Chapter 3: Mind in Nature

The Cosmic Adventure: Science, Religion and the Quest for Purpose
by John F. Haught

Chapter 3: Mind in Nature

In Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead wrote of the scientific materialism stemming from the seventeenth century:

It has held its own as the guiding principle of scientific studies ever since. It is still reigning. Every university in the world organizes itself in accordance with it. No alternative system of organizing the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested. It is not only reigning, but it is without a rival.

And yet -- it is quite unbelievable. This conception of the universe is surely framed in terms of high abstractions, and the paradox only arises because we have mistaken our abstractions for concrete realities.1

Scientific materialism, according to Whitehead, is a misrepresentation of the cosmos because it is based on the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness."2 This fallacy of misplaced concreteness is simply the confusion of abstractions with concrete reality. It is the tendency to take our mental constructs and imaginative models of the world, such as those of the machine, wave or particle, as though they corresponded exactly to the world itself. This is an understandable temptation since we have to simplify things in order even to begin to understand them. But we do not always heed Whitehead’s exhortation first to seek simplicity and then to mistrust it.3 We easily do the first, but tend to balk at the second. I would suggest that we fail to mistrust our over-simplifications for the same reasons that we are inclined toward the epistemology of control. Somehow and for some reason we fear giving up our sense of mastery over the universe. But we do so at great peril to our cosmology and to our general vision of things.

Whitehead’s critique of scientific materialism is that it is too abstract. This indictment perhaps sounds strange, since if anything seems concrete it is the collection of allegedly irreducible particles of matter out of which nature is composed according to the materialist’s philosophy. What could be more concrete than atoms in the void? The elegant simplicity of the atomist philosophy, or its contemporary equivalents in an updated particle physics or molecular biology, may easily seduce us into the assumption that bits of matter or indivisible mechanisms are the bedrock foundation of reality. And yet, on more careful analysis, they turn out to be "high abstractions."

Why do mindless chunks of matter not qualify for being the ultimate "concrete" constituents of nature? Simply because they are the product of the scientific method’s prescinding from certain aspects of the universe with which it is incapable of dealing. These aspects that are left behind (by the use of the machine model and the still dominant particle model) are part of the concrete fabric of the universe, and so any adequate cosmology should advert to them as well. The neglected elements I am referring to are the "qualitative" aspects of things, aspects which escape the net of mechanistic and quantitative modes of understanding. More specifically they are the aspects of beauty, value and importance, none of which fall within the realm of ordinary scientific discussion.

Of course these aspects of the universe that are left out of scientific discussion will be looked upon by the materialist as epiphenomenal, as our own subjective desires projected onto the blank neutrality of the universe. Value seems to fall within the same arena as the so-called "secondary qualities" isolated by classical physics and the philosophy of John Locke. Secondary qualities are those aspects of things which seem to depend for their existence upon the perceiver. Color, taste, smell, sound and touch all require an experiencing subject in which to reside, and so they apparently do not have any "objective" reality to them. They are derived only from the perceiver who cloaks the objects with secondary qualities. Meanwhile the object itself onto which the secondary qualities are projected is said to be made up of "primary qualities." Primary qualities are those features of objects that allegedly exist independently of any experiencing subject. The object’s mass, position and momentum, for example, do not seem to depend upon my being present to perceive them. They exist independently of my experience; they endure throughout the process of accidental changes, and, therefore, they seem to be more real, more concrete than the secondary qualities. Scientific materialism usually holds that primary qualities are the concretely real foundation of things and that secondary qualities are the frothy result of our projecting elements of unreliable subjectivity onto them.

The important implication of this distinction of primary from secondary qualities (itself rooted in the mind/matter dualism which we looked at earlier) is that it provides the cosmological basis for a denial that there is any intrinsic meaning in the universe independent of meaning-creating individuals. It has become very easy after the seventeenth century to situate the whole notion of meaning or value in the same context as secondary qualities. The values that we cherish and that give our lives whatever meaning they may have seem to depend for their precarious existence upon the sensitivity of evaluators. Our sense of the importance of things, events, persons, and of the universe itself, seems to share with secondary qualities the characteristic of being totally subjective and arbitrary. Accordingly meaning does not appear to be intrinsic to the universe. The cosmos seems inherently vacant of purpose, and teleology is apparently the mere product of our own valuations.

