The weakness of the present world-picture

In order to create this effective scientific world-picture we had to use a device: the intellectual device of treating entities in nature as if they were inert, as if they were lumps of geometric substance, without feeling, without life — in effect, merely mechanical elements in a larger machine.

[…] The elements are defined, and the rules of interaction are defined, and everything then follows when this mechanism is let loose.

Yet we human beings also have, in our daily experience of the world, something different, an immediate awareness of self. We are conscious. We are aware of our own selves. We have feelings, We experience love. Sometimes we experience unity. […]

Within the era of the mechanical world-picture, we have been taught to think that the experience of self is somehow an artifact of the interaction of matter, a consequence of the play of machines. Yet thinking so does not contribute any understanding of the self that we experience each day. The self — in each one of us — continues to exist. It is more palpable, more present, in our daily experience than is the world of mental and mathematical mechanisms. Yet our present world-picture has no place in it for this self. The self does not figure in the present world-picture as a real thing. Nor does consciousness. Nor does love. Nor does the experience of unity.

Two worlds in our minds

  1. Scientific: highly complex system of mechanisms
  2. The world we actually experience

As Whitehead says, “How unfortunate that we should be forced to conclude that in its own sad reality nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly…” from Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925, reissued 1932), 69. […] “What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, insofar as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture, and the other is the dream.” From Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1920).

Whitehead believed that we will not have a proper grasp of the universe and our place in it, until the self which we experience in ourselves, and the machinelike character of matter we see outside ourselves, can be united in a single picture. I believe this. And I believe that we shall not have a credible view that shows how human life and architecture are related until Whitehead’s bifurcation is dissolved. Indeed, until it is dissolved, we cannot help — at least partially — thinking of ourselves as machines!

Notes mentioning this note

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