PDF of “Physics of the World-Soul: The Relevance of Alfred North Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism to Contemporary Scientific Cosmology” [and Table of Contents]

Here’s a hyperlinked outline of a long essay on Whitehead and scientific cosmology that I’ll post in sections. Here is a link to a PDF of the complete essay: Physics of the World-Soul: The Relevance of A. N. Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism to Contemporary Scientific Cosmology

Table of Contents

I. Introduction: From Physics to Philosophy

II. The Sunset of Materialism: Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science

III. Whitehead’s Ontology of Organism

IV. Whitehead and Contemporary Scientific Theory

_a. The Imaginative Generalization of Evolutionary Theory

_b. Space-Time in an Ontology of Organism

_c. Quantum Decoherence and the Incompleteness of Nature

V. Conclusion: Towards a Physics of the World-Soul
Wordle: Whitehead and Cosmology


30 Comments Add yours

  1. John Parker says:

    Looks like a great series, but I can’t find the PDF version!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I’ve sent my Whitehead/Deleuze paper in as a submission to the Whitehead conference in the “Philosophy of Religion” category.

      1. mary9macrina says:

        well then good….I was thinking this one for “science and process philosophy” . submit both? I know not the protocol for such forums, but the influx of such alchemics would be good.

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  4. jj256144 says:


    ( Sorry to post again, but it looks like the previous attempt had some omissions due to formatting problems. Hopefully the previous one can be deleted. P.S. I did not choose that gravatar. I’d change it, but I can’t deal with that right now. )

    Response to Segall’s “Physics of the World Soul”:

    The following comments are in response to the version posted here as a pdf file in 2012.

    First, let me say that reading your essay has been my first foray into Whitehead’s thought aside from passing mention of him in various books I’ve read over the years. There do seem to be some interesting points raised. One that seems particularly compelling to me is the notion of Creativity as the quintessential epitome of Reality. There were some other phrases and ideas that in the course of reading stood out as insightful and suggestive, but I cannot recall them now (perhaps due to their being enveloped in flowing concrescences of jargon). Whitehead no doubt is grappling with some metaphysical insights that are inherently difficult to verbalize, but it seems that he sometimes defeats himself by thinking in circles. Although I can see that quite a number of people are diligently laboring to decipher his writings and bring these insights into a more clear and more widely applicable form, in my opinion it is a mistake to consider him as, say, a primary ontological apostle to the foundation of a global ‘awakening’ or ‘shift in consciousness’ (not least because many of these insights are at root perhaps not as novel as they appear in his presentation and have already been presented or suggested more clearly in other sources). But perhaps this is just an initial impression, as I have not delved any farther into Whitehead’s thought than this essay, as previously mentioned. Hopefully these critical comments can be taken in the same constructive spirit in which they are being offered.

    One example of what seems to be circular thinking comes from pg. 35 of your essay when you say:

    —— ” The abstract point-instants of mechanistic materialism, be they Newtonian or Einsteinian, become concrete actual occasions in Whitehead’s reading of the new physics. The discoveries of the 20th century regarding the nature of space, time, and energy are a warning against the misplaced concreteness that would “abstract from change [in an attempt] to conceive the full reality of nature at an instant.” ” ——-

    It seems that he gets tripped up on the ‘enantiodromia’ of ‘di-polarity’, if it can be put thusly. It is not his fault, it has to do with the inherent limitations of thought. Thought and language cannot encapsulate this. It is beyond the intellectual mind. What I understand to be meant by ‘di-polarity’ is that ontological polarities are not ultimately or absolutely distinct from one another in the sense that they cannot exist apart from one another, are therefore in constant co-incidence, and further can alternate quality and character between each other in an inexplicable way. Thought itself is inherently multiplicitous, and bi-furcation is the most fundamental expression of multiplicity; therefore, it is genuinely impossible to resolve dualisms by means of thought. The dichotomous (etc) frames of thought do not describe absolute qualities absolutely but only their differentiated aspects, which is all thought can do being itself inherently differential.

    The above is in regards to a general impression of Whitehead’s thought. The following comments are specifically in response to the presentation of your essay:

    Again, on pg. 35, you write :
    ——- “Galaxies and black holes can be understood as analogous to massive cellular systems, where the regulative role of the black hole is akin to that of the central nucleus of a cell. Like all other organisms, galaxies appear to have a finite life-span, beyond which they can no longer produce new stars. The nested feedback loops at work to secure the self-organizing dynamics of a biological cell are obviously far more complex and adaptive than the simpler feedback exhibited by black holes; but nonetheless, the general analogy seems to hold. “ ——-

    The first part seems valid, and I have seen elsewhere in your writings other intimations of an appreciation for the concept of structural homology across cosmic hierarchical scale, with which I also agree. However, the third sentence in the above quote seems a jarring non-sequitur. I do not believe that there is any good reason to assume that the self-organizing dynamics of a galaxy are less complex than those of a biological cell. It’s just that we presently know vastly less about them. The fact is that modern astrophysics, especially when dealing with galactic scale and beyond, is in a very embryonic stage. Many concepts in this field like ‘the black hole’, ‘dark matter’, ‘the big bang’, etc. are still controversial and not fully resolved, despite what some zealous popularizers might suggest. The academic discussions on these matters are highly complicated, yet for some reason most popularizations of these concepts not only tend towards drastic over-simplification but further erroneously assume the posture of representing ‘the voice of Science,’ or some such, by delivering these gross oversimplifications to the public.

    The next point is in response to the bulk of the section “Space-Time in an Ontology of Organism” in regards to your presentation of Einstein’s thought. What seems to have happened is that you have inherited a “straw-man” parody of Einstein from Stengers (maybe further inherited from Bergson?) and likewise have proceeded to assert Whitehead’s dominance opposed to this “straw man” instead of engaging with Einstein’s actual theoretical expositions. Indicative of what seems to be the fundamental premise characterizing this “straw man” is the following statement in your essay on page 41:

    ——– “ Whitehead’s novel solution to this paradox regarding the irreconcilable notions of “fact” is to construe the concrete simultaneity of an actual occasion’s specious present as a local, rather than a global, fact. Such a construal entails rejecting the often implicit ontologization of the Einsteinian notion of a readymade 4-dimensional fabric of space-time “out there” within which actual occasions would unfold, or through which the plane of the present would slide as an indication of global simultaneity. ” ——

    In abject contradiction to this erroneous presentation of Einstein please consider the following passages from one of Einstein’s writings [the following quotes are taken from the 15th edition of Robert Lawson’s translation of _Relativity: The Special and the General Theory_ by A. Einstein]:

    First is the “Note to the Fifteenth Edition” written in 1952, 36 years after the first edition of the book. Einstein seems to have been sensitive to the misconception exemplified by Stenger’s “straw man” – i.e. the claim that he posits a kind of space-time fabric independent of actual occasions. The complete prefatory note reads as follows:

    ——– “In this edition I have added, as a fifth appendix, a presentation of my views on the problem of space in general and on the gradual modifications of our ideas on space resulting from the influence of the relativistic viewpoint. I wished to show that space-time is not necessarily something to which one can ascribe a separate existence, independently of the actual objects of physical reality. Physical objects are not *in space*, but these objects are *spatially extended*. In this way the concept of empty space loses its meaning.” ——

    But even before this edition, in the final Chapter (32: “The Structure of Space According to the General Theory of Relativity”), Einstein states rather clearly:

    ——— “According to the general theory of relativity, the geometrical properties of space are not independent, but they are determined by matter. Thus we can draw conclusions about the geometrical structure of the universe only if we base our considerations on the state of the matter as being something that is known.” ——–

    This seems to be the gist of Whitehead’s point on the matter, but why does he have to feign originality in opposition to a straw man?