The restriction of value to the realm of subjectivity depends upon a prior separation of our consciousness from the cosmos. This separation has recently been challenged not only by philosophy but also by developments in science itself. Hence our discussion of the issue of purpose in the universe must inquire about the possibility of some other assessment of the relation of mind to nature. It is especially in the thought of Alfred North Whitehead that we may find such an alternative.

Reality as Process

According to Whitehead reality is process. Evolutionary theory has impressed this fact upon us, but it is also one of the most obvious conclusions of modern physics. Ages ago Heraclitus weepingly declared that all is in flux. The Buddha made transiency central to his vision of reality. In this century Henri Bergson taught us how central process is to our inner and outer experience. And even more recently Whitehead has emphasized the dynamic, processive nature both of reality as a whole and also of its constituent elements. According to Whitehead the universe is made up of moments that become and then perish. These moments are linked together in various kinds of series or patterns that build up into all the various objects of our experience. But beneath the apparent stability of these entities there are events, happenings, occasions. In short, there is process.4

Today quantum physics has compelled many scientists to conclude that process is the most fundamental fact. Previously we supposed, with materialism, that only the solid is real. We had confused concreteness with solidity. We now know that solidity is itself secondary and not primary. Physical reality, including the most obdurate objects, is composed of wave patterns, vibrations, energy events, electronic happenings. The excessive abstractness of the materialist view of physical reality lies partly in its unawareness of the dynamic constituency of even the most stationary solid object. Beneath the flow of life and even the placid facade of the Rocky Mountains there lies a story of process. It is a story in which the energy events that compose natural phenomena have engaged themselves in a dance of becoming and perishing, inheriting and "feeling" each other for millions of years. It is this process, and not some imaginary impermeable particles or inert stuff, that gives rise to the rocks as well as to life and mind. All physical objects are composed of patterns of process. If we try to Imagine that there must be something solid beneath the process, then this is because we are still being tricked by the assumptions of common sense and classical physics upon which materialism rests.

As Bergson taught us half a century ago, we need not look beyond our own personal experience to have sufficient evidence of the utterly processive nature of reality.

Our personality, which is being built up each instant with its accumulated experience, changes without ceasing. By changing, it prevents any state, although superficially identical with another, from ever repeating it in its very depth. That is why our duration is irreversible. . . .

. . .

Thus our personality shoots, grows and ripens without ceasing. Each of its moments is something new added to what was before.5

But, as the Buddha also taught, there is something about us that has an aversion to the perpetual perishing of each ‘‘now." We have a tendency to cling to the present or the past, the same tendency that leads to the illusion that there is a final solidity to things. It is a tendency analogous to the one portrayed by Sartre, whereby we flee from our freedom into the deterministic world of objects. We do not easily accept the idea of a world in process, partly because process entails perishability.

The flow of our own personalities through time cannot be divorced from the general context of the universe on which their becoming is borne. Bergson was himself dualistic in his divorcing mind and life from matter. But he was correct in his situating our own becoming in the stream of a universal becoming. Whitehead has radicalized this insight of Bergson’s and has eliminated any dualism. He has emphasized the continuity between our own becoming and that of physical reality. We are in utter continuity with the processive universe.

If we take this continuity seriously then we must abolish the dualistic tendency to read our mental activity as though it were not also part of the inner essence of nature. Scientific thought, under the impact of dualism, has simply assumed that mental occurrences are not part of the cosmic arena, that mentality and nature belong to completely different realms. However, as Whitehead emphasizes:

. . . this sharp division between mentality and nature has no ground in our fundamental observation. We find ourselves living within nature. . . . We should conceive mental operations as among the factors which make up the constitution of nature.6

I suspect that most of us have been so influenced by dualism that we find it quite difficult to think of our mental activity as part of the occurrences that make up nature. We somehow feel that our minds are outside of nature. And this feeling of mental exile is understandable as long as we conceive of nature itself as mindless. But it is precisely this assumption of the intrinsic mindlessness of nature that Whitehead asks us to question. Any absolutely clear line of demarcation that segregates our mental functioning from its cosmic matrix is purely arbitrary -- indeed an illusion, a vestige of dualistic mythology.

