Whitehead's Process Model
Whitehead's primary contributions to our discussion his theories of mental and physical causation as real influence and of the mind-body relationship. However, his theory of causation is also unique in taking relativity and quantum mechanics, the twentieth-century revolutions in physics, into account. As such, it is not only the most comprehensive and detailed theory of causation, it is also the most current.
The main problem with Whitehead's philosophy is also its strength. He is asking us to understand our world in a radically different way. His philosophy is both difficult to understand and easy to misunderstand. The challenge for anyone attempting to summarize his philosophy is to simply it without distorting it. To reduce this discussion to a manageable scope, I focus on four issues that directly pertain to the topic at hand:
In discussing the fallacies of simple location and misplaced concreteness, I summarize what Whitehead believed to be two of Western philosophy's critical errors that have impeded our efforts to understand some very ordinary phenomena, such as causation and the mind-body relationship. In the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, he argues that the most fundamental units of human experience are not the minds and bodies that have hitherto been called "substances." Instead, they are momentary events, or "actual occasions of experience," that have both mental and physical aspects. This doctrine is central to his theory of mind-body philosophy. In the fallacy of simple location, he argues that events do not exist in only one place in space-time. This concept is essential to his theory of causation as real influence, because it allows for one event, the cause, to exist in some sense in a later event, the effect.
Whitehead never argued that mind and matter do not exist. He painstakingly reconstructs and reinterprets them in terms of actual occasions, and explains how our world can consist of actual occasions, as well minds and bodies, once we see that each describes a different aspect of our experience -- the former, the concrete, and the latter, the abstract.
Whitehead's general theory of causation was certainly one of the primary objectives in his philosophy. Like James, he did not believe that the mind could impose causal laws upon the universe. He accepted James's arguments that causal relationships are given to us, i.e., in some sense felt by us, in our experience. However, he realized that overcoming Hume's objections required some fundamental changes in the way we understand the world. We must cease trying to understand causation and mind-body interaction in terms of minds, bodies, substances, and attributes and begin thinking in terms of processes, events, and creativity. The basic building blocks of Aristotle's philosophy, as well as common sense, must be disassembled, examined, and re-assembled again in order to see how they really work. Like the idealists, Whitehead was willing to go beyond common sense, but unlike them, he also held himself accountable for explaining it.
In his theory of the mind-body relationship, Whitehead explains how the commonsense notions of mind and body can be understood in terms of actual occasions. He also gives us a new way of understanding what it means to be "mental" and "physical," and the role these two notions play in causation. He also explains how God interacts with the world.
The last topic, how psychosomatic healing occurs in Whitehead's system, is my own contribution to the discussion. There I outline how psychosomatic healing would occur under Whitehead's model, as well as how it explains the idealist legacy, i.e., the notion of a God and creative process operating within us and the role of beliefs in dictating biology. In fact, it explains it more completely and consistently than the idealists did themselves.
I. Two Fallacies: Simple Location and Misplaced Concreteness
Unlike some of the idealists, who felt free to dismiss certain hard-core commonsense beliefs as illusory, Whitehead believed that it was incumbent on philosophy to explain hard-core commonsense beliefs. However, his approach to common sense was one of disassembling it in order to save it, which makes his metaphysics seem paradoxical and easy to misread. On the one hand, common sense demands that we find a way to preserve the notions of mind-body interaction and efficient causation as real influence. On the other, Whitehead discovered that certain other beliefs, beliefs that are so widely held that they too might seem to be hard-core common sense, were interfering with our understanding of causation and the mind-body relationship. Therefore, it may seem, at first, that Whitehead's project was one of throwing out some hard-core commonsense beliefs in order to save others. However, a belief loses its hard-core commonsense status as soon as somebody shows how we can function in life without presupposing it in practice. At that point, it ceases to be "hard-core" and becomes "soft-core" common sense. Therefore, the success of Whitehead's philosophy depends largely on how well he reassembled the commonsense beliefs he took apart. The two main commonsense beliefs that Whitehead challenged were what he called "simple location" and "misplaced concreteness." These fallacies, which he describes in greatest detail in Science and the Modern World, have misled Western philosophy in very significant ways.(208)
Fallacy of Simple Location
"Simple location" for Whitehead is the belief that the information about any event in space-time does not include information about other events happening elsewhere and at other times. Whitehead gives the following explanation of "simple" location.
[A]s soon as you have settled, however you do settle, what you mean by a definite place in space-time, you can adequately state the relation of particular material body to space-time by saying that it is just there, in that place; and, so far as simple location is concerned, there is nothing more to be said on the subject.(209)
This doctrine, according to Whitehead, eventually leads to the conclusion that no knowledge can come from experience. For Whitehead the problem gnawed at the very foundation of empirical science, in that it if it were true, it would be impossible to explain the success of inductive logic or even memory.
