Virtual Reality represents a paradigm shift for how I’ve come to understand the nature of reality, and there’s a corresponding paradigm shift in philosophy in the move from substance metaphysics to process-relational metaphysics that I’ve previously explored with Alfred North Whitehead scholar Matt Segall, in a discussion about 13 process-relational philosophers with Grant Maxwell, and in a talk that I gave on Process Philosophy & VR to The Virginia Philosophy Reality Lab. I invited Segall back on for a Part 2 of discussion to help build some metaphoric scaffolding to help understand this paradigm shift to Process Philosophy, and to talk about his latest book Crossing the Threshold: Etheric Imagination in the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead (releasing on April 22, but available for pre-order). Segall frames Kant as a guardian of the threshold, explains how both the German Idealists and Whitehead found inspiration for a more organic philosophy coming out of Kant’s work, and picks up some loose threads about how to understand the role of imagination as a crucial organ to interfacing with the underlying creative processes that form underlying fabric reality according to Whitehead’s cosmology.
Here’s how the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes it:
Process philosophy opposes ‘substance metaphysics,’ the dominant research paradigm in the history of Western philosophy since Aristotle. Substance metaphysics proceeds from the intuition—first formulated by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides—that being should be thought of as simple, hence as internally undifferentiated and unchangeable. Substance metaphysicians recast this intuition as the claim that the primary units of reality (called “substances”) must be static—they must be what they are at any instant in time. In contrast to the substance-metaphysical snapshot view of reality, with its typical focus on eternalist being and on what there is, process philosophers analyze becoming and what is occurring as well as ways of occurring.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Process Philosophy
This is a pretty big deep dive into unpacking some of the more wonky jargon and neologisms of Whitehead’s process-relational philosophy, but on the other side is a new lens into understanding the nature of reality that is perhaps more aligned with some of the contextual and relational dynamics of virtual reality. I’d recommend this interview about Marshmallow Laser Feast’s Evolver for a specific example of a piece of work that’s leaning heavily into more of an process-relational, interconnected, and organic view of reality. Going back to the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, they say, “If we admit that the basic entities of our world are processes, we can generate better philosophical descriptions of all the kinds of entities and relationships we are committed to when we reason about our world in common sense and in science: from quantum entanglement to consciousness, from computation to feelings, from things to institutions, from organisms to societies, from traffic jams to climate change, from spacetime to beauty.” And I would add in contextual integrity philosophy of privacy, identity, and notions of presence within virtual reality.
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the future of spatial computing and the ethics of extended reality. You can support the podcast at patreon.com. So in today's episode, I'm doing a deep dive into process philosophy with Matt Siegel. And I've had a previous conversation with him back in episode 965, where we do a whole primer on Whitehead's process philosophy. And I make a broader argument there for why I see it's not only a paradigm shift for philosophy, but also helps provide additional insight into the foundations of experiential design. So I see this conversation today as kind of like a part two. So I'd recommend folks check out episode 965 that I'll link down in the description that you can go get a little bit more of a broader context of process philosophy. But for me, as I look at this issue, there's these fundamental paradigm shifts that I see from VR. And to me, a corresponding paradigm shift philosophically is moving from the paradigm of substance metaphysics, meaning that all of reality is made out of these physical, tangible things. and moving into a process relational metaphysics where you're looking at more of these processes and relationships and more of an experiential aspect of looking at the nature of reality, which for me is a perfect fit for so many different dimensions of virtual reality. So today's episode, we dive into Matt Siegel's dissertation, which is now being published as a book. It's called Crossing Threshold, Etheric Imagination and the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead. It's going to be coming out on April 22nd on Earth Day 2023. You can pre-order it now. This book is covering so many different aspects that we only get a chance to kind of hit the tip of the iceberg of setting the broader context of moving from this guardian of the threshold of Kant and the ways that he's looking at thinking, feeling, and desire And at the end of Kant's critiques, you have this opening up for the philosophy of organism, which was inspiring for the German idealist and also formed the foundations of Whitehead's process philosophy. So understanding the basis of reality more from the metaphor of biological organisms and how things are patterned into these organic structures, rather than looking at these mechanistic substance based way of looking at things. So looking at things in more of a holistic, relational, and contextual dimensions, which I feel like, again, is kind of pointing to my experience of virtual reality technologies. And so we're going to be doing a deep dive into unpacking this paradigm shift from the dominant perspective of Western analytical tradition of substance metaphysics, and trying to create these metaphoric bridges into thinking in more of a process relational context. And at the end, we'll dig into some of the different aspects of imagination that Siegel is covering in his book as well. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wizards of the Hour podcast. So, this interview with Matt Siegel happened on Tuesday, February 28th, 2023. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:04.012] Matt Segall: Hey, good to be here Kent. I'm Matt Siegel. I'm a transdisciplinary researcher is usually how I would characterize the type of work that I do. I tend to hang out in the domain of process philosophy or process relational philosophy and I like to apply that approach across the natural sciences and the social sciences. And I'm particularly interested in the study of consciousness. And I teach philosophy at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in a program called Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, a graduate program. And most of my courses, again, are on various aspects of and applications of process philosophy. And I also teach German idealism, which is another school of thought or historical moment that I think is especially potent, again, both for understanding natural science as well as politics and society. So yeah, that's where I'm coming from.
[00:04:09.579] Kent Bye: Yeah, and we've had a previous conversation and that was really influential in my own thinking of trying to do this paradigm shift into this process relational thinking. I wanted to read this passage from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy because there is this paradigm shift with process philosophy away from substance metaphysics and it says, In order to articulate a process view of reality, special theoretical efforts are required. However, since the standard theoretical tools of Western metaphysics are geared to the static view of reality, i.e. with substance metaphysics, especially the standard interpretation of predicate logic in terms of static individuals with properties that are exemplified timelessly or at a temporal instant consolidates what is, from the process philosophical perspective, an unhelpful theoretical basis. This has forced upon process philosophy a double role as a metaphysical and metaphilosophical enterprise pushing for paradigm change. Process philosophy has the double task of developing new explanatory concepts and providing arguments for why these concepts are better and serve the aims of philosophy. So that's been my experience is that I'm at the cusp of process philosophy. I'm getting like little tastes of what's different. Yet at the same time, there's not a broader cultural context for which a lot of these paradigm shifts to have really taken root and to kind of percolate out into different dimensions of culture. So I feel like there's all of these shifts in terms of the language and the jargon. And with your latest book, I feel like you're able to lay out more metaphors to help understand what this paradigm shift is. I'd love to maybe start off with having you contextualize this paradigm shift of process philosophy and why you are putting so much time and effort into exploring it and what is on the other side of this process relational philosophy point of view.
[00:05:49.485] Matt Segall: Yeah, absolutely. Helpful way to start with that paragraph because, yeah, it's not just that process philosophers are trying to provide different answers to standard questions in metaphysics and ontology and epistemology. Really, we're trying to ask different questions. And this idea of substance and substance ontology or substance property ontology goes back to Aristotle in the Western tradition. And the way Aristotle framed it was still actually pretty dynamic. And for Aristotle, the substantial form of a thing was this dynamic developmental teleological unfolding, like from an acorn into an oak tree, right? And so it wasn't yet quite as stale and fixed and abstract as it would become many hundreds of years later, say in Descartes, where you get, on the one hand, he thought he was moving away from Aristotle's philosophy and the scholasticism of the middle ages, but he was also carrying forward a more kind of dehydrated and encrusted form of this substance idea. And for him, it became this dualism between mental and physical or extended substance. And these two, mind and matter, had nothing to do with each other. Totally different modes of existence, as it were. And that dualism is very much what so many modern philosophers, whether they come from an empiricist or a rationalist orientation, tend to presuppose, right? And the process tradition is trying to go back to the origins of this problem in Aristotle and think of alternative ways of characterizing the ultimate nature of reality, right? As processes in relationship to one another rather than substances with isolated properties. Now, if we were in China, and we were both Chinese, process philosophy would be more of the common sense, and it has deep resonances with, say, Taoism, where where reality is understood as kind of like a network of flows and where one flow or like whirlpool say begins and ends is kind of fuzzy, right? Everything is intimately interrelated to everything else. And it's no surprise that process philosophy and Alfred North Whitehead in particular is quite popular in China, way more so than in the English speaking world of the US. and in Europe or the UK where Whitehead was born. And so, I think that cultural difference is one of the obstacles that Westerners are so used to thinking in terms of substances, and we want clear and distinct categories. And, you know, there's something to be said for logical clarity, obviously, but when it comes to the nature of reality. One of the things that I think process philosophy is requiring of us is that we let go of this Cartesian quest for certainty. We need to reimagine knowledge as a way of being in relationship to a dynamic reality that's never the same twice, nor are we as knowers or thinkers ever the same twice from moment to moment. Whitehead says, no thinker thinks twice. right? And so how do we reimagine what it means to know the nature of reality if both the knower and the known are caught in this perpetual dance of becoming and co-creation, right? So that the way that we attempt to know is going to bring forth different aspects of what it is that we're knowing so that the attitude of the knower is participating in bringing forth aspects of the world, right? And pushing other aspects of the world into obscurity, right? And we have to recognize this interactive dimension of our knowing. And so, yeah, maybe I'll pause there and that'll be a nice place to jump in.
