or of the ultimate monads, renders an interconnected world of real individuals unintelligible. The universe is shivered into a multitude of disconnected substantial things, each thing in its own way exemplifying its private bundle of abstract characters which have found a home in its own substantial individuality. But substantial thing cannot call unto substantial thing."(5) That is to say, if an object is essentially unchanging, it can have no real relationship with another such object. We have, of course, met with this issue before in our discussion of the role of language in forcing particular categories on our perception. We should remember that Whitehead was writing in the 1920s and 1930s, when language philosophy was in its infancy.

Whitehead's style of presenting his philosophy, reflecting his sense of process and interconnectedness, was more spiral or web-like than linear. Terms are introduced early and their meanings gradually built up through continual redefinition and cross-reference. Whitehead himself was extremely precise in his use of words, but in order to understand him precisely it is almost necessary to know the whole of what he is saying before one begins.

Whitehead wished to bring together within a single vision certain views of the world that had traditionally been regarded as somehow in opposition: permanence and change, continuity and discontinuity, many and one, matter and mind, subject and object, immanence and transcendence, the world and God. In particular, Whitehead criticized the "enduring object with changing qualities" mode of describing reality, the "elementary particle" mode, which he regarded as high abstraction from our immediate experience which is experience of process or change. And it is entirely fallacious to try to analyze change further into "elementary" objects that do not change. The tradition erred when it assumed that "process can be analyzed into composition of final realities, themselves devoid of process." The question for Whitehead then becomes not how to explain change in a world of unchanging things, but how to understand enduring patterns in a world of process.

There is another side to this question of change and permanence, which also comes from a fallacy derived from our uncritical observation of everyday life. This is the assumption that change is continuous. We see a bird fly, a person gradually become older, our thoughts flowing like a stream. We think of these as continuous changes and imagine that this is "ultimately" how things change. However, more refined observation of our immediate experience shows us that this experience is epochal or momentary. Change occurs as a moment or epoch becomes completed and passes into the next moment of experience in process of becoming.

Now, for Whitehead the world cannot be disjoint, requiring separate explanations for separate realms or aspects of existence. This view is shared, of course, with both materialists and idealists: the former try to explain the entire world including mentation on the basis of conformations of "matter"; the latter try to explain the whole world as mentation or ideas. Whitehead avoids both of these abstractions in asking what is the actual nature of human experience and proceeding from there. Thus, the fundamental fact of our human experience, that it consists of units or moments of becoming which pass into each other, must be the fundamental fact of all existence. I should emphasize that we are not necessarily talking about conscious experience, but rather experience at the level of feeling. We will return to this point later.

For Whitehead, then, all that is actual consists of epochal moments of experience, which he called actual entities, or groups of such entities. Each actual entity is itself a process of becoming; that is, there is a sequence in the process by which an actual entity comes to completion. Yet temporally each actual entity must be regarded as a whole the process of becoming is not temporal. An actual entity cannot be temporally divided as it can in analysis. The world process consists of complete temporal units succeeding each other. Each actual entity arises out of an active process of self-creativity, which is common to all actual entities. Thus, this process of creativity, by which actual entities become complete, moment by moment, and pass into succeeding actual entities, could be regarded as the "ultimate" character of the universe. "Creativity" is the ultimate ground for the existence of the universe, which therefore does not need a transcendent "creator" for its complete explanation. Although we should be careful not to identify ideas that come from very different contexts, we can nevertheless already begin to see the extent to which Whitehead in the 1930s anticipated attitudes that are only now beginning to enter the sciences. For example, the self-organizing structures of Prigogine, and Feinberg and Shapiro's definition of life as the activity of a biosphere, both reflect ultimacy of "process" and "self-creativity" rather than "matter" and "creator."

Whitehead's task, then, is to describe the process of becoming of one actual entity, and the process by which an entity that has attained completion, and has become actual, passes into another actual entity in process. There is a rhythm here which is the fundamental rhythm of the universe, and in particular of human perception. It also anticipates the quantum nature of matter, the vibratory aspect of elementary particles.



