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Challenging and mind-expanding
on 18 June 2005
This book from 1920 consists of the Tarner Lectures in the philosophy of science and features Whitehead's assessment of the impact of Einstein's theories on nature. He argues for taking events and the process of becoming as the starting points for analysing reality. This organic interpretation is not simple, but it does make more sense than the abstract concept of matter as assumed by scientists and philosophers for so long.
Whitehead criticizes the idea of nature as a mere aggregate of independent entities, each capable of isolation. According to this idea, by their accidental relations entities form the system of nature. In this theory space might exist without time, and time without space. The relational theory of space is an admission that space without matter or matter without space cannot exist.
But the seclusion of both from time is still accepted. Whitehead's alternative is that nothing in nature could be what it is except as an ingredient in nature as it exists. There cannot be time apart from space, because every event forms part of a whole and is significant in the whole. Likewise there can be no space apart from time.
Our knowledge of nature is an experience of activity or passage. Events are active entities; their relations with one another differentiate into space-relations and time-relations. But this differentiation is comparatively superficial, since time and space are each partial expressions of one fundamental relation between events, which is neither spatial not temporal. Whitehead calls this relation Extension: it is the relation of including and does not require spatio-temporal differentiation.
I found the book extremely challenging to read and had to go back constantly to re-read and properly assimilate previous passages in order to proceed. And Whitehead uses mathematical formulae that I am not familiar with. But people with a solid grounding in the natural sciences will have no such problem. A determination to understand at least some of this great man's ideas was certainly rewarded in reading and studying this book.
The chapters are titled: Nature and Thought; Theories of the Bifurcation of Nature; Time; The Method of Extensive Abstraction; Congruence; Objects; Summary, and The Ultimate Physical Concepts. The book concludes with an index.