Chapter 2: Events And Durations
Participants: Dorothy Emmet leading; Margaret Masterman, Richard Braithwaite, Rupert Sheldrake. Jonathan Westphal, and Chris Clarke participating
DE: I can’t produce as good passages to read as Margaret did this morning. What Whitehead says about events and durations is scattered through a number of passages, so I shall have to try exposition. It is vital to start from the fundamental idea of "the passage of nature" -- that something is going on. In his early books Whitehead divided this into events -- Here is a rough sketch.
Figure I p. 103
The fundamental relation is "extensive connection." One event AB extends over another, CD, and that over a smaller, EF, and that over another, GH. So the event we call the happening of this week extends over that we call today, and that over this discussion and that over this sentence I am saying. You go down into smaller and smaller events extending over other events. But you never get down to an event at an instant except as an abstraction. I will say more later about how he shows approximation to this in his "Method of Extensive Abstraction" when we get on to how he tries to bound events. Events, then, have a spread, and extend over others. They are divisions in the passage of nature, and where you draw the boundaries between events seems to me to depend on how you want to describe them, e.g., "What is going on in this discussion." But to be able to talk about events, you have got to qualify them by what older philosophers would have called "universals" and Whitehead calls "objects." I think this use of the term "object" for general terms, "green," "round," "man," is very confusing because one normally wants to use "object" for "something out there." But when Whitehead uses "objects" as contrasted with events, he means properties or qualities. Again, there is obscurity, because he uses the term "ingression" as though the object was something existing (or "subsisting," as was said in the controversies about abstract entities round about 1910) which "ingresses," comes into events from outside. This suggests a Platonic interpretation of Whitehead, which I indicate in this diagram:
You have the object in some external wherever, entering into a series of different events. If the object "ingresses" ab extra, where is the extra, and what kind of status do you give it? I would be happier to push him in the other direction, which is suggested when he talks of objects as "Aristotelian adjectives" of events. In this next diagram, you have a route of events over time, all characterized by the same object, and "ingression" would here not mean "coming in," but being an "ingredient" in the complex fact which describes the situation over the route of events.
0 (E1) -> 0 (E2) > 0 (E3) > 0 (E4) -> 0 (E5) -.
What we have in experience is one qualified slice of the passage of nature passing over into another. How it passes, and how this character gets transmitted from one slice to another, are among the questions we are interested in, but at this stage we want to go on and look at "durations."
CC: Are events purely temporal, or both temporal and spatial?
DE: They are both. The slices made in what is going on are made both temporally and spatially.
MM: Isn’t this a duration?
DE: The event is a more abstract notion than the duration. The duration consists of events with qualities as contemporarily related to a central event he calls "percipient" (this doesn’t have to be conscious).
JW: Can you explain what the arrows mean in the diagram.
DE: They indicate what Whitehead would call a "route of events" -- for instance, the event we call this table yesterday, and then this table a few seconds ago going on into the table now, all qualified by the object word "table," so that we say "Here is this table again."
RB: It is a history. I would call an event a bit of space-time.
MM: Is an event a pattern?
DE: The pattern is the objects qualifying the event.
JW: Would "this is an orange elephant" be an example?
DE: There would be an orange slice of elephantine history, or rather, of history with an elephantine quality. What we have got are qualified slices of the passage of nature with further slices in which you recognize the same quality. The difference between "event" and "duration" is that the earlier Whitehead was talking about the passage of nature, which you slice into events, with the fundamental property that one event can be taken as extending over a lesser one, and so on (Fig. I). In an important note he added later (in 1927) to the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge he says that book (of 1919) was dominated by the relation of Extensive Connection, but this isn’t sufficient.
