April 25, 2017

Leibniz understood process and is a richer source than Whitehead

Edwards, Jonathan Apr 25, 2017
Dear Jesse,
I admire your enthusiasm, but it might be wise to realise that some of us have been around a while.

For me, outstanding neuroscience at UCL means Andrew Huxley, Semir Zeki and Mike Hausser. The cognitive group seem to do a lot of imaging without necessarily having a clear question in mind. Anil has wandered off into some abstruse non-local causality and Chris, while great in his own field, sees consciousness largely as a social phenomenon. I have tried many times to interest these people in Whitehead or the experiential side of fundamental physics but they do not seem to be interested in the relevant questions. I have grown to be a little sceptical about contemporary research programmes.

The concept of universal fields has been available for ever I suspect. The structure of modern field theory and its relation to group theory, with its metaphysical implications, which I was referring to, is, I believe, quite new. Many of us know of Stu Hameroff’s ideas and Jibu and Yasue and make use of Whitehead but there is a need to be precise and avoid sweeping statements that hide inconsistencies I think. I agree that emergence may be crucial but what sort of emergence? Emergence theories associated with Varela or with complex system dynamics seem to me to be bad (non-local) physics. Emergence of novel dynamic units in ordered structures in condensed matter physics look to me much more promising. We need precision. 

And I would not worry about naive Newtonian materialism. People have been transcending that all along. It is just that the majority of folk cannot think further than stuff so the deeper understanding remains limited to the discussions of a few. I suspect there have always been people like the members on this list who see beyond the school textbooks. Leibniz fully understood the process approach in Newton’s time. He is a much richer source than Whitehead I would say. The problem is that most people have not read him and perpetuate myths like ‘windowless monads’. The monad has no ‘windows', not because it is cut off from relating to the world but because its very nature is a relation to everything already reflected within it from its outset (like a quantised mode). The universe does not need to enter the monad because it is already in there.

So yes, emergent dynamics fit nicely with process philosophy and that is awesome, but a lot of people have been saying that for twenty years and in relation to a lot of different proposals, some good and some bad.

I am afraid I could not get a clear idea of any specific theory from your paper. The introduction with a toy metaphor does not really help I think. How does it all relate to biophysics? Is Verlinde’s idea just similar in mathematical structure, and is that interesting? Some of Whitehead is insightful, some of it obscure and probably unworkable. I would want to see something more specific. You may have a seriously useful insight hidden in there but I am not sure what it is. You use some sort of unexplained formalism for dimensions (I think) and that seems unnecessary if you are just trying to get simple concepts across. You seem to be dancing around the cultural context of an idea rather than telling us what it is. This may sound critical but I am sure you feel that if you have something really important to contribute we should scrutinise it as critically as possible.

Perhaps I could ask - what in biophysical terms would you suggest is ‘my experience of the sun glinting on the window just now’?

Best wishes


D Johnston
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Welcome to the new website of Overman Foundation

Dear Friend and Well-wishers,
On 29 March 2017, Overman Foundation completed its seventh year of existence.
In the past seven years, we have worked to create an Archives dedicated to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother help interested scholars and researchers to work on their lives and works. The Archives of Overman Foundation presently consists of and preserves around 35,000 documents, photographs, press cuttings, government documents of the British-era and unpublished correspondence and manuscripts of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and the early inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. The organization also provides an intellectual sanctuary in the form of an Archives Library which houses a vast number of books in English, Bengali, French, Hindi and Gujarati on Sri Aurobindo Studies, the Ramakrishna Order and Indo-logical Studies. Selected documents and photographs from the Archives of Overman Foundation are regularly uploaded in its online forum.
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Overman Foundation.

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