Unreal Nature

July 29, 2012

Insofar As

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:47 am

…  if we admit that “something becomes,” it is easy, by employing Zeno’s method, to prove that there can be no continuity of becoming. There is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming.

… Your acquaintance with reality literally grows by buds or drops of perception. Intellectually and on reflection, you can divide these into components, but as immediately given, they come totally or not at all.

This is from Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts by Isabelle Stengers (2011). The adjective “atomic” as used in the following means “of or forming a single irreducible unit or component in a larger system” [from the OED]. In the italicized quotes below, [SMW] means that it’s taken from Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World:

… What explains did not have the power to explain “in principle”: it obtained this power in fact. Yet this fact is relative to the endurance of the pattern, to the mode of taking into account, insofar as it has succeeded in enduring.

In other words, we should not celebrate the sun as a source of life, but the endurance of a mode of pattern that makes the properties of solar light exist for the plant, these properties that henceforth infect us as well, since the mode of pattern proper to our experiential apparatus has produced its stable signification, which can be articulated in terms of a function. As a dynamics of successful infection required by the order or nature, the endurance of modes of pattern that refer to one another does not allow us to describe the way an event is prehension “for itself,” even as it participates in a world from which it is inseparable.

… the atomic character or duration must be affirmed, against the idea of a temporal flux indefinitely divisible down to the fiction of an instant without thickness.

… The concept of realization must designate what occurs for and by itself. Actuality is therefore not situated “in time”: it situates itself, that is, it produces its situation. In short, it is “epoch-making,” in the sense in which we use this expression when we designate an event qua creator of the possibilities of questioning and describing it.

In realization the potentiality becomes actuality. But the potential pattern requires a duration [sc. to become actuality]; and the duration must be exhibited as an epochal whole, by the realization of the pattern [ … ] Temporalization is realization. Temporalization is not another continuous process. It is an atomic succession. Thus time is atomic (i.e., epochal), though what is temporalized is divisible. [SMW]

At this stage, the reader might be tempted to try to imagine this “atomic time,” and perhaps more successfully than I have been able to. In any case, this is no intuition of time — quite the contrary. The impossiblity of appealing to intuition with regard to an atomic time goes without saying, since we run into the “specious,” constructed character of the intuition of continuity, as analyzed by William James. Whitehead’s thesis does not have the vocation of leading us to an authentic relationship to lived time, but here as always, of resisting the power of abstraction.

… One could always describe any duration as including shorter durations, or any realization as including a series of distinct realizations, or again, any adoption of a position as including a series of successive positions. And one would finally arrive at a continuous series that prohibits what is being realized from being said to be “epoch making,” producing a present that “adopts a position,” irreversibly, with regard to the future. No adoption of a position would finish happening, unfolding in expectations and sub-expectations, and the sole actuality would then be the continuity, indefinitely divisible, of change that the function in fact describes. Whitehead repeats this in Process and Reality:

The extensive continuity of the physical universe has usually been construed to mean that there is a continuity of becoming. But if we admit that “something becomes,” it is easy, by employing Zeno’s method, to prove that there can be no continuity of becoming. There is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming. The actual occasions are the creatures which become, and they constitute a continuously extensive world. In other words, extensiveness becomes, but “becoming” is not itself extensive. Thus the ultimate metaphysical truth is atomism. [PR]

The two registers on which the event had to be expressed — individual and community, unification “for itself” and “for each of the others” — are thus relegated to two disjunct questions: that of what becomes, and that of the continuity that is brought into existence (constituted) by becomings that are themselves “atomic.”

… The limits of the notion of organism are in fact similar to those of the notion of function: both define a being not “for itself,” but insofar as it endures. What varies from science to science is the “insofar as.” A biological function cannot be assimilated to a physico-mathematical function. It is not defined in terms of variables, but rather in terms of varieties that result from sorting operations, thresholds, and discriminations, in short, judgments. Thus, the definition of a sense organ constitutes a judgment with regard to what the organ defines as “sensible.” This, moreover, is what constitutes its “value,” the risky success that makes it an organ.

… Endurance is the key term for the philosophy of the organism. It allowed Whitehead to hope for a coherent conception of the order of nature, enabling in particular the designation of the “misplaced concreteness” that “materialism” has conferred upon physical abstraction. Yet Pandora’s box has now been opened, for with the atomicity of time it is henceforth the specious present that becomes the prototype of “what is realizing itself.” In Process and Reality, moreover, it is right in the midst of the discussion of Zeno’s paradox that William James makes his appearance.

The authority of William James can be quoted in support of this conclusion [the epochal theory of time]. He writes: “Either your experience is of no content, of no change, or else it is of a perceptible amount of content or change. Your acquaintance with reality literally grows by buds or drops of perception. Intellectually and on reflection, you can divide these into components, but as immediately given, they come totally or not at all.” [PR]

Has Whitehead killed determinism? Tune in next week …

My most recent previous post from Stengers’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

 

3 Comments

  1. That there can be no continuity of becoming (at least for a fundamental particle) follows from the fact that existence/nonexistence is binary.

    To argue from that (or otherwise) to an atomic or granular notion of time, however, really doesn’t follow.

    Comment by Felix — July 29, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  2. … “doesn’t follow.” You’re so confident!

    I disagree with you. I think it could follow (but I would not be so bold as to use the *do* word).

    Comment by unrealnature — July 30, 2012 @ 3:43 am

  3. JH> You’re so confident!

    [grin]

    Note that i don’t say can’t be. It may be, for all I know (for all that I doubt it). But there is no logical link from the premise (that there is no continuity of becoming) to the conclusion (that time is discrete).

    JH> I disagree with you.
    JH> I think it could follow.

    Fair enough; I respect your view and your disagreement (and your confidence!)

    The disagreement remains, though … I still maintain that the positing of particulate time could conceivably be correct – but that it is not a conclusion which can legitimately be drawn from the discontinuity of becoming.

    Comment by Felix — July 30, 2012 @ 5:03 am


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