Scientific materialism itself denies that there are any arbitrary breaks in nature. Everything is on a continuum with everything else. Everything that exists is explicable in terms of the mass-energy plenum. Our mental processes are also in principle fully explicable in terms of matter and energy. Seemingly, therefore, materialists are monists, since for them reality is reducible to the one realm of the physical. They apparently reject any dualism that would give to mind a separate ontological status. However, although they are monists metaphysically speaking, in that they reduce reality to only one kind of stuff, they remain dualists in their epistemology, that is, in their view of knowledge. They demand that we be objective in our understanding of nature, and this objectivity requires that we keep our subjectivity detached from the object, nature. The scientist’s own mind must remain at a distance from the object being investigated in order that an "objective" perspective become possible. This divorce of the scientific subject’s mind from the object being examined amounts to an epistemological dualism.

The attempt by materialists to hold together a metaphysical monism of matter with an epistemological dualism of mind over against matter seems to be incoherent. For on the one hand the materialist philosophy asserts that beings with minds evolved out of the cosmic process and, therefore, are continuous with nature. But on the other hand the same philosophy maintains that the minds of these beings are separate from the natural world during any valid act of knowing. It is very difficult to piece these contradictories together from the point of view of logic. Furthermore, materialism’s epistemological dualism leaves open the door for the "existential" alienation of the subject from its cosmic context. It establishes a way of thinking that eventuates in the sense, expressed earlier by Klemke that I am a stranger in an indifferent and hostile universe. The epistemological dualism implicit in scientific materialism inevitably leads to the feeling that nature is without purpose and that my own conscious life lacks any grounding in the universe.

The consensus of much recent thought, however, a great deal of it coming from physicists themselves, is that mind is intrinsic rather than extrinsic to nature. The universe is permeated not only with process but also with mentality. As in the ancient mythic visions, our own minds actually belong in the context of the cosmos.7

Physicist David Bohm, who dares to speculate on what he considers to be the philosophical implications of modern physics, asks whether thought itself might not be part of reality as a whole. He challenges us to ask: ". . . how are we to think coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it?"8

. . . to meet the challenge before us our notions of cosmology and of the general nature of reality must have room in them to permit a consistent account of consciousness. Vice versa, our notions of consciousness must have room in them to understand what it means for its content to be ‘reality as a whole.’ The two sets of notions together should then be such as to allow for an understanding of how reality and consciousness are related.9

Relativity theory and quantum physics in the present century have given rise to a great deal of speculation like that of Bohm’s. Much of this speculation has concluded that the scientific observer is not a detached spectator dualistically split off from nature. Rather the observer is really a participant whose mental activity cannot be separated from, and indeed inevitably intersects with, the objects being investigated. Physics itself seems to have blurred the line drawn by dualism between subject and object.

A more philosophical way to vanquish the dualism of mind and nature is to see them both as aspects of a unified cosmic process in which all the components of becoming are "mental." According to Whitehead something analogous to what we experience as mentality, something like "feeling" or "perception," is present throughout the natural world, not just in man, animals and plants, but also in the most fundamental constituents of the physical world. There is a "subjective" aspect to all "actual entities."10

Now it will no doubt seem to the reader who is unfamiliar with Whiteheadian thought that perceptivity, experience and mentality may be aspects of human and to some extent biological phenomena in general, but what about inanimate nature? Is it legitimate to hold, as we are doing here, that mentality is pervasive throughout the universe? Or is it not much more sensible to assume that mentality appears only very late and very locally in the evolutionary story? This may be granted if we are talking about mentality in the mode of human consciousness. Certainly consciousness does not exist at the level of atoms and electrons, nor does reflective self-awareness seem to appear in evolution until the human species comes onto the scene. But there is good reason for holding that mentality in the form of some sort of rudimentary "feeling" may be present at the level of the energy-events that give rise to electrons and atoms. For if our minds are continuous with the rest of nature (as even materialists acknowledge in their monistic metaphysics), then in some sense mentality is already present in the very stuff of the universe from which we have evolved. If we place matter and man on a continuum, one very fruitful way to understand ourselves is to do so as far as possible by specifying our material make-up. But it is also possible to understand a great deal about the nature of physical reality by beginning from the other end of the continuum. Since matter and mind are, after all, on the same unbroken spectrum, we may understand each partially in terms of the other. For this reason an understanding of mentality and its activity is not superfluous to our understanding of the whole universe.11

It is possible to understand a great deal about mind by analyzing it in terms of its molecular basis. It is also possible to reach a more concrete understanding of physical reality by recognizing its mental aspects. But how can we maintain something so apparently anthropomorphic? For at the very least mentality is by nature an experiential occurrence. And experience begins with feeling. When we say that the universe is mental, that it is composed of moments of feeling, it obviously appears as though we are projecting our own human experience onto something which is non-experiential. Is this not an instance of the "pathetic fallacy"?

