L0070275 Post-mortem pathology“From Whitehead’s reformulated point of view, the questions of science “do not enable [it] to formulate the problem of the ‘mind’ because these questions and their answers presuppose it.” Science is a way of knowing nature; therefore, the pursuit of knowledge of nature presupposes that there is a knower, i.e., a mind.”

I made a bunch of comments on Bill Walker’s blog post over on Homebrewed Christianity. It was a great conversation, I thought. Lots of great stuff to think about. Below is a comment I left in reply to someone who I felt misunderstood my criticism of what Whitehead calls the “bifurcation of nature.”

I think you’re misunderstanding me. There clearly are many types of naturalist, and I’m only picking on one sort, to be sure. Specifically, I was addressing those who would fall under an eliminative, narrowly empirical, materialistic type of naturalism. If you happen to be one of these specific types of naturalist, I apologize for offending you.

Keep in mind that I’m a naturalist too. A religious naturalist or ecstatic naturalist or a process-relational panentheist to be specific. Yes I’m spiritual, but I look at all life as spiritual, i.e. being a panentheist, I feel all of nature is sacred and alive and in delicate relation.

Now when I say above that “western techno-science” diminishes or reduces nature–material, human, cosmological or otherwise—and splits mind from matter, I’m simply pointing out (as Whitehead did) how science, following enlightenment thinkers like Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Hume et. al, tends to be concerned with the study of the mechanical “how?” of extended things, a study guided by the exact mathematical measurement of primary qualities like length, width, height, mass, and motion. This unfortunately leaves all the other stuff, questions of beauty, morality, the “why?” questions associated with the interior aspect of life or the subjective, to be thought of as merely secondary illusory sort of qualities that science must overcome in order to reach objective reality.

So yes, I’m picking on the specific type of naturalism that I mention above, the kind that cuts the mind or psychic life out altogether by collapsing the subjective into the objective. Instead of doing what Whitehead suggests and defining nature as “what we are aware of in perception,” science attempts to explain away mental quality by reducing it to mathematical quantity.

As Matt Segall has written:

“From Whitehead’s reformulated point of view, the questions of science “do not enable [it] to formulate the problem of the ‘mind’ because these questions and their answers presuppose it.”16 Science is a way of knowing nature; therefore, the pursuit of knowledge of nature presupposes that there is a knower, i.e., a mind.”

My only real issue with science, as it’s most commonly understood, is that it tends to turn against common sense experience through “heroic feats of explaining away.” The mind is as natural, and as rooted in nature as grass and hydrogen are. Segall again, “The numinous glow of the sunset experienced by the poet is rooted in nature, no less an aspect of what we come to be aware of in perception than the wavelengths of the photons detected by the sophisticated instrumentation of the physicist.”

Image above: Examination of the skull and brain: method of removing the brain after it is severed from the body. Henry W. Cattell, 1903. Wellcome Library, London

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