Foundations of Cognitive Metaphysics

by Jason W. Brown

Jason W. Brown M.D. is Clinical Professor of Neurology at New York University Medical Center, New York, NY 10021. His interests are in neuropsychology, process psychology, and philosophy of mind.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.79-92, Vol. 21:1-2, Spring-Summer, 1998. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


This article explores some of the implications for process philosophy of a new approach to brain psychology and the dynamics of the mental state — microgenetic theory — that has developed out of the study of symptoms in neurological cases.

Philosophical materialism enjoys a large body of empirical support in cognitive psychology precisely because the agenda of the psychology is motivated by the very concepts the philosophy endeavors to explain. This is not the case in process thought where the genetic concepts that underlie evolutionary and developmental theories have had scant impact on process studies and there is little or no interpenetration of philosophical analysis with psychological research. This is not a promising state of affairs.

The purpose of this paper is to explore some of the implications for process philosophy of a new approach to brain psychology and the dynamics of the mental state -- microgenetic theory -- that has developed out of the study of symptoms in neurological cases. This approach has much in common with process metaphysics, especially in the concept of time, change and the actualization (becoming) over phases in the brain in the momentary development of a cognition.

I. Microgenesis and Process Theory

Microgenesis refers to the actualization (Aktualgenese) of a cognition over "layers" in mind and brain that retrace growth patterns in phyloontogeny.1 The recapitulation that is the cornerstone of historical theory is a repetition of the antecedents of a behavior that phyletic or ontogenetic process lays down. In its simple form, the theory held that a cognition develops over anatomical stages in the brain. These stages are entrained at successive phases and are aligned in a sequence that reflects evolutionary growth. This was the shape of early recapitulation theory as applied to brain and behavior. There were some who postulated a retracing of archaic repertoires that remained embedded in the final behavior, for example Paul MacLean’s notion of a reptilian and protomammalian brain within the mature human brain.2

Gradually, it became clear that it is not the stages or the behaviors that are reproduced but the configural properties of the process through which they actualize, that is, the process is revived, not the actual elements into which it deposits. Moreover, the earlier concept of a collapse of the millions of years of phylogeny, or the lifespan of ontogeny, into the milliseconds of a cognition, or the idea of a process that continued over evolutionary, lifespan and cognitive durations was replaced by the concept of an iteration of a single process or pattern that binds together the different time frames.

More precisely, the duration of phyletic or ontogenetic process is not the evolutionary (maturational) history of a species (organism); the former is more accurately the sum of its ontogenies. Evolution is a population dynamic, ontogeny the life story of an individual. From the individual standpoint, evolution is the antecedent line of all prior ontogenies for that organism. Thus, the question, what exactly is an ontogeny? The conventional view is of a process that extends over the lifespan. But there is a way of regarding ontogeny as a moment of growth that is cyclically revisited. What is the lifespan if not a temporal aggregate that is woven by the mind into a seamless thread from the series of discrete momentary actualities.

If this is the proper way to interpret ontogeny, the duration we are seeking would not extend from infancy to senescence; ontogeny is not the longevity -- the growth and decay -- of the organism from birth to death. Rather, the duration of an ontogeny lies in the covert process that deposits the organism each moment and at every phase in its life cycle. In this way of thinking, the momentary actualization of the organism, its becoming, is the fundamental note from which the melody of development is composed.

Every becoming of the mental state (microgeny) creates a novel moment. The moment has to be novel for change to occur. The absence of novelty is sameness or identity. An entity cannot be self-identical from one moment to the next. This would imply an absence of change, thus an absence of time. The novelty of the entity, its temporality and change from one moment to the next, are codependent phenomena. The becoming creates the novelty as well as the duration through which the entity momentarily exists. Each novel moment is a constituent of an imaginative series over which the entity endures.

The genetic concepts can be related to those of change and time. Instead of the microgeny occurring over an objective duration that is linked to other genetic processes, one can say that the microgeny of the mental state does not fill time or "take" time but is time-creating! The microgenesis of an object elaborates the time in which that object exists and is enjoyed. The momentary state is a universe of time and change. This world of the moment, which is all we know, becomes the setting for an illusory extension into longer or shorter time scales which then seem to occupy a portion of an external time in a relation of the phenomenal to the absolute.

