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Observations placeholder

North Whitehead, Alfred – 14 Co-creation and Temporary co-operation of organisms



Type of Spiritual Experience


Whitehead had an interest in co-creation and to what extent it influenced the eternal entities and ultimately God.  He was of the belief that co-creation’s purpose was to create new aggregates and thereby new aggregate types – eternal entities.  To give a simple example, if we invent a plane, with all its functions, then we have added to the nature of God, because the actual entities result in eternal entities.

He is only one of a very very small number of philosophers who have tackled the basic question - what are the objectives of the Great Work. 

On the site we have used the word ‘Agglomeration’ to mean the process of grouping organisms together for the purpose of achieving higher levels of functionality.  There are four types of agglomeration that have been used:

  • Permanent Physical Agglomeration – for example, mammals or insects, that are permanent agglomerations with relatively stable functions
  • Temporary Co-operation of organisms – for example, we have viruses, bacteria, simple cells which are generally simple functioned, but which can be 'organised' and given additional functionality as and when needed
  • Temporary Synergistic co-operation - for example, insects such as ants and bees or termites form same species co-operating agglomerations, as does man and many other primates.  The wolf pack, for example, is a more effective hunting machine than a lone wolf, as is a lion pride.
  • Symbiotic relationships – for example the border collie and his shepherd

 It appears from studying our current environment that all of the approaches exist in parallel and are also used in combination.  Complex physically permanent organisms, for example, may also form temporary synergistic, symbiotic  or co-operating groups. 

 In this extract we see Whitehead looking at this concept in a generic way and then by example – the idea of Greekness - looking at temporary forms of co-operation.  The function or process example he gives that defines this temporary aggregate is ‘the ability to speak the Greek language’, which is an interesting example to use, as it too is man-made.

A description of the experience

PART II   Discussions and Applications

Chapter III - The Order Of Nature

Section II

We speak of the 'order of nature’ meaning thereby the order reigning in that limited portion of the universe, or even of the surface of the earth, which has come under our observation. We also speak of a man of orderly life, or of disorderly life. In any of these senses, the term 'order' evidently applies to the relations among themselves enjoyed by many actual entities which thereby form a society. The term 'society' will always be restricted to mean a nexus of actual entities which are 'ordered' among themselves …..

The point of a 'society,' as the term is here used, is that it is self-sustaining; in other words, that it is its own reason. Thus a society is more than a set of entities to which the same class-name applies: that is to say, it involves more than a merely mathematical conception of 'order.'

To constitute a society, the class-name has got to apply to each member, by reason of genetic derivation from other members of that same society.

The members of the society are alike because, by reason of their common character, they impose on other members of the society the conditions which lead to that likeness.

For example, the life of Greek man is a historic route of actual occasions which in a marked degree— to be discussed more fully later—inherit from each other. That set of occasions, dating from his first acquirement of the Greek language and including all those occasions up to his loss of any adequate knowledge of that language, constitutes a society in reference to knowledge of the Greek language. Such knowledge is a common characteristic inherited from occasion to occasion along the historic route. This example has purposely been chosen for its reference to a somewhat trivial element of order, viz. knowledge of the Greek language….

……the given contributions of the environment must at least be permissive of the self-sustenance of the society. Also, in proportion to its importance, this background must contribute those general characters which the more special character of the society presupposes for its members. But this means that the environment, together with the society in question, must form a larger society in respect to some more general characters than those defining the society from which we started. Thus we arrive at the principle that every society requires a social background, of which it is itself a part. In reference to any given society the world of actual entities is to be conceived as forming a background in layers of social order, the defining characteristics becoming wider and more general as we widen the background....

The causal laws which dominate a social environment are the product of the defining characteristic of that society. But the society is only efficient through its individual members. Thus in a society, the members can only exist by reason of the laws which dominate the society, and the laws only come into being by reason of the analogous characters of the members of the society.

But there is not any perfect attainment of an ideal order whereby the indefinite endurance of a society is secured. A society arises from disorder, where 'disorder’ is defined by reference to the ideal for that society; the favourable background of a larger environment either itself decays, or ceases to favour the persistence of the society after some stage of growth: the society then ceases to reproduce its members, and finally after a stage of decay passes out of existence. Thus a system of 'laws' determining reproduction in some portion of the universe gradually rises into dominance; it has its stage of endurance, and passes out of existence with the decay of the society from which it emanates.

The source of the experience

North Whitehead, Alfred

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