Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, January 24, 2022

COSMOLOGY - What is Processual Primordial Time before the Big Bang?

before the Big Bang?

by R.E. Slater
January 24, 2022

As Intro, please refer to my more recent post on God and Time here:

Until recently, asking what happened before the Big Bang was generally considered by physicists to be a religious question. General Relativity Theory just does not go there. As time goes to zero, General Relativity spews out zeros and infinities. So the question did not make sense from a mathematical/scientific point of view. - Anon 

"The initial singularity [before the Big Bang] is a singularity predicted by some models of the Big Bang theory to have existed before the Big Bang and thought to have contained all the energy and spacetime of the Universe. The instant immediately following the initial singularity is part of the Planck epoch, the earliest period of time in the history of our universe." - Wikipedia

In scientific terminology the Cosmological Principle is the idea that the universe is "everywhere homogeneous and isotropic". Homogeneous means uniform or evenly distributed. Isotropic means it looks the same in all directions, i.e. there are no large clumps or voids in any direction. - Anon

To the question, "What is time?" I would like to respond as perhaps a process theologian might on the topic using the language of physics and poetic metaphor where in both senses imagination breaks down into wordless space...

        Process-based Quantum Implications

Process Thought would define "time" as a series of relational events utilizing Whiteheadian process philosophy and theology, named for Alfred North Whitehead, the British mathematician and philosopher of the British Royal Academy during Einstein's time.

At the quantum level, if there were no relational movement, or interaction, in force or energy, then there could be no time.

As example, before the occurrence of the big bang in the universe (sic, before the Planck Era) one could describe the singularity of this primordial  era to have a consistency of an homogenous one-dimensional (1D) infinitely hot plasmic space without distinguishment within itself. Time would not be present because time is dependent upon matter interacting with itself. In this space time could not.
Within this kind of a primordial universe there were no matter elements acting upon one another. In fact, space was so condensed in upon itself there could be no "space" as well... just a plasmic soup of infinite density. Hence, to use the mere terms of "space" and "time" would be lost to our vocabulary as timeful beings living within the spacetime continuum of our present cosmos. They are words without meaning in this state of infinitely dense singularity.
One might further describe this "space" as a static plasmic state of null-reactions as opposed to a dynamic hot plasmic state showing movement or irregularity within itself. That is, there could be no timeful existence in a primordial null-void singularity as there were zero interacting relationships between its infinitely dense substance. Time could not be present in this null-void space of seemingly endless or "infinite" white space. The concept of time could have no meaning at all even as the word "infinity" could have no meaning.
And since matter held no irregularities within this primordial null-void substance of timeless, infinitely dense space, the concept of "spacetime" could not exist either. Nor could this primordial singularity be described as either closed or open, as even these descriptors would be inadequate to its cosmology. All would seem infinitely near or infinitely distant in a null-void, zero-time singularity without quantum edge or boundary. Hence, primordial matter would be indistinguishable from itself and completely homogenous through-and-through-and-through its material substance.
Lastly, once quantum irregularity was somehow introduced into its singularly homogenous, non-structured (or un-structure) substance in the form of heat, frequency, pressure, density, etc, then in that instant did space transform and begin to define itself, while in that same instance did timeful interactions result. The resulting characteristic of the infamous Planck Era would be one of cosmic relationship between space and time; between evolving matter with itself; something we now casually describe as spacetimeMore specifically, this would be a relational spacetime structure consisting of a never ending series of interacting - or, processually interactive - events initiating the first state of a never-ending creational cosmological evolution where we may now speak of a "stellar void" filled with self-annihilating matter/antimatter moments rather than a "null-void" substance of non-existent relationships.

Before the Big Bang

Process-based Theological Implications 
By inference, the idea of Cosmic Relationality defines all we know as a time-filled - or better, time-informed - relational cosmology. Wherever we look a relationship exists between matter (elements, forces, energies, etc). Moreover, the idea of a processual evolution may further inform a process-based relational cosmology: one that moves forward together both processually and relationally eliciting unique interactive future moments of possibility and wonder. Thus the Whiteheadian word for "cosmic feeling all-the-way down" into the very substance of the cosmos. Which was also why Whitehead described Process Philosophy first as a "Philosophy of Organism". One that was living, connected, and interactive with itself. Especially a cosmology beheld in valuative terms of wellbeing filled with possibility, describing its character and future (hope).
Referring back to the idea of an evolving cosmology consisting of a kind of "cosmic feeling" all the way down. This means that humanity is not alone, or unique, in itself - but bears upwards on an evolutionary scale a deep fundamental "feeling," comportment, attachment, or affiliation, with the structure of the cosmic elements themselves already present in the universe itself. And where did this ultimate source of processual relationality come from? For the Christian, as well as for many spiritual religions, this quality came from God's Self.
One may therefore describe the cosmos as a derivative of God's Processual-Relational Essence or Being. This then is what is meant by a Christian theology described as a Relational Process Theology - a quality of theology which may also be found in other religions and faiths when the idea of "theology" is applied both positively and pervasively. All religions, like nature itself, operate best when operating within a relational sphere of influential fellowship.
Further, we should also note that a Processual Relational Theology is a derivative of a Processual Relational Philosophy where the former builds upon the latter in a specific direction: in this case, upon a religious "faith or belief" with its derivative constructs of socio-politico religion. A good faith is one which i) connects with the universe, ii) connects with nature, iii) connects with one another, and iv) connects with God. A faith which shows valuative movement of wellbeing, healing, and love. Process Theology is such a philosophy.