    Einstein’s “Appendix 5: Relativity and the Problem of Space,” at around 28 pages, is further informative of his position, but I will not quote any more of it here.

    Just one further point on your presentation of Einstein. You mention in footnote 154, on pg. 37, two strange items: (1) an endorsement by Richard Haldane of Whitehead as being more thorough than Einstein on relativity and (2) an almost snide and undercutting suggestion that Einstein’s intimate and theoretical correspondence with his wife somehow makes his contribution inferior to Whitehead’s.

    In response to item (1): If this response from Haldane was presumably based on ‘several in depth conversations’ between the three men during a temporary stay in London then surely, considering that Whitehead and Haldane were countrymen who shared the same native language and that Einstein was not a native English speaker, it does not seem surprising that after a few conversations Whitehead’s ‘treatment’ seemed more ‘thorough’ and persuasive. What is strange is that neither of them seem to mention Eddington, who Einstein stated to have been the best expositor of relativity in the English language at that time (with the publication of _Space, Time, and Gravitation_ in 1920 as well as a 1921 publication of an initial draft of his 1923 _Mathematical Theory of Relativity_). Of course I have not read their full treatises on the subject and so do not know for sure if they had not mentioned Eddington somewhere. In any case, I don’t think that either Whitehead’s or Haldane’s treatises on relativity informed very much of the enduring and widespread elaboration on the concept.

    In response to item (2): What is so strange about a man receiving help from his wife in clarifying his thought? It would be strange for that not to happen, wouldn’t it? Maybe it is true that she should have been given more credit, but if you are going to blame him for not sharing credit with her then you would also have to blame every other man throughout history, up through the present, who did not give his wife the credit they deserved. But in any case, what does that have to do with the essay on Whitehead? It just seems like an attempt at a character smear irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    In closing, let me say that I have enjoyed reading this and others of your essays. You are a talented writer, and I can see that there is good in your thinking. Hopefully these critical comments will be taken in the same constructive spirit with which they are offered.

    Best Regards,

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thanks for your extensive feedback. I appreciate several of your comments and hope to elaborate my position(s) in a new blog post soon. I am currently in the midst of a new historical and philosophical study of Einstein’s thought written by Jimena Canales The Physicist and the Philosopher (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10445.html). One thing that seems very clear is that Einstein was not consistent in his philosophical interpretations of his physical theory. In some company, he was a positivist who refused to make ontological claims; in other company, he insisted that his theory be equated with physical reality. So sorting through what he “really” meant is no easy task. I have not re-read my essay in some time, but I do recall mentioning Einstein’s tendency to shift his position in this regard. I mention his wife’s mathematical assistance only because Einstein often (unfairly) dismissed Bergson’s critiques by claiming the latter did not understand the mathematics and physics of relativity. Bergson was himself a mathematician of some repute, and certainly understood the math. But whatever the case may be with Bergson, Whitehead’s mathematical chops could not be so easily dismissed, even by his critics. My jab at Einstein is only an attempt to right the scales a bit as regards the historical interpretation of his supposedly unparalleled genius. Credit is due to him for helping to initiate a revolution in physics, but (as you say with Whitehead) he was not all that original. Many of the ideas associated with him were in fact articulated by Lorentz and Poincaré several years earlier. Einstein can be credited with clarifying and systematizing the insights of others, but not with inventing the theory from scratch. The point about whether he thought of objects as “in” space or as “spatially extended” is a complex one that I will respond to as soon as I have more time to review the material. For now I will just say that, in general, Einstein had a tendency to mistake the presuppositions of his theoretical framework for empirically confirmed facts. Whitehead’s main challenge concerned whether the structure of space and time could really be equated with the curved Riemannian geometry employed by Einstein. There is no question that the application of this form of geometry proved useful in some instances; but Whitehead’s claim is that other geometries prove useful in other instances, and so to equate one particular geometry with the actual structure of space-time is to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Another example of this tendency in Einstein concerns the supposedly fixed speed of light. Empirically speaking, the measured speed of light varies. It varies not only because there is (arguably) no such thing as a pure vacuum in nature, but (even if you dispute this) because all the supposed “constants” of nature are in a state of historical evolution (see Lee Smolin’s work on this). Einstein defined the speed of light as constant, he did not discover this. All the paradoxes of his theory follow from this a priori definition, a definition that attentiveness to the empirical data begs us to dispute.

      More soon…

      Again, thanks for your feedback on these questions. I can not pretend to have a complete mastery of relativity theory (certainly not the mathematics!). My understanding comes from more than Stengers and Bergson, however. You’ll see this in works I cited in the end of the essay you’re responding to. There have been several books published by physicists exploring these questions, so the critiques of Einstein are not coming from one or two thinkers, but from several scientific communities.

      1. Justin says:

        Hi Matthew,

        Thanks for your response. I realized when I was posting that you had written that essay several years ago, and I figured that you had refined your position since then; I just did not see another essay addressing the issue. And your posts today are much clearer than the mentioned section of your essay and do show such development…
        I suppose that when people make their careers and life work out of forming opinions on various topics, it is probably quite unusual for these opinions or conclusions to remain rigidly unchanged throughout their entire duration. I think it is true though that Einstein’s relativity theory became so widely accepted within the mainstream scientific community because it did offer a framework whereby many scientists were able to make confirmable and repeatable predictions about physical phenomena. But I don’t think that anyone ever considers any theory to be an eternally and completely unquestionable fact applicable to all instances. But the fact that some theories can be reliably physically demonstrated must certainly be shocking in a way to their propagators and cause them to wonder about the connections of the creative imagination to deep aspects of reality. I think it is an ongoing dialogue amongst mathematicians about whether mathematics is ‘invented’ or ‘discovered.’ Anyway, isn’t it always necessary to start from (or at some point resort to) some kind of unproven or unprovable presupposition(s) in order to theorize over anything at all? And nobody comes up with their complete work all by themselves out of a vacuum. Everyone who does any kind of work is always indebted to countless others who have gone before them or alongside them. As Ecclesiastes says: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
        I’m not familiar with Smolin’s work on physical constants, but I do agree that physical ‘constants’ do likely change over the vast sweeps of the cosmic creative processes.
        I also cannot claim to be an expert in the subject, but if you are interested in the mathematics of relativity, there is a good book called _Einstein’s Theory: A Rigorous Introduction for the Mathematically Untrained_ co-authored by physicist Oyvind Gron and eco-philosopher Arne Naess (!). It starts from the basic concept of vectors and builds logically through each pertinent math concept carefully, step by step, without assuming any prior knowledge.
        I am not saying that Einstein, or anyone, is beyond critique; it just seemed to me that certain assumptions germane to this critique on Einstein as it appeared in that section of your paper were not legitimate given that Einstein had addressed those assumptions in a way contrary to what was presented.

