Thanks to Burl for including this link in a comment on this blog:
Watch on YouTube.
It's an interesting take on energy here: energy being just a relationship between entities. So heat is the motion of particles, but what is this "motion" other than the fact that the relations between the particles changes in a lawlike way? The alternative might be that the heat is what makes the particles do this. This dispute seems to me very much like that about gravity: is gravity a force acting on things, or just a characterization of certain behaviors?
The ambiguity above makes me doubt that matters are as simple as the video would have us believe. In what sense is matter equivalent to energy? Well, operationally, in that you can convert one to the other. So that's one kind of theoretical claim, and the one about energy being a relation is another kind of theoretical claim. Both are maps of related phenomena, but if one is (to analogize) a topographic map and the other is a road map, then you can't necessarily just connect them in one deductive string and conclude that matter is ultimately just relations.
A further step would be required to establish that a "process" is also just "relations." Process seems like a nicer word for this purpose because a relation syntactically involves at least two THINGS that are related. Truly, though, all of our experience of processes involves things being in process, and why we would count, in a given circumstance, the thing or the process as primary depends, I think, on why we need to know: if the things are more or less interchangeable, then it's the process that's important, and if the process is more or less just a function of the things being there and put under certain conditions, then the things are more important. Abstracting all of this from actual processes to say that process itself is metaphysically basic seems just as bad to me as abstracting from all experience to say that the things, considered apart from anything they might do, are metaphysically basic. The two go together as far as I can imagine.
It's a leap beyond this to equate process and teleology, i.e. goal, as you'd have to do if you want to equate Whitehead and Pirsig.
...But all this is just first impressions of this on my part, awaiting a future and currently not scheduled episode for me to have time to read and think much more about this.
Please do read some process philosophy! Btw, what’s with all the digs at Whitehead? (Can’t remember which episode I listened to recently where y’all joked that nobody reads him) I didn’t realize he was that much of a black sheep.
outside of John Cobb’s seminary in California I don’t think anyone is regularly teaching Whitehead in the states.
might be worth seeing if Steve Shaviro would be willing to talk about his book (Without Criteria) on Whitehead:
and there is an itunes lecture (part also on youtube tho minus Rorty’s naysaying) out there with Stengers, Rorty, and Haraway (her cyborg manifesto might be a good podcast subject) debating Whitehead’s usefulness.
for some reason I’m having trouble posting wiki links to Stengers and Ilya Prigogine but they also might be worth a look.
Nicholas Rescher ay U of Pittsburg recently rewrote the process phil thingy for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Phil, and he has written a few process books also. David Ray Griffin and some Weber guy did a series of Whitehead works from SUNY press. I like Shaviro’s writing On Alfie, too.
Deluze and some other continental guys are looking into his stuff.
The process theologians are dying out over at Cleremont School of Theology. Phillip Clayton has taken Cobbs job. He is Whiteheadian with emphasis on emergence, transformation, feminist things, and ecology.
For a while, youtube had a bootleg of a dvd by Cahoon where he gave some 30 lectures. He dedicated one to the british emergentists (bradley is one) and Whitehead (one of their colleagues). The lecture was fantastic, as was Cahoon’s Rorty lecture – the whole series was fantastic.
An approachable textbook covering ‘Process and Reality’ at the junior-senior level is ‘Brute Fact and Creative Advance’ by Thomas Hosinski. Another new text I haven’t read but heard a podcast is http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2009/10/21/robert-mesles-introduction-to-the-philosophy-of-alfred-north-whitehead-homebrewed-christianity-65/
I do not focus much on W’s concept of God, about which Hartshorne spent his long life, but it is a God that W felt necessary for all known experiences to fit together. The process God is a naturalistic component of reality, subordinate to creativity and not in control of the future. So, don’t let process theology keep you from the W goodies. Many process theologians are atheists, anyway.
tripp fuller says
thanks for the link to the podcast.
thanks for making Jack’s SU lectures available
This link just found looks promising
btw, the Cleremont process gang has been reaching out to Asian countries, and lo and behold, the Chinese are really taken up w/ Whitehead. Following the close similarities between Pirsig and W, recall P saw Quality as Tao, and well…
David Buchanan says
The shift from substance metaphysics to process philosophy is somewhat analogous to the shift from Newton to Einstein or, if you prefer, from linear perspectives to cubism. When Picasso and Einstein were being revolutionary in Paris and Zurich respectively, William James was inventing radical empiricism.