Note II. The book is dominated by the idea [cf. l4.I,p. 61] that the relation of extension has a unique pre-eminence and that everything can be got out of it. During the development of the theme, it gradually became evident that this is not the case, and cogredience [cf.§ 16.4] had to be introduced. But the true doctrine, that ‘process’ is the fundamental idea, was not in my mind with sufficient emphasis. Extension is derivative from process, and is required by it. (PNK, 1927, 202)
Now he has two fundamental relations -- that of Extensive Connection (extending over), and that of "Cogredience." Cogredience is taking a particular locus in the passage of nature as a point of origin; he calls it a "percipient event," but it isn’t necessary that percipience should mean anything like conscious perception. It may be like the observer in some relativity theories, that can be an instrument. It is a locus which gives a point of reference. But by calling this a "percipient event" he then goes on to a duration as discernible from a percipient event. This can be bounded, but bounded in wider and narrower ways according to the ways it is related to the percipient event and the emphasis this gives. So the relation to a percipient event gives a point of origin, a "here -- now" and the duration is- related to this. It is a slab in the passage of nature from this point of origin. I think, though, there is a difficulty about using "percipient" in a very general way as point of origin, and as "discerning" a particular slab of the spatio-temporal passage called the duration. I think he may put it like this because of what he says in The Concept of Nature -- that nature is what is disclosed in sense-awareness -- and he uses a sense-awareness word. So here a duration is a qualified slab of spatio-temporal extension of which you are aware.
MM: If you are thinking homogeneously, why do you want a percipient, and not just what is perceived?
DE: You want the percipient because you want a "here -- now" and if you haven’t got absolute space and absolute time, you have to have a focal point.
RB: Cogredience gives you a here -- now. This can be one way of taking the body-mind problem. One event differs from others as the focal event. The problem about naturalistic views of perception is how you get the mind into nature, and I don’t think anyone has solved it.
CC: You said a duration was nature in a temporal spread from a focal event. Is there a difference between events which are durations and events that aren’t?
DE: An event is distinguished from the objects which qualify it. So in that sense it is an abstraction, and can be thought of out of the context of a duration.
MM: So the duration is the real thing.
DE: The duration is the real thing.
MM: Do durations, because they pass from past to future, maturate, come to climaxes? Because if they do, that cuts across having percipient events.
RB: The motivation was to produce the frame of reference for Special Relativity. As Russell said, the observer could be a camera.
DE: This is where I think he is ambiguous about "percipient."
RB: He is thinking physics at the same time as the psychology of perception.
DE: "Percipient event" gives nature as discerned in sense-awareness, and can also be used in this Special Relativity sense.
RB: The percipient event is clearly a spatio-temporal reference point.
RB: Is the "duration" the time element in the percipient event?
DE: The duration is a spatio-temporal spread; going now to the other sense of percipience, it is the spread taken in awareness from what he calls "our observational present"
RB: This is the time, not the space part.
DE: It is spatial as well.
RB: Calling it "duration" refers it to the time axis -- making a division, relativity-wise, out of the theory of space-time.
DE: He sometimes used William James’ phrase -- "specious present," and this can be enlarged to "the whole of nature apprehended in our immediate observation."
RB: "Immediate" is temporal.
DE: The duration has a kind of completeness that marks it out as a special kind of event -- all there is of nature with certain temporal limitations.
MM: Then it has no edges -- you can’t have a minimum or a maximum.
RB: There is no limit to its spatial extension.
MM: You haven’t got time, you have only got passage, and you haven’t got space.
DE: If you are meaning space and time as absolute, no. What you must have are space and time derived from how passage is divided up. But instead of dividing them up in a very abstract way, as with events extending over other events, you are making your division by taking a slab with reference to a focal event.
RB: He is wanting to produce a series with arrows, the terms in which are "occasions." The occasions can be infinitely extended spatially.
MM: I want to keep out "infinite" and "space." You have passage with a continual re-imprinting of pattern (space and time are abstracted a lot later).
CC: In the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge he tried by axioms to single out by their formal properties spatially maximal events, and then in the note he says he found this was impossible, and therefore he had to single them out by a different means, namely durations defined by their relation to some percipient event.