There is a distinction here of a potential time that becoming creates, and a container time over which the becoming occurs. The distinction is important, as is the choice, because in making it one takes a stance on the frontier of the conceptual. Microgenesis is firmly committed to the subjectivity of temporal experience. Whitehead alluded to this distinction and proposed that mental space-time conforms to the dominant space-time of nature: he was led to the position "that we are aware of a dominant space-time continuum and that reality consists of the sense-objects projected into that continuum" (ENP 102;3 PPT4).

Leaving aside the details of the theory and its clinical basis, which have been discussed at length elsewhere (LM), microgenesis can be characterized as a whole-to-part specification that recurs in rhythmic overlapping waves-fields, i.e., wave fronts, oscillators. The sequence is obligatory, recurrent and unidirectional. The cascade of whole/part shifts over evolutionary growth planes in the brain leads from a core in upper brainstem through limbic formations to the neocortical rim. The progression is from the intrapsychic to the extrapersonal, from image to object, from self to world. Consciousness is a configuration over phases in the same mental state, those that lay down, in succession, the self, personal space and the external world. This relation, as with every relation, is not Instantaneous -- in an instantaneity, relations are annihilated -- but depends, as Whitehead pointed out, on a virtual duration that is derived from an imaginative reconstruction of the specious present (ENP 100).

II. Divisibility

In a microgeny the succession of phases is ordered from earlier to later (SP; TWMP),5 though a complete traversal of all phases is necessary to establish a self, a world and a phenomenal now. Since the specious (phenomenal) present (see Figure 1, below) is extracted from a disparity across surface and depth phases, the disparity -- in order for there to be one -- obligates a realization of the entire sequence. But the phases do not have an independent existence until the becoming terminates, i.e., achieves an actuality, after which the phases constituting that becoming can be delineated. Without an actuality, the phases are "out of time" and therefore non-existent.

The brain state is indivisible, yet it is a complex entity. The indivisibility reflects the non-temporality of the succession of phases in each occasion. The epoch over which the phases are distributed, i.e., the subjective duration the entity elaborates, not its enactment in physical time, does not exist prior to its completion. The reconstruction of a phase-sequence is a retrospective act. The becoming is atomic, an indivisible unit of time. This temporal unit must first be created before its phases can be hypostatized.

Similarly, for Whitehead, the temporal passage in a becoming was not to be construed in the sense of a uniquely serial advance" (PR 35). A becoming is not divisible into parts, though a gradation of phases can be described. The analysis of an entity is an intellectual act. Indivisibility is not a sign of simplicity. Indivisible objects are not basic entities. Indeed, there are no basic entities.

For some Whitehead scholars, the analysis of concrescence into phases, and the account of a sequence of prehensions, are inconsistent with the concept of a nontemporal becoming.6 Sequence and phase are temporal concepts. But a phase does not count for something until there is an entity. An entity creates its phases no less than it is created by them. The completion of the becoming does not require that a set of phases complete its cycle but rather that the entity become itself, i.e., whatever it is. Waiting until the concrescence is complete before its analysis can take place is not a waiting for the details of the genetic sequence to be revealed. Successive states are "called up" and ordered. The calling up creates the order. The ordering creates the temporal unit over which the calling up occurs, but not before a whole entity is achieved.

Clearly, a comparable paradox bedevils microgenetic thinking. The identification of segments in a continuum introduces an arbitrary demarcation. The continuum must objectify before the segments can be identified, but even then their demarcation is not possible. In the succession of phases, the direction is anisotropic. The formative sequence of brain evolution guarantees the direction of the actualization. Evolution and growth are constraints on the direction of process. If cognition is unidirectional, like phyloontogeny, the direction from past to present entails that a comparable sequence of phases in the microgeny should be discernible.

In each microgeny, phases are conceptual anchors in the continuous flux of change. The change within a microgeny is novel and indeterminate prior to an actuality. Every phase is a potential for the ensuing phase. A phase in transition is insubstantial, unbounded, like a wave in the ocean. The concept of phases or segments in a continuum, i.e., when boundaries are assigned, if taken too literally, may be irreconcilable with a whole-to-part process. Segmentation implies a concatenation or, if a continuity, one that is chopped into sections. Segments have delimitations yet can be overlapping; phases are less discrete.