Process Theology may be described as a panrelational, panexperiential, panpsychic
panentheism between God and the cosmic creation

Moreover, a relational process theology may also go hand-in-hand with the Christian idea of "creatio continua"... creation from something that is already there but unformed. A primordial creation which exists without any kind of defined relationship between things. (By the way, the term creation may be considered an inexact term in that the existent primordial matter wasn't so much "created" as it was simply "there, but unformed". That is, without any meaningful relationships within or without itself, though such terms would be meaningless as mentioned above in the opening paragraphs.)
Time therefore is a result of an event and not a thing in itself. That is, time is not a substance, but an event. It is a result of the processual interaction of dimensional quantum harmonics, frequencies, strings, or loopy gravitational forces and energies working in relationship with-and-against each other. Time is ultimately a relational event. If there is no time then there are no eventful relations.


click to enlarge + article link

One last, to reiterate a previous point, if a primordial cosmos was already there then it wasn't so much "created" as given a relational presence to itself by either (i) divine fiat or (ii) by absorbing God's relational being via mere association with the Divine. An association permeating with open-ended indeterminancy and processual futures as previous accumulating pasts (prehensions) interact with coinciding presents (actualities) where each prehension and actuality, together, propel newly initiating dynamics of actualizing possibilities of future import. This is the import of process philosophy which process theology then builds upon.
Thus and thus, the future is as hopeful as it is chaotic. Moreover, a process theology will also insist on a future whose character is one that is valuative and bearing wellbeing for all entities involved and interacting with one another. If it were not so, an entropic cosmos in the heavens or on earth could not have evolved as a processual evolutionary series of events within a cosmic creation described as a processual relationship of organism.

R.E. Slater
January 24, 2022
revised, January 26, 2022

*Should a reader discover additional process-related articles on the subject of "what is time", please forward to me those links in the comments section. Thanks! 

Timeline of the Big Bang


Since the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, the universe has passed through many different phases or epochs. Due to the extreme conditions and the violence of its very early stages, it arguably saw more activity and change during the first second than in all the billions of years since.

From our current understanding of how the Big Bang might have progressed, taking into account theories about inflation, Grand Unification, etc, we can put together an approximate timeline as follows:

Planck Epoch (or Planck Era), from zero to approximately 10-43 seconds (1 Planck Time):

This is the closest that current physics can get to the absolute beginning of time, and very little can be known about this period. General relativity proposes a gravitational singularity before this time (although even that may break down due to quantum effects), and it is hypothesized that the four fundamental forces (electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force and gravity) all have the same strength, and are possibly even unified into one fundamental force, held together by a perfect symmetry which some have likened to a sharpened pencil standing on its point (i.e. too symmetrical to last). At this point, the universe spans a region of only 10-35 meters (1 Planck Length), and has a temperature of over 1032°C (the Planck Temperature).

Grand Unification Epoch, from 10–43 seconds to 10–36 seconds:

The force of gravity separates from the other fundamental forces (which remain unified), and the earliest elementary particles (and antiparticles) begin to be created.

Inflationary Epoch, from 10–36 seconds to 10–32 seconds:

Triggered by the separation of the strong nuclear force, the universe undergoes an extremely rapid exponential expansion, known as cosmic inflation. The linear dimensions of the early universe increases during this period of a tiny fraction of a second by a factor of at least 1026 to around 10 centimeters (about the size of a grapefruit). The elementary particles remaining from the Grand Unification Epoch (a hot, dense quark-gluon plasma, sometimes known as “quark soup”) become distributed very thinly across the universe.

Electroweak Epoch, from 10–36 seconds to 10–12 seconds:

As the strong nuclear force separates from the other two, particle interactions create large numbers of exotic particles, including W and Z bosons and Higgs bosons (the Higgs field slows particles down and confers mass on them, allowing a universe made entirely out of radiation to support things that have mass).

Quark Epoch, from 10–12 seconds to 10–6 seconds:

Quarks, electrons and neutrinos form in large numbers as the universe cools off to below 10 quadrillion degrees, and the four fundamental forces assume their present forms. Quarks and antiquarks annihilate each other upon contact, but, in a process known as baryogenesis, a surplus of quarks (about one for every billion pairs) survives, which will ultimately combine to form matter.

Hadron Epoch, from 10–6 seconds to 1 second:

The temperature of the universe cools to about a trillion degrees, cool enough to allow quarks to combine to form hadrons (like protons and neutrons). Electrons colliding with protons in the extreme conditions of the Hadron Epoch fuse to form neutrons and give off massless neutrinos, which continue to travel freely through space today, at or near to the speed of light. Some neutrons and neutrinos re-combine into new proton-electron pairs. The only rules governing all this apparently random combining and re-combining are that the overall charge and energy (including mass-energy) be conserved.

Lepton Epoch, from 1 second to 3 minutes:

After the majority (but not all) of hadrons and antihadrons annihilate each other at the end of the Hadron Epoch, leptons (such as electrons) and antileptons (such as positrons) dominate the mass of the universe. As electrons and positrons collide and annihilate each other, energy in the form of photons is freed up, and colliding photons in turn create more electron-positron pairs.

Nucleosynthesis, from 3 minutes to 20 minutes:

The temperature of the universe falls to the point (about a billion degrees) where atomic nuclei can begin to form as protons and neutrons combine through nuclear fusion to form the nuclei of the simple elements of hydrogen, helium and lithium. After about 20 minutes, the temperature and density of the universe has fallen to the point where nuclear fusion cannot continue.

Photon Epoch (or Radiation Domination), from 3 minutes to 240,000 years:

During this long period of gradual cooling, the universe is filled with plasma, a hot, opaque soup of atomic nuclei and electrons. After most of the leptons and antileptons had annihilated each other at the end of the Lepton Epoch, the energy of the universe is dominated by photons, which continue to interact frequently with the charged protons, electrons and nuclei.

Recombination/Decoupling, from 240,000 to 300,000 years:

As the temperature of the universe falls to around 3,000 degrees (about the same heat as the surface of the Sun) and its density also continues to fall, ionized hydrogen and helium atoms capture electrons (known as “recombination”), thus neutralizing their electric charge. With the electrons now bound to atoms, the universe finally becomes transparent to light, making this the earliest epoch observable today. It also releases the photons in the universe which have up till this time been interacting with electrons and protons in an opaque photon-baryon fluid (known as “decoupling”), and these photons (the same ones we see in today’s cosmic background radiation) can now travel freely. By the end of this period, the universe consists of a fog of about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, with just traces of lithium.

