Chapter 4: Causal Efficacy
Participants: Dorothy Emmet leading. Margaret Masterman, Richard Braithwaite, Chris Clarke, Rupert Sheldrake, and Jonathan Westphal participating.
DE: I have been trying to think what in Whitehead’s views on Causation might be relevant to Rupert’s concern with Formative Causation and its relation to energetic causation, and to Margaret’s concern with language, as a flow with reiterations and boundings giving emphasis points, each stage going on into the next. It is vital, as always with Whitehead, to start with remembering the fundamental thing is the passage of nature -- something going on. But then, he says, how can we take it for granted that the present is going to resemble the past, and also the future resemble the present (not necessarily of course entirely)? Using a phrase of Locke’s, he speaks in Process and Reality of time as a "perpetual perishing." In fact he went so far as to say at the end of his life:
Almost all of Process and Reality can be read as an attempt to analyze perishing on the same level as Aristotle’s analysis of becoming. The notion of the prehension of the past means that the past is an element which perishes and thereby remains an element in the state beyond, and thus is objectified. That is the whole notion. If you get a general notion of what is meant by perishing, you will have accomplished an apprehension of what you mean by memory and causality, what you mean when you feel that what we are is of infinite importance, because as we perish we are immortal. That is the one key thought around which the whole development of Process and Reality is woven. (ESP 117)
That is, how does an earlier stage in this process get carried over into a later stage, thereby producing continuity and the possibility of recognition? He sees this as constituting a problem, whereas most people take it for granted. It won’t do just to say there is a succession in time, because time has got to be derived from this on-going process. You have to secure the continuity to have the time. You might "bracket" the metaphysical question by saying we just do have continuities in which there are repeated characteristics -- repetitions of characters over what he calls routes of events. But he sees this as a problem, and so he must be metaphysical as well as phenomenalistic about it -- he wants a view of why a later stage in a process should carry forward a character inherited from an earlier stage. Here when we get this 1927 book Symbolism, there are two key terms: "Conformation" and "Causal Efficacy," "Conformation" being a later stage taking on its character from an earlier stage, "Causal Efficacy" being the earlier stage passed on into a later stage. So they are two sides of the same thing. Whitehead is prepared to have a view of the passage of nature as an actively patterning process, not simple as succession in time, which is why the analysis of it as sliced into events by itself is insufficient as leaving out this active patterning aspect. A lot of his language about objects, or "eternal objects" ingressing into the process, sounds Platonic, as though they came from "outside," but I think there is more possibility of a tenable interpretation if we take it that one patterned event passes on into another either by repetition or modification. The form gets carried in what he calls an "energetic" process. I know there are difficulties here about "energy" because it has a technical sense in physics for work done. Whitehead says this is one manifestation of energy, but he wants to use it in a more general sense -- really as a more metaphysical notion -- and the problem is what to call it: this "drive of the universe," "X," or whatever, that manifests itself as a patterning activity.
The form gets carried in what he calls an "energetic" process. I know there are difficulties here about "energy" because it has a technical sense in physics for work done. Whitehead says this is one manifestation of energy, but he wants to use it in a more general sense -- really as a more metaphysical notion -- and the problem is what to call it: this "drive of the universe," "X," or whatever, that manifests itself as a patterning activity.
CC: You are talking about a process whose chains are linked by a single object.
DE: Or a group that forms a chain that in Whitehead’s terminology would be called an "enduring object" -- for instance the tabular route of events that constitute what we call this table. "Object" in Whitehead’s terminology is a property or characterization of events, but, as I said yesterday, I think there is enormous difficulty in splitting the events, as propertyless slices of the passage of nature, off from "objects" as thought these were like Platonic forms entering into it. Very often he is more Aristotelian than Platonic -- the "forms are in the facts." He also uses the term "Aristotelian adjective" for his "objects." So on this view you have a patterned activity carrying characters transferred from one stage to the next.
CC: This makes a subsequent event more likely to have property O.
DE: I try to indicate this by the arrow in the figure:
O (E1) Õ O (E2) Õ O (E3) Õ - - -
MM: You needn’t only have one arrow.
DE: No. I am just illustrating one property being carried on.
RS: We are talking about persistence of an object, not the coming into being.