DE: I think he was trying to make a bridge between sense-awareness and these more formal properties by saying that in sense-awareness you are always aware of -- can I say, a spread? Something is temporally going on, but it also has a spread, and he says the spread is the whole of nature -- or rather, of contemporary nature: roughly, it is the present state of the world. Then he says parts of this are discerned and the parts that are discerned have reference by relatedness to further parts that aren’t discerned. What you call the present has reference to what is past and what is coming; what you call this room has reference to what is beyond it. So in principle you can speak of the whole of the contemporary world as this phase of the passage of nature.
MM: But you can’t talk about what you are not perceiving.
RB: Oh yes you can.
DE: It is fundamental to Whitehead that what you perceive is always related to what you aren’t perceiving. For instance I am aware of what I perceive at the present moment as arising out of what I was perceiving a moment ago.
RB: It would be simpler if he had said that a duration was everything simultaneous with a specious present.
DE: He says you are aware of events as simultaneous in the same duration.
CC: The trouble here is he wants things linked by some physical kind of relatedness which is caused, but also another kind of togetherness which is the simultaneousness. The things that make up a simultaneous slab cannot be causally related.
DE: Whitehead defines simultaneity by causal independence.
MM. I think he not only has two things at once, but three things. As well, he has this primitive model of sense-awareness, where you never, so to speak, find what is happening in the present awareness, only in the next one, because nature is always rolling on; but there is a printing and re-printing of pattern where the next one may or may not be the same as the first, and patterns may maturate -- build up.
DE: If we stick to the idea that a duration is a qualified event, not just an abstract event, and also complex, it has a pattern.
RB: It is not specified by its pattern, but by its simultaneity with the "here -- now."
DE: Here is a passage:
The unity of this general present fact is expressed by the concept of simultaneity. The general fact is the whole simultaneous occurrence of nature which is now for sense-awareness. This general fact is what I have called the discernible. But in future I will call it a ‘duration’, meaning thereby a certain whole of nature which is limited only by the property of being a simultaneity. (CN 53)
He talks of events in durations that are parallel to a given duration, and which don’t interact causally. Then you are getting towards space and time.
MM: But in the opposite direction to the one I want to go. I think Dorothy is trying to disentangle the two, if not three, ways in which Whitehead is talking without realizing it, so she has a horribly difficult task.
DE: In a duration from a position called "percipient" -- can I say it is a spatio-temporal spread?
MM: You lose the passage of nature if you do.
RB: No, no, the time dimension is there.
MM: You lose the arrow.
DE: No, the passage of nature is always going on, and in the going on, you are aware of this spread.
MM: The passage of nature needn’t be uniform. It can have bumps.
RB: You must get something uniform first, and then discuss the bumps after.
MM: Can you define for me a "family of durations"?
DE: Whitehead speaks of a family of durations where one contains another, or where they overlap and so produce a duration common to both, or where they are entirely separate, that is, presumably, contemporary. Durations are excluded from forming a family if they contain events with no overlap, as would be AC with CE, and FD with DE, in my Fig. 1. AE and FR would not be a family though they are both within AR.
RB: "Family" is used by logicians for groups or classes.
CC: Do you think Whitehead is trying to do this for any reason other than that he is trying to get Special Relativity?
DE: I think he wants to emphasize the passage of nature and sense-awareness, and a duration is a slab of the passage of nature disclosed to sense-awareness. But I think his definition of a "family" is topological rather than given in sense-awareness.
MM: A duration has no boundaries, no minima and maxima, and has the impact of the past and the anticipation of the future, unless you de-fuzz it. You de-fuzz it by having what I would call aspects and he calls "factors."
DE: If we come back to the difference between events and durations, the events have to be bounded under some description, whereas the durations are bounded by reference to some discernibility from a focus. You may be talking in a wider or narrower spread from this. Your breath groups, Margaret, in your model of language, might be relevant here, as, if I understand rightly, they are natural units for taking in hearing, and in that way they could be bounded durations.
