Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead’s Flat Ontology
Brandon Jones, University of Illinois
Journal of Consciousness Studies, 21, No. 5-6, 2014, pp. 174-95
Summary and review of the above paper
INTRODUCTION: Whitehead places events rather than bits of matter at the centre of scientific enquiry. Qualia of subjective experiences are abstractions of the character of these events, while space and time are abstractions of the relations between events. The distinctions between both mind and matter and subject and object are abolished in dealing with subjective experience.
Brandon Jones argues that the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness, which occupies a prominent role in modern consciousness studies, is only hard in the sense of how to understand consciousness without splitting it off from the rest of the natural world as understood by modern science. The author works from the basis of the thinking of Alfred North Whitehead in the early 20th century.
Fundamentality of events
Whitehead conceived events as the fundamental reality, with space, time, matter and qualia as abstractions from this fundamental level. Whitehead places events rather than bits of matter at the centre of scientific enquiry. Qualia are abstractions of the character of these events, while space and time are abstractions of the relations between the events. Events that can be recognised can be described as objects, in that they are objects because the event goes on for long enough to be recognised.
In thinking in terms of particular events, Whitehead’s conception does not need to work down to some underlying substance, in the way that Leibniz’s and other theories of monads seems to assume, but instead relies on fundamental events. Whitehead’s approach abolishes any distinction between mind and matter or between subject and object. Moreover the relationship between mind and matter is not seen as causal because they are both viewed as manifestations of the same fundamental events.
Similarities to Penrose
Brandon Jones argues that Penrose’s idea of consciousness as a property of fundamental space time is appealing to something too concrete, but is hard to see why this concept is more concrete than the notion of events as fundamental. It is possible that both ideas are more similar than Brandon Jones realises.