    2. https://footnotes2plato.com/2014/04/21/latours-space-time-experiment/

      This post from last year fleshes the disagreement between Bergson and Einstein out a bit more.

      Whitehead’s critique was not identical to Bergson’s, but they shared the sense that Einstein was confused about the relationship between space-time and experience. The question is not whether material objects are “in” space or “spatially extended,” but rather whether our understanding of the nature of spatiotemporal extension can be made to so flatly contradict our experience. The question is, is experience separate from physical space-time, or is physical space-time an ongoing living process of experiential realization? Einstein thought experience was an illusion, and that only the measured “clock-time” of physical science was real. Whitehead and Bergson only sought to remind him of two, one would think rather straightforward and common sense facts: 1) that clocks themselves are aging, and further, 2) that clocks can’t read themselves. Time cannot get itself “measured” until there is a “mind” there to measure it. So, time presupposes experience; it cannot be used to explain away experience if experience is its source and ground.

      1. Justin says:

        The article linked here seems to exhibit the same misconception about what Einstein was saying— i.e. that there was some kind of misplaced concreteness to his conception of space-time that dissociated it from the actual occasions of objects or events, or that there is only one universally valid coordinate system. Both of these things are contrarily explicitly refuted in Einstein’s own writing.

      2. Justin, let’s step back for a second from critique to examine what these very different thinkers tried to construct. What do you see the major difference to be between Bergson and Einstein? Or between Whitehead and Einstein?

        Or is it that you think Bergson and Whitehead were entirely mistaken about Einstein’s interpretation of relativity? That, in fact, he saw things exactly as they did in regard to space, time, and experience?

  5. jj256144 says:

    Well, Matthew, I don’t know enough about the ‘opera omnia’ of any of these three men to compare and contrast their respective views in toto or in broad strokes. However, in regards to the specific point brought up in your essay, it appears to me that the following two statements are indeed generally expressing the same fundamental insight:

    From your presentation of Whitehead on pg. 41 of your essay : ” Actual occasions are not to be pictured as if they were bits of matter located in a pre-given spatiotemporal “loaf”; rather, the abstract geometry of space-time described by the Lorentz transformations, or by Whitehead’s alternative tensor equations, is derivative from the most general pattern of experience realizable by the actual occasions constitutive of our cosmic epoch. In other words, the geometry of curved spacetime itself emerges from the character, taken collectively, of individual drops of experience. ”

    And from Einstein (in Ch. 32 of the 15th edition of the Lawlor translation of _Relativity: The Special and the General Theory_) : “According to the general theory of relativity, the geometrical properties of time and space are not independent, but they are determined by matter. Thus we can draw conclusions about the geometrical structure of the universe only if we base our considerations on the state of the matter as being something that is known. ”

    I might even go further and suggest that there is more so-called ‘misplaced concreteness’ in Whitehead’s application of the concept (indicated above) of a universally valid ‘general pattern of experience realizable by the actual occasions’ than in Einstein’s inclinations to base his conclusions in the acceptance of whatever known facts arise from the actual occasion. This being said, I do not deny the possibility of the existence of a universally valid general pattern of experience, something like an ‘archetypal creative process,’ (indeed, I believe it to be true) but to consider this generalized abstraction of process to be a concrete determinative base of ‘individual drops of experience’ (as Whitehead seems to do here) is a ‘misplaced concreteness’ itself, and a blatant disregard of the abstract nature of his own theoretical generalizations. To me, it seems that this has to do with an obscurity or misunderstanding on Whitehead’s part of the limitations and character of thought itself, as well as a confusion about the dynamics of ontological ‘di-polarity’
    (recurring to the comments I made about this in a previous post).

    In regards to the “feather-ruffling” aspect of the Bergson-Whitehead-Einstein debate presented:
    I don’t think that Einstein’s suggestion that Bergson and Whitehead did not understand the mathematics of his theory meant to imply that they were incapable of understanding it. He was merely indicating that his understanding of their position showed that they had not taken the time or interest to carefully review and consider the position (including implicit ontological coloration) expressed through his detailed mathematical exposition. Perhaps that their arguments were superficially based in that they may have even been partially included within the implications of the mathematics he had presented.

    And just to mention, I maintain that the ‘jab’ at Einstein’s personal character (indicated in a previous post) is irrelevant to your argument. In my opinion, a resort to personal jabs in a context of theoretical debate is only ever an indication that the topic is not in focus and indicates a weakness in the position of the one who unfortunately resorts to such expression.

    In closing, let me say that I appreciate your willingness to engage in discussion with me. I have never taken a philosophy course or had a philosophical discussion like this before. My studies and thinking have been undertaken as kind of a hermit. It is nice and helpful to engage in dialogue.

    Best Regards

    1. I am not sure what you find in these two statements that is expressing the same fundamental insight. They are very different statements, so far as I can tell. If we replace Einstein’s “state of matter” with Whitehead’s “actual occasion/drop of experience,” then they might be closer, but these statements are not interchangeable. In fact, the replacement of “matter” by “drop of experience” get’s right to the core of the disagreement between those who side with Einstein and those who side with Bergson (and Whitehead) as regards the status of time. Einstein’s physical definition of time left absolutely no room for experience. He entirely dismissed the irreversible time of our experience, the time of the human lifeworld, as nothing but a “stubbornly persistent illusion” that those with “faith in physics” are free to dispense with. I assume he meant dispense with in theory, for in fact, Einstein, like the rest of us, aged irreversibly and never once saw a broken egg rebound from the frying pan to reassemble itself in his hand. So saying the geometrical structure of space-time is determined by matter, and saying it is derived from a general pattern of experience shared by every actual occasion in our universe, are two very different interpretations of relativistic effects. Further, to say the structure of space-time emerges from the experience of actual occasions, and to say it is determined by matter, are very different ideas (even if we leave aside the absence of experience in Einstein’s formulation). Einstein’s formulation of space-time was a priori because it was tied to his fixed theoretical (not observed) definition of the speed of light. The principles governing the behavior of this structure were eternally given from Einstein’s perspective. This is the case even if the location of matter/the distribution of mass warped space-time in unique ways. The point is the way space-time behaves was considered to be the result of eternal laws. From Whitehead’s perspective, there is nothing eternal or necessary about the structural behavior of space-time. This structure has emerged in the course of cosmic evolution because of the way actual occasions of experience creatively decided to manifest themselves. Space-time behaves in a very regular and habitual way amenable to rather precise mathematical formulation, which is why Einstein’s formulation of relativity proved so successful as a predictor of various observed effects (perihelion of Mercury, bending of light, time dilation in clocks moving at different speeds, etc.). But there is no reason, philosophically speaking, to assume this regularity is eternally fixed or determined. From Whitehead’s perspective, the structure of space-time is the result of the habitual behavior of electronic and photonic occasions of experience, not the result of eternally imposed laws governing the behavior of dead matter by sheer fiat.

