Ch 9: Creativity & Novelty + Decision & Novelty + Novelty & God What makes novel “novelty” possible?
OVERVIEW OF THEMES • I. “Creativity” is the Principle of Novelty: slides 3-9 • II. “The Ontological Principle”, “Subjective Aim”, and “Decision” novelty: slides 10–18 • III. Novelty and God: slides 19-31 • IV. Becoming and God: slides 32-33
Whiteheadian Cautions and Challenges • There remains the final reflection, how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.(PRxiv) • Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought, progressive and never final.(PR 9) (p. 79)
I. CREATIVITY is the Principle of Novelty • Everything that is actual becomes and (then) perishes. Becoming is the ultimate fact (composing) all others. (p. 79) • “Concrescence” focuses attention on the inner dynamics of the becoming of a single occasion. It presupposes that there have been other occasions and that there will be new ones in the future. It focuses on the individual subjective act of becoming. • “Creativity” draws attention to the ever ongoing process through which the cosmos continues in becoming. It is the way of denoting the ultimate fact that “the many become one and are increased by one.”
CREATIVITY as “THE Ultimate” • Whitehead identifies creativity as “the ultimate.”(see slide 27) It is that of which every actual entity (occasion) is an instance. • It plays the role in Whitehead that “being itself” plays in the Thomistic tradition. In that tradition “to be” is to be an instance of “being”. In Whitehead to be “actual” is to be “an instance of creativity”. • In Thomism “being itself” is beyond all attributes or characteristics. In Whitehead, likewise, “creativity” has no character of its own, no attributes or characteristics.
WH explains what an “act of being IS” • Thomas identified “being itself” as the “act of being.” One could regard Whitehead’s work as explaining what an “act of being is”, i.e., the unification of the many. • Thomism may not be closed to that possibility (= Bruce?). However, the term “being itself” easily suggests something more static and substantial, that is, somethingunderlying all diversity and particularity. • In some formulations it seems that being itself might even exist without embodiment in particular instantiations. ‘Creativity’ as “the many becoming one” cannot underlie any’thing’ and certainly cannot exist or occur except in particular instances. • Brahman is the traditional Hindu ultimate and is very much like being itself. • Buddhismaffirmed instead that everything is an instance of pratityasamutpadaor co-dependent origination.
“Creativity”= the ultimate “material cause” in Aristotle’s sense. • By the “ultimate” WH means that of which all things consist. It is the ultimate “material cause” in Aristotle’s sense. But for Whitehead the “material cause” is definitely not matter. Metaphysically, and in physics as well, “matter” is fundamentally passive. For Whitehead, creativity could be thought of in a Thomastic way as “activity itself”. It is closer to what physicists mean by energy than what is connoted when they speak of matter.
“why creativity, and not something else?” • One cannot go beyond creativity to its material cause or to any other cause. One can describe how it expresses itself, but one cannot meaningfully ask, “why creativity, and not something else?”, is the way the world is. There is no “reason” for creativity. • WH does cause us to marvel that whatever happens, the process of bringing new occasions out of old ones continues. Creativityisfundamental and ongoing. There is always something “new”. But what is new may not be better than what is old. • Creativity is completely neutral from a moral perspective. Like ultimates in other traditions, creativity is beyond good and evil or any quantification.
“Creativity” - the principle ofnovelty. • Whitehead refers to this ultimate fact, this ultimate character shared by all actual things, as creativity - this fundamental fact that things become and perish. (becomingbeing[perish] becoming) • Creativity is simply the ultimate feature shared by all that is actual - God and the world alike! • Mesle: “Creativity” is the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity. “Creativity” is the principle of novelty.(PR21) (p. 80)
II. “The Ontological Principle”, “Subjective Aim’, and “Decision” novelty • The ontological principle - can be summarized as: no actuality, then no reason.”(PR 19) • “…every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason either in the character of some actual entity in the actual world of that concrescence, or in the character of the subject which is in process of concrescence.” (PR 24) ( p. 85 = misleading!)
The Ontological Principle and Decision • Thus, according to the ontological principle, the reason any occasion becomes what it does is to be sought in actual entities. The ontological principle is that only actual entities act; only they are the reasons for what happens. • For Whitehead the concrescing occasion itself is part of its own reason. It makes a decision, so that exactly what an occasion becomes is finally determined by the occasion itself. This is in accord with the ontological principle.
subjective aim • For several centuries Western science has undertaken to exclude teleology, that is, any form of purpose, from nature. • Whitehead believed that modern thought has gone too far in its rejection of teleology. For Whitehead, all experiencingis purposive. • Each occasion “aims” at achieving some value. Indeed it “aims” at realizing some value in and for itself. Every occasion “has”/’is’ this “subjective aim.” • The aim of an occasion is not at value in general, but at some particular realization of value that is possible in that situation.
