The Concept of Nature : Tarner Lectures by Alfred North Whitehead

57583aee134f853-261x361.jpg Author Alfred North Whitehead
Isbn 1107113733
File size 1MB
Year 2015
Pages 144
Language English
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Category philosophy


The Concept of Nature The Tarner Lectures Delivered in Trinity College November 1919 B alfred north whitehead University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: © Cambridge University Press 1964 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 1920 Reprinted 1926, 1930, 1955 First paperback edition 1964 Reprinted 1971, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1993, 1995 Cambridge Philosophy Classics edition 2015 Printed in the United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Whitehead, Alfred North, 1861–1947. The concept of nature : the Tarner lectures delivered in Trinity College, November 1919 / Alfred North Whitehead. – Cambridge Philosophy Classics edition. pages cm. – (Tarner lectures) Preface to Cambridge philosophy classics edition by Michael Hampe. “First published 1920.” Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-107-11373-2 (Hardback : alk. paper) – ISBN 978-1-107-53431-5 (Paperback : alk. paper) 1. Nature. 2. Science–Philosophy. 3. Knowledge, Theory of. I. Title. Q175.W58 2015 501–dc23 2015017429 ISBN 978-1-107-11373-2 Hardback ISBN 978-1-107-53431-5 Paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Contents B Preface to this edition by michael hampe Preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 page vii ix Nature and thought Theories of the bifurcation of nature Time The method of extensive abstraction Space and motion Congruence Objects Summary The ultimate physical concepts 1 18 33 49 65 78 92 105 118 Note: On the Greek concept of a point Note: On significance and infinite events 126 126 Index 128 v Preface to this edition michael hampe B The first three decades of the twentieth century saw dramatic changes in science and philosophy. In 1905 Einstein published his special and, in 1919, his general relativity theory, and in 1924 De Broglie formulated the wave-particle dualism for matter – the beginning of quantum theory. At the same time the idealism of the Neo-Hegelian schools, of Bradley, McTaggart, Royce and others, lost its credibility. The idea that the distinction between appearance and reality was philosophically fundamental, the claim that space and time are not real, but a mere appearance, and the associated degradation of all scientific knowledge to knowledge of appearances only, the view that philosophy could deal with a purported reality behind appearances – all these assumptions lost their grip on the minds of philosophers, who instead began once again to recognise the relevance of the empirical sciences. A. N. Whitehead worked at this time as a philosophically minded Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College London. He reacted very quickly to the scientific developments that he took to require nothing less than a radically new way of understanding nature itself. This book— together with his more technical Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge from 1919—is his attempt to formulate such a new concept of nature against the background of post-Newtonian science and in the spirit of the post-Kantian and post-Hegelian New Realism. For Whitehead, natural scientists were not being naïve when they took their objects of study to exist independently from thought. But natural scientists do not argue for their realism. It is self-evident, for a physicist who studies the sun or a palaeontologist who investigates a fossil, that they do not create these objects that existed millions of years before any human enquiry was possible. Whitehead tried to take this realism seriously because he accepted the temporal dimensions in which science placed its objects. Thus, the nature that science investigates cannot be just the totality of human experience, organised by laws, as Kant thought. It is more. The fact that the different natural sciences can work together was of great importance for Whitehead, and he thought it set him a philosophical task, that of formulating a generalised and realistic concept of nature. His vii viii preface to this edition conclusion was that nature is a ‘self-contained” totality that is ‘closed to mind.’ But Whitehead also rejected the idea that this leads to a bifurcation of a material nature from non-material minds. Thoughts, emotions and values take place in the same world as everything that the natural sciences study. Colours are as real as photons. But to relate scientific objects to processes of experience is a much more ambitious, a metaphysical task. Whitehead tackled it 1929 in his Process and Reality, and the realistic double-aspect theory of that book is prepared for in the lectures that form The Concept of Nature. Now that metaphysics’ fixation with purely linguistic problems has passed, the position that he takes has become, and continues to be, increasingly plausible and important to analytic metaphysicians. Preface B The contents of this book were originally delivered at Trinity College in the autumn of 1919 as the inaugural course of Tarner lectures. The Tarner lectureship is an occasional office founded by the liberality of Mr Edward Tarner. The duty of each of the successive holders of the post will be to deliver a course on ‘the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Relations or Want of Relations between the different Departments of Knowledge.’ The present book embodies the endeavour of the first lecturer of the series to fulfil his task. The chapters retain their original lecture form and remain as delivered with the exception of minor changes designed to remove obscurities of expression. The lecture form has the advantage of suggesting an audience with a definite mental background which it is the purpose of the lecture to modify in a specific way. In the presentation of a novel outlook with wide ramifications a single line of communications from premises to conclusions is not sufficient for intelligibility. Your audience will construe whatever you say into conformity with their pre-existing outlook. For this reason the first two chapters and the last two chapters are essential for intelligibility, though they hardly add to the formal completeness of the exposition. Their function is to prevent the reader from bolting up side tracks in pursuit of misunderstandings. The same reason dictates my avoidance of the existing technical terminology of philosophy. The modern natural philosophy is shot through and through with the fallacy of bifurcation which is discussed in the second chapter of this work. Accordingly all its technical terms in some subtle way presuppose a misunderstanding of my thesis. It is perhaps as well to state explicitly that if the reader indulges in the facile vice of bifurcation not a word of what I have here written will be intelligible. The last two chapters do not properly belong to the special course. Chapter 8 is a lecture delivered in the spring of 1920 before the Chemical Society of the students of the Imperial College of Science and Technology. It has been appended here as conveniently summing up and applying the doctrine of the book for an audience with one definite type of outlook. ix x preface This volume on ‘the Concept of Nature’ forms a companion book to my previous work An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. Either book can be read independently, but they supplement each other. In part the present book supplies points of view which were omitted from its predecessor; in part it traverses the same ground with an alternative exposition. For one thing, mathematical notation has been carefully avoided, and the results of mathematical deductions are assumed. Some of the explanations have been improved and others have been set in a new light. On the other hand important points of the previous work have been omitted where I have had nothing fresh to say about them. On the whole, whereas the former work based itself chiefly on ideas directly drawn from mathematical physics, the present book keeps closer to certain fields of philosophy and physics to the exclusion of mathematics. The two works meet in their discussions of some details of space and time. I am not conscious that I have in any way altered my views. Some developments have been made. Those that are capable of a nonmathematical exposition have been incorporated in the text. The mathematical developments are alluded to in the last two chapters. They concern the adaptation of the principles of mathematical physics to the form of the relativity principle which is here maintained. Einstein’s method of using the theory of tensors is adopted, but the application is worked out on different lines and from different assumptions. Those of his results which have been verified by experience are obtained also by my methods. The divergence chiefly arises from the fact that I do not accept his theory of non-uniform space or his assumption as to the peculiar fundamental character of light signals. I would not however be misunderstood to be lacking in appreciation of the value of his recent work on general relativity which has the high merit of first disclosing the way in which mathematical physics should proceed in the light of the principle of relativity. But in my judgment he has cramped the development of his brilliant mathematical method in the narrow bounds of a very doubtful philosophy. The object of the present volume and of its predecessor is to lay the basis of a natural philosophy which is the necessary presupposition of a reorganised speculative physics. The general assimilation of space and time which dominates the constructive thought can claim the independent support of Minkowski from the side of science and also of succeeding relativists, while on the side of philosophers it was, I believe, one theme of Prof. Alexander’s Gifford lectures delivered some few years ago but not yet published. He also summarised his conclusions on this question in a preface xi lecture to the Aristotelian Society in the July of 1918. Since the publication of An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge I have had the advantage of reading Mr C. D. Broad’s Perception, Physics, and Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1914). This valuable book has assisted me in my discussion in Chapter 2, though I am unaware as to how far Mr Broad would assent to any of my arguments as there stated. It remains for me to thank the staff of the University Press, its compositors, its proof-readers, its clerks, and its managing officials, not only for the technical excellence of their work, but for the way they have co-operated so as to secure my convenience. a. n. w. Imperial College of Science and Technology April, 1920 CHAPTER 1 Nature and thought B The subject-matter of the Tarner lectures is defined by the founder to be ‘the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Relations or Want of Relations between the different Departments of Knowledge.’ It is fitting at the first lecture of this new foundation to dwell for a few moments on the intentions of the donor as expressed in this definition; and I do so the more willingly as I shall thereby be enabled to introduce the topics to which the present course is to be devoted. We are justified, I think, in taking the second clause of the definition as in part explanatory of the earlier clause. What is the philosophy of the sciences? It is not a bad answer to say that it is the study of the relations between the different departments of knowledge. Then with admirable solicitude for the freedom of learning there is inserted in the definition after the word ‘relations’ the phrase ‘or want of relations.’ A disproof of relations between sciences would in itself constitute a philosophy of the sciences. But we could not dispense either with the earlier or the later clause. It is not every relation between sciences which enters into their philosophy. For example biology and physics are connected by the use of the microscope. Still, I may safely assert that a technical description of the uses of the microscope in biology is not part of the philosophy of the sciences. Again, you cannot abandon the later clause of the definition; namely that referring to the relations between the sciences, without abandoning the explicit reference to an ideal in the absence of which philosophy must languish from lack of intrinsic interest. That ideal is the attainment of some unifying concept which will set in assigned relationships within itself all that there is for knowledge, for feeling, and for emotion. That far off ideal is the motive power of philosophic research; and claims allegiance even as you expel it. The philosophic pluralist is a strict logician; the Hegelian thrives on contradictions by the help of his absolute; the Mohammedan divine bows before the creative will of Allah; and the pragmatist will swallow anything so long as it ‘works.’ 1 2 the concept of nature The mention of these vast systems and of the age-long controversies from which they spring, warns us to concentrate. Our task is the simpler one of the philosophy of the sciences. Now a science has already a certain unity which is the very reason why that body of knowledge has been instinctively recognised as forming a science. The philosophy of a science is the endeavour to express explicitly those unifying characteristics which pervade that complex of thoughts and make it to be a science. The philosophy of the sciences—conceived as one subject—is the endeavour to exhibit all sciences as one science, or—in case of defeat—the disproof of such a possibility. Again I will make a further simplification, and confine attention to the natural sciences, that is, to the sciences whose subject-matter is nature. By postulating a common subject-matter for this group of sciences a unifying philosophy of natural science has been thereby presupposed. What do we mean by nature? We have to discuss the philosophy of natural science. Natural science is the science of nature. But—What is nature? Nature is that which we observe in perception through the senses. In this sense-perception we are aware of something which is not thought and which is self-contained for thought. This property of being self-contained for thought lies at the base of natural science. It means that nature can be thought of as a closed system whose mutual relations do not require the expression of the fact that they are thought about. Thus in a sense nature is independent of thought. By this statement no metaphysical pronouncement is intended. What I mean is that we can think about nature without thinking about thought. I shall say that then we are thinking ‘homogeneously’ about nature. Of course it is possible to think of nature in conjunction with thought about the fact that nature is thought about. In such a case I shall say that we are thinking ‘heterogeneously’ about nature. In fact during the last few minutes we have been thinking heterogeneously about nature. Natural science is exclusively concerned with homogeneous thoughts about nature. But sense-perception has in it an element which is not thought. It is a difficult psychological question whether sense-perception involves thought; and if it does involve thought, what is the kind of thought which it necessarily involves. Note that it has been stated above that senseperception is an awareness of something which is not thought. Namely, nature is not thought. But this is a different question, namely that the fact of sense-perception has a factor which is not thought. I call this factor nature and thought 3 ‘sense-awareness.’ Accordingly the doctrine that natural science is exclusively concerned with homogeneous thoughts about nature does not immediately carry with it the conclusion that natural science is not concerned with sense-awareness. However, I do assert this further statement; namely, that though natural science is concerned with nature which is the terminus of senseperception, it is not concerned with the sense-awareness itself. I repeat the main line of this argument, and expand it in certain directions. Thought about nature is different from the sense-perception of nature. Hence the fact of sense-perception has an ingredient or factor which is not thought. I call this ingredient sense-awareness. It is indifferent to my argument whether sense-perception has or has not thought as another ingredient. If sense-perception does not involve thought, then sense-awareness and sense-perception are identical. But the something perceived is perceived as an entity which is the terminus of the sense-awareness, something which for thought is beyond the fact of that sense-awareness. Also the something perceived certainly does not contain other sense-awarenesses which are different from the sense-awareness which is an ingredient in that perception. Accordingly nature as disclosed in sense-perception is self-contained as against sense-awareness, in addition to being self-contained as against thought. I will also express this self-containedness of nature by saying that nature is closed to mind. This closure of nature does not carry with it any metaphysical doctrine of the disjunction of nature