RB: They could be specious presents in the good old Jamesian sense.
MM: What is wrong with specious presents is they don’t have any maturation, any structure, any emphasis points? When you have sense-awareness it will have these, and be repeating itself.
DE: I’d say that the bounding of a particular sense-awareness, when you are making it narrower and wider, will be in terms of some emphasis point -- what attention fastens on and what becomes background. I think a duration will get bounded by the emphasis you are giving in this discernment, whereas an event can be bounded by any description you put on it.
MM: So we needn’t really have events at all.
DE: There are events in durations and events beyond durations.
MM: You can have them if you like, but they are optional. But you must have durations on a Whiteheadian view of the world.
DE: If you are talking about sense-awareness, as he does far more in The Concept of Nature than in The Principles of Natural Knowledge, which is more abstract, then you are talking in terms of durations, where you have points from which you are aware.
MM: If you have an emphasis, you are still talking homogeneously, because the emphasis is in the awareness. If you have structures of which some parts are noticed more than others, from this you can build up pattern ih passage. And if you add the possibility of the pattern jumping in space and in time, and if some of the patterns you build up resonate, you are beginning to get something which Rupert Sheldrake wants. I am an easily satisfied customer (with my language model) because I only need one observational dimension to do it in, but Rupert needs three.
RS: Everything you say I might get from Whitehead I have already got from Bergson
DE: Where I think there is a crucial difference between Whitehead and Bergson is that Bergson says space distorts; the real thing is time, and his on-going duration would be time. Whitehead’s duration is a spread of the passage of nature from which spatial as well as temporal properties are abstracted, and the spatial ones aren’t distortions due to our intellect or something, but are integral.
MM: Whitehead is much better than Bergson who is horribly vague. Whitehead can make families of durations, boundaries of durations, structures of durations, imprinting in durations, recognitions of devotions.
RB: When he is doing this, he is creating a Theory of Relativity. It isn’t relevant to your concerns at all.
MM: You can go towards it that way, but also the other way.
CC: When he brings in events, before you get to durations, events are neutral as between space and time; their overlapping can be used to define space or time, but at that stage there is no distinction between them. He then tries to get a distinction from the notion of duration, which is a singling out of time. Having done that, he has got to regain space and does it simply by putting on the axioms of Special Relativity.
DE: I think there are two senses of "duration" here.
MM: Yes, first they are what is given in sense awareness, where they weren’t specially space or time, but what sense awareness gives, and the second sense in which they are a sort of event. After introducing durations he gets space by intersecting durations. At that point he brings in a high level mathematical abstraction that has nothing to do with sense awareness.
DE: Here I have a great difficulty. On the one hand he is claiming to be very empirical, going for what is disclosed in sense awareness, and we must talk homogeneously about nature. Then a duration is something given us in this way.
MM: But then you must have repetition of patterns in real durations, and we should start from that and not from these abstract things for which we can coin the word "duros." Here is the passage of nature rolling on, and if you are to recognize anything, it has got to re-imprint itself.
RB: I think, Margaret, you had much better project the metaphysic you want onto Bergson than on to Whitehead.
MM: No, Bergson is too vague.
RS: But we are arguing about confusions in Whitehead.
RB: Bergson’s vagueness is more suitable for Margaret than Whitehead is.
MM: I would rather have confusions in a man who is genuinely trying to say something.
DE: I was saying that my dilemma is that, on the one hand, he is trying to be thoroughly empirical, but then when he comes to how we try to get down to sense data, and still more how we try to get down to points and instants in the Method of Extensive Abstraction, he moves away from sense-awareness to a technique of presenting areas extending over other areas, making the enclosures smaller and smaller.
RH: Chinese boxes.
DE: You go down, but never in fact get to an unextended point or instant -- or to what he calls an "event particle" -- at the center, though you can make them as large or as small as you like.
RH: This is merely a method of talking about points.