It is at once evident that the concept of simple location is going to make great difficulties for induction. For, if in the location of configurations of matter throughout a stretch of time there is no inherent reference to any other times, past of future, it immediately follows that nature within any period does not refer to nature at any other period. Accordingly, induction is not based on anything which can be observed as inherent in nature. Thus we cannot look to nature for the justification of our belief in any law such as the law of gravitation. In other words, the order of nature cannot be justified by the mere observation of nature. For there is nothing in the present fact which inherently refers either to the past or to the future. It looks, therefore, as though memory, as well as induction, would fail to find any justification within nature itself.(210)
William James had already identified the source of the problem as the doctrine of sensationism, i.e., that we know events most directly via the five senses. From James's proposition that we have non-sensory experiences that are both direct and real, it follows that experience contains much more than just sense data. Experience gives us relationships, such as that of cause and effect, as much as it does the color blue. When we concede that the present moment provides information about other events located elsewhere in space-time, simple location becomes, as Whitehead argued, a "fallacy." According to Whitehead, it was this fallacy that misled Hume into thinking that experience gave us nothing more than an unintelligible stream of sense data, and from that proposition, that experience gives us no notion of efficient causality.
The idea that efficient causation is not given to us in experience not only makes empirical science impossible, but it also runs against common sense. It is from experience that we learn that touching a hot stove causes pain and blisters. Whitehead argued that experience actually does give us these notions, but we cannot find them in a universe understood in terms of simple location.
The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness
The fallacy of simple location comes from another, more fundamental fallacious belief, and that is fallacy of what he called misplaced concreteness. On the surface, it may appear that Whitehead, in arguing that simple location is fallacious, is contradicting hard-core common sense. After all, my car is in fact now in my garage. It is not both in my garage and on the freeway, nor is it in both the garage and my living room. It is where it is and nowhere else. If it is not simply located in my garage, I may have trouble finding it when I want to go to the store later this afternoon.
Simply put, Whitehead answers this problem by saying that, in some sense, what I understand to be my car is a very incomplete and abstract concept of what my car really is. What I understand to be my car is in fact in what I understand to be my garage. However, neither my car nor my garage, as I understand them, comprises the full reality of these things. For example, when I look at my car, it is in my experience as well as in the garage. Thus, my car is simply located in my garage only when conceived at a certain level of abstraction. Says Whitehead:
[B]y a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply-located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme. Accordingly, the real error is an example of what I have termed: The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.(211)
The fallacy of misplaced concreteness is the belief that the physical objects (bodies) and mental substances (minds or souls) are the basic components of human experience. However, if what I know as my car is not really my experience of the car, then what is it? One thing it is not, contrary to Hume, is a mere stream of sense data. Instead, Whitehead would say it consists of a series of moments of my experience that he called "actual occasions." Whitehead's occasions differ from Hume's sense data in several significant ways. One of them is that an occasion includes within itself its relations with other occasions. Another is that an occasion itself is an experiencing entity, albeit a short-lived one. In its most concrete form, reality consists of these occasions, not the minds and bodies we have traditionally assumed to be the basic building blocks of our experience.
This is not to say that what we call minds and bodies do not exist. On the contrary, their existence is a hard-core common sense belief. However, the belief that these entities are the most concrete form of actual entity is not. The most concrete actual entities, he says, are occasions of experience, and they are not simply located. An experience I had yesterday, for example, is not simply in the past but also in my present experience as a memory. Likewise, my present experience will continue to exist in my future experiences. Whitehead argues that the actual entities comprising the molecules of my car are of the same nature.
In addition to giving rise to the fallacy of simple location, the notion of misplaced concreteness has misled philosophers into overusing and over-relying upon the concepts of substance and attribute in trying to understand the world. Whitehead describes how this misleading belief arose:
[S]ubstance and quality, as well as simple location, are the most natural ideas for the human mind. It is the way in which we think of things, and without these ways of thinking we could not get our ideas straight for daily use. The only question is, How concretely are we thinking when we consider nature under these conceptions? When we examine the primary elements of these simplified editions, we shall find that they are in truth only to be justified as being elaborate logical constructions of a high degree of abstraction. Of course, as a point of individual psychology, we get at the ideas by the rough and ready method of suppressing what appear to be irrelevant details. But when we attempt to justify this suppression of irrelevance, we find that, though there are entities left corresponding to the entities we talk about, yet these entities are of a high degree of abstraction.
