Relativity Physics and the God of Process Philosophy

by Paul Fitzgerald

Paul Fitzgerald is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104. He has recently been a visiting professor at the University of Toronto and the University of Pittsburgh (fall 1972).

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 251-276, Vol. 2, Number 4, Winter, 1972. 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.


The bearing of relativity theory on process theism suggests two mutually incompatible approaches to the problem of conceiving God as a temporal being. The author spells out why and suggests the advantages and drawbacks which process theists might see in each.


Let us follow John Wilcox in defining temporalistic or process theism as any theism which portrays God as an experiencing subject, the knower of temporal processes, whose knowledge is itself subject to growth, expanding along with the growth in temporal reality which is the object of that knowledge (2:295a). Recent discussion of the bearing of relativity theory on process theism has suggested two mutually incompatible approaches to the problem of conceiving God as a temporal being in such a way as to respect the teachings of both relativity and process theism. Lewis S. Ford has recently pointed out some drawbacks of one of these approaches, that defended on occasion by Charles Hartshorne (1:127-30) and argued for the second, which is essentially that attributed by William Christian to Whitehead in An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (IWM). But the second approach has not yet, to my knowledge, been fully explored, in particular with regard to the question of exactly how the world’s temporality is reflected in God’s consequent nature. On closer examination it turns out to cover several alternatives. The purpose of this article is to spell them out and suggest the advantages and drawbacks which a process theist might see in each.

The problem for the process theologian stems from the fact that according to relativity theory there is no such thing as absolute simultaneity for spatially separated events. Certain pairs of events A and B are such that whether A is to be regarded as occurring before B, simultaneously with B, or after B, depends on the coordinate-system with respect to which one judges. These event pairs, which Whitehead calls "contemporaries" of one another, are picked out by the fact that no light signal traveling even in vacuo from either could reach the other. This entails that what counts as "the past" or "the future" is also relative to coordinate-systems. The question facing the process theologian concerns the way in which this relativity of simultaneity and of the future is to be fitted into a consistent doctrine of God as a temporal being whose knowledge is growing. Which events does God experience simultaneously? If two events are contemporaries of one another, does God experience them simultaneously or successively, or is there no temporal ordering of his experiences of the events? Is God’s experience, and the growth of his consequent nature, relativised to one or more coordinate-systems? And if not, then can it be temporal at all? Exactly what would its temporal structure be like? Even Whitehead, who explicitly incorporated into his metaphysics a recognition of the relativity of simultaneity, did not fully spell out the consequences of this with respect to the temporal nature of God. Before doing so we will have to explain a bit more fully just what relativity theory teaches. (See also 1:125-27, 2:293 ff.)


Special relativity modifies our concepts of space and time to accord with the experimental finding that light has the same speed in all directions and relative to all (inertial) observers or coordinate-systems. This last fact is really quite surprising. We ordinarily think that if, for example, a body B travels at 20 miles an hour relative to a body A, and C travels in the same direction at 30 miles an hour relative to B, then C is travelling at 50 miles an hour relative to A. Relativity, however, teaches that this conclusion is only approximately correct. And the approximation gets poorer as larger speeds are chosen, becoming disastrously wrong when the speed of light is in question. For the speed of light (in vacuo) is about 186,000 miles per second relative to A, and exactly the same relative to B, regardless of how fast B is moving relative to A. In short, it is invariant with respect to all (inertial) coordinate-systems or observers. Since a speed is a distance traversed divided by the time interval required to do it, relativity’s radical change in our concept of speed implies a corresponding change in our concepts of space and time. In particular, it implies the relativity of simultaneity previously mentioned.

We can picture on the accompanying diagram the changes in our concepts of space and time which relativity forces on us. Assume that we are dealing with two inertial observers or coordinate-systems who are in relative motion and pass by each other at an event P. The line t is the time axis of one observer and represents all the temporally successive events occurring at what he regards as the same place as event P. If those events constitute the history of a material object, then the line is said to be the "world-line" of that object. Later events are pictured as occupying higher positions on that line than earlier events. The line labeled X represents a set of events which that observer regards as having the same date, t=0, as event P, and thus as simultaneous with P. A plane perpendicular to the diagram and containing the line x=0 picks out the locus of a larger such set. For simplicity only the x-coordinate is pictured, though we could have pictured (in perspective) the y-coordinate as well, lying in that plane. And in reality there is a z-coordinate. perpendicular to the other three, but this we needn’t try to picture.

The line t’ is the time axis of the second observer. It is the locus of events occurring in temporal succession at what he regards as the same place as event P. The line x’ represents a set of events which the second observer regards as having the same date t’~0 as event P, and therefore as simultaneous with it. The second observer does not agree with the first that all events on line x are simultaneous with event F; he regards events on the right side of that line from P


as earlier than P, and events on its left side as later than P. Think of a plane perpendicular to the paper in which the diagram is drawn and intersecting it at the line x' . All events in that plane are regarded by the second observer as simultaneous with event P and one another. All events below that plane are earlier than P, and all events above it are later than P.

Now for the significance of the cones. These are to be thought of as intersecting the plane of the paper on the lines CPB and DPA, but extending out toward us and also inward beyond the plane of the diagram. The line PC represents the history in space-time of a light ray sent out in the negative x direction from event P. The line PD is the history in space-time of a light ray sent out from event P in the positive x direction. The coordinates are so calibrated that one unit along the time axis t represents one second, and one unit along the space axis x represents 186,000 miles, so each point along line PD represents the location of the light ray at the time in question. The entire cone CPD is the history in space-time of a circular wavefront of light emitted from event P and expanding in the x-y plane of 3-dimensional space. (A spherical wavefront expanding in 3-dimensional space cannot have its history pictured in the diagram, as that would require a four-dimensional diagram.) The significance of the cone CPD, called P’s "future facing light cone," is that all events within it or on its surface are absolutely later than P, that is, regarded as later than P relative to all coordinate-systems. The reason is that a signal sent from P with the speed of light in vacuo would reach events on the surface of the cone, and events within its surface could be reached by a slower signal emitted from P. Relativity theory generally works with the assumptions (1) that no causal influence can be transmitted faster than the speed of light in vacuo, and (2) that if two events P and D are so situated in space-time that a causal influence travelling from P with this maximal speed can reach D then P occurs prior to D absolutely, that is, relative to all coordinate-systems. Similarly, the cone APB represents the history in space-time of an actual or hypothetical circular wavefront of light contracting in the x-y plane to a point at event P. This cone is P’s "past-facing light cone." All events on its surface or within it are absolutely earlier than P, and represent what Whitehead calls P’s "actual world." Only these can influence P causally, that is, in Whiteheadian terms, be prehended by an occasion at P.1 Each point-event in space-time has associated with it a future-facing and a past-facing light cone, which determine respectively its absolute future and its absolute past. Regions not included within either cone of an event P constitute P’s "absolute elsewhere." This is the locus of events which are such that (a) their temporal relations with P vary with choice of coordinate-system, (b) they are what Whitehead calls the "contemporaries" of P, and (c) they cannot causally influence P and P cannot causally influence them, since any such influence would have to be propagated at a speed greater than that of light in vacuo, which until recently was assumed impossible.2


If we assume that relativity theory is giving us something close to the truth about space-time, at least in our present cosmic epoch, and is not simply a computational device with no ontological significance, then we must be sure that any form of process theology which we care to accept is tuned to harmonize with it. Several different variants of process theology seem at first hearing to do this. But they clash with one another, and each played separately has some jarring notes.

