For those who can't get enough Bertrand Russell, here's an introduction to logical analysis from his History of Western Philosophy.
Common sense thinks of the physical world as composed of “things” which persist through a certain period of time and move in space. Philosophy and physics developed the notion of “thing” into that of “material substance”, and thought of material substance as consisting of particles, each very small, and each persisting throughout all time. Einstein substituted events for particles; each event had to each other a relation called “interval”, which could be analyzed in various ways into a time-element and space-element. The choice between these various ways was arbitrary and no one of them was theoretically preferable to any other. Given two events A and B, in different regions, it might happen that according to one convention they were simultaneous, according to another A was earlier than B, and according to yet another B was earlier than A. No physical facts correspond to these different conventions.
From all this it seems to follow that events, not particles, must be the “stuff” of physics. What has been thought of as a particle will have to be thought of as a series of events. The series of events that replaces a particle has certain important physical properties, and therefore demands our attention; but it has no more substantiality than any other series of events that we might arbitrarily single out. Thus “matter” is not part of the ultimate material of the world, but merely a convenient way of collecting events into bundles.
Quantum theory reinforces this conclusion, but its chief philosophical importance is that it regards physical phenomena as possibly discontinuous. It suggests that, in an atom (interpreted as above), a certain state of affairs persists for a certain time, and then suddenly is replaced by a finitely different state of affairs.
It would appear that having done away with his professor and former colleague by stabbed him in the back (along with Bergson and the duree), the bon vivante Russell found himself free to claim as his own Whitehead’s ontology of the actual event and non-vacuous substance (nature alive) by replacing the humble ANW with the infamous star, Albert E.
Why do you guys persist in the tradition of avoiding the single figure who best put together in delicious, sublime contrast (source of aesthetics) ALL of the major scientific and philosophical issues of his time and ours.
Case in point: someone working on a thesis contrasting and fusing the work of pragmatists is totally free (largely due to his professor’s ignorance, I am sure) to disregard ANW because he is “not interesting to me.” While I am not a philosopher, if I were on the thesis committee, I would not tolerate such shabbyness which reflects the designer philosophy we have today.
Resist the conformity needed for celebrity, and correct its errors.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Burl, Whitehead really is on our short list of episodes, but our shortlist is still kind of long, and three weeks between each episode is a long time. We strongly hope to get him in there before the end of 2011. (“Adventures in Ideas,” per your recommendation; the copy I ordered from the library of that never came, though.) I’m still trying to figure out whether we should do Emerson first… maybe you can answer that question.
There really isn’t a conspiracy against ANW, at least that I know anything about. We just don’t know a lot about him and are busy enough so that your merely posting links to his works here, though helpful, does not actually get us any knowledge of his thought. To paraphrase our 2nd rule, don’t just say something cryptic and say “you’ll understand me if you go read this Whitehead essay,” but take it upon yourself to educate the blog readers here about the guy by bringing up specific ideas of his in a clear way. If you feel like you can produce a post of roughly this kind of form on ANW, I’d be happy to publish it: http://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2010/10/26/nagarjuna-on-the-thing-in-itself/. (I’m contrasting that with a comment like http://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/05/16/atheists-against-atheism/comment-page-1/#comment-34641, which I chose more or less randomly from a search of your comments, where you replied to what seemed to be a pretty clear explanation of radical empiricism by David B. by making a reference that is not readily comprehensible to me, at least given that I don’t have an ANW background.)
I did find it interesting re. the Principia Mathematica when I read that Whitehead made Russell (his student) do all the heavy lifting in terms of working out the actual proofs, which made Russell sick to death of the whole enterprise and more or less get out of doing the philosophy of math.
Mark Linsenmayer says
…and now I’ve actually purchased the book online, so I’m committed!
I am wagging my former-professor’s-finger at the very situation that ANW IS so unknown to professors and students/followers of philosophy – so much so, that when it is in-your-face obvious that his work directly applies to your scholarship, nevertheless it is perfectly acceptable to ignore such trivia.
Honestly, though, I am not squealing about ANW to get a podcast on him; fact is, I don’t think you guys should do one based on the complete lack of interest among the trio and your following here on the web. If you do an ANW podcast, I recommend you find someone from academe who is a substantial Whitehead scholar (VERY difficult), and who is likewise of the prevailing opinion that he really should be overlooked and consigned to the trash heaps for reasons x, y, and z.
I am afraid a positive take on his legacy is somehow an event that cannot gain traction. I have such a take, but am working in a vacuum, and my expertise with the subtleties of philosophicology limits my ability to present a defensive conversation on Alfie, as I feel certain would be necessary.
I would cancel that order, for surely there is a copy in some library in Madison – it just goes so well w/ Old Style Dark!!
Not really on topic (or maybe it is, given the nature of Russell), I recalled something on the Principia, and googled up this from Stanford Ency of Phil
By 1903, both Whitehead and Russell had reached this same conclusion. By this time, both men were in the initial stages of preparing second volumes to their earlier books on related topics: Whitehead’s 1898 A Treatise on Universal Algebra and Russell’s 1903 The Principles of Mathematics. Since their research overlapped considerably, they began collaborating on what would eventually become Principia Mathematica. By agreement, Russell worked primarily on the philosophical parts of the project (including the book’s philosophically rich Introduction, the theory of descriptions, and the no-class theory), while the two men collaborated on the technical derivations. As Russell tells us,
As for the mathematical problems, Whitehead invented most of the notation, except in so far as it was taken over from Peano; I did most of the work concerned with series and Whitehead did most of the rest. But this only applies to first drafts. Every part was done three times over. When one of us had produced a first draft, he would send it to the other, who would usually modify it considerably. After which, the one who had made the first draft would put it into final form. There is hardly a line in all the three volumes which is not a joint product. (1959, 74)
Mark Linsenmayer says
Interesting. Thanks. I’m sure the collaboration helped the work; I can’t imagine doing something like that in a vacuum.
For a further sense of what ontic issues our math friends were trying to tackle, as well as how they worked w/ one another…
As I said, Alfie saw the importance of all this in light of the new [hysics, while Bertie dissed it all. It is relevant today w/r string theory, etc. I would love to find philosophy lovers who are interested in this stuff of events, extensive continuum and abstraction, space, and time (do any of you know what the fabric of space-time is supposed to be composed of?)
Anyway, I just love it that Bertie had his eyes on Alfie’s wife. which led to him losing his own wife. Also, how Alfie says Bertie thinks the world is like what he sees on a clear day at noon, whereas he [Alfie] thinks it is more like what he experiences while awakening to consciousness after a deep sleep.
Oops, the wife story is in this little article
As w/ all articles I have linked to over the past 6 mos or so about ANW, I would love feedback in the form of a question or comment you have about the link.
I will offer one more where Alfie explains the role that rationality plays in the evolution of the cosmos:
This is a jewel. It is up there w/ the link I provided on “Nature Alive” as a work of subtle artistry.
In addition to those above, The link I provided by Professor Griffin on ANW’s panexperentialism and its clear definition of consciousness, coupled with the essay I linked concerning how organic propositions are the stuff of consciousness, etc. were all met with chirping crickets.
I have tried in earnest.