In response, we must first re-emphasize that we are using the terms mentality, feeling, experience, and perceptivity in an analogous sense. Something like what we call feeling, perceiving, remembering, desiring, anticipating, liking and disliking must characterize every constituent aspect of reality. This does not necessarily mean that rocks have feelings. Rather it means that all objects, including inanimate ones, are composed of moments or occasions which have feeling as a constituent aspect of their actuality. The world of process is made up of units of becoming whose very essence is feeling. As Charles Hartshorne has suggested, it may be that feeling of feeling is an ultimate principle, applicable to deity and every other singular actuality."12

Science, of course, is unable by itself to penetrate the inner privacy or "subjectivity" of the moments of feeling that make up reality. Science always remains outside in its abstracting from the interiority of nature’s constituent occasions of experience. And for that reason our terminology will inevitably sound foreign to those attuned to a scientific idiom. Therefore, it will strain our credulity at first to be told that the most concrete things in nature are not dead, inert, mindless. But how else would our world hang together as a universe unless things have a feeling for one another? To posit a subjective capacity to feel at the heart of all the moments that make up the cosmic process goes beyond the limits of scientific ways of thinking, but it is not a position that in any way conflicts with a coherent cosmology. Science, after all, usually deals with aggregates rather than with the fundamental units of reality of which I am speaking. And it is true, of course, that aggregates made up of concrete moments of feeling exhibit macroscopically inert qualities. A rock for example may legitimately be called inanimate and mindless. But the ultimate components of rocks or grains of sand or molecules and atoms are series of occurrences bound together by a feeling for one another. These series of occasions of experience (as Whitehead calls them) build up into patterns which give the outward appearance to our dull senses of firmness and immobility. With our senses we are not able to perceive directly the dynamic dance of mutual feeling that constitutes the foundation of the apparent stability of things. But it is reasonable to infer from the fact of nature’s intrinsic continuity with our own mental experience that there must be at least a rudimentary type of feeling that binds all things to one another. What better word than "feeling" can we employ to indicate the power of attraction that binds the multiplicity of occasions into the organic unity of a universe?

Modern physics supports us in our proposal that the constituents of nature are not the lifeless particles that we tend to imagine as tiny versions of inert chunks of matter. The world of submicroscopic physics is so utterly different from the one that we observe in our ordinary experience that words and pictures fail us when we try to imagine what it is like in its inner constituency. If our suggestion sounds strange that this world of the infinitesimal is made up of feelings, then this is no stranger than any other proposals as to how to understand it. In fact, though, there are very good positive reasons to make our own experiencing the central model for understanding the physical world. If this seems like the pathetic fallacy, then, Hartshorne says, it is less abstract than the "prosaic fallacy" of materialist monism.13

Perhaps we can grasp more clearly why we may attribute mentality to physical reality if we reflect more deeply upon our own feeling of transition within the cosmic process. One of the most immediately obvious aspects of our experience is the sense of becoming. In fact it is so obvious that we seldom explicitly advert to it. But if we reflect upon it now, and at the same time remember our continuity with the cosmic process, we will be able to clarify not only our own experience, but also essential aspects of the cosmos itself.

Each moment of our lives is made up of becoming and perishing. Each moment is a "throb of experience"14 that comes into being, experiences a certain type of "enjoyment," and then perishes. Our personal lives are made up of a series of such becomings, enjoyments and perishings. As each moment perishes, however, it does not vanish into total oblivion. Instead it is taken up, as past experience, into the present moment of feeling. It is preserved in a component of present experience that we call memory. By virtue of this memory the past causally influences our present. And we may infer that this is how "efficient causation" occurs, not only in our own experience, but also throughout cosmic reality. It is the capacity of each present moment to receive the perished occasions of past experience into itself that allows the past to act causally upon the present. Were the present moment totally incapable of receiving into itself the deposit of past experiences, this past could exercise no influence upon it.