To get oriented, let us start with an over-simple version which most process theologians would be inclined to reject. This is the "God of the Privileged World-Line." A world-line is the history or career in space-time of an (actual or hypothetical) person or thing. It might be suggested that whether or not God is literally located in space, he is peculiarly associated with a privileged world-line in the sense that he has just that unique succession of experiences of the world which would be had by an ideally sensitive personal being whose history was represented by that world-line. Each of God’s total momentary states of consciousness would be determined by the actual world associated with a point (or occasion) on that world-line. And the succession of them would correspond to the succession of occasions along the world-line. This is probably the most anthropomorphic way to conceive of God’s temporal life. For it is the way in which human beings experience the world. Their successive states of consciousness are dense-packed like dewdrops along a world-line.

This view has only two advantages. First, it is compatible with the letter of relativity theory. Second, it gives a straightforward and comprehensible account of God’s temporal life; no bandying of words or specious appeal to the mysteries of the matter are needed to cover up metaphysical failure.

But the view suffers from two serious drawbacks. The first is that there is a certain arbitrariness about which world-line is God’s. We seem to have no way of discovering the privileged world-line or of explaining why God has it rather than any other. The second drawback is that God as so conceived may well be unable to meet certain conditions imposed by process theists. For example, he might not be able to play the role assigned to him in Whiteheadian and Hartshornian metaphysics of providing each actual occasion with its initial subjective aim. Take any occasion which is not located on God’s privileged world-line. He would experience it only after it is in his absolute past and already has objective immortality. If God’s providing of the occasion’s initial aim requires God to be simultaneously aware of the occasion’s past world, then the God of the Privileged World-Line cannot do the job. For God becomes aware of the occasion’s past actual world only after (absolutely) the occasion has perished.3 Again, if God’s providing of an initial aim requires that God physically prehend the occasion’s past actual world from the standpoint of the occasion, then we have a problem. For the Gad of the Privileged World-Line does not prehend the world from any region not located on his privileged world-line.


A second relativistic variant of process theology involves the "God of the World-wide Simultaneity-System." On this view, God is not associated with any unique world-line, but his inner life is nonetheless viewed as a temporal succession of conscious states. Physics seems to indicate that simultaneity across a spatial distance is purely relative. But if we bring God into the picture then we get a kind of absolute simultaneity. Those events are really or absolutely simultaneous which are experienced by God as occurring simultaneously. God experiences all events as soon as they "really" occur. And his sequence of experiences determines an absolute simultaneity and a world-wide, absolute succession of events, the unique creative advance of nature. This God of the World-wide Simultaneity System is the one which, as previously mentioned, has been defended by Hartshorne and attacked by Ford.

The present proposal suffers from two drawbacks analogous to those which afflicted the preceding one. The first flaw involves the arbitrariness of God’s simultaneity-system. The second involves difficulties connected with God’s consequent nature and its influence in the world.

As to the first difficulty, we have no inkling of which events are experienced as simultaneous by God, of how we would find out the identity of this privileged set of durations, in the Whiteheadian sense, or of the reason why God comes to be associated with this simultaneity-system rather than with some other.

It might be suggested that the difficulty could be resolved if the world happens to have a "cosmic time" of the sort which we find in some general-relativistic world models. The field equations of general relativity do not by themselves uniquely determine the overall features of the universe, such as the mean pressure and density, their distributions and those of other physical quantities, the expansion or contraction of space, and so forth. So the equations are compatible with different world models, which they yield when suitable physical boundary conditions are specified. Cosmologists generally work with simple, mathematically tractable world models in which the distribution of these quantities is homogenous and isotopic. And in some of them the world systematically evolves through time. For example, the mean density in typical regions may tend to decrease uniformly, and space expands. In such worlds a privileged set of coordinate-systems and an associated "cosmic time" can be defined. One regards as mutually simultaneous all those local regions which are contemporaries and which have the same mean density. In this way a linear ordering of instants constituting a cosmic time is picked out. Relative to this cosmic time, the world has the same mean density in any one direction as in any other, and the mean density of randomly chosen regions which are sufficiently large (perhaps cubes with a side of one hundred million light years) will cluster closely around a given value, which can be called the "mean density of the universe" at the time in question, and which increases relative to our cosmic time. Although to my knowledge no process theologian has suggested pressing cosmic time into service as "God’s time," Arthur Eddington seems to have had this in mind when he said, "Just as each limited observer has his own particular separation of space and time, so a being coextensive with the world might well have a special separation of space and time natural to him" (STG 163).

The only sense in which the cosmic time is "natural" for God is that when the world is described relative to a coordinate-system whose time coincides with cosmic time the description becomes much simpler than otherwise. Things are neater. This may have some weight but is not a compelling reason for associating God’s time with cosmic time, assuming that there is such a thing. Moreover, that assumption is not certain. And even if the world does have a cosmic time, that is a statistical matter anyhow. There will probably be several different, mutually incompatible ways to group events into mutually simultaneous classes that statistically most mutually simultaneous regions have about the same mean density. This means that strictly speaking several mutually incompatible "cosmic times" will be definable, each equally usable for the gross purposes of the astronomer, and none sufficiently preferable to the others to justify identifying it with "God’s time."4

There seems to be no way to avoid arbitrariness in assigning to God a privileged simultaneity-system. But even if this could be done, a second difficulty would arise in connection with a common teaching of process theology about how God influences the world, namely, in virtue not only of his primordial nature but of his consequent nature as well.

The difficulty is this: If God has a privileged simultaneity-system then some pairs of mutually contemporaneous occasions are experienced not simultaneously but successively by God. So one member of such a pair, occasion A, would be experienced by God and would modify his consequent nature prior to his experiencing of the other member, occasion B. It would seem that God’s consequent nature as modified by A would be experienced by B, and thus A would indirectly through God, influence B. But a standard teaching of orthodox relativity theory is that contemporaries cannot influence one another causally.5 In any case, critics have objected that which events God experiences simultaneously with a given event B ought to be empirically detectable through the influence which those events, or their immediate predecessors, have on event B through God. Wilcox says that "God’s chosen space-time system ought to show some distinctive marks in the world, being reinforced or ratified, as it were, by the non-worldly being" (2:296), And Ford asks "Yet if God exemplified some particular inertial system, should this not be detectable in some fashion?" (1:129). Hartshorne denies this consequence and suggests that

to avoid the mutuality above excluded (two entities, each a datum for the other) the divine awareness must be viewed as always just subsequent to its data, and to square the doctrine with physics we need to deny that God’s awareness of things as simultaneous has any appreciable effect in the world. As two scientists put it to me, "God must not be able to tell us" what is or was simultaneous with what we have just experienced.

In Whiteheadian terms, our prehensions of God must be "negative" with respect to his prehensions of distant contemporaries. Is this so surprising? What relevance could these have for us? (PI 324f)

There is something to be said for both parties in this debate. The objection from relativity posed by Wilcox and Ford seems to me to carry some weight but to fall short of being conclusive. And one who accepts the main tenets of process philosophy as shared by Whitehead and Hartshorne should in all consistency assign it less force than I do.

If the objection is saying that empirical investigations which could be conducted in the foreseeable future should reveal something about God’s simultaneity system, on the assumption that he has one, then it seems to me to be weak. Just how are events taking place "now," according to God, in the bright bowels of Alpha Centauri supposed to reveal themselves in my present experience, via God? Ford and Wilcox should suggest some specific empirical test whose negative outcome would disconfirm the hypothesis of a divine simultaneity-system. This will be difficult to do, because the whole story of how God influences us as a function of what has "already happened" is too speculative and loose-jointed for us to know what would count as an empirical disproof. If the misery which we observe in the world does not do it, then what would? Of course, "in principle" one should be able to detect the influence which contemporaries exert through God on me here-now. And so, too, should one be able to detect my alleged hybrid physical prehension of God. And God’s aim, which is at a maximum intensity of experience for himself and the world. And the way in which God orders possibilities so as to "persuade" me from occasion to occasion to realize that aim. None of these claims seems at present susceptible of confirmation by empirical tests, and they arc accepted not because of coercive scientific evidence in their favor but because of general metaphysical reasons or inclinations. If a Whiteheadian swallows these camels, why should he gag on the little gnat of a belief that some contemporaries subtly influence his present occasion through God, but that the influence is too soft-gloved a caress for present empirical tests to detect? Or why not follow Hartshorne in adopting an ad hoc belief in appropriate negative prehensions which screen out the anti-relativistic influences? From the standpoint of contemporary science that is no more ad hoc than the doctrine of subjective aim, say, or of the genetic succession of phases within an actual occasion.