Dark Age (or Dark Era), from 300,000 to 150 million years:

The period after the formation of the first atoms and before the first stars is sometimes referred to as the Dark Age. Although photons exist, the universe at this time is literally dark, with no stars having formed to give off light. With only very diffuse matter remaining, activity in the universe has tailed off dramatically, with very low energy levels and very large time scales. Little of note happens during this period, and the universe is dominated by mysterious “dark matter”.

Reionization, 150 million to 1 billion years:

The first quasars form from gravitational collapse, and the intense radiation they emit reionizes the surrounding universe, the second of two major phase changes of hydrogen gas in the universe (the first being the Recombination period). From this point on, most of the universe goes from being neutral back to being composed of ionized plasma.

Click to enlarge

Star and Galaxy Formation, 300 - 500 million years onwards:

Gravity amplifies slight irregularities in the density of the primordial gas and pockets of gas become more and more dense, even as the universe continues to expand rapidly. These small, dense clouds of cosmic gas start to collapse under their own gravity, becoming hot enough to trigger nuclear fusion reactions between hydrogen atoms, creating the very first stars.

The first stars are short-lived supermassive stars, a hundred or so times the mass of our Sun, known as Population III (or “metal-free”) stars. Eventually Population II and then Population I stars also begin to form from the material from previous rounds of star-making. Larger stars burn out quickly and explode in massive supernova events, their ashes going to form subsequent generations of stars. Large volumes of matter collapse to form galaxies and gravitational attraction pulls galaxies towards each other to form groups, clusters and superclusters.

Solar System Formation, 8.5 - 9 billion years:

Our Sun is a late-generation star, incorporating the debris from many generations of earlier stars, and it and the Solar System around it form roughly 4.5 to 5 billion years ago (8.5 to 9 billion years after the Big Bang).

Today, 13.7 billion years:

The expansion of the universe and recycling of star materials into new stars continues.

Chronology of the Universe in five stages

Diagram of evolution of the (observable part) of the universe from the Big Bang (left), the CMB-reference afterglow, to the present.

For the purposes of this summary, it is convenient to divide the chronology of the universe since it originated, into five parts. It is generally considered meaningless or unclear whether time existed before this chronology:

The very early universe

The first picosecond (10−12) of cosmic time. It includes the Planck epoch, during which currently established laws of physics may not apply; the emergence in stages of the four known fundamental interactions or forces—first gravitation, and later the electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions; and the expansion of space itself and supercooling of the still immensely hot universe due to cosmic inflation.

Tiny ripples in the universe at this stage are believed to be the basis of large-scale structures that formed much later. Different stages of the very early universe are understood to different extents. The earlier parts are beyond the grasp of practical experiments in particle physics but can be explored through other means.

The early universe

This period lasted around 370,000 years. Initially, various kinds of subatomic particles are formed in stages. These particles include almost equal amounts of matter and antimatter, so most of it quickly annihilates, leaving a small excess of matter in the universe.

At about one second, neutrinos decouple; these neutrinos form the cosmic neutrino background (CνB). If primordial black holes exist, they are also formed at about one second of cosmic time. Composite subatomic particles emerge—including protons and neutrons—and from about 2 minutes, conditions are suitable for nucleosynthesis: around 25% of the protons and all the neutrons fuse into heavier elements, initially deuterium which itself quickly fuses into mainly helium-4.

By 20 minutes, the universe is no longer hot enough for nuclear fusion, but far too hot for neutral atoms to exist or photons to travel far. It is therefore an opaque plasma.

The recombination epoch begins at around 18,000 years, as electrons are combining with helium nuclei to form He+. At around 47,000 years,[2] as the universe cools, its behavior begins to be dominated by matter rather than radiation. At around 100,000 years, after the neutral helium atoms form, helium hydride is the first molecule. (Much later, hydrogen and helium hydride react to form molecular hydrogen (H2) the fuel needed for the first stars.) At about 370,000 years,[3] neutral hydrogen atoms finish forming ("recombination"), and as a result the universe also became transparent for the first time. The newly formed atoms—mainly hydrogen and helium with traces of lithium—quickly reach their lowest energy state (ground state) by releasing photons ("photon decoupling"), and these photons can still be detected today as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This is the oldest observation we currently have of the universe.

The Dark Ages and large-scale structure emergence

From 370,000 years until about 1 billion years. After recombination and decoupling, the universe was transparent but the clouds of hydrogen only collapsed very slowly to form stars and galaxies, so there were no new sources of light. The only photons (electromagnetic radiation, or "light") in the universe were those released during decoupling (visible today as the cosmic microwave background) and 21 cm radio emissions occasionally emitted by hydrogen atoms. The decoupled photons would have filled the universe with a brilliant pale orange glow at first, gradually redshifting to non-visible wavelengths after about 3 million years, leaving it without visible light.

The cosmic Dark Ages

At some point around 200 to 500 million years, the earliest generations of stars and galaxies form (exact timings are still being researched), and early large structures gradually emerge, drawn to the foam-like dark matter filaments which have already begun to draw together throughout the universe. The earliest generations of stars have not yet been observed astronomically. They may have been huge (100–300 solar masses) and non-metallic, with very short lifetimes compared to most stars we see today, so they commonly finish burning their hydrogen fuel and explode as highly energetic pair-instability supernovae after mere millions of years.[4] Other theories suggest that they may have included small stars, some perhaps still burning today. In either case, these early generations of supernovae created most of the everyday elements we see around us today, and seeded the universe with them.

Galaxy clusters and superclusters emerge over time. At some point, high-energy photons from the earliest stars, dwarf galaxies and perhaps quasars leads to a period of reionization that commences gradually between about 250–500 million years, is complete by about 700–900 million years, and diminishes by about 1 billion years (exact timings still being researched). The universe gradually transitioned into the universe we see around us today, and the Dark Ages only fully came to an end at about 1 billion years.

