Alfred North Whitehead Ray Griffin Postmodern Philosophy
If postmodern philosophy is wrong, what should replace it? Is a return to 'modern' or even 'pre-modern' thought necessary? Or is there another option? This week on the Truth Perspective we'll be discussing the radically different form of postmodernism developed by mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, called process philosophy.

In this truly post-modernist philosophy, change, or rather the process of becoming, is regarded as more than just accidental or illusory and is made the cornerstone of our reality. Where everything, from the smallest particle to the universe itself, has experience, acts with at least some degree of spontaneity, and is striving to reach ever higher ideals. An elegant merger of science and religion with far-reaching implications, process philosophy opens the door for morality, truth and objective reality to once again claim their right to exist.

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Here's the transcript of the show:

Harrison: Hi everyone, welcome back, I am Harrison Koehli, this is the Truth Perspective. Joining me today are Corey Schink.

Corey: Hello everybody!

Harrison: ... and Adam Daniels.

Adam: Howdy.

Harrison: Now, last week we discussed social contagions and we ended the show by talking about some of the potentially positive aspects of that phenomenon and what we would need to have in our world in order for all of the so-called good or positive aspects of social contagion of a type, to have effect. Essentially what that means is what would we replace what we currently have with, or what would we inject into the systems that we already have in place in order to get all of the things that are seemingly lacking in our world. By lacking, I am referring to things such as a universally set of meanings, and behaviors, and customs, by which people live, and to which they direct their ordinary actions in everyday life, and their long-term decision-making over longer stretches of time.

One of the reasons that we even need to think about this question is because there is, to us at least and many other listeners and thinkers I would think, there is a lot lacking in our general worldview. Some people like Jordan Peterson, and also Steven Hicks, and the other guy, I can't remember his name, he wrote the book on Postmodernism. Do you remember?

Adam: David Detmer?

Harrison: Yeah, and what was the title of that book?

Adam: Challenging Postmodernism.

Harrison: Right. So those are the three examples of what is really a wide field of philosophy and critique of postmodern philosophy. If you look at these thinkers and if you look at postmodern philosophy you see that there is nothing really there. It is very deconstructive. It takes apart what we consider the basic presuppositions or axioms of the way we think and which determine to a large degree the actions that we take, and the worldview that we live by. But, when you actually look at the philosophy and worldview offered by postmodernism, it isn't really satisfying. The main reason it is because at the most fundamental level, it is self-contradictory and it can't hold up to the most rudimentary scrutiny, to the point where I think that, even proponents of postmodernism in this form, if they believe in these things, on some level, even if it's one tiny level below conscious thought, and even at the level of conscious thought sometimes, they know it doesn't work. If they truly believe this things, then on a subconscious level they have to be aware that it doesn't work because they operate every day as if their philosophy is wrong.

As we've discussed on the show several times, in postmodernism some of the basic claims of postmodernism are that things like truth and values are relative, and therefore don't truly exist in the way that we think they exist. So in some extreme forms you can see the denial of reality itself, of things being essentially better or worse than others, things being equally good, essentially. So if you have someone that believes something is good, then it's good, no matter what, even if there are contradictory truth claims essentially, about morals or values.

And the same thing with truth itself. Truth is relative, so if you have your truth, and I have my truth then both are true equally, essentially because nothing is true. Of course, it doesn't make sense because if nothing is true, then even the statement that nothing is true, can't be true, because it couldn't possibly be true because truth isn't a category in which we can think.

So the problem then becomes, what can we replace that with? Is it possible to replace it with anything? Are there any other options available in terms of which to think that solve those problems and don't run into the same problems, and that offer that potentially universal system of value and just a way of looking at the world that is true and that can account for the existence of truth.

So, with that in mind, we have been reading a book recently by David Ray Griffin. We've mentioned him in the show before. He is commonly known for his political writings, especially on 9/11 but, before that he is and always has been a philosopher and a theologian. He's based in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, whom we've talked about as well on the show previously, and that branch of philosophy has come to be known as Process Philosophy. So we've been reading one of his books called - correct me if I'm wrong Adam, I don't have it right in front of - me: Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy?

Adam: Yep.

Harrison: Did I get that right? Alright.

Adam: That's it. [laughter]

Harrison: And when was that one published, do you know?

Adam: I can't remember off the top of my head, it was...

Harrison: Something like 2008 or 2009, or 2010?

Adam: Yeah, 2010, I think?

Harrison: Okay, so it's a fairly recent book. It's basically a collection of essays that have been reworked and stitched together, to analyze one aspect of Whitehead's philosophy. Well, I guess the first thing that we should talk about is the title, because we have been fairly harsh and critical of the term Postmodernism and the philosophies characterized as postmodern, and yet here we are talking about this guy Whitehead who seemingly has another postmodern philosophy. So, maybe we can get into that. Where do you guys want to start with that?

Corey: Well, I think you could start by saying Postmodern is a historical term. So you have modernism and the modern era, and the Enlightenment and you have postmodern after that. It reflects an intellectual development, especially scientific and also social just in terms of the many problems that arise when you adopt a certain philosophical stance. Obviously there are going to be questions that your philosophy can't answer and that's going to bring up more questions that people have.

But the postmodernism that we see today is not a positive critique of modern thought. It's a very negative critique, in the sense that if you are going to just call somebody stupid, you hate them, just the hysterical things we see today without offering a really rational, constructive criticism of why it is you feel this way, or what's wrong with it, or even stating what the problem is.