A process philosopher should reject the God of the Privileged Simultaneity-System because it is an unnecessary departure from the spirit of relativity theory, not because we could expect clear-cut empirical consequences from it which we can see are not forthcoming. At one point Lewis Ford characterizes the situation aptly, saying "Like the Ptolemaic system, Hartshorne’s theory may account for all the appearances, but at the price of simplicity and elegance" (1:130). Right. But can we find a more simple and elegant theory which is compatible with both relativity and process theology?


Both views of God discussed so far share the conservative interpretation of God’s temporal life as a single linear succession of conscious states. That approach causes strained relations with relativity theory, for its teaching that the world lacks a unique cosmic advance of time makes it hard to see why a cosmic being like God should experience a unique one. What I dubbed the second approach to our problem assumes that he does not. Relativity would naturally suggest that God in his relations to us betrays no trace of such a privileged divine succession. And most commentators have agreed that God’s influence on an actual occasion does not reflect his prehensions of occasions outside of the past actual world of that occasion.6 What have not been sufficiently discussed are the tricky questions which arise when we turn our attention from the way in which God is objectified for us, at our different place-times, and ask exactly how his temporal experience in se is to be conceived. Is God a single actual entity, or some kind of society or multiplicity of occasions? If we refrain from projecting into God the doomed notion of a single-world-wide cosmic time, then how are we to understand such phrases as "everlasting concrescence" and "God’s continual becoming"?

Why not simply project into God the temporal structure which relativity theory sees in the world? God lives and develops along with the creatures, experiencing the concrescing of each actual occasion as it happens, and living through temporally successive strings of occasions. Whatever experienceable temporal relations obtain among occasions are found in God’s experience of those occasions.

An occasion A will be called an immediate predecessor of another occasion B if and only if B prehends A and no occasion is temporally between B and A in the sense that B prehends it and it prehends A. A relation of immediate successorship can be defined analogously. Each worldly occasion has one or more immediate predecessors and successors. The immediate predecessor relation can be used to order the world’s occasions into strands of successive occasions. Each strand is such that each member of it has a unique immediate predecessor in the strand and a unique immediate successor in the strand. The strands in the world intersect one another. In general, any occasion is a member of several different strands stretching back into its past actual world and streaming out from it into the future.

We might posit that corresponding to each worldly strand of occasions there is a temporal sequence of momentary experiences of these occasions in the mind of God. If God experienced only one such strand then his mental life would be like the stream of consciousness of a single person. Our hypothesis is that he experiences all of the strands. Suppose that the strands did not intersect at all; that each occasion belonged to one and only one strand. For each occasion, say one occurring at place-time P, there would be a divine consequent nature, God-at-P, which remembers the earlier occasions of the strand to which P belongs, and nothing else. God-at-P anticipates subsequent occasions on the string and provides the occasion at P with its initial subjective aim. The sequence of subsequent natures corresponding to a single worldly strand would be like a society of occasions with personal order, an intelligent consciousness lasting through time, and having its own little world to supervise. The mind would have divine sensitivity and responsiveness, so it might be regarded as a godling.7 God in his totality is the full collection of godlings, all in process of growth, all sharing a common primordial nature, but none having any memory or other knowledge of the particular experiences had by the others. God would have an infinitely split personality, each sub-personality evolving in monadlike isolation from the others.

In actual fact it seems hardly likely on empirical grounds that the world has this sort of structure, so there is no point in projecting it into God. This structure would entail, for example, that if I here-now am influenced by occasions occurring within my brain two minutes ago then I cannot be influenced, even indirectly, by occasions occurring outside my brain two minutes ago. The fact is that strings of occasions, assuming that there are occasions, almost certainly intersect with one another in space-time. It is not likely that each occasion has only one immediate predecessor and only one immediate successor. The average occasion probably prehends several distinct occasions which are contemporaries of one another, and thus belongs to several different strands of occasions. My here-now is the point of convergence of several causal sequences, which may, moreover, have interacted with one another. The strands of occasions are all interlaced So we must see how this interlaced structure is reflected in God; that is, we must interlace the godlings.

The simplest way to do this is to conceive of God as experiencing each act of becoming as it occurs, and as experiencing all and only those temporal relations among occasions which are independent of coordinate systems, and which are reflected in the real natures of the occasions. Call this the "Principal of Minimal Temporal Experience." Its chief effect is to exclude from God any experience of the "simultaneity" of mutually contemporary occasions, for that is in general relative to particular coordinate-systems and would not be experienced by a consciousness subject to relativistic principles. In Whiteheadian metaphysics there could presumably arise cases in which simultaneity of contemporaries is not relative to coordinate-systems, namely, when we are dealing with two spatially adjacent contemporaries. But even here one would not expect God, as he is experiencing one of them, to experience the simultaneous occurrence of the other. For that simultaneity is not reflected in any direct way in the experience of either occasion separately. So on the present proposal God-at-P has no experience of any occasion Q which is a contemporary of P. God-at-P is a total momentary conscious state, with memories and anticipations, presumably. But it is not a member of a single temporally successive stream of consciousness. It is a member of several such streams. The streams or godlings are interlaced personalities in that several of them can share numerically the same single actual occasion or momentary conscious state. We can leave it an open question here whether "God-at-P" the momentary conscious state, is itself a single distinct act of becoming or occasion, or whether it is not but is simply paired with a unique worldly occasion, the one taking place at P. In any case, the present proposal is partly reminiscent of cases of co-consciousness, in which a single human body is, through a given time period, the body of two or more distinct personalities, which alternately dominate it, and which are some-times conscious of one another, as in "the three faces of Eve." But the disanalogies are as marked as the similarities. For the godlings comprising God share the same divine primordial nature and constancy of purpose. And at any given occasion they literally coincide, so there can be no difference of motive or reaction on that occasion. There is not even co-consciousness, for God-at-P is "single-personalitied," though it is the ancestor and the descendant of several streams of experience, or godlings. We could with equal justice regard God as having a single personality divided up into a number of temporally successive streams of experience, which flow into and out of one another in a way which we might find rather bewildering. But not nearly so bewildering as some traditional teachings about God.

To take a concrete example, we might have four occasions of experience in the world. One of them, occasion A, is absolutely earlier than the other three. Occasions B and C are contemporaries of one another, but absolutely later than A and absolutely earlier than occasion D. The occasions A, B, and D might constitute successive stages in a stream of divine experience. A, C and D might be stages in another such stream. Associated with each occasion there is a consequent nature of God, influenced by all and only the events in that occasion’s absolute past. So we have God-at-A, God-at-B, and so forth, as stages in the divine experience of the world. There is no such thing as the progressive development of God. For there need not be, and in general will not be, a unique successor to a given occasion, and so there is no such thing as the next momentary experience in God after this experiencing of that occasion.

God-at-B would include a memory of God-at-A, but no experience whatever of God-at-C. For C is a contemporary of B, and the Principle of Minimal Temporal Experience rules that God-at-B can include no experience of any of its contemporaries. However, both God-at-B and God-at-C could have memories of A and of God-at-A. It is as though God’s personality has split in two after A occurred; in fact, at the juncture of B’s and C’s past-facing light cones. For events at that juncture or absolutely prior to it are remembered by both God-at-B and God-at-C, whereas no event absolutely later than the juncture can be present in the memory of both.