At the same time that our present experience is feeling the past it is also oriented toward the future. If we reflect carefully upon our present experience we realize that it is colored affectively by the future we have imagined for ourselves. The shape of what we consider to be our future possibilities tends to shade the quality of our present experience and to influence the manner in which we appropriate the data from our past. The ingression of the anticipated future into the present moment helps to constitute it precisely as this present moment. For example, my own writing of this present paragraph is colored by my anticipation of your reading it eventually. And this anticipation in turn governs what material my memory selects to write down.

Thus each moment of "feeling" has a polar quality to it. One pole, that of memory, reaches out and pulls in the past in a selectively qualifying manner. The other pole, that of anticipation, reaches out into the realm of possibilities and selectively qualifies the present moment’s mode of feeling. Each perishable occasion of our experience, therefore, is composed of memory - enjoyment - anticipation.15

All of this may seem quite obvious to anyone who pauses to reflect on our humanly "mental" existence. What may not seem so obvious, however, is our suggestion that cosmic reality is in general composed of analogous types of occasions of experience. But once we eschew dualism and accept the continuity of nature and mentality such a conclusion is not out of order. Nature too may be pictured as made up of moments of memory - enjoyment - anticipation. There is nothing projective about this image. It would be projective only if mentality were not an intrinsic part of the cosmos. But there is no warrant for such a view.

This is not to suggest, of course, that sub-human occasions of feeling are as vivid and intense as are human feelings. Yet we may infer that such occasions possess at least a rudimentary kind of feeling. In an electron, for example, the moments of memory, enjoyment and anticipation would not add up to "consciousness," but they would at least count as a mode of "mentality," in our extended sense of the term. Our own conscious experience would then be a high-grade version of the mentality which constitutes all of reality.16

From the point of view of the questions we are discussing in this book there are important advantages in emphasizing the continuity of mind and nature. Charles Hartshorne has written extensively about the merits of this philosophical position, and a loose adaptation of his ideas on its advantages may be set forth in the following short list:17

1. The mentalist view overcomes the false problem of how matter gives rise to life and mind. Instead the real problem is how higher types of mind developed out of lower types.

2. The mentalist view does justice to the scientific intuition that there is a certain kind of continuity between matter and life.

3. It provides a basis for understanding the relationship of mind to body.

4. It allows us to see secondary qualities as intrinsic aspects of nature rather than the projections of subjectivity that materialism understands them to be.

5. Perhaps most important of all, the pervasive presence of mind in nature provides a receptive basis for a teleological influence that can be felt by all of the component occasions of experience.

6. Finally, the philosophy of mind-in-nature provides the basis for our rethinking the notion of perception.

To this latter issue we shall now turn.


If we situate mind inside of nature then we must revise our whole notion of perception. In doing so, we will be able to provide a new basis for discussion of the relationship of science to religion and of the issue of nature and purpose. Much of this discussion will be taken up in the final two chapters, but a brief introduction to Whitehead’s highly original discussion of perception is appropriate at this point.18

Usually when we talk of perception we are thinking of sense-perception, what we experience by taste, sight, touch, hearing, smelling. And we also usually assume that it is through the five senses that we make our first and most fundamental contact with the world outside our minds. Again, this notion of perception is intimately tied up with dualism. It assumes that there is a mind separated off from the world, and that the senses bring material from the world outside into the mind. Although this notion of perception has been the dominant epistemological view in modern philosophy, it has never adequately explained precisely how the outside world and the mediating senses get over to the (totally different) realm of mind. There is always the suggestion that "somehow" the transition from matter to mind is made. But it is never specified exactly how.