DE: I know, but it is a method of abstraction very different from what you are given in crude perception, and yet if you look at his paper called "The Organization of Thought" he says all this is presented to us.
RB: I should rather defend him on that. What is presented is one event extending over another. Great St. Mary’s striking twelve is extended over the Caius’ clock striking twelve, and this is given in experience.
DE: Could one say what is given are rough examples of one thing extending over another but not an exact route of areas coming down like this always to a smaller area?
MM: "Extending over" may be very suitable for clocks but not for much else.
DE: I suspect this is formalizing in an abstract way something which is also given in a concrete way in sense perception. He is trying to derive these abstractions from something given, but they are abstractions.
MM: Look at how many exact muddles he gets into. This is why he wins my respect. The enterprise is difficult, and even if he is doing one or two things at once, he is flying. My growl about Bergson, whom I used to admire enormously at the age of 18, is that he plain doesn’t try. He goes into a waffly mysticism.
DE: I think the passage I quoted from Russell is relevant, on Russell starting from thinking how Whitehead said he saw the world was horrid, and then he being so pleased because Whitehead mathematicized it. In his Method of Extensive Abstraction he is trying to formalize the vague experience of perceiving something included in something else. There are always the two sides to him.
MM: I don’t think "vague" is the right word. "Raw" is better -- what the camera gets is not vague but raw.
CC: Whitehead is saying the relations of overlapping which happen to percipient events can be translated into corresponding relations between durations which percipient events are aware of, so he makes his slab-like simultaneity into a basic metaphysical category for the universe, which is why he gets the wrong theory of gravitation. This worries me. I am happy to take as a basic primitive this overlapping as it applies to events. I am not happy about extending it to durations.
RB: Chris, you should separate off his Special Relativity part about durations from his Kantian thesis of a transcendental argument that space-time must be homogeneous. Because of that he couldn’t accept the Einstein theory of gravita (ion. But that is a separate thing.
DE: This separation was made by Grunbaum, who said you could have the other things Whitehead wanted without having to have the homogeneity of space-time.
CC: What I don’t understand is what a duration as a metaphysical postulate is if it is not linked to the sort of uniformity which forces you to Whitehead’s view of simultaneity.
MM: Chris wants to know the difference between a duration. and a duro as applied at the physical level. When it comes to be a component of a physical universe it is no longer the raw slice given in sense awareness. Itis not a duration, it is a duro. The duration starts from being what is given in sense-awareness, and Chris is right: Whitehead then slithers into making it a particular kind of event, which is much more abstract. In order to get the two senses of durations-the raw one given in sense-awareness, which has reiterative patterns and so on, and the events which are introduced as factors -- he gives them the same name and then in his "duro" he loses the reiterating structures given in sense-awareness.
DE: What continually bothers me is that he brings in far more abstraction than he allows for, when he talks about what is given in awareness. It may be partly his wanting to keep mind out of the picture. He is not allowing for the extent to which what he describes is something thought up, and abstracted.
MM: It is very difficult to allow for this with the relativistic space and time lowering all the time over your shoulder. He wants to be in a hurry to get scientific space and time and there was no need to be in such a hurry. Later in life he had prehensions and God knows what, but he never got the philosophy of organism we want of him. But the muddles he gets into are the muddles of an exact thinker who has confused different things.
DE: The muddles of a thinker aware of the problems of Relativity on the one hand, and of being realistic about what we perceive in nature, and on the other hand the enormous gap between them.
MM: He keeps trying to relate them, and he may do it wrong, but I think it is a noble failure in a way.
CC: As a physical hypothesis I like the idea of the event -- something which is not yet either space or time and has extension in both. But I don’t see what it has to do with this fundamental raw kind of perception.
MM: And yet what is interesting, what captured me, was that things could be said about this raw sense perception, especially about reiterating and imprinting and things conformating, but never quite repeating exactly the same -- no two perceptions of a cat exactly repeat.
JW: How does he distinguish a cat from half a cat and half a table?