      So I think there is plenty of interesting discussion to be had haggling over which interpretation of relativity is more coherent. But we first need to be clear on what the differences between the two interpretations are.

      1. jj256144 says:

        The fundamental insight I see as the specific commonality between the mentioned statements is in regards to a basic conception of space. Both of these statements indicate a shift from a perhaps commonplace notion of space as a kind of idealized pre-existent container within which objects exist.

        The assertion that Einstein endorses this ‘container’ view of space is patently wrong, as he explicitly makes clear in his own writing (simply expressed in the note to 15th edition as the idea that physical objects are ‘spatially extended’ rather than ‘in space,’ but also further elaborated in detail elsewhere). The idea that space and time are inextricably bound up together naturally extends this also to temporal dimensions (i.e. that there is also not an ‘objective container’ of universally standard time within which events unfold).

        It seems to me that the interchangeability of the terms ‘matter’ and ‘drop of experience’ is valid here in the sense that these are two sides of the same coin, especially considering the dynamic implications of the statement that matter is spatially extended rather than in space [i.e. that whatever processes inhere in the existence or creation of the matter (or actual occasion) are the fundamental delineators of the space which that matter, field, co-ordinate system, or actual occasion occupies].

        When you say in your response above: “Further, to say the structure of space-time emerges from the experience of actual occasions, and to say it is determined by matter, are very different ideas,” you are indicating a difference in coloration or shades of meaning and not a distinction of fundamentally different concepts. Anything that emerges from actual experience IS thereby determined by that experience to some degree, and Einstein’s famous equation (E=mc^2) showing the equivalence of matter and energy would seem to indicate rather obviously that his conception of matter was far from seeing it as something dead.

        In response to what you say about Einstein’s statement that time is a “stubbornly persistent illusion,” this to my knowledge was not part of his main exposition but strikes me rather as an off-the-cuff remark. It could very well be interpreted as an attempt to simply suggest the non-absolute character of time that his theory was implicating (which seems to be the gist of what Whitehead and Bergson are suggesting, at least as exemplified in your above statement: “From Whitehead’s perspective, there is nothing eternal or necessary about the structural behavior of space-time.”). This is in stark contrast to the misinterpretations suggesting that Einstein’s conceptions endorse the idea that experience counts for nothing, that aging can be totally reversed, or that cracked eggs can jump out of a frying pan to reassemble in someone’s hand — all of which are really only examples of how deviant from truth the gross over-simplifications of mathematical physical theory wrought by irresponsible popularizers can be (as referred to in a previous post); they are not examples of anything remotely endorsed by Einstein, to my knowledge.

        Further, I would remind you of the well-known concept of ‘Maya’ from Hindu philosophy. I am not saying that Einstein was referring to this explicitly, but only that there is a traditionally established philosophical view that maintains the illusory nature of the cosmic existence. And, in my opinion, a counter-argument to that view (i.e. ‘Illusionism’) is much more eloquently expressed, for example, by Sri Aurobindo in places like Chapters 5 & 6 of Book II of _The Life Divine_ (i.e. “The Cosmic Illusion” and “Reality and the Cosmic Illusion”) rather than in a misguided Whiteheadian attack on an off-the-cuff remark of Einstein’s.

        In response to your statement: “Einstein’s formulation of space-time was a priori because it was tied to his fixed theoretical (not observed) definition of the speed of light.” : This also seems to stem from some kind of over-simplification.
        I think that Einstein’s careful circumspection regarding his starting assumptions is generally recognized, in contrast to what you indicate by the above statement. As you have recognized yourself in a previous comment, his theories emerged (through him) out of a wide stream of technical discourse amongst many mathematicians/experimental physicists/’natural philosophers’ who were in correspondence through publications and personal communications.

        The assertion that Einstein endorses the view that, as you say, makes space-time “the result of eternally imposed laws governing the behavior of dead matter by sheer fiat” seems to me to be the invention of biased commentators rather than the actual implications of Einstein’s main theoretical expositions. If it has appeared to some commentators, through repeated empirical confirmations, that Einstein’s theory tends to match so well to observed physical phenomena to seem as almost a description of a ‘fiat imposed upon matter,’ this does not indicate that Einstein himself considered it to be such a thing (much less, eternally and unequivocally so!) but rather seems to indicate that his contemplative thinking, creative imagination, and theoretical expositions were resonant in a particular way with certain aspects of the ‘actual occasion’ within which he found himself.

        [[ P.S. In regards to the ‘jab’ mentioned in a previous post: please consider the insightful comments made by Maria Popova in the first several paragraphs of the following piece found on her wonderful blog-site “Brain Pickings” :

        http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/06/12/einstein-divorce/?mc_cid=2e3899f2b7&mc_eid=62f8d6afa3 ]]

      2. Thanks again for your extensive engagement, Justin. I think we are still misunderstanding one another, but you are definitely forcing me to clarify what must not be clearly enough expressed by what I’ve written in Physics of the World-Soul. I nowhere in this book refer to Einstein as advocating a “container” view of space. He definitely aimed to confound and replace this earlier understanding of space. But as Bergson said of himself, we must be more Einsteinian than Einstein when it comes to relativizing space, moving our image of it beyond notions of space as Absolute Container. There is a Newtonian residue in Einstein’s self-understanding of space and its relationship to time. Yes, he affirmed their inseparability. But he privileged metrical space by turning the flow of time/creative advance of nature into an extended measurable quantity, a 4th spatial dimension. When taken together, Einstein’s 3 dimensions of space and 4th dimension of time constitute a single Eternal System, a God’s Eye View of the Universe. Einstein is a Spinozist when he philosophizes well (when he doesn’t, his Spinozism devolves into positivism). Einstein’s (Spinoza’s) Substance Monism is a formidable philosophy. It has specific political, social, and ecological consequences. And there are alternatives, like the Process Pluralisms articulated by the likes of Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead. It would be fun to discuss the merits of these two philosophies (monism and pluralism). I think it is the more important discussion. But I need to do a better job convincing you that there is a difference before we can have that conversation…

        Einstein’s statement that time is a “stubbornly persistent illusion” is not an off-the-cuff remark but the full-hearted expression of a wise old man attempting to console the surviving son and daughter of his recently deceased best friend Besso. I would say this statement about the illusory nature of lived time is his attempt at a summation of what he felt was his deepest intellectual and spiritual insight.

        As regards the reversibility of time in Einstein’s system of the universe, if we take his geometrical system to be identical to physical space-time (as he repeatedly implored us to), then there is no (causal=physical=real) difference between the past and the future. Both are measurable quantities whose known properties remain lawful whether they move forward in time or in reverse. Time reversibility is the consequence of accepting Einstein’s physics as a metaphysics. This is not, as far as I can tell, a controversial point in the literature.