[00:10:04.210] Kent Bye: Yeah, you know, the no thinker thinks twice reminds me of the Heraclitus of the no one can step in the same river twice, this kind of maybe the originator of that process, philosophical thinking. Right. And as I was reading through your, what I guess was originally your dissertation from 2016 and is now your book, Crossing the Thresholds, Ethereal Imagination and the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead, And so in this book, you're starting with Kant, you know, Kant coming out of resolving this dialectic between Hume with his empiricism and Descartes with his rationalism and trying to come up with this transcendental method. And then after Kant, you have this post-Kantian aspects of both Schelling and then eventually with Whitehead trying to resolve some of these fundamental tensions between the subject and the object and space and time and this mind-body dualism. And so you have these dualisms even within Whitehead's perspective that I was really appreciating how to make some of those mappings over because we have our experience of being a discrete object and there's external objects in the world. So I feel like there's something about our intuitive nature of living in a Euclidean reality where we have space-time as this fixed thing that we experience at least in our perception, but yet there are certain dimensions where Kant is relying upon that space But as time goes on with the quantum revolution and relativity, basing your philosophical conclusions on a fixed geometry of space seems to be not very long lasting. But I guess it's moving from a substance ontology into this process relational ontology, but also an aesthetic ontology. So anyway, that's a lot to kind of start there, but I'd love to have you start with Kant and then see how the reaction to Kant is taking these existing dualities and then finding what the resolution of those dualities is in this more event-based ontology or process-relational ontology and aesthetic ontology that is going against what Kant is presupposing
[00:11:58.333] Matt Segall: Yeah. Yeah. Kant's a good place to start because, you know, as he himself framed it in his Critique of Pure Reason, 1781, the first edition was published. In the preface, he says that this new method of philosophy, which he calls transcendental philosophy, is a kind of Copernican revolution, analogous to what Copernicus did in astronomy, in other words. in the sense that Kant is kind of inverting or turning inside out our perspective of the relationship between the subject and the object in the way that Copernicus and astronomy put the earth into motion and removed it from the fixed center of the static concentric spheres characterizing the medieval cosmos, the Ptolemaic geocentric model, and put the sun at the center. What Kant is doing in his transcendental method is inverting the relationship assumed to hold by dogmatic metaphysicians between the subject doing the knowing and the objects that are known. It had been thought prior to Kant that there's a sort of problematic relationship between the knowing subject and the objects that are known. And having read Hume and his criticisms of our ability to perceive necessary connection or causality in nature, Kant became aware, he says he was awoken from his dogmatic slumber, that actually this relationship between the subject, its categories which it uses to sort and organize its perceptions, and the objective world that it's supposedly knowing, it's quite problematic. And so Kant tries to resolve this problem by saying, putting the subject and its activity of knowing at the center and asking, what must the mind, what must the subjective mind be such that this natural world of objects can appear to us in the way that it does? All we have, Kant would say, are appearances of the world, and the mind is tasked with determining those appearances in such a way that we can have knowledge. Now, Kant believed that mathematics, both arithmetic and geometry, which for him was Euclidean, there weren't yet other parallel postulates and non-Euclidean forms of geometry. He only had Euclid, and it seemed like that was the one geometry that we have that applies to nature. And so, he thought that mathematics produced a kind of a priori knowledge for us of the structure of nature, right? He would say synthetic a priori knowledge. And what that means, the synthetic aspect, is that mathematics and the a priori truths we can deduce through mathematical reasoning can tell us something about the nature of experience in advance of actually going out and looking. Like we know in advance, Kant would say, that space is structured in a Euclidean way. And if it wasn't, none of Newton's laws of universal gravitation or the motion would make any sense. What Newton accomplished wouldn't be possible. unless Euclidean geometry determined the realm of appearances in nature a priori, right? And so Kant thinks he has this anchor via mathematics that allows him to remain grounded in and connected to a real source of knowledge, even though he says we only ever have access to appearances through our sensory experience of the world. But the problem is, as brilliant as Kant's maneuver is, it leaves us with a new kind of dualism. It's not the substance dualism that Descartes had articulated, which was more of an ontological dualism. There are two different kinds of being in Descartes. mind and matter. Kant is really just articulating a kind of epistemological dualism, where there are two epistemological domains. There's the realm of phenomena, which we can know with certainty by applying mathematics. And then there's the realm of what he called the things in themselves. And of this realm, he said, all we can know is that it exists. and he characterized it as a mere X, sort of an empty placeholder, that he needed to posit in order to avoid being a kind of absolute idealist or subjective idealist, perhaps better, akin to something like Bishop Barclay, who said famously, to be is to be perceived and beyond perception there is nothing. Kant didn't want to be pigeonholed into that kind of idealism. His was a transcendental idealism, which doesn't deny that there is a reality out there. It just denies that we could ever access it, given the way that our mind is organized and our senses are organized. So for Kant, there are limits to our knowledge. But those limits still afford us the possibility of scientific knowledge. For Kant, what it means to determine and to know an object with mathematical precision is not to reach beyond the realm of phenomena. It's only to determine the realm of phenomena. Now, the crack in this Kantian edifice results from what I and others recognize as a kind of contradiction. Because Kant would say that categories like causality are only supposed to apply to the realm of phenomena, to objects as they appear to our instrument of knowing. Instruments, if you want, all of our senses. But when he talks about the thing in itself, He says that it's the cause of our sense experience, right? That there's something out there that impinges upon our eyes, our ears, etc. And so he's illegitimately, according to the rules of his own system, applying a category, causality, beyond the realm of phenomena. to the thing in itself and saying that that is a cause of our sensory experience. And so the whole springboard for my dissertation and my book now is to look at this issue of what is the ground of our sensory experience. Kant can only discuss this issue by contradicting himself, right? Applying a category of causality beyond its purview on his own terms. But what if we can deepen into our sense experience, our aesthetic experience in other words, and find a different way of understanding what space and time are, such that space and time are no longer, as Kant called them, forms of intuition that characterize the human mind's experience of the phenomenal world, but rather with help from Schelling and Whitehead recognize that it's not that space and time are just sort of objective containers within which we exist. Kant was right that these are in some sense ideal forms, but they're not just brought forth by the human. And Whitehead in particular allows us to recognize how what we call space and time are these fields of possibility that get laid down over the course of cosmic evolution by the experience of organisms at every scale in nature. And for Whitehead, the idea of organism is generalized and it applies as much to particles and stars and galaxies as it does to cells and plants and animals and so on. So the activity of all of these experiential creatures or organisms over the course of billions of years, the ways that they decide, not consciously, but the ways that they unconsciously decide, and we can talk about what that means, to relate to one another, brings forth this field or this network that we can describe mathematically in terms of space and time. But it's not fixed. It's kind of an emergent nexus of connection. And as the universe continues to evolve, the very structure, the very dimensionality of space and time can continue to deepen and to fold. And so we have to find this sweet spot between the idea of just an objective space-time that would be out there, and this is kind of an Einsteinian view, though, you know, Whitehead's critical, not of Einstein's advance of physics and the relativity of space and time, but Whitehead would be critical of the idea that physics and geometry should be identified. In other words, that one geometric model, whether it's Euclidean or not, could ever finally describe the structure of spacetime. We need to be more flexible and recognize that many different geometries could, for different purposes, adequately describe the structure of this network of relationships that we call space and time. The Riemannian and Minkowskian and other forms of warped space-time are very powerful, but we know that they're limited, which is why we have, in contemporary cosmology, things like dark matter and dark energy, which are attempts to, in my point of view, invent a bunch of missing mass to plug into the old equations to make them work again. It may be that there are other geometries that could better describe the situation without having to invent 96% of a universe that we can't observe. But that's a paradigm shift in physics that we're waiting for. I think we might be on the verge of another Einstein who can bring the pieces together for us. But yeah, that's the basic picture that brings us from Kant, who I should say is not the villain of this book. He's the guardian of the threshold. And we really need to, I think, test any of our philosophical claims in the realm of metaphysics. We need to test them against the critique that Kant laid out. Very important, because we don't want to be dogmatic. We don't want to fall back to a pre-Kantian mode of philosophizing. We want to be post-Kantian. And so, as I quote the philosopher C.D. Broad in my book, who says something like, Kant's mistakes are greater than most men's successes, right? And so, even if Kant doesn't ultimately get us where we need to be, he certainly functions as, again, this guardian of the threshold who we need to pay respects to, and we need to respond to the challenge that he raised.
