Matter has been identified with energy, and energy is sheer activity; the passive substratum composed of self-identical enduring bits of matter has been abandoned, so far as concerns any fundamental description.
The new view is entirely different. The fundamental concepts are activity and process. Nature is divisible and thus extensive. But any division, including some activities and excluding others, also severs the patterns of process which extend beyond all boundaries.
Nature is a theatre for the interrelations of activities.
As a first approximation, the notion of life implies a certain absoluteness of self-enjoyment. This must mean a certain immediate individuality, which is a complex process of appropriating into a unity of existence the many data presented as relevant by the physical processes of Nature. Life implies the absolute, individual self-enjoyment arising out of this process of appropriation. I have, in my recent writings, used the word “prehension” to express this process of appropriation. Also, I have termed each individual act of immediate self-enjoyment an “occasion of experience”. I hold that these unities of existence, the occasions of experience, are the really real things which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe, ever plunging into the creative advance.
It is untrue to state that the general observation of mankind, in which sense-perception is only one factor, discloses no aim. The exact contrary is the case. All explanations of the sociological functionings of mankind include “aim” as an essential factor in explanation. For example, in a criminal trial where the evidence is circumstantial the demonstration of motive is one chief reliance of the prosecution. In such a trial would the defence plead the doctrine that purpose could not direct the motions of the body, and that to indict the thief for stealing was analogous to indicting the sun for rising?
Scientific reasoning is completely dominated by the presupposition that mental functionings are not properly part of Nature.
This sharp division between mentality and Nature has no ground in our fundamental observation.
We should conceive mental operations as among the factors which make up the constitution of Nature.
The different modes of natural existence shade off into each other. There is the animal life with its central direction of a society of cells, there is the vegetable life with its organized republic of cells, there is the cell life with its organized republic of molecules, there is the large-scale inorganic society of molecules with its passive acceptance of necessities derived from spatial relations, there is the infra-molecular activity which has lost all trace of the passivity of inorganic Nature on a large scale.
We are in the world and the world is in us.
The aim at the future is an enjoyment in the present. It thus effectively conditions the immediate self-creation of the new creature.
Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. There has been added, however, some grasp of the immensity of things, some purification of emotion by understanding. Yet there is a danger in such reflections. An immediate good is apt to be thought of in the degenerate form of a passive enjoyment. Existence is activity ever merging into the future. The aim of philosophic understanding is the aim at piercing the blindness of activity in respect to its transcendent functions.