        I will only add that I think Einstein’s vision was a theological one as much as it was a scientific one. The problem is not that his theology is absurd. I think it is quite deep and resonates with a number of ancient religious and philosophical traditions. The problem is that he tries to disguise his theology as an empirical-experimental science. Whitehead articulated an alternative, Euclidean version of relativity theory that is also consistent with almost* all empirical results (*Einstein’s isn’t completely consistent with measurements, either, remember). Bergson’s and Whitehead’s critiques (and I hope my own!) are not so much scientific as theological, or at least philosophical. They embrace the reality of space-time relativity and champion Einstein as among the first whose genius forced us to consider it. But they do not accept his metaphysical interpretation of relativity physics. Here we are back to the question of monism and pluralism, monotheism and pluritheism. There are real alternatives here, and I think we ought to be talking about the implications of them. I don’t think it is as simple as saying Einstein was right and Bergson was wrong or didn’t understand physics, as the scientific authorities and the materialistic majority suggests.

        Thank you for recommending those chapters from Aurobindo’s The Life Divine. I haven’t read them in many years and will return to them because of your comment.

  6. jj256144 says:

    Hopefully I am not being too annoyingly critical, if so, please accept my apologies…

    In pg. 41 of your essay you say : “Such a construal entails rejecting the often implicit ontologization of the Einsteinian notion of a readymade 4-dimensional fabric of space-time “out there” within which actual occasions would unfold, or through which the plane of the present would slide as an indication of global simultaneity (as Bergson seems to have believed172). Actual occasions are not to be pictured as if they were bits of matter located in a pre-given spatiotemporal “loaf ”; ”

    Perhaps I am not sure exactly what you mean to say by this, but to me this statement does indeed seem to erroneously assume that Einstein endorsed a ‘container’ concept of space, considering that you erroneously call the concept of “a readymade 4-dimensional fabric of space-time ‘out there’ within which actual occasions would unfold” an Einsteinian notion.

    And in your previous comment, a mere two sentences after your denial of asserting that Einstein held a ‘container’ concept of space, you say: “But as Bergson said of himself, we must be more Einsteinian than Einstein when it comes to relativizing space, moving our image of it beyond notions of space as Absolute Container.”

    But as just pointed out, and as admitted two sentences prior, Einstein does NOT see space as an Absolute Contatiner! It is one thing to suggest moving beyond something and another to suggest moving beyond something that has already been moved beyond. Einstein has already moved beyond notions of space as container. Where was Bergson going with this? (other than perhaps to merely dramatize the suggestion that there is always a beyond and a further beyond, i.e. that no definition is ever absolutely final—but I don’t think that Einstein is asserting the absolute finality or ultimacy of his theory anyway, and this assertion of Bergson’s does not seem to add anything fruitful to the concept, only obfuscation)[or maybe he is indicating his primary interest in the meta-physical dimensions of space rather than the physical dimensions, but he does not seem to be very clear about this, from what is presented here]. I’m not sure what you mean by “Newtonian residue,” and in my opinion a convincing substantiation of this idea would require analysis of specific citations from Newton’s and Einstein’s main theoretical expositions rather than a reliance on the opinions of commentators. If what is implied is merely that Einstein’s theory strictly focuses on physical dimensions, then this should not be surprising nor in need of criticism, as Einstein was unabashedly a physicist.

    If Einstein privileged the metrical dimensions of space-time that is because he was genuinely a physicist expounding a strictly physical-scientific theory and not a theologian trying to “disguise his theology as empirical-experimental science” (again, to
    use your words). But even as he restricted himself to physical dimensions (which are measurable) in his considerations, he affirmed the non-absolute character of these measurements. Certainly, and especially later when he saw the wide (and probably unexpected) response from metaphysical, philosophical, or theological circles, he must have considered and discussed some of his thoughts on more ‘philosophical’ matters; however, as his intense focus and researches were predominantly and faithfully grounded in physics, perhaps he lacked an adequate conceptual vocabulary to fully formulate his metaphysical views in a way that would engage the specific concepts and terminologies of metaphysical specialists. But it seems apparent that this was never his intention anyway. Likewise, if the metaphysicians are disputing his metaphysical views without a genuine engagement and understanding of his refined development in physical theory then they are not really engaging in a genuine debate, and are justifiably regarded as “skirting the issue” while relying on arguments emerging against, at best, a superficial interpretation of the strictly physical implications of the theory, and at worst, a straw man. It may be possible that Whitehead had some valid points in this area, expressed in his mathematical treatise; but since I have neither read his work nor seen this clearly explained in your essay, I cannot comment about this.

    If there are any implications of time reversibility that follow from Einstein’s theory, it seems probable that these implications would be acknowledged to be restricted to very specific theoretical conditions that would not include implication of such absurdities as cracked eggs jumping out of a pan to reassemble themselves, etc.

    In saying that Einstein’s remark about time as a “stubbornly persistent illusion” seemed off-the-cuff, I did not mean to imply that it was not heartfelt or that it was completely lacking in meaning. Rather, I meant to emphasize that it was not drawn from his main theoretical exposition (which is really, in my opinion, the only thing that a valid debate against his views could reasonably be anchored in), nor is it, in itself, an encapsulation or distillation of all implications of his theory by any means. If you interpret this statement as a kind of summation of his thought, then you would also at least have to acknowledge that he does NOT attribute an absolute quality to his conception of time, contrary to what you seem to assume when making a statement such as the following (from your previous comment) :
    “When taken together, Einstein’s 3 dimensions of space and 4th dimension of time constitute a single Eternal System, a God’s Eye View of the Universe.”

    I do not know anything about Einstein’s ‘Spinozism’ or ‘positivism,’ but again even if the debate is focused against his strictly metaphysical or philosophical views rather than his physics, one should remember that the ‘philosophical arena’ was not his main nor originally intended field of expression and that a true grasp of his actual (un-verbalized) metaphysical views can only be obtained by contemplating his main theory’s deep implications to physics rather than by superficially considering some ancillary statements related to metaphysics which he made perhaps through the more limited conceptual vocabulary of his more protracted philosophical studies. In other words, it does not seem that his philosophical studies in any way informed his researches in physics but rather that his relatively modest readings in philosophy were undertaken in order to attempt to communicate some of his results in physical theory with the metaphysical philosophers who were suddenly becoming interested in them; therefore, to attack or criticize his overtly ‘philosophical’ statements is really moot without specific reference to his detailed expositions in physical theory because the genuine communication of his (un-verbalized) metaphysical views actually lies in his physics. Basically, I feel that if you want, for example, to challenge a Spinozan view then you should debate directly against Spinoza’s text, not Einstein’s. Likewise to ‘positivist’ philosophers, or any philosopher.

