Memes Do Not Exist: Memetics as Anthropotechnics and the Zero-Entendre

Memes are commonly understood to be discrete units of culture that spread in a manner analogous to genes, mutating and spreading by selective processes. Memes that are best able to spread and continue out compete weaker memes, and thus only the most virulent memes survive. Memes can range from religions, to melodies, to Internet images. Richard Dawkins, who coined the term in The Selfish Gene is largely responsible for the development of the field of memetics which attempts to study these memes in a way analagous to Genetics. Richard Dawkins, in his essay “Viruses of the Mind,” tried to examine religions in particular as memes. What I would like to do here is to add a corollary to Peter Sloterdijk’s proclamation in You Must Change Your Life that “religions do not exist.” Namely, that memes do not exist.

That is not to say that there are no cultural units that spread by vaguely selective processes – far from it. But just as Sloterdijk said of religion, wherever we see a meme, or a meme complex (memeplex), we truly discover a deformed anthropotechnic structure. That is, a structure for the training of humans to act in a particular manner. What is necessary here is to shift our perspective further out to discover the set of exercises. Memes are seeds for anthropotechnic structures of exercises for transforming human activity. The way that memes are currently understood in the general consciousness leads to behavior somewhat like trying to understand trees by only focusing on the seeds. This is ignoring the fact that a discrete unit of culture cannot really be located. Wherever we find a meme, we find a memeplex, and this memeplex can be better understood as a training regime for shaping human beings. The problem with the genetic analogy is that, rather than adapting to it’s environment, what we typically call the culture gene, a meme, creates an environment. This is why a meme is not a meme, but an anthropotechnic mechanism: an exercise.

Due to the inherent difficulty of collecting real data about this, I admit this is largely composed of anecdotal “case studies.” I must also reiterate that I am not original in this examination, but rather expanding Sloterdijk’s hypothesis to Internet memes. Through an analysis of several cases, the usefulness of the anthropotechnic examination should be made clear.

/pol/, Kek, and the Doge

The infamous 4chan board /pol/, which stands for “Politically Incorrect,” has a controversial history as being a gathering place for racists, Nazis, political extremists of all kinds, and other types the average person might consider rather unsavory. The way that these types of people appeared is more subtle than one might first imagine.

“The Happy Merchant,” an antisemitic icon, is one of the most famous memes to come out of the board. In addition to numerous variations, it’s even spawned a left-wing spin off, “Porky” the capitalist.

The most disturbing /pol/ meme might be their creation of a religion around a cartoon frog. Yes, really. That frog. The one Hillary Clinton claimed was a white supremacist symbol.

They even have a name for the deified version of Pepe: Kek. An Egyptian chaos deity identified with the cartoon frog. Tara Burton writes:

“Most of the people posting about Kek don’t actually believe that Pepe the Frog is an avatar of an ancient Egyptian chaos god, or that the numerology of 4chan “gets” — when posts are assigned a fortuitous ID number — somehow predicted Donald Trump’s presidential victory. (Theodør K. Ferrøl goes into more detail about that claim here.) It’s a joke, of course — but also not a joke. As one self-identified active member of the alt-right told me, “I don’t believe in God. But I say ‘Praise Kek’ more than I’ve ever said anything about God.”

She goes on to explain how, beginning as a “joke” Kek became a real phenomenon with influence through its followers. It doesn’t matter if Kek is real, he may as well be. The general form of Internet anthropotechnics is revealed in how a joke becomes reality. As Voltaire said: “Any community that gets its laughs by pretending to be idiots will inevitably be flooded by actual idiots who mistakenly believe they are in good company.” This is not the whole picture though, and it does not explain why idiots really flock to these communities.

/pol/ begins with somewhat ironic racism, for example. There are some actual racists mixed in. The complex of “racism-training” emerges as the community begins to spawn humorous images that contain racist ideology. The humor and message does not really transmit a “meme.” That is oversimplifying things. The message contained is always an exercise, something that is repeated by the human and alters them. Someone might laugh at the ridiculous anti-semitic image of the merchant, or a cartoon chaos god, and share it with friends, or post it again on /pol/. The meme is not only copied, but the exercise of “copying” is part of a larger process of ensuring repetition of the exercise, and the drawing of the human into a training regime.

Someone who posts /pol/ memes on the Internet a lot is, unsurprisingly, likely to visit /pol/ and be further drawn into the training regime. Not only are actual racists attracted into the website, but ordinary people looking for dark or edgy humor are also attracted. Repeating a meme is not a transmission of the meme, but an event that restructures the minds of the people who repeat it, drawing them towards new exercises that are a part of a larger complex. Other members of the complex can then introduce newer exercises – ones that can be much more harmful. Before you know it, you have a full-blown “ironic” Internet Nazi. As has been noted earlier, memeticists have identified “memeplexes,” but a successful memeplex is always structured in the form of a training regime, whether it be religion, ordinary meme sharing, Internet Nazism, or consumerism. As Sloterdijk observed, the common imperative “You must change your life!” is a constant. Memes must be understood as just one way of drawing people into training regimes. It doesn’t matter who they think they are, what matters is their training-plan.

Furthermore, unlike genes, memes tend to rapidly “die” over time and become oldparticularly Internet memesespecially if they are hugely successful. Biological analogies such as overpopulation can apply here, but this misses the essence. The “Doge” meme which swept the Internet a few years ago appeared rapidly and has now almost vanished. Myself and my friends, in fact, cringe at the mention of it. An example is below. It featured a Shiba Inu dog (“Doge”) with comic sans captions in ironic, deadpan tone, typically in broken English.

It’s impossible to understate how Doge had a meteoric rise and then, just as quickly, became unbearable. This Google Trends chart should do the talking:

Why is it that a meme can become annoying and suddenly discarded? It is not because a meme is “unable to evolve.” A meme cannot be understood in such simplistic biological terms. We must examine the training regime. What training structures could poor Doge really introduce people into? It was not connected to any larger training structures, so when people had exhausted the exercise of repeating “wow” and posting the dog, they grew bored, and it failed to provide new avenues of exercise. This is why religions and ideologies are capable of extended propagation and Doge was not. A religion has exercises that can be repeated over and over again because they are entry points into a larger system of training with exercises, such as prayer, which can be endlessly repeated. First one is initiated; then one learns of the greater mysteries and contemplates them. In a similar fashion, /pol/’s memes remain virulent because they function in a similar way to initiation rituals. They introduce people into a training mechanism and as such are kept around with the new converts. When an exercise fails to provide further use to the trainee, they move on to something else. Building a theory of culture from memes is like trying to build a theory of swimming by examining diving boards.

Doge didn’t survive hitting the mainstream, because when it spread, it did not create “Dogeans.” Someone says it merely because it’s funny, and it spreads without creating a larger culture of appreciation, training, and production. Christianity on the other hand, creates Christians, churches, and pontiffs. That is an overly ideological example, however, as the same kind of thing can occur in sports. If a sport, game, or toy, doesn’t create a culture/training-regime that is different from the default one in the larger culture, it loses it’s value and fails to become virulent. Doge is to Christianity as Moon Boots competitions are to Football.

/pol/’s anthropotechnic structure is one that uses Internet humor as a medium of planting initiation exercises into the minds of unsuspecting users. These draw them into the “Internet extremism training regime.” The point of this regime is to create Internet extremists, the exercises are in place. Whether or not one bodybuilds “ironically,” one will still grow muscles. In this way, a community of people pretending to be idiots will not only flood itself with idiots, but transform everyone in it into real idiots.