So, as a radically different postmodern philosophy, Whitehead does that. He lays out exactly what was wrong with the kinds of rational thought that we saw with the Enlightenment and how narrow it was, so that they ruled out the idea that you could perceive anything outside of sensory perception; the idea that everything was split into two fundamental different substances, material substances, and spiritual substance, and how that just gradually ate away at the idea that there was anything spiritual at all, that there was anything immaterial that had any sort of agency, like the mind, or anything like that.

He presents a radically different way of looking at reality philosophically, using a metaphysical system that explains everything that a person can experience. So while it's extremely difficult to read and to get through - which is why he's not extremely popular - he's more like the philosopher's philosopher.

Harrison: The philosopher's philosopher.

Corey: So he basically mends philosophy back to what it could have been before it was all broken by all of these anti-human spirit kind of philosophies that could have come out. They basically say that any questions that have meaningful significance for humans aren't worth answering philosophically. The only reason philosophy exists is to analyze science, like the analytic school, or the continental school, where philosophy was all about this retreat into the mind, and the outside world can't really be proven to exist.

He takes all of those as starting points and then he builds a system that is radically different. He understands it's history. He understands it's logic, because he was a mathematician before he was a philosopher, and he understands science. He was a philosopher of science, and then he goes from there and he builds a system that can account for everything that we have, that science has provided us, all of that information, and yet it still retains human experience within that system. So in that sense it's radically different because rather than just sweeping away all the contradictions by saying "Science is oppressive, and science is imperialistic, there's no such thing as reality because two people can have different opinions," he says "Well no, you can actually explain that philosophically" and using truth statements with his system.

Harrison: Well, one of the ways in which I've been thinking about this, in terms of modernism versus postmodernism, is that, as you said, it's just a historical term. You had the modern period and the postmodern period. But, one of the things about postmodernism is that it didn't come out of nowhere, and really it is the logical implication of modernism. This is one of the points that Griffin makes. It's not that postmodernists just kind of came up with all these wacky ideas. Really what happened was that they were actually quite adept at finding the holes in modernism but instead of finding the holes in modernism, and rejecting the actual things that were wrong about modernism, they accepted those holes and the implications that those holes had as true, and created a philosophy based on that. Now that might sound kind of obtuse, so I'll give some examples.

Under analysis, it is kind of self-contradictory as well, and this is what I think a lot of proponents of the Enlightenment and of modernism don't realize even to this day; on the one hand, modernism was many things. A lot of modernists were religious, but if we even set aside the whole religious angle, what we have is a system that believes in truth. It is founded on the idea that there is truth, that the universe can be known, that the order of the universe can be discerned and described and measured, that there is a reality, there is order to that reality, and that we can come to know the order inherent in that reality using reason.

The problems come into play when you look at some of the other axioms underlying that mode of thinking, and one of them has come to be known as materialism. Materialism has various aspects to it. There's materialism but there's also an inherent atheism and there's an inherent view of epistemology, so the way in which we come to know things that is based on the senses alone. Sensationism is how Griffin terms it.

When you really get into the philosophy of materialism - and this is what Griffin is great at - because he doesn't just quote Whitehead verbatim, he does his own philosophy, so he takes on the biggest names in philosophy that came after Whitehead. Whitehead was writing some of his books like Process and Reality in the '20s. So in the '20s, '30s and '40s I think he wrote his major philosophical works.

So there's been a whole lot of philosophy done after his time, but all of these philosophers who are in the postmodern period, but you could still call them modernist in a sense because they aren't proponents of the postmodernism that we've come to know. They wouldn't agree with the French radical philosophers or any of those guys in that crowd. But even they would agree about certain things and Griffin shows this, that in all of these works by these great philosophers, the best of them come to the conclusion, for example, that in our current worldview, we can't account for the existence of truth. We can't account for the existence of consciousness, and we can't account for the reality of any kind of norms, any kind of normative values. So wee can't say that one thing is inherently and essentially better or worse than another.

So that's usually in the context of morals, but it extends past morals because there are norms about anything. Whenever you're comparing something there is something normative involved. One example of that is just truth in general. At the very basis of modern philosophy, there is nothing in there that explains why or accounts for why truth is better than lies. There is no rational and reasonable justification for scientists to come up with and put their weight behind theories that they think are true, because there's no basis for truth because materialism doesn't offer any place for truth to exist. According to materialism, the only thing that exists is matter, and a very specific and simplistic view of matter. So that's this stuff that bounces into and interacts with other stuff.

Now, if all you have is this stuff, where is the room for a mind? For something that compares and contrasts with an ideal as opposed to something which is already physically existent? How can you account for abstractions? These things really can't exist in materialism and the only way that they can be force-fitted into existing in this system is to say that they exist, but they don't really exist, which doesn't make any sense.

In modernism, there are a ton of problems with modernism and what postmodernism does, it takes those problems, like the fact that we can't account for truth, that we can't account for morals, and it presents those as positive truth claims. So it really gets behind the idea that there is no truth, that there is no universal normativity in the universe. There's nothing that's universally applicable. Not only is that self-evidently wrong, it's wrong on pretty much every single level.

So what they've done is they've taken the worst aspects of modernism and then held them up as philosophical truth to be believed and to somehow be brought into the realm of personal behavior and action. It doesn't quite work as you can see with the cultural Marxists who three-and-a-half days of the week they don't believe in anything, and in the other half of the week, they believe in the truthfulness of cultural Marxism, for instance. It's contradictory, but that's the only thing they can quite do because while they may have discerned and divined the problems with modernistic philosophy, they haven't been able to give that alternative and to find something to replace it with which is actually constructive and that actually explains the world.

