SCIENCE AND THE MODERN WORLD

A. N. Whitehead

1925, Mentor N.Y., 1960.


This is both intellectual history and philosophical exposition, of, specifically, his own philosophy of organism. Science is becoming the study of organisms, bizarrely ordered by size: biology studying the larger, physics the smaller organisms (p.97). This theory purports to supplant materialism, which is taken to incorrectly base itself on abstraction (p.76). That doctrine can be said to suffer from what he terms "The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness" (p.52)

Perhaps here we have an origin for Fuller's ontological unit: the event. Whitehead's "provisional realism" includes the experiencer in the conception of the spatio-temporal unity which is the event. There is an interactiveness between an event and the rest of the world: "An event has to do with all that there is, and in particular with all other events." (p.97).

This reference to the universe applies also in the case of "eternal objects" (more traditionally, "universals"). An object's relational essence involves its status in the universe (p.144). Its internal relations are yet outward.

"Cognition is the emergence, into some measure of individualised reality, of the general substratum of activity, poising before itself possibility, actuality, and purpose." (p.138).

There is again some hint of an antecedent to Fuller's concern for teleology, the purposiveness of our experience of the universe.

The relation between geometry and physics is discussed in a chapter on mathematics (p.27). Geometrical conditions must be satisfied in order for groups of entities to be relatable abstractly. Interestingly, the issue of abstraction versus conceivability in Fuller's sense of the shape of events is touched on specifically in the course of this account of the nature of mathematical reasoning:

"[The] irrelevance of the particular entities has not been generally understood: for example, the shape-iness of shapes, e.g., circularity and sphericity and cubicality as in actual experience, do not enter into the geometrical reasoning." (p.31)

Another contrast concerns the key factor, in Synergetics, of energy:

"It must be remembered that the physicists' energy is obviously an abstraction. The concrete fact, which is the organism, must be a complete expression of the character of a real occurrence." (p.41)

This divergence is starkly shown in his dismissal of materialism, where he states that,

"an electron within a living body is different from an electron outside it, by reason of the plan of the body...and this plan includes the mental state" (p.76).

It is hard to see how geometrical conditions will be satisfied such that any energetic geometry (synergetics) or even physics itself remains possible.

"The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention." (p.91)

This was chiefly achieved by the professionalization of scholarly knowledge, a specializing trend which Fuller himself deplored.



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Paul Taylor 2001