“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

“Physics Within the Bounds of Feeling Alone” [draft article]

I’m sharing the first draft of a paper that I’ll be delivering later this month at the Center for Process Studies’ 50th anniversary conference.

My track is on February 16th, 2023 and is titled “Science and Philosophy: Nature and the Nature of Reality.” My panel within this track is titled “Physics and Metaphysics: Facts, Values, and Possibilities.”

“Physics Within the Bounds of Feeling Alone”

By Matthew David Segall

“…the sight of a starry heaven on a clear night gives a kind of pleasure which only noble souls experience. In the universal stillness of nature and the tranquility of the mind, the immortal soul’s hidden capacity to know speaks an unnamable language and provides inchoate ideas which are certainly felt but are incapable of being described.” 

–Immanuel Kant

“The primitive form of physical experience is emotional—blind emotion—received as felt elsewhere in another occasion and conformally appropriated as a subjective passion…in its relevance to a world beyond…[though] the relevance is vague. In the phraseology of physics, this primitive experience is ‘vector feeling,’ that is to say, feeling from a beyond which is determinate and pointing to a beyond which is to be determined.”

–Alfred North Whitehead

“When we enjoy fact as the realization of specific value, or possibility as an impulse towards realization, we are then stressing the ultimate character of the Universe.” 

–Alfred North Whitehead

“…people seek to understand things not in relation to the universe, as unified, but as separate from one another, just as they seek to understand themselves in isolation and separation from the universe: there you see science become sclerotic and disintegrated, with great effort expended for little growth in knowledge, as grains of sand are counted one by one to build the Universe.”

–Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

“…even Russell talks on occasion of ‘the feeling of reality’” 

–James Bradley

Read the PDF below.



10 responses to ““Physics Within the Bounds of Feeling Alone” [draft article]”

  1. Jim Racobs Avatar
    Jim Racobs

    Enjoyable read. Some nice turns of phrase. I have a couple of edits & suggestions–at the level of the coat, not the body.
    p2 “abstract modes of thought” (insert “of”)
    p4 “counsels us” (not “councils us”)
    p7 “empiricism or transcendentalism” (instead of “empiricism nor transcendentalism”)

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Thanks for catching these typos!

  2. perkwunos Avatar

    I think there’s some minor technical errors here: on p. 9 you claim propositional feelings are “the most complex mode of prehension defined by Whitehead” but I believe “intellectual feelings,” which are the integration of a propositional feeling and the indicative feeling of the logical subject of said felt proposition, would be by definition more complex. Intellectual, not propositional, feelings are an instance of comparative feeling.

    Also, on the same page I believe you are conflating propositions and propositional feelings, giving Whitehead’s definition of the former as though it were the definition of the latter. This is like equating an eternal object with a conceptual prehension: they are categoreally distinct. This would be a more nominalist approach than Whitehead himself takes.

    Scientific theories in themselves belong to the category of propositions. A scientist entertaining said theory would be a propositional feeling. That scientist judging the theory to be true based on some set of empirical data is undergoing an intellectual feeling.

    This quote from Whitehead you cite seems like a complex case: “Every statement about the geometrical relationships of physical bodies in the world is ultimately referable to certain definite human bodies as origins of reference” (PR 170). I say this because later in the chapter on propositions Whitehead sets up a definition of “indicative system” such that indication of (i.e. reference to) logical subjects can be secured without involving any reference to a particular prehending subject undergoing an indicative feeling of said logical subject: “the prevalent notion, that the particular subject of experience can, in the nature of the case, never be eliminated from the experienced fact, is quite untrue” (PR 195). I would reconcile these two quotes by saying that any particular indicative feeling (and thus, any propositional feeling) will presuppose the embodied experience of the feeler in its reference, whereas any proposition in itself will not. I would therefore disagree with at least a certain sense of your interpretation of the first quote (found on p. 9), that “our hypothetical models about the world are preceded by and derive their meaning from our actual affective embodiment”–insofar as “hypothetical models” means the propositions (or theories) themselves and not those theories as they are entertained in some particular individual.

    All of this is basically to maintain that Whitehead is a scientific realist, or at least saw our scientific theories as capable of having such realist correspondence–even if the sciences as they exist and, in a sense, as they must methodologically be limited to existing as, will not really offer a 1:1 correspondence.

    Your account of coordinate analysis and the way it lays the basis for (physical) scientific propositions is quite good–though I fear it comes across as if you’re implying the propositions resulting from genetic analysis, and indeed the propositions resulting from Whitehead’s speculative philosophy in general, are not meant to be valued as true or false.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      This feedback comes right on time, Ben. I’m about to turn my attention back to this draft over the weekend for some polishing before the conference next week. No doubt it is sloppy in places. Hey, at some point, maybe we should coauthor something to submit to Process Studies? I know you have a few of your own articles in the works that I’ve encouraged you to submit, but if you’re up for it I think it would be fun and potentially generative for us to work through some of the apparent tensions in our interpretations.
      More soon as I dig into your feedback here.

      1. perkwunos Avatar

        I would be happy to try to coauthor something! If nothing else, like you said it’d be fun to try to integrate things together and see where it goes. As it stands the only article of my own I at all have in the works is one comparing Whitehead and Peirce.

