Origins of Self and the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead

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Extract from The Origins of Self

Chapter 1: The Missing Me

In which Freya reveals her problems with the theory of evolution and Max determines to expose the flaws in her reasoning process.

All about me

Freya: I’ve finally lost my faith in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution!

Max: O my God, you’ve become a Creationist! You go to my family reunion, meet my fundamentalist cousins and they’ve won you over. That’s despite all my brilliant attempts to argue them out of such nonsense.  

Freya: You made your point very powerfully, as you say, it’s not a ‘theory’ that animals evolved from simpler organisms over many millions of years, it’s a matter of factual evidence based on the fossil record.

Max: Why they need to turn these facts on their head to justify some ancient cosmology is what I don’t understand. We seem to be living on an entirely different planet. They’re suspicious of all science, not just evolution, but global warming, genetic engineering and particle physics. As far as they’re concerned it’s all a left wing conspiracy to undermine their God, freedom and the American way of life.

Freya: Well your all out attack didn’t help to bridge the gap either. All their stereotypes of scientists being left wing amoral atheists were confirmed weren’t they?

Max: Well perhaps I did get a bit carried away. So what’s this ridiculous statement about you ‘losing your faith’?

Freya: I still believe evolution happened, but not in the way described. Something in Darwin’s theory just doesn’t work.

Max: Oh I see where this is going; it’s the process of natural selection you don’t like. This is just the bedrock of evolutionary theory. If you’re going to challenge that, then you have lost your head totally. To even contemplate such a claim means you’re going to take on some mighty big guns of the scientific establishment. It’s goodbye to your university career and tenureship. Good job I’ve got a decent income, we biochemical engineers don’t have the time to ask such questions, we just get on with the job of making the medicines that cure cancer.

Freya: You see my problem with the theory is a personal one. It’s about us, or rather me. We don’t come into the picture at all, I’ve no role to play in what happens so what am I for?

Max: Me, me, me, it’s always about you. Seriously though, it’s quite obvious, I’m the one that struggles for survival and so do you. It’s because I struggle to survive I bring home the food so we can bring up our children. Without my struggle, we wouldn’t survive and neither would our family. My ancestors passed on my genes to me because they struggled and survived. If they didn’t they would have died out and I would never have been born. --------

Copyright Dr. Stephen J. Brewer 2013

Download a free pdf version of *The Origins of Self

You can also order a printed copy or Kindle version of "Origins of Self" from or


The Origins of Self Cover

10 Chapters, 160 pages, 36,000 words

Download a free pdf version of *The Origins of Self.

You can also order a printed copy or Kindle version of from or

*Note: This free open access version of "The Origins of Self" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Process philosophy can help us understand the evolution of life and self consciousness

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” T. S. Eliot: The Wasteland

How can dust and water become a conscious living being capable of such emotions? Although Darwin's Theory of Evolution is believed to fully explain how dust and water are transformed into life, it is unable to explain the reality of our conscious mind, our intensity of being in a flood of emotions. The 'Origins of Self' presents Alfred North Whitehead's solution to what has been described as the 'HARD' problem.

Whitehead is one of the major figures in Western 20th Century Mathematics and Philosophy. His metaphysics 'Process and Reality'

Whitehead's 'Process and Reality' is of immense relevance to those life-scientists attempting to understand the origins and evolution of consciousness. At present, our understanding of this process is dominated by a purely physical interpretation. Thus we have scientists insisting we are robots with no free will and consciousness being an illusion produced by this machine. Whitehead puts the humanity back into the machine by insisting that all our feelings and emotions have their origins in real physical experiences. The animal body then organizes and processes trillions of these events into powerful emotions to be released as actions on the world. Our emotions are complex patterns of energy inputs from the environment that are channeled to allow us to satisfy our own desire to live:

'I now state the thesis that the explanation of this active attack on the environment is a three-fold urge: (i) to live, (ii) to live well, (iii) to live better. In fact, the art of life is first to be alive, secondly to be alive in a satisfactory way, and thirdly to acquire an increase in satisfaction.' (ref)

The problem is that his work is notoriously difficult for the non-specialist to understand. Scientists are not aware of this work, and neither are the public who instead are sold the atheistic concept that their lives have no value and all actions are pointless. These concepts, popularized by the geneticists Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel Dennett are the natural outcome of this physically distorted view of life. As a life-scientist myself, my problem is how to make it accessible to scientists and the public. I therefore focused my efforts on the evolutionary aspect of his work. To do this I also need to bring everyone up to speed on how simple chemical processes evolved into the highly complex life forms we see today. To achieve these goals, The Origins of Self presents a scientific and philosophical debate between three life scientists about the failure of evolutionary theory to convincingly explain the development of our self-consciousness. In this way, Whitehead's concepts emerge naturally from our common sense experience and scientific understanding of the world.

Dr Steve Brewer, Author

Download a free pdf version of *The Origins of Self

You can also order a printed copy or Kindle version of "Origins of Self" from or

*Note: This free open access version of "The Origins of Self" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


This video embedded by permission of its author, Peter Sjöostedt provides an excellent introduction to the Process Philosophy of A.N. Whitehead

Whitehead's concepts developed and explained in Origins of Self

atomic level energetic events as experience (panexperientialism) and basis for all consciousness
eternal objects as abstract forms shaping and constraining the process of evolution
the subjective aim for survival and reproduction as the driver for evolution
actual entities as embodied minds and the rejection of mind-body dualism
role of prehensions, nexus and contrasts in perception and consciousness
perception of objects resulting from subjective generation and projection of qualities (presentational immediacy)

philosophy of science and the ontological principle (that everything is somewhere)

form, being, creativity and the nature of God