Before analyzing the process of becoming, we must first consider an actual entity with a special status, which Whitehead calls "God." "God" is not the ultimate principle of the universe, which we have seen is self-creativity. Nor is it a transcendent creator, which we have seen is not needed. "God" is an actual entity, and in some sense is to be treated on the same level as all other actual entities. However, the special nature of the actual entity "God" is necessary in order to provide a complete explanation of process. Whitehead called this actual entity "God" in order to connect it in human experience with the sense of freshness and compassion which some people associate with religious or spiritual experience. And we will see how this connection can quite naturally be made. On the other hand, in conventional Judeo-Christian terms, the name "God" is associated primarily with a transcendent and all-powerful creator presiding over the world in judgment. Whitehead analyzed this conventional notion, as well as the opposing, pantheistic notion of a god that is merely nature itself, and showed that both are severely lacking. However, there are now deep-rooted misunderstandings embedded in our culture owing to popular associations of the term "God." It seems inappropriate to use it any further here, even in Whitehead's much more sophisticated sense. I will therefore refer to this particular actual entity by the two aspects, or natures, which Whitehead determines it to have: a primordial nature and a consequent nature. In brief and we will return to this later the primordial nature is the unconditioned envisagement, or realm, of the entire multiplicity of possibilities or potentialities which may enter into a moment of actuality; the consequent nature is the conscious realization of the entire, actual world as a unity.

The primordial nature will be more important to us for the particular aspect of Whitehead's view that we wish to describe, the process of perception. In order to understand this primordial nature, as well as to take another step in our analysis of the process of becoming of an actual entity, we need to take a look at the category of "potential." In any actual moment of experience, certain probabilities or potentialities which could have been included in that moment are excluded, while others are included. For example, "tree," "green," and "rustling" might be included, while "rock," "gray," and "thudding" might be excluded. In fact, we could perhaps say that the primary characteristics of a moment of experience are which particular potentialities are included in that moment and how they are included. By "how," we mean the valuation, intensity, or feeling quality with which a potentiality is included in an actual moment.

The primordial nature consists of a realm in which all potentialities, although not yet actual, are "envisaged" in their natural, hierarchically ordered relationships. Whitehead also refers to the "envisagement" of this realm as "conceptual valuation." We must be careful to understand that he is not using the term "conceptual" in quite the same way as we have been using it in this book, but more in the sense of "mental." If we regard the universe in its totality as having a "mental" pole and a "physical" pole, then the primordial nature would be the mental pole and the consequent nature would be the physical pole. We should emphasize that the primordial nature is not before all that is; it is with all that is as the primary fact which provides natural order and from which the self-causation of each individual, actual entity starts.



Each actual entity, a moment of experience, begins as a nascent subject aiming toward satisfaction, which is the self-enjoyment of its actuality as a completed moment. This subject arises, together with its subjective aim, from the primordial nature. The "objects" for this subject are the entire multiplicity of immediately preceding moments of experience. The term "object" should not be taken to mean an objective thing, eternally existing independently of the subject. Rather, "object" is always relative to the "experiencing subject." "Object" is not a synonym for an external thing but is always that preceding actual entity as it is immanent in the experiencing subject. In this way, Whitehead overcomes the absolute duality of subject and object that has plagued Western culture.

Precisely how preceding actual entities become immanent in a subject, and intensified and harmonized in that subject to form the final, complete moment of experience, is the process of becoming of that moment. Whitehead also refers to this process as one of "concrescence," or "growing together." The way in which each preceding moment enters into the concrescing actual entity is most analogous to feeling and to the direct transfer of energy that takes place in feeling. It is not analogous to a conscious apprehension, and for this reason Whitehead refers to this fundamental "entering in" of the object into the subject as "prehending."

To understand the importance of "prehending" as the mode by which the "subject" receives the "object," we must understand Whitehead's general analysis of human experience. For, as I have already pointed out, experiencing is the nature of all actual entities, and we can extrapolate from the nature of human experiencing to that of the "experiencing" of all actual entities. Whitehead criticizes very severely the view of experience that has taken root so profoundly in Western culture and which stems largely from Descartes. That is the notion that the predominant characteristic of experience is "mentation" or "consciousness," and that "unconscious experience" is a contradiction in terms. Of course, in the past fifty years with the advent of psychoanalysis and, following this, all kinds of psychological models, we are much more familiar with the idea of "unconscious experience." However, we still keep this understanding on the psychological level, while the sciences such as physics and biology are still built on the presupposition of the primacy of "conscious" experience-on the presupposition that "the clear and distinct sensation" should be the only basis of true perception and knowledge.