God-at-D would remember experiencing B and remember experiencing C, though he did not experience them simultaneously, and he experienced neither prior to the other! For they were experienced in different time streams, which have a confluence at D. It is as though you remember two states of your mind as both being past, but neither was earlier than, simultaneous with, or later than the other in your experience.

I think that this consequence, though surprising, is acceptable. One who finds it intolerable might try to avoid it in either of the following ways.

The first way is to have each godling or stream of experiences in God associated with a coordinate-system, in the sense that the godling experiences as simultaneous all events which are simultaneous relative to that coordinate-system. This involves jettisoning the Principle of Minimal Temporal Experience; and projecting into God as features of his experience all of the simultaneity relations posited by different coordinate systems. We would get the strange situation in which two contemporary occasions, A and B, would be experienced in several different temporal orders within God. One godling experiences them simultaneously, many other godlings experience first A and then B, and a host of others experience first B and then A. Nevertheless it is held that there is within God a single reflection of A’s act of becoming. This immediate experience of A is thus shared by many streams of experience (godlings) within God, as is the immediate experiencing of B. Each stream of experience differs from the others not in its experiencing of occasion A but in the temporal relations between A and B which are experienced within that stream or by that godling.

The second alternative is to have each godling associated with a world-line. At any given occasion P any godling associated with a world-line that includes P experiences, simultaneously with P, all of the events which are nestled just above the surface of P’s past-facing light cone. These events are, so to speak, the earliest contemporaries of P, and so are not prehended by P itself. But each shares with P the feature of being an immediate successor of some event within the cone. That gives them whatever meager title they may have to be experienced simultaneously with P.

On this second alternative as well as on the first, several godlings or streams of experience may share numerically the same worldly occasion, or direct experience of it. For any given worldly occasion P is on the surface of many different past-facing light cones. The apex of each such cone is represented by an occasion which is experienced simultaneously with P within some divine stream of experience. And in general different apexes correspond to different streams of divine experience.

All things considered, it seems to me simpler to adhere to the Principle of Minimal Temporal Experience and to accept the consequence that certain events experienced by God are not experienced as having any temporal relation to one another. The alternatives are inelegant and no easier on the imagination. But this matter is entirely speculative, and I suppose that those who prefer complexity to simplicity in God have a right to their personal tastes.


We have not yet exhausted what I earlier called the "second approach" to the problem of incorporating the world’s temporality into God’s experience. Instead of positing the God of the Infinitely Interlaced Personalities, with its faint scent of polytheism, the process theologians might try other ways of incorporating the world’s temporality into God’s experience without construing that experience as a single stream of successive states. So I will now suggest two other variants. Both variants construe God as experiencing the world in a single synoptic vision, rather than a single succession of synoptic visions (as in the first approach to our problem), or as a multiplicity of such successions, as in the God of the Infinitely Interlaced Personalities (variant of the second approach). The idea now is to regard God as experiencing all of the world’s temporal relations within his single endless synoptic vision, but to refrain from construing that total experience as organized into a plurality of societies with personal order, or "godlings." flow is this to be done? 8


The first way to do it involves what I call the "God of the Single Specious Present." A specious present is traditionally supposed to be a momentary though not instantaneous total state of consciousness. Sometimes we have experiences, such as that of hearing two snaps of the fingers in quick succession, in which temporally successive phenomena make their appearance within a single now. We do not first experience the earlier phenomenon while anticipating the later, and then experience the later while recalling the earlier. It all happens so fast that both have a kind of subjective immediacy together. This sort of single now which includes temporally successive phenomena is what is sometimes meant by the phrase "specious present." Why not try to construe God’s experience of all of world history as included within a single divine specious present?

Note that there is a spatial analogue of the specious present which is important for our purposes. Imagine that you feel simultaneously an ache in your left jaw and a cold sensation on your right cheek. You do not experience these as occupying literally the same spatial region. But both are present to you; both are happening where you are within a single personal "here." What you on any given occasion regard as here, your spatial locus, may include events which do not overlap spatially. And its boundaries may be vague. (Speaking strictly, a "here" which is analogous to an experienced specious present should not in-elude any item which is regarded as closer to the agent than any other item experienced on that occasion.)

Such a "here," lasting for a single specious present, constitutes a single spatiotemporally extended here-now or "personal standpoint." I think that some such spatiotemporal unit of personal experience is the prototype of a Whiteheadian actual occasion. Personal standpoints can differ from one another in extension and duration, as well as content. Let us here beg a disputed question among scholars of Whitehead’s philosophy and assume that he would agree that each of these personal standpoints as above described constitutes an actual occasion, and that each worldly occasion is like a single personal standpoint in encompassing temporally successive phenomena: Each occasion comprises prehensions of different aspects of its past actual world. And each such prehension has a characteristic locus, a spatiotemporal region within the occasion, from which the relevant facet of the past actual world is experienced. Call that locus the "physical standpoint" of the prehension. The entire occasion also constitutes an inclusive physical standpoint, viz. the region of physical space-time which it occupies. If the occasion is a momentary state of a conscious personal being, it constitutes a single personal standpoint.

We are going to conceive of God as experiencing all of world history within a single all-inclusive specious present, an ‘everlasting" worldwide act of concrescence. We can, if we like, continue to speak, as in Section V, of God-at-P, God-at-Q, and so forth, where P and Q are worldly occasions. But now we do not regard God-at-P and God-at-Q as distinct occasions within God, as we did before. Occasions P and Q are each provided with an initial subjective aim by God, insofar as he is influenced by the past actual world of P and Q respectively. God-at-P is God as influenced by P’s past actual world, the contents of P’s past-facing light cone. It is a phase of God’s consequent nature which is distinct from God-at-Q. And if Q is absolutely later than P then God’s prehensions of the world from Q are experienced by him as being later than his prehensions of the world from P, just as in the God of Interlaced Personalities. But unlike that sort of God, the God of the Single Specious Present does not consist of several societies of occasions sharing a common primordial nature. He is more like a single concrescence, a single worldwide and "everlasting" personal standpoint, or "specious here-now." This means that in God there is no literal remembrance of things past or expectation of things to come. Nothing ever loses subjective immediacy. The joys of anticipation and the sorrows of nostalgia are absent from his nature.


Is this notion of God-in-growth compatible with the teachings of process philosophers concerning the nature of time, the status of the future and of statements about it, God’s foreknowledge, and the freedom of creatures? Expressed in a pre-relativistic vein, those teachings go as follows. At any given time, the past is fully determinate, whereas the future is only partly determinate. Statements which assert the occurrence of some future event which is as yet causally undetermined by present and past are as yet neither true nor false. They will become true or false, as soon as the event occurs as predicted, fails to occur at the time predicted, or becomes causally determined to occur, or precluded from occurring, through the coming into being of conditions sufficient to ensure either.10 It may become causally determined today that a given event, e.g., a sea fight, will occur tomorrow, though that event is still in other respects causally contingent and thus ontically indeterminate. God at any given time knows everything that there is to be known; that is, he knows the truth of all true statements and the falsity of all false ones. In this sense he is omniscient. As further statements or propositions become true, God acquires the corresponding knowledge. So his knowledge grows with the world’s advance in determinateness.

This story must be changed somewhat to conform with relativity." Statements are true, false, or neither, relative to place-times, rather than relative to times simpliciter. And there is, at least quoad nos, a growth of God’s knowledge which is like that posited for the God of the Infinitely Interlaced Personalities. Corresponding to each time-like world line there is a line of advance in the divine knowledge. But there is no single worldwide line of advance. That would reintroduce absolute simultaneity.

