Virtual reality has the potential catalyze a paradigm shift around our concepts about the nature of reality, and one of the most influential philosophers on my thinking has been Alfred North Whitehead. His Process Philosophy emphases unfolding processes and relationships as the core metaphysical grounding rather than static, concrete objects. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry contrasts some of the fundamental differences to Western philosophy:
Process philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical account of reality and our place within it. Even though we experience our world and ourselves as continuously changing, Western metaphysics has long been obsessed with describing reality as an assembly of static individuals whose dynamic features are either taken to be mere appearances or ontologically secondary and derivative…
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.
Virtual reality is all about experiences that unfold over time, and the medium is asking to interrogate the differences between how we experience the virtual and the real. A slight shift of our metaphysical assumptions from substance metaphysics to process-relational metaphysics allows us to compare and contrast the physical to the experiential dimensions of our experiences. Process philosophy opens up new conceptual frameworks to look the world through the lens of dynamic flux, becoming, and experience as core fundamental aspects of reality, rather than treating these processes as derivative properties of static objects.
I think process philosophy makes a lot more sense when thinking about the process of experiential design. Human beings are not mathematical formulas, which means you have no idea who other people will experience your immersive piece until you play test it. There’s an inherent agile and iterative nature of game design, software design, and experiential design, where you have to test it lots of time with lots of people. This is different than the linear, waterfall approaches of building physical buildings or producing films where there’s clearly demarcated phases of pre-production, production, and post-production. For Whitehead, these iterative processes aren’t just metaphoric at the human scale, but he’s suggesting that these processes reveal deep insights about the fundamental nature of reality itself as having a dynamic and participatory aspect of navigating non-deterministic potentials that’s really “experience all the way down.”
The thing that I love about Whitehead is that he was a brilliant mathematician that turned to philosophy later in his life, and so has an amazing ability to make generalizations that deconstruct the linear and hierarchical aspects of language and make more sophisticated models of reality. He replaces physics as the fundamental science with biological organisms, or more abstractly as an unfolding processes that are in relationship to each other. This creates a scale-free, fractal geometrical way of understanding reality at the full range of microscopic and macroscopic scales.
Whitehead’s thinking has also impacted a wide range of areas including ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology. Some specific examples include work in quantum mechanics, new foundations for the philosophy of biology, the psychedelic musings of Terence McKenna, and has opened up new pathways to be able to integrate insights from Eastern Philosophies, like Chinese Philosophy.
On October 31st, I attended The Cobb Institute’s 2-hour program on Process Thought at a New Threshold, which brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, researchers, and practitioners where summarizing how Whitehead’s Process Philosophy was transforming their specific domains. One of the presenters was philosopher Matthew D Segall, who is one of my favorite Whitehead scholars who writes and shares videos on his YouTube channel.
I wanted to get a full primer of Whitehead, his journey into philosophy, as well as how his thinking could facilitate a fundamental paradigm shift that the world needs right now. My experience is that VR and AR can provide an experiential shift in how we relate to ourselves and others, but the Process Philosophy brings a whole other conceptual level that has the potential to unlock a lot more radical shifts in all sorts of ways. I also think that the spatial nature of VR and AR is particularly suited in order to produce embodied experiences of process-relational thinking, but also help artists and creators have a cosmological grounding that helps them connect more deeply to their own creative process of unlocking flow states and using the medium to communicate about their experiences in new ways.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE OF THE VOICES OF VR PODCAST
This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.
[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. So I think a lot about the ultimate potential of virtual reality and how it represents this paradigm shift in so many different ways. Anybody who's experienced VR, I think, can see that this is unlike any other communication medium that we've had before. It's the closest thing that we have to trying to capture the essence of the human experience. And as we look at that and reflect upon it, I think there's so many deeper philosophical questions that start to come up into like, what is the nature of reality? And as I look to the process of experiential design, of being able to actually create technology that starts to mediate people's consciousness in different ways, I think we have to have some new experiential design frameworks to how to actually do that. It's this fusion of all these other existing disciplines ranging from architecture to theater, to cinematic storytelling and film and game design and industrial design, user interactions and user interfaces from web design. So it's all these existing disciplines that are all being fused together. And what is the process by which that you're going to actually combine all these different things? And I think that. For me, I've had a lot of different personal inspirations from Chinese philosophy to pluralism and phenomenology. But one of the biggest ones, I think, for me has been Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy. And the reason is because process philosophy gets down to the roots of the metaphysics of the nature of reality. Rather than looking at these concrete objects of substance metaphysics, Whitehead puts forth this radical idea that the basis of reality are these processes that are unfolding. Once you dig down deep enough into quantum mechanics, what you see is that there's no there there. It's just patterns of energy that are in relationship to each other. And so, Whitehead is trying to reframe the way that we look at the basis of reality into these organisms and these more ecological ways of thinking. And as we look at a lot of the problems that we face in the world, there's a lot of ecological issues and a lot of ways in that we are trying to reduce things into its component parts, but we're kind of missing the big picture. And I think in a lot of ways, Whitehead and his process philosophy allows us to take a step back and to see how everything is connected to each other. And if you look at artificial intelligence and iterative design processes and agile and lean, a lot of the philosophy of technology, I think, is drawing upon this more iterative process dimension because it's interfacing with human consciousness, which is nothing that you can mathematically model, which means that in order to actually build anything in technology, you have to constantly iterate and you have to create something and then test it with the actual users. There was recently a gathering of a lot of different process thinkers at the Cobb Institute on October 31st of 2020 They had a gathering that was called process thought at a new threshold and they actually had like 15 different Speakers over like a two-hour period where they were taking these 10-minute snapshots of what's happening in process thought from all these different disciplines It's very interdisciplinary from philosophy to biology to physics to theology and it's facilitating a lot of this interdisciplinary collaboration, so One of the speakers that were there was Matt Siegel. He's a philosopher who teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and he's one of my favorite Whiteheadian scholars. And I wanted to invite him on just to get a primer of process philosophy, a lot of the questions that I wanted to know, and just to get a little bit more of the history and the context. And it's a bit of a calibration process for me as well, because Whitehead's sort of notorious as being a very obtuse and difficult writer, especially his preeminent work of process and philosophy. But Matt gives us a lot more context as to Whitehead and why I think he's one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century and his work seems to be taking more and more prominence and there seems to be a lot of momentum with his ideas of process thinking and spreading into lots of different areas as well. In particular, it's going to have a lot of application into the process of experiential design and the future of augmented and virtual reality as well as artificial intelligence. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of the Hour podcast. So this interview with Matt happened on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:04:03.812] Matt Segall: I'm Matt Siegel and I am a professor at CIIS, California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. I teach courses on German idealism and process philosophy, in particular, probably my home base academically in terms of what I publish on. And what I teach on is the work of Alfred North Whitehead. And I'm active as a blogger and try to engage as not just an academic philosopher, but as a public intellectual who tries to offer perspectives that I hope are grounded and reasonable perspectives on the challenges that human beings of all sorts are facing nowadays.
[00:04:53.018] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that Whitehead is a very intriguing thinker and philosopher and his primary source material can be pretty obtuse and hard to really dig into. I find that I get a lot out of the secondary literature and listening to lectures like yourself, but also making other metaphors to other philosophical traditions like Chinese philosophy is one that I find that there's a lot of really intuitive metaphors that you, if we're just looking at nature and the concepts of yang and yin, And if I were to try to summarize my understanding and where I kind of enter in to Whitehead is that, you know, we have reductive materialism. It really tries to focus things down into these concrete objects. I think the thing that's interesting about things like virtual reality and this shift towards phenomenology in general is that it becomes more about the human experience and it becomes more about the patterns of relationships that are there. And I know that Whitehead was coming up in a time when he was looking at the implications of quantum mechanics and trying to figure out a whole other new metaphysical foundation. Instead of using substance as the primary metaphysics, Western philosophy is based upon, we have this whole process relational approach. So putting the fundamental building blocks of reality as these processes they're unfolding. And so that's at least my conceptual understanding, but just wondering if you could expand on that and what does this process relational metaphysics mean and how do we contrast it to something like substance metaphysics?
[00:06:21.786] Matt Segall: Yeah. Whitehead's a process philosopher. And what that means is that he's critical of an enduring tradition of substance-based metaphysics that goes all the way back to Aristotle. There's also, though, a criticism that Whitehead levels at modern scientific materialism that's related to this critique of substance that's much more ancient. And his critique of modern science is everyone knows of Whitehead if they've heard of him because of his fallacy of misplaced concreteness. So Whitehead, his philosophy is a protest against the misplaced concreteness of materialism. You mentioned reductionism, and I know what you mean when you say it's this method of reducing down to these concrete objects, but for Whitehead, concreteness is not the scientific abstractions that materialists use to explain reality in terms of whatever sort of particle or forces or what have you. Whitehead's asking us to maybe take another perspective on what we mean by concrete versus abstract and say that when scientists talk about the atoms that make up our bodies, as if that's the really real level of reality and our human experience is somehow derivative from that Whitehead's saying they're talking about something very abstract actually, and they're misplacing concreteness onto those abstractions. Not that atoms aren't real, but what we know about atoms is completely in terms of what scientific instruments and the mathematical models that piece together the measurements that those instruments make. So we're always thinking in terms of models of reality when we're doing science, not in terms of concrete reality. So Whitehead's saying science is real. It's describing a real world, but very abstractly. human experience is concrete. It's in the context of concrete human experience that we do science, but we also do other things. We make art and poetry. We engage in spiritual practice and commune with the divine. These are other domains of human experience that for Whitehead stand on their own. There's no way that any scientific explanation in terms of some set of abstractions is ever going to do away with or dominate or somehow hold priority over what we concretely experience in the realms of art and religion and all the other end domains of ethics and sociality and politics and stuff. Those domains we inhabit and operate within in terms of our concrete human experience. And science is an element within that experience rather than being the base level that everything else reduces to. So that's important to situate Whitehead in relationship to the scientific materialist worldview right at the start to say he was a mathematical physicist, which is to say he knows that contemporary physics is actually, if taken on its own, a very ingenious form of idealism. And so if you're a materialist pointing to modern physics as if it supports this reductionistic view, you're not understanding modern or contemporary 20th century and 21st century physics.