General Form: The Irony Complex

Ironic complexes are a very general phenomenon, though they generally appear as “dead memes” that are resurrected and posted in an insincere manner, to annoy or mock. They develop a mean character. There are really two types of ironic regime. One is purely defensive, like in the above example, where it allows the covert deployment of exercises in a manner where the poster is able to always step back and say “It was just a joke!” Though humor can be used to tell difficult truths, it can also unfortunately be used for harm. How often have you seen people joke about anxiety or depression?

The other form of ironic regime is offensive and critical, used to destroy and discredit opposing training regimes. This latter form could vaguely be described as “satire.” Being a ubiquitous and historied genre, it should not be necessary to provide examples of satire, but on the Internet, memes typically labeled as “ironic” are of this second kind. A specific example of this are “Dank Memes,” which Know Your Meme describes as:

“an ironic expression used to describe online viral media and in-jokes that are intentionally bizarre or have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché. In this context, the word “dank,” originally coined as a term for high quality marijuana, is satirically used as a synonym for ‘cool.'”

The point of using ironic memes is that they eliminate damaged or dying training regimes by making them obnoxious and insincere. It is the scorched-earth strategy of training regimes. Satire is used in a similar manner. An idea or practice is parodied and brought to its logical conclusions, and it thus is eliminated. Consider how satire such as Don Quixote has literally destroyed anthropotechnic structures like chivalry. As Lord Byron noted, “Cervantes smiled Spain’s chivalry away.” The military doctrine of ironists is twofold: burn the crops of the enemy and replace them with your own, shielded by a veil of irony which makes it difficult to tell whether what is harmful from what is helpful.

Wholesome Memes

Wholesome memes are a relatively recent kind of meme thatas far as my research has revealedoriginated on the Reddit board /r/WholesomeMemes. The general form of wholesome memes is an attempt at subverting the negative and ironic character of many memes to create a positive, sincere form. Here is an example from the subreddit:

The wholesome training regime is simple. One spreads sincerity and positive actions, feels good, and is brought into a training structure which attempts to construct a kind of upward training spiral. Pure, unironic love and support. The first few weeks I encountered these, it was liberating and exhilarating. David Foster Wallace predicted a kind of “New Sincerity” in his essay E Unibus Pluram, which these kinds of memes might be an expression of:

“The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels.”

For a while, I was on board with this. Then it grew stale, very stale. What had happened to wholesome memes for me was the same thing that happened to Doge for everyone else. It ran out of possible exercises. There is only so much posting of “love and support” that you can do before you run out of expressions, and it collapses into kitsch sentimentality. We simply do not have a large enough vocabulary for a sustainable training regime of single-endendre principles, free of absurdity. Furthermore, the punchline is always the same, just like with “dank memes.” It becomes predictable, and you have already extracted everything you can in the first view. Furthermore, it seems the real “New Sincerity” is emerging as something much, much darker than Wallace could have expected. An anti-humanist (not that I am a humanist) embracing of reactionary politics and totalitarianism. Я Сам Asylum writes:

“What DFW did not predict was that the rebels of new sincerity would risk far more than ridicule. Cries of Sexist, Racist, Misogynist, Fascist, Nazi, Deplorable; threats of doxing; loss of employment; banishment from social media… Attacks were made by all levels of the establishment to stop and silence the rebellion. But their attacks were all in vain. They did not realize that their tactics were relics of the 20th century; of outmoded media.”

Asylum is perfectly correct in his assessment. The methods which are used to fight newly sincere movements, which emerge from an irony complex in a return to single-entendre principles, with a fully healthy and armed training structure, are completely outdated. The problem that I really have with /pol/, the alt-right, or whatever you might call them has very little to do with racism. New Sincerity, despite it’s cries, is just as much a form of modern cynicism. What at first appears to be a life-affirming step out of irony really becomes a nihilistic, Kierkegaardian leap of faith. The ironic ones are at least, sincerely cynical. They’re distrusting of the motivations of those in power, at the very least. The sincere ones are cynically sincere. They act sincere because they bought into the cynical narrative. Cynicism, in its modern form, is a far deeper problem, one that is far more dangerous than any liberal buzzword could be.

The only solution I propose, is a kind of counter-memetics. What Wallace did not realize that the true path forward for culture, the only way that subjective freedom, creativity and individual health could be reconciled, was not a return to single-entendre principles, but to take a path blazing forward into zero-entendre principles. A training mechanism which merely trains people to maintain, or to return to some past state, will always be outcompeted by advanced training mechanisms which embrace the new, and embrace a constant will upwards and onwards. Creating culture that is entirely new, entirely unique, and incorruptible. Perhaps it could even allow an avenue for what Sloterdijk called “Kynicism,” the original form of cynicism.

/s4s/ and Post-Irony

We return to 4chan, to a board that is quite different from /pol/ (NSFW. Also, please don’t touch the wildlife). At first glance, it appears to be a stream of meaningless stupid shit. Closer inspection reveals a complex training regime with dozens of subroutines and exercises. There is the mysterious Cowe, which people deliberately do not post in, so it can “walk to the last page” of the board and thus get removed (4chan threads that are not posted in fall lower and lower until they are removed). People who do post here always post “cowe.”

As you can see, this doesn’t seem to be a cow. Cowe.

There’s also the strange and pointless game of “beaning” which may or may not have originated on /s4s/. It has little point on a website in which you cannot tag people, or even have an identity, but it is nevertheless constantly repeated.

Then there is “Le Millenom Girl,” an important example as it is seemingly a parody of “rage comics,” but only in appearance. Le Millenom Girl is posted in threads sometimes 200 times in a row without interruption, and there seems to be nothing more to the process, yet it occurs on a regular basis.

Without a doubt though, the most successful character of /s4s/ is “the bury pink girl.” She affirms what is, undoubtedly, the truth about /s4s/, posted typically with the phrase “This is nice board.” She is the embodiment of the spirit of the board, something which is affirmative and creates kindness and creativity amongst seemingly meaningless repetitions of content. The image below contains a picture of her, and a variation on a pseudo-quote originally attributed to René Descartes:

While ironic memes can create a downward spiral of hate and loss of identity, /s4s/ embraces the diversity of meaning in its variety of memes which tell nothing. Furthermore, the lack of definite meaning or mechanism turns these into a sort of projective test. The memes here are empty; they don’t carry an exercise of their own. They are a call to apply an exercise. They are zombie memes that disembowel things that once had meaning, and instead of refilling them, they leave them filled with an emptiness that decries being filled. One merely sees a nice girl saying “this is a nice board.” How do you respond? With niceness in return, but the exact form of the exercise is always interpretative. Even on recurring threads where the same thing is posted over and over again, there is a kind of manic freedom in that there is not a single shred of irony. People legitimately fine-posting “lol” over and over again on this board to be hilarious. As this chart made by an /s4s/ denizen shows, it is a kind of absurdist sincerity.

Not only does /s4s/ produce seemingly meaningless “drivel,” they also have a bandcamp page. They produce avant-garde music of varying quality, but they’ve produced more than a dozen albums and counting. Some of the music, while affirming banal themes like “birds are not important,” manages to be good for a group of people who are working together anonymously and whose only mode of communication is self-imposed broken English and emoji.