    In regards to Monism vs. Pluralism (recurring also to some of my previous comments regarding dualities and the nature of thought): Even while acknowledging the differences between them, I do not see these to be mutually exclusive views, as if a choice had to be made to uphold one or the other. As Wasitynski has pointed out, even in the major religions, for example, these two views tend to coincide. To name just a few: the Abrahamic religions are mainly recognized as monotheistic; however, at least the Kabbalah in Judaism, the Christian Trinity, and the concept of angelic intercession (which they share in common) exemplify a pluralistic dimension. Hinduism is perhaps famous for its richly elaborated polytheism; however, in its deep contemplative dimensions, its entire pluralistic pantheon is recognized to be unified in Brahman….etc…

    In closing, let me say: this is challenging material! Kudos for making the effort to wrestle with these ideas. However, it does seem that some clarification in presentation is still to be desired. To me, the attack on Einstein seems misguided, not least because the presentation of Einstein’s view does not seem quite correct. If the intention of this part of your essay is to bring out a certain idea of Whitehead’s, why not keep the focus on Whitehead’s idea? If it is a strong enough idea it should hold up on its own; but if Whitehead’s idea of relativity fundamentally relies on an attack of Einstein then perhaps it is not a strong enough idea to merit attention. Why does Einstein have to be wrong or insufficient in order for Whitehead to be right? In any case, if Einstein must be discussed it seems that there should be a more reliable and correct understanding of what he is saying—substantiated by direct citations of his own main theoretical expositions rather than his ancillary comments or the opinions of commentators. Or maybe it’s that the mathematical ideas should be avoided altogether unless they are clearly understood. The idea that existence is fundamentally creative and ‘organic’ is compelling enough and does not necessarily need recourse to its relation to mathematical space-time theory in order to be informative or inspiring.

    The presently posted comment is probably about all I can say at this time in regards to your paper or to the Whitehead-Bergson-Einstein debate as my access to relevant source material is very limited and also my own specific interests of the moment do not exactly coincide with this subject. But this discussion with you has been helpful and informative to me, and I appreciate your willingness to converse. I am happy to hear that my comments also are motivating you to clarify your position as that is my intention in making them. Hopefully they are not too annoyingly critical.

    Best Regards

    1. jj256144 says:

      Probably my comments need more than just one edit, but I just wanted to make one quick clarification to avoid any potential misunderstanding on one point in the last post:
      When I say that “this assertion of Bergson’s does not seem to add anything fruitful to the concept,” I do not mean to imply that all of Bergson’s thought on time or anything else was necessarily fruitless— merely that, at least as it has been presented here and in the context of this debate with Einstein it seems to be more obfuscating than enlightening.

    2. Putting aside for now any misunderstandings of the geometrical details of Einstein’s physics (by one or both of us), I find it important and necessary to contrast Bergson’s and Whitehead’s understanding of real time to Einstein’s. Einstein is clear and unambiguous: real–that is, physical–time is for him equated to measurable clock-time. It follows that all real motion is the deterministic motion of solid bodies. Whitehead and Bergson criticized him for mistaking a particular method of measurement for what is being measured. Real time, for them, was lived or experiential time, and real motion, creative and irreversible. No one is disputing Einstein’s scientific genius. I am only pointing out this simple and important divergence in the way his scientific finding has been interpreted. I find this divergence of great importance, not just philosophically, but politically. Whether or not we cede “real time” to the mechanistic, or defend the organic, interpretation of time has far reaching implications for the role of science in society. Einstein’s interpretation has largely won out. What might the 20th century have looked like if the organic interpretation had won out? Perhaps it is impossible to say. I do think we can say with some degree of certainty that, if our species hopes to survive the 21st century, the mechanical conception of time and motion, and the technocratic politics that follow from it, will need to be replaced by a more organic view.

      1. jj256144 says:

        Okay, I think I am starting to see a little bit more clearly what you are getting at (maybe), but I do not see such an obvious connection between technocratic politics and physical space-time theory.

        To start, please let me remind you that the extent of my theoretical exposure to both Whitehead and Bergson is practically fully confined to my recent readings of your essays and comments. Likewise to this debate of theirs with Einstein, of which I was previously unaware. I also freely admit that I am not presently conversant with the main physical concepts and mathematics of Einstein, nor have I so far studied very much about him in general. So basically I can only frame my responses directly to what you are presenting.
        It does not seem to me that the two concepts of time that you mention must be mutually exclusive or at odds over which is real. The one is just as real as the other. In any case, they are both merely theoretical conceptions, both bound by the limitations of thought. No matter whether they are called “objective time”/”subjective time,” “mechanistic time”/ “organic time”, “physical dimensions of time”/ “metaphysical dimensions of time”… neither one of them cancels the other out nor diminishes the other by its existence.

        I think I understand and also agree with what seems to be your general feeling (also widespread among many for a number of decades at least) that certain habits of humanity’s errors, ignorance, weaknesses, moral shortcomings, etc, having been inflated and intensified through an explosively exponential increase in technological power are ripening to confront us today with large-scale dilemmas that we cannot afford to ignore. Also, maybe that a widespread cynical and rationally deterministic attitude, emboldened by its technological successes, has in some sense ‘dis-enchanted’ a more natural and more beautiful total human relationship with life, opening the way for all manner of stop-gap ‘mis-enchantments’ that will never quite match the genuine natural ‘pleroma’ and in fact can greatly obfuscate the trajectory to genuine ‘salvation’ by their multifarious diversions. But to conflate these feelings with philosophical conceptions that tend towards absolute exclusivity (i.e. a “Mechanistic” vs. an “Organic” worldview) is, to me, a mistake, and it seems that whenever philosophies like this get pulled into political appropriation it can often be accompanied by a tremendous liability towards propagandistic mis-characterizations and drastic oversimplifications. Anyway, I doubt that anyone will ever be able to influence public policy on the environment by convincing Congress or voters that Whitehead had a better theory of relativity than Einstein, for example. That’s not to say that these kinds of intellectual activities are completely meaningless, just that their rightful place and limitations should be recognized and remembered— if politics are your genuine interest and aim, it might be more prudent to engage in social studies rather than ontology… Sometimes I feel that perhaps there can also sometimes be a certain kind of ‘mis-enchantment’ that accompanies indulgence in philosophical speculations…

        To specifically address the Mechanistic vs. Organic concepts:
        In my view, ‘mechanism’ as such is not opposed to ‘organism’ but rather is a subset within ‘organism.’ All organisms make use of mechanism to some degree as conveniences to their ongoing developments; otherwise, how would the ‘creative advance’ or ‘creative moment of actual occasion’ ever find the requisite conscious energy to move beyond the tedium of its own self-maintenance? Processes abound. All kinds of processes. Imagine: perhaps in the creation of a new process, a special intensity of attention of the will of the ‘creative moment’ is required, but as the process becomes more familiar and the sense of it and of its actual vital requirements are made clear then the ‘creative moment’ may either discard the process allowing it to dissolve into random chaos or move this process into mechanism and thereby reliably employ the results of its activity towards its advance into creation of new processes or participation with other ambient processes. Does that sound far-fetched?