III. Category and Phase

The brain is an organic process through which actual or existent objects (acts, utterances, feelings, etc.) are created. Process is a pattern of change. What is unique about brain process is that it stabilizes change, or "chunks" it into categories. The forming of categories achieves a stability of a natural kind that is unlike the artificial properties of intellectual analysis that have to carry the full weight of logical stability for objects that are otherwise unrepeatable. Categories are wholes to their members, which become wholes to subsidiary members, and so on, in a progression that is bottomless. The forming of wholes, or categories, is what the brain does best, and the effect is powerful. A real world and a constant self depend on it. That is why the illusion of stability is so pervasive and the dynamic of change so opaque.

More precisely, from the standpoint of conceptual processes, the continuum is a transition from a category (whole) to an instance (part) where the latter is the basis of another transition. The transition has the character of an emergence of whole-like parts from part-like wholes, where the wholes are not mere collections, and the parts are not definite elements but the potential to form subsequent wholes. The whole-part relation is a successive nesting that finally terminates in a concrete part, an actuality, that does not serve as a whole for a further transformation. An actuality is a concrete fact. An actual object is the finality for every succession of phases. The final transform completes the entity and thereby makes it real. The relation of whole to part is that of a recursive embedding of potentialities. One might imagine the pattern of concentric waves when a stone is tossed in a pool, but in reverse. It is questionable whether this relation is captured by the notion of phases or segments in a longitudinal series.

IV. Past and Present

The past is re-presented in the present. The development is wholly in the present but can be described as proceeding from the past to the present, loosely, from memory to perception.7 This progression is the reverse of the presumed flow of mental process in the research paradigms of experimental cognition and in neuroscience, where perception is held to precede memory, i.e., objects register and are secondarily identified through a match to items in memory. The immediate object is relayed to a past copy of that object for recognition. On this view, perception is inevitably passive. We never know what we are looking at, or what we want to look at, until after we see it.

Microgenetic theory entails that objects are recognized before they are consciously perceived, that objects are remembered into perception. A memory is an incompletely developed perception, while an object is a memory that has objectified or an image that has exteriorized. The sequence from past to present or from memory to perception corresponds with the direction of growth trends in forebrain evolution. For example, ancestral limbic systems mediate "long term" memory, i.e., meaning and experiential relations, whereas later evolved neocortical zones mediate the discriminant perception of external objects, i.e., the analysis of mental objects into (external) space.

The succession of phases in microgenesis is not to be construed as a conveyance or transfer of mental content from one stage to the next. A phase transformed was only the potential for that transformation. The transformed phase is a potential for the phase to follow. The final actuality actualizes the entire sequence. Preliminary phases in the object are ingredient and constitutive. We know this because damage to a preliminary stage can result, say, in a well-formed object (word, etc.) deprived of its meaning or recognition. Or, the conscious perception of the object’s form can be "lost" with good apprehension of meaning, i.e., meaning is "encoded" before objects are consciously perceived. Here, the past of a present object -- its recognition, familiarity, etc.-- is realized into a present cognition, though the actual object that embodies that recognition has not been adequately discriminated.

An object is a process of momentary actualization. Each traversal from depth to surface is a minimal or irreducible unit of cognition and elaborates a whole unit of subjective time. The full, formative diachronic process, its temporal "thickness" or extension, is the object. As in process philosophy, the essence of the object is its microformation; the object’s being, i.e., its existence or being present or realness, is its becoming. A veridical object is the final thrust of becoming as process carries the past into the present. Every object is an assertion of the configural history of the organism. One can say that a present object consists mostly of the personal past of the observer. This past, or its abstract residue, that is imminent, covertly, in every occurrent state.

In microgenesis, objects are generated from phases of potential to forms that become actual in order to become real. A pure subjectivity is avoided by the assumption that the material world modulates the generative process. What actualizes is a negative image of the entire realm of multi-tiered nature. Still the objects of perception are concrete images in the mental space of an observer. This differs from process metaphysics, which incorporates the object in the act of becoming, holding that an object is given or imminent in an occasion. The problem of substance-quality categories is circumvented by this move, though in my opinion at the cost of some coherence in the theory.

