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The World According to Whitehead

David Cowles

Jan 5, 2023

“In the technical jargon of academia, the mashed potatoes are lumpier than we would have expected.”

Since the beginning of speculative thought, human beings have been struggling to create a map of reality. Happily, we are not concerned here with Mercator or Polar Projections. We draw this map using the Ontological Projection.

20th century British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (c. 1930), was perhaps the last Western philosopher to attempt such a map. How come? As usual, the London media tells the story two different ways: 

Whitehead Nailed it!

Philosophers Give-up!

According to Whitehead, the world consists exclusively of actual entities (aka events). Outside actual entities, there is nothing; but actual entities themselves have a rather complex internal structure. 

Each actual entity consists of (1) the actual world it inherits, (2) the eternal objects that qualify (characterize or define) it, (3) the subjective aim that motivates it, (4) the propositions (‘proposed superjects’) that translate motivation into praxis, (5) the subjective forms under which material from the actual world is prehended and integrated into the emerging entity, (6) the satisfaction that the actual entity ultimately enjoys, (7) the obverse side of that satisfaction, the superject, which the actual entity projects into the world and which will be (8) that entity’s objective immorality, i.e., its ultimate contribution to the actual worlds of other entities.

Before (logically) there can be an actual world (nexus), there must be a multiplicity of unrelated superjects - pure disjunction (kaos). Each novel actual entity converts the multiplicity into ‘an ordered set’, its own unique actual world (nexus), assembled specifically to further the entity’s subjective aim.

An actual entity dismisses those superjects it deems irrelevant to its project. The remaining superjects are either negated because they are at cross purposes with the subjective aim, or appropriated because they support the entity’s drive to satisfaction.

Each such prehension (positive or negative) contributes subjective form to the actual entity: How do I love thee (or not)? Let me count, both ways! 

Each actual entity synthesizes the multiplicity into a nexus that is that entity’s unique actual world: one world – one entity, one entity – one world. Figure is not the negation of ground; the relationship is much more dynamic. Figure modifies ground and ground modifies figure, both in support of the subjective aim.  

This is an example of the famous ‘non-linearity of being’ that philosophers and scientists from Plato to Einstein have noticed: in the technical jargon of academia, the mashed potatoes are lumpier than we would have expected.

The process of concrescence, by which an actual entity comes to be, is powered both by the entity’s positive prehensions (‘attraction’) and by the entity’s negative prehensions (‘repulsion’). Newton’s ‘equal and opposite reaction’ is Whitehead’s ‘equal and similar reaction’.  


Concrescence is driven by the entity’s subjective aim, the ‘idea’ (usually not conscious) that it has of itself, i.e., its idea of how it will contribute a novel synthesis (its objective immortality) to the actual worlds of other actual entities. In the language of Viktor Frankl, it is purpose, the anticipation of meaning, that motivates every concrescence.  

But what about ‘time’? The multiplicity consists of superjects, settled matters of fact; they are timeless - the objective immortality of other entities. Likewise, the eternal objects (the values) that guide the entity’s concrescence are timeless. 

An actual entity inherits its actual world ‘from time’ and it projects its superject ‘into time’, but the process of concrescence itself happens ‘outside of time’.

The selection of eternal objects is guided by ‘propositions’, images (again, usually not conscious) that an actual entity has of itself. A proposition pairs a nexus of superjects (the ‘subject’ of the proposition) from the entity’s actual world with a nexus of eternal objects (the ‘predicate’ of the proposition).

If an actual entity were a movie, the world would be the hulks and husks that still haunt the long-abandoned set. They constitute part of the movie’s objective immortality; they will rest inert on set until they are recycled for the production of another film.

Each actual entity is a function of order (logos) but that order is architectonic, not temporal. As with quantum processes in particle physics and the Feynman Diagrams that illustrate them), an actual entity’s process of concrescence has a duration equal to zero, it occupies no territory on the timeline.

Contemporary Italian philosopher, Emanuele Severino, wrote: “Everything is eternal, according to its own distinctive mode of existence.” 

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- the official blog of Aletheia Today Magazine. 

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