DE: Yes, about the persistence, the maintenance of a character over a route of events. Whitehead is prepared to use the term "causal efficacy" for perpetuating the pattern into a next stage. Some philosophers would say that in talking about causation we merely are talking about sequences of events between which we notice resemblances of A-like events followed by B-like events -- we distinguish the A-factor and B-factor and make a generalization that A-like events cause B-like events. Then of course all the questions about necessary and sufficient conditions and counterfactuals come up. But Whitehead isn’t talking about that kind of causation. He is talking about an earlier and later stage of something that can be looked on as one process. An analogy in the literature is W. E. Johnson’s distinction in his Logic (Vol. III) between "immanent" and "transeunt" causation. Another analogy is with what Russell, called "causal lines," where you distinguish routes within the whole continuum of nature, and saying something about one of them at one stage enables you to infer something about it at another stage. One stage gives information about what is likely to happen in the next.
CC: So we don’t have a transitive verb "A causes B," only a process.
DE: What he is saying is that one stage of the process has causal efficacy in the next.
CC: So if you divide it into segments you could say "A causes B."
DE: In fact he does divide it into segments, but they are phases in an on-going process; so his question is how one phase can pass over into another phase that sustains the same character. It isn’t enough to say you attach the same description to it. He wants to say that in some way the property is carried on. This, taking "passage" seriously, goes with saying that a stage comes to you as inheriting from the stage before, and as pointing forward to a stage just about to happen. You see this most forcibly if you make the stage very small -- a fraction of a second. You are not aware of it instantaneously, but always as coming from and going to, and the character you are aware of is a character in a process, which has inheritance and forward thrust. He maintains we do actually experience this kind of transition.
Then you can ask what kind of segments you are going to make in this on-going process. Is there a phase that, in Margaret’s term, "comes to a maturation"? Whitehead thinks there is, but how he conceives it comes out in the later books, and is extremely difficult. In those books he looks on the process as divisible into "actual occasions" or "actual entities" in mutes. Each is a unit of becoming (B) which attains what he calls its "satisfaction" and perishes. But in what he calls "prehensions," it picks up and inherits from others in the immediate past of its environment, (A), and more importantly, from the occasion which was its own immediate past, its predecessor in its route.
Figure 4 (p. 128)
I find this very difficult because he says one thing can only prehend something else when that is completed. And then it has perished, completed its pattern.
MM: And then it has to resonate, and jumps. So it can’t just perish.
DE: He says one thing can only prehend another when the latter has reached its "satisfaction." This, of course, belongs to the later books. But if it was then just dead and gone, you would lose what he earlier insisted on, that there is always a thrust forward of patterning activity from the past into the future. He gets this by saying every "subject" is also a "superject." Something perishes as that particular subject but its patterning activity is picked up, and perhaps modified, by its successor. The best I can make of this is that it is the flow of on-going "energy," in which there are phases which come to completion, but the "energy" passes on from them, and at each stage is carrying patterns inherited from the previous stages, each "actual occasion" that perishes contributing its pattern. So this on-going passage becomes a kind of cumulative memory-store of the patterning activities that make it up. Whitehead calls this the "objectification" in the present of what has gone in the past.
CC: You are talking of "past" and "present" before you have got time.
DE: There is no "before you have got time" except intellectually; true, time is a derived concept, but in actuality you have "before" and "after" in an on-going passage.
CC: You (or Whitehead) are wanting to have events tuning in to a cumulative store of effects, and say this store of effects is localized in the present of that which is tuning into it. I don’t see why you want to formulate this as a temporal process in some derived "time."
DE: If you like, whenever I use the words "past" and "future," translate them into "subvening" and "supervening" stages of the process.
CC: If you talk about a kind of "memory store," do events tune into something present in this? Or do they tune into the events themselves?
DE: That is a difficulty. Those events have perished.
CC: Then you are presupposing a derived time, and this makes life unnecessarily difficult for us.
JW: If you didn’t have time there would be no problem. Nothing would vanish or change.
DE: If you are going to have process at all, you have got to have a before and after relationship, but this can be different from metrical time, and the same event could be "before" in one metrical time system and "after" in another.
CC: You started off from saying Whitehead was bothered about the problem of continuity. It arises if you attach ontological properties to "before" and "after."
How can something that has passed be a present influence? This is a separate question from how there can be continuity in process.
JW: The first can’t arise, or even be stated, unless you have the concept of time.