Every actuality revives the past as it actualizes. For the sake of a momentary appearance, the actual reaches back to ancient neural structures at the horizon of subjectivity. The past is out of time, and depends for its existence on the reinstatement of present experience. In the formation of the present, the past exerts a configural influence of which one is ordinarily unaware. This is the implicit past, i.e., personal and world knowledge, that is brought to bear on every act and object. The past becomes explicit when it achieves an awareness as a memory. Becoming explicit is becoming a fact of experience, even if what is explicit is a mental fact, e.g., an image, an idea however fuzzy, a proposition, etc.

A memory image is a present image of a past event. Were it to fully objectify, were the incipient present to vivify a recollection into a solid object, the result would be a present image of a present event. Whitehead wrote, "there is no essential reason why memory should not be raised to the vividness of the present fact" (CN), but to revive the actual present of a past state, i.e., not a memory of the past but a preceding actuality, would be to hallucinate with an object-like clarity. But of course there is nothing to say this is not the case with ordinary perception.

If an actuality is not achieved, the past remains forever past; it is excluded from subjectivity, thus from existence. Only in an actuality does the past become alive, and then not as the fact it once was but as an implicit constraint on a novel content. The continuum from implicitness to fact as a past (memory) grows into a present (perception), retraces the process of percept formation. The micro-genesis of an object is a microcosm of its birth, life and death, a surge of the object into actuality out of abstract, timeless potential.

V. Change

Whitehead’s metaphysics is a meditation of exceptional depth on the "locus" of change in the mind and the world. An epoch of change is an epoch of time that is bounded by a past out of time that grows through subjective time into its forward limit with every epoch creating a present that is absorbed into timelessness for the next cycle of actualization. Time and change are a flutter of the imagination in the embrace of two eternities. This is so for process metaphysics where becoming is bounded on either end by an eternal (timeless) object. For microgenesis, the onset and terminus of the mental state are changeless boundaries encircling a process of change. The microgeny is a moment of time suspended between the limits of timelessness, like the experience of living, which is the dream of life that hovers on the eternity of sleep.

Every entity has a finite period -- for a mind, a microgeny -- over which it becomes. The entity then perishes and is replaced, as in the blink of the Brahma, by an oncoming epoch that is a near replication. The entity changes in becoming actual. The change is intrinsic to the actualization. The actuality is epochal. The final object cannot be detached from all the phases in its becoming, indeed, it is those phases, so that change within the becoming is not apparent to a self that is deposited by the becoming, a self that is conscious only of a succession of objects, the apparent or illusory change from one actual object to another. The self is more closely replicated than its objects, which differ (come and go, change position, etc.) across the series of replications.

A replication is driven by the intrinsic constraints of the resting state at each phase as well as by the extrinsic constraints of occurrent sensation. A given state actualizes over the residue of a prior one; its thresholds limit the freedom in each traversal. The replication is never exact. The degree to which an actuality departs from a prior entity is determined by a number of factors, the flux of occurrent sensation, the baseline activity at each phase as it is activated, the decay of prior states and the emergent novelty inherent in the becoming process.

In microgenesis, change is perceived as a comparison across the successive occasions of an actual object. Objects are perceived as solid entities that change, not changes that assume the appearances of entities. The perception of change is a perception of difference not a perception of change. Genuine change is intrinsic to a given object; apparent (extrinsic) change is the perception of difference or a comparison across two changes. Genuine change occurs in the process of actualization through which a percept develops. The process leading to the object is the change from the object of a moment ago. Once the object actualizes, it no longer changes. The neural activity corresponding to the object is "erased" in the brain as a path is prepared for the next actuality.

We perceive an entity as a solid because we need to perceive it that way in order to perceive it at all, and in order to survive. The stability of self and world has been achieved through a long evolutionary struggle. That is why we are here. The brain neutralizes change by transferring it from the time within objects to the space between them, displacing the change that is ingredient in the object to a surface interaction as another property of space. Genuine or non-illusory change is imperceptible for the reason that the change that is occurring can not be apprehended from a stationary viewpoint. The viewpoint is what the change is laying down.

Change is cyclical and pulsatile, a rising into actuality and a falling into abstract endurance. Wallack wrote that actuality "jumps from occasion to occasion" (ENP). The jump from one object to another gives apparent change in consciousness. Genuine change and subjective time are generated by the actualization of a single object. Every change is a changed world. Change is not in the "interval" between two actualities. The interstices of a series of microgenetic epochs are timeless, thus non-existent. The continuity across changes -- the "glue" of passage -- arises from the timeless (changeless) "gap" between actualities.