Thus I hold that substance and quality afford another instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Let us consider how the notions of substance and quality arise. We observe an object as an entity with certain characteristics. Furthermore, each individual entity is apprehended through its characteristics. For example, we observe a body; there is something about it which we note. Perhaps, it is hard, and blue, and round, and noisy. We observe something which possesses these qualities: apart from these qualities we do not observe anything at all. Accordingly, the entity is the substratum, or substance, of which we predicate qualities. (212)
Once again, Whitehead is not saying that the categories of substance and quality do not describe anything real, nor is he saying that they are useless. Instead, he is arguing that they pertain not to our experience in its most concrete form, but to abstractions from it. Because they omit so much of what we actually do experience, the notions of substance and quality are quite useless in our efforts to understand some obvious facts of experience, such as causation and mind-body interaction. Both causation as real influence and mind-body interaction are given to us in experience. However, they cannot be understood when we limit our thinking about experience to the abstract level of substance and quality.
With respect to this discussion, it was the attachment to substance-attribute thinking that left Descartes puzzled over the riddle of dualistic interaction. The mind, when conceived as nothing more than a thinking thing, cannot interact with the body, when the latter is conceived as nothing more than an extended thing with mass and velocity. However, neither the notions of a thinking thing, nor that of an extended thing, fully describe the experiences from which we come to know minds, bodies, and their interaction. To understand mind-body interaction, we need to think of minds and bodies in terms other than those of substances with purely private qualities, i.e., qualities inherent in the substances themselves. My present experience, for example, is what it is because it includes sights, sounds, and sensations from my body. My mind, when understood as a temporally ordered society of occasions of experience, is therefore construed by relations, not private qualities.
Once we realize that our commonsense notions of substance and attribute are based on abstraction and leave out much of what we experience, then we can begin looking into other aspects of nature that have hitherto been ignored. Only then can we begin to understand how experience gives us notions like causation as real influence and mind-body interaction.
II. Whitehead's Reconstruction of Mind and Matter
Whitehead never claimed that substance and attribute thinking was false. On the contrary, he acknowledged that these categories were highly useful, if not indispensable, in our daily lives. If they are not the basic building blocks of our experience, and are instead mere abstractions, we need to know how we abstract these notions from the concrete. To understand things like minds and bodies as abstractions from actual occasions, we need to look at how the notions of mind and matter are abstracted from actual occasions.
The basic unit of reality for Whitehead is the "actual entity," which he uses almost synonymously with the term "actual occasion." (The only the exception is God, who is an actual entity but not an actual occasion.) Whitehead defines an actual entity as follows:
Each actual entity is conceived as an act of experience arising out of data. It is a process of 'feeling' the many data, so as to absorb them into the unity of one individual 'satisfaction.' Here 'feeling' is the term used for the basic generic operation of passing from the objectivity of the data to the subjectivity of the actual entity in question.
An actual entity is a process, and is not describable in terms of the morphology of a 'stuff'. In Cartesian language, the essence of an actual entity consists solely in the fact that it is a prehending thing (i.e., a substance whose whole essence or nature is to prehend)."(213)
The process involved in each actual entity or occasion is the unification of multifarious facets of an experience into a final complex feeling, which Whitehead called "satisfaction." It is an act reminiscent of inscription found on U.S. coins: E pluribus unum.
Whitehead calls this process of unification "prehension," which is like "apprehension" or "comprehension," except that it need not be intellectual.
[A] prehension involves three factors. There is the occasion of experience within which the prehension is a detail of activity; there is the datum whose relevance provokes the origination of this prehension; this datum is the prehended object; there is the subjective form, which is the affective tone determining the effectiveness of that prehension in that occasion of experience.(214)
All prehension must take place within an occasion of experience. Within that occasion, there is the datum that is presented to that occasion, but there is also its meaning, value, or significance to the occasion in which it is prehended. A single occasion includes many prehensions.
An occasion exists in two modes. It exists first as a subject, during which it prehends prior occasions (physical prehensions) and possibilities (conceptual prehensions) and then unifies these prehensions into a "satisfaction." Then the occasion ceases to be an experiencing subject in its own right, and becomes a superject, an object or datum for subsequent occasions. In this way, it transcends simple location, and continues to exist as an experience in other occasions that may be spatially and temporally quite distant.
The first and second phases of prehension are the physical and mental "poles" respectively of an occasion in the making. The following table gives a brief summary of the characteristics of each of these two poles.
|Characteristic||Mental Pole||Physical Pole|
|Determination||Partially self-determining||Fully determined|
|Prehension of||Eternal objects||Previous occasions|
|Innovation||Introduces novelty||Introduces no novelty|
The physical pole does not involve self-determination on the part of the occasion. It involves taking what is given from the past -- no more, no less. In the act of prehending non-actualized universals, the mental pole can, to varying degrees, introduce novelty into what the occasion will finally become. It is therefore the self-determining aspect of the occasion. As Griffin puts it:
To attribute mentality to all actual entities is to attribute at least an iota of spontaneity to them, a germ of what becomes conscious self-determination in us.(215)
The physical pole comprises the sum total of all past occasions prehended by the present occasion. The mental pole begins by prehending abstract notions of what is possible, which Whitehead calls "eternal objects." In more complex occasions, it may also experience a sense of relationship between what is possible and what has been given from the past in the form of a feeling. Whitehead calls the subjective form of this kind of occasion a propositional feeling.
