Matter, Consciousness, and the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness
David Ray Griffin
Misplaced Concreteness with Regard to Both Matter and Mind
A. The Status of Human Experience in
dimension of Whitehead’s argument is that we know our own experience,
which we normally refer to as our “mind,” as a fully natural actuality.
Accordingly, what we know about it from within can be generalized to
other actualities, which we know only from without.
Regarding the idea of
the mind as fully natural: As we saw earlier, Whitehead accepts what he
calls the “plausible interpretation” of human experience, according to
which it is “one of the natural activities involved in the functioning of
. . . a high-grade organism” (AI, 225). He even refers to it as
the “total bodily event” (SMW, 73). By this he means not that it
is simply the numerical sum of the bodily happenings but that it is the
experiential unification of those happenings: “It has its own unity
as an event” and exists as “an entity for its own sake” (SMW, 148).
This fact, however, does not make it different in kind from other things:
Whitehead takes it to be, except for its unusual complexity, “on the same
level as all other events” (SMW, 73). He bases this conclusion not
only on general philosophical and scientific considerations, such as the
evolutionary origin of humans, but also on direct experience: “We seem to
be ourselves elements of this world in the same sense as are the other
things which we perceive” (SMW, 89).
that statement is the notion that we are not only natural but also actual.
To be an actual entity is to be able both to receive and to exert
causation, and we directly experience both sides of the causal relation.
On the one hand, a large portion of our experience is of the overwhelming
degree to which our experiences, such as our pains, pleasures, and sensory
perceptions, are caused by our bodies. On the other hand, as discussed in
chapter 5 and more fully in chapter 9, we are also directly conscious of,
and constantly presuppose, the efficacy of our experience for our bodily
then, my own experience to be simply one of the many actualities in
nature, a unique feature of it is that it is the one that I know from the
inside, by identity. Referring to our experience, which unifies various
bodily activities into a totality, Whitehead says that its knowledge is
simply “the reflective experience of a totality, reporting for itself what
it is in itself as one unit occurrence” (SMW, 148). Because I
perceive myself in this unique way, I may tend to think of myself as
different in kind from the other things I perceive, but this conclusion
need not follow: “The private psychological field is merely the event
considered from its own standpoint” (SMW, 150). Whitehead here
expresses the point made by Kant in the passage discussed by McGinn.
assumption that my own experience is one natural actuality among others,
no different in kind from others, my self-knowledge gives me an inside
viewpoint on the nature of nature. I can then generalize what I thereby
know about the nature of natural units to other such units (SMW,
73), taking due account, of course, of the fact that most of them (all
except other human experiences, as far as we know) are evidently less
dimension of Whitehead’s argument will be met by two immediate objections.
In the first place, our experience is constituted by consciousness and
sensory perception. How can one possibly generalize our experience to
amoebas, let alone to electrons? In the second place, even if the most
primitive dimensions of human experience could be understood so as to make
this suggestion not seem completely absurd, what empirical foothold do we
have for making such a generalization? That is, what is there about our
experience of physical things that could provide the slightest excuse for
attributing even the lowliest type of experience to them? These are
formidable questions. The remaining five points will be devoted to
Whitehead’s answers to them.
August 31, 2007
Abbreviations of Works Cited
North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas
North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World
R. Searle, Minds, Brains and Science: The 1984 Reith Lectures
Strawson, Mental Reality
North Whitehead, Modes of Thought
Edwin Hahn, ed., The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne: Library of
Living Philosophers XX
North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology
Nagel, The View from Nowhere
to This Essay's Introduction
Go to David Ray Griffin Page