DocWatts

Legendary difficulty of Alfred North Whitehead's Process-Relational Philosophy

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On the off-chance that there's someone here who has a good understanding of a notoriously difficult philosopher, any tips for productive ways on how to approach his work would be appreciated.

My initial interest in this topic was sparked by Ken Wilber who references Whitehead at several points in his work, and by some of the parrellels between Process-Relational Philosophy and secular Buddhism as it's been articulated by people like Stephen Bachelor.

After reading an introductory work on Whitehead which gives a basic overview on the subject of Process-Relational Philosophy, I became interested in learning more about how this philosophy is actually practiced. So I picked up 'Process and Reality', yet so far I'm finding his writing style to be mostly impenetrable so far.

And this is coming from someone who finished Heidegger's 'Being and Time', and has read plenty of academic philosophy. Somehow Whithead is even more difficult, despite there not being the language barrier that exists from the translation of Heidegger into English 


"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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Ah, he was originally a mathematician. That might explain it ?

Process philosophy sounds interesting. Reminds me of Walter White's quote: "chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change".


Intrinsic joy is revealed in the marriage of meaning and being.

 

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Conversation between Analytical Idealism and Process-Relational metaphysics. Yup, Whitehead makes my head implode.

Man what a time we're living in that we can listen to these galaxy-brained individuals causally drop nukes of wisdom on your head for free.


Intrinsic joy is revealed in the marriage of meaning and being.

 

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@Carl-Richard Thanks for the share. I'm interested to hear what Kastrup's thoughts are on Process-Relational Philosophy.

The more I've learned about Whitehead, the more I'm convinced that his system isn't incomprehensible so much as Whitehead shares with Hegel a deficiency in writing style and presentation.

Both Hegel and Whitehead have some really novel and engaging ideas, they just unfortunately happen to be shit at communicating them in a clear and straitforward way.

Though for what it's worth I did eventually make it through an abridged, restructured, and heavily commentated version Process and Reality, despite Whitehead's best efforts at making his system obtuse. Even more than with Heidegger, learning Whitehead felt like learning the grammar to another language.

And after doing so, I'm increasingly confident that Whitehead's system offers as viable an alternative to scientific materialism as Kastrup's analytic idealism. 

It was actually pretty surprising to learn that Whitehead's philosophy has a lot of overlap with Buddhist ideas and concepts, and much of his system could be accurately described as a different means of arriving at the Buddhist notion of dependent-origination.

He goes in to give a schematization of how interdependence, transience, and creative novelty are fundamental to Reality. Pretty impressive stuff, if one has the patience for novel and engaging ideas presented in unintuitive ways.

Edited by DocWatts

"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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10 hours ago, DocWatts said:

Even more than with Heidegger, learning Whitehead felt like learning the grammar to another language.

Yeah. Bernardo talks about how Whitehead presents alternative descriptions of known phenomenas through neologisms more so than a framework of explanations that links different concepts with previously known phenomena (i.e. "reductionism": explaining one thing in terms of a simpler or more understood thing). That is for example one of the appeals of Analytic idealism in that it provides an explanation of the decombination of universal consciousness into seemingly separate points of view by referring to the empirically verifiable phenomena of DID or dissociation.


Intrinsic joy is revealed in the marriage of meaning and being.

 

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56 minutes ago, Carl-Richard said:

Yeah. Bernardo talks about how Whitehead presents alternative descriptions of known phenomenas through neologisms more so than a framework of explanations that link different concepts with previously known phenomena (i.e. "reductionism": explaining one thing in terms of a simpler or more understood thing). That is for example one of the appeals of Analytic idealism in that it provides an explanation of the decombination of consciousness into seemingly separate points of view by referring to the empirically verifiable phenomena of DID or dissociation.

While Analytic Idealism is much more intuitive in its use of generally understood concepts (such as dissociation) as a lens for understanding metaphysical concepts, I'm also starting to appreciate that there are times when the use of neologisms is sometimes appropriate.

For example, it's hard to think commonly used term or simple analogy that would adequately describe the Whiteheadian concept of 'prehensions', which refers to how an event integrates aspects of the external world into its internal constitution, changing it in the process.

And that these can take the dimension of either positive prehensions (meaning that the external aspect is integrated into the entity's internal contitution) or negative prehensions (it's either excluded or filtered out).

Now of course this isn't the most intuitive thing in the world, and requires what Whitehead refers to as an 'imaginative leap'. In limited cases where there just isn't a good term or analogy at hand, a neologism here or there can be quite useful.


"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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Great question, I have two recommendations:

 

1) Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead by C. Robert Mesle

Quote

In Process-Relational Philosophy, C. Robert Mesle breaks down Whitehead's complex writings, providing a simple but accurate introduction to the vision that underlies much of contemporary process philosophy and theology. In doing so, he points to a "way beyond both reductive materialism and the traps of Cartesian dualism by showing reality as a relational process in which minds arise from bodies, in which freedom and creativity are foundational to process, in which the relational power of persuasion is more basic than the unilateral power of coercion."

A very readable and good introduction.

 

2) Physics of the World-Soul: Alfred North Whitehead's Adventure in Cosmology, Matt Segall

Quote

 

[Segall] sets the whole of Whitehead’s corpus within a process that began before Whitehead, and he shows how Whitehead’s overall thinking developed in the course of his life. ... Segall offers his Whiteheadian thinking beyond Whitehead in relation to major developments in science.