MM: You mean a not-so-solid, reiterated cat?
JW: We can be aware of a cat sitting by afire, but drawing the boundary is arbitrary.
DE: It isn’t arbitrary -- it is a matter of what you are interested in when you look.
MM: You could have a more or a less real cat.
DE: You could be seeing it as a rather catty picture, or you could be thinking "Good heavens, that cat is just going to pee" -- an occasion.
RB: I am now clear that Whitehead’s use of "occasion" is different from "event."
DE: When he gets to Science and the Modern World he starts talking about "occasions" which become "actual entities."
RB: In my review of Science and the Modern World I said that by "occasion" he frequently means a fact.
MM: Isn’t he really meaning the original durations which got lost? Or is "occasion" an abstraction then?
DE: No, because he attaches the word "actual" to it.
RB: I was worried about "occasions," and Susan Stebbing saw that some sense could be made if he was using it as a synonym for actual fact.
DE: A fact isn’t just an event. It has properties in it.
RB: It is the event having that property.
MM: It is miles away from the raw stuff.
RB: That is the events. I think Susan Stebbing and I thought it was unnecessary to introduce the word "occasion" at all.
MM: If he had had proper durations with proper patternings and proper reiterations he wouldn’t have needed to start again with "occasions." Rut the durations had slithered into being duros, so to establish something raw he re-started with occasions and produced a new muddle.
DE: It became worse when they became actual entities.
MM: We haven’t got to the units that reiterate themselves. So we haven’t yet got his epistemological units.
DE: In the earlier books the ontological units were events characterized by objects (though we have seen these events can be abstractions from durations). In the later books, from Science and the Modern World on, he was working towards a notion of the units which could answer to a generalized notion of organisms. He defines an organism as a unit functioning with spatio-temporal spread. Now you have got "functioning" -- before you had "the passage of nature," something going on in process, and the notion of a spatio-temporal spread, but now you also have them notion that it is functioning. The "passage" is to be divided into units of organic functioning.
RB: That should be the next subject to discuss.
DE: This seems to me to be what his philosophy of organism should have gone for, and when he said he was trying to make this a bridge notion between the biological and physical sciences, I think the link is in his notion of the "non-uniform object" of which the simplest example is the wave. He is always going on about these vibratory phenomena in physics; here is something which has to have spatio-temporal spread. You can’t have a wave at an instant. You have its periodicity from trough to crest, and going on. This is a single example -- there will be more elaborate rhythmical processes. But this is a functioning which has spatio-temporal spread. It can’t happen at an instant. So there is the question of how its divisions are bounded -- you can bound the wave by its periodicity.
Whitehead harps on this because he saw the fundamental physical units at the time he was writing as having a vibratory wave-like character. He is trying to get to natural units which are not instantaneous, because, as we said, he was gunning for what he saw as the materialist notion of particles of matter at an instant and at a point in space. Instead, you have something spread out, passing, "functioning."
MM: And resonating.
DE: The resonating comes in as a repeating pattern. He wants reiterations, and also variations on the reiterations. If you simply had a wave with periodicity you wouldn’t get novelty.
RB: You can change the periodicity as with frequency modulation in radio.
DE: You don’t want waves, you want variations on a theme. A tune could be an instance.
MM: That would be too easy. I want to imagine what happens when you haven’t got dimensions yet, and get towards Rupert’s notion of morphic resonance.
CC: I think the only way you can do this is to go away from the one-dimensional analysis of perception in terms of overlappings and extended presents to his idea of events as a physical hypothesis.
MM: I don’t think you want to go round by hypotheses, or you will lose this fundamental passage of nature.
DE: I would very much like to think that this passage of nature isn’t just a general going-on, but can be thought of as in some way active. Whitehead also uses the word "creativity," but "creativity" for him can also be something abstract. But when he speaks of "the creative advance into novelty," you have to give it some character by which it is an active transfer of properties.
MM: This is already in the passage of nature.