The “subjective aim” and ‘novel’ alternatives • Needless to say, the ‘aiming’ of most all becoming occasions is completely non-conscious. Even in conscious occasions, the aim is generally not consciously in view. • All occasions have some indeterminacy in their origins. That is, their actual worlds do not fully settle what they will become. Their conceptual feelings can include “reverted” ones that thus introduce ‘novel’ alternatives. OR They can “value up” and “value down” parts of what they inherit. How they deal with what is indeter-minateis affected by the (subjective) aim.
Decision = self-determination • However, the occasion completes itself as something entirely determinate. This involves cutting off all possibilities except one. This is its “decision.” • This decision is its own. It is not determined by past occasions or by God. • Accordingly, the ontological principle that every reason for what an occasion becomes is found in some actual entity does not deny that each occasion also includes an element of self-determination. Whitehead uses the Latin phrase “causa sui” (self-caused) to express this idea.
Actual occasions confront a range of possibilities for their own becoming • Every occasion is causa sui. This means the decision of an occasion is its own act, and along with the decisions of all previous occasions(the past), it explains why the occasion is what it is. • Mesle: It appears that an electron, in each moment of its existence, confronts a range of possibilities for its own becoming, constrained but not totally determined by the world around it. Confronted with two slits in a screen, it can “decide” which path to take.“The word ‘decision’ does not here imply conscious judgment…(it) is used in its root sense of a ‘cutting off’…” (p. 81)
Mesle: capacity for novelty • In other words, when an electron or other individual entity has two mutually exclusive possibilities before it, it must “cut of” one and choose the other. Or, perhaps more accurately, it must choose to actualize this range of possibilities and not that range of possibilities. • “…there is always some range of possibilities open to it for its own self-creativity, by which it puts its own stamp on the world” (PR47). • As these simple elementary units of existence are joined together to form more complex organisms, at least in those organisms we call “living,” they seem to create a degree of unity that allows for more complex reactions to the environment. • In human beings, this capacity for novelty becomes… what we usually mean by freedom. (p. 81)
Our experience of freedom • Mesle: Our experience of freedom is another instance of…“hard-core” common sense. At an intellectual level, a great many people have believed and do believe that we have no freedom—that our lives are entirely determined by God and/or by the causal forces of nature…no one could act on or hold this belief at a deep level. • Don’t you find yourself in each moment confronting a range of possibilities for your becoming among which you must choose? (p. 82)
We can never escape “decision” • Mesle: It is certainly true that we constantly experience ourselves as coerced and constrained by our circumstances, by the world and the people around us, by the limits of our own bodies, and especially by the reality of our past decisions. We can never escape these constraints. The past is done and can never be changed, and we create ourselves out of that past. • But we never find ourselves truly with only one option. We must always decide, whether we want to or not…we can never escape “decision” – ‘self-determination’. (p. 82)
III. Novelty & God • “God” first appeared quite late in WH’s career - in additions to the Lowell Lectures of 1925 included in the published version of Science and the Modern World. • Mesle: Although Whitehead became an atheist early in his career, over time he became convinced that the universe as he understood it could not function without the interaction of something he could only call God. (p. 83)
“[t]here is nothing here in the nature of proof.” • Mesle: A good analogy might be the discovery of the planet Neptune…it was proposed that those orbits could best be accounted for by the presence of another planet…Once they knew what to look for and where to look, the astronomers found the new planet. • *Whitehead offered a similar argument for (the metaphysical necessity of) God*. (WH) acknowledged that “[t]here is nothing here in the nature of proof. There is merely the confrontation of the theoretic system with a certain rendering of the facts”(PR343). • He offered a broad vision of reality and suggested that the whole thing would make more senseand that our own immediate experience would be more adequately accounted for, if we include in that vision a specific concept of God. (pp. 83-84) Now we answer the question, “Why”?