/s4s/ presents such liberationary power because it’s contentless structures aren’t even recognizable as memes to enemy training structures. How do you satirize something which doesn’t seem to have any message. Anyone who appears to attack these things becomes equally ridiculous. There is a kind of total loss of structure into a chaotic freedom, but instead of being an irrecoverable state of ennui, it creates a new ground of authenticity, one which is able to resist the pull of irony and equally to resist the development of hatred through universal positivity.

The people here are actually nice. They have their own radio show where the host spends hours reading posts, settling seemingly meaningless disputes and telling people to “stay hydrated my sicc dudes.” He gives advice, tells people he loves them, and is endlessly creative, just like the rest of the board.

The point here is that they have created a training regime which infects others and subverts them for a positive end of promoting simple fun, kindness, and affirmation. Where /pol/ asks you to pretend to hate minority groups for “fun,” /s4s/ asks you to just “pretend to be fun, nice, and creative.” And like that, it gets you. Even “rude” posts here can’t help but make one smile. Listening to one of the /s4s/ radio broadcasts left me feeling ecstatic for days, from being in such an unconditionally positive environment with boundless methods of expressing that positivity. This is not done through some “return,” but rather a radical uprooting – not of the postmodern ironic kind, but one of free creation. The very thing that makes /s4s/, the leading example of post-ironic humor, so revolutionary and subversive is that it says nothing. It has no rituals of initiation, no formal exercise structure, only a rallying cry around some principles that the user must find for themselves. There is merely exhilarating freedom of making your own sense. This is a zero-entendre game.

It provides a model for a kind of counter-memetics. The post-ironic meme, when understood in the scheme of anthropotechnic structures of training, is an exercise that, rather than cynically destroying other regimes for its own agenda, presents itself innocently and crafts simulacra of other structures – ones that can overtake the originals and bring back the dead. Not for some ulterior motive, for there can be no motive without definite message, but for enjoyment. Remember Doge? There is a thread about Doge almost every day on /s4s/, and there is no comic sans or irony. People legitimately just like the dogs and share pictures of them. If this model of post-irony cannot revive and reanimate a creative, positive culture, then nothing can. But that is exactly what these post-ironic memes seem to be: nothing.

These cannot be corrupted by politics or cynicism, or co-opted by a mainstream entity, for they’ve been turned inside out. Sloterdijk claims that the transition from antiquity from modernity, work became about works. That is, creating objects rather than a kind of self-cultivation or continuation. Labor, rather than being directed inwardly primarily and outwardly secondarily, is flipped around. Production, while it is a kind of training, takes priority over regular training. It is training-for-other rather than training-for-self, in a sense. The positive potential of post-irony lies in how it stochastically creates niche-communities in a non-ideological manner via divesting them of informational content. What really makes a meme a meme in our context is it being an exercises that carries a bit of information with it, like a joke. These don’t really have “jokes” in them. If there is a joke, it’s never clear or conventional, and only able to be appreciated after a significant amount of training and acculturation has occurred. The jokes are not jokes relative to something else either, but jokes on their own ground, funny only in their surreal context. In a post-ironic training-regime, the exercises are primary, one changes themselves and creates an understanding. In the previous types, one understands, then changes themselves. It may be enough to say that these are kynical memes, they deface the currency of memes, break customs, and thumb their noses at any who would seek to bash or corrupt them.


Examining memes, and meme complexes, as anthropotechnic training regimes allows for a more rational and properly scaled view. Memes are seeds and tools of a training regime. Rather than genetic units which are more or less passive, they are imperative exercises which demand repetition and change in their host which draw them into a structure of further exercises. A meme is really a special kind of training mechanism, and by being aware of this, we can consciously control and subvert the way that training regimeswhether cultural or physicalaffect us. By understanding them, we can propagate and draw ourselves into upwardly-spiraling training regimes which can protect themselves from irony and cynicism and provide a creative drive towards the future.

Relations, Realism, Nature, and the Goal of Whitehead’s philosophy

I’m writing this post to clear up a few ideas in Whitehead that may not have been clear in previous posts, as well as common misunderstandings that arose often in arguments with a certain Hegelian friend of mine who happened to help design this website. The problems deal more specifically with the Shaviro-inspired speculative realist interpretation of Whitehead this blog happens to like. The most common misunderstandings that arise in discussing Whitehead have to do with his relationalism, his realism, his conception of nature, and his goal/method. Working through these misunderstandings provide an excellent tour of what could be termed organic realism, so rather than being a defense against criticisms, I’m merely seeking to clarify what is already stated.

Relations without Relata?

Certain readers might have noticed in my post on actual entities that they appear to be composed entirely of prehensions, a type of relation. It at first might seem that this leads to an infinite regress; each feeling is of another feeling which is itself a relation. Furthermore, I made the mistake of saying that an actual entity only exists in terms of its relations, which is only superficially true.

Actual entities escape infinite regress because each feeling or relation is not reducible to its relata. A feeling is not a bracketing, but a vectoring. It is not merely a negation or addition, like a simple thing saying “I’m not this!” or “I’m that!” Each prehension is not a passive reception of data, but rather an actual act that performs operations on its datum to make itself into a real definite fact, which itself can be felt. Its datum likewise is already a definite feeling, not reducible merely to what is felt. There would be infinite regress if the world which an actual entity becomes of was not already a settled, definite fact, and the concrescence was feeling other concrescences, but this is not the case.

Another unfortunate thing about that article on actual entities was making a comparison to Hegel’s something-or-other logic. There’s a comparison to be made here definitely, but the similarities here are only skin deep. Where Hegel’s logic is a negatory act, grossly oversimplified as: “The something is not the other, the other is not the something, the non-being of the other is the being of the something,” Whitehead’s relations are primarily positive inclusions. They’re not dialectical, they can be completely indifferent to each other, complementary, and they don’t contradict in the Hegelian manner. If there is contradiction, it arises during the concrescence of an entity, and it is always eliminated by the final satisfaction. Negative prehensions which exclude objects are always secondary, something that happens to remove incompatibilities in feelings so that they can be integrated. This is opposed to a Hegelian “labor of the negative.”

The actual entity at first has a conformal flooding of feelings from its actual world, a positive event. “I am all this,” the actual entity says, “the individualization of the universe.” The rush of feelings from the world around it, in order to attain the unity they aim at, must be simplified, integrated, valuated, compared, contrasted and only occasionally negated in order to create a satisfaction. This  process of concrescence adds a new definite fact into the world, which itself must be brought into a unity with the rest. In this manner, there is a constant rhythm of integration.

Rather than an entity merely popping out of nothing to feel the settled world, the many facts of the settle world reach out for integration, and what Whitehead terms the actual entity as “subject” emerges. The various alterations made to be feeling do not really happen because of some hidden factor in the concrescence, rather, they are a simple consequence of the fact that the feelings are seeking unity in the subject. If a feeling can’t be unified, it will alter, simplify, or be discarded. It cannot be overstated that the subject is always arising out of the world, rather than the world from the subject, and that the feelings are not aimed at a subject, but rather, they aim themselves.

Hopefully it can be seen from this that the actual entity, while each feeling is relational in character, it is not a reducible things. Each feeling is a unique expression of its datum/relata. Furthermore, each actual entity is not reducible merely to its feelings in an analogous manner.