CC: The concept of a time with certain ontological prejudices stuck on to it.
DE: What are the prejudices?
CC: That nothing that is past can be an influence for something present because there is no direct interaction between them.
DE: For Whitehead, a present entity takes up from one that is past, and he says the past has perished, so there can be no action on its part. What he calls the "superject" is the past entity as picked up by a "prehension." But the view of prehensions belongs to the later books. In the earlier books I think he did hold that the passage of nature was a process in which there was an energy flow in which patterns were reiterated as it passed on from one stage to another. The link seems to be the "conformation" of the present to the past.
RS: It isn’t just done by overlaps, as it might be in waves?
DE: I don’t think the perishing of one entity and the arising of another, as he talks about it in the later books, is just overlapping. The link is "conformation."
CC: What good does it do an event to be conformed to another?
DE: It gives it an inheritance from the past out of which it arises. But the "it" needs here to be seen as an actual entity rather than as an event, and it also has what he calls its "subjective aim," to complete its own particular pattern out of this inheritance, and to get going it has to have this subjective aim.
RS: I don’t think this is very satisfactory.
DE: Nor do I. The language is very difficult.
MM: Patterns can build up. But Rupert is right in saying you can t start from something completely unpatterned.
DE: There has to be a combination of "creativity" and pattern. There couldn’t be a passage of nature with just creativity. He says there has to be an initial ordering, and he calls this "the Primordial Nature of God." You may say this is just putting an ultimate problem into theistic language. But I think we must allow that to have his sort of world there needs to be a patterning activity going on all the time, producing complexity because it is carrying with it an inheritance of previous patterns and producing fresh ones as it goes on. The initial requirements are creativity and pattern.
MM: What about contrast?
DE: That is also part of his picture. The pattern is made out of multiple relations. I didn’t say much about the relation of an actual entity to its environment because I was talking about conformation as its relation to its immediate past in its own route and this is the opposite side of causal efficacy. But there are other routes, in a pluralistic world, parallel to it as simultaneous, and so not interacting. He defines simultaneity through causal independence. Things are acting on other things in their immediate past, as there can’t be mutual interaction between contemporaries -- I find this difficult. Fig. 4 showed two routes of entities, in which each entity in a route prehends its own past and a past entity in the other route. In Fig. 5, 1 show this between two groups ("societies"). The groups SI and S2 have two routes each, A and B, and C and D. I haven’t put in the prehensions shown on Fig. 4 between each entity on a route and its own past entity, or the other entities in the same society, because the diagram would have become too complicated.
CC: It sounds as though each event had its forward thrust in it, and it prehends, picks up, previous events. The connections lie in the backward prehensions, and the forward thrust is in the activity of the event itself. Can prehending jump further back than the immediate past: A3 prehend B1, for instance?
DE: I don’t see why not. It is prehending some aspect of the passage which runs with cumulative inheritance through the whole routes of A’s and B’s.
CC: Is there some link, besides going forward rather than backwards, shown by arrows between A1 and A2 and A3 that makes A2 and A3 into A’s rather than B’s, (other than that A2 is prehending A1 and A3 is prehending A2)?
DE: That is a good question. I would like to think, put in easier language, that this route was what was called a "causal line" through nature. The difficulty is he divides it into these atomic actual entities which come to maturation and perish. You might say is there is a greater intimacy of inheritance between A2 and A1 than between A2 and B1.
RB: What starts the two series off as different?
DE: You mean why does Whitehead have a pluralism of routes rather than one big route?
RB: Quite so. I am waiting for one word which you haven’t mentioned -- space. They are separated spatially.
DE: Or you could put it the other way round. You have a process and you derive time from its direction.
RB: Then what is it from which you abstract space?
DE: From there being a plurality of routes.
RB: Exactly so. But why shouldn’t you just have Heraclitus -- a moving on? The universe changes. You and Whitehead have got to separate out the different routes in the universe at an instant, unless you just want to be Heraclitean, with everything in the past affecting everything in the future. How does Whitehead not be monistic? What is the origin of the pluralism of routes?
DE: I agree, Whitehead uses very monistic language in his earlier books but later he definitely has a pluralistic universe.
RB: How do you distinguish one event from another if they can occur at the same time?
MM: In the same duration.