So like you were saying earlier, that's what Whitehead managed to do. Not being a genius-level philosopher myself, I can't offer a sustained critique of Whitehead, but it appears to me as if that's what he managed to do. I think that David Ray Griffin would agree, and that's why he wrote this book.

Corey: Yeah. One of my favourite passages, reading from Whitehead is where he discusses the rise of science, and he writes that:

It is a great mistake to conceive this historical revolt as an appeal to reason. On the contrary it was through and through an anti-intellectualist movement. It was the return to the contemplation of brute fact, and it was based on a recoil from the inflexible rationality of medieval thought.

And I think that, from that standpoint that's what Whitehead set out to do; to reconcile that by bringing back the rationality of medieval thought, but not as inflexible as it was, and bringing our faces back from just that contemplation of brute fact which we've discussed on previous shows. People want to make that the foundation of a moral system, but that won't work as a foundation of a moral system because moral theories, as David Ray Griffin writes, have to provide at least two things in order to become credible. They have to defend moral objectivity, and be able to affirm that our best moral beliefs constitute genuine knowledge, and they have to have motivation. You have to be motivated to adopt that moral way of life.

That's what this inflexible rationality of medieval thought, 'God is in heaven', and the Trinity, you know, all of the motivation involved there in following the moral code. That is stripped away from the brute fact. The brute fact is just what is in and of itself. I don't know if I want to get into that right now, But what is Whitehead's idea of a fact? I mean, if you were Whitehead, what would you say a fact was?

Harrison: Well... [laughter] It's funny because I've been reading a book called A Key to Whitehead's Process & Reality. It reorganizes and cuts and pastes Whitehead's most difficult book into an easier to understand format. I kept that question in mind while reading it, but unfortunately I forgot what my answer was. [laughter] Bu I can kind of guess, I might not get it totally right, but it'll be right in some ways, but wrong in others.

Probably a fact to Whitehead - I'm guessing maybe there could be two ways of putting it. I think this is the way David Ray Griffin puts it and the way he uses the word 'fact'. So you could say that a fact is something that has happened in the world and just to get into a very basic understanding of Whitehead and why his philosophy is called Process Philosophy, he would say everything is a process. Everything is a process of subjectivity bringing value into the world to become objectivity. So, a subject becoming an object. That is a constant flux of the universe, that pulsation between subjectivity and objectivity.

So in one instance, I am a subject who is self-determining my own future, everything about my own being, essentially self-creating myself through the action of the past on the present, determining the conditions in which I live, and the possible futures that confront me and which one I choose to manifest in the world. That can be an automatic process largely driven by the momentum of the past and the physical world, or with extra thought and character and moral development, that can be quite a profound thing, bringing something totally new into the world, that kind of transcends biology pushing you forward.

And at that moment of self-creation, I become an object. So everything is kind of simultaneously a subject and an object. It's a subject for itself, which self-creates what it will be, and what it is, but it's also an object acting on other subjects. That's just the way the physical world works. That would be causation. Whenever we touch something physical, those are two objects bumping into each other, there is a subjective element in those objects to some degree in some way depending on what those objects are, that is experiencing that objective collision, causation of one on the other. On the physical level, those are very regular occurrences. We can measure them and they're repeatable and seemingly universal like the way in which protons, electrons and neutrons interact with each other to form the basis of atoms and chemistry.

So, everything is that process, something becoming. You can never have an objective slice of reality where you just halt everything and look at it as some dead, lifeless, objective thing. But you can see it as a process of subjects becoming. So they're always becoming something. When something happens in the world, when one thing becomes something else and exerts causation on other things, that is a fact. So, we can describe facts in words, and at that point they become propositions. That is a statement of fact about something, which by itself is just a possibility because you could have any number of propositions; you have your subject which is the subjected involved and the predicate which is the true or false thing about the subject and those can be true and false. So, if we have a statement about the world that is true, then we have a fact. The actual fact itself is that thing, which happens to be true.

But there are also, I would argue, moral facts. This is one of the problems which the Peterson - Harris debates had. They never really got into - as far as I know, just listening to the first two and the first half of the third debate - they never really got into what each of them thinks is a fact, the precise nature of a fact. Harris at various times, said that a moral statement that's true would be a fact, but he didn't really get into the nitty-gritty of what makes that a fact and why he considers it a fact. He just thinks that anything that is true is a fact. If that's your definition then yeah, you could say that in a given situation, when you look at the options available, and you say that, "This person did that, and that was better than this", then you can say that, "Okay, that's a fact" as opposed to comparing something to a physical action that took place you're comparing something to a non-physical ideal, and that non-physical ideal compared to that situation is either true or not, it's a fact or it's not. I don't know precisely if Whitehead always used the term fact in either of those manners or both, but I think that he probably would agree with the gist of that way of looking at things.

Corey: I just want to go and just touch on the atom, the fundamental unit of Whitehead's philosophy, because I think it's really interesting. Everything in his philosophy can be boiled down to that one specific unit, what he calls the actual entities, and he says that 'each actual entity is conceived as an act of experience arising out of data'. To me that sounds so much like information theory, what his was drawing on, what he was foreseeing or forecasting; this idea, this experiencing. It could be a creature. It could be an atom. It could be anything, all the way down. But this experience is the fundamental unit of his system. It made me think of going to high school and taking physics or chemistry classes, and you sit in class, and the teacher says, "You know what the whole universe is made of? It's made of atoms!" And then they show you this picture, with the billiard balls and everything. So you're like "Really, the whole universe, this is what it boils down to?"