Whitehead points out that "thinking" and "consciousness" are variable - when we are asleep, knocked unconscious, or under the influence of drugs, there is no thought or consciousness. Therefore, as Leclerc points out, "Descarte's conclusion, 'cogito, ergo sum' is valid, but only as a conclusion from the fact of thinking to the fact of existing."(6) It is not, however, valid in suggesting that thinking is the essential nature of our existence or of our experience. Whitehead therefore rejects the sensationalist theory of perception, which identifies perception with sense perception. This theory holds that it is the consciousness of definite, clear-cut "sensa" which essentially constitutes perception. These "sensa" then are taken to be the fundamental elements in experience, all else being derivative from them. As Whitehead says in reference to this theory: beyond bare sense perception, given in immediate, present, and patterned connections, "the other factors in experience are therefore to be construed as derivative in the sense of owing their origin to these sensa. Emotions, aspirations, hopes, fear, love, hate, intention and recollections are merely concerned with sensa. Apart from sensa, they would be non-existent."(7) This view of perception is, of course, presupposed in the crude "camera theory" of perception, that the brain somehow constructs snapshots of an objective world that is immediately present.

Whitehead agrees that there are such sensa, but rejects the assumption that "because they are definite therefore they are fundamental." When we examine our experience, he says, "the first point to notice is that these distinct sensa are the most variable elements in our lives. We can shut our eyes or be permanently blind. Nonetheless we are alive. We can be deaf. And yet we are alive. We can shift and transmute these details of experience almost at will.

"Further in the course of a day our experience varies with respect to its entertainment of sensa. We are wide awake, we doze, we meditate, we sleep. There is nothing basic in the clarity of our entertainment of sensa. Also, in the course of our lives, we start in the womb, in the cradle, and we gradually acquire the art of correlating our fundamental experience to the clarity of newly acquired sensa."(8)

This mode of perception, which is, then, not by any means the primary mode on which we must base our understanding of experience, Whitehead calls "presentational immediacy," because it is what presents itself immediately to our consciousness through our senses. However, he remarks, "clear, conscious discrimination is an accident of human existence. It makes us human. But it does not make us exist. It is of the essence of our humanity. But it is an accident of our existence."(9)

Whitehead then points to a more primitive, and more fundamental, mode of perception at the level of feeling, which he calls "causal efficacy." We can begin to understand causal efficacy when we acknowledge the mind-body unity and the "withness" of the body in all experience. We experience with the body. We do not merely see "red"; we see "red" with the eyes, we hear a sound with the ears, and so on. Whitehead points out that it is this "withness" that makes the body the starting point for our knowledge of our world. Therefore, the "withness of the body," rather than be dismissed as irrelevant, must form the foundation of our theory of experience as perception.

Yet we are not normally conscious of the bodily dimension, the "withness" of our body in experience. As Leclerc comments: "It requires a special direction of attention to become consciously aware of the bodily functioning in sensory perception. Yet it is there, for the "I" clear conscious presentational perception is derived from the bodily sense organs. The essential point to notice is that 'derivation' is itself unconscious and does not enter as a conscious factor into the presentational immediacy."(10) It is, according to Whitehead, by understanding this unconscious role of the body, the withness of the body in perception, which is itself a mode of perception, that we begin to understand causal efficacy: "The causal influences from the body have lost the extreme vagueness of those which inflow from the external world. But, even for the body, causal efficacy is dogged with vagueness compared to presentational immediacy. These conclusions are confirmed if we descend to the scale of organic being. It does not seem to be the sense of causal awareness that the lower living things lack, so much as variety of sense-presentation and the vivid distinctness of presentational immediacy. But animals and even vegetables, in low forms of organism, exhibit modes of behaviour directed towards self-preservation. There is every indication of a vague feeling of causal relationship with the external world, of some intensity, vaguely defined as to quality, and with some vague definition as to locality. A jellyfish advances and withdraws, and in so doing exhibits some perception of causal relationship with the world beyond itself: a plant grows downwards towards the damp earth and upwards towards the light. There is thus some direct reason for attributing dim, slow feelings of causal nexus, although we have no reason for any ascription of presentational immediacy."(11)