[00:09:32.853] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe it's important to throw in here at this point that he had quite an extensive background in mathematics and worked with Bertrand Russell to work on the Principia Mathematica, which was their effort to try to translate the entirety of all of mathematics into the system of logic, which was eventually turned on its head with Gödel and the incompleteness theorems that really said that that was not possible to really create a axiomization of all of mathematics into the system of logic. And so he's got this like massive mathematical brain. And over time, eventually after his son dies, goes to Harvard and starts to dig into philosophy and starts, you know, it said that, you know, his first class in philosophy is the one that he was teaching. And so he's kind of coming in with this classics background, but maybe you could just give a little bit more context as to how he went from being this mathematician to then coming up with this what ends up being a pretty radical metaphysics framework to be able to not only understand what was happening with the cutting edge of science at the time with quantum mechanics and everything else. So maybe you could just sort of cast his background and context in math and how that informs what he was doing in philosophy.
[00:10:39.325] Matt Segall: Yeah. So Whitehead studied Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and the mathematics behind it when he was at Cambridge. studied with Maxwell's student at Cambridge. So he's one degree of separation away from Clerk Maxwell, who gave rise to the electromagnetic understanding, which is the basis for quantum theory later. So he knew that inside and out, but he wasn't inducted to the Royal Society because of his work on physics. It was because of a book he published in 1898, I believe, called universal algebra, which mathematicians recognized as a breakthrough in sort of synthesizing these different mathematical domains that had been separated. And so he's coming up with a more universal algebraic formulation, connecting things across these different mathematical fields. That sets the groundwork for his work with Russell on the Principia to try to ground math, which philosophically had always been understood to involve an intuitive dimension. Immanuel Kant would talk about mathematical knowledge as not just about logical deduction, that mathematicians actually make discoveries, that there's an intuitive dimension to mathematical thought or mathematical imagination that you can't formalize, you can't reduce it to a logical chain of reasoning. And Russell and Whitehead began their project trying to disprove that notion. They wanted to ground math in formal logic and get rid of any need for an intuitive or imaginative dimension. They failed. And Gödel proved logically that they failed. So the whole, it's sometimes called the logicist paradigm or the formalist paradigm, Frege is another important name here, it fails. Russell doesn't agree that it fails and keeps trying to come up with patches. Whitehead was liberated by that failure and realized, okay, there is an irreducibly intuitive dimension of mathematics. At the same time, in 1905, interestingly, just as Einstein published his special theory of relativity, Whitehead published a paper that was called Mathematical Conceptions of the Material World. where he explores several different ways of mathematically modeling space and time, including a proto-relativistic understanding. So this is before he had heard of Einstein. Einstein's theory is published. It sets off this storm of controversy among physicists trying to understand what Einstein is saying. Whitehead was one of the few mathematicians who could understand Einstein's equations and was very much involved in working out the implications. Whitehead came up a decade later with his own alternative rendering of relativity because he had certain philosophical disagreements with Einstein. But it was this relativistic revolution and then the quantum revolution in physics and mathematical physics that drew Whitehead out of his sort of home base in mathematics and into the project of metaphysics and cosmology and what you might call world building. He realized that the world he thought had been built by the Newtonian paradigm, the mechanistic picture of the universe, he realized that that could no longer be accurate given what we've learned about math and the physical world. we need a new world picture. And so he undertook the effort to give rise to a more organic cosmology that was not only consistent with relativity and quantum theory and evolutionary theory and biology and human psychology and spiritual and religious experience, but not only consistent with all of that, but actually he felt more coherently explained the relationship between quantum theory and relativity theory, which remain two different very successful theories in physics that don't fit together. I mean, people are working on trying to get them to fit together, but it's been a century plus and there's still no widely accepted account of the unification of these two theories. Whitehead in a way is offering that grand unifying theory. It's just, it hasn't been recognized because we're still searching for a grand unifying theory within an old mechanistic paradigm. Whitehead's not in that paradigm anymore. But if we're able to let go of the mechanistic understanding of the universe and the reductionistic method of science that was said to lead us to that universe, if we can let go of that, I think as we let go of that, more people will recognize Whitehead's accomplishment. And he's not the only one. There are many other kindred thinkers that we might want to bring into this conversation as well.
[00:15:16.482] Kent Bye: Well, I think from the philosophical traditions, there's these paradigm shifts that I'd say happen where I think relativity is probably one where, you know, perhaps that led to a turn towards postmodernism to see how things are relative, just like the relativistic nature of physics. But there's also the quantum shift, which we could maybe point this movement towards pluralism or dealing with paradox in some ways, the complimentary nature of matter of the wave particle duality where both are happening at the same time, but you can only see one aspect depending on how you're measuring it. So there's this interface between the observer and how you're relating to it and how you're looking at it. And that will either, well, I guess, theoretically collapse away function or not, depending on whether or not you believe in the Everett many worlds interpretation and, or one of the dozens of other different interpretations. I think that's the part of the dilemma within the world of physics, especially the quantum mechanics world is that the math is clear as to what saying it's just, what is the underlying metaphysical assumption for what the nature of reality is? And I think that Bohm seems to be somebody that perhaps maybe in most alignment towards the white-headian type of thinking in terms of relationships or someone like Carlo Rovelli with the relational quantum mechanics and looking at in terms of these relationships. So I don't know if you agree with that or if there's other thinkers that you think have a bit of like a white-headian influence where they're doing this turn towards rather than looking at the substance metaphysics, looking at something of like a process relational orientation.
[00:16:47.337] Matt Segall: Yeah, Bohm is certainly one of the leading figures here. Ilya Prigogine, a lot of the systems theorists going back to Bertolt Enfi, who founded general systems theory. Earlier in the 20th century, Berkson, Teilhard de Chardin. There's lots of, I would call them, organic thinkers who are recognizing the implications of these revolutions in physics. And they need, Lee Smolin is a contemporary, physicist who has an interesting kind of almost biological understanding of the physical universe with black holes or spawning new universes and some kind of process of natural selection is producing universes that tend to have the fine tuning to produce life. Lee Smolin's a really interesting cosmologist. I could go on listing other figures directly influenced by Whitehead or converging on Whitehead's ideas. But yeah, I think what you're mentioning about both relativity and quantum theory made the observer relevant again in a way that classical physics had just sort of been neglecting. You get a quasi relativity in Galileo where he recognizes that your motion as an observer can affect what speeds you measure, but it wasn't fully worked out until Einstein brought space and time together as part of a single four-dimensional manifold. So in relativity, there's an interesting incorporation of the observer into our understanding of the physical universe. And then obviously in quantum theory, it's even more pronounced where you get all sorts of spooky interpretations of wave function collapse and things like that, where it's like consciousness is creating the universe. And so I think Whitehead offers us a more mundane interpretation actually, which was hinted at by some of the founders of quantum theory, Heisenberg in particular, who realized we needed to bring in some notion of potential back into physics and natural philosophy, which is a check against this materialistic idea that it's just dead matter being pushed around. notion of potentia and understanding the wave function as a field of potential, rather than a many-worlds interpretation where every possible result of the wave equation is being actualized, our universe itself contains potentials because the future is not yet decided upon. And in the present, there's this cresting wave of potential where creative decisions are being made as to which potentials to actualize. And Whitehead develops a systematic interpretation of the relationship between potentiality and actuality. This is how he unifies relativity and quantum theory, by understanding the role of potential in nature, because the classical picture of a mechanistic universe left no room for potential. And even in Einstein's favored interpretation of relativity, there's no room for potential either. The future is just in the fourth dimension already actualized. It's just that our illusory perceptual experience doesn't give us access to that. So Einstein and Bohm as well tend to have more of a view of the universe as an eternal whole that's kind of already finished from the God's eye perspective. Whereas Whitehead has a very different vision of a universe that is still in the making and that there is still a God's eye view on Whitehead, but it's a limited view. Actually, God can't see the future in Whitehead's universe because God is just as much caught up in the creative process as any other creature. So, you know, we could get into those interesting theological implications of Whitehead's theory, but eventually we want to talk about VR and emerging technologies, right?
[00:20:32.682] Kent Bye: Yeah. Well, before we dive into that, just helping to get a larger context here, because I feel like some of these things around the nature of reality, you know, these models of reality, they actually end up driving a lot of our worldview in the way that we speak, even the language that we have. I know that Whitehead has just talked about the, subject predicate nature of our language. And I feel like the mathematical roots of some of these core sciences end up driving the rest of society, but yet those metaphors are sometimes difficult to know how they translate. So that's sort of my interpretation, as we set this deeper context, but I wanted to dig into a few more things before we sort of get grounded into the VR aspect, because first I wanted to ask just about Carlo Revelli and his relational quantum mechanics, because he has a book called The Order of Time, and I've watched some lectures where he's talking about the philosophy of time, and it has this very relational aspect, meaning that like talking about the gravity at your toe versus the gravity in your head, those are two different spots, on earth that have different gravity. So the experience of time is actually different even between that small of a scale, which as you get into larger scales, you perhaps see more significant manifestations of that. But I feel like a lot of Ravelli's approach for that relational quantum mechanics seems to be, if not directly influenced by Whitehead, at least a lot of convergence in terms of this paradigm shift into thinking in terms of relationships rather than these concrete objects.
[00:21:56.969] Matt Segall: Yeah, definitely. I've read Rovelli's book, The Order of Time and several of his more technical papers. He's one of the best in terms of physicists who dabble in philosophy. He's very careful and he's respectful of the philosophical tradition, which many physicists, the best example of this would be... Well, there's a couple of good examples. Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't seem to care much for philosophers. He's made some very unfortunate comments. And he's a public intellectual with a vast influence and to disparage philosophy, I think is anti-intellectual. Like, why are you doing this? But also Lawrence Krauss is another physicist that just has nothing but horrible things to say about philosophy. And the problem is those guys are doing philosophy all the time. They think it's science, but they have a particular philosophical interpretation of the science. materialism, and it's bad philosophy. So I wish they would just be more... Rovelli tells you when he's doing philosophy and he does it well. And he's read a lot of the traditional philosophical figures. He doesn't dismiss them. He understands where they're coming from. He disagrees with them for reasons, not just being dismissive in the ways that a lot of these popular scientists are. So I really appreciate him just for that alone. and his relational interpretation of quantum theory and quantum ontology and his approach to quantum gravity, I think actually is very similar to Whitehead's alternative understanding of relativity. Whitehead would be, I think if he were alive now, he would be with those like Ravelli who are searching for a kind of quantum gravity theory rather than those who are trying to preserve the relativistic ontology and fit quantum theory into that. saying, no, quantum theory is real and relativity needs to be derived from that, such that continuous space-time is actually an emergent product of these quantum events. That's very similar to Whitehead saying that space-time as we measure it is an abstraction from concrete events. The only difference between Rovelli and Whitehead is that Whitehead says that these quantum events out of which all reality is composed, Whitehead says they're experiential. They have aims. Rovelli says they're just numbers being crunched. It's just math. So that's a profound difference. Otherwise though, just purely in terms of the way that they're describing the structure of reality, very similar.