But that's that scientific materialist view, but in Whitehead's Process Philosophy, these actual entities are occasions where experience occurs out of data, like you were saying. It's part of that process of becoming something else. It's all about acquiring that data and then acting on it and in case of an atom, even something bumping into it is data. You don't have to say that it has a soul, it's going to hell, it sins or whatever, but there is something there that Whitehead says is experiencing.

So he brings that idea of that homeostatic imperative that we were discussing in a previous show, how that idea spreads your sympathy throughout the entire animal kingdom, and throughout all the bacteria and everything that exists with DNA. He brings that all the way down to the existence of the electrons and protons. I was thinking to myself, "What about a rock? I can't really sympathize with a rock. It's just a rock!" But he says no, that's not an actual entity in his system, because it's a society of all of these aggregated occasions, these events.

Adam: Yeah, there's the difference between the rock and something that we would call as being alive. So everything fundamentally is an aggregate of occasions of experience. The question is whether or not these occasions of experience come together into what he calls a society of experience, or society of occasions. So in a rock, you have a society of occasions, in a sense, because it's made up of different molecules. But that entity, that society of experience, does not give rise to something higher whereas in a dog, or in a tick, you do have molecules and you have atoms, but all of these things come together to bring in something new and create something new.

Corey: And those individuals are compounded out of the simpler ones. To me, it seems so fascinating because it fits, and corroborates with everything that we know, just from the wide variety of research that we've done on biology and society, and people. They think they are one person, the "myth of sanity" that we have is we think that we're just one individual, but in reality we have so many different selves, so many different bacteria that influence our moods, influence what we want to eat. We are surrounded by people that influence us and can spread all these contagious ideas and thoughts and behaviors. There was a little bit of relief when you read Whitehead's philosophy in the sense that you could have a word for it. It was just one word, in his system, that's applicable to all of reality, whether you're talking about physics or you're talking about biology.

Harrison: So he would say that the actual entity, being the atom of the universe out of which everything else is made, applies on all levels, including at the very biggest, ultimate level. So he would call the grand, ultimate actual occasion, God. So on the most basic level you have subatomic particles, and then working all the way up to the one occasion of experience which has traditionally been called god. He uses various words for it, but god's the kind of all-encompassing one.

We may or may not get into his conception of god, but just another comment on societies of occasion, the difference between a rock and a tree. There seems to be something about actual occasions. It's kind of hard to pin down, because there are some shapes and combinations of smaller occasions that make up a bigger occasion that has its own unity to it. Every creature which we see has its own unity, its own self, its own singular self that is above and beyond the collection of entities out of which it's made, like you've observed, rocks, which don't seem to have that kind of unifying and all-encompassing consciousness.

I think there's a couple things going on there. There seems to be some kind of principle in the universe, or some kind of cosmic database of potential forms or combinations that will create a new organism, and then others that won't. So all we can really do at this point is look at creation, look at all the creatures in the universe, and see which ones look like wholes, and which ones don't. We're actually pretty good at that, we've got pretty good information detecting apparatuses which are our minds, to let us know that. So we can look at another human and realize it's another being with consciousness and not confuse it with a rock, at least most people can. [laughter]

But then, there's something on a fundamental level that differentiates though. Some are possible, and some aren't. It looks like the ones that are possible are created at such a complex level in the genome, for instance, because all the beings above the level of just molecules are in organic lifeforms. But when you look at something like a rock, it's just a bunch of smaller organisms that have been put together, or put themselves together, based on their own habits of experience, and the habits of experience are what we would call the physical laws, the ways in which atoms combine and are attracted or repelled by each other, the way electrons are exchanged and all that. It's all very ordered. They pretty much know how to do one or two things, and then they always do that.

So when you have a rock, they're all doing what they do, but you don't create anything higher. So expecting a rock to be conscious, would be like expecting a pile of dead human bodies all smushed together to be its own organism. It doesn't work that way because there's no meaningful information that has been injected into that organization, right? It may be ordered, because you can stack them up really nicely, but there's nothing about that organization that adds a layer of information.

Now, the human individual itself, is a whole bunch of different kinds of information all nested within each other in a very complex way, in a way that's vastly more complex than the ways in which rocks are made. So you couldn't just jam a bunch of stuff together and expect it to be a conscious being, just like we've found out so far in our quest for A.I., you can't just create a computer and then have it be conscious, it's not that simple yet. You probably need to make a body for it first, and the body is so complex, we're nowhere near even creating a body complex enough to hold a real consciousness or to be conscious.

Corey: I want to just touch on what you just discussed, the difference between the physical world, just material and living beings. Whitehead has a word he calls "prehension," which is a mode of taking account of other things that could be sensory or non-sensory. It's an internal appropriation of causal influences from the past, and that's basically data. It's the way the data impacts the event, the actual entity.

So you look at an atom. It's bouncing around, that's the data that it gets. It's bouncing. Something else bounces into it, "Oh, it does this!" Something even radically different, now it's a gas or something like that and it's different. That's basically the extent of information that it has. Then as soon as you see DNA get planted in, or this code or language planted in, now all of a sudden all these elements have more data. It's like walking into this huge bank of books and money and you can have whatever you want, you've won the lottery. Now they have all these different ways to what he would say 'prehend' the information and also when they do that, others are prehending off them, and it's just the scaffolding process that begins to take place where you see the stark divide between what we would call non-living, butt what you couldn't call non-living in Whitehead's philosophy. It would be maybe just less-living of matter and the more living of the actual entities that now have DNA, that have all these different ways of putting codons together and splicing things and creating and taking off from there in that process of becoming, which is the basis of his process philosophy.