While early stars have not been observed, some galaxies have been observed from about 400 million years cosmic time (GN-z11 at redshift z≈11.1, just after the start of reionization); these are currently our early observations of stars and galaxies. The James Webb Space Telescope, launched in 2021, is intended to push this back to z≈20 (180 million years cosmic time), enough to see the first galaxies (≈270 my) and early stars (≈100 to 180 my).

The universe as it appears today

From 1 billion years, and for about 12.8 billion years, the universe has looked much as it does today and it will continue to appear very similar for many billions of years into the future. The thin disk of our galaxy began to form at about 5 billion years (8.8 Gya),[5] and the Solar System formed at about 9.2 billion years (4.6 Gya), with the earliest traces of life on Earth emerging by about 10.3 billion years (3.5 Gya).

The thinning of matter over time reduces the ability of gravity to decelerate the expansion of the universe; in contrast, dark energy (believed to be a constant scalar field throughout our universe) is a constant factor tending to accelerate the expansion of the universe. The universe's expansion passed an inflection point about five or six billion years ago, when the universe entered the modern "dark-energy-dominated era" where the universe's expansion is now accelerating rather than decelerating. The present-day universe is understood quite well, but beyond about 100 billion years of cosmic time (about 86 billion years in the future), uncertainties in current knowledge mean that we are less sure which path our universe will take.

The far future and ultimate fate

At some time the Stelliferous Era will end as stars are no longer being born, and the expansion of the universe will mean that the observable universe becomes limited to local galaxies. There are various scenarios for the far future and ultimate fate of the universe. More exact knowledge of our current universe will allow these to be better understood.

* * * * * * *

Bang, Bounce or Something Else?

Time began at the Big Bang — or did it? Alternative ideas, including a universe
that repeatedly reboots itself, suggest something came before the Big Bang.

April 22, 2020

One thing that makes cosmology fun is how much you can notice from simple observations. Why, for example, is the night sky so uniform? If you look in opposite directions to the farthest reach of your vision, the universe looks pretty much the same, yet those distant places have never communicated with each other. They are too far apart. Light from each side of the sky is only now reaching us in the middle, so it hasn’t had time to cross to the other side yet, and no physical process links the two. So why do they look so alike?

That uniformity is a glimpse of a cosmic prehistory. For 13.8 billion years, the universe has been expanding, cooling and evolving. Textbooks often say that the start of this expansion — the Big Bang — was the start of time. But if so, those widely separated regions could never have attained the same temperature and density, and other basic features of the universe would likewise seem inexplicable. “That’s all related to your assumption that there was a beginning of time, so why don’t you give up on that beginning-of-time idea?” says Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University. “That was a simple extrapolation of Einstein’s equations, assuming no change even when you get to energies and temperatures that have never been probed before.”

Most cosmologists think that something must have set the stage for the expansion we observe, although they disagree on what. Steinhardt was a co-author of the standard account — cosmic inflation — but has since turned against it and now promotes a competing model in which our universe is the latest round in a perpetual cycle of creation and destruction. Other scientists, too, are exploring alternatives to standard inflationary theory — and to Einstein’s gravity theory — to fill in the prehistory. “Some alternatives try to provide a pre-inflationary phase,” says Greg Gabadadze of New York University, who is associate director for physics in the foundation’s Mathematics and Physical Sciences division. “Others don’t use the inflationary mechanism but still have a phase which is before the Big Bang — before the conventional expanding phase.”

Cosmologists might finally be approaching some closure on this question. The Simons Observatory, a ground-based array of telescopes designed to make definitive measurements of the cosmic microwave background, is scheduled to see first light in 2020 and reach the requisite sensitivity in five years. Among other things, it will search for gravitational waves from the prehistorical cosmic period, which some models predict and others do not. “Both cases will be interesting: discovery or nondiscovery,” Gabadadze says.

Evolution of the Universe from the Big Bang on the left to the modern universe on the right. | Credit: NASA

What makes the expansion of the universe tricky to think about is that ‘the’ universe is not the same as our universe. We see only part of the whole, limited by how far light has been able to travel since space began stretching — a distance known as the cosmological horizon. In the standard Big Bang picture, not only does space get bigger, but we see ever more of it. “The rate of stretching is slower than the rate of light propagation through space, so we can receive light from more and more distant sources,” explains Anna Ijjas of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics.

The ideas for a cosmic prehistory say that one or both of these rates used to differ from what they are now. During cosmic inflation, for example, space expanded at a quickening pace, while the cosmological horizon stayed fixed. An observer during this period would see ever less of space. “It’s the relative growth of space compared to the horizon that’s the important thing,” Steinhardt says. The horizon also limits the range over which physical processes can operate. At first, two nearby regions were able to exchange material and even themselves out. Then space pulled them apart until they exited each other’s horizons, at which point they fell out of touch. Some time later, inflation ended, ushering in the present epoch. Distant regions are uniform because they used to be close together. Similarly, the universe appears to be geometrically flat because the broad curvature of space, if it had curvature, was lost to view.

Steinhardt and Ijjas argue that space need not have grown at all to achieve this effect; on the contrary, it could have shrunk. Cosmologists have toyed with contracting models before, supposing that the universe will reach some peak size, collapse under its own weight back to a pinprick, and bounce to begin a new cycle of expansion and contraction. But those models did not seek to account for cosmic uniformity and flatness. In Steinhardt and Ijjas’ scenario, these attributes are the result of the contracting phase of the preceding cycle.

Moreover, they argue that space need not collapse by all that much before bouncing. Instead it is the cosmological horizon that shrinks to almost nothing. In this scenario, the horizon is defined as how far observers can see before the bounce occurs. “The distance that light can propagate before the bounce gets less and less,” Ijjas says. As the horizon closes in on observers, galaxies vanish from sight and a curtain falls on the broad curvature of space. “Space is becoming more curved in the absolute sense, but your horizon is shrinking faster,” Steinhardt says. “You’re seeing less and less of it, so as you approach the contraction, as far as you can see, that patch looks extremely uniform and flat.”