        In any case, there is a vitally necessary mechanistic aspect to the physical reality, even when considered organically. There is mechanism in the atom, in the cell, in the solar system, etc. There is mechanism in the human body. Isn’t the whole complex of organic processes that lie at the vital foundation of the life of your physical body (breathing, circulatory, digestive, etc.) in a way mechanical, or are you consciously creating all of these things as they are happening?

        To my mind, mechanism, in this sense, is a subset of organism, not an opposite concept.

        The mathematician, ‘process philosopher’ and inventor (designer of the first modern helicopter), Arthur M. Young, wrote somewhere (I cannot now recall where) a quick retort to a blindly ‘anti-mechanistic’ view, implying there something to the effect that anyone who would demonize the idea of machines as such neither understands the value and meaning of machines nor the creative processes that lead to their existence.

        Perhaps this blind anti-mechanistic view is a knee-jerk reaction to the nightmarish vision of a dreaded technocratic dystopia. We do know all too well how frighteningly destructive the dark side of technology can be, and there are many legitimate grievances widely held all over the world about specific and widespread misapplications and abuses of technological power; however, the solution to this does not lie in a blind anti-mechanistic propaganda. Probably any real solution will involve various kinds of morally positive and imaginative usages of helpful technologies; indeed, I believe that there is much activity to this end going on right now.

        In my opinion, the main problems we face as a species and as individuals follow directly from a basic ignorance as old as humankind itself, much more than strictly from a cynically deterministic scientific-rationalistic worldview questionably said to be epitomized by Einstein. It is true that the increase in technological power has increased the risks of danger and potential effects of destruction; however, this is not the fault of technology or rationalism per se but rather the fault of the basic ignorance that has been with us from time immemorial. Perhaps part of what can help to lift this ignorance are clear and inspiring ‘organic’ visions of the inter-connectedness of all life, but these visions would probably also include the positive aspects of everything mechanistic that is seen to be valued within the life of the larger organism.

        The reason I doubt the characterization of Einstein as representing the cynical disenchantment of a rigid determinism is that to me he more closely represents the creative imagination of science and the transformative sense of wonder that an edifying rationalism can convey…

        And we must not over-estimate the importance of ‘philosophy’. I personally maintain a strong interest in philosophy and believe that philosophy is highly valuable to the overall endeavor of life, but I understand that its proper place is limited. ‘Philosophy’ itself is not necessary for everyone, and surely there must be many fine people all over the world who live richly meaningful and beautiful lives without ever even cracking a single page of ‘philosophy.’ There are probably also some people who have spent their lives buried in books dissecting tedious minutiae of argumentative ramblings and then come to the end of their life with an empty and bitter feeling that it had all been wasted…

        The reason I mention this is that it seems to be an exaggeration to say that the interpretation of time, in itself, has far reaching implications on the role of science in society, just because the “Einsteinian revolution” (partly including a theoretical interpretation of time) may have seemed to have such implications. This attitude almost seems to assume that “the role of science in society” is like some kind of machine that can be rebooted and rerouted if only a new way is found to again change the interpretation of time. I think it is much more complex than that, but I doubt that most people care about this anyway. The role of science in society seems to be more predicated on the actual effects and usages of technology than on ontological speculations. This is not meant to devalue philosophy but only to remind of some limits to its place.

        Nobody can pretend that they have the answer or that they know what the world or humanity needs. We are all living through a world process whose ultimate meaning and complete nature are not fully cognizable to us no matter how much of it we may think we know. We can’t know exactly where it’s going; but we are a part of it, and we each have some kind of contribution to make…


        In regards to Einstein: You say: “Whitehead and Bergson criticized him for mistaking a particular method of measurement for what is being measured.”

        I admit that I am not conversant with Einstein’s theory, but to me, what they are criticizing here sounds questionable as well as superficial and not at all something to be obviously assumed from a reading of Einstein. That is why my inclination would be to see this as a straw man argument unless the claim that he was ‘mistaking a particular method of measurement for what is being measured’ is substantiated by references to his main theoretical text.

        I have wanted to study more about Einstein but have not gotten around to it yet; however, among the sources that I’ve located and identified as pertinent and helpful to this are the following:

        ` (1) Albert Einstein (trans. R. Lawson), _Relativity: The Special and General Theory_, 15th edition
        Link to free ebook: http://www.bartleby.com/173/ ***Please note that this link is to an earlier
        1920 edition and not the 15th edition from 1952***

        ` (2) Albert Einstein, _The Meaning of Relativity_ (1921 Princeton lectures);
        Link to free ebook: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36276

        ` (3) Alan Lightman, _The Discoveries_ , 2005
        This collection of commentaries alongside original versions of various groundbreaking scientific papers includes the original seminal articles published in 1905 by Einstein: “On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light” and “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”

        ` (4) Oyvind Gron and Arne Naess, _Einstein’s Theory: A Rigorous Introduction for the Mathematically Untrained_, 2011
        Step by step explication of the basic pertinent mathematical concepts, starting with vectors, and not assuming any prior knowledge.

        There are also the previously mentioned books by Eddington, and I am sure there are many more sources that would be helpful to obtaining a more reliable understanding of what Einstein was actually saying and further implications of that. From a strictly general standpoint of scholarly protocol, it would seem that if one is presenting arguments against the views of another person then those statements should be substantiated by analysis of direct citation of that person’s writings. You have cited some ancillary comments of Einstein’s, but, in my opinion, this does not adequately substantiate your position.


        You mentioned an appreciation of Sri Aurobindo. One thing that I have noticed in reading Aurobindo is his deftly masterful way of counter-arguing philosophical positions. Truly, it is something that I have not seen in any other writer. His counter-arguments can sound so indisputably convincing precisely because before presenting his counter-argument he goes fully into the argument which he is countering—taking the attitude of defending it and explaining it so well that you think that that is his main position, and it is probably argued more convincingly than anyone actually holding that position could argue it. But then he comes in with his counter-argument! …

        In regards to ‘time’, probably the final chapters and appendix of Aurobindo’s _Synthesis of Yoga_ (“The Supramental Sense,” “Towards the Supramental Time Vision,” and “The Supramental Time Consciousness”) would also interest you.

        As previously said, this conversation has been beneficial and appreciated; however, I must disengage at this time. Of course you may feel free to respond, but I will be unable to respond again for some time.

        I wish you good luck in finishing your dissertation and in all your endeavors.

      2. I haven’t yet read your most recent comment, Justin. Before I do, I wanted to share a resource with you. Only after having written Physics of the World-Soul, I came across the work of Reginald Cahill. I’ve dug up a paper of his that deals with precisely the issue we have been discussing: http://www.ctr4process.org/publications/Articles/LSI05/Cahill-FinalPaper.pdf

        Perhaps you will find it helpful. I certainly did. His speculations about a “new ether” will certainly aid my dissertation work on etheric imagination.