Adam: I have a question. You were talking about DNA and the idea popped into my head, of DNA being an antenna that connects to the, I guess Whitehead would call it, the realm of eternal objects, and that antenna is what connects one particular occasion or actual entity to the realm of eternal objects which then infuses it with the potential for creativity, for spontaneity.

Harrison: Well, I think that Whitehead would probably say it doesn't infuse it with creativity or the potential of creativity. The potential for creativity is inherent in everything in the universe. That's one of the fundamental principles of the universe. It's a universal feature of the atoms of the universe, of occasions of experience, of actual entities. It's in the very nature of an actual entity to be potentially creative, or to be creatively potential. What was the last bit you said? You talked about the potential for creativity and...

Adam: And spontaneity.

Harrison: ... and spontaneity. Well, I think Griffin says that probably spontaneity is a similar thing, that everything has a degree of spontaneity. A proton doesn't have much spontaneity, like very little, to the point of being almost zero, because it self-replicates for all eternity. But, maybe on the level above protons, you would get more and expanding degrees of spontaneity, to the point of human behavior, which is infinitely more spontaneous than even a single cell. But then again we may not even know the degree to which single cells are spontaneous or unpredictable because they are so complex and we're always discovering new things about them.

But on the subject of being antenna by which we come into contact with the realm of eternal objects, first, let's get that term out of the way, eternal objects. In addition to occasions of experience, actual occasions, eternal objects are the other kind of half of Whitehead's philosophy that make everything work. So, you can't have any accurate description of reality without taking into account what Whitehead called eternal objects. What eternal objects were, probably the most basic description of them, are possibilities.

Again, this is why I've liked the direction that Jordan Peterson has been going in recently, because he's been saying that it seems like the nature of reality, and the nature of consciousness is that consciousness is presented with a realm of possibilities out of which we choose one, that then becomes actual and real. Even if it sounds weird, there's something inherently real about those possibilities. It's like they have no physical reality, no physical existence, and yet, they exist in some sense.

So, Whitehead would say that those possibilities, which would include numbers and morals and values and the possibility side of proposition and shapes and forms and pretty much everything abstract, everything that you can think about, exists within the actual occasion that is the mind of god. That would be the information field. So what is the information field? Where does it exist? It is the unified, universal mind in which everything else exists, in the same way you could say that your mind is the universe in which all the parts of your body exist. They're all connected, but your mind is what gives a unified existence to all the parts that contribute to it, and that in fact make it up. And that it was god is on the level of ultimate reality.

So eternal objects would be the possibilities, and again this gets back to Information Theory. It's the informational possibilities which then get manifested in reality. On the level of DNA, if DNA is an antenna for accessing these forms, then every consciousness is. Every mind of every actual entity is an antenna connecting to the information field, connecting to this realm of possibilities, and that's the way in which novelty is introduced into the cosmos. What Whitehead means by that is that if you imagine a universe without possibilities, without a source of new forms, you would just get a stable universe in which nothing new ever happened. It would just be repeating over and over and nothing new would ever happen in the universe.

Well, we constantly have to have new things come into the universe. Even in our own everyday experiences there is constantly something new. If there is an element of novelty in the universe, which there self-evidently is, then there needs to be a source for that novelty, a way in which that novelty is possible. The way in which Whitehead then describes this is that it's in the realm of eternal objects. In any given situation, there is a set of possibilities that can branch out from that present. These would be potential futures. In a universe without novelty, there would presumably be only one potential future, or maybe a small set of possible futures that it just cycles through, but there would be nothing essentially new and creative that would come out of it. But if there is this realm of eternal objects, this realm of possibilities that can then be chosen to be manifested based on the given conditions at any given moment, then that is potentially a way in which novelty can be introduced into the universe.

But there's one other thing that is needed for that to be possible, and this is where Whitehead's ideas of god come into the equation. We've dealt with two of the three essential features of modern philosophy. So, from what we've described so far, we can see that Whitehead is definitely not a materialist, because he doesn't see atoms as being matter. He sees them as being occasions of experience, which is, not material.

We've kind of just skimmed by the second one, sensationism, in the talk of prehension. It's kind of been implicit in the conversation so far. Whitehead would say, "Well no, we don't perceive by our senses. Everything perceives, in a way," and you introduced the term prehension. Everything perceives causal influence on it, from the members out of which it is made, and from the objects which surround it, and from the eternal objects in the mind that encompass it. All of these things are experienced by the occasion of experience, and he calls that prehension. It's not based on the senses. In fact the senses are based on a more fundamental prehension.

For example, your skin prehends the objects that it touches and then your sensory cells prehend the pressure on your skin and then your nervous system prehends the signal from those cells, all the way up to the different parts of your brain which prehend those signals sent through your nerves to the mind as a whole, that prehends all of the information that has been collated and processed in the brain, that then gives you that one experience of touch.

So from the very bottom-up, it has been one process of complexified prehension from a very simple prehension all the way to the most complex prehension of which is the mind experiencing something, in this case a sense, one of your five senses.

Then getting to the third aspect which is modernism and postmodernism's atheism, one of the reasons why Whitehead did believe in god is because something like a universal mind is needed to give value to some of those possibilities over others. Because if none of those possibilities in this realm of eternal objects had some extra weight given to it, if it wasn't placed somewhere on a hierarchy of possibilities, then the universe would just be random, because any one thing would be just as good as any other thing. There wouldn't be anything inherently better about one thing or the other. But there does seem to be something inherently better about something versus other things.