Whitehead’s realism is a peculiar mix of William James and Henri Bergson. It is anti-representational. Rather than us ever dealing with representations or “mere appearance,” of objects, we deal with parts of objects directly. Rather than seeing a mental representation of an apple which can err, we are actually seeing a real part of the apple. There is a partial identification of cause with effect; what I feel of the apple is “vectored” into me by my feeling of it and becomes a real part of my constitution. Subject and object interpenetrate, but they also withdraw from each other.

For example, when I look at my friend’s face, I really do see their face, and if they look back, they really do see mine. We interpenetrate, but we are not unified. I still have my own thoughts, and my friend has their own. We can even speculate as to what the other might be thinking from the expression of our face, but we can misinterpret each other. I may think my friend is happy from his expression, but he is in fact, merely faking a smile. Perhaps if I was more attentive, I might have discerned some factor I missed that would reveal his true feelings. My senses do not lie to me, rather, error arises because of both the impossibility of feeling the object in its entirety, and because not all of the information has been weaseled out of what I sense.

There is one more factor here, the fact that each actual entity feels all the others in a unique manner with a unique subjective form. These subjective forms are not false appearances, but rather, really how one actual entity enters into another.

Lets suppose two people are examining an object, and one is viewing it in a manner that creates an optical illusion. While everyone else would see the object as red, the optical illusion presents the object as being green to those who are under it. While Whitehead does not discuss this directly, I hold that the object really is green to the people under the optical illusion. It is not a matter of illusion at all, it is the real way in which that object is entering into their constitution. After all, If the object was a button, and I, aware that the person was under an optical illusion, told them to push the green-colored button, they really would push it, and they would not be incorrect. If I told them to push the red button, by contrast, they would rightfully be confused, for there is no red button for them.

They could of course, weasel information out of the object. If they examined the light wavelengths and discovered that the button was giving off red, not green light, then they would be able to determine some factor other than the light was causing the object to be green. This factor could be in their eyes, their brain, or something else entirely.

Consider an example of when our senses conflict, the famous example of a stick partially dipped into water. It appears that our senses are conflicting. The stick appears to bend below the water, but if we feel it with our hand, it seems straight. Neither sense is lying to you, or even really conflicting. The real information that can be ferreted out of the visual sensation is that “the water is bending the light from the stick.” This is not immediately apparent, but further experience, touching the stick, will disclose what I might have failed to notice in vision previously. The error, Whitehead would say, is always arising when we are engaging in symbolic reference. More on this in a future article.

The Bifurcation of Nature

This brings us nicely into the next topic, something Whitehead terms “the bifurcation of nature.” This is the division of nature into secondary and primary qualities. The former are typically considered to be things like color, odor, and other sense-data. We consider that these would vanish without any conscious experiencing subject. Primary qualities, by contrast are inherent to the object. Things like the shape of an object that most people consider to exist independently of the observer.

While this may seem quite reasonable, Whitehead rejects this distinction entirely. Color is not something painted onto on object by the subject onto a colorless world, but something actually unique to the object, and forming a part of its constitution. Light is not reducible to merely photons, Whitehead claims. In fact, these physical abstractions like light waves are always that to Whitehead, mere abstractions from our actual experience. To assert, as scientific materialism often does, that color is merely a result of the frequency of light, is a textbook case of “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” This is when we create an abstraction from empirical evidence, in order to model or explain, and then assert that this abstraction we have built is more real than what it is abstracting from.

Some people often try to say that, since your brain is “merely chemicals” that all your actions are not free, and that your life is just a meaningless chemical reaction. They commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. What does it mean to be a chemical reaction though? Only your direct experience can tell you this. This might just be me, but it appears that being a chemical reaction means a whole damn lot. In fact, the only way we got these chemical examinations of the brain is through empirical experience. To retroactively reject what our empirical experience tells us, of a rich and vivid, and irreducible life, is to undermine itself. The bifurcation of nature leads the sciences, which Whitehead greatly respects, to having to “explain away” things like consciousness when it’s abstractions can’t explain them. What the sciences could benefit from is to be more empirical, is all Whitehead is saying. If science is having a difficulty in explaining consciousness, a definite element of our experience, it should not try to “explain it away” and dismiss it as a mere illusion, but actually seek to understand the processes behind it while understanding that, like color, it is not reducible to its abstraction.

The particular light frequency that causes us to see red is red itself, at least in how it enters into our world. The eternal object (Whitehead’s term for potentialities or forms) of red is a factor in the constitution of the entities making up the light. The light has a color to itself, but it will always express itself uniquely to all the other entities. Again, this uniqueness of presentation is not a false error, but rather, the real way that the object is entering into subjects. To read about how this unique presentation, the “subjective form,” emerges in detail look here.

This doctrine seems somewhat bizarre, but if a realist account is to be given, not an inch of ground can be ceded to subjectivism. The admission that the color of experience is arising purely because of the subject, and that it would vanish without anyone to see it, is a slippery slope into total subjectivity, in which objects literally do not have any properties without conscious observers. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant were aware of this, and collapsed the bifurcation in the direction of the subject. Whitehead rejects the bifurcation entirely. For him, it is always emerging because of a failure to really take all of experience into account.

The Goal of the Philosophy of Organism

Whitehead’s method, and his goal as a result, is not a neutral one. Whitehead has a problem he wants to solve, the bifurcation of nature. He already has decided from the outset that such a bifurcation is false. I for one, need no proof of its falsehood. While he does argue against it, his goal is not to refute but rather to describe a system which can overcome it without having to “explain away” parts of our experience, or having to give up the status of the sciences. Whitehead is a pre-critical philosopher in this respect. Given that this is false, what must be true?

Whitehead aims for “full disclosure” of experience. This is not in the sense of revealing some hidden knowledge or seeking revelation, but rather the humble declaration of what has always been under our noses. Whitehead is seeking awareness of all the elements of experience, in such a way that not one piece is discarded or disparaged as “lesser” or “irrational” or “illusory.” This is why the theme of concern takes such a key role in his philosophical works. Whitehead wants philosophy, above all else, to have the goal of simply making people aware, not of some grand truth or mystical wisdom, but of what has always been with them without their noticing.

The Philosophy of Organism Part 4: Creativity and The Phases of Concrescence

We are almost at the point in Whitehead’s philosophy where we can begin to move into the world as we know ita world of rocks, trees, birds, and humans. We have set out the primary formative elements (excluding creativity, which will be explained here), and we understand how it is that actual entities relate to each other. The last thing left to be understood on the microcosmic level is simply this: “How do these concrescences  actually concresce?”

This will be the longest part of this series yetperhaps the longest part period, as Whitehead is very rigorousand all of the previously discussed concepts will come into play. Thankfully, the best way to understand the previously discussed elements of Whitehead’s philosophy is to finally see them in action. In a way, the process of understanding how concrescence happens is similar to how concrescence itself happens. You probably will have a somewhat vague, indefinite grasp of the discussed elements, understanding them in a very rudimentary way. Then you start to see how they come together. At first it seems difficult as you’re not entirely certain what each thing means, but as you see them play off of each other and relate, they become more definite, your misunderstandings eliminated. Finally, at the same moment you reach a definite understanding of the elements involved, you will reach a definite understanding of the phases of concrescence, just as when the feelings of an actual entity become entirely definite, its concrescence is satisfied.