If you could experience this process, you would lose sight of other galaxies, then stars in our own galaxy, then Mars and the moon, then the other side of the room. Soon your own body would cease to operate as a coherent being, and individual particles would live in utter isolation, no longer interacting. The universe would have completely atomized. All its structures would be frozen in place, emerging from hibernation only when the horizon was able to grow again.

A shrinking horizon is a feature of other alternatives to inflation as well. In so-called Galilean genesis, space initially expanded slowly and had no trouble evening itself out. “At the very beginning the horizon has an infinite size and, as the universe evolved in the genesis phase, the horizon size gets smaller,” Gabadadze says. Additional energy fields and nonlinear interactions among those fields seeded space with matter and revved up its expansion, thereby putting the bang into the Big Bang.

All these models have much in common. They require physics beyond present theories: new forms of energy (akin to dark energy) and perhaps modifications to Einsteinian gravity. They require an even earlier epoch — a pre-prehistory — to make the universe uniform and set up the conditions for expansion or contraction. They naturally produce not just one universe but potentially infinitely many, either in the form of a vast effervescence of bubbles (as in inflation) or as an endlessly repeating cycle (as in Steinhardt and Ijjas’ model).

But the models have crucial differences, too. Inflation occurs when the universe is hot and involves high-energy processes, so it is prone to fluctuations that cause it to produce a huge diversity of universes that vary in the distribution of matter and even some aspects of the laws of physics. Thus, space on its vastest scales is highly nonuniform, which is ironic because cosmologists came up with inflation in large part to explain the uniformity of our observed universe. Our universe is, if anything, a rarity. So the theory fails to make firm predictions for what we should see. Proponents of inflation have sought to tinker with the mechanism or supplement the theory with other principles to give it more explanatory power. In contrast, Steinhardt and Ijjas’ cyclic model avoids this problem because its processes occur at comparatively low energy. It produces universes that are broadly similar, with only minor variations from our own.

A Universe of Galaxies: This near-infrared map shows the distribution of galaxies around us — those in blue are nearest, those in red are farthest. The bright central band is our Milky Way. The data are derived from the 2MASS Extended Source Catalog of more than 1.5 million galaxies. | Credit: IPAC/Caltech, by Thomas Jarrett

As with many controversies, both sides make a good case, and the task of deciding between them falls to observers. Inflation would have had conspicuous gravitational side effects because it’s a highly energetic process. “When you produce density fluctuations at high energy, they also produce fluctuations in space-time itself,” Steinhardt says. So far, searches for gravitational waves from this era have come up empty. If the Simons Observatory doesn’t find any either, inflation is in trouble. Are the null results to date already uncomfortable? “Yup, they are,” Gabadadze says. “Already they kind of are.”

Conversely, if the observatory does detect primordial gravitational waves, Steinhardt and Ijjas’ cyclic cosmology is dead. “If we see that, it will disprove many of the competing models,” says Simons Observatory director Brian Keating of the University of California, San Diego.

The distribution of background radiation measurements offers another empirical handle on the problem. Currently, a histogram of temperature readings at different locations on the sky traces out a bell curve — a Gaussian. Any deviation from that generic shape would reveal what physics was in play early on. “Primordial non-Gaussianity has to do with the interactions and the number of fields that were involved in inflation,” says Eva Silverstein of Stanford University.

A bounce would require gravitational effects beyond those of Einstein’s theory, and cosmological observations can look for those. “It’s not something that would typically occur, because gravity is attractive, so if you start contracting, you’re going to collide,” says Claudia de Rham of Imperial College London. She and Gabadadze have explored modifications to gravity that not only might let the universe bounce, but would illuminate the mysteries of dark energy. Modified-gravity theories are a steppingstone to a full quantum theory of gravity and, as such, need to satisfy certain general principles. Those principles, along with observations, narrow the range of allowed modifications. “That really constrains your allowed region of parameter space by combining observations and theory priors,” she says.

Once cosmologists open the door to modified gravity, all sorts of new phenomena come rushing in, and bounces are almost the least of it. Frans Pretorius of Princeton, an expert in computer analysis of Einsteinian gravity, has been simulating post-Einsteinian gravity. In one case, he and his students were tracking the formation of black holes when the modified-gravity equations suddenly ceased to operate in time. They had changed their mathematical character from one that evolves to one that remains in a steady state. “When something like this happens, we have no idea how to interpret it,” he says.

As impatient as theorists may be to settle what happened at the dawn of time, or whether time even had a dawn, Keating says his team plans to take it slow. They don’t want to pass judgment before chasing down every possible source of error, not least their own potential confirmation bias, of which any scientist should be acutely aware. “We spend so much time ruminating on what could go wrong,” he says, “we almost need a psychotherapist to help us with our self-doubt.”

Jay McDaniel - Observations on Process Philosophy: Art, Nature, and Light

Photo by Михаил Павленко on Unsplash

Art, Nature, and Light

by Jay McDaniel

Art Out of Nature​

​Of course Wordsworth recognises, what no one doubts, that in some sense living things are different from lifeless things. But that is not his main point. It is the brooding presence of the hills which haunts him. His theme is nature in solido, that is to say, he dwells on that mysterious presence of surrounding things, which imposes itself on any separate element that we set up as an individual for its own sake. Wordsworth always grasps the whole of nature as involved in the tonal­ity of the particular instance. That is why he laughs with the daffo­dils, and finds in the primrose thoughts ‘too deep for tears.’

- Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World

The perfection of art has only one end, which is Truthful Beauty. But some measure of success has been reached, when either Truth or Beauty is gained. In the absence of Truth, Beauty is on a lower level, with a defect of massiveness. In the absence of Beauty, Truth sinks to triviality. Truth matters because of Beauty.

- Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

​I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

* * * * * * *

Whitehead on Wordsworth​
by Alfred North Whitehead, Process Philosopher

Wordsworth expresses "the concrete facts of our apprehension." - AN Whitehead

Of course, Wordsworth is a poet writing a poem, and is not concerned with dry philosophical statements. But it would hardly be possible to express more clearly a feeling for nature, as exhibiting entwined prehensive unities, each suffused with modal presences of others:

‘Ye Presences of Nature in the sky
And on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills!
And Souls of lonely places! can I think
A vulgar hope was yours when ye employed
Such ministry, when ye through many a year
Haunting me thus among my boyish sports,
On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills,
Impressed upon all forms the characters
Of danger or desire; and thus did make
The surface of the universal earth,
With triumph and delight, with hope and fear,
Work like a sea? . . .’

In thus citing Wordsworth, the point which I wish to make is that we forget how strained and paradoxical is the view of nature which modern science imposes on our thoughts. Wordsworth, to the height of genius, expresses the concrete facts of our apprehension, facts which are distorted in the scientific analysis. Is it not possible that the standardised concepts of science are only valid within narrow limitations, perhaps too narrow for science itself?

​- Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World

* * * * * * *

The Influence of Wordsworth ​on Whitehead
by Antoon Braeckman

In the "Autobiographical Notes," Whitehead asserts that he was acquainted with Wordsworth before he arrived at the university in 1880. In secondary school he read Wordsworth and Shelley during spare time. This acquaintance with Wordsworth, Shelley, and Coleridge becomes apparent through a consideration of the different passages in which they are mentioned. In Principles of Natural Knowledge he cites some lines from Wordsworth (PNK 200); in Process and Reality he quotes Wordsworth’s well-known phrase: "We murder to dissect" (PR 140/212). In Modes of Thought he suggests that he read Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. But the most important rendering of the romantic poetry we find in Science and the Modern World. Let us therefore confine our investigation to the latter text, in order to see clearly Whitehead’s view on romantic poetry.

At the end of Chapter V, "The Romantic Reaction," Whitehead summarizes the significance of Romantic poetry: "I have endeavored to make clear . . . that the nature-poetry of the romantic revival was a protest on behalf of the organic view of nature, and also a protest against the exclusion of value from the essence of matter of fact." Here, Whitehead stresses the importance of the romantic concept of nature. That concept entails, according to the above quotation, two characteristics: (a) the organic view on nature and (b) the understanding of nature as exhibiting an intrinsic value-character.

(a) Whitehead elucidates the former aspect as a (romantic) reaction against the mechanical, 18th-century scientific view on nature, whereby nature is reduced to mere abstract matter, devoid of any form of subjectivity. As to the latter aspect, (b) Whitehead argues that the English romantic poetry "bears witness that nature cannot be divorced from its aesthetic values." This means to Whitehead that nature, in the first place, has to do with experience, but above all with the experience of value. Both aspects of the concept of nature in romantic poetry exhibit two dimensions of one and the same intuition namely, that of the fundamentally subjective character of nature. This subjective character has to be understood as the ever-acting ground, involved in any particular instance of nature:

"Whitehead’s comment on English poetry in general, and his evaluation of the Wordsworthian poetry more specifically, shows that the most valuable contribution of that poetry consists exactly in this articulation of the concept of nature. This statement can be sustained through a closer study of the similarity in concept, principles, and elaboration of Wordsworth’s and Whitehead’s view on nature."

In Wordsworth we can find the stress on the organic pattern of nature. Moreover, while interpreting its value character, we are impelled to look at nature as an agent to be qualified as subjective. Finally, the concept of an ever-acting ground which is involved in and finds expression through all particular instances of nature allows us to envisage here in nuance Whitehead’s own principle of creativity. Hence, we can conclude that if there has been an influence of Wordsworth on Whitehead at all, it will have to do with his concept of nature. I would even claim -- but this has to be investigated later on -- that the particular synthesis of the concept of nature with aesthetics in Whitehead is almost completely Wordsworthian.


*From Whitehead and German Idealism: A Poetic Heritage by Antoon Braeckman. Braeckman is a Research Assistant at the Catholic University of Leuven, Kortrijk Campus, Sahbelaan, Kortrijk, Belgium. Below please find an excerpt from the article. The article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 265-286, Vol. 14, Number 4, Winter, 1985. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

* * * * * * *

​The Poetry of Philosophy:
Wordsworth’s Poetic Vision
of Nature in Light of Whitehead’s Cosmological Scheme

by Matthew David Segall
September 28, 2012

reposted from Footnotes2Plato

The aim of this essay is to read the nature poetry of William Wordsworth in light of the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, such that the epistemological and cosmological implications of the former are brought more fully into philosophical view. According to Victor Lowe, it is probable that no other man, save Plato, shaped the imaginative background of Whitehead’s outlook quite as profoundly as Wordsworth.1 This influence makes the task of this short essay far easier, since so much of what Whitehead labored to give clear conceptual expression to in his own work was originally awakened in him by the feeling for the universe that vibrates off the pages of Wordsworth’s poetry. In this sense, the task of this essay is the opposite of Whitehead’s: to translate the basic outlines of his philosophical scheme back into the cosmic visions and archetypal visitations expressed in Wordsworth’s verse.

One of the defining characteristics of Romantic literature is its exaltation of the figure of the philosopher-poet, the one who unveils the way in which, as Keats put it, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”2 The famous friendship and intimate artistic collaboration between Coleridge and Wordsworth provides an example of two minds who, while considered alone are great in their own right, considered together as a single mutually formed and imaginatively alloyed soul surely surpass the genius of any claimant of the title philosopher-poet to come before or after. According to Owen Barfield, the friendship of Coleridge and Wordsworth both “exemplified the contrast” and “deepened the affinity” between the poles of imagination, namely, self )–( world, or again, spirit )–( nature.3 Reconciling these two imaginative forces in one person is all but impossible, since “the finite activity of poetry, like every other motion, still requires a predominance, however slight, of the one pole over the other.”4 Coleridge had a more philosophical bent, tending toward reverential reflection upon the high station of spirit, while Wordsworth was easily charmed by the every day and more sensitive to the living depths of the natural world. Though Coleridge proved himself on occasion capable of penning the sublimest poetry, it could be said that, as a result of his philosophical tutelage, Wordsworth became the greatest of his poetic achievements. Indeed, Whitehead writes of Coleridge that, despite being influential in his own day, when considering “those elements of the thought of the past which stand for all time…[he] is only important by his influence on Wordsworth.”5

