The Universe of Things
A review of The Universe of Things by Rob Mason
The Universe of Things by Steven Shaviro
From the rediscovery of Alfred North Whitehead’s work to the rise of new materialist thought, including object-oriented ontology, there has been a rapid turn toward speculation in philosophy as a way of moving beyond solely human perceptions of nature and existence. Now Steven Shaviro maps this quickly emerging speculative realism, which is already dramatically influencing how we interpret reality and our place in a universe in which humans are not the measure of all things
Steven Shaviro explains how Alfred North Whitehead is trying to overcome the bifurcation of nature or the division between the nature apprehended in awareness and the nature which is the cause of awareness.
On the one hand Shaviro suggests we have the worlds phenomenal appearance: The greenness of the trees, the song of the birds, the warmth of the sun and the hardness of chairs.
On the other hand, we have the hidden physical reality, the conjectured system of molecules and electrons which so affects the mind as to produce the awareness of apparent nature (CN 31).
• Much of modern thought is founded on this bifurcation whether it takes the form of an opposition:
• between primary and secondary qualities, Descartes and Locke,
• or between noumena and phenomena (Kant)
• or between the manifest image and the scientific image. Phenomenology and Continental thought more generally sit on one side of the bifurcation: the more scientific and reductionist version of analytic thought sit on the other side.
But Whitehead seeks to do away with Bifurcation altogether, “we may not choose “he says, we must develop an account of the world in which the red glow of sunset and the molecules and electric waves of sunlight refracting into the earth’s atmosphere have the same ontological status.
Whitehead’s quest to overcome the bifurcation of nature led him into a long course of metaphysical speculation. His final, developed philosophy expressed in his magnum opus, “Process and Reality” (1929) and further refined in his final books, “Adventures of ideas” (1933) and “Modes of Thought” (1938).
The world he said is composed of processes not things, nothing is given in advance, everything must first become what it is, “how an actual entity becomes constituted, what that actual entity is, it’s being is constituted by its becoming. Understood in this way the process encompasses both sides of the bifurcation of nature: it applies equally to what I apprehend and to the way I apprehend it I am not a subject confronting (or intending,” as the phenomenologists would say, an object world that lies outside of me, for both “subject,” and “object” are themselves processes of becoming and all actual things are alike, objects and subjects.