This is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. There is a lot to cover in just one post; the jargon can become nauseating, and sometimes Whitehead is pedantic in the way that only a British Mathematician can be. I’ve attempted to introduce concrete examples to go alongside the highly abstract, almost algebraic examples that Whitehead provides to alleviate this. As a last reassurance, keep in mind that once we are done with this, it is all downhill from here. When we begin to speak of Nexūs and societies, we finally enter into the macrocosmic world that we inhabit, and things become much, much more intuitive. But until then, buckle up and put on your thinking caps.


The final formative element of Whitehead’s system is creativity, the absolute of his system that is simply given. It is the principle of novelty, the becoming itself. It is difficult, if not impossible, to explain the why of creativity. Whitehead himself is only able to shrug and say that this is simply how things are. There is constant change in the world, and we can’t explain that. Metaphysicians from Parmenides to Spinoza have had givens like “being” or “substance.” Spinoza says that his substance is merely “causa sui.” There is no further explanation of it. In Whitehead’s system, the question “why is there creativity?” is simply a reformulation of “why is there something rather than nothing?” Creativity is simply the brute fact that there is a becoming to begin with.

Creativity is, sadly, one of the vaguer aspects of Whitehead’s system and one that he seemed to have changed his mind on over the course of his career. The exact nature and interpretation of creativity is a debate among Whitehead scholars to this day, and as such, I’m not going to go into too much depth. I’ll be offering some small amount of interpretation and will quote at length. Hopefully, creativity can be understood enough that the rest of the system is at least comprehensible. I encourage readers to do their own research about the topic if they have further interest.

Whitehead, on page 171 of Adventures of Ideas offers a formulation of creativity that leads nicely into the topic of the phases of concrescence. He uses terms like “initial phase” and “primary phase” which we will soon be discussing.

“The initial situation includes a factor of activity, which is the reason for the origin of that occasion of experience. This factor of activity is what I have called “Creativity” The initial situation with its creativity can be termed the initial phase of the new occasion. It can equally well be termed the “actual world” relative to that occasion. It has a certain unity of its own, expressive of its capacity of providing the objects requisite for a new occasion, and also expressive of its conjoint activity whereby it is essentially the primary phase of a new occasion. It can thus be termed a “real potentiality” The “potentiality” refers to the passive capacity, the term “real” refers to the creative activity…”

Once an actual occasion is satisfied, it perishes. From where comes the next actual entity that replaces it? The answer Whitehead gives is creativity. Whitehead scholar André Cloots offers this explanation:

Whitehead… conceives of creativity not as “a” but as “the” activity of transcendence, permeating the whole of reality, transcending what is and yet carried by it, leading to ever new becoming. Creativity is nothing more, but nothing less either, than “this factor of activity:” “this factor of activity; (included in the initial situation) which is the reason for the origin of that occasion of experience” (Adventures 179). “The point to remember is that the fact that each individual occasion is transcended by the creative urge, belongs to the essential constitution of each such occasion. It is not an accident which is irrelevant to the completed constitution of any such occasion” (Adventures 193). “[T]he processes of the past, in their perishing, are themselves energizing as the complex origin of each novel occasion” (Adventures 276). In Modes of Thought Whitehead states this again: “The whole antecedent world conspires to produce a new occasion” (164).

Creativity does not have some ulterior motive, as doing so would violate the ontological principle. As such, it must be explained in terms of actual entities. Whitehead’s explanation in PR is rather terse and obscure, but he seems to explain this principle of novelty as a sort of rhythm. The many disjunctive entities enter into concrescence, a novel togetherness. It is an “inescapable fact” for Whitehead that there cannot be a “many” of things without them entering into a unity, a “one.” Indeed, how could there be a many without the one and vice versa? Through the phases of concrescence, a new entity definite entity emerges out of the antecedent world. However, in this concrescence, all that is achieved is a mere addition to the many. There is a new entity, and the process begins anew. This behavior is the ultimate metaphysical fact, as there is no actual entity which fails to meet this description. With this in mind, let’s examine this process whereby the many become one in detail.

The Phases of Concrescence

Whitehead says that “The process of concrescence is divisible into an initial stage of many feelings… subsequent phases of more complex feelings integrating the earlier simpler feelings, up to the satisfaction which is one complex unity of feeling” (Key 36). A key feature of this process, and one that can be difficult to get your head around, is that Whitehead insists it does not take place in physical time. This is immediately counterintuitive. How on earth could there be time if the actual coming together of an actual entity is atemporal?

Whitehead explains this by reversing the relationship. Physical time is not some container in which actual entities emerge, but rather that time is a consequence of this emergence. Once again, it’s best to let him speak for himself:

“The actual entity is the enjoyment of a certain quantum of physical time, but the genetic process is not the temporal succession… each phase in the genetic process presupposes the entire quantum, and so does each feeling in each phase. The subjective unity dominating the process forbids the the division of that extensive quantum which originates with the primary phase of subjective aim” (Ibid.).

In this fashion, physical time is describing certain features of the growth of entities, but not how those features themselves grow. “Concrescence is not in time, but time is in concrescence.”

Furthermore, we come to see that the prehensions making up entities are merely abstractions. Each prehension is merely its subject viewed from some perspective of objectification. The real actuality is the sum of all prehensions in a subjective unity that are coming together into concrete unity.  Whitehead says that we can discover a prehension by taking a component of the objective datum of a satisfaction (the completed actual entity) and comparing it with a subjective form (remember, that is how an entity is felt) of a satisfaction. Through this comparison, a component of the subjective form can be discovered with direct relevance to the datum. In this way, the prehension is located (it may be helpful to refer to part one of this series, which has a helpful diagram). Whitehead admits that this is a merely “intellectual” analysis and that the division of prehensions is to some extent arbitrary. Whether or not this is satisfying (pun intended) is up to the reader.

The Initial Phase

Now it is possible to get into the analysis of the phases proper. Whitehead makes a distinction into three distinct phases. There is an initial phase, followed by two supplemental phases, each with two sub-phases. Whitehead does not divide the third phase, but the Key recommends splitting the final supplemental phase into two sub-phasesthe origination of comparative feelingsand the comparison of those comparative feelings (complex comparative feelings).

(image taken from the Google Books preview of the Key.)

The initial phase of concrescence, the one of conformal feelings. This is the primary stage in which the actual world enters into the novel entity through physical feelings, forming the basis for its individuality. This is simply the principle that “every ‘being’ is a potential for a ‘becoming.'” The first phase is simply the reception of the actual world as a possibility for feeling. From this multiplicity of physical feelings, all the more complex feelings arise in the later stages by their integration with each other and their integration with conceptual feelings. This is how one gets from mere causal experience to complex thoughts.

The feelings that constitute the datum are reenacted by the physical feelings constituting the novel entity. This is their ‘vector’ character. There is a partial identification of cause with effect, the cause is integrated into and becomes a part of its effect. This is the manner in which creativity, while transcending the world, is conditioned by the actuality present in the world. It is both partially free from and partially dependent on the world. Thus, these are the initial “conformal feelings” as the immediate present conforms to the past. The objectively immortal past world is transformed into the subjective feelings of the new entity.

Three Categoreal Obligations

Following the key, “categoreal obligations” will be introduced as they become relevant. “Categoreal obligations” are the name for the laws which the various phases conform to. They are similar to Kant’s categories, though instead of merely structuring conscious experience, they structure the entire world. It must be remembered that experience is not limited to conscious minds in The Philosophy of Organism, but extends throughout the entire world. In this way, the categories of Whitehead lay down not merely the conditions of the possibility of experience, but the conditions for the possibility of worlds.