We now meet a problem. All of these crisscrossing lines of advance, snaking futureward, are supposed to be included within God’s single specious present. Does God’s specious present constitute a privileged divine standpoint relative to which all propositions are true or false, so that for God no proposition changes from being neither true nor false to being true? If so, then how can God experience temporal passage, if that is conceived as transition from the indeterminate, the ontological correlate of the neither-true-nor-false, to the determinate? On the other hand, if God’s specious present does include experience of such ontic transition, and thus does not constitute a privileged standpoint relative to which all propositions are true or false once and for all, then how does this talk of the divine specious present make much of a difference? We would still seem to have something very much like the God of the Interlaced Personalities. In fact, I think that this is the case.

Let us illustrate the problem with a typical scenario. Suppose that relative to me here-now it is neither true nor false that I will commit suicide tomorrow. Call it "neuter," for short. The reason for the lack of truth-value is that my committing suicide depends on a future free decision of mine. We are granting for argument’s sake the controversial claims that free decisions are not completely determined by prior events, and that any event which relative to a given place-time is causally undetermined in a certain respect is ontically indeterminate in that respect.

What truth-value, relative to my here-now, should be assigned to the statement that God believes that I commit suicide at time T (where tomorrow’s date is filled in for "‘T’)? Note that the verbs have been italicized to indicate that they are being used tenselessly, in accord with Richard Gale’s convention in The Language of Time (LT). The tenseless verbs do not predicate timelessness. They simply leave open the questions of whether the state of affairs predicated is timeless or temporal, and if temporal, whether it precedes or follows the uttering of the statement in which they appear. Relative to my present locus, place-time P, nothing in God later than God-at-P is fully real. The statement that I commit suicide at time T is neither true nor false. The statement that God believes that I commit suicide at time T is certainly not true relative to me here-now at P. For God-at-P includes no such belief, since God believes only truths, not "neuters." But the statement is not false either, relative to P, for it is not solely about God-at-P. but about God tout court. Since it is possible that God-at-Q, a future locus, will include the belief, the statement attributing the belief to God tout court is not false. So it is neuter, relative to my present standpoint here at P. So much for God quoad nos.

We have so far been speaking of statements as having their truth-values relative to place-times, or standpoints. The question which now faces us is whether God has a standpoint over and above those provided by worldly place-times such as our friends P and Q above. It might be thought that his single specious present provides such a standpoint, a worldwide, time-wide one relative to which each statement is true or false, there being no transition from being neuter to being true or false. But such a view should be rejected by a process philosopher, assuming that he accepts doctrines of time and temporal experience which are typical of process philosophy.

As previously mentioned, these doctrines are that the passage of time involves a transition from ontic indeterminateness to ontic determinateness; that there is a correlative change in the truth-values of propositions about temporal entities; and that the experience of time’s passage involves experiencing the ontic transition. If God’s single synoptic vision is a single now relative to which all statements are true or false, and within which there is no experienced ontic transition from indeterminateness to determinateness, then in accord with the above doctrines he cannot experience the passage of time. So he does not experience the temporal world as temporal. Moreover, it will not do to posit a single divine standpoint of the kind just envisaged if one retains the view that, relative to any given worldly place-time, certain statements are neuter, and the absolute future is partly indeterminate. One would find oneself saying, from some worldly standpoint P, that there is a fully determinate divine standpoint, relative to which the world is fully determinate. But this fully determinate standpoint would be God-at-all-place-times. Alas, relative to P, God-at-all-place-times is not fully determinate, and never (at no place-time) will be.


It now appears that God’s single synoptic vision, as conceived above, adds little to the previously investigated "cast of thousands" view in which God is an infinite hubbub of divine occasions. The synoptic vision does not involve the unity of a single divine standpoint, relative to which each statement has its truth-value changelessly. Indeed, it had better not involve that. But then just what does it involve? What is the force of the notion of a divine specious present?

Alas, its force acts adversely to the cause of process philosophy, I think. What exactly does the "specious present" amount to? Though there may be two or three different notions of the specious present, I think that the most common one is that which arises as follows. We notice that often what we call a "now" comprises a temporal period, such as an hour, within which several distinct "nows" can be distinguished. This leads us to wonder whether we can locate within our experience a sort of minimal now. We set the boundaries of the now, often generously. How parsimonious can we be? Sometimes, when we pick out a time period as now, our mental act of selection takes less time than the period itself does. So to get a minimal now we would have to resolve that its temporal boundaries be so restricted as to coincide with our act of selecting a time as now. This selecting we think of as a saying to oneself "Now"; a sort of linguistic or mental pointing to a time. The duration of that mental act is the duration of the now picked out by it and is a specious present.

We can be conscious of successive events as occurring within the same specious present. Event x may be followed in our experience by event y, and yet both may be within the temporal boundaries of the mental act whereby we note that they are occurring now. Similarly, three successive events within someone’s experience, x, y and z, are within a single specious present of the experiencer provided that while z is experienced as happening the experiencer is aware of x and y, but not through what he would regard as an act of recollection. His consciousness of x and y has not yet had time to subside, so to speak. Thus an act of explicit recollection is neither necessary nor, as yet, possible. A better way to put it is perhaps this: what he thinks of as a single state of awareness is one in which he is aware of x, and it spans y and z as well. He is aware of them all in that single act or state. For they follow so close on one another’s heels that he could not engage in two successive acts of now-selection in such a way that each act temporally overlapped only one or two of them, instead of all three. He simply cannot think that fast. The time span of x, of y and of z, taken singly, is within the time span required for the experiencer to fix a now within which they occur.12

If this account of the specious present is correct, a curious consequence arises if we construe God as experiencing the world in a single synoptic vision modeled on the specious present. God has an all-inclusive specious present. That seems to mean that he is infinitely "slow on the uptake," in that his fixing of a now literally takes forever! It appears that although perceptually no detail of world history escapes him, he does not first take explicit note of one detail and then of another. He can forget nothing of what he notices, for his noticing of it takes forever and there is no later time, after it has been noticed, at which God would have forgotten it, that is, be unable to recall it to mind at will. This makes God out to be a sort of infinitely sluggish observer of the passing scene. How could he have the mental dexterity to respond creatively, in a deliberate way, to unforeseen novelties in time to provide occasions with subjective aims which take these new factors into account? Contrary to what appears at first, it is a defect rather than a merit to have a specious present which is all-inclusive.


Is there some other way to conceive of God as having a single synoptic vision within which temporal succession is experienced, but which is sufficiently different from a human specious present to avoid the divine sluggishness? I think that the trick is to regard the single synoptic vision as determined not by a temporally extended mental act, as with the specious present, but by a set of interrelations among temporal and nontemporal divine states. And in terms of this conception we can see how God can experience temporal succession and vet have a kind of eternity-wide single vision. Such a notion was hinted at by traditional formulas such as "totum simul" which, however, carried the unfortunate sug,gestion that God’s single synoptic vision was instantaneous, or that he experienced temporally successive things as simultaneous, or as timeless.

Start with a simple thought-experiment. I am now perceiving the desk before me from a particular place-time or standpoint. I can distinguish the apparent location of its colored surface out there before me, from the location from which I prehend the color. The standpoint "from which" I prehend the desk’s color will be called the "primary physical standpoint" of that prehension. In Whitehead’s philosophy that region is the region of my present occasion of experience.

Conceive now what it would be like to feel the coldness of the desk’s surface by extending one hand and touching it, while simultaneously seeing it from the ceiling, five feet above one’s head. Here we have two simultaneously experienced prehensions, each with a different primary physical standpoint. We can extend this thought-experiment by conceiving the desk as simultaneously experienced by one person from many different places.13

Suppose now that I have two of these simultaneous physical prehensions, A and B, from different standpoints, and a concomitant awareness, C, of both of them as occurring simultaneously with one another. In that case, awareness C has a temporal location and duration. But it is at least arguable that it has no spatial standpoint in any direct primary sense. We might adopt the convention of assigning a sort of derived spatial standpoint to C, viz., the scattered standpoint (A, B) whose spatial parts are the spatial parts of A and B. But C has a temporal standpoint in a fairly direct sense, within my stream of consciousness.

