“It is the first step in sociological wisdom, to recognize that the major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur: — like unto an arrow in the hand of a child. The art of free society consists first in the maintenance of the symbolic code; and secondly in fearlessness of revision, to secure that
the code serves those purposes which satisfy an enlightened reason. Those societies which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay either from anarchy, or from the slow atrophy of a life stifled by useless shadows.”
~A. N. Whitehead
Its Meaning and Effect
The theme of this year's conference will be a reconsideration of Whitehead's Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect. When Whitehead originally delivered the lectures that were to be published as Symbolism (in 1927), he argued that it was time to re-evaluate the important human relationship to symbolism, a relationship Whitehead believes has been important in every historical epoch. Given the scientific, cultural, and technological changes that have taken place since 1927 it seems quite appropriate to examine, in the spirit of Whitehead, the current attitude towards symbolism that we find in our current, early twenty-first century epoch. In particular, the question of symbolization and the complex interferences and inferences it establishes in its relationship to modes of perception leads to a discussion of language—whether written or spoken—and to Whitehead's theory of prehension as a way of explaining the construction of human society and, indirectly, ecology. By drawing from a number of disciplines we shall set the stage for a fruitful series of discussions on the contemporary meaning and effects of symbolism.