      3. I think ontology and politics are intimately related. That’s not to say abstract philosophical debates about the ultimate nature of reality translate easily into public policy, but it is to say that public policy always rests on deeper metaphysical assumptions. I discuss this relationship in one of the talks I gave at the recent Whitehead conference: https://footnotes2plato.com/2015/05/24/whiteheads-non-modern-philosophy-cosmos-and-polis-in-the-pluriverse-draft/

        Clock-time and organic time (Bergson referred to the latter as “duration,” while Whitehead called it “creative advance”) are both “real” in some sense, sure. But like you say of mechanism and organism (and I agree), the former is a subset of the latter. Clock-time is an artificial form of measurement that always takes place within the wider context of the “passage of nature” (another Whiteheadianism). In other words, clocks are not outside of the passage of time. They age as they measure. Einstein’s claims about the relativity of clock-time are not what was disputed by Bergson or Whitehead. They both accepted that there is no universal clock. The issue, again, concerns Einstein’s identification of clock-time with natural time: this mistakes a conventional or useful method of measurement with what is being measured (i.e., real duration/creative advance). Had Einstein admitted that clock-time was such a useful convention, Bergson would not have made such a fuss. But Einstein insisted that there was no such thing as “duration,” that if such a “time” existed it was merely “psychological” or “subjective” time and thus entirely superfluous and even illusory so far as physical scientists are concerned.

        In regard to the organism v. mechanism question, I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from Schelling’s essay “On the World-Soul”: “the particular successions of causes and effects (that delude us with the appearance of mechanism) disappear as infinitely small straight lines in the universal curvature of the organism in which the world itself persists” (trans. Iain Hamilton Grant, Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development VI).

        In any event, I hope you don’t see my efforts on this blog as nothing more than “blind anti-mechanistic propaganda.”

        The younger Einstein was a positivist who didn’t leave much room for imaginative speculation (influenced as he was by Mach). The older Einstein embraced creative imagination as central to scientific investigation of nature (this Einstein was a major influence on the philosopher of science Karl Popper). I do not want to downplay the wonder that Einstein approached the universe with. But he was very clear about how he thought the universe operated: most importantly, 1) Experience, human or otherwise, has no ontological significance (“a stubbornly persistent illusion” etc.), and 2) causality is strictly deterministic (“God does not play dice” etc.). His understanding of the universe and his understanding of the role of the scientist are clearly in conflict with one another. In this respect, he was a brilliant physicist, but a poor metaphysician.

        As for the importance of philosophy, I must agree with Plato and say it has nothing essentially to do with the pages of books. Reading and writing can certainly enhance it, but just as easily they can lead it into irrelevancies.

      4. jj256144 says:

        Just to briefly mention: I do not mean to imply that your entire blog is propaganda by any means. You seem like a sincere and thoughtful fellow, and your blog seems fine overall.

        In that statement I was specifically responding to the immediately preceding comment which near the end, at least in subtext, seems to conflate (1) practically valid physical-theoretical frames with (2) the root cause of some impending ‘Frankenstein monster catastrophe scenario’ which over-exaggerates the dark side of technology to the exclusion of the current positive movements, and then it further suggests that there is some kind of political necessity to invalidating (1) [which does not seem to be justifiably invalidated] in order to avoid (2) [which does not necessarily seem otherwise inevitable].

        I can only at a later time follow the links you provided and perhaps respond more fully.

  7. jj256144 says:

    [Just to mention: Usually, whenever I post something on the internet, I soon afterwards feel uneasy and am inclined to delete it, which is one reason that I generally do not like to post things on the internet… Yet it continues to happen from time to time… Generally, if something posted cannot be deleted then it indefinitely remains as a testament to probable error and continues to be associated with its author even if the author has partially or completely disowned it. It seems to me that informal comments are not usually intended to be permanently archived as they often are on the internet, and there always seem to be many necessary edits to make, but I digress…]

    As I was reading Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, the conversation on this page returned to mind. I have not gone back to re-read what had been posted here, but I felt an urge to make a few more comments based on what substance of it had been recalled to my mind.

    (A) Perhaps the comments regarding Whitehead-Bergson-Einstein were somewhat misinformed, considering my unfamiliarity with their works; however, maybe this very fact can serve to underscore one of the points I was trying to make (which still seems valid to me) about the essay’s presentation of Einstein. I have since located some books of Whitehead’s and Bergson’s that I will look into more closely at some point, but your dissertation will likely be completed by the time I get around to it.

    (B) Perhaps my defenses of technology in the above context seemed “obstructionist” to some degree, but my intent was merely to emphasize the need for balanced considerations rather than biased diatribe, especially when political vectors are invoked. In “Laudato Si” (especially in Chapter 3) Pope Francis gives remarkably well-balanced considerations about technology. He rightly emphasizes the inadequacy of exclusive reliance on technological solutions to the social/ecological crisis (i.a., Article #34) while still admitting their limited necessity and benefit.

    (C) In regards to “mechanistic”/ “organic” worldviews: It struck me that what seems to be understood as an “organic” worldview (as seems to be promulgated by Whitehead, et. al.) is still limited by the scientific methodologies and language, even while perhaps striving to be in some way more inclusive than a strictly “mechanistic” view. The “mechanistic” view is perhaps rooted in the conceptual language of mathematical physics, while the “organic” view is perhaps additionally rooted in the conceptual language of chemical-biological science (perhaps also extending to “behavioral science”).

    While these scientific conceptual languages all have their valid and valuable place, they are all equally ill-suited for status as primary worldview. Pope Francis points out in “Laudato Si” that this untrammeled objectivization of nature (and even its “demythologization” — Article #78) and of peoples lies near the root of the present crisis. The concomitant underlying moral, spiritual, or attitudinal ignorance when “grounded in a utilitarian mindset” leads to problems (recognizable in the present crisis), exemplified in unsustainable hyper-trophic manifestations of “(individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market).” (Article #210).

    He reminds us of the vitally “subjective” nature of human dignity (Article # 81). And this point seems to be at least subconsciously recognized in some motivations toward promulgating an “organic” worldview; however, what does not seem to be recognized are the “objective” scientific limitations of that very view’s foundational conceptual language. Although there may be mention and even extensive discussion of a subjective dimension in these presentations of an “organic” view, this subjective dimension still seems to be approached there through an “objectifying” lens (similar to the lens of an embryologist, or of a behavioral scientist, or of a mathematician, for example). Pope Francis mentions in several places (Articles # 36, 141-146, 187-192, 199-200, etc.) the need for a “genuine and profound humanism” as an alternative to the utilitarian “mechanistic” (and by extension, “organic”) views. The “humanistic” vision does not seem to be quite as primarily focused on a scientifically objective picture of the planetary life-form as it is on the subjective collective and personal dramas of the human beings who populate the planet, through their interactions with fellow planetary species, the environment, and each other.

    This is one reason why I encouraged a return to and deeper engagement with Panikkar (maybe to somewhat temper the Whiteheadian emphasis), whose views on the “Vita Hominis” seem richly suggestive and well-balanced (even including intimations of an underlying “organic” picture [i.a. “ontonomy” etc]).

  8. jj256144 says:

    Forgot to say that, to me, the term “humanistic vision” (as an alternative to “mechanistic” or “organic”) could itself be fruitfully replaced with Panikkar’s term “cosmotheandric vision”…

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