[00:22:38.523] Kent Bye: Yeah, one thing that comes up as I was reading this book, but also listening to some of the lectures that were happening at the 50th anniversary of the Center for Process Studies that just happened in Claremont, California, that there was this idea that the universe could be seen as like this pluralistic, maybe contradictory juxtaposition of things that maybe there's not a uniform substance that we have this grand unified theory to combine everything, but maybe with all these processes, if we have an event-based ontology or process-based ontology, does that afford for these various different types of mathematical contradictions of say, when we look at the large space, we have this Einsteinian, pseudo-Riemannian space, but then we look at the quantum realm, we have this infinite dimension Hilbert space. And so you have these different geometries. I guess there's a thread of William James and pragmatism in plurality. And I saw in your book a number of times where you're talking about this pluralistic interpretation. And so when you move over to a process-oriented perspective, is that more accommodating to these types of seemingly contradictions amongst these either different scales, or we may not have this uniform substance, but when you look at it in terms of these organisms, maybe it's just You know, Joanna Seidt has talked about the fundamental structure of process is myriology, meaning that there's these holes and parts. And so you have these maybe fractally nested holes and parts, and maybe at different scales, you see different dynamic structures that are emergent at those different scales. But that is that maybe a way that we can accommodate this type of pluralism of different geometries and maybe not have a single answer with these things, but maybe opening up the possibility to not be searching for this, say, grand unified theory to make sense of everything mathematically.
[00:24:18.809] Matt Segall: Yeah, I think that's well said. There's definitely a pluralistic commitment implicit in a process relational view of reality and the cosmos, though it's not meant to deny unity or the holistic interrelationship of everything. So in Process and Reality, Whitehead's magnum opus, he talks about two really important modern philosophers prior to Kant, Spinoza and Leibniz. And Spinoza is a monist, right? For Spinoza, there is one substance, infinite substance, which he says you could call God or nature, doesn't matter which. And that space and time are attributes of this infinite substance. And there are infinitely many other attributes that we as human beings just don't have any access to. And then every particular entity is a mode of this infinite substance, right? And so as modes like you and I, as finite modes of the infinite substance, we perceive ourselves as separate, but really we are intimately interwoven with the rest of the universe. There's no gaps. There's no room for freedom. There's no room for creativity. everything takes place in and as this one infinite substance. And so the Spinoza's monistic view is deterministic. And if there is any freedom in Spinoza's system, it would be the freedom that we have to love our fate and just dissolve into this infinite mind, this infinite divine natural substance. and just know and feel ourselves as one with it, right? And so, you know, I can see the beauty in that, right? But process philosophers want to maintain creativity. They want to maintain some degree of novelty and freedom and that the universe is going somewhere. It's doing something and it's never the same twice, right? And so, Whitehead is resistant to, as brilliant as he acknowledges that Spinoza was, and then various ways he's building on Spinoza's insights, but he also looks to Leibniz for this more pluralistic, rather than monism, a kind of monadology, as Leibniz referred to it in the title of one of his short, brilliant metaphysical books. Where in the monadology, you get a world that is not just one substance, but infinitely many monads. And each monad is a perspective on the whole, and sort of holographically enfolds the entire rest of the universe. There is a similarity between Leibniz's monads and Whitehead's actual occasions of experience, but the key difference is that Leibniz's monads are, as he put it, windowless. In other words, and this is a little bit bizarre, but I'll see if I can describe it simply and quickly. Each monad has sort of pre-installed in it, not only its own history of itself. And a monad could be your soul or my soul, or I think Leibniz pictured them as kind of microscopic. everything is made of these monads, right? And the idea is that each one has encoded within it not only its own life history from beginning to end, but the appearance of its relationships to all the other monads. It all comes pre-installed and there's actually no real causal relationships between one monad and another monad. Leibniz has them all set in what he calls a pre-established harmony. by the divine, by God, right? And so even in Leibniz, even though you have pluralism, everything's determined. We have the appearance of freedom inside of our little monad, but that's just the playing out of a video, as it were, that God directed and produced in advance. We might think that we're actually talking to each other right now, but really I am experiencing my little movie and you're experiencing your little movie and they perfectly correspond because God set it up that way. Now, this seems totally bizarre and outlandish, and Leibniz was lampooned by people like Voltaire for imagining that we live in the best of all possible worlds and so on. Whitehead takes this monadology and says, well, wait a minute. These monads are not windowless. In Whitehead, they're almost all window. In other words, each moment of my experience, each moment of your experience is inheriting the entire history of the universe and is in some ways a culmination or Whitehead uses the term accumulation of that past. but it's taken into and grown together into, via this process of concrescence, a new perspective, which isn't just repeating the past, but is, in his words, ingressing some new value, some new feeling, some new possibility of interpreting what has come before. and experiencing that and then perishing, contributing itself to the past to be taken up by the next moment of concrescence. And so it's not that Whitehead's actual occasions of experience are reducible to their relations to everything which came before. They include everything which came before and they add something, some novel value, some new perspective, which has never been before. And so This process of the entire universe growing together into a new perspective, Whitehead calls concrescence. And his short, sweet little formula for that is, concrescence is the process whereby the many become one and are increased by one. And so in this way, through a process of iterative and cumulative concrescence, the universe is growing in a cellular way. Whitehead says his ontology is a cell theory of actuality. And the image that I think is appropriate here is to imagine the universe as a kind of developing embryo, right? Where you have one cell becoming two, becoming four, becoming eight and so on, right? As the universe expands, bringing forth new perspectives in all directions all the time.
[00:30:28.389] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah, one of the things that I use to help orient myself to some of these different philosophical debates is an elemental approach. You know, like Jung had his interpretation of these as air is the thinking, the water is the feeling, the earth element is the sensing, and then the fire element is the intuition, but it could also be considered the desire or the will. So I feel like different philosophers have like a center of gravity where like Descartes is really focusing on this thinking aspect and Hume is focusing on this sensing, but Whitehead is really focusing on this aspect of feeling. And I kind of think of Whitehead's term of prehension as this kind of feeling, but prehension is also connected to other things in his cosmology. I'd love to hear you orient us a little bit with Kant's thinking, feeling, desire, and this post-Kantian response from a process philosophical perspective from Whitehead.
[00:31:20.622] Matt Segall: Yeah. So feeling in Whitehead takes on a somewhat different meaning than how it is typically used in Western philosophy. And so for Kant, feeling was something totally subjective and it had to do with our sense of pleasure or distaste or disgust subjectively in response to whatever it is that we're perceiving or considering. And so it's kind of a private thing. And in Whitehead, feeling is another word he uses for this neologism, this totally new concept of prehension, which is the keystone of his whole philosophy. Prehension can be understood as feeling, though it's feeling that's not merely private anymore. It's feeling that does have a moment of privacy, for the subject who is receiving and interpreting data from its environment, but it also has a public form where the feeling is then shared with others, right? And so, prehension is really the better term to use so as not to confuse it with this more subjective private definition of feeling as most philosophers would understand it. Although Whitehead wants to connect it with feeling so that we can have something to grab onto when understanding what he means by prehension. So it is something like feeling, but it's feeling that can be shared. And so to go through Kant's various critiques, It's a helpful exercise to get a sense for how he was trying to build this complete picture of the human being's situation when we're not only trying to know the world, but act in the world and to feel the world, right? And so Kant's first critique was the critique of pure reason, which I mentioned, 1781. The second edition was 1787. And in that book, he's really dealing with thinking and knowing. And as I was describing earlier, he wants to understand how the act of knowing is this process of construction, really, where the subject is applying its categories to forms of intuition and determining objects in the field of intuition. Intuition for Kant is a translation that I think for English speakers, when he says intuition, he means something like the underlying form of our sense experience. He doesn't mean just sense experience because that's something empirical. He's trying to get at the conditions that make possible our sensory experience, right? And so, he talks about the forms of intuition of space and time. Space would be the outer form of intuition and time the inner form of intuition. And For Kant, inner intuition we can get at using arithmetic. So