The physical pole is where efficient causes from the past exert their influence on what the present occasion will become. In the physical pole, past occasions inject a tendency for the present occasion to repeat the past, in that the past occasions constitute, more or less fully, what the present occasion is to become. As Griffin says:
The physical phase is the phase of compulsion, as it is the effect of the efficient causes from the past, which impose their in-formed energy upon the present occasion, which will in turn impose itself with compulsive force upon subsequent events.(216)
The mental pole exerts final, as well as some formal, causation. It determines what the occasion will become in terms of universals and values. It decides how the occasion "feels," and what universal categories apply or do not apply to it.
The physical pole is the particular. It is the prehension of fully instantiated actual occasions that have already occurred individually. The mental pole begins with the prehension of universals, the "eternal objects," then integrates them with the physical pole. By relating occasions in the physical pole to its set of universals, the mental pole can inject novelty into the occasion. Its capacity to inject novelty varies directly with its complexity, i.e., the size and complexity of the set of available eternal objects, as well as the number and complexity of occasions it prehends from the physical pole. The more complex the occasion, the more novelty it can introduce, and the greater its degree of self-determination.
Even the lowliest occasions those that comprise molecules, subatomic particles, and even events in "empty space" have a "mental" pole. However, this does not mean Whitehead thinks these entities are capable of anything like rational or abstract thought. Instead, these occasions exercise very minimal self-determination. They do prehend possibilities along with concrete occasions given in the past, but the novel possibilities they can prehend are very limited and vary little from one occasion to its successors.(217)
In Whitehead's ontology, these prehending occasions, which are in some sense both mental and physical, are the only actualities there are. They are the only things that can be said to "exist" in the fullest sense, in that they are the only things that can exert either efficient or final causation (self-determination). Whitehead calls the theory that only actual occasions can do anything the "Ontological Principle." As he says, "The ontological principle can be summarized as: no actual entity, then no reason."(218) All causality with respect to actual events takes place between actual entities, in the case of efficient causation, or within actual entities, in the case of final causation. All creativity, in other words, is exerted by actual entities.
The dipolar nature of an individual occasion is one of the two major meanings for the terms "mental" and "physical" in Whitehead's philosophy. However, this sense of the meaning of these terms does not correspond to the mental and physical substances of Descartes. However, the two senses of the mental-physical dichotomy are indeed related. The basic units that comprise what Descartes called mental and physical substances are the same for both, i.e., dipolar actual occasions of experience that are both mental and physical in the first sense. The difference between a mental substance (enduring individual) and a body (aggregate) in Whitehead's philosophy is not due to the fact that they are composed of different kinds of things, but to the fact that they are different configurations of the same kinds of things. In other words, what Descartes called mental and physical substances are different because they are organized differently.(219)
Whitehead therefore rebuilds the notions of minds and bodies in terms of the ways in which actual occasions are arranged. Both minds and bodies consist of occasions linked together in a "nexus" (plural "nexus," pronounced "necksoos"). Whitehead defines the term "nexus" as follows:
[A] nexus is a set of actual entities in the unity of the relatedness constituted by their prehensions of each other, or -- what is the same thing conversely expressed -- constituted by their objectifications in each other.(220)
Some nexus, which Whitehead calls "societies," have a social order that allows us to understand them as "substances" in the Cartesian or Aristotelian sense, i.e., to think of them as an individual entity. There are two types of societies relevant to this discussion: enduring individuals and aggregates, which comprise, in commonsense terms, mental and physical entities respectively. An enduring individual is a purely temporal society of occasions, all of which share a common pattern, in which each successive occasion prehends its predecessor, and, in turn, is prehended by its successor. As Whitehead puts it:
The simplest example of a society in which the successive nexus of its progressive realization have a common extensive pattern is when each such nexus is purely temporal and continuous. The society, in each stage of realization, then consists of a set of contiguous occasions in serial order. A man, defined as an enduring percipient, is such a society. This definition of a man is exactly what Descartes means by a thinking substance.(221)
The distinguishing feature of the societies traditionally called "mental substances" is their purely temporal contiguity. They are all ordered as unidimensional, temporal series. They are "mental," in the sense of having an enduring, individual experience, not because they are composed of entities of a different kind, but because their social order is purely linear and temporal. In such societies, efficient causation occurs from member to member, but each individual member exercises some degree of self-determination individually and can make choices that affect future occasions in the series. Thus, Whitehead says:
Societies of the general type, that their realized nexus are purely temporal and continuous, will be termed 'personal'. Any society of this type may be termed a 'person'. Thus, as defined above, a man is a person.(222)
It follows that not all persons are persons in the sense of being human. By this definition, any linear series of occasions in this configuration, even if in an atom or a molecule, is a "person."
