Experience and Conceptual Activity

Cambridge: Mass., M.I.T. Press (1965)
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This important philosophical statement by an eminent scientist is written with such clarity and directness, and derives from so broad a humanistic perspective, that the thoughtful reader will find it as rewarding as it is instructive. The author's purpose in this undertaking is to: "...outline a system of thought in which notions or values can find a place along with the ideas of causal relationships that are applied in the physical sciences. The essential doctrine of this system, which is taken from the metaphysical picture developed by Alfred North Whitehead... is the assumption that, in every act occurring in the universe, experience derived from that which has gone before is integrated with conceptions concerning possibilities in the future." Analyzing and extending Whitehead's picture, Dr. Burgers argues that the physical view of causality in itself is too restrictive for a general description of the universe, and is valid only for those phenomena where values are irrelevant. His concern is to introduce the entire panorama with its complementary physical and conceptual aspects in such a way that a wider view of causality is obtained, whereby an opening is found for the explanation of life. The author points out that the concept of "organism" implies "purpose," and is thus not amenable to complete description in the terms of molecular biology. Although most evolutionary steps are the result of unplanned chance effects, the recognition and conception of future possibilities are factors in the evolutionary trend: "The existence of matter is the result of persistent repetition of certain patterns. Matter is a set of habits of the universe; it is these habits which are studied in physics. [But] life is more than habit: it is the coordination of spontaneity... a struggle against mere randomness.... "It is the key of the philosophy here presented to consider expectations and valuations not as accidental by-products of physical states of matter, but as essential forms of functioning."



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