RB: Yes. Yes. In the same duration. There is no doubt how the earlier Whitehead distinguished them -- spatially.
DE: The later Whitehead distinguishes them by giving each its own "subjective aim," to produce its "satisfaction." No two can share a subjective aim.
RB: So a plurality of events at the same moment is due to some internal characteristic of the events, not some external relation between them.
DE: I think the later Whitehead would have to say this.
RB: Quite so. That is to say, each of these has a causal efficacy to itself. There is a separate "dynamis," or whatever you like to call it.
DE. You have to say each one of these has its own subjective aim.
RB: The separation of these chains is then not spatial. Each chain has a separate internal "dynamis" -- a private conatus.
DE: Yes. Or rather each link in the chain has.
RB: So each route -- the A stream and the B stream -- shares a conatus.
DE: I think it would be much easier if they did. The conatus of A perishes with A and A1 picks up from A and has its own conatus.
RB: To use an unsuitable metaphor -- a conatus gene.
DE: Yes. You can inherit a "conatus gene," but not share the original conatus of the predecessor.
RB: So the mutes are distinguished by different conatus genes.
DE: Whitehead’s word for this would be "subjective form," which one can derive from another.
RB: Why does he say "subjective?"
CC: As opposed to superjective: it determines the way they prehend rather than their character for other prehensions.
RB: Of course, this is pan-psychism.
DE: I think if you press that everything has internal subjectivity this would he a natural way to take it. He protests against "pan-psychism," though, because he says that by "subjective aim" he doesn’t presuppose consciousness, or even rudimentary consciousness. He wants an internal activity in each thing.
RB: But he says "subjective."
DE: I agree -- I don’t like the language. I think shading down "subjective" to apply everywhere is very difficult. But the pluralism would follow from saying every entity has its own inner side.
RB: Would you want to say having the same subjective form is what individuates the chain, and differentiates one chain from another chain?
DE: I think he would say that a thing’s subjective aim perishes with it, but that its character as subjective form can be conformed to by the next in the chain.
RB: There aren’t examples. It is too general.
BE: I think it has become the wrong sort of generality. When there were objects and events, this was general, but one could see what he was after. When you give everything a subjective aim, and make this apply right down the scale, you are using language which is very difficult to make intelligible, except in the case of what Whitehead calls "high grade organisms."
RB: Does Whitehead make no attempt in his later work to construct space out of these separate causal chains, if he doesn’t have space before he has the causal chains? Is space ignored in the later works? Does "space" occur in the Index to Process and Reality? If space can be produced the book is serious. If not, not, because, as Chris said yesterday, physics is impossible without space. You have got to allow for the possibility of physics in the system.
MM: Also Rupert made a good point when he said organisms can do things, strike things, act by using their sense of touch, and this gives another kind of sense-awareness that is much more spacy, more "thingy" than sight.
RB: You are saying unless you have space brought in and the notion of prehensions sophisticated, it won’t deal with this set of phenomena -- entities, rather, as a neutral term.
MM: Rupert was trying to get organisms with a power of action that weren’t human -- they are aware of action fields in their environment. Everything is food or non-food, friend or enemy, something you can ignore or must be careful about-very sharp contrasts. They are active organisms operating with a kinesthetic sense. If not space, they have ambience around them.
DE: I haven’t yet answered Richard’s question, about whether "space" is entered in the Index to Process and Reality. The answer is yes, but there aren’t many entries. What Whitehead really discusses is the "Extensive Continuum," and the fundamental relation is "extensive connection" which was defined by notions of whole, part, and overlapping. This could go with the earlier view of events, but in the later books he connects it with the relation of prehension between actual entities in what he calls an "organic extensive community." He seems to be assuming what he had said about extensive connection in the earlier books, but the notion of the organism has really taken over from the notion of the event. In Process and Reality the language has become psycho-physiological. The organisms are individuated by their subjective aims, not by occupying separate regions of space, and the "extensive community" is formed by their relations. The "Extensive Continuum" is not space, but a field of possible relations.
RB: It is not a matter of dealing with another realm of things not in space. Biological organisms are thoroughly in space.
DE: Of course they are. According to his original way of defining organisms, they are units functioning with spatio-temporal spread. But, as far as I can see, in Process and Reality he hasn’t got a technical method of abstracting space, as he had before.