What we understand as physical objects or bodies are called "aggregates," or, more precisely, "aggregational societies." Griffin describes what distinguishes these societies from those that comprise enduring individuals.
One type of spatiotemporal society can be called aggregational. The point of this term is that the society as a whole, such as a rock, does not have any overall experiential unity that allows it to feel and act as an individual. The term "aggregational" should not be taken to mean that the thing in question is a mere aggregate, like a pile of sand, that has no real cohesive unity. A rock or a billiard ball is an aggregational society, not just an aggregate. Nevertheless, it is like a pile of sand in having no experiential unity and thereby no power to respond to its environment as a unity with even the slightest degree of freedom.(223)
Unlike enduring individuals, aggregational societies include occasions that are contemporaries. They move together because their constituent occasions all operate according to the same dynamic forces, not because a dominant occasion in the society directs all the others. Says Griffin:
[A] rock appears to be a single actuality, but modern science has taught us that it is comprised of billions of distinct individuals. The gravitational force causing the rock to fall operates on its individual atoms, not upon the rock as such. But now we know that the apparent unity of action is an illusion generated by the behavior of billions of constituents.(224)
The society as a whole has no self-determination. What governs the behavior of these societies are the principles described by quantum mechanics and the law of averages, which, when combined, give us the laws of physics and chemistry. This is why physical objects, which do in fact consist of experiencing entities, have been misunderstood to be "vacuous actualities," a vacuous actuality being "a res vera devoid of subjective immediacy."(225)
Where Western philosophy went wrong was in looking to substance and attribute as the basic concepts of reality. This practice led to the Cartesian notion that there were two kinds of entities, those with material attributes and those with mental ones, and the paradox of their apparent interaction. Whitehead contended that there is no interaction at the level of abstraction in which minds and bodies are thus understood. The interaction involves not two substances with completely different natures acting upon one another, but the action of prior occasions in one nexus on subsequent ones in others. This is how what we call mind-body interaction takes place. Occasions that comprise the enduring individual (i.e., the mind) act upon, or are prehended by, other occasions in the aggregational society, i.e., the body, or various parts thereof. All efficient causation, including that of mind-body interaction, is of this form. Modern philosophy has failed to understand either causation or the mind-body relationship, because both occur at the concrete level of individual actual occasions, not to the abstract level of substances and attributes.
III. Theory of Causation and Mind-body Interaction
It was Hume who showed that we cannot explain efficient causality at the abstract level of understanding. What the earlier rationalists had believed were things "in themselves," the colorless, odorless extended substances, were conceived as nothing but configurations of sense data, and sense data yield no notion of causality. This left Hume and many later philosophers wondering where the idea of causality originated in the first place. Hume attributed it to mental habits, Kant, to the nature of the understanding itself.
Whitehead's ontology dispenses with the notion of the colorless, odorless extended substances altogether. Extension, mass, and velocity, as conceived independently of any actual experience, are not external realities at all, but eternal objects that have no actuality in themselves. They only become real when manifested along with more primitive feelings such as color and odor in actual experiences. Therefore, for Whitehead there are "things in themselves," but they are not vacuous actualities. They are all analogous to the occasions of our own experience.
For Whitehead, there are two modes of experience: causal efficacy and presentational immediacy. The latter is the mode in which we experience the objects of sensory perception, and it includes experiences that occur at a fairly high level of abstraction. The former is the direct experience of a past occasion by a present one. It is at this level that record of the past is transmitted into the present; here is where efficient causes actually induce their effects.
However, perception in the mode of causal efficacy is not the mode in which we experience things with "clarity and distinctness," to use Descartes's terms. It is in the mode of presentational immediacy in which precise, geometrical, notions such as shape, size, and motion are instantiated. Because most philosophers, like Descartes, prefer to think clearly and distinctly, they have focused on the mode of presentational immediacy in understanding the world. Although this is often very productive, the opportunity to understand things like causation and mind-body interaction is lost. It is as if we have chosen to eat the menu instead of the meal, because it is, after all, easier to read, and we really do want to know what we are eating! Then we wonder where the flavor went!
In Whitehead's system, we actually "feel" causal relationships between prior events and subsequent ones, as well as in the efficacy of our own bodily events on our experience. (This is in contrast to Hume and Kant, who held that causal relationships are not given to us in experience, but are fabricated by the mind, either out of habit [Hume] or out of the basic nature of the understanding [Kant].) Whitehead describes how an experience in the mode of causal efficacy works with respect to a man blinking at the flash of a light.