So far I have talked about first-order acts of awareness which have primary standpoints that are place-times, and second-order acts of awareness which have phenomenal times as their primary standpoints and can perhaps be assigned place-times as their standpoints in some extended or derived sense. Now, to render intelligible the notion of Cod’s synoptic vision, VC must make the leap to something which can be conceived but never occurs in human experience. We must conceive an act of awareness which has no primary standpoint at all, neither a place, time, nor place-time. It would be an act Z which was an awareness of two or more physical prehensions, A, B, . . . etc., but which literally occurs or obtains at no time. It is real but extra-temporal. Whiteheadians conceive God’s primordial nature in this way. Here we want aspects of the consequent nature to be so regarded. We would expect that at some point or other God’s inner life would be different from ours not simply in degree but in kind. It might as well be here.

Since we want God to experience the temporal succession in the world, we posit that the contents of each place-time, or occasion, are prehended by God from each and every future place-time; that is, each place-time within or on the surface of its future-facing light cone. So God experiences the world from every place-time, and each place-time is the primary standpoint of a set of divine prehensions. (If these are numerically identical with the prehensions of the worldly occasion which occupies that place-time, so be it. The relations between God’s prehensions of the world and creatures’ prehensions of it is not my primary concern here.) Since the standpoints of these physical prehensions can be temporally extended, the prehensions can involve awareness of the temporal duration of what is prehended. So within God there is a direct experiencing of the temporality of the world.

Having made the synoptic vision temporal, we must ensure its singleness. We do not want to construe God’s mental life as a succession, or set of successions, of total mental states, but as a single integrated one. We might seem to have an answer to this by saying that God is a single occasion of experience, not an interlaced succession of them. But we would then have to spell out exactly what this involves. And we would have to contend with those who maintain that there is no genuine temporal succession within an occasion, only "genetic succession," so that if God is a single occasion then he does not experience temporality at all. Better to spell out from scratch what we have in mind by speaking of God as having a single total integrated mental state and let others decide how this is to be described in the technical terms of some particular process philosophy.

Within a single human personality different states are picked out as simultaneous or successive. A single total mental state is conceived as the sum of all of the person’s mental states at that moment of psychological time. The notion shares the fuzziness of the specious present. In any case, what we are after is a notion which applies to a God who does not have a specious present. So we have to abstract out certain features of the human specious present while discarding others. If two states of the same person’s mind are literally simultaneous in the sense that there is no discernible time even within the specious present during which the one obtains and the other does not, then they belong to the same total mental state. But this is not the only way in which they may so belong. For example, they might overlap temporally without coinciding perfectly, and the person in question might have an explicit second-order awareness of both as overlapping, while both were occurring. "I now feel the cold on my wrist and the ache in my jaw, which began before the cold feeling." In such a case all three awarenesses are part of the same total mental state. Similar relations among several second-order awarenesses and a third-order awareness which has them all as direct objects entitles us to regard the whole group as belonging to the same total mental state. Assume that the relation "belongs to the same total mental state as" is transitive symmetric and reflexive. Then we can regard the total mental state as the class or, if you prefer, the sum-individual, of all the mental states which bear this relation to one another.

Generalizing the above condition somewhat, we can say that two mental states A and B belong to the same total mental state S of a mind M if (i) they belong to the same mind M (a relation which is here left unanalyzed) , (ii) they are simultaneous, and/or (iii) mind M has a higher order awareness C which is a direct awareness of A and B, and which does not occur at any time other than perhaps the times common to both A and B. Note that these conditions are offered as jointly sufficient, but only (i) is offered as necessary. Note also that in humans the third condition is satisfied by C’s occurring simultaneously with A and B. In God, however, we are going to posit a literally timeless higher-order awareness of physical prehensions. These latter are of course spatiotemporally located, but the awareness of them is not, and they need not be in any sense simultaneous with one another within God’s experience. Yet because the higher-order awareness C satisfies the condition that it does not occur at any other time than those of its objects A and B (since in fact it occurs at no time at all), it follows that A, B and C all belong to the same total mental state. Such a state includes non-simultaneous prehensions which have physical standpoints, as well as timeless ones which lack them.

Next, we need some way to guarantee that there is just one total mental state in God. This means that each of his mental states belongs to the same total mental state as every other. A simple way to do this is to posit that for every pair of physical prehensions A and B in God, there is a second-order, timeless prehension C in him whose direct objects are A and B. His omniscience demands that each higher-order awareness be itself known by a still higher-order awareness, and we might conjecture that all N-tuples of awareness are themselves the direct objects of another awareness. Whether or not this is so, the first move ensures that God has no more than a single personal standpoint or total mental state. To put the idea in a nutshell: God knows what is happening in the world by perceiving it temporally, and he knows what is happening in himself, including his prehensions of the world, by prehending nontemporally. This is the sense which can be given to the idea that God experiences all of the spatiotemporal diversity in the world from a single standpoint. This single standpoint, contrary to traditional formulas, is in no reasonable sense a single Now, or an eternal Now, or a totum simul. The only reason, I think, why such formulas seemed appropriate is that they denied that God’s mental life was a multiplicity of distinct total mental states. That implies that it has the unity of a human’s single mental state, which latter is coextensive with a specious present, whence "Now" and "totum simul." But these formulas are as misleading as they are helpful, and had best be dropped forever.


This last version of God’s single synoptic vision seems to me to reconcile some of the ostensibly conflicting doctrines about the divine experience which have jostled one another in the pages of Western theology. It avoids that multiplicity of successive total states which the totum simul formula was supposed to rule out. At the same time, it makes clear just how God experiences the temporality and successiveness in the world, and does so in a truly temporal way. And it avoids the unbecoming divine sluggishness which threatened when God’s single synoptic vision was construed in close analogy with a human specious present.

Unfortunately, I believe that it is not really compatible with those views about the nature of time which were previously mentioned as typical of process philosophy. Here is the problem. On the view now under discussion, all facts about the world are known by God extra-temporally. For God prehends temporally all worldly states of affairs, and he prehends extra-temporally the relations among his temporal prehensions, and thus the content of the prehensions themselves. So consider a future contingency, such as my committing suicide tomorrow. It is supposed to be as yet neither true nor false that I will commit suicide tomorrow, and therefore it is neither true nor false that God knows (tenseless) that I commit suicide tomorrow. The ontic indeterminateness of tomorrow’s activities are reflected in the divine nature.

But we are also asked to accept the view that there is in God either a perfectly determinate state of knowing that I commit suicide at time or else a determinate state of knowing that I do not commit suicide at time T (tomorrow). Is not the presence of such a determinate state exactly what we were denying in the preceding paragraph? For we said there that it is neither true nor false that God knows that I commit suicide at time T. This lack of truth-value is the semantic correlate of ontic indeterminateness.

We might be tempted to say that the divine knowledge in question is extra-temporal in se but temporal quoad nos. It is extra-temporal in se in that it simply lacks the quality of temporal duration, that elapsive character which we know by direct experience. It is temporal quoad nos in that it behaves metaphysically from our perspective in the way that temporal things behave. That is, certain statements about it which were neuter at earlier times are true or false at later times. This suggests a corresponding ontic change in the object of those statements from indeterminateness to determinateness. But the change is somehow only quoad nos, not in se.

I am unsure whether or not an account like this can be made to work. In its present facile form it bares its flank to the following attack. The allegedly extra-temporal divine states do certainly undergo a transition from ontic indeterminateness to determinateness, or propositions about them go from being neuter to being true or false. To say that this change is only quoad nos is to suggest that "really" there is no such change. But there is! Nor will it do to admit that the ontic change takes place but deny that the divine knowledge states have temporal location and duration. For on the view of time which is involved here, to have temporal location is simply to be subject to the kind of ontic transition tinder discussion. Experience of a thing’s duration is simply experience of the transition from partial indeterminateness to complete determinateness on the part of its successive temporal stages.