RB: There must be a logical method of showing the spatial distinction between two events. If in Process and Reality this corresponds to a distinction of what we called "conative genes," what is the relation between that and the spatial distinction of the earlier books? Not the actual construction of a space; but something more primitive. Why does this entail a distinction in conative genes? Or vice versa. If this is something extra to what there is in the earlier books, how is it to be fitted on?
CC: There are relations to the environment.
RB: "Environment" is a spatial term. Then what is the connection between relations to the environment and conative genes?
CC: Either you stick the two systems together and have some link between prehensions and extending over, or we scrap "extending over" and find some way of defining space in terms of links between prehensions.
MM: Rupert says you get space out of actions. Actions must be in some something. Whitehead’s prehensions are too floaty, too sight-like.
DE: I think the other senses come in -- take the word "prehension," and connect it with "prehensile." It is more a tactual than a visual word.
MM: When you are just looking at a pattern which you are able to prehend, the pattern isn’t anywhere out there -- as when he talks about the artist seeing a pattern at the beginning of the essay on Symbolism. But when you have prehensile organisms sticking out their tongues, there may not be a Newtonian space, but there has got to be something.
RB: When you are looking at a pattern you can be Heraclitus, seeing it changing.
DE: But unless you are taking music, and even then I am not so sure, doesn’t a pattern have to have a certain spread-outness?
CC: In Rupert’s scheme you have resonance which could correspond to Whitehead’s prehensions, but also the possibility of things hitting each other which is a relation distinct from morphic resonance. There is an interaction in morphic resonance that is different from the interaction between things hitting each other.
DE: The honest to goodness interaction.
RS: Yes, the cat catching the mouse -- pouncing on the mouse.
JW: Whitehead’s question was why the cat goes on being a cat.
DE: Yes, I think he is so concerned with this that he doesn’t give a very intelligible account of the cat pouncing on the mouse, in that interactions have to be via the past.
JW: What is his explanation why the cat goes on being a cat?
RS: It prehends the past state of being a cat.
RB: Presumably it not only prehends its own past states, but the past states of other cats.
RS: It does for me, but not necessarily for Whitehead.
RB: He can’t create more than Heraclitus did. Things that flow.
MM: He hasn’t got enough primitiveness, enough action.
DE: He uses action words, and talks about the flow as a patterning activity.
MM: I am interested in eating, which is not patterning. All changes comes from that kind of thing.
DE: I think, though he uses action words, he thinks of activity in terms of repetition, patterning. What bothers me is how he gives an intelligible account of interaction.
JW: His substances . . .
RB: Whitehead doesn’t have substances. There are properties of events.
JW: Then at two different times two slices have the same property.
RB: And so, in your language, are the same cat. They are slices of the same cat.
JW: All the talk about causation seems to be between stages of the cat, and this isn’t an example of causation.
DE: That is what I said at the beginning. I think he is under great difficulty in giving an account of causation in our normal sense of interaction between different things, because he is obsessed with causation as the relation between an earlier and later stage in the same process. This gives you time. But for interactions you need a common space, and I don’t think he gives you this.
MM: I don’t think that is right; I think in the earlier books he made a very solid attempt to get space and time. What we lack is imagination of what space is when it is not yet Newtonian space. It must have room to eat the mouse in.
CC: It depends on whether you are trying to get space by implementing this scheme at a microscopic physical level, which was what I was trying to do, or implement this on Whitehead’s earlier scheme at the level of perceptions. I think you are trying to do the latter.
MM: If you start from what is given in sense-awareness, you mustn’t later go back on it, and indeed you don’t get space as extensionless points.
JW: You might have space as a permanent possibility for biting something else in.
CC: There is no reason why you shouldn’t get space out of entities that eat each other. You would set up a distance relationship between A and 13 according to the probability that A can eat B and ask whether this distance relation is or is not compatible with what we understand by Eucidean space. This is what I am doing with my model of interacting entities.
MM: I want a stage before that, because I want binary contrasts. A thing is eatable or it isn’t.
RB A negation contrast.
CC: I only see a way of getting a distance relation by a probability. Two things either succeed in catching each other or they don’t.
MM: Then you only have two probabilities.
CC: That is a well-known problem about probability. If you only have one event it either happens or it doesn’t. In my system, as a result of the interaction of all the things going on, you can assign a number to any given pair of things and hence assign a probability that those two will or will not succeed in eating each other, if you do it in terms of eating.