think of counting 1, 2, 3. That's how we determine ourselves in time. space is grasped through geometry, as I was saying earlier. And so in a way, in the first critique, Kant is balancing the whole of reality on modes of thought when it comes down to it. And that's one of the issues that Whitehead has and why he turns to aesthetics and to feeling Because he thinks that that's more grounded in the reality of our bodies and the reality of being immersed in networks of relationship with other bodies. But I'm getting ahead of the story. So this is the critique of pure reason, right? It's really focused on what is knowing, how is knowing possible. A few years later, he publishes the critique of practical reason, which is looking at willing practice, right? How do we act in the world in a moral way? And Kant develops the categorical imperative and the sense of our duty to respond to the call of conscience. And for Kant, the value of religion for him is really in the moral principles that it provides us with. And he would try to strip away all the stuff that he thought was superstitious. all the window dressing of ritual and the incense and the beliefs in anything supernatural. He said, all of that's more or less BS from his point of view. And what really matters is the sense of the moral law. And he thinks that every human being has this intuition of the law within them. And that's what tells us how to behave. And from this feeling of conscience, ultimately within ourselves, He tries to talk about what we're justified in believing about immortality, perhaps of the soul, about the existence of God and so on. And he says, look, we can't rationally prove that God exists or that the soul is immortal, but given our experience of our own moral freedom, I mean, we know that we're morally free because we feel guilty when we behave badly, as if we could have done otherwise, right? And so given that we have this direct experience of a kind of freedom and intuition of conscience and so on, we're justified at least in believing in something like the immortality of the soul. Because Kant would say a perfectly virtuous person might not be rewarded in this life. They actually might be pretty unhappy, bad things might happen to them, but they're really good. Why is this happening? Well, their soul is immortal. And so in the afterlife, they'll be rewarded for their good behavior. He thought that that was a justified belief for us to feel like it's worth abiding by this moral law while we're alive, even if it doesn't make our lives any easier. Right. So that's a critique of practical reason and really Kant's whole motivation in engaging in this critical project and writing these critiques is what he says in the preface of the first critique, that he found it necessary to limit knowledge in order to leave room for faith. And he really means faith in freedom. because he was worried that Newtonian physics and the advance of mechanistic science would eventually take away our ability to believe in our own freedom. If all of nature is mechanistically determined, that includes our own bodies and what's left over for us to have any basis for belief in our own free will, right? And so by limiting knowledge to appearances, Kant leaves open the possibility of a kind of a noumenal freedom. Noumenal would be another word for the realm of things in themselves. And so there's something for Kant beyond natural science that might potentially leave room for the freedom of human beings, right? So he limits knowledge to leave room for this kind of freedom. Now in the third critique, the critique of judgment, there's two parts to that text. The first part is about aesthetics and beauty and judgments of beauty and how we can feel like we can make a universal judgment about what is beautiful and what is not, even if people disagree about what's beautiful. And he says, well, it's subjectively universal and we're justified in expecting others to agree with us, even if empirically speaking, they don't. So that's the first part of the book. He makes interesting connections between aesthetics and morality and it's a brilliant book. I won't go into too much detail here. The second part of the book is especially interesting to me. He's going into biology and the extent to which the natural philosophers justified in attributing purpose to the living world. And Kant goes through and critiques and dismisses simplistic forms of teleology, like the idea that the wind blows in summer because God wanted to install this like air conditioning system to make sure that all the creatures wouldn't get too hot and so on and like trying to give these simple-minded design principles for why different aspects of nature seem to work in the way that they do. And he doesn't like the idea of teleology imposed from outside because it leads to all sorts of bizarre claims and self-contradictions. But when he looks at living organisms, He sees a kind of what he called natural purposiveness or imminent teleology at work. You know, he would say a single blade of grass. There's a kind of purpose of growth that unfolds. And so for Kant, in the organic world, in the biological world, there's a kind of what he called self-organization at work. And in a self-organizing system, whether it's a plant or an animal, there is a circular causality that's unlike the mechanical causality evident in the non-living world, where Newtonian mechanics applies. Kant realized that Newton's mechanistic paradigm did not apply to the living world. Totally different kind of causality is at work in the living world that Kant recognized as in some ways analogous to our own human rational capacities. In that reason for Kant seeks unity and it's able to maintain the unity of all of its thought and all of its sensing. And he thought that something analogous to this unity, establishing self-organizing dynamic was also evident in every living organism. And so he famously said in this third critique, there will never be a Newton, even of a mere blade of grass. In other words, there will never be in principle, a mechanistic explanation for living organisms. This was in 1790 that he says this. In 1859, was it? Darwin publishes Origin of Species by means of natural selection. And everybody since then, almost everybody has said, ah, there's your Newton of the grass blade. His name is Charles Darwin, which this gets repeated. And it's a kind of scientific mythology, I would say, because it totally misses Kant's point. And it totally misses Darwin's point as it happens, because Darwin was offering a theory of speciation, not a theory of life. Darwin assumes this self-organizing dynamic that Kant was talking about. And only when you have living organisms that can self-produce and reproduce, does Darwin's theory of natural selection even do any work, right? given self-producing, reproducing organisms with variation and under competition in a fixed environment, yeah, I can see how Darwin's algorithm as it were can explain the diversification of species, but it doesn't even attempt to explain, well, A, the origin of life or B, just the possibility of living organization or self-organization, what nowadays we call autopoiesis. And so Darwin was not the Newton of the grass blade. This remains an open question in science, which is studied by origin of life researchers and theoretical biologists. Can't frame this problem, and we still have it, at least in the standard mechanistic paradigm, right, where the effort is to understand how physics and chemistry, again, understood mechanistically, could ever give rise to something like life, where not only do you have self-organization, but you have an interior domain of experience capable of realizing purposes. And so it's in this final critique where Kant begins to grok the significance of organic life that the post-Kantian idealists like Fichte and Schelling and Hegel and Goethe as well really found their inspiration, right? And they wondered if this idea of organism might actually be more generic or general than the idea of mechanism, which Kant was leaning on to explain the rest of nature, right? And so, especially with Schelling and with Goethe and later with Whitehead, you get the attempt to reconstruct the whole of our ontology on organic grounds, on an organic basis and seeing mechanism as a special case of an organic reality. It's not that the organic thinker is denying mechanism. It's evident in my own ability to move my arm. But the point would be that this mechanistic account is a special case. It's an abstraction from the more general self-organizing processes of nature, which are organic through and through. Right. So yeah, that's kind of the journey through Kant leading us up to the organic approach that I try to develop.
[00:44:10.257] Kent Bye: Yeah, so as you're speaking there, it reminds me when you talk about teleology and Talos and this idea of final cause going all the way back to Aristotle where he had these four different types of causes. The final cause was just sort of like the intention or the end goal as a causal influence. You have the material cause, which is the material objects and how they're interacting with each other. You have the formal causation, which I see as the mathematical architectural blueprint of the nature of reality. Maybe there's a formal causation where there's these eternal objects as Whitehead refers to them as maybe this mechanism under which the realm of ideal forms are interfacing with the realms of reality and contemporary quantum ontology, you have these realms of potential, these mathematical boundedness of possibilities that then go from possibility into actuality, which I feel like is potentially where those eternal objects are living. And then you have the efficient cause, which I've heard is carpenters building a table. The actual materials of the table is the material cause and the blueprints of the table, the formal cause and the end goal of the wood is the table. is the final causation, but then the official cause is sort of like the carpenter, which I've heard described as both the carpenter himself, but also the knowledge that's involved. In a contemporary paradigm, the final causation and the formal causation have been neglected or erased to some extent, where you just have everything as either efficient or material causes. So what I see is really interesting about the process-relational approach is trying to reinvigorate these philosophical concepts that were originated with Aristotle, but putting them into more of a modern cosmological context. So yeah, I'd love to hear your take on the role of the final cause, efficient cause, material cause, and formal causation when it comes to Whitehead maybe taking a little bit of a different approach.