Whitehead's viewpoint brings us to an understanding of the importance in perception of the vaguely felt but massive causal efficacy of the past at each moment. "Perception in this sense [causal efficacy] is perception of the settled world in the past as constituted by its feeling-tones, and as efficacious by reason of those feeling-tones." We usually describe our experience in terms of the immediate highlighting of particular sounds, smells, colors, and so on, or Whitehead's "presentational immediacy." But in doing this we ignore the connectedness of this present moment with every aspect of the immediate past, however dimly felt. For Whitehead, it was this ignoring of the embedding of our immediate impression in the vast web of causal links with the past that led to the imbalance in Western philosophy embodied in the distortion of scientific and analytic philosophy, with its emphasis on "clear and distinct ideas" as the criterion for truth. It is this embeddedness of a temporal moment in the totality of the actual world that brings to such a moment the sense of richness and value. "This mode produces precepta which are vague, not to be controlled, heavy with emotion: it produces the sense of derivation from an immediate past and of passage to an immediate future; a sense of emotional feeling, belonging to oneself in the past, passing into oneself in the present, and passing from oneself in the present towards oneself in the future; a sense of influx of influence from other vague presences in the past, localized and yet evading local definition, such influence modifying, enhancing, inhibiting, diverting, the stream of feeling which we are receiving, unifying, enjoying, and transmitting. This is our general sense of existence, as one item among others, in an efficacious actual world."(12)

Just as perception is the mode of causal efficacy, that is, perception at the level of feeling, is the primary constituent of our own experience, so "feelings" are the primary constituents of each actual entity or occasion of experience. "Feeling" is the basic nature of the act of prehending of one actual entity by another, by which the first becomes immanent in the second. "An actual entity is a process of 'feeling' the many data [past actual entities] so as to absorb them into the unity of one individual 'satisfaction.'


Many Feelings Grow Together into a Unity of Satisfaction

I will describe now how the many feelings entering an actual moment of experience are unified in that moment. I will describe this process as simply as possible, while attempting not to distort Whitehead's view. This description may at first seem quite abstract, only because we are so used to thinking in terms of "things" in "space" and "time" and ignoring the presence of our body as the central reference of our experience. Ignoring the mind/body connection, we ignore our subtle feelings of the world.

The process of becoming, of concrescence or growing together of an actual entity, is a complex one that can be analyzed into a series of steps. Again we must remember that this is not a temporal series. The actual moment of experience is a temporal unit, of a certain finite duration. The series of steps is atemporal and, although to call it a series is accurate in analysis, in actuality all the steps take place simultaneously, within that duration.

First, there is the arising of a nascent subject as a subjective aim to satisfaction or completion derived from the primordial nature. With the arising of the subject, all the multiplicity of actual occasions in the antecedent world become "objectified" relative to this subject. They become data for the feelings of the subject. Second, the subject receives the feelings from its data, the antecedent occasions. The subject may receive feelings from the bare actuality of an antecedent occasion, pure physical feelings equivalent to the passing on of physical energy. Also the subject may receive feelings from the various potentialities that were actualized in the antecedent occasion. For example, suppose the antecedent occasion includes what we would in conventional parlance call a red ball. Then the subject will receive into itself a pure physical feeling of the sheer physical presence of the thing. It will also receive feelings derived from the qualities of redness, roundness, and rubberiness, all potentialities which had become actual in that particular occasion (whereas greenness, squareness, and hardness were potentialities which had not become actual in the antecedent occasion). A multiplicity of such feelings will be received by the subject from the multiplicity of potentialities actual in each one of its antecedent occasions. And a further multiplicity of such feelings will be received by the subject by virtue of the multiplicity of these actual occasions in its immediate past. Thus the nascent subject is receiving into itself a virtually infinite number of feelings derived from all the actual occasions in its past, and its task, its subjective aim, is to unify these into a final satisfaction. This process of unifying begins even as the feelings are being received: they are evaluated positively or negatively in relation to the subjective aim of the subject toward intensity and harmony.

