Sunday, April 02, 2006

Process Theology

Am exploring process theology by reading Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition by John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin. The book was published in 1976 and is oriented mostly toward the influence of Alfred North Whitehead. This is interesting on page 24:

We have had the view that the ultimate constituents of the world were like tiny billiard balls. Any changes brought about in the world involved only the rearrangement of externally related bits of matter. Since they did not permeate each other, no irreversible changes could be effected. If some combination of things is found to have unfortunate consequences, the combination can simply be undone, and things will be returned to the state they were in before. Ecology, as the study of the interrelationships of things, has taught us that this view is false. Interrelations are internal to things. Whitehead's thought is throughly ecological. It involves extending to the status of a universal truth Paul's insight that we're "members of one another."

This book is now thirty years old but is amazingly contemporary in its emphasis on relationship and emergence and other things.


Rob said...

I remember Wilber citing Whitehead often. How do you, as a physicist, feel about emergence? My knowledge of physics is obviously limited. Are ramifications of quantum theory and emergence really as great as stated by some? It floors me to think that maybe our understanding of science can expound on insights and experiences that have been around for thousands of years. I know these are tough questions, but I am genuinely interested in what you think.

Steve said...

Well, I don't know that physics has anything to do with emergence. It is too difficult to keep up with everything that is being done in physics so I suppose someone might be looking at it from a physics perspective, whatever that is. Umm... maybe I could look into that. Come to think of it, Nancy Murphy may have alluded to something about physics vis a vis emergence in her postmodernism book.

Now that your question is sinking into me, I've thought of something else. Because of my physics background (and basic personality and Stone-Campbell influence too), I have tended to view the world as atoms and molecules and larger conglomerations of these in motion. In other words, the function and the moton of these things is lawful, ie. they follow certain rules. If you have a lot of them, then Newtonian mechanics and laws of motion apply. If you are interested in just a few and you are interested in the atomic level, then it's quantum mechanics that applies. In either case, its just mechanics. Thus, my senior year of college, I began to question, "Where does free will come in?" If we are simply an accidental collocation of atoms as Betrand Russell said then how are we conscious? How can atoms moving around make consciousness? This question has vexed me all my life. In the past 10 years, the research into the origin of consciousness has exploded. Mainly the question has been further explicated. There is good progress in brain function but not experiential consciousness itself. It seems to me that the answer, which may elude us for a long time, must have to do with the principle of emergence. Physics as presently formulated cannot or doesn't properly address it.

Rummaging around amongst my old books I found a copy of Whitehead's Science and the Modern World. I must have bought it 30 years ago because the price on it was 19 cents. Had forgotten all about it. Perhaps I tackled it and gave up. We'll just tackle it again.

Must get to work now. Thanks for your comments. I will continue to think about them.

Rob said...

Thanks so much for responding. I'm having a hard time phrasing what I want to ask. I have very few people who I can ask about certain things. Most of my friends and immediate family are not real interested, or don't know any more than I do.(not much)

Obviously my situation over the last few years has only deepened my want for some sort of understanding. But, due to circumstance, I have found myself drawn to books that would help me heal and maybe (just maybe) tap into higher levels of awareness that could aid me as well. I do believe they have helped, and I know others who also have been helped. (spontaneous remissions, and other remarkable recoveries etc.) At the very least they have provided me peace.

Yet many of these books are filled with a lot of "mumbo jumbo", and it is often difficult to wade through.

I will read up on emergence some more. Haven't some used emergent properties (among neurons)to explain brain function? What role does brain function have with experiential consciousness?

For me free will has biochemical ramifications. It fascinates me that choice can influence a physical state. I am a firm believer that "the label you put on experience determines the experience." If I choose for an experience to be peaceful the appropriate biochemicals (endorphins etc.) will be produced, yet if I look at the experience with fear and anxiety catecholamines and cortisol are produced. The same situation (public speaking) can result in both responses among people. I read somewhere that the "molecule is the meaning." What relationship this has with brain function or consciousness I'm not sure, but whatever source this ability comes from surely appears to be free and not mechanistic. Maybe to some degree not bound by physical laws (placebos). I am very interested in those who have studied this. I've rambled enough.
Respond when you can, I know your busy. Tell the family hello from us.

I've been using your blog to check out some of the other blogs you posted. Pretty interesting stuff!


Rob said...

I should not have used physical laws. However, many atypical responses have been produced physically through the power of suggestion.(many that are not consistent with what I have been taught in school, and surely never addressed)
Just thought I'd try to sound a little less ignorant. I'm going to get back to reading this Rubel Shelly Nancy Grace stuff.

Steve said...


A good web site regarding the problem of consciousness is David Chalmer's website

I have his book. He is not a strict physicalist, if I understand correctly.

I want to think about your comments more. Was laying in bed thinking about them this morning. It seems to me that each level controls the ones below it. Atoms make use of and control the subatomic particles (electrons, protons, etc). Molecules make use of and control atoms. Single cellular life makes use of and controls molecules etc. . . Eventually multicellur life evolved to subsum the single cellular life. Later, consciousness evolved and it controls and makes use of the lower levels. The question of course is how. We don't question or marvel that a thirsty person can move their limbs to ambulate to a body of water and drink and thereby affect the physical state of their body. Nor do we marvel that a person can play some music an alter the endorphins in their brain. The question is to what degree can a person affect themself. I will think about this more.

Check out Chris Gonzalez blog. Moving stuff about his father's passing and a good joke.

Blog Archive