Wordsworth is perhaps the most esteemed nature poet in the history of the English language. For Whitehead, he is the chief exemplar of the Romantic reaction against the abstract mechanistic picture of nature fostered by the scientific materialism of the 17th and 18th centuries. He cites the famous line, “We murder to dissect” with qualified approval, agreeing with Wordsworth that “the important facts of nature elude the scientific method” even while he, a mathematical physicist as well as a philosopher, believes the specialized abstractions of natural science need not necessarily leave nature lifeless.6 Science can and should be reformed. Mechanistic science of the sort championed by the likes of Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and Laplace commits the fatal sin of bifurcating nature, isolating its objective mathematizable aspects by pealing away its sensual and moral layers, layers which found their home in a soul now entirely sealed off from the outside world. Concerning the ethereal hues of a sunset, the sweet fragrance of a primrose, or the melodies of a thrush the poets are all mistaken: from the point of view of scientific materialism, nature is “a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.”7 Contrary to the general thrust of natural science since its birth in the 17th century, Whitehead’s cosmological scheme is an attempt to systematize Wordsworth’s emphatic witness to the fact that “nature cannot be divorced from its aesthetic values, and that these values arise from the culmination…of the brooding presence of the whole on to its various parts.”8 In the jargon of his metaphysics, Whitehead saw in Wordsworth’s poetry “a feeling for nature as exhibiting entwined prehensive unities, each suffused with modal presences of others.”9 Hidden within this one short cryptic sentence are the major categories animating Whitehead’s entire cosmological system, including “actual occasions,” “eternal objects,” “internal relations,” and “concrescence.”

Before moving on to unpack Whitehead’s metaphysical scheme, it is important to note that his allegiance to Wordsworth and the Romantic reaction is not at all to say that he has sided with subjectivism or idealism over the objectivity of science. The danger in aligning oneself against the mathematical abstractions of mechanistic science is that one rushes too quickly to adopt the opposite extreme, elevating personal emotion and individual will to such unwarranted heights that the entirety of the visible universe is made to seem a private projection, a mere appearance dependent upon the constructive activity of my mind. Wordsworth’s absorption in living nature–“an inmate of this active universe,”10 as he put it–all but inoculated him against this subjectivist over-reaction; but there are a few occasions when Wordsworth seems almost to become infected by other strains of the Romantic bloodstream, especially those emerging in the orbit of Kant’s transcendental idealism. Whitehead strongly positioned himself in opposition to Kantian, Fichtean, and Hegelian forms of idealism which can be read as attempting to derive the concrete and contingent existence of the universe from the abstract universal categories of thought.11 Not incidentally (considering the influence of Schelling on Wordsworth through the intermediary of Coleridge), the relationship of Whitehead’s philosophy of organism to Schelling’s Naturphilosophie is far more congenial, since unlike for Kant and Hegel, for Schelling “Nature is a priori.”12 Whitehead pithily suggests that his approach “aspires to construct a critique of pure feeling, in the philosophical position in which Kant put his Critique of Pure Reason.”13 In Kant’s first critique, experience is either translatable into conscious rational knowledge (Descartes’ “clear and distinct ideas/representations” of geometrical space and time), or it is no experience at all. The vague but overriding feelings of nature’s creative rhythms and physical purposes always scintillating along the fractal horizons of consciousness are ignored in order to secure the certain knowledge of the rational, waking ego.14 The abyssal complexities of our aesthetic encounter with the sublime are left for the 3rd critique, the Critique of Judgment, but even here, where Kant’s powers reach their highest pitch, he pulls up short of the erotic receptivity that may have reconnected him with the animate intelligence of the cosmos. In book XI of The Prelude, as if speaking directly to Kant, Wordsworth pays homage to the “animation and…deeper sway” of nature’s soul while warning against the “narrow estimates of things” resulting from rational critique: “suffice it here/To hint that danger cannot but attend/Upon a Function rather proud to be/The enemy of falsehood, than the friend/Of truth, to sit in judgment than to feel.”15

While for Kant, “the world emerges from the subject,” for Whitehead, “the subject emerges from the world.”16 Whitehead’s conception of subjectivity is such that the order and meaning of our experience is originally given to us by the order and meaning of the surrounding actual universe. “[The subject] is not productive of the ordered world, but derivative from it.”17 Whitehead’s object-to-subject account of the formation of experience may seem too strict a rule for Wordsworth’s imaginative epistemology to obey, since for the latter the senses must be free to half-create and half perceive the world, as he suggests in Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (1798). This reversal of the vector of experience may at times prove to be a true tension in the two men’s outlooks, a tension worth untangling if only to discover a deeper commonality.