RB: Chris is doing his best to incorporate a deterministic system into a probabilistic system.
MM: This makes it just an either/or system.
CC: In fact it isn’t just that, there is the amount of effort.
RS: Something comes into contact with an amoeba, and it puts a pseudo-pod round and "prehends it."
MM: Surely the pseudo-pod has a gradient; it can strike out further or less far, or more this way than that way. Response to a gradient is response to differences.
JW: I am concerned about the cat which continues to be a cat because it participates in previous cats. When this cat is eaten, there is no more cat.
RB: People who believed in metempsychosis had difficulty about animals that eat others. In reincarnation what happened to the other animals?
RS: The cat can be destroyed by being eaten, or by being run over by a car. In such cases, one could say that the destruction of the cat is due to energetic causation. But its resemblance to other cats is due to formative causation.
DE: But, Rupert, you can’t just say some things happen by formative and some by energetic causation. Say some more about "formative causation."
RS: According to the hypothesis of formative causation, outlined in my book A New Science of Life, systems such as molecules, crystals, cells, organs and organisms are organized by specific morphogenetic fields, which give them their characteristic form and organization. The structure of the morphogenetic fields themselves depends on the actual forms of previous similar systems, which act through a process called morphic resonance. Thus, for example, the form of cats is influenced by the form of previous cats, even though they may have lived thousands of miles away. Formative causation is distinct from energetic causation, but works with it: no form can come into being without energy, but energy alone is not responsible for the form the system takes. This depends on formative causation. Both happen all the time. Essentially energetic causation corresponds to the onward thrust.
RB: What is your "onward thrust?"
RB: Margaret thought there was a relation between your thinking and Whitehead’s. You can’t adopt things from him without trying to get out of the difficulties. In Whitehead there is a plurality of onward thrusts. How many have you? Are they separate, or is there one thing called "onward thrust" manifested in all the different onward thrusts, and if so, what have the different onward thrusts in common? This was the question about "conative genes."
RS: I see it as organisms striving towards their goals.
RB: Have the goals something in common or has each organism its own goal?
RS: The latter.
RB: Is a kind of organism defined as a set of organisms that have goals of the same kind?
RS: Yes. You have a plurality of kinds of organisms.
RB: Given by the kinds of goals. The classification of the goals into kinds will ipso facto classify the organisms. Does this help unless you can classify the organisms? But does that help unless you can classify the goals? What is an individual goal?
RS: The most basic one for an organism is to develop and maintain its form.
RB: The goal of an individual organism is to maintain the form of the individual organism. Isn’t this circular?
RS: I get out of the circularity by having morphogenetic fields, and an organism has a morphogenetic germ to start with which becomes associated with a morphogenetic field. This then causes it to take up the form of the complete organism. I think that the reason that there are many cats is that the morphogenetic germs are separated spatially.
RB: The individuation of cats is spatial?
RS: Yes, in some sense of spatial.
RB: Two cats are not separate by having different morphogenetic germs, but spatially. Two cats can’t occupy the same space, other than by one eating the other.
RB: Rupert starts from talking about organisms, and he also mentioned crystals. But they aren’t the paradigm case. Organisms are the paradigm case.
RS: The paradigm case actually is the developing embryo.
RB: Exactly. Something biological.
MM: He wants a set of principles that go right up from electrons via molecules to organisms, just as Whitehead did.
RB: As I read Rupert, it wouldn’t have hurt his system seriously if crystals hadn’t come in.
MM: You are totally wrong: it would hurt it centrally.
RB: How much are crystals important to your system?
RS: They are important in distinguishing what I am saying from vitalism. It is based on Driesch and in turn on Aristotle, and the apparent duality between formative and energetic causation has its ancestry in Aristotle’s distinction between form and matter. The reason why crystals are important is that if it just applied to organisms it would be vitalism.
RB: What’s wrong with vitalism? You have now got something with the disadvantages of vitalism without the advantages.
RS: I started as a vitalist and then I saw that the most persuasive argument for mechanism was that if crystals could form themselves, why shouldn’t plants and animals. I then read the literature, and found that far from the principles of crystal formation being known, they were not. Then I saw the point of the organismic philosophers treating all grades of nature as different kinds of organism. I then couched it in that way.