[00:45:51.422] Matt Segall: Yeah, so I think immediately of just in the context of how final causality was excised from serious science in the modern period, really starting with Descartes in favor of a kind of materialism. you have to presuppose dualism to do this in the sense that, and this is the line from Whitehead that I think of, I think it's from Science in the Modern World, he says, scientists animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study. And so the idea there is that in order to attempt to explain the whole universe without any final causality, you have to have already sort of bracketed yourself as the inquiring scientist, as though you're not part of that universe, or you have to pretend like your own scientific initiative, your desire to know, is just, well, we'll just put that to the side and describe everything as if I didn't exist as the one who wants to know. Whitehead isn't willing to do that. He wants a synoptic view of everything, an integral view of the nature of reality that would include us as the ones seeking to know, right? So right off the bat, If you are a realist about the scientific enterprise itself, meaning you see science as part of the universe, it's trying to know, you can't deny final causality. So that would be step one. But then from my point of view, if you're even going to admit that there is a domain of nature called biology, the living world, how else are you going to distinguish that from the non-living physical world without saying that, oh, well, in the living world, purposes are at play. Purposes are being realized. What else makes something alive? We could add, you know, an experiential horizon of experience and all this, but that's already pointing to kind of final causality, right? And, you know, Whitehead looks at the Darwinian picture, and I don't so much want to attribute this to Darwin. I think Darwin has been inherited and, you know, as Jung would say, I'm glad I'm not a Jungian. I think Darwin would say, I'm glad I'm not a Darwinian, particularly with the neo-Darwinian approach. There's this inconsistency where you need the desire organisms have to survive for natural selection, for that engine to work. Where does this desire to survive come from? Would be one question that Whitehead asks. But then also, it's clear that if survival was the only goal in the living world, or in nature, period, you know, as Whitehead jokes, why didn't matter just remain rocks? They persist for billions of years and they don't have to do much. The question that needs to be answered when we look at the living world is, Why do organisms complexify in ways that actually require sacrificing their survival capacity? In other words, more complex organisms that don't live as long, that are more vulnerable to pain and suffering, that are fragile, more fragile, continue to evolve. And if survivability was the only metric, why would this happen? And so Whitehead thinks we need other explanatory principles than just what Darwinian biology tends to be based on. Now, you know, in terms of how Aristotle's causes apply in the context of Whitehead's metaphysical scheme, it's a little tricky, but I think one thing to keep in mind is that we translate the Greek term, something like etion, I'm not sure how to pronounce it, but it's not just cause, it can also mean reason. The ambiguity here is a result of Aristotle existing in a time when this bifurcation or this split between mind and matter, which happened with Descartes, hadn't occurred yet. And so usually we think of, oh, the reason for something, it's more of a mental thing that we attribute, whereas a cause is something that's happening out there in the material world. That difference didn't exist for Aristotle. And so Aristotle's four reasons, just as much as there are the four causes, or we could even say they're the four whys. When we want to know why something happens, there's these different ingredients that go into baking the cake. And you can't just bake a cake with flour. You also need eggs and you need a bowl and you need someone to mix, right? So Aristotle was trying to address everything that goes into baking the cake, right? And if we wanted to translate into Whitehead's scheme, the material cause in Whitehead is what he calls creativity. And it's not a perfect translation, but if we were to ask what is everything made of in Whitehead's view, it's not made of some substance. It's not made of a sort of neutral stuff that takes on different shapes. It's made of creativity, which is hard to describe because as Whitehead says, it's the universal of universals. It's the ultimate category of his scheme and everything else is an expression of creativity. But rather than a substance, it's an activity, right? It's a happening rather than a stuff, right? So that's the material cause. So this is his event ontology, right? Everything comes out of creativity, is made of creativity if you want. The efficient cause in Whitehead is a bit tricky here because, so on the one hand, the efficient cause would be the self-creating urge that's expressing itself with each emergent occasion of experience. He says every occasion of experience is self-creating, but Whitehead also has a a theology, a metaphysical concept of God, just like Aristotle did. For Aristotle, God was the unmoved mover. God was the efficient cause of motion. the ultimate efficient cause. I mean, there could be subordinate efficient causes like the baker of the cake is the efficient cause of the cake, but who set the baker into motion? There's a chain of causes going all the way back to the prime mover. Whitehead says, we don't have the same physics that Aristotle was working with. We don't need an explanation for motion, but For Whitehead, we do need an explanation for how infinite potentiality took on finite form, how finite definite creatures could have emerged out of this infinite creativity. That's where his God comes in. God is, for Whitehead, the principle of limitation. who gives some order to the realm of possibility or eternal objects that then feeds into the experience of all the finite actual occasions. And so, in some ways, God is the efficient cause of each creature by providing what Whitehead calls an initial aim, which is God providing a sense of relevant possibility for each creature given its unique situation. And Whitehead thought this was necessary because without this sort of divine filter on infinite possibility, each creature as its experience was initiated would be overwhelmed by the possibilities. So God provides some sense of relevant possibility to each creature as an initial aim. Elsewhere in more kind of religious terms, Whitehead describes this initial aim as a mirror that the divine holds up to each creature to reflect its own greatness back to it. Now this initial aim, this efficient cause, doesn't determine the form that that creature ends up taking, because each creature is still self-creating. But in some sense, the initial aim provided by God, giving a sense of relevant possibility to the creature, that's kind of the efficient cause in Whitehead. The formal cause then is the creature's response to this initial aim and to its felt situation. And the formal cause, Whitehead calls it the subjective form. It's typically an emotional response to what's been given in its own field of prehension, you could say. It's feeling all these possibilities. It's feeling the past. And the subjective form is its initial response. So that typically takes the form of some kind of emotion. Whitehead's eternal objects are not just mathematical, they're also qualitative. So all the different emotions we might experience, these are different combinations of eternal objects. These qualities of emotion that organisms can respond to their experience in terms of, and we start to develop in this subjective form, a sense of our own individuality. But this subjective form interpreting all of the data that's coming in is moving towards a kind of satisfaction, a kind of reconciliation of all the possibilities. Like initially, we're not quite sure how we feel. We have to find some coherence with different feelings that are vying for our attention. And so the final cause or the subjective aim is the process whereby in developing our response to the past and to God's initial aim, we grow towards satisfaction. And this satisfaction is achieved. That's the completion of this process of concrescence that I've been describing. And it culminates in this unified perspective on everything which has occurred in the universe beforehand. It's a decision amidst possibility. At that point, Whitehead says, the occasion of experience perishes. and is no longer a subject of experience, but a superject whose experience can then be shared with the next concrescence. And it's in that process of perishing as a subject, becoming a superject, that the final cause is realized. So when we want to influence the future by sharing our aim with the next occasion of experience, we have to die to ourselves as a subject. But we live on, as what Whitehead calls, we live on in objective immortality, which is another way of getting at what he means by a superject. which can then influence the next moment, right? And so this is how I would try to translate Aristotle's causes into Whitehead's scheme.
[00:55:43.653] Kent Bye: No, it's really helpful for me to have you go through that exercise just because I feel like at the top of the interview, I had mentioned that there's this paradigm shift away from substance metaphysics and this existing philosophical context and all these language and jargon that we have to understand the world. into this new process-relational paradigm shift, which is not only trying to get over the limitations of how even our language is, with the subject-predicate nature, pushing us into an object-oriented way of looking at the world. And so there's this dilemma of process-relational philosophy where there is all of this jargon that you have to immerse yourself in, and I have been immersing myself in, but it's this constant challenge of trying to translate it into something that's intuitively understandable. And I think in some ways, that's maybe where virtuality comes in for me, at least, where I feel like there's kind of like a new communication media that is taking different center of gravity, all these other existing communication media, where for me, I think about the air element of the transmission of knowledge through language and communication through books and writing and speaking through the establishment of literature in the quadrivium, You have numbers and its own self is kind of like the abstraction of mathematics. So you have that element, you have water element is the film aspect of through that process of editing, building, releasing tension to be able to have a modulation of emotion in the quadrivium numbers and time is music, but it's also tied to this sense of emotion that I get from the film medium and music and lighting and creating these vibes. you have numbers in space, which is geometry, which I feel like is like the earth element and the, you know, embodied and environmental context, but also your sensory experience of the world. And then the numbers in space and time is how things are changing over time. And that's like this fire element of the agency, desire, intuition, So you have all these qualitative aspects that the communication medium of VR is giving you a spatial context that is able to provide a direct experience of some of these different things that you go into an experience within itself as a process. So there's a beginning, middle, and end of that experience. And as you come out, our consciousness could be seen through the lens of a process of how you're building up these contextual dimensions and you have these deeper archetypal patterns that you're seeing that are reminding you of different things. And so you had said before we recorded this interview that there is this idea of Whitehead's theory of perception of how he has the presentational immediacy, which is the appearances, and then the causal efficacy, which is tied into more of his framework that we've been unpacking here. And I guess to really unpack his different dimensions of his theory of perception, we kind of have to understand his framework of this event-based ontology, this process-relational ontology, that has all these other concepts that we're trying to unpack and scaffold. And I think your book does a really great job of walking through step by step each of these different aspects. And I think for me, it's been a long process of listening to these different thinkers for a long time. And so reading the way that you've laid it out in this book, there's certain aspects that really clicked for me. And through this conversation, me trying to share those new insights as for other people as they're going on this journey to listen to a conversation like this and to start to kind of immerse yourself into these many different vectors for how to go from this substance-based metaphysical ontology that we're swimming in into this more process-relational one. But yeah, I'd love to hear any initial reactions into how you think the communication media of VR itself could start to maybe elucidate some of these deeper process-relational way of thinking that may be harder to capture and say, just words alone or a film or listening to a podcast, or you have to have, in some sense, a direct simulation of your sensory experience that has all these other video game elements of expressing your agency and interacting. And I don't know, I feel like there's a way in which that the process relational ontology sort of describes what I intuitively experience of VR and that I see VR as a paradigm shift. And I see this correlation for the process relational thinking as also a paradigm shift that is helping for me at least understand different dimensions of VR. But yeah, I'd love to hear any of your initial reactions about that.