The remaining stages in the process of concrescence of this particular moment of experience are all concerned with how the various feelings received from the "objective world," which have already been evaluated positively or negatively, are finally harmonized into the satisfaction of the subject. The third stage is a particularly important one. There are two possibilities at this stage: the first is that the feelings derived from the potentials in the antecedent occasions may simply recombine with the feelings derived from the bare physicality, without change. This corresponds to a simple repetition of the previous actual occasion, and is the type of activity of a simple "physical object" such as an electron. The other possibility is that new feelings may enter in, derived from the primordial nature, by comparison with the feelings from the antecedent potentials. This is the way in which novelty may enter into a series of actual occasions. The new feelings of potentialities derived from the primordial nature are then integrated with the physical feeling derived from the previous actual entity to give rise to propositions in which this actual entity becomes generalized into an "it." For example, in the case of the red ball, a new feeling of greenness may enter in. The feelings of "redness" and "greenness" when integrated with the physical feeling of a "something" (the ball), give rise to the propositions "It is red" and "It is green."

For Whitehead, the importance of propositions lies not in their "objective" truth or falsity but in their function as "lures for feeling." In the case of the ball, the entering in of the proposition "It is green," although it may not be true, may provide the inspiration to paint it green. Here is an example given by Donald Sherburne. "Many people in a town may be aware of the existence of an empty lot in the center of town, but only one enterprising businessman may positively prehend the proposition indicated by the words 'restaurant on that corner.' At the moment he first prehends the proposition it is false. But this is not the important fact about the proposition. As a lure for feeling the proposition may lead the businessman to buy the lot and build the restaurant."(13)

Propositions are predicates waiting for a subject, categories waiting for an actual occasion to fit them. This "fitting" comes about when the feeling derived from a proposition is contrasted with physical feeling from an actual entity or group of actual entities which are capable of forming the subject of the proposition (for example, the ball). The physical feeling from this actual entity is the objectified "fact," while the propositional feeling is the "might be." The contrast between "fact" and "might be," a tension held as a unity in the concrescing actual entity, has the form of consciousness.

Let us consider another case that might shed light on the formation of propositional feelings and their further integration with physical feelings in consciousness. Suppose, while you are reading, there is a dripping tap. At a level prior to consciousness you hear the sound, and possibilities as to its origin form as propositions: "It is a dripping tap," "It is someone knocking." At some point, you notice both the noise and the proposition and ask, "What is that noise, is it a dripping tap or someone knocking?" and you conclude, "Oh, it is a dripping tap." The final phase, "Oh, it is a dripping tap," in which all the various feelings (including other feelings involved in that moment; in this example, the sensation of sitting on a chair, etc.) are gathered into a complex unity, is the "satisfaction" of that moment.

Once a moment of experience has achieved satisfaction, by intensifying, contrasting, harmonizing, and integrating into a unity all its received and novel feelings, it ceases to be a "subject." It then becomes an "object" for subsequent actual occasions.

We should note that not all the stages we have described are necessarily involved in every concrescence. In particular, there may be no novelty entering in, in which case the actual entity is a simple repetition of a prior actual entity. There may also be no consciousness entering in at the later stage.

Whitehead's analysis of the process of the becoming of a moment of experience is, of course, far more detailed, rich, and subtle than this bare outline. However the reader has perhaps some idea of the way in which feelings are the basic constituents of an actual moment; of the way in which novelty or freshness might enter in, derived from the primordial nature; of the high level and variability of conscious feelings; and of the final feeling of completeness and unity of that particular moment. In Chapter 15 we will discuss the Vajrayana Buddhist doctrine of the process of momentary perception, derived from observation in meditation practice. We will find a strikingly similar series of steps: the bare appearance of subject-object duality; the evaluation positively, negatively, or neutrally of the objects by the subject; a stage at which freshness, a glimpse of unconditioned possibility, may enter in; categorizing below the level of consciousness; and, finally, consciousness.