That being said, the three categories relevant now are as follows (they can be found on 26-28 of PR):

“Category I: The Category of Subjective Unity. The many feelings which belong to an incomplete phase in the process of an actual entity, though unintegrated by reason of the incompleteness of the phase, are compatible for integration by reason of the unity of their subject. “

This should be fairly self-explanatory. This simply the conflicting many being compatible for integration into harmonious and determinate one.

“Category II: The Category of Objective Identity. There can be no duplication of any element in the objective datum of the ‘satisfaction’ of an actual entity, so far as concerns the function of that element in the ‘satisfaction.’

Here as always, the term ‘satisfaction’ means the one complex fully determinate feeling which is the completed phase in the process. This category expresses that each element has one self-consistent function, however complex. Logic is the general analysis of self-consistency.”

The key to this category is in the  the final two sentences. One object has one role; it may not be duplicated.

“Category III: The Category of Objective Diversity. There can be no ‘coalescence’ of diverse elements in the objective datum of an actual entity, so far as concerns the functions of those elements in that satisfaction,

‘Coalescence’ here means the notion of diverse elements exercising an absolute identity of function, devoid of the contrasts inherent in their diversities… In other words, in a real complex unity each particular component imposes its own particularity on its status. No entity can have an abstract status in a real unity. Its status must be such that only it can fill and only that actuality can supply.”

All that is being said here is simply that diverse elements cannot both be merely abstracted to function. They enter into a contrast, and thus each diverse element exercises its function in regards to that particular complex unity that is its subject. The element is merely a key to the particular lock of the subject. WARNING: A “contrast” counterintuitively means “unity” in Whitehead’s terminology; remembering this will avoid much confusion down the road.

An Illustration

Whitehead illustrates the categories with a rather abstract example, claiming that “The importance of these categories can only be understood by considering each actual world in the light of a ‘medium’ leading up to the concrescence of the actual entity in question.” An abridged example is provided below:

Imagine an actual entity called A which feels other actual entities called B, C, and D. These latter entities are thus in the actual world of A. C and D are in the actual world of B, and thus B feels them. D also lies in the actual world of C, and thus C feels D. Here’s where things start getting complicated, so hold on tight. We shift perspective back to A. When A takes B as an initial datum, it is also presented with C and D by the mediation of B, as B is feeling C and D. The same thing happens in C, except now A is presented with a mediated version of D when it feels C. A receives D in three ways. It directly feels D, and also is presented with the meditations of B and C. Whitehead says that, in reality, A would be receiving D both directly and by mediation with all other entities in the actual world which they share. For the sake of simplicity, we will stick to this four-entity world.

Whitehead phrases the situation like this (italics mine):

“There are thus three sources of feeling, D Direct, D in its nexus with C, and D in its nexus with B. Thus in the basic phase of A’s concrescence there arise three prehensions of the datum D.” (Key 44)

Following the first category, these feelings enter into subjective unity, and negative prehensions are produced. D in direct feeling is not completely felt but is objectified, but inconsistencies between the mediated forms of D are eliminated by negative prehensions. D gets filtered by its mediation through other entities. It may be helpful to consider an analogy to a more worldly situation, though this should not be extended too far. Consider how when you are facing north in a room only the north wall of the room is visible to you. If you change your orientation (your relation to other objects in the world) you are able to see different parts of the room. As D is self-consistent necessarily, inconsistencies arise from prehending the subjective forms of the other entities’ prehensions of D.

Whitehead, in an interesting move, says that the negative prehensions which eliminate the inconsistencies also posses their own subjective forms which are integrated into the process. As he puts it, “A feeling bears on itself the scars of its birth” (Key 45). Because of this, what the actual entity has excluded from itself may become an important part of it on its subsequent adventures, and is thus recorded in the process.

The first category, as we said, dealt with the fact that there is a subjective unity in this example to begin with. The fact that there is an integration is described by the category of objective identity, the second obligation. As the same entity cannot be felt twice when all is said and done, the inconsistent feelings must be reconciled and integrated through negative prehension until there is one feeling of that object with a unique subjective form.

The third category’s application is somewhat obscure. It appears to obligate that these diverse feelings obtain a definite role/function with a real definite status to a real definite reality. Whitehead’s explanation is below, though interpreting it is, as has been said before, somewhat difficult:

“The third category is concerned with the antithesis to oneness, namely, diversity. An actual entity is not merely one; it is also definitely complex. But, to be definitely complex is to include definite diverse elements in definite ways. The category of objective diversity expresses the inexorable condition— that a complex unity must provide for each of its components a real diversity of status, with a reality which bears the same sense as its own reality and is peculiar to itself. In other words, a real unity cannot provide sham diversities of status for its diverse components” (PR 227).

Phase II: The Conceptual Phase

Phase one resolves now, and we move on to phase II, in which conceptual feelings (feelings of eternal objects) occur. The origination of physical feelings is the physical pole of an actual entity, and the origination of conceptual feelings is the mental pole. Every actual entity has both physical and mental poles, from God to space dust. This is not necessarily panpsychist, as consciousness is not present at all stages of reality, but it is quite close. Whitehead insists that the physical world cannot be properly understood without the complex world of mental operations. These are the conceptual feelings and the hybrid feelings which integrate the physical and the conceptual.

Phase I, the physical inheritance, is now accompanied by a conceptual reaction. Category I has demanded that the physical feelings be compatible for integration into one feeling, but in order for these feelings to become definite, the subjective forms must determine first through the origination conceptual feelings. The subjective forms of these conceptual feelings are valuations. Valuation can be valuation up or valuation down and constitutes the subjective forms of conceptual feelings. There are two sub-phases involved in this, conceptual reproduction and conceptual reversion, represented by circle b and circle b’ respectively. We have to go on a bit of a digression in order to explain these before we continue.

Two More Categories

These two sub-phases correspond to two new categoreal obligations:

Category IV: The Category of Conceptual Valuation. From each physical feeling there is the derivation of a purely conceptual feeling whose datum is the eternal object determinant of the definiteness of the actual entity, or of the nexus, physically felt.”

This should be self explanatory. Every physical feeling is followed by a conceptual feeling of a corresponding eternal object. The eternal object is recognized as being immanent in the constitution of the actual entity and then is “pried out” and recognized in a transcendental manner; this is what arrow x represents. When I see something blue in the world, I physically feel that blue entity and also have a conceptual feeling of “blue,” or “blueness” if you prefer. My feeling of the blue object is circle a on the diagram, and my feeling of “blue” is circle b.

“Category V: The Category of Conceptual Reversion. There is secondary origination of conceptual feelings with data which are partially identical with, and partially diverse from, the eternal objects forming the data in the first phase of the mental pole. The diversity is a relevant diversity determined by the subjective aim.

Note that category (iv) concerns conceptual reproduction of physical feeling, and category (v) concerns conceptual diversity from physical feeling.”