[00:59:43.005] Matt Segall: Yeah, I mean, a future project for me that's there waiting for me to have time to really even into it is to offer a Whiteheadian interpretation of virtual reality. Because I think that, yeah, Whitehead's theory of perception can bring some clarity to both the ontology that might be defining expression in VR and the VR interface and VR communities. but that also might help us better understand how to move forward with this technology, how to design headsets and virtual environments and what it might mean for the future of human evolution and the nature of embodiment and all these things. So I think trying to lay out Whitehead's account of perception could be really helpful. So I'll try to do that briefly. Whitehead has these two modes of perception, which I should clarify up front, most of our everyday ordinary experience comes in a mixed mode. And so he's abstractly separating these two out so as to analyze what the ingredients that contribute to our normal experience are. But we're engaging in abstraction here. just as we're engaging in abstraction when I describe the process of concrescence. It's one complete process, and earlier I'm breaking it up into these phases, which we can do as an intellectual exercise, but keeping in mind that it's one concrete event which occurs all at once or not at all, right? You can't have half a concrescence, just like you can't have half a photon, right? There's a certain amount of time it takes for a whole photon to manifest. So with that said, while we're always normally in what Whitehead calls the mixed mode of perception of symbolic reference, we can analyze our experience in terms of these two modes of what he calls presentational immediacy, which you could think of as spatial perception, if you want, and causal efficacy, which you could think of as a kind of temporal perception. Now, most Western philosophy has focused on presentational immediacy, and the paradigm case for this would be visual perception, where what we immediately perceive in the visual field would be patches of color, geometrically arrayed, right? And for most Western philosophers, this was taken as the raw, primal, basic form of perception, out of which the mind would then, in one way or another, construct a three-dimensional, causally interrelated world. But Whitehead thinks that this is actually putting the cart before the horse. He thinks that there's a more fundamental mode of perception, which he calls causal efficacy, which is deeper and fuller and richer than the more specialized form of perception of presentational immediacy. And so he says to Western philosophers that, look, you've been obsessed with your visual feelings. For good reason. The visual world appears to us with clear and distinct boundaries. It's a lot easier to think about. But I want to switch your attention to the feelings of the viscera where, yeah, admittedly what we perceive in that mode is vague. There are no clear boundaries separating me from the world, our bodies from the world. It's more of a processual reality where things are overlapping and it's more like I mean, think about the nature of sound and the way in which, unlike with visual perception, there's a temporal dimension to our experience of sound where we don't know what we're hearing until we heard the whole melody. And so, hearing is more like the mode of perception and causal efficacy, though Whitehead's really saying that our five senses, as they're normally enumerated, are highly advanced sensory channels which abstract from the chaos of the surrounding world, you know, certain modalities. but that they all depend upon this more primordial form of perception, causal efficacy, which rather than being a form of sense perception of the external world, Whitehead says is a form of bodily reception. And so he thinks the feelings of the viscera or the feelings of causal transmission through our own bodies is actually primary. And if you look at the evolutionary history of life, simpler organisms, they don't have sensory organs yet. They have a membrane. They have a capacity to feel in a kind of instinctual way what's going on in the environment around them that's good enough to survive and even to advance into novelty, right? And it's only the higher animals that start to develop these differentiated sensory organs and start to develop this capacity for this more abstract mode of perception of presentational immediacy. But Whitehead thinks if we try to construct a picture of reality that's based only on how the world appears to us through presentation immediacy, we're never going to understand the deeper causal currents underlying our capacity to perceive in that way. I could get into more of the history of philosophy on this, but I'll, I'll bracket that and just shift over to VR, because I think what's really going on when we put on a VR headset is that, you know, we've all grown up as embodied beings who have this tremendous skill. I mean, even if we're not professional athletes, like we have this, this ability for kinesthesia and proper reception, and we know how to move our bodies around the world without having to think about it. And through this mixed mode of perception of symbolic reference, right, we're always correlating our temporal perception, right, of causal flows and how objects in our environment and our own bodies move through time. And we correlate that with our sense of the immediate present, again, prototypically as displayed through vision. And when we put on a VR headset, all of that embodied knowing of causal efficacy is presupposed that we've learned by just being in the meat world. But the VR goggles are really the only information we have of the virtual environments coming onto our retinas and sound, right? The audio track. But the illusion that's produced by what's being projected onto our retinas is totally in the domain of presentational immediacy. And it requires our muscle memory to speak colloquially or our embodied sense of how to move about a real world in order for the illusion to work, right? But strictly speaking, what VR can provide to us, I mean, until we get the haptic suits and maybe we're wiring directly into the nervous system, I mean, the frontiers of this technology I know are very much still open. But with current technologies, I think VR is exploiting our embodied perceptual capacities, projecting this illusion of a three-dimensional world onto the retinas, and through our capacity for causal efficacy, for perception in that mode, we fill in the rest, right? And knowing the perceptual ingredients that go into producing a realistic experience for a human being in terms of Whitehead's scheme can potentially help us design more immersive environments, but also to recognize the limitations of this. David Chalmers just came out with his book, Reality Plus, last year, I think. And he sort of makes the point that given how these technologies might advance, it could get to the point where there's practically no difference between experience in virtual world versus experience in the real world. And at that point, why would we even call the real world real and the virtual world virtual if we can't tell the difference? And I think I get where he's going with that, but it strikes me as a very kind of Cartesian regression. And, you know, as interested and excited as I am about VR, I think there are so many reasons in our world for people to try to escape into that virtual domain. And there's a lot that's lost. And I say that even knowing that the technology will continue to advance, but I do have my concerns about the extent to which the simulation can ever actually capture and reproduce what it means to be an embodied, living, breathing organism on a planet of other organisms and so on. So, yeah, I'll pause there and see what your thoughts are.
[01:08:17.352] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think in Chalmers Reality Plus, he's making the argument that virtual reality is a genuine reality. And he walks through how he's defining that. For me, I think about it as these different qualities of presence where you have different dimensions of mental and social presence. So what's it feel like to be hanging out with other people in these virtual environments or the sense of active presence? To what degree can you express your agency and feel like you're participating in different activities of expression of your will? Then there's emotional presence. And to what degree can these virtual environments start to stimulate degrees of emotional immersion? And then I think the differentiating factor is this sense of embodied and environmental presence, which is this earth element aspect of the sensory experience. And to what degree are you creating an appearance of those realities versus the living, breathing, dynamic nature of when you're actually physically engaged with the physical reality? For me, I think there's always going to be a difference between those virtual experiences and the physical experiences is what I've kind of referred to it, although from a process relational perspective, I don't know a better term other to describe it as the physical reality, because, you know, the physical reality is presupposing a substance metaphysics of the material substance. But that's at least the best colloquial way that I can describe the differences between the virtual and the real and the physical. But For me, I think there's this element of relationality that you're able to preserve a certain contextual relational dynamics that you're able to communicate within the virtual reality. And my hope is that at least as people have these virtual experiences, maybe they come out of it having a different perception on the world. There's this concept in neuroscience called the predictive coding theory of neuroscience, meaning that you have built up over time, these schemas of mental abstractions of trying to categorize different qualities of experience. And so we have these expectations of what we're experiencing, and then we have the raw physical experiences as they're coming in, and they're constantly being matched up between what we're physically experiencing in our senses versus what we have these mental expectations. And so if there's a difference, then there's a dopamine release that tries to, over time, have our brain be a better prediction machine. And this is, again, maybe a little bit of a dualistic way that the predictive coding theory is even starting to understand different aspects of perception and this neuroscience way of thinking about it. But calling back to what Whitehead is talking about, this symbolic reference and the presentational immediacy and the causal efficacy, there is this inherent dualism that's also playing back and forth between matching what we're perceiving from our sensory experiences based upon our mental schemas that we have from our prior experiences. And there's a comparison that happens there. So I do agree that there is this element to have our lived experiences and trying to go into these virtual environments. But I think there's also the possibility that as we go into these virtual spaces, it can actually help to train our real perception we go into these virtual spaces and we come out of these experiences perceiving the world in a different way because we've kind of blazing new neural pathways into our mind trying to establish these deeper connections. And so that's a thing that Jaron Lanier says is that the ultimate realization of VR is that the VR experience happens when you take the headset off and you've now your relationship to the world around you has changed. And I think at the end of the day, we need to be in right relationship to the world around us because we can't take this escapist take on VR and then with all the different things that are happening in this world, be not in right relationship to the world and not be in right relationship to the people around us. So if we aren't able to do that, then I do agree with this risk of VR being this distraction. But I think there's this potential for VR actually helping to perhaps cultivate this relational mode of being, you know, there's augmented reality, which is overlaying different aspects of these patterns on top of the baseline of reality. And in VR, you're completely immersed into this virtual context, but still the same concept of overlaying a platonic realm of ideal forms into this virtual experience so that we can start to maybe elucidate some of these invisible patterns that we're not able to perceive otherwise, but to create this relational context by these immersive experiences so that when we come out of the experience, we have the capacity to be more in right relationship. So that's my more optimistic take of the technology Obviously all the things that you're saying are complete dystopic potentials that are not guaranteed to be avoided. It's more up to the culture for how we decide to use the technology. But anyway, that's my take on that.
[01:12:26.100] Matt Segall: Yeah. I feel like Ready Player One kind of captures this well in terms of the class stratification and everybody living in trailers stacked on top of trailers, but still able to go into this virtual world where really the whole economy is taking place, but it's not touching their actual material conditions. But I think as an educator, I'm super excited about the advance of these technologies. And I really do look forward to the day, which hopefully is not too far into the future, where with simple VR, AR glasses I can put on. And then instead of just zooming with my students in my online teaching, we actually get placed into an immersive environment. We can see one another's three-dimensional forms. that there's the inward facing camera getting my facial expressions that's shared with everyone in this VR space and the sorts of AI image generation that I could utilize in the course of teaching in this environment to just call up different images to help elucidate a concept or it's just being able to have that shared sense of presence with students who are really dispersed all across the world. I can't wait. I'm so excited for that. I know it's coming around the corner. Also, just for academics who are so used to flying around the world for conferences, as we deepen into a serious response to climate change, I don't think we can keep doing that. There's a way in which these technologies can be of service to a future civilization that's more ecologically attuned and is not so quick to burn all the fuel that would be required to go be physically present at a conference or whatever the purpose of traveling. Don't get me wrong, there's no replacement for going to visit beautiful places, but maybe we can bring back the steamboat instead of having to fly in a jet airplane everywhere all the time. But for conferences and stuff, for academics, if we could do it virtually and have that sense of presence, an embodiment and emotional attunement, like I'm all for it, you know, so I'm not resistant to the technologies. I'm more concerned about the social and economic realities and how they will plug into that existing set of circumstances.
