In NOTES ON WHITEHEAD PT. 3, I expressed my regrets that the philosopher had not chosen to define many of his terms more precisely in his most famous book, PROCESS AND REALITY. I wasn't even able to get a concise sense of what a "prehension" was, even in the chapter "Theory of Prehensions."
However, by sheer chance I found a definition without even looking for it. I happened to pick up an old book I'd not read through despite owning it some twenty years: COLIN WILSON, a literary study by one John A. Weigel, devoted to examining Wilson's works up to the year 1975. I have only read two of Wilson's philosophy books, none of which include RELIGION AND THE REBEL. It's from this book that Weigel alternately quotes and paraphrases Wilson's take on Whitehead's concept of the prehension, which is far clearer than anything Whitehead wrote in PROCESS AND REALITY.
Of central importance is Whitehead's idea of "prehension," which is dramatically defined, following Whitehead's specifications, "as that act of the soul, reaching out like an octopus to digest its experience." Fixing on "prehension" as the basic act in existentialism, an act carefully to be distinguished from "apprehension," which is based on intellectual rather than soulful understanding, Wilson rests his own case.
Wilson's "octopus" metaphor brings to mind a more primitive form of organic life: that of the one-celled amoeba, which has no perceptual organs and so assesses its contact with the "outside universe" purely by touch. I feel like I've resorted to the amoeba once or twice to suggest the base process of perception somewhere, but even if I haven't, I.A. Richards did, as I noted in my summation of his book PHILOSOPHY OF RHETORIC here:
...the lowliest organism-- a polyp or an amoeba-- if it learns from its past, if it exclaims in its acts, 'Hallo! Thingembob again!' it thereby shows itself to be a conceptual thinker.
Richards doesn't specifically link his notion of conceptual "sorting" to Whitehead, though as I also note he mentions Whitehead elsewhere in RHETORIC. Both Wilson's octopus metaphor and Richards' amoeba metaphor stress the faculty of perception through non-intellectual methods, which I would broadly compare to Jung's concept of the organism reacting to the world through the irrational functions of sensation and of intuition. Moreover, such metaphors cohere well with what I have labeled Whitehead's "theme statement" for the whole of PROCESS AND REALITY:
There is nothing in the real world which is merely an inert fact. Every reality is there for feeling: it promotes feeling; and it is felt. Also there is nothing which belongs merely to the privacy of feeling of one individual actuality. All origination is private. But what has been thus originated, publicly pervades the world.
Since I discontinued my reading of PROCESS, I cannot say whether or not Wilson's use of the term "soulful" is accurate with respect to Whitehead's heuristics. But for me, "soulful" embodies a "concrescence" of all four of the potentialities, acting in unison to sort experience in all its multi-faceted variety. And it's with this covalence in mind that I'll examine the idea of prehensions in line with my concept of the four literary personas in my next post.