So, there must be an order to the realm of eternal objects. There must be an order to all the possibilities in the universe, and that would be over time and at an instant. So over time, there will be a story, a narrative that ideally should play out over the life of the cosmos, but also in any given moment there should be any set of possibilities that are better than other sets of possibilities. So it's not only the way in which novelty is introduced into the universe, into which new things come into the universe, but it's also the way in which good things come into the universe that are better.

So we can see that. Again, it's self-evident when you actually think about it, because there isn't a day that goes by when you don't, or if you don't, then when you should [chuckle] say to yourself, "Really, I could have done that better, or that could have been done better," or "Wow, that was done really well," and it can be something as simple as watching a football game, where you are comparing the performance of the actual occasions that you're seeing on your TV screen to a hypothetical potential ideal version of those actual occasions, like the perfect play, essentially.

But also in terms of theories, in terms of science and truth, like, "Oh that really is a better explanation for this than that other thing," or "that's is a better theory than this theory," that's a better description than this description", "that's a better organized system than this system", "that person's nervous system is working in a better way than that other person's nervous system because they're dead". [laughter] There are all kinds of things that you can compare, and objectively say are better or worse than others. It's not just using human categories, because I think that one of the implications of Information Theory that I haven't really seen talked about by the people that talk about these sorts of things is that there seems to be an inherent value in information.

I think one of the ways in which we experiences this, is, let's say that there's one copy of a book, an ancient book that's a thousand years old and there's only one copy in existence and we know the language that it's been written in. Now, let's say that you have a person that comes around and burns that book. That should be a crime on par with murder, I think, because they have destroyed something of inestimable value. Well, why is it of valuable? It's valuable because of the information that it contained, and the rarity of that information. It was irreplaceable. There was only one of it in existence, just like there is only one of any person in existence. That's why murder is a crime, well one of the reasons murder is a crime.

So there seems to be an inherent value in information, and maybe that's also why we inherently value human life over let's say ant life, or tick life [laughter], or the life of a carrot because we're more complex, we have more information. That may be one way of actually measuring value. It's like viewing it from a very wide angle lens. It may work for certain low-resolution problems, but it might not work when we're trying to deal with more involved moral dilemmas. But looking at it from the bigger picture, I think there's something to it. The more information, the better organized the information, the more value it has.

That seems to be a reflection of the way that those possibilities, that those information templates that exist in the realm of eternal objects only as possibilities. First, there is an order to those templates in the realm of eternal objects which is the cosmic mind. But then that order is then manifested in the beings that choose on some level to manifest those forms. There is a hierarchy of value in the sphere of eternal objects, and there are actual values and a hierarchy of values, of the things in which those possibilities are made manifest.

Corey: So, I just want to touch upon the modernist moral philosophy and why you didn't believe you could think of god or morality as real. They believe that moral realism, the idea that morality is real, and that you could know what it is, is false because there's no conceivable way which you could use your sense to see them. What does a moral act look like, and how would you actually recognize it with your senses? They couldn't possibly belong to the nature of the universe, since the universe was all just nature, just brute fact. But Whitehead said, I'm just going to read a short quote from him. "Our experiences of ideals, of ideals entertained, of ideals aimed at, of ideals achieved, and of ideals defaced, this is the experience of the deity of the universe."

So, just what you were talking about, just the need for a god to have potentiality and structure and the importance of potentiality in our lives and just the common sense notion that ideals and morality exist, and the kind of violence that you do to people when you say they don't. In Whitehead's system, he manifestly says that ideals, or what we want, or potentiality are a way of experiencing that cosmic deity, that potentiality that's inherent in each of us, and in every activity.

He defined creativity as the two-fold power of an event. In his conceptual scheme, a unified event is just like an individual. You're an unified event, or even the simplest organism could be. It's the power of a unified event to exercise self-determination and to exert causal effects on subsequent events. So this idea of creativity as a metaphysical principle, that is a potential, and has its own definition in a system, is something that, I think, goes beyond what we would need as a rational approach to encompassing all of the facts that we have. So we know that we have ideals, we know that we have morals, we know that for years, people have had religious experiences of one kind of another. You can't just wipe that away, just throw that away. And as you said, it turns out that this whole idea of having a moral theory that's based on anything but a supreme value system that is transcendent, hasn't worked. It has utterly failed. We can see it all around us, this postmodern, "there are no objective values, whatever this culture does is cool, because that's what they do." Deep down, part of our common sense understanding of the world is that there is right, there is wrong, there are good moral systems, and there are immoral moral systems. That's all I had to say about that.

Harrison: I'll take off on a couple things that were in there. The first one was that quote that you read from Whitehead, the experience of ideals entertained and achieved and aimed at, and defaced is the experience of the deity of the universe. I think what that essentially means is that those things are the way in which we experience god. So, every time you entertain an ideal, every time that you think about or aim at something better, you are coming into contact with the primordial nature of god, which is how Whitehead termed it. That is your connection to god, that is the way in which god is relevant to creation at every instant, in every being universally.

One of the things that guys like Sam Harris try to criticize religion and religious people for is a belief in this god that isn't necessary because you don't need god to explain anything in the universe. It's kind of extraneous and the only places in which religious people have been found to inject god have been in the gaps in the scientific materialist understanding of the creation, of the universe. But actually, god plays a fundamental role in the ongoing continuous becoming of the entire universe, of your entire life. At every moment, in every day, some part of you is in constant contact with the ultimate mind of the universe. Whenever you achieve an ideal, whenever you achieve a moment of perfection, or even close to perfection, a moment of something better than what you were before and when you entertain those things, when you aim at them, when you think of them, when you feel them, when they move you and they motivate you. Those things are the experience of the ultimate, of god. I like how he put "of ideals defaced," in there too because that too is an experience.