To counter this attack one must develop a more subtle view of what it is for something to have duration, to be temporal. It is particulars, not universals, which have duration. A particular is an X which is not repeatable, but is an instance of repeatables. By "repeatable" I simply mean "capable of having two or more different instances." A particular need not be a fully determinate individual, if such there be. The smile of the Cheshire cat, the roundness of my basketball, and the redness in my toothbrush handle are all particulars, however abstract they may be.14 Every concrete individual is also a particular, of course.

Some particulars can serve as loci relative to which propositions have truth-values. For example, the proposition about my suicide tomorrow is neither true nor false relative to my present place-time, a particular which serves as such a locus. Relative to the place-times of next month that proposition is not neuter. It is either true or false. Call such loci "truth-value loci." Most truth-value loci with which we are familiar are themselves temporal. But perhaps some are extra-temporal. In particular, we want to investigate the possibility that there are one or more extra-temporal truth-value loci in God. These would be, or include, his extra-temporal states of knowing. More precisely, if there is in God a giving of assent to some proposition, an occurrent, not merely dispositional, assent to its truth, then that mental act either is, or is part of, some truth-value locus. Here the term "part" must be taken in some suitably generalized mereological sense which goes beyond spatial containment. We must investigate what it would be like for such a truth-value locus to be itself extra-temporal, even though relative to temporal loci propositions about it change from being neuter to being true or false. This will give a sense to the contrast between being temporal in se and being temporal only quoad nos.

I hope that others will help me to paint in the following sketch. Let us assume the following tenets, in order to get a first rough idea of what it might be like for something to be temporal quoad nos but not in se. Assume that all temporal truth-value loci are themselves not literally instantaneous but have some finite duration. Assume also that any particular which has finite duration undergoes some process of absolute becoming, conceived as a transition from ontic indeterminateness to ontic determinateness. This means that if the particular is a truth-value locus, then relative to it some propositions about it do not have one and only one truth-value. For certain of those propositions deal with aspects of the particular which become ontically determinate only as the particular occurs. They somehow undergo a transition from being neuter to being true or false. And the transition takes place within the time spanned by the particular itself. So relative to that truth-value locus they are not neuter simpliciter, nor true or false simpliciter. They have what we call a "mixed status." I now suggest that any truth-value locus which is such that relative to it some propositions about it have a mixed status is a temporal particular in se, not merely quoad nos.

A particular which is a truth-value locus but does not lend some propositions about it a mixed status is not temporal in se. The extra-temporal divine states of knowing are to be viewed as extra-temporal in se because they, or some fuller divine state which contains them, are not associated with a set of propositions having mixed status relative to them. For any extra-temporal divine state of knowing, either it or the minimal truth-value locus containing it is such that relative to that locus all propositions about it have just one of the two standard truth-values. That is what it is to be extra-temporal, on the present view. A particular which is extra-temporal in this sense may also be temporal relative to some other truth-value locus or set.

I do not think that this way of giving sense to the distinction between temporality in se and temporality quoad nos sits well with certain doctrines which are typical of process philosophy. If temporally extended truth-value loci "lend" certain propositions a mixed status, then one would think that each of them spans smaller loci. For example, if relative to a given locus L a proposition changes from being neuter to being true, it seems that this entails that there is a sub-locus included in the earlier portion of L, relative to which the proposition is neuter without qualification, and another sub-locus included in the later portion of L, relative to which the proposition is true without qualification. These in turn, being temporally extended, impart mixed status to propositions about them, and so include sub-loci and so on ad infinitum, into Zenonian doom. This line of thought seems to be opposed to the epochal theory of time.

If we adhere to that theory, then I do not see how to draw the distinction between temporality in se and temporality ab extra. I know of no discussion of the exact relation between actual occasions and truth-value loci, but presumably one of the following accounts would be accepted by a process philosopher. Either the actual occasion is itself the minimal truth-value locus, or else an individual phase of that occasion is the minimal truth-value locus. The temporal status of the phases within a Whiteheadian occasion is known to be a matter of controversy. But whichever line is accepted, we get minimal loci relative to which no proposition has mixed status. And the present attempt to use that notion to explain the two kinds of temporality is torpedoed. Perhaps some other way of drawing the distinction can he found which is more congenial to process philosophy.

Until it is found, it seems to me that the God of the Infinitely Interlaced Personalities is the view which does the least violence to relativity theory and process philosophy together. I am unimpressed by the suggestion that it is too close to polytheism to be acceptable. For given any reasonable criterion of singleness of personality, the God in question has as much claim to such singleness as to plural personalities. It is a question of his having the constancy of character and purpose which is suggestive of a single personality, together with a temporal structure which suggests a multitude of streams of consciousness. When such streams are human streams of consciousness, they indicate a plurality of personalities. But it is not easy to show that when they are divine streams of consciousness they must indicate such a plurality. And if they do, what exactly is wrong with that?


R e f e r e n c e s

IWM -- Lewis S. Ford and William Christian. An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959.

LT -- Richard Gale. The Language of Time. New York: Humanities Press, 1967.

PI -- Charles Hartshorne. Philosophical Interrogations. Edited by Sidney and Beatrice Rome. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

STG -- Arthur Eddington. Space, Time and Gravitation. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959; original edition 1920.

1. Lewis S. Ford. "Is Process Theism Compatible with Relativity Theory?" Journal of Religion. 47, 2 (April, 1968), 124-35.

2. John Wilcox. "A Question from Physics for Certain Theists." Journal of Religion, 40, 4 (October, 1961), 293-300.



1 No occasion literally occupies only a geometrical point of space-time, so this is an idealization.

2 Recently the assumption was brought into question, and hypothetical faster-than-light particles, called "tachyons," have been suspected and sought, with no success to date, If these particles should exist, and be controllable by human beings, that would have profound philosophical and theological implications. For example, the cause of an event Q might be absolutely later than Q. Cf. Paul Fitzgerald, "Tachyons, Backwards Causation and Freedom," pp. 415-36 in Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. 8, edited by Robert Cohen and Roger Buck (Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Co., 1971).

3 At least this is so in general, though special provision might have to be made for an occasion which was spatially adjacent to God’s world-line.

4 For similar reasons, there is no point in looking to the phenomenon of entropy increase to provide a privileged divine simultaneity system.

5 This rests on the assumption that no causal influence can be propagated faster than the speed of light in vacuo, and may need to be revised in the unlikely event that tachyons exist.

6 For example, Christian says, "For any concrescent occasion A, God is objectified as a specific satisfaction, which results from all God’s prehensions of all the occasions in A’s past actual world. This unity of satisfaction which A prehends does not include God’s prehensions of any contemporary of A, as B, because B has not yet become. . . . A does not prehend God as conditioned by B" (IWM 332). The "has not yet become" calls for careful treatment; relative to some coordinate-systems B occurs prior to A. Wilcox says that "When God first prehends P he prehends with P only those occasions in P’s Absolute Past," and "P can prehend in God only those satisfactions which arise out of P’s own past actual world" (2:229); repeated by Ford (1:133).

7 After this was written, I discovered that Hartshorne had discussed the version of it to be present next, attributing it to Howard Stein. Cf. Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method by Charles Hartshorne (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1970), pp. 123-25.

