March 08, 2009

Where Whitehead attributes becoming to final causes, I attribute it to difference or disequilibrium

Objectiles and Actual Occasions
from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

In many respects Whitehead’s actual occasions or actual entities are analogous to what I call “objectiles”. I have adopted the term “objectile” for objects to capture the sense in which objects are dynamic and ongoing activities unfolding or producing themselves through time. Thus the word “objectile” is a portmanteau word combining “object” and “projectile”, so as to underline the sense in which objects are not fixed points in a spatial location, but rather spatio-temporal processes over time. Like Duchamp’s famous Nude Descending A Staircase, objectiles are not to be thought as stationary substances composed of fixed qualities or predicates, but rather as this very unfolding and movement through time and space. Objectiles are not the now in which they are, but are this very adventure across space and time. [...]

Whitehead’s ontology is thus atomistic in character. The universe, for Whitehead, is not composed of one substance, but of an indefinite number of substances, and, moreover, new substances are always coming into being. However, unlike Lucretian atoms that are eternal and indestructable, such that they never change and such that each one always possesses exactly the same properties for all time (i.e., they are immutable), Whitehead’s atoms or actual occasions are complex multiplicities or manifolds that become. “…[H]ow an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is… It’s ‘being’ is constituted by its ‘becoming’” (23). In his earlier work Whitehead thus referred to actual occasions as events. An objectile, actual occasion, or actual entity is an event. And like all events it is therefore temporally elongated. [...]

There are a few points where I diverge from Whitehead’s account of actual occasions. First, Whitehead holds that every actual occasion shares a perfectly determinate relation with every other actual occasion in the entire universe. I do not believe that this is the case. Within the scope of my ontology, the universe does not form a holistic system in which all objectiles are interrelated.

Second, Whitehead attributes a key role to what he calls “eternal objects”, which he treats as potentials and universals (such as the color green and mathematical patterns), to the becoming of actual occasions. For my own part, I cannot see what these eternal objects contribute to the account of the becoming of objectiles.

Third, Whitehead retains the notion of final causation in the becoming of actual occasions, arguing that occasions are pursuing “satisfaction” or completion that they accomplish through the integration of prehensions in a novel and aesthetically pleasing unity. Consequently, it is the final cause that accounts for the becoming of an actual occasion in Whitehead. Where Whitehead attributes becoming to final causes, I attribute it to difference or disequilibrium. Objectiles become because they contain disequilibrium within themselves and disequilibriums are introduced into their being through interactions with other actual entities.

Becoming is the resolution of these tensions or disequilibriums producing new properties or qualities in the objectile, but this resolution of tensions is not governed by final causality but rather by the mechanics underlying the internal organization of the objectile. The resolution of disequilibriums marks the death or completion of an objectile, though the dead entity can still function in the becoming of other objectiles through being prehended by these objectiles.

larvalsubjects Says: March 8, 2009 at 1:04 am Hi Galatia, I think you hit on the issue right here:
My basic problem with this is that it seems to entail impossible conclusions. For instance, if any entity’s ‘being’ is constituted by its ‘becoming’, this is a universal ontological property that would apply to all objects, at all times. Thus if an entity is continually becoming, if we looked at some entity at any phase in this becoming, how could we ever say that it *is*?

If I understand you correctly, when you speak of discussing an entity at any particular phase you’re speaking of the entity as it exists at a point in space-time. I agree that matters become incoherent when expressed in this way. However, as I was at pains to emphasize in the post above and in other posts, we must understand entities not as points in space-time, but as the entire trajectory of their being over time. Like a line that is indecomposible, the being is temporally elongated. Why think of entities in this way? One reason would be that if we don’t we cannot avoid Zeno’s paradox.
I am not sure why it is impossible for an entity to have a stable and relatively autonomous form under this model. The sun, for example, is changing at every moment as it burns its energy, yet still maintains its identity across time. Likewise, the cells of our body are constantly producing themselves and each other at every moment, yet the body possesses an identity over time. Finally, the particles that make up the desk and the monitor are constantly moving, yet they maintain an identity.
It is worth underlining the point that I am not making the claim that at each moment an entity is transforming into a different entity. Our bodies are an ongoing process and set of activities, but this is quite different than the claim that they are becoming a different entity in the course of this

larvalsubjects Says: March 8, 2009 at 2:37 am
I agree, Glen, with respect to Deleuze and singularities. There is something very strange, somewhat ad hoc, and suspect in Whitehead’s account of eternal objects. It wouldn’t be correct, for Whitehead, to say that the sun is an eternal object. Rather, eternal objects would be one thing among many other things the sun prehends in its concrescence. Perhaps it could be said that the eternal object involved in the sun would be the ideal, abstract pattern that the sun strives to embody in the activity of its physical prehensions and self-concrescence. Whitehead talks of eternal objects “ingressing” into physical objects. What bothers me about this account is that he seems to have these ideal entities doing something, rather than simply being mathematical representations of purely physical relations.

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