Adam: Yeah.

Harrison: That's what I was getting at. I'd forgotten that quote. I've just read it so many times that it has unconsciously influenced me, because that was what I was thinking of when I was talking about the destruction of a rare book, because you're basically defacing an aspect of creation when you're doing that. When there's an ideal in the world that you actively deface, either out of malevolence, or just out of stupidity, those are the two of the types of evil in the world.

Adam: Yeah.

Harrison: Like Peterson says, there's natural evil, that's just like suffering that comes through life, and then there's malevolent evil. There is a level of malevolence of beings, of people who have some kind of negative awareness of the universal hierarchy of values, and they choose to totally subvert it, and to deface it. That too is an experience of god because they have to have a connection in order to reject it, essentially. On some level they know the good which they are defacing, and they take pleasure in defacing it, and taking the world that much closer to hell. That gives them a rush. That's what psychopaths feel inside. That's what gives them pleasure, for whatever reason. That's the experience of god which I think is very interesting.

Corey: Yeah, I think it's very interesting in terms of his pan-experientialist philosophy. You're looking at the entire universe as having this fundamental motivation, that everything is drawn by this, like flakes to a magnet or something.

Harrison: And that's what gives the directionality to the evolutionary process. That's why it looks as if beings, through the course of evolution, become more complex and more intelligent and in some way better. It's because they actually are. It's because they are following a directionality that is inherent in the way the universe is structured. And not only that, we started the show by saying that Whitehead's philosophy can present an alternative, present the worldview that can fill the philosophical hole that is left in people as a result of the last 200 years of the intellectual ideas permeating mass culture. Whitehead can fill that hole

I like one thing that Jordan Peterson says about what he calls Western civilization works and this aspect of it is good. It's because we act as if the other person, or at least we should, this is the basic foundational idea or value that we've lost, in his mind, that is that we should see each other as a spark of a divine. There's something inherent in each individual that does have inherent value. He won't go as far as metaphysics, but he'd say that at the very least, we should act as if it is true, and with Whitehead, it is literally true.

Adam: Yeah, we can finally say that it is actually true.

Harrison: Yeah, because every individual has that value manifested in themselves. They are an expression of value, not only to themselves, but to a wider organizational informational shape of the cosmos. We are all a part of this one universe, and each part has a part to play, and can play that part better or worse. They can either contribute to that greater ideal through their experience of god, and through their manifestation of the ideals in that universal hierarchy of value, or they can play their part poorly and make the universe a worse place. But every little individual part can play its role, and should play its role.

That also adds the dimension of responsibility. So not only are we essentially valuable, because we do have value as subjects, we are valuable in and of ourselves, valuable to ourselves, valuable to others, valuable to the whole of creation, not only that but we then have responsibility, because, as parts of this universe, as beings in this universe with free will, with the ability to do things, it becomes our responsibility as parts of the whole, to bring that value into the world, and to bring new values into the world, because no one else is going to do it, because, we're it. We are the things that bring value into the world. It's that simple.

Adam: Yeah. You are the subject and the object. So if you were going to be the object that embodies, or could embody the creative ideals of the universe, then wouldn't you want to give to the universe something that is valuable and meaningful, and makes it a better place?

Harrison: Yeah.

Corey: I have this one quote from him on religion. He says:

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things, something which is real and yet waiting to be realized, something which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts, something that gives meaning to all that passes and yet eludes all apprehension, something whose possession is the final good and yet is beyond all reach, something which is the ultimate ideal, and a hopeless quest.

You get a sense he's a Taoist sage at that point. This is the closest the West has had to a Taoist sage! [laughter] But he's glimpsed that idea of that fundamental drive, not with Revelation, but with rationality and probably a hint of religious revelation. He understood that this was a driving force. This philosophical system, even if not perfect, could still explain in a way that was psychologically healthy, physically applicable and didn't do any damage to scientific fact, if anything, it added something that makes more sense, that something more that makes more sense. I think that's why Whitehead has the solution to our postmodern woes.

Harrison: Mm-hmm.

Adam: It's definitely, as you were talking about it, it gives life meaning. When Harrison was talking earlier about the conception of god, I was thinking about what we are given to interpret reality is our bodies. You can think of it as not necessarily 100% accurate, but in your body, if you're going on a fast let's say, for whatever reason, some cells in your body will be disturbed, because they weren't getting this influx of nutrition that it's used to, and it's like "Why is this happening to me?" But god, if you can think of it as you, as an entity, you're doing it for a very specific reason, and that gives that suffering meaning, and without that it's like, what's the point?

Corey: There's one quote he has about complex beings and everything that becomes in the universe, and he says, "how an actual entity becomes, constitutes what that actual entity is. Its being is constituted by its becoming" which, is a fairly concise way of saying that what you bring to life, is what you become. What you do in the world is that end point that you become. That's the potentiality, the eternal object that you will ultimately end up becoming, that you are drawn to. He writes that "The eternal objects are the pure potentials of the universe and that we all differ from each other, everything in the universe, in our realization of those potentials."

