Whitehead: Relativity and Experience

Ronald Desmet, Peter Farleigh (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Two of the main ingredients of Whitehead's work are his interpretation of Einstein's theories of relativity, and his views on sense experience. The two are closely related in the context of Whitehead's revolt against the bifurcation of nature into a world of mathematical physics and a world of common human experience. Whitehead believes that physics should not only be fertilized by the creation of experimental facts, but also by the coherence with ordinary sense experience. His critique of Einstein is all about the lack of coherence between Einstein's theories of relativity and the character of our ordinary sense experience. Whitehead's critique of Einstein can be clarified by opposing their divergent interpretations of Eddington's famous 1919 solar eclipse observations. In Einstein's interpretation, the mathematical symbolism describing Eddington's observations is detached from the symbolic reference that characterizes human sense experience. In Whitehead's interpretation, the description of Eddington's observations against a uniform spatio-temporal background is in accord with the symbolic interplay between presentational immediacy and causal efficacy. In Whitehead's interpretation, relativity is firmly rooted in human sense experience. The importance and meaningfulness of Whitehead's alternative interpretation of Einstein's relativity consists in its coherence with the symbolic reference proper to human sense experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-9
Number of pages7
JournalConcrescence - The Australien Journal of Process Thought
Issue number2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Peter Farleigh


  • philosophy of science
  • historical


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