Amy Edelstein is an educator, author, and public speaker who powerfully communicates ideas and beliefs that can help us transform ourselves and our culture. Over the last 35-years Amy has dedicated her personal and professional life to the inner work of the transformation of consciousness and the outer work of understanding and building onramps for cultural change. In 2014, Amy established the Inner Strength Foundation, a non-profit organization which has supported more than 4000 inner-city teens with the tools of mindfulness and systemic thinking. She weaves a developmental perspective into her teen mindfulness training so students learn to see their experience in light of our inter-relatedness and the reality of constant change.
Alfred North Whitehead and Teilhard de Chardin have been big influences on her philosophical outlook, and she also draws from her extensive knowledge of the world's great Wisdom traditions both Eastern and Western. I chose to ask her some questions about Whitehead specifically. Here is that interview:
1. Why did Alfred North Whitehead believe that beauty, morals, and aesthetics are the aim of existence? What, then, is the role of science and mathematics?
For Whitehead, beauty, morals, and aesthetics were made of and expressed the heart of Life. He saw the essential interconnectedness, movement, and systemic nature of all things. He appreciated how profoundly the unfolding of one thing influenced another, to such a degree that you cannot see a part without also intuiting the whole. Seeing the dance of the whole and its myriad parts is beauty. The moral nature lies in appreciating the delicacy of the consequences of all actions. I'm not sure Whitehead would necessarily separate the "aim of existence" from the nature of existence itself but I suppose he would see that our role is to appreciate the aesthetics of pattern, system, and relationship-- in that we see the purpose of existence through seeing the process of life.
2. Can you explain further what made him believe the assumptions of science and mathematics had been overturned?
While Whitehead was a brilliant mathematician, he ultimately argued that the assumptions of science and mathematics were largely based on unexamined premises, one key one being that the world consists of discreet objects rather than as a series of processes that are in constant movement and interrelationship. By seeing the flow or movement and effect of all action and activity, Whitehead brought back an essential moral and ethical component into our fundamental view of reality. We cannot view things as static independent events but as the result of actions, events, that came before and that will set new events in motion.
3. How does process philosophy treat inanimate matter?
Whitehead saw what is commonly considered as inanimate matter to still contain some level of experience, energy, flow which he saw as expressing the current of life. Another way to see this is from a process oriented perspective in the way that animate and inanimate matter are intrinsically related. You cannot separate carbon from the life forms that are made up by it. You cannot separate trace minerals from the very stuff healthy cells. You cannot separate a living human being from the air we breathe. Process philosophy emphasizes the inseparability of all things -- so much so that the line when inanimate ends and animate begins becomes somewhat arbitrary.
The key to understanding the world this way is not to see separate things with independent existence but rather to see the interconnected relational nature of all things, the current of experience being all that there is rather than discreet objects being carried by the river of life.
4. Why would we acknowledge the mysterious, ineffable nature of the universe if we need knowledge to master our world? How is this practical?
Recognizing the ineffable nature of the universe gives us that non-center center from which to peer out at the vast order of things. Whitehead was brilliantly and humbly able to do this. He lived a life fueled by curiosity and wonder, questioning and re-interpreting, seeing the relationship of things and then reconsidering the relationship of all things. He was able to discern the significance and threat of movements in history as they occurred (especially during the great world war) by not trying to pin down or contain everything but by allowing his mind to roam freely yet precisely and intuit new order or new significance as he synthesized the information he gleaned. He was both a vast and practical thinker, concerned about the state of our culture as much as he made great effort to articulate more subtle philosophical points. For him mystery was practical and the practical, when examined with wonder, expressed great mystery.
5. If the process itself is actuality, how should we get our sense of bearings? How would we describe our world, as such?
If we look at the smallest particles we have been able to discern through mathematics, theory, and experimentation, we see that they are all in perpetual motion, more energy and movement than mass, more space than solid. All these infinitesimally small bits of stuff make up the great unmoveable objects from skyscrapers to mountain ranges, from dense blocks of lead to ephemeral clouds in the sky. That movement is more true to the nature of things. Seeing this, we then can get our sense of bearing, identity or stability in the flow of life, in the movement of process. When we see our world through the movement or experience or relationship rather than by trying to locate ourselves as fixed objects in a static world, we come into alignment with actuality. By rooting ourselves so to speak in this perpetual unfolding we are able to intuit the grand systems of evolution and describe our world more inclusively and accurately and in a way where we can find our place and our purpose.
Amy is a Cornell University College Scholar and cofounder of Emergence Education, a learning platform which publishes transformational books and programs. She is author of five books including the newly released The Conscious Classroom: the Inner Strength System for transforming the teenage mind. You can find her work at InnerStrengthFoundation.net and AmyEdelstein.com
# # #