“Alfred North Whitehead attributed to James ‘the inauguration of a new stage in philosophy,’ and he explicitly contrasted ‘Does Consciousness Exist?’ to Descartes Discourse on Method: ‘James clears the stage of the old paraphernalia; or rather he entirely alters its lighting.” (Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, p450.)
I’m not suggesting that some Hegelian spirit was moving over the land in 1910, but it is interesting that the world was set in motion, so to speak, from such various and seemingly unrelated directions. One can definitely detect the ghost of Heraclitus in this general movement and in Jamesian phrases like “the flux of life” and “the stream of experience” – but James was working at this as an epistemologist, with his own brand of phenomenology. This brings us to Mark’s point about relations: “a relation syntactically involves at least two THINGS that are related.”
“Life is in the transitions as much as in the terms connected; often indeed it seems to be there more emphatically, as if our spurts and sallies forward were the real firing-line of the battle, were like the thin line of flame advancing across the dry autumnal field,” James said.
Imagine the terms being related are the opposite ends of a stick. Now imagine that the stick is understood only in terms of its north and south ends. By analogy, James is saying the two ends are already connected by everything in between, by the length of the stick itself. So it is with knower and known, subject and object. Contrary to the metaphysics of substance or Cartesian dualism, James is saying that subject and object are not absolutely discontinuous entities. The trick is to see how they are knit together within the tissue of experience or held together by a series of transitional experiences.
“James is arguing that it is relations between things that matter, not objects or subjects as such. If by relativism we mean evaluating things by their relations to other things, then this is relativism, though the better term is relationism.” (Richardson, 450)
And isn’t it interesting that we expect reality to be structured like our sentences?
“‘There must always be a discrepancy between concepts and reality, because the former are static and discontinuous while the latter is dynamic and flowing.’ Here James has chosen exactly the same words Phaedrus had used for the basic subdivision of the Metaphysics of Quality.” (Pirsig, Lila, 365)
Imagine trying to communicate thru language but somebody is taking all the conjunctions out of your sentences. Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? To knit the parts of the sentences together and without them you’d get a meaningless salad of words. Little words like “if,” “and,” “or,” & “but” are easy to take for granted and they are never the stars of the show but removing them from our sentences would make a big mess of things. By analogy, that’s what James is saying about experience. Traditional empiricists treated experience as if the first and last words of sentence were the only terms with any meaning. By overlooking all the connective tissue in between they created a fake gap between the terms. This is another meaning or sense of the phrase “pure experience”. It can refer to pre-intellectual awareness or the immediate flux of life , but it also means that the apparently separate parts of reality are all related to each within the ongoing process of experience.
“…continuous transition is one sort of a conjunctive relation; and to be a radical empiricist means to hold fast to this conjunctive relation of all others, for this is the strategic point, the position through which, if a hole be made, all the corruptions of dialectics and all the metaphysical fictions pour into our philosophy. The holding fast to this relation means … to take it just as we feel it, and not to confuse ourselves with abstract thought about
it..” (James, A World of Pure Experience)
Bruce Adam says
One other thing and I’ll try to shut up.
The relarions of relations of relations line of the cartoon might better be described as prehensions of prehensions of prehensions, where W says prehension is how one entity takes in, grasps, feels-out another. These relatum are present from gluons and luons (as energetic habits) to human conscious experience (as affect). At the end of his approachable ‘Modes of Thought’, W states:
“The energetic activity considered in physics is the emotional intensity entertained in life.”