By envisaging nature as pervasively perceptive we can offer a solution to this problem. Nature is made up of moments of perception. But what is perceived by these moments of perception? The Whiteheadian reply is that each "occasion of experience" perceives, synthesizes into its own "feeling" the immediately preceding moment. That preceding occasion had become, momentarily endured, and then perished. As it perished, however, it became the "material" to be synthesized in the present moment of perception. And the present moment, after perishing, will become the objective datum to be perceived in the "memory" of a subsequent occasion. Each perished occasion is felt or "remembered" in a distinctive way by subsequent occasions. Perception, then, is really a form of memory, and our own experience of remembering is perhaps the best way to understand what Whitehead means by perception.19

One of the most noteworthy features of our memory is that some items we recall are much more vivid than others. The immediate past is much more so than experiences of long ago. And it may be extremely difficult to bring back temporally distant experiences with any degree of clarity. Nonetheless, those remote experiences are still at least a dim part of our memory, and they surely exercise a causal efficacy on our existence here and now (as depth psychology has documented). In memory we receive the past into our present experience in different degrees of distinctness, and sometimes the indistinct remote past is more powerfully influential on our present feeling than is the distinct immediate past. It has an "importance" that the immediate past perhaps does not.

So it is with perception as Whitehead understands it. When we perceive something we are in fact remembering the perished and past moments of experience that are being taken into the present moment of feeling. Usually what stands out most vividly in our feeling is the immediate past, and this immediate past constitutes the data of sense perception. Here the past is so immediate that, as it were, it melts into the present. But our perception takes into itself the accumulated experiences of the remote and obscure past as well. And this past includes not only our own personal experiences. Since we are organically tied into the cosmos, there is a sense in which all of the experiences that have made up the universe enter vaguely, but efficaciously, into our experience also. Whitehead refers to this vague but significant experience as perception in the mode of causal efficacy. And he calls our experience of the contemporary world, behind which there lurks the deposit of accumulated past experience, perception in the mode of presentational immediacy. (For the sake of simplicity I shall call these respectively "primary" and "secondary" perception.) As we proceed we shall be able to draw some important implications for our topic from this initially troubling but philosophically illuminating distinction of two kinds of perception.

I earlier stated that all occasions of experience, being analogous to our own, have in association with their feelings the aspects of "remembering," "enjoying" and "anticipating." This extension of their perceptivity not only toward the past but also toward the future guarantees the uniqueness of each of these moments. Whitehead even uses the term "de-cision" to characterize how each moment "cuts itself off" from some anticipations and memories in order "decisively" to pattern its feeling (enjoyment) in a definite way.20 Each moment is thus made up of a unique feeling tone composed of a distinctive "memory" and "anticipation."

It is characteristic of this view that each moment of experience is perceptive not only of the immediate past of the universe, but, in a vague way, of the entire past set of occurrences that have constituted the world process. This view also fits that described by modern physicists. The fields of force that make up the world all mutually interpenetrate, all influence each other, however faintly. The forces in the furthest stars are not unrelated to the electronic events occurring in my brain. This is a rather poetic view, but one justified by modern physics. Whitehead contrasts this modern view with the classical one upon which materialism is based. In the universe of classical physics, he says,

. . . the concept of matter presupposed simple location. Each bit of matter was self-contained, localized in a region with a passive, static network of spatial relations, entwined in a uniform relational system from infinity to infinity and from eternity to eternity. But in the modern concept the group of agitations which we term matter is fused into its environment. There is no possibility of a detached, self-contained local existence. The environment enters into the nature of each thing. . . . In truth, the notion of the self-contained particle of matter, self-sufficient within its local habitation, is an abstraction.21

And correspondingly, "any local agitation shakes the whole universe."22

What renders possible this mutual interpretation of events postulated by quantum physics is that the concrete constituents of nature are all perceptive by nature. They are actually constituted by their capacity to feel. Each moment of perception, then, may be imagined as experiencing the whole universe vaguely and a certain proximate sector of it more vividly. That is, perception is a process of refining and "clarifying" the misty experience of the whole into the enjoyment of a unique and definite feeling.

Our own perception of the universe at the level of consciousness shares the polar quality that pertains to all perception. What we call sense perception is a rather late and somewhat abstract version of a much more global feeling we have, at a visceral level, of the entire universe entering into our experience. If the physicist is correct that the whole universe is in a sense everywhere, then our own experience is not exempt from such a remarkable state of affairs. Our own perceptivity feels in a cloudy way the entire universe. And our sense perception cuts off a thin slice of this global content and presents it to us with a certain vividness lacking in our global perception.

If we understand "perception" only as "sense-perception," then I would suggest that this view is too narrow. For prior to the clear and distinct impressions of the world given to us through our five senses we have already experienced the world’s entering into our being and becoming in a much more fundamental way. For the sake of simplicity I shall call this experience "primary perception," and I shall distinguish it from "secondary perception" which is that of the five senses. In relation to primary perception the data of sense perception are rather late and abstract refinements of the material that is felt in our primary experience of the world.