[01:14:37.713] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. You can't escape the existing digital divide and all these deeper economic and cultural contexts of this. I have like two or three more questions just to wrap up. There's a couple of other scaffolding things I just wanted to have you elaborate on because I feel like part of the challenge of adopting a process ontology for me has been there's sort of an intuitive aspect of the mind-body split that I feel like part of a dualism that is still percolating throughout our culture. I mean, I think about the contemporary debates around the philosophy of mind as an example of the types of ways that that debate is structured around a substance ontology is totally like this mind-body split that is intuitive in our way of understanding, but yet Whitehead is trying to escape certain aspects of that. But there's other aspects of the duality that he can't actually escape. And so he's adapting different types of dualities that I would love to have you elaborate on. I want to just read a couple of things. You say in your book that WIDA has led to experimentally construct an alternative cosmological scheme that is ultimately rooted in creative process rather than static substance whose fundamental categories are actual occasions, prehensions, and internal objects rather than minds, representations, and matter. You go on and talk about how there's other splits in terms of the subjective aspect of the concrescence of an individual entity into this space and then transition into the superject or into this sense of time. So love to have you connect some of those dots between what we think about as these existing mind body dualisms and how Whitehead is adopting and not being able to fully escape because he does have this mental pole and physical pole even in his way that he conceives of his process relational framework.
[01:16:13.446] Matt Segall: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, Whitehead's critical of Descartes, but he says direct quote, he obviously says something that is true about the relationship between what we call mind and what we call body or matter. And so the question for Whitehead is how to extract what is true and leave behind what is problematic and alienating and potentially ecologically destructive and all the things that are bad about it, about the mind body split. And so one way of looking at what Whitehead does is Wherever he finds dualisms that are getting at some distinction between the two aspects that are being split, he transforms them into polarities. You know, so in Descartes, you have a dualism between mind and matter as these two very different substances. You end up with this problem of how to relate the two. Obviously, mind and matter must be related and Descartes struggled to figure out how that would be possible. So, this is where you get these different modern schools of thought stemming from Descartes dualism. You have idealists who say, okay, well, the mental substance, that's the real thing. And matter is just an appearance and we can reduce it away. It's just a, representation in the mind. And then you have the materialists who say, well, no, no, matter is what's real and mind is merely an appearance. And so we'll just describe everything in terms of bodies colliding and minds kind of epiphenomenal and we'll just reduce it away. Neither of these perspectives work. And so, what Whitehead wants to say is that, okay, maybe we can think of mind and matter or the physical and the mental as phases in a process. That what it means to be real, to be an actual entity, is always going to be some combination of or synthesis of a mental and a physical aspect. or a physical and a mental pole, right? So he's thinking in terms of polarities, right? And so rather than separate substances, when we try to get at this distinction between the physical and the mental, we have to temporalize it, put it into process. So when we talk about the physical or material in Whitehead's cosmology, we're really talking about what's already been actualized in the past. It's that aspect of the universe that has accumulated and taken on this habitual form that's kind of given. And we inherit that givenness in each moment of our experience in the physical pole. The mental pole then is everything that hasn't yet occurred. It's the possibilities that we anticipate that are relevant to what has already occurred. And so the process of becoming actual, which is another way of describing what concrescence is, is this synthesis, this integration of the physical pole inheriting the actualized past and the mental pole in light of that past anticipating possible futures, right? And so you don't eliminate the difference between mind and matter, but you articulate what is different in a way that still allows for some form of relationship. One of the major problems with the Cartesian dualistic framework that White is trying to overcome takes the shape of what's called the representational theory of perception, where what the mind is doing is internally representing in some kind of language of thought what's going on in the outside material world. This basic Cartesian setup is alive and well in cognitive science. The whole paradigm of seeking some form of mental representation that we could use to program AI, to allow robots to navigate environments effectively, and so on. That was the old paradigm of AI, really, and robotics. It's been a complete failure, because you can't fully program a computer with all of the rules that it would need to effectively navigate even a simple environment. And so, people realize that not only is this not effective for engineering robots, it's not effective for understanding human beings. This can't be how the brain does it, with all of these explicit rules and some kind of symbolic processing going on. The brain, as complex as it is, as many neurons and neural connections as there are, it's not powerful enough to work in that way. Too inefficient. If it was actually trying to crunch that many numbers, there'd be smoke coming out of our ears. And so there's a different way to understand how our inner experience relates to the outer world, which comes through the recognition of, well, first of all, our bodies are basically just the most intimate part of the environment. They're structurally coupled to the environment. They co-evolved with the environment. We don't need to internally represent what's already there, right? And which is already in a way enfolded into our very form. But when mind and matter are understood as poles in a single unbroken process, we also don't need to think in terms of representative forms of perception. I don't need to symbolically represent what's going on out there because I'm actually feeling it. And so, from Whitehead's point of view, every actual entity, every occasion of experience is internally related to every other. And so what begins in each of your moments of experience as a private feeling, once you achieve that satisfaction I was talking about earlier and perish into a superject, that feeling is then transmitted to me and I absorb it and I feel what you felt. and vice versa. And so we are all in some sense inside of each other. We're all part of this ongoing process of vibratory resonance, right? And so rather than representation, if we think more in terms of resonance, I think we begin to understand better how Whitehead is trying to describe our perception of the world. He says that the human body and the nervous system is akin to a complex amplifier. And the body is taking in all of these, he calls them vector feelings, these vibratory patterns streaming in from the environment and amplifying and filtering them so as to produce a coherent sense of the world. But there's no separation between mind as some separate substance and body as another substance. There's no substance at all. It's all process. And it's all vibratory resonance, right? He doesn't erase the difference but he recontextualizes it so that we can see mind and matter as phases in a process. And there's nothing separating my mind from your mind other than time, right? Because there is the speed of light and you could just think of it as the speed of causality. I can't experience exactly what you experience right in this moment contemporaneously. But, I mean, this is obviously mediated through various electronic means, but if we were here in person, I do get to experience a split second later exactly what you were experiencing. I mean, this would be the claim in Whitehead's view. So you're free to experience your own private moment of enjoyment, but as soon as you have that moment of enjoyment and it perishes, it's no longer private anymore. It becomes public. And then I experience it, right? And so resonance becomes the glue that holds together mind and matter, if you want to phrase it that way.
[01:23:23.408] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess in your book, you explore this concept of etheric imagination and talk about imagination and Kant's take on imagination and Schelling's take on imagination as well as Whitehead's take. So when I think about eternal objects, I think of eternal objects as this broad realm of what Jung might have called these archetypal realms. And so those archetypal realms could be those realms of the qualities of experience, but there's also archetypal types of character, like truth and beauty and goodness that you talk about throughout your book. And what I have a little bit of struggle with is trying to orient where imagination fits in to like this overall schema of philosophical approaches. It seems like a pretty key aspect of how these different philosophers were situating imagination. You talked earlier about how Whitehead has creativity as this like ultimate expression and everything else is sort of an expression of creativity. So is imagination just a expression of creativity or how do you start to think about and situate the imagination relative in this book and why is it important to look at what Kant and Schelling and Whitehead had to say about imagination?
[01:24:27.589] Matt Segall: Yeah, great question. I mean, my first stab at that, answering that would be to say imagination is the organ by which we perceive and participate in creativity. And so, yeah, typically imagination is thought of as a human capacity that's very valuable, obviously, to artists and designers. Some people are a little bit more expansive and would acknowledge that scientists too can imagine thought experiments that allow for breakthroughs. Like, I mean, Einstein's famous for his thought experiments and his capacity to imagine himself riding on a beam of light, for example. Typically, imagination has this connotation of being a human mode of creative engagement with ideas and with new possibilities. But I'm trying to expand into a more cosmological sense of imagination that this capacity that we have actually roots us into the ground of being. And that it's not just a faculty for make-believe. it's not just a human capacity, but actually imagination is this plenum or this ground activity which is also at work bringing forth the forms of all the plants and animals around us, bringing forth the form of stars and galaxies. And so I'm really trying to generalize the power of imagination to the point that it becomes somewhat akin to what Whitehead means by creativity. And again, it's our mode of access to creativity. And when you look at the history of Western philosophy, going back to Plato, Aristotle, and then modern philosophy, Descartes, and Hume, and Kant, and so on, imagination always plays this somewhat ambiguous role. On the one hand, it's essential to any form of philosophical reflection. But on the other hand, Western philosophers have tended to mistrust it. as I point out in my book, In Descartes, The Rational Institute, Descartes starts his theory of knowledge rooted in this really pervasive sense of doubt. And after he had just finished saying, look, imagination can play no role in knowledge, right? So let's just put that to the side. And then he says, now imagine an evil demon is deceiving you. And it's like, wait a minute, you just said not to do that. And so right at the core of Descartes' epistemology is this act of imagination. Imagine the demon deceiving you, all your senses are just illusions and even your capacity to count is potentially deceptive and what's left? You know, he gets to the cogito, to the I think, which can't be doubted because if he's doubting, he's thinking, right? But all of this is a imaginative exercise. And then in Kant, he says imagination is an indispensable power of the soul. And for the most part, what he calls the productive imagination is kind of unconscious, but it's involved in connecting our abstract concepts and categories to particular perceptions. It's what he calls the schematism and imagination plays this essential role that he admits, look, I can't quite rationally articulate this because it's unfolding below the level of my consciousness, but I know it's there doing this work. And Kant talks about how the creative artist whether a poet or a painter or sculptor or a musician, is able to tap into this imaginative power to give expression to these beautiful works of art. But unlike scientists who, when they make a discovery, can explain explicitly, often in mathematical terms, exactly how to come to that insight, the artists can't really explain how they did it, right? And so, you know, imagination plays this really essential role in Kant's philosophy, but he's interestingly in the second edition of the critique of pure reason, a lot of the emphasis he placed on the role of imagination is taken out because the reason he published a second edition is that he got criticisms that he's too idealistic and he's too much like Bishop Barclay and thinking that all of the world is just what we perceive. he was worried that giving imagination too much play would lend itself to what he felt was a wrong interpretation. So he takes out a lot of the stuff about imagination in the second edition. Interesting. And so I'm really trying to show how, unlike so many Western philosophers, Schelling and Whitehead We're not afraid to lean into imagination as a legitimate way of knowing. And indeed, perhaps the only way that we can know in a participatory way that connects us back up to the very reality that we're trying to know. And there are different ways of knowing. There's scientific knowing, and artistic knowing, and religious and spiritual knowing, and moral knowing, right? And all of these draw on imagination in different ways. And so it really does become this indispensable power as Kant had already said but backed away from. So I'm trying to resuscitate what was already kind of there in German Kant and just make it more the centerpiece of this new form of philosophy.