In order to elucidate the appearance of enduring patterns in a world of process, Whitehead speaks of a "society" of actual entities, by which he means a group, or nexus, of occasions which are ordered among themselves and which share a common characteristic by virtue of the inheritance of that characteristic from each other. Societies thus have the characteristic of endurance in time; they are constituted by a temporal series of occasions. Thus societies are the bearers of value certain characteristics are valued by their endurance in a society. The characteristic of a society may range from the simple repetition of a physical object, such as an electron, to the enduring "self-consciousness" of a human personality. Thus, Whitehead was able to show how, from consideration of the primacy of moments of felt, immediate experience, things and living organisms could arise as the repetition of patterns of form in societies of actual occasions in which more or less novelty is able to enter in. The endurance of a society of actual entities implies considerable attainment of value intensity on the part of each actual entity which is a member. This is especially so in the case of highly ordered societies such as those involved in "personal order." Thus the society of which an actual entity is a member provides the supporting context for that actual entity to arise.

As Whitehead says, "Thus a society is, for each of its members, an environment with some element of order in it, persisting by reason of the genetic relation between its own members. Such an element of order is the order prevalent in the society." Furthermore, of course, any society does not and cannot exist in isolation. It can exist only within a context or background of societies of wider order which are supportive of its existence: "But there is no society in isolation. Every society must be considered with its background of a wider environment of actual entities, which also contribute their objectification to which the members of the society must conform. Thus the given contribution of the environment must at least be permissive of the self-sustenance of the society. Also in proportion to its importance, this background must contribute those general characters which the more special character of the society presupposes for its members. But this means that the environment, together with the society in question, must form a larger society in respect to some more general characteristics than those defining the society from which we started. Thus we arrive at the principle that every society requires a social background of which it is a part. In reference to any given society the world of actual entities is to be conceived as forming a background in layers of social order, the defining characteristics becoming wider and more general as we widen the background."(14)

This then is how Whitehead speaks of the interconnectedness of all actual entities, or moments of experience, each form a part of the background, at various levels of order, for all others. All of this is very reminiscent of Bohm's implicate and explicate orders in which, for example, an electron is to be considered as a series of electronic moments embedded or hidden in the implicate order. The appearance of the electron in the explicate order is, then, the sequential manifestations of the series of electronic events or moments arising out of the implicate order in a temporal series. Bohm, too, envisages levels of implicate ordering of wider and wider generality. Furthermore, for both Bohm and Whitehead the particular patterns, or laws of regularity, that we detect in the level of order of this particular cosmic epoch may well depend on levels of order of even greater generality, and these laws could therefore themselves be subject to change. As Whitehead says, "There is not any perfect attainment of an ideal order whereby the indefinite endurance of a society is secured. . . The favourable background of a larger environment either itself decays or ceases to favour the persistence of the society after some stage of growth: the society then ceases to reproduce its members, and finally after a stage of decay passes out of existence. Thus a system of 'laws' determining reproduction in some portion of the universe gradually arises into dominance; it has its stage of endurance, and passes out of existence with the decay of the society from which it emanates."(15) This process refers to any society, from that of a fleeting elementary particle to that of our own cosmic epoch "the widest society of actual entities whose immediate relevance to ourselves is traceable." This epoch "is characterized by electronic and protonic actual entities and by yet more ultimate actual entities which can dimly be discerned in the quanta of energy." But in this cosmic epoch too "there is disorder in that the laws are not perfectly obeyed, and that the reproduction (whereby each electron and proton endures with long life) is mingled with instances of failure. There is accordingly a gradual transition to new types of order, supervening upon a gradual rise into dominance on the part of the present natural laws."(16) This paragraph is characteristic of the extraordinary breadth of perspective that Whitehead brought to process philosophy.