        Perhaps I’ll email you some notes sometime soon to kick it off… something to do with these epistemological questions. That quote about God’s consequent nature is already something I feel I need think more on.

      2. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        Sounds good!
        BTW, I just revised/expanded the part on Scientific Models as Propositional Feelings. Let me know what you think if you have a chance to review it.

      3. perkwunos Avatar

        I reread it, and I do still have some nitpicks with it. You now claim scientific models are instances of intellectual feelings, but to me it makes more sense to say scientific models are propositions or symbolize propositions. I think you are still conflating propositions and propositional feelings. You quote Whitehead to claim propositional feelings are “matters of fact in potential determination” and also known as “theories,” but Whitehead was saying this of propositions, not propositional feelings, so as it stands I think you are misquoting him. The difference is important, because many people can feel the same proposition, but everyone has unique propositional feelings any different time they feel a proposition. Insofar as we are considering and judging the same scientific model, what we share is not a propositional feeling but a proposition. We share the same objective datum but can have very different subjective forms: we can believe in the theory, find it suspect, curious or annoying. The same problem transfers to intellectual feelings, which likewise could share objective data but have distinct subjective forms. But to claim scientific models are intellectual feelings implies one is always considering both the theory and the data that could be confirmatory (or not) for that theory at the same time within the model, and I’m not sure if that’s true either. My classification would be: a scientific model is a theory and if one then contrasts that theory with a reading of recent data, one engages in an intellectual feeling whose subjective form may or may not be characterized by belief (depending on how that data reads).

        Also, this is even more of a nitpick, but now that I reread it I don’t think it’s quite right to say physical scientists themselves engage in coordinate analysis either. Whitehead terms the analysis of the actual entity into prehensions (i.e., the most concrete description of the parts of the actual entity) “division,” which can then either be genetic or coordinate; coordinate division is analysis of the satisfaction into quasi-feelings, resulting in propositions whose value does not lie in corresponding to any prehensions that actually occurred in that satisfaction but that accurately model its structural relations in the physical pole abstracted from the subjectivity/mentality of the satisfaction (such that you get “physical occasions,” res extensa). Physical scientists, however, don’t literally concern themselves with any “actual entities” or prehensions, quasi- or no (unless they’re Whiteheadians…); this is all still a part of Whitehead’s speculative philosophy. Coordinate analysis provides the metaphysical basis for how physical scientists can engage in the kind of mathematical abstraction they do and have it be traceable to the determination of actual entities. So it’s not the form of reasoning scientists engage in, but rather the form of metaphysical description that Whitehead offers to bridge the gap between the forms of physicalist reasoning scientists engage in and the world of experiential becoming. I hope that makes some sense. Some people treat coordinate and genetic analysis as if they were forms of reasoning found throughout the sciences, and not modes of metaphysical description specific to Whitehead’s project (i.e., presupposing the concepts of “actual entity” and “prehension”), and I think this is incorrect and has the potential to introduce a lot of obscurity into what Whitehead’s saying if pushed too far.

      4. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        I’m going to clarify the draft to make it clear that references to scientific models as intellectual feelings are referring specifically to the scientists actively entertaining such models in the process of investigating nature. I’m trying to avoid free floating propositions, an idea which per the ontological principle we should avoid. I do bring God in briefly in the final section, but so far as we are talking about finite occasions of experience, scientific models are experienced as intellectual feelings in the life-history of human scientists. Mathematical symbolism, the precision manufacture of measuring instruments, and clear conceptual articulation allows us to share such feelings and to be reasonably sure we are entertaining the same proposition. Obviously Whitehead is not a nominalist, and I do not mean to deny the shared realm of eternal objects. Rather, I am insisting that independent of their relevance to actual experience, that realm is a meaningless nonentity.

        Regarding your second nit pick, I should also clarify that I am describing the activity of physicists in terms of Whitehead’s metaphysical scheme, not in terms most of them would recognize. That is what my whole dispute with physicalists is about!

    2. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Regarding the reconciliation of the two quotes about truths being referent to particular subjects, my understanding is that Whitehead’s claim on p. 195 depends upon his doctrine of God’s consequent nature. Eg, “there can be no determinate truth, correlating impartially the partial experiences of many actual entities, apart from one actual entity to which it can be referred” (PR 13). I need to work his theology into this paper, as you’re absolutely right that otherwise it slides a bit too much into what we could call “naive pragmatism.”

  3. Soul Doc Avatar

    Full disclosure I came across your post and paper while looking for something else so I really didn’t even give it a decent skimming yet, but what I saw I liked. I did catch your quote from Carroll about inner experiences being only a means to describe what is going on in the brain. Naturally I disagree with Carroll on this on a fundamental level, but I should probably admit my own bias. Carr Jung did have quite the correspondence with Wolfgang Pauli trying to tease out some of the mysteries of this very subject. but maybe a quote from one of my mentors could more aptly address Carroll’s opinion, “How does a neuron know it’s a neuron? How does a neurotransmitter know it’s a neurotransmitter? There has to be something more at work than just biology and chemistry otherwise any pile of dust would be sentient.”

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