This confusingly phrased category is actually quite simple. It is what allows for novelty to enter the world and for “relevant alternatives” to be conceptually prehended. Conceptual reversion is the feeling of eternal objects that are related/relevant to the eternal object felt in the previous category. This is what allows for someone to see two shades of blue and imagine a shade that is in between. This is circle b’ on the diagram. Eternal objects have order and graded relevance to each other through God’s conceptual feeling of them. A temporal actual entity obtains this through a “hybrid” conceptual feeling. A hybrid physical feeling is essentially a feeling of another actual entity by one of that entities conceptual feelings. Whitehead claims that there are two types of hybrid feelings: those that feel conceptual feelings of temporal actual entities and those that feel God’s conceptual feelings. For our current discussion, the latter are the most relevant.

Hybrid feelings of God are key to both subjective aim and conceptual reversion:

[In the primary phase there] is a hybrid physical feeling of God, in respect to God’s conceptual feeling which is immediately relevant to the universe ‘given’ for that concrescence. There is then, according to the Category of Conceptual Valuation, i.e., Categoreal Obligation IV, a derived conceptual feeling which reproduces for the subject the data and valuation of God’s conceptual feeling. This conceptual feeling is the initial conceptual aim referred to in the preceding statement.

The initial aim is obtained by a kind of reversion, but notice that the category of reversion is in fact superfluous. It can be explained entirely in terms of God and Category IV. It is merely the conceptual prehension of a hybrid feeling of God in the original primary phase, which is physical. In this way, Hume’s assertion that all concepts are arising out of physical experience arise. It is useful however as it emphasizes the idea of relevance, how the positive prehensions of God are those which are compatible with, or have an identity with, the physical feelings transmitted in from the physical world.

Finishing up Phase II: Valuation

After that necessary digression, we can finally explain valuation. There are physical feelings that must acquire determinate subjective forms. In order for this to happen, it’s necessary to bring in eternal objects through conceptual feelings, which originate in the ways we just specified. These conceptual feelings possess their own subjective forms. The subjective form of a conceptual feeling is “valuation.” Whitehead gives valuations three characteristics paraphrased below:

  1. A valuation is dependent on the other feelings in the phase where it originates.
  2. The valuation determines the status the eternal object has ingressing into subsequent feeling.
  3. The valuation values up or down to determine the intensive importance of the datum eternal object by the subjective form of subsequent feeling. In this manner, the importance of the datum eternal object is enhanced or attenuated.

Essentially the valuation changes how important an eternal object is to the actual entity, valuing up or down from the initial feelings it is derived from.

Even More Categoreal Obligations

This discussion brings us to two more categories, listed below. Category VI has been left out; it will be discussed in the next article on the nexus. Remember, a “contrast” is a unity of feelings. In the subsequent stages, feelings will begin to be grouped together into “contrasts” as they are integrated, until the final integration and satisfaction.

“Category VII: The Category of Subjective Harmony. The valuations of conceptual feelings are mutually determined by the adaptation of those feelings to be contrasted elements congruent with the subjective aim.

Category (i) and category (vii) jointly express a pre-established harmony in the process of concrescence of any one subject. Category (i) has to do with data felt, and category (vii) with the subjective forms of the conceptual feelings. This pre-established harmony is an outcome of the fact that no prehension can be considered in abstraction from its subject, although it originates in the process creative of its subject.”

The second paragraph is merely a complex way of saying that these categories both express the fact that the concrescence eventually reaches a unity, the satisfaction.

“Category VIII The Category of Subjective Intensity. The subjective aim, whereby there is a origination of conceptual feeling, is at intensity of feeling (α) in the immediate subject, and (β) in the relevant future.

This double aim – at the immediate present and the relevant future – is less divided than appears on the surface. For the determination of the relevant future, and the anticipatory feeling respecting provision for its grade of intensity, are elements affecting the immediate complex of feeling. The greater part of morality hinges on the determination or relevance in the future. The relevant future consists of those elements in the anticipated future which are felt with effective intensity by the present subject by reason of the real potentiality for them to be derived from itself.”

Whitehead claims here that a subjective aim, initially obtained from God, always aims at intensity of feeling in the immediate subject and in the relevant future. He does not view these as conflicting, as the anticipatory feelings of the possible future influence the intensity of feeling in the subject. As such, a balance will be sought. “Balanced complexity is the outcome of this final category of subjective aim” (Key 53). Complexity is simply the realization of contrasts and the contrasts of contrasts, while balance is “the absence of attenuations due to the elimination of contrasts which some elements in the pattern would introduce and other elements inhibit” (Ibid.).

By category I, and the two categories introduced here, it becomes clear that the origination of feelings is governed by “the subjective imposition of aptitude for final synthesis.” These are the categories for the possibility of a creature that is truly causa sui. These are the categories for the possibility of creativity and self-determination. As Whitehead notes:

“…The actual entity, in a state of process during which it is not fully determinate, determines its own ultimate definiteness” (Key 52).

Whitehead claims that this is how moral responsibility emerges, conditioned by the limits of data and the limits of the categoreal conditions.  In order for there to be a high degree of autonomy though, there must be many reversions being made so that the entity is able to bring new things into the world independently, which is the role of Category VIII.

Contrasts of reversions are produced for fulfilling the aesthetic ideal. They urge towards realizing as many eternal objects as possible under limit of the conditions of contrast. These conditions of contrast are the demand for balance; the demand that the realization of an eternal object eliminates potential contrasts of other realized eternal objects. By category IV, eternal objects are valuated so as to produce the most favorable balance in the present subject, the balance that will produce the most intense integral feeling. These reversions are also what allows for anticipation of the future. The feeling of eternal objects in the present, and the reversion, allows for the consideration of alternate possiblities, both of how things are, and of how things could be.

To summarize phase II, it should be said that physical feelings in phase I give rise to conceptual feelings, which in turn give rise to conceptual feelings that are reversions. These reversions emerge from a hybrid feeling of God in the first phase. The reversions emerge as a bid for complexity, allowing relevant alternatives to be considered, and for new contrasts of feelings. These conceptual feelings obtain a subjective form by their valuation, which is made in order to obtain a balance that allows for the greatest intensity of feeling. The obtaining of subjective form in the conceptual feelings allows for the completion of the subjective forms of the basic physical feelings originating in phase I.

Phase III: Simple Comparative Feelings

With the two types of basic feelingsconceptual feelings and simple physical feelingscomplete, they now enter into a simple comparative feelings, which compare or hold in contrast physical and conceptual feelings. These are special kinds of physical feeling. Typically, the simple physical feeling is compared with the conceptual counterparts that emerged in reaction to it. Circle c in figure 2 represents a simple physical feeling and bracket y the datum of the feeling. These feelings are also called “integrated datum” or “integral comparative feelings.”

There are two types of these feelings: physical purposes and propositional feelings. While the former are terminal and end in the third phase, the latter are lures for further feeling and thus go on to a fourth sub-phase before satisfaction is reached. We’re almost done here.

Physical Purposes

The physical purpose is the simple integration of the actual fact of the physical feeling with the abstract possibility represented by the conceptual feeling. According to whether or not the conceptual feeling was valuated up or down, the physical feeling is more or less compatible respectively. If it is incompatible, then the physical feeling will lose importance, and tend to not be reproduced in subsequent occasions/entities.

It can be seen that the conceptual feelings are playing a dual role yet again. They are involved in the origination and development of subjective aim of the entity, but also through determining the importance physical purposes. In this way, they determine the creative advance beyond the entity into new entities, and the conceptual feelings truly become purposes through this integration with the physical feelings.