DE: When you say that, the "passage of nature" is not just "transition."
MM: The passage of nature has got to be thick. All the properties are in it, and you abstract bits later.
RB: Is this "creativity" another word for novelty? Novelty means something that in that form hasn’t happened before.
DE: I think he means two things; one, the novelty is the future, which by definition has not been before, but also that things of fresh sorts can happen.
RB: My gloss on the words "creativity" and "active" is that they are the remains of Whitehead’s theism. What is creative and active is God in the universe. He doesn’t always say this, but this would be the justification for his language.
DE: You have "the creative advance into novelty" in the earlier books before he had God.
RB: Why "creative"? You have novelty, but why say "creative" and "active"? The materialists explain novelty by chance mutations.
DE: It isn’t only used of biological organisms. It is in the passage of nature all the time.
MM: I don’t see why the passage of nature shouldn’t be allowed to be creative.
DE: Why must creativity only be a hang-over of God?
RB: For me, "creativity" and "active" are personal characteristics. This is part of my liberal humanism. It is persons who are creative and active. To use it for other things is to use a transferred epithet.
MM: Suppose it wasn’t.
RB: Then I don’t think it means anything more than novelty.
MM: Amoebas as unicellular organisms can be creative.
RB: For me, I know more or less what creative means when used of persons. If it is to be used for more than that, you have to ask, "Is there a person in the background?"
DE: An application which was made with acknowledgement to Whitehead was Waddington’ s notion of the "chreod," a new way of behaving in biological organisms which wasn’t traced to a genetic mutation. The organism was groping around all sorts of difficulties and sometimes found a way round them which then gave its descendants a selective advantage.
RB: This is a novelty that is not a genetic mutation. lam not wishing to deny this.
DE: If you don’t like the word "creative," try "constructive." This organism has solved a problem.
RB: "Solving a problem" is always with reference to a person.
MM: You can’t damp down language like that. These expressions can have sense without a personal background. They needn’t be personal or impersonal.
RB: Hartshorne puts this view from Whitehead very definitely theistically. This is very reasonable, given Whitehead’s language.
RS: Can I come back to Bergson? In the notion of creative evolution, which sounds very like the creative advance into novelty, Bergson probably uses the word "creative" as a metaphor, but he doesn’t want to introduce the idea of a person. What is the difference from Whitehead on that point?
RB: I am prepared to admit that if you have a novelty of an extreme character it is reasonable to have a word for it.
DE: To take up Rupert’s question: I think Whitehead is trying to be more detailed than Bergson. Bergson has a general concept of what he calls creative evolution. Whitehead was saying there is a grasping at a new possibility, a feeling out, groping, establishing something not just as a result of pure chance.
MM: Whitehead is neither being teleological nor non-teleological. These notions would be the result of abstraction. Rut there are fundamental unclarities we haven’t cleared up which will come back and hit us.
DE: We seem to be in a situation where three different types of abstraction are going on at once in three directions. There is the abstraction Chris wants via events and extensions of events in space and time. There is this way, and there is the way of reiterative patterns in the passage of nature, which Margaret wants, and there is the way of the generalized notion of organism, which I may say I want. If you start from events extending over other events . . . .
MM: They have to be sliced. Events are surely by their nature sliced.
DE: Yes, but by the time they become "actual occasions" they become units, and by that time he has got a kind of atomicity in the passage of nature which he didn’t have with events, as events could always be taken as larger or smaller. There is no absolute bounding of events in nature. We do the slicing by applying a description to an event.
MM: But you can do nothing with events until you have sliced them.
DE: No. What you are saying is that the passage of nature is sliceable.
MM: You can slice anything. You must have a tendency to have boundaries.
DE: Yes, and the interesting thing is when the boundaries become non-arbitrary. In the durations they are made by sense-awareness, and when he gets to his notion of organisms they are non-arbitrary because there is the unit in time needed for functioning to take place.
MM: That is another story.