[00:24:33.526] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I'd love to dive into the experiential aspects. I think VR has a huge experiential aspect, but I think I'm focusing on the nuts and bolts of some of this because I think that when it comes to like Thomas Kuhn and the paradigm shifts, there's anomalies or things that are not described by the existing models. And I think that the quantum realm and a lot of the interpretations, as well as the mashing up with the relativity, that is in some sense, one of the biggest anomalies of our existing scientific paradigm, because you have these inconsistencies that don't have a coherent parsimonious theory to be able to describe everything. And given that, I'd say that there's a larger disenfranchised reductive materialistic mindset where if you're only looking almost metaphorically through a straw at the tiniest aspects, you're missing the larger relational dynamics that are happening in the world. Whitehead and his influence in this move towards thinking in terms of ecosystems and biological organisms, the philosophy of organism was what he calls it within the book of process and philosophy, but specifically looking at these ecosystem dynamics of seeing how we are a part of a larger context and that we're in relationship to the earth and the larger environment. So I see that there's been a pretty significant influence of that more holistic type of thinking that has started maybe with biology and trying to look at things in terms of these organisms, but expanding out into looking at the entire environment. And we're kind of in this space where we need some sort of fundamental paradigm shift to be able to take all these systems that we have that are actually destroying the earth and destroying the larger ecosystem that we live in. And I think that for me, there's aspects of virtual reality that are also pointing to a similar type of paradigm shift that we can get into, but if we just look at the larger context of the ecological type of thinking, maybe you could connect some of those dots in terms of how Whitehead was being able to influence this larger ecological thinking and environmental movement in that sense.
[00:26:38.187] Matt Segall: Yeah. I mean, you could say that Whitehead replaces physics as the fundamental science with ecology. where he says, and this is like a direct quote, I think it's from Science in the Modern World. He says, physics is the study of the smaller organisms, biology is the study of the larger organisms. Or we could say the midsize organisms because it's astrophysics studying stars and galaxies that's looking at the largest organisms that we can perceive. And so the very nature of reality then becomes this evolving community of organisms. There is no background of meaningless matter in motion. And then organisms emerged later on because of some chemical accident and have to adapt to that material environment. If you look at our concrete experience, our environment is always other organisms. And you think about that biologically just to begin with, the atmosphere that we're breathing is a product of life. the oceans, the very geology of the planet has taken the form that it has because of billions of years of co-evolution with organisms. Most of them are bacteria, too small for us to see. But just because an organism is small doesn't mean it isn't having planetary effects. I mean, look at what coronavirus is doing. Viruses are very tiny. very, very tiny little chains of RNA bringing the whole human world to its knees right now. But that's just biologically. Whitehead's saying physics is also studying organisms in the sense that an organism is a self-organizing process that endures through time by reproducing a certain form. And so when we study atoms, we're studying a self-organizing process in a way just as a living cell, a eukaryotic cell, say a nucleated cell is a symbiotic relationship among organelles that used to be themselves free living organisms. An atom is the symbiotic achievement of electrons and protons and neutrons that entered into a relationship that proved to be beneficial. And so Whitehead's drawing analogy is between these different scales of nature, because he views nature in a fractal way, that there are scale-free principles of organization and they apply at the atomic and subatomic scale just as much as at the biological, just as much as at the galactic. Reality organizes itself in a cellular way. So ecology in that sense becomes the master science. And it's not a master science in the way that physics was where everything reduces down to it. It's rather just a generic level of description that applies at all levels of reality. You're not reducing the top levels down to the bottom levels. You're saying there is no top or bottom level. It's a loop. It's a recursive and iterative process And actually, thinking in terms of iteration, I think, again, this is maybe shifting us towards the conversation about technology and computation and VR. In terms of information processing and information theory, I think a lot of helpful vocabulary to talk about Whitehead's ontology. There's a way of saying that his, this is a word that process philosophers throw around, pan-experientialism, Whitehead's view of reality is made of these drops of experience, fundamentally, can be understood in terms of an informational ontology. That what reality finally is, is about information processing. Just for Whitehead, the processing is experiential. There is something it is like to undergo a computation in Whitehead's universe, right? So that's a possible area of translation to talk to programmers or people into information theory.
[00:30:27.553] Kent Bye: Yeah. And one other sort of philosophical thing I want to throw out there, and then we'll sort of dive into all the technology aspects, is that one of the things that I think was really striking to me is that you already have this kind of East versus West split when it comes to the philosophical traditions of say China or India or Japan. You have different metaphysical assumptions when it comes to like Chinese philosophy, as an example, looking at the yang and the yin and the balance. And it seems as though that some of the core philosophical principles of Whitehead and process philosophy actually have a lot in common to what I read in Taoism. I was really struck to hear that Whitehead has really been taken up by Chinese philosophers because there's been been this infusion of Confucianism, which is in some ways, the more young manifestation of Chinese philosophy that focuses on that more concreteness and more object oriented. If we look at the more Taoist interpretations and perhaps more the Yin side, there seems to be more of that aspect of the process philosophy where the Chinese philosophers are able to perhaps talk about aspects of the Taoist and more the yin aspects and the process relational parts that maybe were culturally eliminated during the cultural revolution. So maybe you could sort of set up a little bit of that context as to what's happening with Whitehead and China and the relationship that you see between like Chinese philosophy and process philosophy.
[00:31:49.957] Matt Segall: Yeah, it's I think now approaching like 35 or 40 graduate programs in process thought in China. I mean, we're talking about billions of people, so I don't know what the ratio would be for the number of graduate schools that the US would have to be equivalent. But that's a lot of people studying this British mathematician and philosopher in China. Why is that happening? Well, as you're saying, there's definitely resonance between Whitehead's philosophy and Taoism and ancient Chinese, classical Chinese conceptions of the relationship between human beings and nature. I think Whitehead gives the communist government a way of both preserving a sense that we need to be in conversation with modern Western thought and science, and it naturally evokes this indigenous Chinese sense of a flowing processual relational universe. And so it's like it both allows them to recover this Taoist aspect of their culture that the Cultural Revolution tried to erase, while also being what it's translating that Taoist understanding into modern scientific and philosophical terms. And so I think that that makes it especially useful to the Communist Party. And I mean, I have lots of criticisms of the Communist Party. don't necessarily want to go into that. I think it's a good thing that they've adopted this notion of ecological civilization into their constitution. In other words, they've committed to adopting principles from Whitehead's understanding of the universe into designing their cities and understanding the way that humankind can better interact with the earth, whether or not they're going to live up to that commitment that's on paper, I'm not sure. But the fact that they're taking Whitehead so seriously is a good sign. I do hope that the English-speaking world discovers Whitehead as well, because while he's congruent with and resonant with these Eastern ways of viewing things, There's also a lot of potential for a Whiteheadian reinterpretation of our own Judeo-Christian religious inheritance. Whitehead shows how that tradition itself has these untapped potentials to be more evolutionary, more incarnational would be a way of thinking about it. That there's a way of interpreting biblical religion that would bring human beings more into a sense of responsible relationship to the earth. Pope Francis is another great example of how this can be done. But Whitehead is also, I think, important for Westerners just to look at our own tradition in a new way.
[00:34:39.271] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess a final thought on the philosophy side is that as a read through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the SEP, they have an entry on process philosophy that says pretty clearly that there's a substance metaphysics that most of Western philosophy and the analytic tradition is based upon. And then there's process philosophy and that there's seems to be a completely different shift where most of the time you hear the intellect tradition contrasted to the continental tradition. Well, this seems to be like a whole yet other separate branch that doesn't even fall into that normal dialectic. And that it's a completely different metaphysical grounding that seems to have some traction within like the philosophy of biology. You have like quantum mechanics and you have the philosophers that are looking at this. There seems to be this large project that is just the very beginning of trying to reach the same level of maturity as the analog tradition is, which is, you know, maybe reached a certain point where it's fully formed. Whereas process philosophy is so nascent that is sometimes difficult to know, like, what is the process philosophy interpretation of this or that, because it's still at the very early beginnings of this process of trying to like, integrate all the different aspects of philosophy. So maybe you could just sort of set that context out. Cause I found that to be somewhat frustrating from my perspective of wanting to fully dive in, but yet it seems like it's a long process that we're just at the very beginnings of.
[00:36:02.541] Matt Segall: Yeah. Well, I think process philosophy can be given a very ancient pedigree going back to Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher, but you know, and I've also tried to trace it through Friedrich Schelling, the German idealist who had a, very organic and dynamic philosophy of nature. But I also think that there's another interpretation here, which is that process philosophy, as we understand it in the 21st century, coming out of Whitehead's work, is actually best situated within the context of American pragmatism. Whitehead was a British mathematician, but an American philosopher, I like to say, because he didn't start doing philosophy really till he came over to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught at Harvard. I think beginning in 1925 when he was 63 or something. So he retired from Cambridge. Well, he had already been teaching in London. I think after 20, 25 years, they force you to retire at Cambridge. You can't keep teaching. So he went to London and then he came to Harvard and taught philosophy, inheriting William James and John Dewey and Charles Saunders Peirce. One of Whitehead's students at Harvard, Charles Hartsorn, was editing the papers of Charles Saunders Peirce. under Whitehead supervision. And so this American pragmatist tradition, it hadn't yet fully become cosmological. I mean, Peirce, I don't know if you're familiar with his work, but he had a pretty well worked out cosmological vision, but he was difficult to get along with personally, didn't really finish many of his writing projects. And so there's no process in reality that Peirce produced that encompasses his cosmological vision, but his view of the universe as an evolutionary process, what we call laws of physics as actually being habits that grow and evolve over time, that's all in Whitehead. So Whitehead's building on these thinkers. And the thing about American pragmatism is, like you're saying, it's not analytic. It's not continental in the sense of the caricatured way that we'd understand analytic philosophy being primarily about the analysis of language. Continental philosophy is generally more about phenomenology and human experience and subjectivity and hermeneutics and these things. There are some great overlaps between analytic and continental philosophy. I think the caricatures are not wrong and the idea that there's a war between these two schools of thought is not totally off base, but there's also plenty of gray area between the two. But American pragmatism, this huge gray area, if you're only thinking in terms of this continental analytic divide, that on the one hand, it's deeply phenomenological. It puts experience at the center. But on the other hand, it also thinks that language is of primary significance in the sense that it is the form in which our understanding of reality will always need to be carried and expressed. So why did has very important things to say about the nature of language and the subject predicate structure of our grammar and how that influences metaphysics. And obviously he's second to no one in terms of his logical chops and his capacity for mathematical analysis and conceptual analysis. So Whitehead and the pragmatist tradition he's inheriting also doesn't fit comfortably within these analytic continental caricatures that academic philosophers are so used to thinking in terms of.