So I think that also functions as a very good moral code, a moral idea in the sense that the potentiality, the thing that draws you forward, you're going to know by what you're doing in your life, whether it's positive, whether it's religiously good or pure, whether your moral code should be sensitized and be going off, and you should feel disgusted with yourself or whatever. As a moral system, it's pretty darn good. It's really dense. It's tough to get through, but there's a lot of books out there now that try and simplify it, because enough time has passed, and enough people have realized that what he was doing and the need that he was filling in this postmodern era is definitely worth looking into.

Adam: It's interesting too how the prehensionist mode of perception, the pan-experientialist view of reality, and then the pantheistic view of the universe, how each is actually necessary for the other and how all of them suggest the others.

Harrison: Yeah, it's a totally complementary system. It's not like a bunch of random bits thrown together. Each bit presupposes the other, and each bit implies the other, and I think that's one of the reasons that Whitehead is so difficult to read. I think he even said this at one point, that every part of everything he writes is dependent on all the other parts and they all fit together. So he had trouble arranging it in a linear fashion. Not to say that it's impossible to do so, but just the nature of these ideas is such that it's difficult to find place to start, just because you have to talk about other things in order to talk about your first thing, and it's just difficult.

You need a pan-enthianism, we need to be within god, and god needs to be also the unifying One over and above everything, in order to have the hierarchy of values so that novelty and goodness can enter the universe. You need pan-experientialism to understand consciousness and how matter experiences and does become conscious at a certain level, and then you need prehension to understand how we can have physical causation and to have the receptivity to novelty and goodness and experience. It's all just different aspects of one system that accounts for everything.

That's one of the things that Whitehead said philosophy should be. He said philosophy should be a couple of things. One is that it should account for the unavoidable presuppositions of experience. so if there's something that we can't help but do, then philosophy should be a way of understanding how that thing exists and is possible. So if we can't help but believe...

Adam: Act as if.

Harrison: Act as if there's truth, then our philosophical worldview must account for the existence of truth, and the way in which we've come to know truth. It must apply to all of those presupposition. If we can't help but act as if causation is real, we need to understand how exactly causation is real. We can't just say, I believe it was human. We can't prove that causation is real just because of philosophical induction. We have to make the leap to believe that causation is always true? Well no, it's because we have a fundamental experience of causation and that is the root of how we know it. There's a couple of other things that philosophy should do. Philosophy should actually be the reconciling factor between religion and science. It should be the one to take the best aspects of both and to make them complementary. There's one other thing that philosophy should be but I forget what it is. That'll be the mystery for listeners to discover.

Adam: I really like how David Ray Griffin structured the book. He made his arguments very, very precisely, and really gave you that view of how all-encompassing it is, what it means for truth, for time, for physics, morality, our ecological worldview, pretty much everything, science, religion. It's a really great read.

Harrison: Actually I just remembered what the other thing philosophy should do [laughter] is that a philosophical worldview should take into account all facts, and it should be self-consistent. So it shouldn't be self-contradictory. That means that anything that is a fact, anything that is true, must be accounted for by a philosophical worldview. So if your philosophical worldview can't account for a single fact, then there is something fundamentally wrong with your philosophy. And if your philosophy is self-contradictory in some way, if it's incoherent, again that means there is something fundamentally wrong with your philosophy.

So the goal of philosophers should be to create a system that does account for all facts and that is self-consistent and non-contradictory. So I'm sure that there are still probably some contradictions in Whitehead's philosophy. I doubt that he got it all 100% right at the time. Not being a professional philosopher, I can't find all those holes, but from what I do know and understand, it seems to me that Whitehead has at least come the closest, and far beyond anyone else because everyone else leaves something out.

Adam: Yeah. All the other postmodernists have so many contradictions which should be the red flag to them that, "Okay, well, something's not right here."

Harrison: Right, exactly. Well, were there any other subjects or interesting things that you found in the book that you can bring up before we shut down the show for the day, or did we cover everything?

Corey: That's everything! [laughter]

Adam: Well, one thing that David Ray Griffin wrote in his book, on specifically ecology, the egalitarianism without irrelevance with the pan-experientialist view of nature and reality, and you have the inherent value of something that which it can give to the environment and the intrinsic value of something being good in and of itself. I thought that was pretty interesting given the pan-experientialist view that you can't say that humans are the same as bacteria, or they have the same value because they don't, both in the intrinsic and the inherent value systems.

But, when you look at the world and the way that the majority of governments and corporations and people in general treat the world, and treat other people, it seems like this was a really good way to get some perspective on how this is all part of the divine reality, and we should be treating each other with truth, justice and caring.

Harrison: And basically we do have a responsibility to care for our environment, the environment in which we live. There's a reason for that. It's because it does have value in and of itself, and value in relation to us. We can even have a selfish motive, in part. It shouldn't be entirely selfish, but we can't destroy our own environment because it's bad for us, but also because it's bad on another level too. It's bad because we're destroying something that is inherently valuable.

Adam: Yep, and that's all I had.

Harrison: Alright. With that said, we hope that everyone gets a chance to check out some Whiteheadian process philosophy. I recommend starting with a David Ray Griffin book. You can pretty much do a search on Amazon and look at any of his philosophical titles, and then just find the title that appeals to you the most, that looks interesting. Or maybe start with the one that we're talking about now, Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy, and then go from there because each book takes a different angle, and looks at things from a slightly different perspective, or different focus. But he usually includes all the basic ideas in all of his books and relates them to that thing. So, check that out and thanks for tuning in. Thanks Adam and thanks Corey for this interesting discussion today and we will see y'all next week, so thanks everyone and take care.

Corey: Have great week everybody.

Adam: Bye.