David Buchanan says
I read a couple of papers (recommended by dmf, if memory serves) claiming that Whitehead provides the rigor and systematic polish that James lacked. If I understand James rightly, he would not be grateful for such “help”. I think it would only make him shudder and cringe.
He makes a pretty big deal out of temperamental differences, differences in personal taste among philosophers. We’d do a lot better, he thought, if we all confessed our personal motives and were otherwise open and honest about the role of the motives in the construction of our philosophies. A person’s vision is the most important thing about them, he thought. He confessed his own motives and he admitted his own personal tastes and I think it’s pretty easy to see that systematic rigor is exactly what he was fighting against.
“All ‘classic,’ ‘clean,’ cut and dried, ‘noble,’ ‘fixed,’ ‘eternal,’ worldviews seem to me to violate the character with which life concretely comes and the expression which it bears, or at least of involving a muddle and a struggle, with an ‘ever not quite’ to all our formulas, and novelty and possibility forever leaking in.”
That’s a Victorian gentleman’s way of putting it. But a rude, contemporary American like myself might just say, “I think those tight-ass math-geek philosophies don’t have much to do with reality as we actually live it.” Such paintings can hang in the gallery of truth along with all the others, but my hunch is that James and Pirsig would prefer the sloppier, more soulful styles.
Jame complained about his Hegelians rivals quite a lot. Said he wanted the scalp of the Absolute, wanted to destroy it once and for all. And part of the reason was his basic temperament. Their vision, he said, was “too buttoned up and white-chokered, too clean-shaven a thing to speak
for the vast slow-breeding, unconscious kosmos with its dread abysses and its unknown tides.” Think about that white-chokered, buttoned up style and then just look at a picture of Whitehead. Come on, admit it. It’s funny.
The belief that temperament is everything is definitely one that I hold. It influences what vibes of experience you are attracted to, and to which you are averse. It’s all about feelings.
They say Alfie held afternoon socials at his home every weekend for all Harvard faculty and students and he was described as very amiable and open. He was a product of Victorian values as was Bertie Russell. But we can see that this is not an exhaustive label: of the two of them, Whitehead said he saw the world as vague and ambiguous, while he said Bertie thought it was bright and clear. This may explain why many see his metaphysical work at Harvard as mystical.
I think he and James may have had enough in common that they would have enjoyed one another’s company. But I don’t know.
Pretty sure Pirsig would say Alfie’s writing was too classical for the romantic themes being expressed, and the juxtaposition creates a low quality vibe. I am with Bobby on this.
If the comments are being reduced to sociological tautologies rather than anything to do with philosophy, then money is everything, not temperament. The biggest cunts in the entire world are met with success, meanwhile happy-go-lucky, receptive, personable individuals get fucked. Temperament is nothing.
Not surprising though that this is the sort of delusion a group of old white men would placate themselves by.
This is exactly a Hegelian dialectic style argument with all the fun substance metaphysics included, you take two concepts thought to be opposed and show how they can each be resituated against one another in the world by way of another metaphysical relation. That relation always being a theoretical one, in which we use the sort of language that is necessarily either every bit as dynamic and flowing or static and discontinuous as all other elements of reality must be, in which we communicate to one another the poorly justified, ad-hoc belief in the possiblity of there being one interconnected absolute. Based on your reading of James it seems he would just prefer to replace mathematical thought with individually preferential semantics, I don’t see why either should necessarily trump the other, but when your biological functions shut down and you’re dead and buried and the maggots start eating away at your corpse, pragmatics aren’t going to be doing very much for you. Being that we only live hysterically short lives against a background of billions of years, no personal, pragmatic choice you ever arrive at could work to change your life very significantly. If you’re willing to just take the shit that’s been handed to you then you don’t have any busy doing philosophy, just keep yourself sufficiently fed and get back to waiting for death to wash over you.