Perception may be understood, therefore, as a process moving from the pole of primary perception to that of sense perception. At the primary pole of the perceptive process there is a vague and undefined feeling of the influence of the world on our being and becoming. Here the universe is felt as continuous with and "grounding" the perceiver’s own existence. At this pole of perception there is no clear and distinct impression of things. Primary perception is vague, unclear, indistinct. For this reason we seldom advert to it, and most philosophers fail even to acknowledge its presence, even though it is causal of our very existence. We know about it more through philosophical inference and through drawing out important implications from recent physics than by way of direct experience. The content given to us at this global pole of feeling can never be brought fully to expression. I shall propose in Chapter 11 that it is the nature of symbolic expression to represent to us some aspects of what we receive in primary perception.23 And for this reason we must not be overly critical of the apparently fuzzy and ambiguous character of symbolic representation. We should instead anticipate that if all reality is somehow ingredient in our experience at the pole of primary perception, no particular expression could fully retrieve it, and different peoples will represent their primary perception in radically different ways, depending on cultural and historical conditions. I shall later employ this notion of primary perception as a basis for understanding how religion relates to our experience and to science.


What are the implications of this vision of mind in nature for the question of purpose in the universe? If the universe is in any sense globally purposive, then mentality would have to be a pervasive and not merely a localized, fragmentary aspect of it. To be able to receive the impregnation of universal purpose, should there be such, the cosmos would have to possess an intrinsic receptivity to it. The constituent aspects of the universe must be units of feeling open to receive new possibilities of patterning. In this chapter I have proposed a notion of physical reality that is pervasively perceptive. At its base nature is made up of feeling-events composed of memory, enjoyment and anticipation. Through their memory the feelings allow the past to have a causal impact on the present. And through both the memory and the anticipatory pole of these units of feeling a cosmic aim or purpose may be envisaged as insinuating itself into the interior workings of the universe. In Chapter 8 I shall develop this possibility in more detail.


1. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1967), pp. 54-55.

2. Ibid., pp. 51-57; 58-59.

3. The exhortation to seek simplicity and mistrust it captures the essence of Whitehead’s philosophical method and expresses the spirit of thought that runs throughout all of his writings.

4. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, corrected edition, ed. by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: The Free Press, 1978); and Alfred North White-head, Modes of Thought (New York: The Free Press, 1968), pp. 86-104.

5. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. by Arthur Mitchell (London: Macmillan & Company, Limited, 1911), p. 6.

6. Whitehead, Modes of Thought, p. 156.

7. See the fine collection of essays, Mind in Nature, edited by John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1977) and the less valuable symposium, Mind in Nature, edited by Richard Q. Elvee (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982).

8. David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routlege and Kegan Paul, 1981), p. x.

9. Ibid.

10. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 23, 25, 157ff; 221ff.

11. Cf. Charles Hartshorne, "Physics and Psychics: The Place of Mind in Nature," in Cobb and Griffin, ed., Mind in Nature, pp. 89-95.

12. Ibid., p. 92.

13. Ibid., p. 95.

14. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 190.

15. I have summarized, confIated and reformulated ideas here that may be found in numerous works of Whitehead, Hartshorne and their followers.

16. Cf., for example, Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 232.

17. Cf. Hartshorne, pp. 92-93.

18. See Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 110-26; 168-83; Modes of Thought, pp. 148-69; and Alfred North Whitehead, Symbolism (New York: Capricorn Books, 1959), pp. 13-59.

19. Memory, causation and perception are all terms refer. ring to the feeling of antecedents. "To feel (perceive) a prior event is to be causally conditioned by it, and both causation and perception are aspects of "memory"-an awareness of the past. Thus, each unit-pulsation of emotional intensity restores its antecedent universe through remembrance." Steve Odin, Process Metaphysics and Hua-yen Buddhism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982), p. 137.

20. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 43, 47, 62.

21. Whitehead, Modes of Thought, p. 138.

22. Ibid.

23. This is Whitehead’s position in Symbolism and elsewhere. I shall employ his theory of symbolism in a modified fashion in Chapter 11 where I shall deal directly with the question of the relationship of science to religion.