[00:39:35.326] Kent Bye: Yeah. I guess one other thing that I guess comes up quite a bit within the context of virtual reality is that, you know, when you have a VR experience, you put on a headset and you go into another world and you have an experience that for a lot of people is just as real as anything else. And I know that David Chalmers has talked about the virtual and the real and trying to compare like Does it feel real? Does it have consequences? Does it have meaning? And I think that we're at the point where I think people are having experiences that are in virtual reality, but yet they're not happening in any sort of physicality, like physical reality. It's just synthetically modulating our perceptual input, but yet it's giving us the experience of making it feel like we're having that experience and that it's being encoded within our minds in the same way that perhaps other memories are encoded. And so it's almost like whether or not you see the baseline of reality as this experience, or if it's the physical reality. I think that VR actually kind of brings up this split that we've been talking about here of like putting like the primary metaphysical basis of experience. And that when you have that experience, then it becomes just as real as anything else, which has implications around let's say like the fighting words or harassment within VR. If people are getting harassed and it feels just as real, then what are the ways that you mitigate against that type of abuse? And in the First Amendment, they have differentiations between what are fighting words and fighting words having a condition that there's some sort of imminent physical threat versus something that's online. It's not a physical threat, it's more of emotional threat, but yet it could be the same exact result. So I think we're seeing some of that when we start to talk about VR. And that's probably the reason why I think it's semi towards someone like Whitehead, because it seems to be that he is valuing the human experience more than just something that is the physical reality.
[00:41:23.232] Matt Segall: Yeah. Well, I think he would want to say, that human experience is a very elaborate, highly complex and evolved form of experience. That what we call human consciousness is actually quite rare in the universe. It seems like something like consciousness is present in higher mammals birds probably, and we can detect a kind of scale in nature of more or less intense forms of consciousness, like the ability to recognize that one is a self distinguished from other selves. All life has this innate tendency to survive, but it seems that there are animals that have the capacity for emotionality and social bonding and learning And this isn't like a sharp line, but there's a gradation of capacity in terms of experience in nature and human consciousness and human rationality. And all of this is bound up with our use of language or language's use of us, depending on how you want to look at it. And so it's important when we talk about experience in the context of Whitehead's philosophy that we make these distinctions. When he says that experience goes all the way down in a way and that these experiential events are the primary constituents of reality, he's not talking about conscious experience or conscious self-reflection and deliberation. The experience of an atom or a photon is quite simple. It's mostly the inheritance of the rhythmic propagation of energy from the past. It's just that for Whitehead, that propagating energy has a certain emotional tonality. And that when we want to talk about basic reality, for Whitehead, basic reality is something we should understand as having an emotional vector to it. And that light radiating from the sun feels like something. It feels like something to be those waves of energy. It might not feel the same as the visual experience that we have as human beings or the warmth that we feel on our skin, but it might be analogous in some way to warmth. It might be that these wavelengths of light experience something like the vibrancy that we feel when they reach our skin and our eyes. Because Whitehead is saying that if it's real, it's because it has an experiential horizon. There's not something it is like to be a thing, then it isn't a real thing. And so when we talk about VR and whether or not these experiences are physical, well, they're not physical in the embodied way that we're used to, but it's going to be physical in some other way. There's going to be some electrons on some circuit board that are correlated with these virtual experiences. that's different from the correlations that happen in terms of a human body embedded in an environment with other bodies. But it seems that we're getting better and better at simulating this embodied experience, because there is something about the nervous system where the universe has folded in upon itself. And so that the experience that we have as conscious animals is presenting a world out there to us, there's a translation going on. So we can, in other words, it's almost like the brain is a radio receiver. And just by manipulating the brain or by manipulating the senses with different technologies, we can produce a simulation of a real experience. But all I'm trying to say is that that's still going to be physical, in Whitehead's sense of physical. There's still going to be some energetic transaction that's transpiring. upon which this experience is occurring. I'm using this term correlation, And I don't want to be misunderstood because for Whitehead, physical energy is experiential. It's not that the physical energy has this property, an intrinsic property that we call experience. It has experience, but it is experience in the sense that to manifest at all, there is a feeling being expressed, right? That's what physical existence means for Whitehead. Physical existence is the expression of experience, right?
[00:45:51.051] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that it brings up to me is two thoughts from neuroscience. One is the principle of embodied cognition, as well as the predictive coding theory of neuroscience. So predictive coding theory of neuroscience is that you are getting all this sensory input and that your brain is kind of like a prediction machine. It's creating all these mental models and it's trying to project what's going to happen. And then it's taking what actually happens. And if there's an error, then it releases some dopamine and that dopamine helps to form new networks to be able to have even better refined models. And so there's this like iterative process that's always happening as we're taking an input, we're comparing that sensory input to what we expect. And then if it's something we don't expect, if it's novel, then it makes us laugh or, you know, that's sort of the genesis of all of our doom scrolling or searching for memes for the latest laugh. You know, it's just like, we're in constant search of that novelty and that creativity. and that it gives us that real visceral hit neurochemically, that dopamine, but also this concept of embodied cognition, which is that, you know, we've tended to in the past, think of our cognition as this thing that happens in the brain and the brain only. But in recent neuroscience of looking at embodied cognition is that actually cognition is distributed out through the entire body, but also the world around you. It's much more of that ecological type of thinking that I think would be in alignment with a lot of Whitehead's ecological thinking. But It's like this process of perception and cognition is actually in relationship to the world around us, but also in relationship to all of our prior embodied experiences. And I think that's the thing that when I talk to neuroscientists and they say like, when I say the word kick, that's actually like activating the part of your brain of the motor cortex that would be responsible for your leg to actually kick. So there's this way much even language in our mirror neurons as we see people on movies or other media, but also from our own language as we speak and how we communicate, constantly invoking this whole rich set of embodied experiences. if we were just a brain in a vat and only receiving this virtual signals, then it may not be as visceral as it is, given that it's being contrasted to a whole lifetime of our embodied experiences. Which I think is what makes the VR so interesting is that it's actually using the palette of our existing experiences. and that it's setting the bare minimum amount of signals to be able to invoke all these memories of those experiences. There's this fusion of our imagination and our past and our memory with the sensory input. People have often said that our brains are virtual reality machines all the time. The way that all the stuff that is fused together in our mind is something that is a very virtual process and arguably perhaps different from each individual that goes through their own set of life experiences. So as I hear you talk about that, that's the things that come up is like this iterative aspect of the predictive coding theory of neuroscience mashed up with the concepts of embodied cognition and that more ecological approach of cognition and perception.
[00:48:52.839] Matt Segall: Yeah. I'm reminded of something that Whitehead says, that philosophers in the Western tradition have been so enamored with vision and visual experience and use that as the model for ontology, for understanding reality, and they've totally denied and ignored the feelings of the viscera So visual experience has been privileged, visceral experience has been ignored. Whitehead wants to give the bodily feeling, the feelings of the viscera, like the emotions, hunches, intuitions, he wants to give that more prominence and respect it as an area of inquiry that philosophers should be pursuing when it hasn't been, because for him, Visual experience actually gives us the most abstract conception of the world that we have, of all the senses, which is paradoxical because it also presents us with the clearest and most distinct display of what reality is. It gives us the sense of objects separated from other objects in a measurable three-dimensional space. It's a projective space, of course. I think it's better to think of visual experience in projective terms than it is in Euclidean three-dimensional terms, because parallel lines don't really appear parallel in our visual experience. But the point here is that rather than looking to visual experience as the paradigm for metaphysics, Whitehead says, let's look at our bodily feelings. Like our sense of touch is closer, but even touch is abstract. Whitehead's pointing us to mood. He's not the first philosopher to pay attention to moods. Heidegger is also very good on mood. But it's a new thing for philosophers to look at. Because for Whitehead, if you really want to tap into the nature of reality, It's in our aesthetic feelings, our moods, our emotions. This is the bedrock, not our visual experience of patches of color. That's what many modern philosophers have started with. And I think when we think about virtual reality, we're primarily talking about very high definition screens, or maybe eventually we'll be wearing contact lenses, or maybe it'll just be nearly fed straight into the optic nerve or into the a little low or something. But in any of those cases, whatever the technology might be, the hyper-focus on visual experience maybe you got some good sound going too. It's how do we reproduce these bodily sensations that Whitehead says are the basis of physical reality? It's not clear that we can't, which doesn't mean that VR isn't real in the sense that we're not having experiences that have ethical consequences and biographical consequences and all of this, but it just means that there might always be a difference ontologically between an experience in any sort of VR setup and an experience as a body amidst bodies in the quote unquote physical world.
[00:51:51.573] Kent Bye: Yeah. And earlier you said that from Whitehead, he would say that experience goes all the way down. And so I like to maybe dive into some of the more panpsychic implications of Whitehead because recently there was a Ted Talk that David Chalmers did talking about the philosophy of mind and the nature of consciousness and making this argument that a lot of the intellect tradition of reductive and eliminative materialism sees that consciousness is just merely a manifestation of all of our neurological firings. So it's sort of an epiphenomena of our brain rather than something that is fundamental to the universe itself. And Chalmers says in this talk, he's like, well, you have someone like Daniel Dennett, who is going on the extreme of saying, let's just say that everything is physical. And it's just like the manifestation of these firing of these neurons. And the other extreme would be, you know, in some ways saying that consciousness is a fundamental fabric of reality itself. It's like a fundamental feel, which you could extrapolate to some extent, idealism, which not a lot of philosophers of mind, aside from like Bernardo Castro, I know he's been talking about that. But, you know, I think we've moved past like dualism. I think there's a lot of issues where dualism, like having some sort of split between having maybe some sort of platonic realm of reality with the physical reality. But then I think Whitehead in some ways offers this interesting compromise, which is to say, hey, what if every single photon or electron had a little bit of consciousness? And it's metaphorically a bit of a piece of water that as you add into more larger pools has more structured ways of doing complicated thinking. And I think Tononi has come up with the mathematical formalism to that, but there seems to be a larger trend of this move towards panpsychism within the analytic tradition, which to me is number one, surprising and fascinating that that has been taken up because on the surface, it sounds ridiculous that you could have a photon or electron be able to have some little part of free will or making some sort of choice, or at least have some degree of cognition or being able to perceive the world around it. But there seems to be in the Atlantic tradition, folks that are steep within the substance metaphysics still. So there's almost like this interpretation of pain psychism through this lens of substance metaphysics, like Philip Goff is probably a good example of that. But I don't know if there's anyone that is really taking the full metaphysical implications of someone like Whitehead and trying to actually like expand out the implications of panpsychism and what does it mean to have a photon or electron that has some level of consciousness?
