Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Whitehead’s philosophy “attributes ‘feeling’ throughout the actual world”

James describes emotion as a particular sort of experience. Whitehead radicalizes this argument, and expands its scope, by describing all experience as emotional. This includes bare sense-perception; it also includes modes of “experience” that are not conscious, and not necessarily human. Indeed, Whitehead’s philosophy “attributes ‘feeling’ throughout the actual world” (1929/1978, 177). For Whitehead, “feelings” are identical with “positive prehensions” in general, which are all the ways in which entities interact with one another, or affect one another (220).13
To feel something means to be affected by that something. And the way that the feeling entity is affected, or changed, is the very content of what it feels. Everything that happens in the universe is thus in some sense an episode of feeling: even the “actual occasions in so-called ‘empty space’ ” discovered by modern physics (177). Of course, quantum fluctuations in the void do not involve anything like consciousness or sense-perception.
But when we examine these fluctuations, “the influx of feeling with vague qualitative and ‘vector’ definition is what we find” (177). Overall, there is “a hierarchy of categories of feeling” (166), from the “wave-lengths and vibrations” of subatomic physics (163) to the finest subtleties of human subjective experience. But in every case, phenomena are felt, and grasped as modes of feeling, before they can be cognized and categorized.
In this way, Whitehead posits feeling as a basic condition of experience, much as Kant establishes space and time as transcendental conditions of sensibility. This brings us back to the “Transcendental Aesthetic.” If time and space are the forms, respectively, of inner and outer intuition, then feeling is their common generative matrix. It is by the receptive act of feeling that I locate things in space and in time. In other words, feeling is the process by which all entities get spatialized and temporalized. Steven Shaviro shaviro@shaviro.com The Pinocchio Theory

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