It would be an unfair reading of Whitehead, based on his reaction to much of German idealism, to neglect the extent to which his epistemology is fully awake to the creative and participatory role of the imagination in evaluating and synthesizing the facts of the actually existing world. His criticisms of idealistic accounts of perception result primarily from the mistaken prioritization of a derivative mode of perception, “presentational immediacy” over the truly primitive mode, “causal efficacy.” Presentational immediacy is a highly advanced form of experience available to conscious human beings. Dominated by the eyes (“The most despotic of our senses”18), it gives us a certain degree of reflective distance from the causal flow of cosmic vectors of inter-bodily emotion. These vectors, felt through the more original mode of perception, causal efficacy, generate the “mysterious presence of surrounding things”19: for example, the “voluntary power instinct” of the brooding Cliff that made the young Wordsworth’s hands tremble while rowing back to shore in his stolen skiff.20 Without the enlivening passion of causal efficacy, presentational immediacy becomes a fallen mode of perception, detached and cut off from intimacy with nature, her inner life reduced to the external relations of dead objects floating in outer space. Without the reflective disinterest of presentational immediacy, causal efficacy would swallow up our consciousness into the “dim and undetermin’d sense/Of unknown modes of being” that haunted Wordsworth for days after he returned the skiff to its mooring-place.21 Whitehead describes a third, hybrid mode of perception called “symbolic reference,” which plays a role akin to the synthesizing imagination, able to skillfully interweave physical prehensions with mental conceptions in order to produce heightened forms of aesthetic enjoyment and moral appetition. In Whitehead’s jargon, mental conceptions are also prehensions, or feelings, but instead of feeling concrete matters of fact, they feel eternal objects, or abstract forms of possibility. Whereas causal efficacy is “the hand of the settled past in the formation of the present,” presentational immediacy is the “[projection which] exhibits the contemporary world in its spatial relations.”22 Through the mixed perceptual mode of symbolic reference, habits of imagination are gradually acquired which bring forth the taken for granted world of every day experience.23 It is the synthesizing activity of this mode that Wordsworth refers to when he writes of how “The mind of Man is fram’d even like the breath/And harmony of music. There is a dark/Invisible workmanship that reconciles/Discordant elements, and makes them move/In one society.”24 A skillful poet is able to consciously moderate the synthetic activity of symbolic reference, “to keep/In wholesome separation the two natures,/The one that feels [causal efficacy], the other that observes [presentational immediacy].”25

It would be a superficial reading of Wordsworth to ignore the degree to which he wavers in his assigning of precedence to either the mental or physical poles of experiential reality. Just a line below his statement in Tintern Abbey about the creative element in perception, he writes of being “well pleased to recognize/In nature and the language of the sense,/The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse/The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul/Of all my moral being.” He finds that his mind is not only necessarily tied to his sensual encounters with nature (as it is for Kant), but that the language of sense has birthed and raised to maturity even the purest of his ideas from out of the womb of nature herself. Elsewhere, Wordsworth writes of the way a mountain range “By influence habitual to the mind/…shapes/The measure and the prospect of the soul.”26 Further conforming to Whitehead’s object-to-subject reading of the vector of experience, he writes: “From nature doth emotion come, and moods/…are nature’s gift.”27 But it could still be asked: is Wordsworth speaking here in a psychological or in an ontological register?

Whitehead’s characterization of Wordsworth’s poetry as exhibiting a sensitivity to the interpenetrating “prehensive unities” of nature, “each suffused with modal presences of others,” is meant to classify him as an ontologically committed panpsychist. His poetry is overflowing with hymns to the Anima Mundi, with references to the “the Life/ of the great whole,” and to the way “every natural form, rock, fruit or flower/…Lay bedded in a quickening soul.”28 Even here, however, just as Wordsworth appears to fully confirm his cosmological orientation, the tension of the poles of spirit and nature begin vibrating, as if hovering in superposition. Does Wordsworth mean that all these natural forms lay bedded in his quickening soul? In the same lines from The Prelude cited above, he could be read as congratulating himself for rousing nature from her sleep: “To every natural form…/I gave a moral life, I saw them feel,/Or linked them to some feeling…/…all/That I beheld respired with inward meaning.”29 But just a few lines later, Wordsworth again reverses the vector of his experience back from the idealistic to the cosmological pole, finding his mind “as wakeful” to the changing face of nature “as waters are/To the sky’s motion,” becoming to her activity as “obedient as a lute/That waits upon the touches of the wind.”30 Perhaps Wordsworth’s tendency to waver on this issue betrays one of the key differences between a visionary poet, focused on capturing the vividness of each fading moment, and a systematic philosopher, focused on characterizing the ultimate generalities characterizing all experience.

Though it is beyond the scope of the present essay, many parallels could also be drawn between Whitehead’s conception of a dipolar divinity and Wordsworth’s visions of the World Soul, “the Imagination of the whole.” Briefly, like all other actual occasions, Whitehead’s God has two poles, an intellectual/mental and an emotional/physical. Unlike all other actual occasions, God’s primordial pole is intellectual rather than physical, consisting in an evaluative ordering of all eternal objects. This ordering serves to condition the unfolding of the universe by making relevant novelties available to the concrescence of each finite occasion of experience. These finite occasions are free to make their own decisions and evaluations, but these decisions are made amidst the set of possibilities provided by the wisdom of God. Through God’s consequent pole, the creative becoming of the physical world is taken back up into divine experience as through a loving embrace to be harmonized with God’s primordial nature. To quote Whitehead at length: “God’s role is not the combat of productive force with productive force, of destructive force with destructive force; it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. He does not create the world, he saves it; or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.”31 The everlasting pulsations of divine concrescence are the macrocosmic analogy of Wordsworth’s autobiographical journey from childhood paradise, through the impairment and on to the final restoration of Imagination. “From love, for here/Do we begin and end, all grandeur comes,/All truth and beauty, from pervading love,/That gone, we are as dust.”32


1 Understanding Whitehead (1962), 257.
2 “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819).
3 What Coleridge Thought (1971), 90.
4 WCT, 90.
5 Science and the Modern World (1925), 79.
6 SMW, 79-80.
7 SMW, 55.
8 SMW, 84.
9 SMW, 80.
10 The Prelude (1805/1970), 27.
11 Process and Reality (1929/1979), 89.
12 First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (1799/2004), 198. Nature here is natura naturans, the generative abyss from which all finite form arises and into which it dies; this is akin to Whitehead’s category of ultimate generality at the base of all actuality, Creativity.
13 PR, 172.
14 Modes of Thought (1938/1966), p. 74-75.
15 The Prelude, 209.
16 PR, 172.
17 PR, 113.
18 The Prelude, 210.
19 SMW, 80.
20 The Prelude, 12.
21 The Prelude, 12.
22 Symbolism (1927/1955), 50.
23 UW, 184.
24 The Prelude, 10.
25 The Prelude, 238.
26 The Prelude, 125.
27 The Prelude, 218.
28 The Prelude, 37.
29 The Prelude, 37. Italics are mine.
30 The Prelude, 37-38.
31 PR, 525.
32 The Prelude, 233.