[00:54:24.855] Matt Segall: Yeah, I am surprised as well that analytic philosophers are taking up panpsychism. And you're right that most of them tend to think in this substance paradigm. Most of them at least gesture towards Whitehead, but they tend to say it's too complicated, which is like you're an academic philosopher. All philosophers are hard. Whitehead's not harder than any of the other great 20th century thinkers. tons of people write about Heidegger. I don't think he's exactly easy to understand. So I don't know. It's interesting just sociologically. I'd be curious to see someone do a sociology of academic philosophy to see why Whitehead's been neglected. I mean, he's one of the founders of analytic philosophy. It starts with his friend, Russell, who doesn't include Whitehead in his history of philosophy. Very odd. I think. So I'm curious about that sociological issue. But yeah, I think of panpsychism and just putting the substance process issue to the side, panpsychism does seem to be this kind of compromise position that avoids the extremes of idealism on the one hand and physicalism, like eliminative materialism or physicalism on the other hand. Dualism I think is, I just find it incoherent. It's like, there's no explanation offered for the relationship between these two different substances, except that they're totally different. For me, that feels like, I don't know how to live with this. You're telling me my mind is separate from my body? That sucks. I refuse to accept it. Panpsychism is an attempt to avoid these extremes. I think it's the more parsimonious response to the hard problem of consciousness. It's a problem that David Chalmers has formulated. I mean, Descartes formulated it already a few hundred years before, but the hard problem as Chalmers has framed it as a demonstration of the impossibility of solving the problem from within the existing paradigm. And so panpsychism is being taken up as a way around this impasse. And the analytic philosophers who take up panpsychism, they have to deal with what's called the combination problem. Because when you work through the implications, it turns out that it's not as simple as adding up a bunch of droplets of water into a bucket of water. There are certain logical issues with that. And it was William James, of course, who first formulated this problem in his Principles of Psychology, 1890, I believe it was published. And everyone references James. He came up with this problem. I don't know how to solve it. Oh my God, what are we going to do? But if you go back and read James, he formulates the problem and then he solves it right in the same paragraph. And Whitehead indeed builds on that solution. And the solution is we can't think of these drops of experience as combining in an additive way, as if they're just summing. it's a cumulative process. And this is where the process dimension replacing a substance way of thinking becomes important. It's not that each drop is just being sort of spatially combined with all the other drops. There's a process of unfolding where each drop incorporates the last drop, which itself includes the prior drops. This is Whitehead's word concrescence, where in James's original formulation, let's say you have 100 feelings. The question is, how do those 100 feelings combine into one feeling? Because if something like a panpsychist story is true, our consciousness is the combination of the consciousnesses of many neurons, which have many molecules, which have many atoms. And how do they add up? How do you get a 101st feeling out of these prior separate 100 feelings? And James's solution is that in some way, there's a curious chemical process, he says, by which there's a combination that is cumulative, such that this 101st feeling contains in microcosm, the prior 100 feelings. And so this is Whitehead's cosmology. And this was James speaking in a psychological register in this book on the principles of psychology. Whitehead takes that and applies it cosmologically and says that what reality is, is this process of concrescence. And it's an iterative process where each concrescence or growing together is a integration of the many feelings of the past into a new emergent feeling that includes and transcends those prior feelings and experiences itself as a novel perspective on the universe never before seen or heard from. But as soon as it experiences and enjoys itself as a novel integration of its own past, it perishes and itself moves into the past to be inherited by the next moment of concrescence. And so it's cumulative rather than additive. And that is Whitehead and James's solution to the combination problem. The analytic philosophers haven't, as far as I can tell, stumbled upon this solution, which again is in the same paragraph where James announces the problem. And so I think that's the way forward. And I don't think it'll take too much longer for this to be figured out. I'm actually speaking to Philip Goff tomorrow. he and I have been trying to set up a time to talk and I've seen a lot of his dialogues with Bernardo Kastrup, the idealist that you mentioned. And so I'm going to bring this up with Philip Goff tomorrow and see if we can move the conversation forward.
[00:59:45.212] Kent Bye: Yeah, there seems to be part of the underlying metaphysical assumption of substance rather than process. Because when you do turn into the process thinking, then it's a paradigm shift that makes you interpret and maybe see something that you couldn't see before. I guess this comes up a lot in software development. Actually, I would say that the shift from waterfall development into agile and lean practices is actually embedding this whole iterative process. The way that technology is built I was shifted from this more static waterfall process where you would plan everything out. It's like building a house. You draw up the architectural plans, you do all the planning, you go build the house, and then you're done. And that's it. It's sort of like this static object that is not moving. It's immutable. But yet software development is not like that at all because you're dealing with trying to modulate someone's human experience. And so you have to kind of tinker with it. It's much closer to something like game design where you have to build something and then you try it out, but you have to really do user testing and you have to like keep iterating and you have to keep doing the play testing and getting feedback. And then it's this larger issue of knowing what your experience is as an individual and when that experience is more of a universal experience. You can have a great experience with something, but if you show it to a hundred people and they all say it sucks, then there's probably something that sucks about it that maybe you just had something that was unique about your experience that is very personal to you. And so this whole process of game design and experiential design more broadly within VR is this process of trying to, in essence, modulate someone's human experience. And what are the elements of tinkering that you can shift and modulate to be able to cultivate a certain experience? the medium of film has been doing this for over a hundred years now. And it's a time-based medium where you don't have any input from the audience. And so you have less variance in terms of the design process. Producing a film is much closer to producing a architectural building because there's a similar process of like, you do the pitch, you'd write the script, you produce it, and then you have the whole post-production. So you have the pre-production, production, and post-production phase, just like you would have and building a house. And once you ship out the film, it's not shifting or changing. But I think the thing that is happening is taking those conceits of storytelling and experiential design from what we see from game development and the elements of architecture and the elements of web design that we already have this agile process that has been cultivated for a number of years now for the best practices for how to build software. And you're kind of fusing that all together into what I more generally calling experiential design, which is creating these virtual and augmented reality experiences or artificial intelligence as well. And it's ways that for the first time, well, maybe not for the first time, but for a time that is unique to VR and be able to really invoke this sense of embodiment and a sense of presence, the sense of actually being in another place. And what are all the little components that you need to do to be able to cultivate that experience and then give someone experience of a story or expression of their will. I feel like the things that you're talking about here, this concrescence of this aggregation, the cumulative nature of an experience is very much in play here when it comes to experiential design generally within the virtual and augmented reality, because that's the whole essence of what we're doing is creating these software mediated ways to be able to concretize the same subjective input that you're able to maybe give someone an experience that's consistent across people. And then from there, see what your phenomenological experience is, and then take that phenomenological baseline, which used to be highly variable and never really able to get down. I'd say it's arguable for video game design that this has been happening for decades now, but generally with this whole aspect of immersive embodied experiences, we're taking all these different design disciplines and taking the affordances of building architecture and building stories that have not had a lot of user input and we're melding it together with the video game aspects. So this whole shift of substance into process, I think is at the heart of what I see with software design and experiential design and game design.
[01:03:54.391] Matt Segall: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's like very white heady and it's like, Organisms in the actual world to survive, they need to, from the very beginning, be adapted to the environment to respond to situations. even before they're fully grown, right? And I think what you're describing is that principle applied to programming. Rather than designing a program in platonic space and trying to get all the details right, and then just dropping it into the world as if you can predict all the variables that it's going to face, you just sort of go through this process of learning where you'd get something simple going. There is a platonic space in Whitehead, this realm of eternal objects, but it's a realm of potential And the whole point is to ingress potentials into actual concrete experience because that's where evolution happens. That's where experience happens. And so like, yeah, bringing these abstract designs into the everyday world of like the humans who are going to be playing the game or using the software and seeing, okay, what do I need to do to make this program survive better in the environment that it's supposed to serve? Right.
[01:05:04.356] Kent Bye: Yeah. And you had mentioned earlier that there was an emotional vector. And as you say that it reminds me of this philosophical concept of teleology or what I think of also is like the Aristotelian concept of a final cause. So there's like this intentional field that's there. And it seems that within philosophy at large, that the concept of teleology has been really erased or forgotten, or I don't know how you would categorize it, but maybe you could talk about that teleological impulse that Whitehead's trying to perhaps reintroduce with some of his philosophy?
