Quantum mechanics and the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

New York: Fordham University Press (2004)
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Abstract

In Process and Reality and other works, Alfred North Whitehead struggled to come to terms with the impact the new science of quantum mechanics would have on his metaphysics. This ambitious book is the first extended analysis of the intricate relationships between quantum mechanics and Whitehead's philosophical cosmology. Moving systematically--concept by concept, phase by phase--Michael Epperson illuminates the intersection of science and philosophy in Whitehead's work, and details Whitehead's attempt to fashion an ontology capable of coherently accommodating the current and future trajectory of modern physics. But going far beyond this exploration, Epperson also makes important new contributions to the conceptualization of Whitehead's theory of quantum events ('actual occasions'), addressing the considerable attention paid by philosophers and other scholars to Nature's fundamentally quantum character as described by modern physics. "Starting from recent interpretations of paradoxical experiments in quantum physics--such as those on nonlocality and decoherence--Michael Epperson has done a wonderful job of exploring in detail the remarkable parallels in Alfred North Whitehead's philosophical analysis of the transition from potentiality to actuality in elementary events." IAN G. BARBOUR, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society, Carleton College "Epperson has done a wonderful job in showing what one of the most detailed (and surely, one of the most difficult) metaphysical theories of the 20th century--Whitehead's philosophy of process--contributes to the ongoing debate about the proper ontological interpretation of quantum mechanics. Therefore, the book is highly recommended to anybody working on or being seriously interested in the ontology of quantum physics. Moreover, it is a "must read" for students of Whitehead's philosophy, since it will deepen their understanding of Whitehead's quite abstract scheme, to see quantum mechanics as a specific exemplification of some of the central structures of the philosophy of process." FRANK HÄTTICH, Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics "Many of us in the ‘process’ community have felt a general congruity between Whitehead’s cosmology and quantum theory, even though the latter may have directly affected Whitehead's conceptuality only tangentially. We have been glad that in the past decade there has been growing interest among quantum theorists in Whitehead’s thought. We especially welcome this remarkable volume. It proposes a correlation of Whitehead's quite technical analysis of the phases of the concrescence of momentary occasions and the strange account of quantum events to which the evidence has driven physicists. At the very least, Michael Epperson has put forward ideas that warrant close attention and point fruitful directions for further inquiry. We may have here a still more successful work, which provides a definitive philosophical ground for quantum theory. In either case, this is an important, as well as a brilliant, book." JOHN B. COBB, JR., Founding Co-Director, Center for Process Studies, Claremont Graduate University "Coming at a time when interest in correlating physics and Whitehead’s philosophy has been expanding exponentially, the appearance of Epperson’s book is an event of first importance. Employing the decoherence-based interpretation of quantum mechanics, Epperson shows that it can be correlated rather precisely with Whitehead’s notion of ‘concrescence.’ Besides thereby showing how Whitehead’s philosophy brings out the ontological significance of quantum mechanics, Epperson also demonstrates that students of Whitehead’s philosophy will understand it better by seeing quantum mechanics as a specific exemplification of its general principles." DAVID RAY GRIFFIN, Founding Co-Director, Center for Process Studies, Claremont Graduate University

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Michael Epperson
California State University, Sacramento

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