Whitehead & the Elusive Present: Process Philosophy's Creative Core

Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research 1 (5):625-639 (2010)
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Abstract

Time’s arrow is necessary for progress from a past that has already happened to a future that is only potential until creatively determined in the present. But time’s arrow is unnecessary in Einstein’s so-called block universe, so there is no creative unfolding in an actual present. How can there be an actual present when there is no universal moment of simultaneity? Events in various places will have different presents according to the position, velocity, and nature of the perceiver. Standing against this view is traditional common sense since we normally experience time’s arrow as reality and the present as our place in the stream of consciousness, but we err to imagine we are living in the actual present. The present of our daily experience is actually a specious present, according to E. Robert Kelly (later popularized by William James), or duration, according to Henri Bergson, an habitus, as elucidated by Kerby (1991), or, simply, the psychological present (Adams, 2010) – all terms indicating that our experienced present so consists of the past overlapping into the future that any potential for acting from the creative moment is crowded out. Yet, for philosophers of process from Herakleitos onward, it is the philosophies of change or process that treat time’s arrow and the creative fire of the actual present as realities. In this essay, I examine the most well known but possibly least understood process cosmology of Alfred North Whitehead to seek out this elusive but actual present. In doing so, I will also ask if process philosophy is itself an example of the creative imagination and if this relates to doing science. I conclude Whitehead's process philosophy falls short of allowing for the actual creative spontaneity of a dynamic (eternal) present.

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Gregory Michael Nixon
Louisiana State University (PhD)

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References found in this work

Order out of chaos: man's new dialogue with nature.I. Prigogine - 1984 - Boulder, CO: Random House. Edited by Isabelle Stengers & I. Prigogine.
Creative evolution.Henri Bergson - 1911 - New York: Palgrave-Macmillan. Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson, Michael Kolkman & Michael Vaughan.
Process and reality: an essay in cosmology.Alfred North Whitehead - 1929 - New York: Free Press. Edited by David Ray Griffin & Donald W. Sherburne.
Creative evolution.Henri Bergson (ed.) - 1911 - New York,: The Modern library.
Matter and Memory.Henri Bergson - 1912 - Mineola, N.Y.: MIT Press. Edited by Paul, Nancy Margaret, [From Old Catalog], Palmer & William Scott.

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