All nature at an instant (thus, not nature anymore)

“It is important to distinguish simultaneity from instantaneousness. I lay no stress on the mere current usage of the two terms. There are two concepts which I want to distinguish, and one I call simultaneity and the other instantaneousness. I hope that the words are judiciously chosen; but it really does not matter so long as I succeed in explaining my meaning. Simultaneity is the property of a group of natural elements which in some sense are components of a duration. A duration can be all nature present as the immediate fact posited by sense-awareness. A duration retains within itself the passage of nature. There are within it antecedents and consequents which are also durations which may be the complete specious presents of quicker consciousnesses. In other words a duration retains temporal thickness. Any concept of all nature as immediately known is always a concept of some duration though it may be enlarged in its temporal thickness beyond the possible specious present of any being known to us as existing within nature. Thus simultaneity is an ultimate factor in nature, immediate
for sense-awareness.

Instantaneousness is a complex logical concept of a procedure in thought by which constructed logical entities are produced for the sake of the simple expression in thought of properties of nature. Instantaneousness is the concept of all nature at an instant, where an instant is conceived as deprived of all temporal extension. For example we conceive of the distribution of matter in space at an instant. This is a very useful concept in science especially in applied mathematics; but it is a very complex idea so far as concerns its connexions with the immediate facts of sense-awareness. There is no such thing as nature at an instant posited by sense-awareness. What sense-awareness delivers over for knowledge is nature through a period. Accordingly nature at an instant, since it is not itself a natural entity, must be defined in terms of genuine natural entities. Unless we do so, our science, which employs the concept of instantaneous nature, must abandon all claim to be founded upon observation.

I will use the term ‘moment’ to mean ‘all nature at an instant.’ A moment, in the sense in which the term is here used, has no temporal extension, and is in this respect to be contrasted with a duration which has such extension. What is directly yielded to our knowledge by sense-awareness is a duration. Accordingly we have now to explain how moments are derived from durations, and also to explain the purpose served by their introduction.

A moment is a limit to which we approach as we confine attention to durations of minimum extension. Natural relations among the ingredients of a duration gain in complexity as we consider durations of increasing temporal extension. Accordingly there is an approach to ideal simplicity as we approach an ideal diminution of extension.”

A. N. Whitehead

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