In the dark, the electric light is suddenly turned on and the man's eyes blink. There is a simple physiological explanation of this trifling incident.
But this physiological explanation is couched wholly in terms of causal efficacy: it is the conjectural record of the travel of a spasm of excitement along nerves to some nodal centre, and of the return spasm of contraction back to the eyelids. The correct technical phraseology would not alter the fact that the explanation does not involve any appeal to presentational immediacy either for actual occasions resident in the nerves, or for the man. At the most there is a tacit supposition as to what a physiologist, who in fact was not there, might have seen if he had been there, and if he could have vivisected the man without affecting these occurrences, and if he could have observed with a microscope which also in fact was absent.(226)
However, for Whitehead, this vague transport of feelings from one occasion to another is how efficient causality occurs. "It must be remembered that clearness in consciousness is no evidence for primitiveness in the genetic process: the opposite doctrine is more nearly true."(227) The great mistake of modern philosophy, as exemplified in Hume and Kant, was to attempt to find causality in those aspects of experience that are clear and distinct, i.e., the mode of presentational immediacy.
Let us now dismiss physiology and turn to the private experience of the blinking man. The sequence of percepts, in the mode of presentational immediacy, is flash of light, feeling of eye-closure, instant of darkness. According to the philosophy of organism, the man also experiences another percept in the mode of causal efficacy. He feels that the experiences of the eye in the matter of the flash are causal of the blink. The man himself will have no doubt of it. In fact, it is the feeling of causality which enables the man to distinguish the priority of the flash; and the inversion of the argument, whereby the temporal sequence 'flash to blink' is made the premise for the 'causality' belief, has its origin in pure theory. The man will explain his experience by saying, 'The flash made me blink'; and if his statement be doubted, he will reply, 'I know it, because I felt it.'
The philosophy of organism accepts the man's statement, that the flash made him blink. Hume by a sleight of hand confuses a 'habit of feeling blinks after flashes' with a 'feeling of the habit of feeling blinks after flashes.'(228)
Like James before him, Whitehead viewed the relationship of cause and effect as something felt. It is therefore not something that is imposed on a stream of sense data by the mind, but something "given" to the experiencing subject. However, the experiencing subject is not, in this case, a mental substance, and what is "given" is not a colorless, odorless extended thing with mass and velocity. The distinction between self and other, in the primary perceptual mode, is more temporal than spatial. The experiencing subject is a single, momentary occasion. The "other" that is given to it is own past, as well as its own body.
Efficient causality occurs on account of the transitive nature of occasions, i.e., their tendency to transmit their past into the present, and, through the present, to the future. In the case of primitive occasions, there is little or no possibility for the introduction of novelty. Primitive occasions have a very limited set of subjective aims and eternal objects from which they could conceive of novelty to bring into themselves. However, with more complex occasions, such as those that comprise a human experience, the available eternal objects and subjective aims are much greater. The actuality given from the past is compared and contrasted with known eternal objects. Out of this contrast, the present occasion actually gives meaning (to use the term employed by Larry Dossey) to that which it receives from the past. The more complex the occasion, the more new possibilities it can bring into its own experience, and the greater is its capacity for self-determination.
In introducing novelty into an occasion, the mental pole provides the possibility for change, as well as some degree of freedom, in every occasion. Thus freedom, change, and efficient causality, all precepts of hard-core common sense, can coexist. There is efficient causality, in that past events actually enter and become the content of present ones. To that extent, the past determines the present. However, each occasion also has a link to eternity, the eternal objects that exist outside of space-time in the primordial nature of God. It is this connection to eternity that enables each occasion, especially the more complex ones, to give new meaning to the past and alter causal sequences.
In Whitehead's system, the notion of "mind-body interaction" can be misleading, because no real interaction occurs at the level of abstraction in which we understand things as "minds" and "bodies." There is mind-body interaction, but it cannot be understood in terms of a mental substance acting on a material one, or vice versa. What occurs is the action of prior occasions, which can be part of a dominant, temporally ordered society, on subsequent contiguous occasions. Likewise, contiguous occasions that are not part of the dominant society can act on those that are. The former would be mental (mind-to-body) and the latter, body-to-mind, causation.
Mental causation, as it occurs in either psychosomatic healing or in simply raising my arm, can actually mean several different things. There are two senses in which it occurs within a single occasion itself. The first of these is an occasion's direct prehension of eternal objects as possibilities, i.e., the mental pole of the occasion itself. In the ingression of an eternal object into the occasion, the eternal object causes, to some extent, the occasion to be what it finally becomes. This is how mental causation effects change or novelty, including a change from sickness to health, or vice versa. The second of these is what Whitehead calls a "hybrid physical" feeling.(229) A hybrid physical feeling is called "physical" because it stems from a prehension of past occasions. Its mode of causal efficacy is therefore efficient, not final. However, it differs from a pure physical feeling in that it involves prehending aspects of those occasions that originated in the mental poles of past occasions. Thus, it could be called a second-hand, or passed-through form of mental causation. It does not effect novelty, but, like purely physical feelings, it merely tends to perpetuate the repetition of past events.