The observer has a perception of change across successive entities (worlds). Some objects seem to change rapidly, others not at all. Yet a butterfly on the wing and a stationary rock in the garden are each, as Whitehead would say, a mass of raging particles. The persistence of the rock, or its apparent lack of change, is not the absence of change but the relative similarity of its recurrence. The object keeps replacing itself and changes little in each replacement. With a butterfly, each replacement is a changed object. Change deposits the replacement in a series of novel objects. The perception of change, and the rate at which an object seems to be changing, depend on the resemblance of actualities across recurrences. With labile change across instances in a series of microgenies, the resultant entities appear to change quickly. Even with the minimal change of a rock, a recurrence is never exact. The light, the shadow, the perspective, the world around the rock, the world "inside" the rock, everything changes in every change. The repetition of a becoming is always a new beginning. This is consistent with Whitehead’s belief "that what becomes involves repetition transformed into novel immediacy"(PR 137).

The meaning of change is linked to the meaning of time though change appears to be more fundamental because time is generated by change, i.e., an absence of change is an absence of time, and time more than change is mind-dependent. Change is what actually happens in the actualization of a given entity. Time is an emergent of a series of actualizations once the sequence of phases within an actualization has been established.

In process philosophy, there are two meanings of change. According to Leclerc, "the kind of change involved in an act or process of becoming must be carefully distinguished from the kind of change constituted by a transition from one entity to another" (WM 79). Becoming is one form of change, transition across entities is another. The former is the process through which an entity exists, the latter is "the difference between actual occasions comprised in some determinate event" (PR 73).

These forms of change differ in causal relations. Whitehead wrote that "efficient causation expresses the transition from actual entity to actual entity; and final causation expresses the internal process whereby the actual entity becomes itself’ (PR 150). The efficient causation (causa quod) of process theory, the existing state of affairs, corresponds with the apparent or illusory change of microgenetic theory, while the final causation (causa ut) of process theory, the state to be produced, the intention, corresponds with the real or intrinsic change of microgenesis.

There is no change of an entity in a becoming, for the becoming is the entity. The process through which the entity becomes is its change. Change within an entity is the process constituting that entity, so it cannot fairly be said that the entity changes through a becoming. The entity is not what it is until the becoming is complete. Once it is complete, it does not change, it perishes. Change and time in our experience of the world are perceived as related to the differences between objects. A difference involves a comparison. If the comparison is between simultaneities, the act of comparison introduces a succession. With time and change, the I. comparison is across successivities, i.e., from a prior to a subsequent state. The problem is exceedingly subtle. If the comparison is between entities that actualize but do not change, nor change once they actualize, i.e., if change deposits entities which themselves do not change, where is change if not in the observer, and what is an observer if not an emergent of change?

VI. Time

Whitehead states that in scientific thinking, "change is essentially the importation of the past and of the future into the immediate fact embodied in the durationless present instant" (PNX).8 In process thought, however, the future is not imported into the present but is grounded in the present as a subjective aim. Becoming is asymmetric. The assumption of an anisotropy of time, along with the "momentariness" of change in spite of the epochal nature of moments, aligns the theory with microgenetic concepts.

In process philosophy, the not-being of an object that perishes is not a nothing. It is absorbed into the permanent structure of the non-temporal world to endure as an abstract foundation for ensuing change. Actuality passes into timelessness; once timeless, the entity is eternal. In contrast, in the genetic process, temporal order is created out of non-temporality and devolves back into timelessness. The mental state spans a non-temporal inception that merges with a non-temporal outcome. Every mental state creates its own duration. Time inhabits many worlds, timelessness only one. Perishing and becoming are the ingress and egress of temporality as it pulses in and out of the same non-temporal ground.

In process philosophy, time is the conformity of successive states to their antecedents. The epochal nature of becoming displaces time from within an epoch to the succession of epochal states. Whitehead commented that the synthesis or realization of objects introduces temporal process. For some interpreters, such as John Cobb, time is in the transition; for others, time is in both the transition across occasions and in the becoming of the occasion itself. In microgenetic theory, time is only within the becoming. Time in duration, thus the past, present and future, precedence, etc., is created by a single state within which antecedents are embedded. The succession is necessary for the revival as an implicit "layering" within the occurrent state. Time is not elaborated by the succession, but by relational features of the revival of antecedents within a unique occasion. A micro-genetic state is both epochal and time-creating.