[01:05:35.223] Matt Segall: Yeah. Well, it's often said by scientific materialists or physicalists that teleology has been banished, but I don't think it has. It's just gone underground. I mean, the usual story that's told by Darwinian biologists is that in the earlier part of the 19th century, there was this guy, William Paley, a natural theologian who came up with the design argument. I mean, the design argument precedes him, but he wrote this essay about finding a watch on the beach. And the only rational explanation for finding such a highly intricately designed artifact on the beach is that it must have had a designer. And so same goes for organisms. They're so intricate. How could this have happened? There must be a God. Darwin is then suggested as the figure who figured out how to get the appearance of design in organisms from a purely natural, supposedly non-teleological process. But actually, Darwin's still working within the design paradigm, the same design paradigm that William Paley was, what I mean by design paradigm is thinking of organisms as machines that are designed by some external agent. Now that agent in Paley's case was God. In Darwin's case, it was something called nature, which selects those designs that afford for survival and the capacity to reproduce. So natural selection is, It's a teleological process that's kind of covert. And you see this coming out more in the neo-Darwinian paradigm of Richard Dawkins, where he speaks very eloquently about selfish genes. driving the evolutionary process. And he says, of course, this is just a metaphor, but take away the metaphor. How much does this actually explain if you don't take the metaphor seriously? Selfish genes trying to replicate themselves. Okay. With that assumption, the Darwinian picture of an apparently non-directed evolutionary process can make sense. But where did this selfishness come from at the level of a molecule that outside the context of a living cell very quickly falls to pieces and decays? Genes aren't even self-organizing. And so I think there's a kind of covert teleology in Darwin. There's also a kind of covert teleology in physics, in thermodynamics, and the understanding of the second law. It's not a teleology toward greater organization, but it's a direction toward greater disorder. and indeed in open, far from equilibrium systems, that tendency toward entropy globally, locally produces a tendency toward organization and complexity. And so the second law is teleological, I think. And I'm not, you know, Stan Salte is a physicist, complexity theorist who has argued this. So I'm not the only one. I got it from reading his work, but there's another way of understanding teleology though, that's not within the design paradigm where the cause of the design is external to the thing you're explaining. That's the mechanistic design paradigm. And this would be the organic paradigm that people like Whitehead and Schelling and Burkson and others are talking about where the teleology or the purpose is coming from the inside out. It's not being imposed from the outside by an intelligent designer or God or by the material environment and the natural selector. It's a sort of purposiveness that emerges from the experience of the organism in question. So is there a grand design that in advance of biological evolution, all the different species were planned out and that it had to happen this way? No, no, no. That's not the kind of organic teleology that Whitehead would be arguing for. The teleology comes in with each of the decisions made by these organisms to seek food or to seek beauty and a more enjoyable experience. So for Whitehead, the evolutionary process is driven by, I guess you could say it as a bunch of little purposes within all of the many organisms who are, yes, they're trying to survive, which is already a kind of purpose, but also they want to thrive. So it's not just if survival was the goal, Whitehead says, nature would have been content to remain in geological form. Rocks survive a lot longer without much effort than organisms, and they don't feel as much pain. So if the goal was survival, we wouldn't have had life ever. It wouldn't have emerged and it wouldn't have continued to complexify. The goal is there's a teleology toward the intensification of experience and the complexification of consciousness. But again, this is internal to each organism. It's not imposed from outside. Usually teleology is that kind of design from the outside. That's how we understand it in the modern period. Whitehead is saying it's organic. It emerges from the inside out. It's not imposed from the outside.
[01:10:36.490] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's two aspects of this theological dimension of Whitehead. One is the more global aspect, which starts to get into more theological dimensions. And then there's the more local aspect, which is the, as a designer, you're embedding your intention into an experience, which I think for me has a lot more clear aspects, regardless of the larger global implications of the theological assumption within your metaphysical framework. But maybe there's two aspects there. First, I want to ask, because I think this comes up a lot with Whitehead, because for some reason Whitehead's philosophy, even though it's like the most cutting edge when it comes to trying to come up with interpretations of general relativity and quantum mechanics, Yet the stewards of Whitehead's philosophy seem to be the theologians and people who have taken the more processed theology interpretations of Whitehead with the Cobb Institute and other folks that have been really taking this as a theological interpretation. So maybe you could set a broader context because I think that may actually be off-putting for some people to see like, wait, people trying to sneak in God here in a way that if you're a process philosopher, are you secretly trying to turn everybody into a Christian or something like that? So maybe talk about part of why I think at least Whitehead have some taboos around him is because of the process theology and the theological implications of some of this thought. But it doesn't seem like he was necessarily trying... There seems to be other people who have taken Whitehead's philosophy and taking more of a secular approach and just taking the more process relational implications and applying it to biology or all sorts of other fields without the theological implications. So why has Whitehead taken root into these theological communities?
[01:12:19.489] Matt Segall: I think it's an accident of history, really. I think academic philosophy in the 1920s just went in a very different direction towards a more analytic approach, or in America, towards a more analytic approach. The pragmatist tradition has survived, but the pragmatists after Whitehead generally didn't take up his work as much. And then in Europe, the continental philosophers were doing their own phenomenological thing. And there just wasn't much of a interest in philosophy departments in Whitehead. But in the theology and religious studies departments, and not just in academia, but in church communities, there was a lot of people just realized that, oh, this view of God has the potential to reinvigorate our spiritual lives. And it's not just Christian churches, though probably predominantly, but there are rabbis and Jewish philosophers who take up Whitehead's work, Buddhists who take up Whitehead's work, Muslim thinkers who take up Whitehead. So Whitehead was an Anglican, but he certainly wasn't like a churchgoer. He was just raised by an Anglican father who had an Anglican grandfather and he's just in the church of England. That's just his upbringing. And so his spiritual home was there, but he wanted his process theology to be inclusive of the whole range of human spiritual experience over the course of our species history. And so he's a religious pluralist, and he wanted his conception of God to be something that even non-theistic religions like Buddhism could find some resonance with. And so that's why his ultimate principle is not God, it's creativity, and God is a creature of creativity. And so it leaves room for analogies to a Buddhist conception of Buddha nature or to a more biblical conception of a divine creator. And there are process theologians who have looked at biblical scripture and accounts of God to show that actually you can read this differently, so that it is more in consonance with Whitehead's theology than it is with these views of God as a totally transcendent, all-powerful dictator. There are aspects of the Bible that press against that sort of reading. But Whitehead's God is a metaphysician's God. That it produces religious feelings is sort of, I think, a secondary byproduct as far as Whitehead was concerned. He didn't want religious emotion to drive his speculative philosophizing. He wanted the logic and the experiential adequacy of his system to guide the inquiry. And in that inquiry, he determined that he needed a divine function to speak mathematically for the coherence of his system. And God's role for Whitehead is to evoke intensity of experience and to lure all of the experiential creatures that make up the universe towards greater degrees of harmony to lure the universe towards greater beauty. And this is a lure, this isn't a command. Whitehead's God is not all powerful and cannot perform miracles to intervene in the course of natural events. Whitehead's God is the creative energy that gives rise to natural events, but it's nature as a, yes, habit forming system, but also nature as an advance into novelty and evolutionary adventure. And so Whitehead's God is the cosmic Eros, this Greek term Eros, it's like desire, yearning. Whitehead says in his book, Religion in the Making, that the power of God is the worship that God inspires. So in other words, to the extent that human beings feel called to accept the lure that is an ingredient in each moment of their experience, this divine lure, to the extent that we respond to that call, by worshiping the divine, which is to say by seeking out beauty and harmony in our lives, God is empowered. So God doesn't have power over us. God only has power when God has power with us. So this is Whitehead's theological view, which I think is more palatable, perhaps, to people who are more secularly inclined or even atheist. Whitehead has just as much criticism of the Abrahamic religions for their insistence on imagining God as some sort of totalitarian king or all-powerful dictator, he has no time for those images of God as the ultimate patriarchal ruler of the universe. His God is a God of persuasion rather than coercion. And it's not a God that can perform miracles. It's a God that, if you want, establishes the miracle of creative experience. The fact that we live for Whitehead, when we understand the metaphysical principles involved of allowing each moment of our experience to emerge out of a past and lean into a future, that for Whitehead is, in a sense, a miracle. And when we pay attention, when we pay due attention to the everyday texture, to the texture of our everyday experience, we see this miracle. And it is intrinsically a cause for celebration and joy. And that's worship for Whitehead of the divine is tapping into this experience, recognizing this experience. It's not something else or elsewhere. It's not some transcendent beyond. It's what's right here. So for Whitehead, philosophy begins in wonder. We ask questions because we're like, what's going on? And Whitehead says at the end, when philosophy has done its job, the wonder remains. Philosophy is not trying to explain away our experience so that we are like, oh, OK, it's just that. It's just merely this that's happening. But rather, when philosophy has done its job, it enhances our capacity to rejoice in the miracle of creation. That's what the role of philosophy should be.
[01:18:21.633] Kent Bye: So yeah, as you say all that, what I see is folks like Trip Fuller, who's been doing a lot of work with using Whitehead and process philosophy to bring across different religions and even did a whole book talk with John Cobb. And there seems to be that type of interdisciplinary collaboration of Whitehead that inspires across all these different disciplines and domains, which I think is what I see also in virtual reality, which is that you have neuroscientists collaborating with you know, game designers and architects with theater folks and storytellers and website designers. And so you have all these disciplines that are coming in. And I feel like when you boil things down to the human experience, then you start to perhaps find ways to see how all these folks can collaborate. So the emerging technologies are creating this more ecological approach of trying to see What is the real affordances of each of these different design disciplines? And going back to the localized aspect of the theological impulse, which is that I feel like the designers are trying to have some sort of intention. They're trying to communicate something. They're trying to give someone an experience. And so you have that theological impulse that's embedded into the experience itself. And that's often trying to communicate something. I think that's the essence of the communications medium, is that you experience something and in some ways you're experiencing a projection of someone's consciousness, whether it's conscious or unconscious. It's through the mechanism of a story usually, but I kind of draw upon folks like Carl Jung, who has this whole depth psychological approach, which is to try to understand the degrees to which that you have a conscious and unconscious, and that you are unconsciously projecting out different things that you're trying to work through. And I think the process of art is doing that. And so when I go into a VR experience, I think of it as like, I'm experiencing this lens of an individual's or a collective's collective consciousness. And then I am in relationship to whatever themes that are being unconsciously embedded into that. And that you're able to start to document aspects of culture that at this point have been really hard to put into words. And so you're able to capture the essence of what's it like to be in a place. And there's cultural artifacts that have all these other aspects of meaning. But I feel like that the theological impulse has a lot clearer implications when it comes to experiential design and the process of creating art because it's the creators having some sort of intention. They're trying to do something and whether or not it is successful or not is, you know, when I, when I see an experience, I have an experience and I then talk to the creator to say, okay, what were you intending? What were you trying to do? And then I match up my experience with the intention. And when there's an alignment, that's great. They're able to have a successful communication. And when there's not an alignment, then one of two things have happened. One, it could be just me that wasn't primed to have that experience. Or two, there's something wrong in the experiential design that is kind of missing its mark. and that as somebody who's covering the space, I have to constantly sort that out. But the artist's intention actually becomes a key part of me figuring out whether or not something is good or not. Because sometimes the artist will say, I was trying to do this. And I was like, oh, really? Well, I had that experience and I thought it was terrible. But since that you were actually trying to cultivate that, then I can see why you were trying to cultivate this sense of unease or terror or whatever else that was a part of the artist's intention. So anyway, just sort of going from the collective down to the small here in terms of that theological impulse, I think it's a big part of the experiential design process.