This explanation provides imagination as the origin of self-determination. The actual world flows into the subject with its own strength, and must be re-enacted by the new subject in a mere conformation. But there is more than just conformation:

“The subjective valuation is the work of novel conceptual feeling; and in proportion to its importance, acquired in complex processes of integration and reintegration, this autonomous conceptual element modifies the subjective forms throughout the whole range of feeling in that concrescence and thereby guides the integrations” (Key 57).

Physical purposes, when integrated merely with their conceptual counterparts, have little in the way of autonomous energy. These are physical feelings of the first species. The second species occurs when a conceptual feeling and a reverted conceptual feeling are paired with their relevant physical feelings. It is from these kind of purposes that low-level freedom is able to emerge in significant levels. A conceptual reversion with a relatively high valuation, a more complex physical purpose, emerges:

“There is now the physical feeling as valued by its integration with the primary conceptual feeling, the integration with the contrasted secondary conceptual feeling, the heightening of the scale of subjective intensity by the introduction of conceptual contrast, and the concentration of this heightened intensity upon the reverted feeling in virtue of its being the novel factor introducing the contrast” (PR 279).

Now, the conceptual reversion will enter into future entities as a physical feeling, and the pattern of the original feeling appears as the datum in the reverted conceptual feeling. This causes a chain of alternating contrasts. As long as these reversions continue to reintegrate, they will swap places like this in each new entity and gain in intensity. Whitehead claims that this is the origin of “vibration” in the physical sciences. Rhythm and vibration arise from the conditions of for intensity and stability.

Propositional Feelings

Propositions arise in a similar manner to physical purposes via an integration of a physical feeling with a conceptual feeling. However, the objective datum of this kind of feeling is a proposition. These are heavily linked with eternal objects. However, whereas an eternal objects are abstracted from all actual entities, only found by their potential to enter into any actual entity while not being bound to particular actualities, a proposition is referent to actual entities in a definite fashion. An eternal object “tells no tales about it’s ingressions.” A proposition gives us tales that might be told of some particular entities. They are true or false according to some reason, and that reason, in accordance with the ontological principle, must be one or more actual entities.

An eternal object thus cannot be true or false, but a proposition takes the indeterminateness of an eternal object and at the same timeabstracts certain actual entities. It is an entity in its own right, a complex abstraction of actual entities constituting it, and an eternal object entering into it. It is true or false depending on the constitution of the abstracted entities, but tells no tale about itself. An equal sign can only tell you something when you put numbers on either side, and indeterminate “equality” can never be true or false. The proposition in a sense adds a question mark to the eternal object and applies it to particular actual entities.

Again, like a physical purpose, a propositional feeling emerges from a physical feeling of an actual entity or a nexus (group) of actual entities. The conceptual feeling’s datum is, like in the physical purpose, an eternal object. The integrated actual entities become the logical subjects of the proposition. The eternal object is restricted to these particular logical subjects. It may be restricted to referring to any of the entities in the set provided or it may refer to the entirety of the set. (True or False) = True, but (True A and False) = False. The eternal object of the conceptual feeling forms the predicative pattern which the logical subjects singled out by the physical feeling. The actual entities become abstracted from their role in the world in a propositional feeling, instead being reduced to bare, abstract multiplicities, becoming “food for a possibility.” The sheer matters of fact are translated into a potentials for the realization of a predicative pattern. In short, a propositional feeling applies an eternal object to a set of actual entities considered in abstract and uses this integrated feeling to locate a proposition to feel.

However, the proposition does exist independent of the feeler briefly. The truth or falsehood of a proposition is not determinable by the proposition itself, but only by a feeler, a “prehending subject.” The proposition is located in the actual world of any actual entity who includes the logical subjects of the proposition in its world. When this occurs, the proposition is able to function as an element in the “lure for feeling” of that entity. It follows that in any given actual entity’s world there are an indefinite number of propositions, as there is an indefinite number of actual entities and eternal objects. Not all propositions will enter into feeling though. The only propositions that will be felt will be those whose corresponding eternal object has not been eliminated at the end of phase two. Then, the propositional feeling will occur, as the actual entity has admitted it into its concrescence.

If a proposition is true, that is, it conforms to the world, then it merely emphasizes some fact in the world. There may be accession or diminution of emotion. Telling you that this article was written at 4 o’clock is unlikely to produce any great emotional response in you. But a non-conformal proposition, while “false,” is not inherently evil. Fact is synthesized with potential alternatives, and this can be creative or destructive. Whitehead emphasizes that the non-conformal is a novelty whereas the world-conformal is not, as a non-conformal proposition puts old forms into new functions. Whitehead has an interesting attitude here, believing that merely viewing propositions as matters for judgment has been disastrous. Rather, propositions should be considered for what they possess and where they might take us. He goes so far as to say that “In the real world, it is more important that a proposition be interesting than it be true” (Key 64).

Judgment, he says, is a rare occurrence in the world, as is consciousness. No audience upon hearing “To be or not to be…” does any judging about the truth of the statement, but rather submits to the aesthetic pleasure in following the lure for feeling. Whitehead is somewhat similar to Deleuze in that he values new ways of looking at things for their own sake. He abhors any philosophy that would seek to stifle the freedom of ideas that we all posses. The proof that Whitehead is correct in this way of thinking is that it is impossible to act merely on the basis of how things are, rather, action is always an attempt to make something in the world that is non-conformal conformal. Saying “we should lower crime rates” already involves the consideration of the (non-conformal) proposition that crime rates are low. Our feeling gives us desire, and our discovery of its falsehood moves us to action.

Phase IV: Complex Comparative Feelings

This (sub)phase is the final stage before the satisfaction. The complex comparative feelings are represented by circle D. Bracket Z represents the datum for these feelings. This is the stage where intellectual feelings and consciousness emerge. Here, the “theory” of the proposition gets checked with reality. The propositional feelings are compared and enter into a contrast with some nexus of actual entities. What might be is contrasted with what there is in fact. Whitehead calls this the “affirmation-negation” contrast.

Whitehead makes an interesting claim that consciousness is rising out of experience. This is in direct opposition to Kant. While in Kant’s system the world arises out of the transcendental subject, the reverse is true for Whitehead. His argument for it, if correct, undermines almost the entirety of post-Kantian idealist philosophy and has been criminally overlooked, but that will wait for the discussion of what Whitehead terms “causal efficacy.”

The Satisfaction

We now come to the end of the concrescence. One big, final, determinate feeling. The many datum of the primary phase finally come together with a complex subjective form. All incompatibility and indeterminacy has been purged and evaporated. The satisfaction has a definite “yes or no” link to each entity in the universe. But in this achievement of definiteness, the process ends, and thus the actual entity “never really is.”

Each satisfaction may have different levels of “order” or “disorder,” which promote intensity or lack of intensity respectively. This definite feeling, relatively intense or otherwise, now passes on as a “given” objective datum for entities. It becomes objectively immortal as soon as it “perishes” by becoming a part of the constitution of a creative advance beyond itself. Thus, the process repeats itself, with the new entity now passing on from being self-creator to being part-creator of the world.

“In its self-creation the actual entity is guided by its ideal of itself as individual satisfaction and as transcendent creator” (Key 71).

This completes the microcosmic level of Whitehead’s philosophy, and if you’ve made it this far, things get much easier from here on out. We can now enter into the complex world of enduring objects that we see in our day-to-day lives. It is there where Whitehead’s philosophy gains a definite relevance to our lives and can help us think about everything from atoms and cells to friendships and human societies.