A different kind of mental causation altogether occurs between occasions that comprise an enduring individual and those in adjacent nexus. Charles Hartshorne coined the phrase "compound individual" to describe entities like the human body-mind, which consists of both an enduring individual and an aggregate -- acting as a unit.(230) In compound individuals, the enduring individual dominates the aggregate, as Leibniz's soul monad was the "dominant monad" in the body. The major difference is that, unlike Whitehead's enduring individuals, Leibniz's monads were not composite societies of occasions, but indivisible entities in themselves.
In a compound individual, certain occasions in an aggregational society have an unusual affinity with the occasions in an enduring individual. In a human being, the occasions that comprise the brain are presumed to be of that type. In prehending the occasions of the enduring individual, brain-tissue molecules are causally affected by it, and the result is mental causation as Descartes understood it (or failed to understand it). Likewise, this affinity between the occasions of the enduring individual and those of gray matter enable the former to receive input from the latter.
In truth, we do not know the exact nature of this affinity between mind and brain occasions. However, we presume that some similarity in their natures enables them to be sympathetic, or even empathetic, with each other, i.e., they must be capable of having experiences that are at least in some sense similar. This is admittedly a leap of faith, because the only way to verify this presumption is to experience being both a brain cell and a complete human -- and then compare the two experiences. However, the leap of faith is much smaller than that of believing that two substances with no attributes in common can interact (dualism), or that the mind is completely reducible to the brain (materialism), or that the entire material universe is but a figment of some mind (idealism).
Whitehead has therefore attempted to explain both efficient causation and the mind-body relationship by looking beyond substance-attribute thinking, and he is framing the discussion of these issues in a whole new context. Whether we ultimately accept Whitehead's interpretation or not, he is, at the very least, attempting to go beyond the level of thinking that is creating the problem.
IV. How Psychosomatic Healing Would Occur in Whitehead's System
Whitehead's model of causation is consistent with the great complexity of psychobiophysical processes, but more importantly, it explains both the power of thoughts and beliefs and the stubbornness of facts. Facts are stubborn, because they have already happened; we cannot go back and change them. They are fixed in what Whitehead called "objective immortality."(231) On the other hand, thoughts and beliefs can greatly influence the ingression of eternal objects into an occasion via the mental pole. In Whitehead's terminology, beliefs shape the nature of actual occasions by setting up a predisposition of "adversion" (turning towards) those eternal objects that are congruent with those beliefs, and of "aversion" (turning away from) those that are not.(232) An occasion that occurs in sequence dominated by negative, morbid, thoughts and beliefs will tend to feel eternal objects consistent with those beliefs. An occasion filled with optimism and enthusiasm will tend to inject more auspicious possibilities. Thoughts and beliefs can therefore drastically affect how an occasion uses whatever degree of self-determination it possesses. This is especially true of fixed or persistent beliefs, which exert this kind of influence continuously over a long time.
To show how this might work with respect to health, we can look at the placebo effect. Suppose the subject of a medical experiment is told that a fluid, which is a solution of sugar and a little alcohol in water, is a powerful medicine that causes warts to fall off. The subject then takes the syrup and envisions the reality of the warts disappearing -- with considerable conviction that it is about to happen.
The causal chain begins when a high level occasion of the patient's mind-nexus first perceives (and believes) that the formula works. The initial feeling is a complex propositional one. However, it carries with it a feeling tone of optimism with respect to warts. When prehended by other occasions in various parts of his brain, this feeling tone is passed from the brain to other parts of the nervous and immune systems, initiating a psychoneuroimmunological chain reaction. The feeling goes from the neurons in the brain to the occasions that constitute the neurotransmitter molecules, as well as the neurons that carry them. It then goes to the immune system glands that take it as a signal to start producing appropriate antibodies, which eventually destroy the viruses that are causing the warts. Alternatively, the message goes to the circulatory system, which restricts the capillary blood supply to the infected tissues, causing them to die and fall off. In either case, the propositional feeling of warts disappearing is passed on to lower level occasions at whatever level they can prehend it, and the placebo works. The lower-level occasions in the chain probably do not fully prehend the initial propositional feeling. However, they do prehend enough of its nature to respond in a healthy way. Affirmations, hypnosis, and imagery could work the same way.