8 Many passages in PR suggest that Whitehead held a view such as that to be developed in the remainder of this article: "In the case of the primordial actual entity, which is God, there is no past" (PR 134). "In it [God’s consequent nature] there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison of immediacy. The property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy is what is meant by the term ‘everlasting’" (PR 524f). "God is primordially one . . . in the process he acquires a consequent multiplicity, ‘which the primordial character absorbs into his own unity" (PR 529). "An enduring personality in the temporal world is a route of occasions in which the successors with some peculiar completeness sum up their predecessors. The correlate fact in God’s nature is an even more complete unity of life in a chain of elements for which succession does not mean loss of immediate unison" (PR 531f; my italics). This seems to say that there is genuine temporal succession within a present. Alas, all is never smooth sailing, for Whitehead also says, "Each actuality in the temporal world has its reception into God’s nature. The corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality but is the transmutation of that temporal actuality into a living, ever-present fact (PR 531). This looks self-contradictory ("not temporal actuality . . . but ever-present fact . . .").

To my knowledge, the best previous development of the God of the Single Synoptic Vision is in Lewis Ford’s "Boethius and Whitehead on Time and Eternity," International Philosophical Quarterly, 8, 1 (March, 1968), 38-67. He does not, however, to my mind, fully explain how the single vision includes all of the temporal succession in the experienced world. "Eternity is the complete summation of all temporal events in a sheer immediacy which excludes any real division between that which is earlier from [sic] that which is later. All moments of actualized time are embraced in a single inclusive simplicity, ‘all at once,’ for this is complete and perfect possession in a single moment" (ibid., p. 49). How can there be no real division between moments which as they occur in the world really are distinct from one another? And how can successive times be embraced "all at once"? "The everlasting passage of concrete time must all be included within the eternal now which is always now because there was never a ‘then’ or ‘will be’ within God. Either possibility would undercut God’s simplicity by dividing his unified experience into successive parts. What is experienced is successive, but not the experience itself" (ibid., p. 50). But what is the nature of this unified character of God’s experience whereby he experiences the successive as successive and yet does not successively experience the temporal sequence? "The divine present never becomes past and never gives way to some future coming after itself (for nothing can possibly come after that which is everlasting); nevertheless, it is a present, ever growing with the successive addition of temporally present moments" (ibid., p 51). Apparently it has successive stages, for it is ever-growing, but these stages never become past. But how can they fail to do so? And does an earlier moment added to God nonetheless remain present when a later moment is added to him? "In the temporal now God can only contemplate the future as possibility . . . not as present actuality. . . , though in his eternal now he contemplates each actuality as it becomes present, never losing its dynamic immediacy (always thereafter experiencing it ‘as if it were now taking place’" (idem). This seems to give God a split personality, one facet of which contemplates things from the temporal now, as future, and for which all the problems of relativity theory must be faced, the other of which is somehow in eternity, not time, and yet has a curiously close relation to time, for he contemplates each actuality "as it becomes present" (though not before it becomes present) and forever "thereafter." This cannot mean "at every later moment can it? I am asking these insensitive questions to point up the need for further development of what I think is an interesting position, and in the hope that misleading characterizations of that position (e.g., the "totum simul" formula) will henceforth be avoided.

9 Part of the difficulty with Whitehead’s concept of an actual occasion is that it is not clear to various commentators whether or not occasions are found within human experience or are hypothetical posits pertaining only to sub-microscopic "electromagnetic events," as Edward Pols believes (cf. Whitehead’s Metaphysics: A Reply to A. H. Johnson" in Dialogue. 7, 3 [December, 1968], 476-79). Pols supports this with quotations from PR 5 and 150. I am here assuming that for Whitehead human experience consists of actual occasions, or something reasonably like them.

That is not the whole difficulty with grasping the doctrine. These questions have also been raised, First, is there genuine temporal succession within an actual occasion or is there not? Is Whitehead’s talk of successive phases of concrescence and of genetic succession within an occasion to be construed as mistaken; as correct but as not involving temporal succession at all, as John Cobb and Paul Schmidt appear to hold; or as correct and involving temporal succession, as Lewis Ford holds?

Second, if there is a temporal succession of phases within an occasion, how does this relate to the succession of occasions in physical time? Are there two time orders?

Third, what exactly is the nature of the transition from indeterminateness to determinateness within an actual occasion?

For some remarks on this last issue see note 10 below. For discussion of the other issues see Edward Pols’s Whitehead’s Metaphysics, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967; the review of it by Paul Schmidt in The Journal of the History of Philosophy, 7, 1 (January, 1969), 100; and the discussion by John B. Cobb, Jr., Edward Pols, and Lewis S. Ford in Southern Journal of Philosophy, 7, 4 (Winter, 1969-70), 409-25.

10 Charles Hartshorne in "The Meaning of ‘Is Going to Be’," Mind, 74, No. 293 (January, 1965), 46-58, has a variant of the doctrine in which the ontological asymmetry between past and future is retained, but statements concerning the future are nonetheless held to be in each case true or false. I here assume that the other version of the doctrine, which denies the principle of bivalence, is the standard one. But this is simply to save breath, and the reader who prefers Hartshorne’s version can make his own corrections to what I say as he reads along.

I have not found any unequivocal statement of this doctrine in Whitehead. It is attributed to him specifically by George Kline, for example, in his "Form, Concrescence, and Concretum: A Neo-Whiteheadian Analysis," Southern Journal of Philosophy, 7, 4 (Winter 1969-70), 351-61; and he is not alone among Whitehead scholars to do so. But the quotations from Whitehead with which I am familiar and which speak of the resolution of indeterminateness all seem to me to be susceptible of alternative interpretations.

Whether or not the theory of time in question is Whiteheadian, I believe that it is false, and have argued to that effect in "Is the Future Partly Unreal?" Review of Metaphysics. 21, 3 (March, 1968) 421-48. Other attacks on the doctrine can be found in the writings of Donald Williams, Adolf Grünbaum, and J. J. C. Smart, to name only some of its more prominent foes.

11 Various ways of adapting the doctrine to relativity theory are discussed in my article, "The Truth about Tomorrow’s Sea Fight," Journal of Philosophy, 66, 11 (June 5, 1969), 307-29. The doctrine suffers some embarrassment from the fact that there are several mutually incompatible ways to do this, and it is hard to see how any one of them emerges as clearly superior to all of its rivals.

12 The fact that we can chop up experience into nows leads some philosophers to think that the epochal theory of time has a basis within human experience of time. It may also account for why some think that there is a plurality of successive phases within a single Whiteheadian act of becoming. For they may think of that act of becoming as a specious present, and the succession within it as a succession of phases.

But the epochal theory of time is not really supported by the phenomenology of lived time. For one thing, atomic units emerge only when we decide to pick out nows. Otherwise we have, as Bergson saw, a more or less continuous, qualitatively variegated succession, and not at all a staccato tattoo of nows.

For another thing, try as we will to chop up experience into discrete nows, the temporal borders of each now tend to fuzz a bit.

Finally, there is nothing sacrosanct about the particular nows which we happen to chop out, any more than a random pointing at objects confers on them an ontic privilege withheld from objects which could have been pointed at but were not. Any act of "now selection" might just as well have started a bit earlier or later, in which case a slightly different now would have been selected. The possible specious presents overlap one another in time, unlike the epochal acts of becoming or actual occasions dreamt of in our philosophies. This can be shown as follows. Suppose a person casually observes a roomful of people for five minutes, and that unknown to him the same scene is simultaneously filmed and sound-recorded from where he is located. Let the film be replayed with accompanying sound. Ask the subject to observe the replay and to indicate which of the selected pairs of closely successive events he experienced within the same specious present. I submit that even if you can get him to understand the question, you will not find that he can group those events into neat, non-overlapping specious presents. There seems to be no clear trace of the sharply demarcated acts of becoming or atomic occasions with internal phases.

13 The thought-experiment here is similar to the one developed in greater detail in Peter Strawson, Individuals, London, Methuen and Co., 1959, pp. 90-94.

14 This notion of the contrast between universals and particulars is developed more fully in Nelson Goodman’s The Structure of Appearance, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1951. His use of the term "individuals" is rather different from the one which I adopt here, however.