The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness

In Whitehead's description of the world, built up from actual moments of experience, there is no ultimacy to the notions of "space" and "time." Indeed, Whitehead considered these to be high-level abstractions from immediate experience. He considered the tendency, both in unexamined everyday perception and in the Western philosophical and scientific tradition, to take space and time as the most real "givens," prior even to experience itself, as a dangerous fallacy, the "Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness." However, in order to connect process philosophy with the categories of everyday experience and with scientific modes of description, Whitehead must show how space and time can be derived from societies of occasions. We have already seen how time may be understood as the ordering of a particular society of actual entities. "Time" is then relative to the particular society of entities we choose, and Whitehead was able to show that this definition of time was in accordance with the principles of relativity. He also developed a method of deriving spatial extension, which he called the method of extensive abstraction. This consisted essentially of defining related societies of actual entities according to a hierarchy of inclusion, rather as a set of concentric spheres or of Chinese nesting boxes forms a spatial hierarchy. With these methods of defining spatial extension and time, Whitehead was able to derive a theory of gravitation very similar to the General Theory of Relativity which nevertheless avoided altogether the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.(17)

I would like to mention here one recent proposal, albeit quite speculative, which attempts to extend the boundaries of science and for which process philosophy can provide a foundation and context. This is the theory of morphogenetic fields. This daring proposal has been put forward by Rupert Sheldrake in his book A New Science of Life.(18) He proposes the existence of a morphogenetic field of as yet unknown nature. This field is such that once any form has come into existence, it begins to make an imprint (a chreode) on the morphogenetic field, which will then facilitate the appearance of that form or one closely similar to it on a future occasion. It is rather like the channels caused by snow melting on a mountain; the next year, melting snow will find it easier to run down the channels already made from previous years. The existence of such fields would explain some phenomena that have been long standing mysteries; for example, the way embryos unfold in meticulously sequential patterns in space, with various changes occurring with extremely precise timing, is very difficult to understand in terms of the information in the DNA alone. And Sheldrake's theory would also provide an explanation for some of the evolutionary phenomena we have discussed, such as the appearance of parallel forms, the apparent foresight of preadaptation, and the apparent tendency of forms to experiment in certain directions, as in the case of antlers. Needless to say, Sheldrake's proposal is very controversial, having been condemned by the orthodox journal Nature and subsequently supported by the equally reputable but more flexible New Scientist. Part of the problem is that Sheldrake has formulated his proposal so far in such a way that the morphogenetic fields would need to transcend space and time and therefore be outside the realm of science as it is currently practiced. Also, the causation involved in the formation of chreodes and in their guidance of the appearance of new forms is supposed not to be an energetic one. Sheldrake is thus trying to draw biology into a much larger realm of discourse.

From the standpoint then of process philosophy, space, time, and energetic causation are high-level abstractions and by no means the ultimate factors which any explanation must presuppose. We have seen that every actual entity must take into account, in its concrescence all antecedent actual entities no matter how remote. The intensity with which a remote actual entity becomes immanent in the concrescing entity may be substantially enhanced by the positive evaluation of that entity. Thus, actual entities in a society characterized by a particular form, say an embryo, may be enhanced by patterns imprinted in the larger society forming the relevant background by prior instances of that society, that developing embryo. Sheldrake's "morphogenetic fields" become the relevant order in the larger background societies and do not need at all to be considered transcendental.

Sheldrake's proposal does make experimentally testable predictions. The first data Sheldrake found in support of the presence of morphogenetic fields or patterns were in experiments done in 1920 by William McDougall. McDougall was testing learning in rats by running them through a maze and seeing how many trials it took them before they were able to make a perfect run. Twenty-two generations of rats later, he found that rats descended from parents selected for being generally slow learners were running this particular maze almost ten times faster than the first generation had. Sheldrake's explanation is that the learning of the earlier generation of rats was somehow imprinted in the morphogenetic fields and transferred to the later generation. When McDougall's experiments were later repeated in Scotland and Australia by rats unrelated to the original learners, they too mastered the same maze as fast as McDougall's originals. Sheldrake has suggested other experiments based on the morphogenetic field hypothesis, and these are now being tested.


Wholeness and Peace

We should now return again briefly to that special actual entity which Whitehead calls "God" but which we might perhaps better call the wholeness of the universe. For Whitehead, wholeness cannot be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. It is an actual entity which, although having a special character, should nevertheless follow the same principles of process as all actual entities. The primordial nature is one aspect of the special actual entity, but it is not itself an actual entity. That it is deficient can be seen in two ways. First, we have spoken of it as the "realm" of all potentials, yet the "realm" has to be "somewhere"; it cannot be separate from the universe itself. This "somewhere" is the universe considered in its unity; that is, it is the special actual entity. Second, in the primordial nature there is no becoming, no process, and no physical feeling derived from all other actual entities, all of which are necessary to an actual entity. The consequent nature prehends other actual entities in unity with the primordial nature. Thus, "the universe includes a threefold creative act: (i) the infinite conceptual realization (primordial nature), (ii) the multiple solidarity of free physical realizations in the temporal world (the totality of actual occasions), (iii) the ultimate unity of the multiplicity of actual fact with the primordial conceptual fact (the consequent nature.)"

