Thursday, April 27, 2006

Science and the Modern World - Alfred North Whitehead

A few weeks ago I was rummaging around looking for a book when I discovered that I had a copy of Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World. This paperback book is so old it's list price was thirty five cent. Turns out, I bought it when in Memphis between '72 and '74 and had forgotten about it all these years.

I'm so happy I found it. I've been gravitating towards what he writes about. Not long before finding the book, I had even bought a book on process philosophy which he and Charles Hartshorne developed.

The book is full of marvelous insights. The language is wonderful.

The book is critical of scientism. It has a postmodern feel. From reading it you would not neccessariy know that he spent much of his life doing mathematics. He coauthored with Bertrand Russell (who adversely influenced me when I was younger) a massive tome the Principia Mathematica in which they take about 70 pages to prove that 1 is greater than 0, or some such thing.

By the time he wrote this book (published when he was about 64), he had crossed the channel and become a Harvard philosophy professor.

He criticizes a mechanical view of the universe. I recall that his old buddy Russell once said something about us being an accidental collocation of atoms, or something like that. Whitehead on the other hand recognizes that there is more. There is no light or color as a fact in external nature. There is merely motion of material. He says that these things are the offspring of the mind. Nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves; the rose for its scent; the nightingale for his song; and the sun for his radiance. The poets are interely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.

The book is definitely postmodern, even though written in 1925.

I'll post more on this book. Gotta get to work now.

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