After Darwin, the emergence of these new forms required explanation • Mesle: Ever since Aristotle, it has been recognized that potentiality – possibilities - must be grounded in what is actual. • …there can be no freedom without a range of possibilities awaiting our decision. Those possibilities must be rooted in something actual. (p. 84) • After Charles Darwin, **Whitehead was keenly aware that genuine novelty ‘emerges’ in this world. Aristotle might have believed that every possibility had already been actualized, that every animal that would ever exist already existed, but Whitehead could not. He knew that this world had seen the emergence of many species of animals including humans—and the emergence of these new forms (= evolution) required explanation. (p. 84)
in what actuality can they reside? • Mesle: Also, of course, there is the persistent experience of possibilities in our own lives among which we must choose. • **If there have been and still are possibilities for becoming beyond those already actualized in the world, *in what actuality can they reside? (Be-cause of the ontological principle)There seemed to Whitehead to be only one answer—(He used an already existing term)- God. (p. 84) • But this is not a supernatural God who breaks all the rules and acts as a deus ex machina:
God is not an exception to all metaphysical principles • “In the first place, God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification”(PR343). (p. 84) • Mesle: If God exists, God must be part of a comprehensive system of reality. God must also live by the same fundamental set of principles describing all that exists. There is to be no metaphysical cheating. (p. 85)
Both novelty and regularity presuppose such an order. • **Whitehead found that neither creativity nor individual occasions could explain the role ‘potentiality’ plays in constituting a new occasion. The new occasion does not simply reenact the possibilities derived from its actual world. • **The new occasion assumes a particular order among the pure potentialsthat is not explained by what the potentialitiesare “in themselves”. • Without an order among pure potentials the regularities that are thought of as natural laws would not obtain. Both ‘novelty’ and ‘regularity’ presuppose such an order (among pure potentials).
pure potentials ‘as such’ are not the reasons for their applicability to becoming occasions • According to the ontological principle,**the pure potentials ‘as such’ are not the reasons for their own roles in the world. *That reason must be found in an actual entity. Therefore, there must be an actual entity cosmic in its functioning. Whitehead calls this “organ of novelty” God. • Earlier we considered the fact that actual occa-sionsare purposive. They aim to attain some value in themselves and through their influence on others. • This purposive character of actual occasions cannot be explained by creativity as such or by an occasion’s actual world.
metaphysically, this ordering must be the work of an actual entity • **Actual occasions prehendvia God pure potentials for their realization as ordered for the achievement of specific value in each becoming. • **Thus, they derive from God an “initial aim” at realizing the vast range of what is possible in that momentary becoming/situation/actual world. • Whitehead believes that, *metaphysically, this ordering must be the work of an actual entity and so WH felt justified naming it “God.” • **God’s ordering of pure potentials thus func-tionsas the basis of regularity in the world, the basis of novelty, and allows for the purposive character of each ‘decision’.
the source of genuine novelty. • Mesle: Whitehead was convinced that, if there were only the world,**there could be no new possibilities, nothing that had not already been done. If that were the case, the world could only repeat itself. *There must be something actual, in addition to the past world, that acts as the source of genuine novelty. • Thus,“[a]part from the (activity) of God, there could be nothing new in the world, and no order in the world. The course of creation would be a dead level of ineffectiveness, with all balance and intensity progressively excluded by the cross currents of incompatibility”(PR247). (p. 85)
possibilities are both good and bad • Mesle: In some respects, the primordial nature of God has no moral character; it just is. The possibilities for the world are both good and bad: “This function of God is analogous to the remorseless working of things in Greek and in Buddhist thought. The initial aim is the best for that impasse. But if the best be bad, then the ruthlessness of God can be personified as Até, the goddess of mischief”(PR244). (p. 85)
God is the ground of novelty. • Mesle: John B. Cobb Jr.’s emphasis on persuasive power can now be appreciated more fully. Power is coercive as it works to constrain freedom by narrowing the possibilities before us. (p. 85) • Power is persuasive as it tends to nurture freedom by opening up a wider range of novelty for our reactions to life. • God’s work in the world is inherently persuasive because, in every situation, God is the ground of novelty. (p. 86) n
God is an instance of creativity. • Whitehead is emphatic that some of the characteristics attributed to God in some theistic traditions are not justified by his account. • For example, God is not the “Ultimate.” God is “an instance of creativity”. • God does not control what happens. There are many “reasons” for what happens in every event, of which God is always only one; • that is, God never (= can’t) unilaterally determines what happens. • Still, God is always one of these reasons.
For WH, “God” is a “derivative notion.” • We noted above (slide 4) that “creativity is ‘the’ Ultimate”. • God does not appear in Whitehead’s categoreal scheme. • He declares “God” to be a “derivative notion.” • Also, he describes God as a “creature” or even an “accident” of creativity.
IV. Becoming and God • Mesle: In Whitehead’s world, God is part of the relational process. Not only does every drop of becoming experience God, but God experiences every drop of becoming. (p. 86) --------------------------------------------------------------------- • The latter (above) would seem to require that God have physical feelings as well as conceptual ones. Those physical feelings would be and, Whitehead speculates, are, God’s prehensions of actual occasions. • This aspect of God is affected by everything that happens in the world, i.e. God experiences all
Becoming and God • Mesle: It is vital to emphasize again and again that God’s power is not omnipotent unilateral or coercive power. Quite the opposite. God cannot coerce any creature. • Every creature has its own freedom…God is the persuasive ground of freedom. God knows what we… are likely to choose, but not what (any actual occasion) will choose. • …God knows everything there is to know, but since the future does not exist it is not there to be known. Only the possibilities for the future can be known. (p. 87)