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Observations placeholder

North Whitehead, Alfred – 08 Time and perceptions



Type of Spiritual Experience


Whitehead mentions perceptions quite a number of times, but devotes more time to the idea of time slices than he does to perceptions per se.  Here, however, he does delve into this area and his conclusions are again quite revolutionary for a western philosopher.

The actual entity, as we saw from a previous observation, is immortal via its Higher spirit.  The Higher spirit gives it a unique identity – its name – and maintains its existence after each execution of the system of the universe with all its processes.  Each slice hangs together  via this concept.

The log of all process executions of an actual entity over every time slice is the same as the perceptions.  We are what we have done.  The warp thread is us, each one of us.

The Perceptions include the processing of the 5 senses of course, but they also include any remembering we may do, the emotions that went with them, the learning that went on.  They also include, as Whitehead ponts out, functions of which we have no conscious awareness.  The perceptions ‘log’ is thus like the log used for the do and undo function of a computer programme, we can go backwards and forwards in ‘time’ because this log exists and it is why people see their entire lives flash before them during traumatic events.

Time is thus not a discrete interval like a second or minute, but is defined as one self-consistent execution of the actual entity’s functions/processes – a transaction. Meaning time for one entity may actually be different to time for another entity.


Every lifetime consists of millions of executions of processes - time slice, and each time slice with its log of prcess executin is used in learning to build up memory - where memory is a separate concept from this log.

A description of the experience


Chapter I  - Fact And Form

Section IV

The evolution of history can be rationalized by the consideration of the determination of successors by antecedents. But, on the other hand, the evolution of history is incapable of rationalization because it exhibits a selected flux of participating forms. No reason, internal to history, can be assigned why that flux of forms, rather than another flux, should have been illustrated.

Section V

The merit of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding is its adequacy, and not its consistency. He gives the most dispassionate descriptions of those various elements in experience which common sense never lets slip. Unfortunately he is hampered by inappropriate metaphysical categories which he never criticized.

He should have widened the title of his book into 'An Essay Concerning Experience’. His true topic is the analysis of the types of experience enjoyed by an actual entity.

But this complete experience is nothing other than what the actual entity is in itself, for itself. I will adopt the pre-Kantian phraseology, and say that the experience enjoyed by an actual entity is that entity formally…………..

Thus the form of its constitution is to be found by an analysis of the Lockian ideas. Locke talks of 'understanding’ and 'perception’………….

The principle that I am adopting is that consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness. It is a special element in the subjective forms of some feelings. Thus an actual entity may, or may not, be conscious of some part of its experience. Its experience is its complete formal constitution, including its consciousness, if any.

Section V

To be actual must mean that all actual things are alike objects, enjoying objective immortality in fashioning creative actions; and that all actual things are subjects, each prehending the universe from which it arises. The creative action is the universe always becoming one in a particular unity of self-experience, and thereby adding to the multiplicity which is the universe as many.

 This insistent concrescence into unity is the outcome of the ultimate self-identity of each entity. No entity— be it 'universal' or 'particular'— can play disjoined roles. Self-identity requires that every entity have one conjoined, self-consistent function, whatever be the complexity of that function.

The source of the experience

North Whitehead, Alfred

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