The perishing of a state is a dying back or attrition from the surface of the next revival. The entire state perishes but earlier phases are revived more readily than final ones. Conceivably, the earlier phases fade before the later, in the same sense that antecedent moments in the orbit of an electron no longer exist by the time the orbit is complete. The "by the time" is the problem, for there is no time until the sequence is concluded. This epoch is required for an entity to become itself. Every happening within an epoch is out of time until the epoch is whole. Only in retrospect can precedence be established, so an entity not yet in time cannot perish, while once "in time" it has perished already.

In each microgeny, earlier phases generate the past, later ones the present. Studies in process metaphysics have tried to disambiguate the before/after series from the past/present succession. One can have a before and after, but there is no past until there is a present for the past to be past in relation to. The actualization of the present transforms the before and after to a sequence from past to present.

When we say that decay begins with the present and leads depthward to the past, it is equivalent to saying that in the occurrent state, i.e., in relation to a present, only the past of a prior state is revived. Still there is a paradox in the association of early and late with past and present when the entire state is the present state, including the configural effects on that present of any and all prior states. The death of the present is the death of the entire state, but the greater reproducibility of the proximal portion of the state, and the graded revival of the distant, then the recent, past, give the impression that a loss of the distal segment is a loss of the actual present. The surface activity of the state appears to be progressively attenuated to make way for the next actuality, while the past or depth of the state is renewed with greater conformance.

Decay and revival point to incompletion of process. To say a prior entity decays in an occurrent state is to say it is partially revived in the ensuing one. The degree to which the state unfolds, and the recession of prior states within the present, give the "specious" or phenomenal present. This duration is extracted from the disparity between the forward edge of the actual object and the "floor" of the decay, or the "ceiling" of the revival, of a prior actuality. The state is revived to a point where the immediate past is a content in "short-term memory" buried in the actuality of the present.

The duration of the present in microgenetic theory is comparable in some respects to that in process philosophy, though the duration at issue is that of the subjective present, not the duration over which an entity becomes itself. A duration is not a stretch of time spanned by a perception but a virtual compresence of successive events in a "concrete slab of nature," in which all events are simultaneous, and successive simultaneities overlap. Whitehead thought there was no explanation for this phenomenon. But a genetic approach to the mental state, in which the feeling of duration arises as an implicit comparison between the surface of the actual present and the revived (immediate) past within it, can provide an account of this aspect of the mental life.




Legend: The state at T-1 is incompletely revived at T-2, less so at T-3. The duration of the present is extracted from the disparity between the "surface" at T-2 or T-3 and the embedded "floor" of T-1 or T-2.

In a succession of occasions, the initial state is revived less and less in each subsequent microgeny, eventually to recede into long-term memory beneath conscious accessibility. Every state unfolds over personal memory from the distant to the recent past. The present fades as a new present appears but phases of memory within that present are uncovered as if in a backward descent. In this way, the recent past and the momentary present, the recession of the old and the recurrence of the new, form the boundaries of a virtual duration that is the theatre of conscious experience.

VII. Individuation

In the becoming of an object there is a progression toward greater definiteness. Whitehead wrote, in process "the creative idea works toward the definition and attainment of a determinate individuality" (PR 150). In the process that generates an object, diverse entities become concrete by a coalescence or synthesis into a unitary occasion. Concrescence is the coming together of parts to form organic wholes. Microgenesis entails a progressive specification of parts that individuate out of unity. The fundamental direction is the analysis of spatial wholes into temporal parts.

The striving toward definiteness is the goal of evolutionary process. Form is shaped into objects by the elimination of the unfit. Cognition is microevolution. Before they even take hold, those routes of potentiality that could be maladaptive are pruned by sensory and other constraints to make way for what becomes actual. The endogenous generates a potential that is parsed to an object that survives the pressures of adaptation, i.e., the constraints on its development, to a fit with the sensory environment. The concept of parcellation in neuronal growth, the individuation in maturation of specific acts and objects, the analysis of gestalts into features, the relation of surround to center, theories of frame to content or context to item development in language and cognition, attempt to describe a wave of whole-part shifts through a succession of constraints on emergent form as a process in which diverse elements resolve out of organic wholes.