[01:29:31.860] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, one final question is I usually ask people about the ultimate potential of VR, but I'd love to ask you the ultimate potential of process philosophy, because as we talked at the very beginning of this podcast, that I think process relational thinking represents this paradigm shift as reflected in this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article, that it is quite a pivot away from substance metaphysics. And so what do you see as the ultimate potential on the other side of this paradigm shift away from substance metaphysics into this more process relational ontology? What do we get from that as a society, as a culture, as an individual, if we make this leap into this new paradigm?
[01:30:08.091] Matt Segall: Well, it invites us to a view of reality that's fundamentally relational. So much of the modern industrial mindset is rooted in the presumption of isolation. and separation and alienation and a kind of individualism. There's nothing wrong with individuality. I value it very much, individual freedom and so on. But individualism is the ideology that suggests that we are isolated individuals. And that relationship is somehow secondary and a sort of optional add on to our individual substantial existence, right? And what process philosophy allows us to do is step out of that cage and step back into a reality that is composed of relationships. I mean, it's just as easy to say reality is composed of process and not substance. You could also just say reality is made of relationships. So everything is what it is by virtue of its relationships to everything else. And this doesn't erase our individuality. It just puts us back in touch with the world in such a way that our individuality could even be of value, right? That it could actually mean something and do something in the world. If we were just isolated individuals, then, you know, why do we even bother interacting? So it welcomes us into a more relational reality. And on that basis, we can begin to reimagine our entire civilization. from economics to politics to art and science and religion, there is a application of process thought across all of these domains. And I think it is allowing us to imagine a more inviting world that's worth living in and that affords us an open-ended future to continue to be creative. I have no doubt that Whitehead's particular way of rendering categories of his particular approach to process thought will be superseded. He expected as much and encouraged us to go further. And so, this isn't a final system. this is maybe the best we could do a hundred years ago, right? So there's already the need to update whitehead. But the general idea is there that just because it's easier to think about isolated substances with their properties and hearing in them for the purposes of creating logical scientific models or whatever, just because it might be easier, doesn't mean that's truer or more beautiful. or ultimately more ethically aligned and virtuous. So we have to give up this desire for certainty, but what we gain is this creative and open-ended future, an adventure of ideas, really, as Whitehead put it. And I think it's a far more alluring picture of reality than to imagine that we conscious human beings are just sort of accidental excretion of an otherwise meaningless material world. So I think it gives us a real sense of purpose here, something larger that we're participating in as human beings. I think we're desperately in need of that kind of worldview.
[01:33:16.392] Kent Bye: Well, Matthew, thank you so much for joining me again on the podcast. And like I said, your book, Crossing the Threshold, Etheric Imagination and the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead. I feel like there's a lot of ways that it's helping me create a scaffold for doing this paradigm shift from the substance metaphysics into this process relational ontology. And it's something that I continually go back to and listen to our first conversation and I'll be listening to this again and rereading aspects that make this shift because again it's like a lot of things to shift into this where there's not a lot of larger cultural context that's adopted it yet but I really feel like that there's something that has given me a lot of deep insight into helping understand not only the nature of reality and my own experience within it, but also what's happening in the context of virtual reality. So thanks again for joining me here on the podcast and for sharing all your deep wisdom about Whitehead and all these other aspects of Schelling and Kant and the future of imagination.
[01:34:07.534] Matt Segall: Yeah. Thanks Kent. Great, great questions. Really enjoyed the dialogue.
[01:34:11.833] Kent Bye: So that was Dr. Matt Siegel. He's a transdisciplinary researcher, and he's a process and process-relational philosopher, and he's applying it to both the natural sciences, social sciences, and consciousness, and he's teaching philosophy at the California Institute for Integral Studies in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all Well, if you made it to the end of this conversation Thanks for going along the ride and apologies if there's a lot of wonky philosophical jargon in there I feel like to really dig into some of these different paradigm shifts I wanted to go from one system of jargon into another system of jargon but I can fully appreciate if either substance of jargon were not going to be necessarily helpful and But for me, I've been trying to create these different metaphoric scaffoldings to kind of understand how to move from thinking about the world in terms of being made out of substances into turning into this perspective of seeing the world that is fundamentally made out of creativity. There's these processes that are unfolding. There's a relational dynamic to those. The fundamental layer, all of reality is relational, and that reality is composed of these relationships, and that we live in a creative and open-ended future. I find this to be very inspiring and like as a contrast to like the block model universe where all of the nature of reality is a 4d space-time and it's already happened and there's actually no free will and we just kind of live in this deterministic universe. This is more of a perspective where there's a dynamic unfolding of the nature of reality which is more connected to my own direct experience of what feels like is happening rather than playing out a pre-scripted aspect. I mean, obviously, philosophically, I can't disprove one or the other is more true or not, but just based upon my own experience, appreciate this dynamic nature of the unfolding of the universe And so for me, it was really helpful for Matthew to walk through each of the Aristotelian aspects of the final cause, formal cause, efficient cause, material cause, and just to hear that rather than material cause being like the material substances, that the actual foundational material is this aspect of creativity, which for Whitehead was this ultimate process. So, yeah, it was really interesting just to hear Matthew step through that in this conversation. And in his book, I think it also is trying to lay out each of these connections to Whitehead's work. And we didn't have a chance to talk too much about Schelling, but he's doing a lot of work of trying to cast the work of Schelling into this lineage of process philosophers. And in the end, he's digging into more of these aspects of the etheric imagination. But yeah, just the role of imagination that is kind of like this organ of creativity and the ways that we're using our imagination to interact with the world. So I find it really inspiring to try to think in these different metaphors because I do think that there's a lot of overlap between how we start to see different immersive experiences You know, for me, there's an experience that was by Marshmallow Laserfeast called Evolver that I saw at Tribeca in 2022. And back in episode 1104, I had a chance to talk to Barnaby Steele. And there's just certain ways different VR creators like Marshmallow Laserfeast that is just intuitively implementing some of these process relational and contextual dynamics of their pieces where they're literally trying to help us understand how interconnected and interrelated all of the nature of reality is by having us walk through the blood system of a human that makes the boundaries between us and the rest of the world really diffuse when you start to look at the human body in relation to our environment around us and to see how interconnected we really are. And so there's these different types of interbeing and relational dynamics of our context that different experiences like Evolver and Martian Hallelujah Feast are kind of naturally creating in the medium of VR, and the way that they're speaking about it also is echoing so many different other aspects of Whitehead's process philosophy. So I find a lot of inspiration looking at what Whitehead's saying, what Schelling is saying, in terms of like thinking about the nature of reality through these metaphors of living organisms, rather than more of a mechanistic, substance-based way of looking at things. That is this static view of reality where we have properties on top of it, and instead of that, more of a dynamic, flowing nature of reality. And like I said, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is identifying that this is a distinct paradigm shift that's completely different than a lot of these other existing approaches. And so it's got this dual task of not only trying to explain this completely other different perspective, but sometimes rather than answering the same questions, then it's having different questions that it's asking. So hopefully we're able to cover some of those different aspects here within this conversation. And if you'd like more information, I highly recommend either checking out the first conversation I had with Matt back in episode 965. I put a link into the talk that I gave about process philosophy in this description as well. And definitely check out his book that is coming out on April 22nd that you can pre-order now. It's called Crossing the Threshold, Etheric Imagination and the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.