JW: It is a general theory of form.
RS: Yes. I have generalized something which started with Driesch’s entelechy Into what seemed a justifiable generalization.
CC: What I was asking yesterday was, what causes an atom to do what it is going to do next? Is it being pushed around by electro-magnetic forces arising from nearby atoms, or is it going to respond to morphic resonance or is it going to take some course which is neither of the two? If you are going to ask these questions, there must be a guiding thing, morphic resonance which one can analyze at various levels, and one level of analysis will be into electro-magnetic forces.
RS: That hasn’t been done, but I think it could be done.
CC: I would want to maintain that it is possible to do it, and this for me involves the possibility of deriving space from a system of morphic resonance.
RS: We presuppose a multiplicity of kinds of things with multiple copies of each kind of thing which are not occupying the same point but standing in what can only be spatial relations to each other.
CC: I’m not demanding that you here and now derive the whole of physics, but that it could be done.
RS That is a reasonable demand.
CC Either you accept multiplicity of things as a fact, and hope to get spatial differentiation out of it, or you accept space, and use it to differentiate things.
RS: It seems to me obvious you have multiplicity of spatial separation.
CC: If you have space, I don’t see how you have a primary role being played by these global forms; you have reactions in space, and if the form is defined in terms of space, that is the primary thing and not the form. The form becomes reducible to properties distributed over a region in space.
RB: Are you Newtonian about space?
CC: In a very general sense.
RS: When you try to deduce space from distance, to me the very word ‘distance" presupposes space.
RB: You are ignorant about the construction business, all of which is enormously controversial. Of course these elements are in a sense spatial because you can construct space out of them.
RS: What Chris is talking about is a specialized physical concept and what I am talking about is just distance between things.
RB: That is a specialized physical concept.
DE: Metrical space seems to me something one constructs out of descriptive space-like describing the experience of walking across the room then measuring it.
CC: I want a relation where you have a lot of entities and the relation between them can be expressed by numbers. Out of these numbers I can construct a geometrical structure: then I can construct space, and go back and re-interpret the numbers.
RS: I am using space not in a technical but in an ordinary sense.
MM: You are talking as though if you used it in a commonsense way you could understand physics.
RS: I don’t, but I don’t see what the fuss is about, and that is because I am not a physicist.
RB: No it isn’t. The point at issue is that you have one distinction which is not in spatial terms and another which is in spatial terms. If they are both fundamental, what is the relation between them?
DE: You mean the distinction of energetic and formative causation?
RB: Yes. I have toyed with the notion of why there shouldn’t be these two things, but then, as Chris says, there is the objection: what happens when you pass from one to the other?
RS: I think it should be possible to deduce things, like electro-magnetic forces from morphogenetic fields. I see what I am saying as a transitional hypothesis, not an end point. But this question of how you arrive at space was my misunderstanding, as I didn’t understand you were using ‘space" in a highly technical sense.
RB: No we’re not.
CC: If you presuppose a number of accessibility relations, how accessible a number of entities are to each other, you have two systems -- on the one hand, morphic resonance, and on the other these accessibility relations. These latter would I think have to be explained as constructs out of morphic resonance. There is at present no way of saying how the two are related.
RS: Can you presuppose form?
CC: You have got to have some basic, primitive entities, but they have to be related to each other.
DE. Rupert’s word "form" seems to me ambiguous. Sometimes he seems to mean pattern in space, sometimes something Aristotelian -- that which makes a thing what it is as being of a certain kind. Is your pattern in space an ordering?
RB: It must have been an ordering between things.
RS: You can only define form in terms of spatial distribution.
DE: Plato and Aristotle didn’t define form in terms of spatial distribution, but more in terms of what we would call definitions -- what it was to be, say, a cat.
RB: Yes, the essence of a cat.
DE: So it becomes a matter of logical definition, and you get the problems about "essential natures" and so on. Aristotle indeed thought these essential forms were active ingredients in things coming to be, and sometimes you seem to use "form" in this sense. Aristotle thought somehow a thing was trying to reach its form.
RS: I daresay most of the implications of Aristotle are present in what I am saying.
CC: If we are looking at primitive things and what can be derived from them, I don’t see why Rupert’s forms should not come out as spatial distributions in some circumstances and also as principles defining what it is to be those sorts of things in other circumstances. That doesn’t worry me.