[01:21:51.490] Matt Segall: Yeah. I mean, it's, I think, impossible for us to understand art and morality and law and all the other things that are part of human life without taking purpose seriously. And it's one of the major incoherencies in the modern worldview that we have to take all of that seriously at the human level, even though scientific materialism, as the reigning paradigm, is telling us that actually, it's just matter in motion. Actually, evolution is a totally blind process. Actually, all of your behavior is governed by your genetic inheritance. When we're forced to inhabit these two worlds as if they're both real, I think it leads to a cultural confusion and an atrophying of the human spirit. And so Whitehead's trying to address this problem and say, hey, look, there are these certain hardcore common sense presuppositions about human freedom and human purpose and intention and the role that that plays in giving meaning to our lives through art and through spirituality, we have to take those things seriously if we're going to continue the endeavor to be civilized human beings. How does that square with our understanding of nature? Luckily, there's evidence coming out of science that points to a different understanding of nature as not materialistic and mechanistic and deterministic and purposeless. And so Whitehead's trying to say, hey, let's reintegrate our human experience with our understanding of the physical world, grasp the deep continuity of the evolutionary process that is the universe and that is the earth, the evolutionary process that gave rise to us and see how our purposes and intentions, our artistic expressions and spiritual experiences are themselves emergent from a multi-billion year evolutionary process. And then think about the potentials for inspiration for artists to give rise, to express their imaginations. It's like, instead of drawing merely on the realm of human experience, all of a sudden we're given permission as artists to say, oh, the supernovas that astronomers are describing, that's inside of me. I was birthed by that. And I carry that energy. So I think it creates a new context for artists to engage in their work that's very inspiring. And I also think what you're saying about intention There's a way in which maybe in programming it's different as a specific kind of art form, but often lots of musicians or poets in the plastic arts, artists will describe entering into almost like a shamanic state of reverie in the process of creation and they don't so much have a conscious intention. Or maybe they do have a conscious intention, but then the way the work of art is received by others is just totally different. And that work becomes famous despite the artist's intentions for totally different reasons. And so there's a way in which the artistic process, I think, it's a process of self-overcoming sometimes where we have to let go of our intentions and see what wants to move through us. And that's not always the case. And I understand totally what you're saying about you can't really judge a project until you know if there's an alignment between what you're experiencing and what the creator's intentions were. But I also think there's a way in which truly profound, sublime art, it doesn't belong to the artist. The artist was the vessel, but what was birthed has its own life in a way.
[01:25:30.173] Kent Bye: Yeah, totally agree with that. Certainly there's experiences where the art transcends any intention or anything else. It just comes through clear. So just a couple more questions to wrap up here. First, in terms of Whitehead, he's notoriously difficult to read. I think that there's certain ways in which that he's trying to get us outside of a lot of the linguistic traps that we have with the subject predicate nature of our language and try to give all these concepts that are outside of that. And so by that nature, it's like he's fighting against many millennia of language that's evolved. But if you were to make recommendations for folks, either some primary literature of Whitehead's works himself, or if you suggest people maybe start with secondary literature, like what do you suggest people start to dive into Whitehead? And where would you suggest that they begin?
[01:26:19.655] Matt Segall: Not with process and reality, unless I would say if you have a strong background in early modern philosophy, like you've read your David Hume and your John Locke and you've read some Kant, go for it. Process and reality, and you have some understanding of contemporary physics, go for it. It'll still be hard when he starts talking about the extensive scheme of Mario topological connection in part four. Very few people can make sense of that. But if you don't have that strong background in early modern philosophy, but you're interested in Whitehead, I would suggest starting with one of his shorter books, The Function of Reason. is a discussion of our understanding of evolution and how it is that human rationality can be understood as a product of the evolutionary process. If you want to go a little bit deeper, you could read Science and the Modern World, which he published in 1925. that will give you a sense of his understanding of the history of science. He's just beginning in that book to work out his philosophy of organism. It's only in the last couple of chapters of that book that he starts to get really technical. The first part of the book is really great for the general reader, but there's a chapter on abstraction and a chapter on quantum theory and another on relativity theory that if you don't have any background in those subjects, have trouble with. But the historical part of it at the first half of the book is a great introduction, I think.
[01:27:56.178] Kent Bye: Any secondary literature that's your favorite?
[01:27:58.080] Matt Segall: Well, I'll recommend my own book, Physics of the World Soul, Whitehead's Adventure in Cosmology. It's on my blog, a PDF for free if you'd like, or you can order it if you want the paperback. And what's another great secondary source? It kind of depends on what other philosophers, like if you're into continental thought and like Gilles Deleuze, you might appreciate Isabel Stenger's book, Thinking with Whiteheads. If you're more into American pragmatism and you've read some William James or John Dewey, you might like a book that Randall Auxier and Gary Hurstein recently published called The Quantum of Explanation, Whitehead's Radical Empiricism is the subtitle. These are both relatively new books that I think really moved the ball forward in Whitehead studies. Oh, there's a French thinker named Dieter DeBase, I think. I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing his last name right. He's written a couple of books, Nature as Event and Speculative Empiricism, that both enter into dialogue with Whitehead's thought. They're short little books and I think accessible. That's a nice stack of books to get people started, I think.
[01:29:11.639] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:29:23.703] Matt Segall: Well, as an educator and someone who teaches online even before the coronavirus, I would love to be able to do online learning in a way that was more embodied, even if virtually mediated. Showing up to a virtual space as a humanoid figure, doesn't have to be like high def rendering of my actual body necessarily, though, maybe we'll get there. But I know this technology is being developed. But to be able to feel like I'm in a room with people to get that body language factor back into the conversation, and to recreate the social spaces around classrooms of like waiting to get in before class starts and then when you walk out and you're still sort of bubbling with the conversation going to your next call with whoever else you're VRing with later. It affords for a sort of community experience that I think is essential to learning and so long as online education is here to stay I think we need to find ways of incorporating these elements that aren't conveyed via a flat screen. And I don't think we'll ever replace being together. I hope we're still able to do that. I just seems, for reasons we were discussing earlier, still impossible to replicate. the residents of bodies sharing air, breathing together. So there's always going to be a space for that. I wouldn't want to overemphasize that that's like the pure real way of being human or anything. I think VR is really cool. But yeah, I think as an educator, I'd love to see ways of allowing us to gather virtually in some embodied form, albeit digitally mediated.
[01:31:08.398] Kent Bye: I guess one extra question in terms of the ultimate potential of whitehead and process philosophy, what do you think if it was really taken off here in the world, what do you think where that could lead? What would be possible with this process relational metaphysics?
[01:31:26.255] Matt Segall: I think, I mean, there's so many implications. Most importantly, perhaps, it would allow us to reevaluate our values and to have a sense of value, not as a human construct, and certainly not as just a monetary construct. I think right now, the dominant cosmology or religion, if you will, is consumer capitalism. And there's a certain conception of value, a very reductionistic conception of value that is our common sense right now, which is that if it's not worth money, it's not worth anything. And that's not completely all pervasive yet, but it's certainly rushing in that direction. Everything about human life, every facet is being modified. And Whitehead's conception of value allows us to just break us out of that narrow, anthropocentric, solipsistic, self-enclosed bubble to recognize that we are one member of an Earth community, and the health of that community is absolutely essential to our existence as a species, and that our commodified understanding of value has been ignoring the presence of these other species and their values, the things that they need to live. And as a result, we've been sawing off the limb that we are perched upon. And we desperately need renewed sources of value that are cosmically grounded, and ecologically grounded, because if we don't break out of our anthropocentrism, we're going to destroy ourselves. Whitehead's view, because it is so grounded in the sciences, I think is especially convincing to the technocratic, I hope it will be especially convincing to the technocratic elites that or shaping the worldview that's currently dominant on the planet. He can speak the language of modern science and he can point the way towards an interpretation of the sciences that reveals these deeper sources of value.
[01:33:35.071] Kent Bye: Yeah. Amazing. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[01:33:49.437] Matt Segall: I'm excited by the new frontiers of artistic expression that are being afforded by these technologies and I have actually never tried even the simplest form of VR before. I was considering getting an Oculus headset just to start trying it out. I don't even know if that's where I should start, but I would just say, keep up the good work and continue to be in dialogue with philosophers to help situate your efforts in a cosmological context that potentially could be quite inspiring.
[01:34:22.717] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, Matt, I just wanted to thank you for coming on and discussing this. Whitehead is somebody who's an influential thinker of the way I've been interfacing with the larger unfolding of virtual reality. And so it's just nice to be able to kind of unpack a lot of these concepts more explicitly, and hopefully it'll start a broader conversation within this experiential design community and VR and AR to think about things in terms of this process and this paradigm shift. Because I do think that VR represents this paradigm shift as well as Whitehead is a pretty significant paradigm shift. And I think together, they could start to bring together some deeper shifts, especially as we're able to spatially understand these relationships and have a more visceral embodied experience of complexity and interactivity and this more ecological thinking that I think stems from a lot of Whitehead's thinking. So yeah, anyway, this has been a blast for me and to be able to explore all this and thanks for taking the time to be able to help explain and introduce us to the thinking of Whitehead. So thank you.
[01:35:17.608] Matt Segall: Yeah, awesome. I hope it was digestible and interesting and that this was a really fun conversation. So thank you as well for inviting me on.