VIII. Mind and World

One can agree with David Bohm, that scientific objects are not fundamentally different from what happens in immediate perception (STR 228). Mind is governed by the same laws as the material world. It is the agency through which the world is perceived and understood. Accounts of the object world are theories of the mind, and ultimate accounts of the physical describe universal properties of mind. A machine theory of physical matter leads to a mechanical or computational account of mind. A causal account of scientific objects gives a causal account of mental ones. Such a theory has difficulty explaining patterns of behavior unless those patterns are reduced to the effects of lower level elements, e.g., genes, chemical reactions, modules.

The inner is primary because a subjectivity at the mercy of experience would consist of random impacts. The subjective is not a construction but creates the assemblage of facts and contents on which its supposed explanation rests. Subjectivity imposes order on experience. The mind is an organism in constant struggle. The organismic theory of mind is harmonious with the concept of the world as a creature. Mind is a living organism that pursues its own nature. One can be lead to a theory of scientific objects through the mind or to a theory of the mind through science. Each theory should have a set of axioms the other can share. The starting point doesn’t matter unless one starts with the wrong theory.

Whitehead based his metaphysics on quantum features of the material world and gave us the grounding of a philosophical psychology. A beginning with psychology, however, can lead to insights on physical process not anticipated by science. There is a deep consolation in the fact that the laws of mind and nature are reciprocally discoverable, and that both manifest the activity of thought. This leads one to ask if the becoming of material entities is an attribute of their existence in the mind or if their becoming in the mind is an instance of material becoming in nature. Put differently, is microgenesis a theory of mental process or is the process that the theory describes an instance of world process exemplified in the human mind?



Works by Jason W. Brown

LM Life of the Mind. New Jersey: Erlbaum, 1988.

PPT "Psychoanalysis and Process Theory," Neuroscience of the Mind on the Centennial of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 843. Edited by Robert Bilder and Frank Lefever. New York, 1998.

SP Self and Process. New York: Springer, 1991.

TWMP Time, Will and Mental Process. New York: Plenum, 1996.

Other References

STR David Bohm, The Special Theory of Relativity. New York: Benjamin, 1965.

WM Ivor Leclerc, Whitehead’s Metaphysics. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1958.

ENP F. Bradford Wallack, The Epochal Nature of Process in Whitehead’s Metaphysics. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1980.



1For the history of the idea, see Heinz Werner, "Microgenesis and Aphasia," Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology 52 (1956), 347- 353. See also: Robert Hanlon and J.W. Brown, "Microgenesis: Historical Review and Current Studies," Brain Organization of Language and Cognitive Processes, edited by Alfredo Ardila and Feggy Ostrosky (New York: Plenum, 1989) and Cognitive Microgenesis: A Neuropsychological Perspective edited by Robert Hanlon (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991). On neuropsychological data in support of the theory, see my Life of the Mind (hereafter cited LM).

2See the article by Paul MacLean relating microgenesis to fractal geometry, "Neofrontocerebellar Evolution in Regard to Computation and Prediction: Some Fractal Aspects of Microgenesis," in Hanlon, see note 1.

3F.B. Wallack, The Epocal Nature of Process in Whitehead’s Metaphyics (cited as ENP).

4Jason W. Brown, "Psychoanalysis and Process Theory" (cited as PPT).

5Jason W. Brown, Time, Will, and Mental Process (cited as TWMP).

6 For example, Edward Pols, Whitehead’s Metaphysics (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967; cited as WM). See also the discussion in William Christian, "Some Aspects of Whitehead’s Metaphysics," Explorations in Whitehead’s Philosophy, edited by Lewis Ford and George Kline (New York: Fordham University Press, 1983), 31-44. See the discussion in Lewis Ford, "Can Whitehead’s God be Rescued from Process Theism?" Logic, God and Metaphysics, edited by J. Harris (Netherlands: Kluwer, 1992), 19-39.

7Memory and perception axe differently active at each phase. The topic is discussed in my "Psychoanalysis and Process Theory" (PPT).

8See the discussion in Paul Schmidt, Perception and Cosmology in Whitehead’s Philosophy (New York: Rutgers University Press, 1967).