While the primordial nature is eternal, unchanging, the consequent nature is temporal; it is "consequent upon the creative advance of the world," and it changes as it draws up into a new unity each new actual occasion in the world. Finally, because the consequent nature has physical feeling derived from all the separate actual occasions and infinite feelings of potential derived from the primordial nature, the consequent nature is also conscious: "The [consequent nature] originates with physical experience derived from the temporal world, and then acquires integration with the primordial side. It is determined, incomplete, consequent, 'everlasting,' fully actual and conscious." The consequent nature brings to the whole a sense of fundamental goodness, because through this consequent nature all individual actual entities are realized in a unity. Actual entities as subjects of individual experience arise and perish. But in their perishing they find their place in the integration of the ever-changing world. "In it there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison of immediacy. The property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy is what is meant by the term 'everlasting.'''(19)

We might tentatively, at least at the theoretical level, correlate this special actual entity, wholeness, with the notion of unconditioned goodness which I introduced in Chapter 1. In particular, the unconditioned aspect could be partially correlated with the primordial nature as at once the ground from which a moment of perception arises and the source of novelty and freshness in perception. We should remember, though, that the unconditioned in its fullest sense is beyond the concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is not clear that process philosophy reaches this profound level of self-criticism.

While process philosophy provides a view in which the journey of human growth and spiritual training may be understood, Whitehead himself did not speak of such training, nor did he speak directly of the way in which his own insight and wisdom unfolded. This is no doubt in part due to his own humbleness, but it also reflects a shortcoming of the whole Western tradition of philosophy: a divorce of the theoretical view from the practicality of human transformation. Nevertheless, one has the impression that Whitehead understood completely the implication of a view such as that of process philosophy for the nourishment of humanity. His wisdom and compassion shine through all his writing, as in this passage on peace: "The Peace that is here meant is not the negative conception of anaesthesia. It is a positive feeling that crowns the 'life and motion' of the soul. It is hard to define and difficult to speak of. It is not a hope for the future nor is it an interest in present details. It is a broadening of feeling due to the emergence of some deep metaphysical insight, unverbalized and yet momentous in its coordination of values. Its first effect is the removal of the stress of acquisitive feeling arising from the soul's preoccupation with itself. Thus Peace carries with it a surpassing of personality. There is an inversion of relative values . . . It is a sense that fineness of achievement is as it were a key unlocking treasures that the narrow nature of things would keep remote. There is thus involved a grasp of infinitude, an appeal beyond boundaries. Its emotional effect is the subsidence of turbulence which inhibits. More accurately it preserves the springs of energy and at the same time masters them for the avoidance of paralyzing distractions . . .

"The experience of Peace is largely beyond the control of purpose. It comes as a gift. The deliberate aim at Peace very easily passes into its bastard substitute, Anaesthesia. In other words in place of a quality of 'life and motion,' there is substituted their destruction. Thus Peace is the removal of inhibition and not its introduction. It results in a wider sweep of conscious interest. It enlarges the field of attention. Thus Peace is self-control at its widest; at the width where the 'self' has been lost and interest has been transferred to coordinations wider than personality. Here the real motive interests of the spirit are meant, and not the superficial play of discursive ideas. Peace is helped by such superficial width, and also promotes it. In fact it is largely for this reason that Peace is so essential for civilization. It is the barrier against narrowness. One of its fruits is that passion whose existence Hume denied, the love of mankind as such."(20)

The extraordinary power of process philosophy is that it is able to provide a link from the most fleeting moment of immediate experience to our unexamined everyday world of things, as well as to the highest abstractions of science and the profound richness of human experience expressed in poetic and religious insight.


Perceiving Ordinary Magic