[01:35:26.191] Kent Bye: So that was Matt Siegel. He's a professor at the California Institute for Integral Studies and he teaches on German idealism and process philosophy and focusing specifically on the work of Alfred North Whitehead. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, we covered a lot of ground in this podcast, and so I'm going to try to do my best to go through some of the highlights. So Whitehead has been a very influential thinker for me, and I think he represents this fundamental paradigm shift. Rather than having the fundamental science be based upon physics, he really took this turn towards biology and organism and the philosophy of organism and this process-relational way of thinking. So rather than saying that the underlying substance of reality is this concrete object, this physicality, reductive materialism or physicalism, He's saying that reality is actually these processes that are unfolding, that these patterns of energy that are related to each other in different ways that are self-organizing across different fractal dimensions of reality, and that he was able to put forth this really different way of thinking that actually is a lot more closer to something like Chinese philosophy or Heraclitus or other folks like Hegel or Schelling historically. So Whitehead's process philosophy is kind of like a completely different branch than the typical analytic and continental split. And for me, because Whitehead is putting at the basis of his reality, not only process, but also experience, saying that experience is the fundamental basis of reality. is this kind of pan-experiential perspective. So because of that, I've really been drawn towards Alfred North Whitehead as really forming the underlying philosophical foundations for experiential design and trying to make sense of what this deeper paradigm shift is. Not only is there a paradigm shift for our own experiences of these emerging technologies, but We've had this happening with software design, with agile lean processes, and game design with iterative playtesting. That same type of iterative basis of how you design for the human experience is in essence what Whitehead said is the basis of reality itself. So Whitehead's concept of this concrescence where each of these moments are kind of building and they're dying and they're fractally connected to each other, like think of it as this Hegelian dialectic approach of the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Each one of those synthesis becomes a new thesis that then has to be integrated to the next moment. It's a tension of the opposites where you have to transcend and include polar opposites. And so for each moment to moment, it's like that dialectical process that's happening where the past is dying, but it's also feeding and setting the deeper context into the next moment. So anybody who does experiential design, you know, that's like the art of experiential design is to cultivate moment to moment, trying to create this overall experience for someone. So you have this dialectical process of the basis of reality. It's iterative. You're going back and forth of that moment. And so, you know, when you start to think of Western metaphysics and you think of the substance, then you think about panpsychism as this problem where you have all these moments of emotion and how do you add up 100 emotions into 101st emotion? Like, how do you get from 100 emotions to one, and I think it's because each one of those emotions, moment to moment, is unfolding over this process, and when you have this substance metaphysics, you have this static concrete object where you have to add up all these things, but it's actually dying, and it's being transcended and included, and I think that's the paradigm shift, is that when you think about it as this unfolding process, then you kind of solve that combination problem of panpsychism, which I've learned in this conversation with Matt, that Alfred Northeau Whitehead is actually more of a pan-experientialist, he's thinking more of that, experiences the foundation of reality. You know, I think there was a bit of disenchantment that we have within our world where our physics and our science are telling us one thing, that matter is inert, it's meaningless, it's purposeless, it has no theological direction. We are just evolving beings from our genetics and we're just these deterministic machines. And even all the way back to Einstein, who said that kind of this block modeled universe where everything has already happened and that time is just spatialized into like this loaf of bread that's already all happened. And like Whitehead was like, no. Like the universe hasn't happened and you get these different types of interpretations like Everett's many worlds interpretation that have that kind of block model universe where literally every moment is concretized into an actual reality that's a parallel reality that we can't see. So either way, you have to make a metaphysical decision as to whether or not each moment splits into this infinite branching level of reality that we can't see. Or you say that there's this dimension of potential that is encapsulated within that wave function and it collapses into a moment and goes into the next moment. And for me, I think that just intuitively makes more sense in that you kind of base the underlying basis of reality into this quantum reality and that the space-time is emergent out of that, not the other way around that we're trying to sort of shoehorn and have this concrete object of the general relativity and what we see with our vision. I think that was very interesting to hear what Matt was saying around vision. And that Whitehead was really critiquing how most of science was saying, you know, what we see this reality through our sight is actually kind of like this platonic model that we have in our mind that is not actually what's happening. It's like this reconstruction of our perception, but that when you really actually interrogate the nature of reality, there's so many other, these quantum levels that is a completely different mathematical structure than what we think of as like this Euclidean, pseudo-Romanian space. No, that's like emergent from moment to moment. And that what Whitehead's really trying to say is this reorientation into our emotions and this experience. And that actually, if you start from that, then so much other of this different stuff starts to make sense. And I think that when it comes to a paradigm shift, You have to look to the work of Thomas Kuhn and the structure of scientific revolutions, where science is making these models of reality. And then at some point, there's going to be an anomaly that comes up that doesn't fit into that model. And so that you have to continually go back into the next model of reality. You have a paradigm shift that tries to encompass that new anomalous data. For whitehead he saw that this was like a never-ending process I mean he literally tried to put all of mathematics into like one logical system and girdle came along and said nope You can't do that. You can choose one of two things It's gonna be consistent or complete but it's never gonna be both and so there's this never-ending process of whatever model you come up It's gonna be incomplete and maybe can have a consistent logical system but it's not gonna include all the different dimensions of reality and so that's a For Whitehead, he saw that mathematics was not going to be able to be axiomized into this formalistic dream of everything being boiled down to logic. And it was liberating for him to be able to go and really look at what is the intuitive dimensions of our reality? And what are things that can't be encapsulated by those mental models? And so he sees science as like this abstraction of these models that are always going to be imprecise, but that the real true basis of reality is our human experience. That's the thing that we know is concrete. So much of substance metaphysics tries to put these aspects of the human experience as a derivative of the physicality, when it's the actual opposite, is what Whitehead is saying, is that rather than trying to say that consciousness is a neurological correlate of our physical reality, that the underlying basis of a reality is these experiences of these self-organizing systems that are unfolding in this process. And that from there, then it solves that hard problem of consciousness. It potentially solves this incompatibility of looking at the quantum realm to the general relativity scale, because there's more of a fractal dimension of reality, saying that there's these self-organizing systems that Arthur Koestler calls these holons, where there's a whole and a part within itself. And so we have these different dimensions of self-organization and so that you could just use biology as a primary metaphor to be able to generalize all basis of reality. Whitehead was a mathematician. He's trying to like generalize things and so he's trying to see what is the mathematical structure that makes the most sense and for him it's like these self-organizing structures and he's trying to come up with the whole metaphysical system to be able to make sense of all of that. And there was a moment there where he's talking about these models of reality and how both VR and AR are kind of like stimulating our sensory experiences to the point where it's tapping into our embodied memories of those experiences. And the things that we've actually physically experienced in this world, when we start to have a stimulation of our senses in that way, then it's recalling a lot of those embodied experiences. And so there's going to be always a limit to what type of experiences that we can have digitally recreated and what is going to be a physical reality experience. What he says is this, breathing the same air and breathing together. And when I heard him say that, it made me think about the big debate as to whether or not A, AR or VR is going to be bigger or not. And I think that there are going to be some things that are going to be way better when you have people co-located in the same space and able to actually commune with each other or to share or things that are emergent that couldn't be programmed within a simulation, you know, that can only come out of people coming together and, and making something together with whatever is available in relationship to the world around them. And I think that's a big shift that I think that is also drawing me towards Whitehead is this ecological thinking of, You know, the way that Whitehead is trying to see that we are in relationship to the world around us, to break out of this anthropocentric perspective that human beings are the only valuable entity on this earth. But really, when you look at it, our bodies are made up of so much bacteria and fungi and, you know, all these organisms of plants and animals and trees and oxygen, like everything that actually sustains life. And this earth is more of an organism. And I think that the disease of the reductive materialism is thinking that we're an isolated object that is not in relationship to the world around us. and that we have this myth of the individual when in reality we live in this complex fractal geometric level of organisms that are sustaining us and making life possible and that by the mental models that we have driving how we behave in the world are actually actively destroying that earth in the ecosystem because we're not valuing what is valuable to other entities and there's like this hierarchical way of thinking about all this and saying that we're in some way superior to everyone else because we have this more evolved nature of our consciousness But I think it's that level of linear and hierarchical way of thinking that Whitehead is really trying to fight against and to say that, no, actually, this is a lot more recursive, there's these loops, it's participatory. And a lot of those same concepts have been taken up by those theologians who are trying to break out of a lot of the Abrahamic traditions, concepts of God as this dictator who is omniscient and can control a lot of what happens in the future. And I think Whitehead's re-conceptualization, rather than having God as the foundation, then it's actually this principle of creativity and God is actually a creature of that creativity in collaboration with us. And I think that's such a paradigm shift that resonates with people who are a bit more secular or atheistic or even across different religions. I think there's a lot of really interesting stuff when it comes to the type of interfaith collaborations that are happening because of this process theology orientation. And then there's this striving towards beauty and harmony. Like Matt was saying, there's a part of surrender that often happens with artists where you just start chasing your own artistic impulse and not try to control how it's going to be received or just need to be in that flow state. And I think achieving those flow states in that creative process to be in collaboration of like what is emerging in the moment, it's like you are tapping into the deepest gifts that you have to give, and you're trying to ride the wave of whatever is happening in the world around you, and that when you align with your deepest gifts, with what the world needs, and what is emerging in the moment, then you have this concrescence moment where you have your intentions align with the deeper intentions of all the other people and all the other organisms, all dimensions of reality. And so I think what Matt is saying is that Whitehead is giving us this cosmological vision that for artists to be able to have a metaphysical framework that actually is in alignment with not only their own direct experience, but also a cosmological vision for the nature of reality itself. So just as to start to wrap this up, I did this interview on Tuesday, November 17th, and then on Friday, November 20th, I actually had a conversation on the Between Realities podcast where I talked a lot about Whitehead. I think this conversation with Matt helped me calibrate my own understanding of Whitehead and to share it with a Whitehead scholar and to hear more insights from Matt to take it to a whole nother level of understanding. And like I said, Whitehead is somebody who I'm gonna be studying probably for the rest of my life in terms of the stuff that he says to get more Insight and that there's this process of philosophy that's trying to leave you with this sense of wonder and that I'm definitely in that sense of wonder I'm a lot of work to be done to be able to dig into some of the source material the secondary and sources, but also just to continue the conversation with other Whitehead scholars and process relational thinkers to be able to start to see how those paradigm shifts can start to be integrated into not only whatever domains they're working on, but also to take those insights and to feed them into the process of experiential design. And so what I'm hoping is that if you did find value out of this conversation and any of the work that you did, then to really seriously consider becoming a member of the Patreon and to really think about this process relational dynamic. And I think to have you as a listener to be able to be in relationship to me You know, there's a lot of ways in which that I am this artist temperament who wants to be immersed into my creative process. But at the same time, I need to be a smart business person in order to actually have an alignment between what other people value and how I could start to provide that value to other people. And for me, that has been such a hard problem to always figure out like what I'm actually doing and how I'm sustaining myself with that type of value exchange that's happening. I love to be in relationship to people. I love to mentor. I love to be able to talk with folks, but also just to be able to perhaps have new ways of doing that and just freely share information both ways and find new ways of overcoming my own blocks and barriers when it comes to what exactly that looks like. So I just wanted to say that just because I feel like at the end of every podcast, I kind of fall into this script of kind of repeating the same sort of pattern of if you're any listener to the podcast, you've all heard it. I think in this between realities podcast that that started to shift and I think in part I'm still trying to figure out what exactly that means So if you do want to engage more in private channels, you can reach out on discord I'm Kent by number eight four nine four or at Kent by on Twitter, you know engaging on Twitter or DMS or if you want to send me an email at Kent at Kent by calm feel free to do that as well and But just find ways to be able to be more in relationship to my listeners. And for anybody that's in this industry, you have the potential to be able to help make this shift that I think a lot of things that Matt is talking about in here in this podcast. So, uh, that's it. I'm, I'm left at the point where I don't have my unusual way of closing it. This is a new way of closing it. So reach out. That's I guess the new closing for now. Maybe I'll go back to the old way, but I'm just, I'm trying to find a new way. So thanks for going on this journey with me and I want to be in connection with you. So reach out and, um, we'll figure it out together. So thanks for listening.