David Buchanan says
I believe you’ve sorely misunderstood, Ryan. It’s not a dialectical argument but a phenomenological observation and James’s central aim is to exclude metaphysics, particularly the metaphysics of substance. The relations he’s talking about are empirical, not theoretical. He is also saying that language is always static and discontinuous, regardless of what sort of language we use. Communication does require a certain level of stability of meaning and it is the “definition” of each word that marks it off from all the other terms. That is the sense in which words and concepts are always “static and discontinuous”. Experience itself is opposed to this as continuous and dynamic, meaning that empirical reality itself is not chopped up with words and concepts. And so, no, it’s definitely not about one’s preferred semantics.
Pragmatism won’t save us from the maggots so the thing to do is keep your belly full and wait for death? (I bet you’re fun at parties.) That is very much the opposite of the pragmatic spirit. I learned a new word when I started looking into this branch of philosophy; “meliorism”.
meliorism |ˈmēlēəˌrizəm| noun Philosophy. The belief that the world can be made better by human effort.
Okay so if it’s a belief that the world can be made better by human effort (note that this is literally not what philosophy is about that would be a complete fucking joke, the world doesn’t care, know, or have any room for people “making it better” in anyway, it will go on for trillions more years without any notice of our minute presence), why are you constantly spouting off about the wonders of American pragmatism when this sort of ideolgoy leads to the oppression of the rest of the world?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Cornel West is an American Pragmatist. I think you’re conflating this idea with market-driven lack of principles or something.
I am conflating it with market-driven lack of principles, and it’s the same reason why West must generally mask the full extent of his political ideals in order to remain member to the ideologically neoliberal aligned institution. I understand he needs to get fed too, but I don’t buy for a second the words that are coming out of his mouth concerning anything other than existentialism, and I would hope he’d stick to discussing that and leave the politics to people not being paid to prop up the continuation of the fascist state with deliberately pacifying terminology.
Or we could just talk about the best way to personally navigate a party, while the world collapses to economic and ecological catastrophe around us, thereby some how “working to make the world a better place”, that sounds like a very functional every man’s sort of philosophy to me. Might I suggest showing up with a buttload of cash?
David Buchanan says
Right. Here’s a little story about about Cornel West propping up “the man” and otherwise displaying his complicity with the oppressors: http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/21/cornel_west_arrested_as_ows_spreads_to_harlem/
David Buchanan says
There should be a special font for sarcasm.
I tried reading this link I mentioned above http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-JOCP/jc102756.htm
It seems to be some attempt to synthesize Mahayana Buddhism, Pirsig, and Whitehead. It looks more to me like a paper hastily arranged with hopes of an employer-sponsored trip abroad.
He does a decent job of describing W’s conception of consciousness as the feeling of contrast intensity arising from affirmation of negation for anyone who wanted more than what Griffin laid out in his paper on the subject.
My engineer’s mind gets fuzzy when philosophers go on and on about values; even the clean prose of Pirsig often evades me when discussing them. I am always trying to spot an author’s notion of the meaning of ‘values’ by seeing the context in which the term keeps appearing – often to no avail.
Is it just me, or does is the term very ambiguous. I would like to think it means ‘something you do or do not like,’ adversion or aversion.
some anthro folks working thru recent process oriented theories of “extended” minds:
Hadyn White on history, discourse analysis (after-Foucault), emergence (after-Whitehead), novel events, and how “change can change”:
Gerald Edelman on How Matter Becomes Imagination
I am listening to it now. A fascinating CNET TV episode on an Austin Co, Chaotic Moon, comes to mind. A developer puts an emotive headset on for 48 hours while thinking spacio-temporal commands that the computer learns via electrical activity patterns. Then another human puts on the headset and things ‘go in that direction’ and the computer drives him on a skateboard in that direction.
Whitehead said we are living in the epoch of electromagnetism – seems right.
Bergson, emergence, and ANW http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUUXoI4KrBc&feature=related