 


Some context:

Quote

The goal is twofold: to understand the historical process whereby humanity severed itself from a meaningful universe and to re-ignite the cosmological imagination allowing us to reconnect to the soul of the world. ... [E]xploring Plato’s cosmology and theory of participation and moves on to consider the Scientific Revolution and the Romantic reaction to it. It concludes with a study of several contemporary efforts to re-enchant the cosmos by grounding human consciousness back in the more-than-human creative process responsible for generating it. Schelling, ... the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead ...

 

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@peterjames

Thanks for the recommendations, as chance would have it I actually stumbled upon both of those books between the time that I began this post and now, and found them to be a huge help.


"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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On 6.6.2022 at 10:47 PM, DocWatts said:

@peterjames

Thanks for the recommendations, as chance would have it I actually stumbled upon both of those books between the time that I began this post and now, and found them to be a huge help.

Interesting. Are you also familiar with the following Facebook groups and websites?

 

Facebook

Cobb Institute Community

Probing Process & Reality w/ John Cobb

Process Philosophy for Everyone

 

Websites
Open Horizons: exploring a process worldview and way of living in the world

Footnotes2Plato

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@peterjames Thanks for the recommendations!


"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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On 5/31/2022 at 5:04 PM, Carl-Richard said:

Conversation between Analytical Idealism and Process-Relational metaphysics. Yup, Whitehead makes my head implode.

Man what a time we're living in that we can listen to these galaxy-brained individuals causally drop nukes of wisdom on your head for free.

I like that phrase galaxy brained individuals. Really cool. Never heard that one before.


The same strength, the same level of desire it takes to change your life, is the same strength, the same level of desire it takes to end your life. Notice you are headed towards one or the other. - Razard86

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On 5/31/2022 at 5:04 PM, Carl-Richard said:

Conversation between Analytical Idealism and Process-Relational metaphysics. Yup, Whitehead makes my head implode.

Man what a time we're living in that we can listen to these galaxy-brained individuals causally drop nukes of wisdom on your head for free.

This whole conversation is great.

Matthew Segall did a good job of articulating the gist of Process-Relational Philosophy, while Kastrup brought up some very apt questions concerning the plausibility and parsimony of Whitehead's system.

It's quite been quite interesting to discover how much overlap there actually is between Process-Relational Philosophy and Objective Idealism.

Edited by DocWatts

"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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For anyone curious, I managed to find a good succinct explanation that managed to explain Process Relational philosophy in fairly straitforward, non-technical language.

 


"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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It's such a shame to me, I love philosophy but these systems are just so obviously delusional to me. You are clearly building a house made of ideas, which is one aspect of existence. You will never be able to explain redness, or define it, or find it's cause. Or understand how it fits into reality. That entire approach is just fantasy-making.

But of course you will conveniently ignore the fact that you cannot even explain redness, you will pretend like you have understood all of reality, as if there was such a thing as all of reality.

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34 minutes ago, Scholar said:

It's such a shame to me, I love philosophy but these systems are just so obviously delusional to me. You are clearly building a house made of ideas, which is one aspect of existence. You will never be able to explain redness, or define it, or find it's cause. Or understand how it fits into reality. That entire approach is just fantasy-making.

But of course you will conveniently ignore the fact that you cannot even explain redness, you will pretend like you have understood all of reality, as if there was such a thing as all of reality.

It's fun trying :D

I'm convinced some philosophers had enlightenment experiences: Da Vinci, Heraclitus, Plotinus, Parmenides, Kant, Dogen (obviously, but also produced philosophical work), maybe Wittgensteing, Hegel and Heidegger, too.

Point being, philosophers gonna philosophize, bitches.

Lol 


I am God. I am Love. I am Infinity. I am Batman.

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On 7/2/2022 at 0:31 PM, Scholar said:

It's such a shame to me, I love philosophy but these systems are just so obviously delusional to me. You are clearly building a house made of ideas, which is one aspect of existence. You will never be able to explain redness, or define it, or find it's cause. Or understand how it fits into reality. That entire approach is just fantasy-making.

But of course you will conveniently ignore the fact that you cannot even explain redness, you will pretend like you have understood all of reality, as if there was such a thing as all of reality.

Interesting to note that this very point, about conceptual theories always being inadequate to describe the full depth of Reality, is actually integrated into Whitehead's philosophical system.

Which is to say Whitehead fully aware of this point, and part of his motivation was to demonstrate how ignoring this leads to bad epistomology. In contrast, he contests that good philosophy both begins and ends in mystery and wonder .

Edited by DocWatts

"The mind is inherently embodied.
Thought is mostly unconscious.
Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." - George Lakoff

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On 2.7.2022 at 6:31 PM, Scholar said:

It's such a shame to me, I love philosophy but these systems are just so obviously delusional to me.

It's just as delusional as mystics using metaphors to describe the indescribable. Once you see that all attempts at descriptions are fundamentally on the same level playing field, you can start to appreciate the different frameworks for what they can provide. The naturalistic frameworks are concerned with accurate explanations and predictions, while the mystical ones are concerned with inducing a direct experience of the Absolute. What you're really reacting against is not naturalism, but epistemic naivety.


Intrinsic joy is revealed in the marriage of meaning and being.

 

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