The theory also explains why mental causation may not be sufficient to effect a healing. Suppose a different patient has metastatic cancer of the spleen, one of the most deadly forms of cancer. The doctors, out of desperation, give the patient the same solution, after all traditional forms of medical therapy have failed. The psychoneuroimmunological chain reaction starts in the same way. However, this time the occasions comprising the cancer cells are deeply habituated in the pattern of uncontrolled mitosis. Subjectively, they might be experiencing an orgy of cellular delight in the process. Chemically, they are predisposed to continue reproducing -- at a much faster rate then the immune system, which may already be impaired by spleen damage and other factors, can handle. In this case, the biochemical disease process overwhelms the placebo effect, and the patient succumbs.
The strength of Whitehead's model is that it describes mental healing as it actually occurs, explaining both its successes and its failures. It also reflects the complexity of actual mind-body interaction as it occurs, in which both psychological and bodily factors can play a role at any stage. It addresses the following observation that Cousins and Cassileth made in their joint statement: "The reciprocal mind/body relationship is complex. We must be aware equally of both the potential power and the limitations of attitudes in their effects on health and disease."(233)
Whitehead's model also explains the legacy from New Thought and Christian Science, were outlined in Chapter 9 as follows:
Under Whitehead's model, there is a single creative power in the universe at work in every occasion of experience. The main difference is that Whitehead, unlike the idealists, made a clear distinction between God and creativity. Although all creativity involves God, God is not the creative process per se. Under the idealist models, God, Mind, or Spirit is the creative process. Believers can rest assured that the Process model, although it is a natural theology of healing, is still theological. God is involved in all forms of healing, because God, as the source of all novelty, is the source of all change. However, God is not acting supernaturally here. Psychosomatic healing occurs by the same, natural process as all change.
Secondly, Whitehead's model explains the role of thoughts and beliefs in inducing sickness or health. The beliefs of the individual affect the adversion/aversion reaction of any occasion to any eternal object, thereby significantly determining the extent and nature of any novelty introduced. However, there is one aspect of the idealist model that is definitely not supported by Whitehead: the prohibitions against the use of conventional medicine. This makes sense only under the idealist model, in which the mind is omnipotent. The Process model does include ordinary physical (bodily) causation, and with it, the need for conventional medical treatment.
Finally, it also explains the idealist notion that the point of power is in the present moment. If thoughts and beliefs are creative in the sense just described, their causal efficaciousness is not exerted in the passing of one occasion into another, but within individual occasions, i.e., in the ingression of novel eternal objects into the occasion. This happens only when the occasion is acting as an experiencing subject, i.e., in the present moment. Thus, beliefs and belief systems exert their power in the present moment.
The Process model also offers a practical advantage: It is easier to believe. There are two senses in which this is so. One is that it describes both human experience and the phenomenon of mental healing much more accurately, in that it both affirms physical causation and thereby explains the limitations of mental healing techniques. This congruence with experience makes it far more palatable for anyone with a predisposition towards realism. The second is that it does not ask an afflicted individual to believe she is God in order to effect a mental healing. That can be difficult even for the healthy. We need only know that, in each moment, the creative process is unfolding within us, and that all the possibilities inherent in the primordial nature of God are available. The model therefore offers us not only grounds for optimism, but credible grounds for optimism, and, in that credibility, there is greater salutary power.
Notes on Chapter 10
208 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1967), 49. Return to text
209 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 49. Return to text
210 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 51. Return to text
211 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 58. Return to text
212 Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 52. Return to text
213 Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1978), 40-1. Return to text
214 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933), 176. Return to text
215 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, Unpublished Manuscript, Appendix A, 196. Passages omitted in published work. Return to text
216 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, Unpublished Manuscript, Appendix A, 196. Return to text
217 This is why Griffin prefers the term "panexperientialism" to describe Whitehead's philosophy over William James's term "panpsychism." The latter suggests that the world is composed of fully developed psyches, which endure over time and are capable of conscious experience. See Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 77-78. Return to text
218 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 19. Return to text
I use the term "mental substance" here
instead of "mind" deliberately. What Descartes considered a "mind" would for
Whitehead consist of a temporally ordered society of highly complex occasions.
For Descartes, these sophisticated mental substances were the only form of
mental substance in existence. (Even his dog lived without one.) However, for
Whitehead there are temporally ordered societies of much simpler occasions as
well, which would be present not only in dogs, but also, to varying degrees of
complexity, in molecules and atoms as well. Return to text
220 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 24. Return to text
221 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 205. Return to text
222 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 205. Return to text
223 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 186. Return to text
224 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 173. Return to text
225 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 29. Return to text
226 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 174. Return to text
227 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 173. Return to text
228 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 175. Return to text
229 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 246. Return to text
230 Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot, 163-217. Return to text
231Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 193. Return to text
232 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 276. Return to text
233 Cousins, Head First, 215. Return to text