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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Aversion and adversion

In Part III, Chapter III of Process and Reality (page 254 of the standard 1985 edition), Whitehead introduces two great notions: those of adversion and aversion. His words:
If in the conceptual feelings there is valuation upward, then the physical feelings are transmitted to the new concrescence with enhanced intensity in its subjective form. This is 'adversion'. But if the conceptual feelings there is valuation downwards, then the physical feelings are (in the later concrescence) either eliminated, or are transmitted to it with attenuated intensity. This is 'aversion'. Thus, 'adversion' and 'aversion' are types of 'decision'.

These are very general concepts: to enhance something so that the picture fits, to hide something so that the picture fits. Whitehead talks about physical feelings and concepts (shove off this green patch so that the image could look like the sky or enhance the whiteness of the clouds so that it is more clearly like the sky). His interest in chiefly on perception - one needs to avert something while adverting something in order to perceive something (conceptually) in what one perceives (physically). Perception, whenever concepts are involved, is always a decision act - there are consequences. But aversion and adversion are present whenever translation is at stake: translation is to loose something while gaining something by emphasizing some elements while neglecting others. In fact, modulation in general is like this - enhancing some signals while attenuating others. Aversion and adversion are the basis for what I call the matrix of differences and indifferences - setting aside the differences that make no difference while focusing on the differences that make differences. The stereoscopy of art lies in showing what is averted and adverted while at the same time making these operations explicit. (I draw the pipe, adverting the similarities between my drawing and a pipe and then I write down that it is not a pipe to avert whatever makes my drawing look like a pipe.)

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