and mind. It means that in sense-perception nature is disclosed as a complex of entities whose mutual relations are expressible in thought without reference to mind, that is, without reference either to sense-awareness or to thought. Furthermore, I do not wish to be understood as implying that sense-awareness and thought are the only activities which are to be ascribed to mind. Also I am not denying that there are relations of natural entities to mind or minds other than being the termini of the sense-awarenesses of minds. Accordingly I will extend the meaning of the terms ‘homogeneous thoughts’ and ‘heterogeneous thoughts’ which have already been introduced. We are thinking ‘homogeneously’ about nature when we are thinking about it without thinking about thought or about sense-awareness, and we are thinking ‘heterogeneously’ about nature when we are thinking about it in conjunction with thinking either about thought or about sense-awareness or about both. 4 the concept of nature I also take the homogeneity of thought about nature as excluding any reference to moral or aesthetic values whose apprehension is vivid in proportion to self-conscious activity. The values of nature are perhaps the key to the metaphysical synthesis of existence. But such a synthesis is exactly what I am not attempting. I am concerned exclusively with the generalisations of widest scope which can be effected respecting that which is known to us as the direct deliverance of sense-awareness. I have said that nature is disclosed in sense-perception as a complex of entities. It is worth considering what we mean by an entity in this connexion. ‘Entity’ is simply the Latin equivalent for ‘thing’ unless some arbitrary distinction is drawn between the words for technical purposes. All thought has to be about things. We can gain some idea of this necessity of things for thought by examination of the structure of a proposition. Let us suppose that a proposition is being communicated by an expositor to a recipient. Such a proposition is composed of phrases; some of these phrases may be demonstrative and others may be descriptive. By a demonstrative phrase I mean a phrase which makes the recipient aware of an entity in a way which is independent of the particular demonstrative phrase. You will understand that I am here using ‘demonstration’ in the non-logical sense, namely in the sense in which a lecturer demonstrates by the aid of a frog and a microscope the circulation of the blood for an elementary class of medical students. I will call such demonstration ‘speculative’ demonstration, remembering Hamlet’s use of the word ‘speculation’ when he says, There is no speculation in those eyes. Thus a demonstrative phrase demonstrates an entity speculatively. It may happen that the expositor has meant some other entity—namely, the phrase demonstrates to him an entity which is diverse from the entity which it demonstrates to the recipient. In that case there is confusion; for there are two diverse propositions, namely the proposition for the expositor and the proposition for the recipient. I put this possibility aside as irrelevant for our discussion, though in practice it may be difficult for two persons to concur in the consideration of exactly the same proposition, or even for one person to have determined exactly the proposition which he is considering. Again the demonstrative phrase may fail to demonstrate any entity. In that case there is no proposition for the recipient. I think that we may assume (perhaps rashly) that the expositor knows what he means. nature and thought 5 A demonstrative phrase is a gesture. It is not itself a constituent of the proposition, but the entity which it demonstrates is such a constituent. You may quarrel with a demonstrative phrase as in some way obnoxious to you; but if it demonstrates the right entity, the proposition is unaffected though your taste may be offended. This suggestiveness of the phraseology is part of the literary quality of the sentence which conveys the proposition. This is because a sentence directly conveys one proposition, while in its phraseology it suggests a penumbra of other propositions charged with emotional value. We are now talking of the one proposition directly conveyed in any phraseology. This doctrine is obscured by the fact that in most cases what is in form a mere part of the demonstrative gesture is in fact a part of the proposition which it is desired directly to convey. In such a case we will call the phraseology of the proposition elliptical. In ordinary intercourse the phraseology of nearly all propositions is elliptical. Let us take some examples. Suppose that the expositor is in London, say in Regent’s Park and in Bedford College, the great women’s college which is situated in that park. He is speaking in the college hall and he says, ‘This college building is commodious.’ The phrase ‘this college building’ is a demonstrative phrase. Now suppose the recipient answers, ‘This is not a college building, it is the lion-house in the Zoo.’ Then, provided that the expositor’s original proposition has not been couched in elliptical phraseology, the expositor sticks to his original proposition when he replies, ‘Anyhow, it is commodious.’ Note that the recipient’s answer accepts the speculative demonstration of the phrase ‘This college building.’ He does not say, ‘What do you mean?’ He accepts the phrase as demonstrating an entity, but declares that same entity to be the lion-house in the Zoo. In his reply, the expositor in his turn recognises the success of his original gesture as a speculative demonstration, and waives the question of the suitability of its mode of suggestiveness with an ‘anyhow.’ But he is now in a position to repeat the original proposition with the aid of a demonstrative gesture robbed of any suggestiveness, suitable or unsuitable, by saying, ‘It is commodious.’ The ‘it’ of this final statement presupposes that thought has seized on the entity as a bare objective for consideration. We confine ourselves to entities disclosed in sense-awareness. The entity is so disclosed as a relatum in the complex which is nature. 6 the concept of nature It dawns on an observer because of its relations; but it is an objective for thought in its own bare individuality. Thought cannot proceed otherwise; namely, it cannot proceed without the ideal bare ‘it’ which is speculatively demonstrated. This setting up of the entity as a bare objective does not ascribe to it an existence apart from the complex in which it has been found by sense-perception. The ‘it’ for thought is essentially a relatum for sense-awareness. The chances are that the dialogue as to the college building takes another form. Whatever the expositor originally meant, he almost certainly now takes his former statement as couched in elliptical phraseology, and assumes that he was meaning, ‘This is a college building and is commodious.’ Here the demonstrative phrase or the gesture, which demonstrates the ‘it’ which is commodious, has now been reduced to ‘this’; and the attenuated phrase, under the circumstances in which it is uttered, is sufficient for the purpose of correct demonstration. This brings out the point that the verbal form is never the whole phraseology of the proposition; this phraseology also includes the general circumstances of its production. Thus the aim of a demonstrative phrase is to exhibit a definite ‘it’ as a bare objective for thought; but the modus operandi of a demonstrative phrase is to produce an awareness of the entity as a particular relatum in an auxiliary complex, chosen merely for the sake of the speculative demonstration and irrelevant to the proposition. For example, in the above dialogue, colleges and buildings, as related to the ‘it’ speculatively demonstrated by the phrase ‘this college building,’ set that ‘it’ in an auxiliary complex which is irrelevant to the proposition ‘It is commodious.’ Of course in language every phrase is invariably highly elliptical. Accordingly the sentence ‘This college building is commodious’ means probably ‘This college building is commodious as a college building.’ But it will be found that in the above discussion we can replace ‘commodious’ by ‘commodious as a college building’ without altering our conclusion; though we can guess that the recipient, who thought he was in the lion-house of the Zoo, would be less likely to assent to ‘Anyhow, it is commodious as a college building.’ A more obvious instance of elliptical phraseology arises if the expositor should address the recipient with the remark, ‘That criminal is your friend.’ nature and thought 7 The recipient might answer, ‘He is my friend and you are insulting.’ Here the recipient assumes that the phrase ‘That criminal’ is elliptical and not merely demonstrative. In fact, pure demonstration is impossible though it is the ideal of thought. This practical impossibility of pure demonstration is a difficulty which arises in the communication of thought and in the retention of thought. Namely, a proposition about a particular factor in nature can neither be expressed to others nor retained for repeated consideration without the aid of auxiliary complexes which are irrelevant to it. I now pass to descriptive phrases. The expositor says, ‘A college in Regent’s Park is commodious.’ The recipient knows Regent’s Park well. The phrase ‘A college in Regent’s Park’ is descriptive for him. If its phraseology is not elliptical, which in ordinary life it certainly will be in some way or other, this proposition simply means, ‘There is an entity which is a college building in Regent’s Park and is commodious.’ If the recipient rejoins, ‘The lion-house in the Zoo is the only commodious building in Regent’s Park,’ he now contradicts the expositor, on the assumption that a lion-house in a Zoo is not a college building. Thus whereas in the first dialogue the recipient merely quarrelled with the expositor without contradicting him, in this dialogue he contradicts him. Thus a descriptive phrase is part of the proposition which it helps to express, whereas a demonstrative phrase is not part of the proposition which it helps to express. Again the expositor might be standing in Green Park—where there are no college buildings—and say, ‘This college building is commodious.’ Probably no proposition will be received by the recipient because the demonstrative phrase, ‘This college building’ has failed to demonstrate owing to the absence of the background of sense-awareness which it presupposes. But if the expositor had said, ‘A college building in Green Park is commodious,’ the recipient would have received a proposition, but a false one. Language is usually ambiguous and it is rash to make general assertions as to its meanings. But phrases which commence with ’this’ 8 the concept of nature or ’that’ are usually demonstrative, whereas phrases which commence with ‘the’ or ‘a’ are often descriptive. In studying the theory of propositional expression it is important to remember the wide difference between the analogous modest words ‘this’ and ‘that’ on the one hand and ‘a’ and ‘the’ on the other hand. The sentence ‘The college building in Regent’s Park is commodious’ means, according to the analysis first made by Bertrand Russell, the proposition, ‘There is an entity which (i) is a college building in Regent’s Park and (ii) is commodious and (iii) is such that any college building in Regent’s Park is identical with it.’ The descriptive character of the phrase ‘The college building in Regent’s Park’ is thus evident. Also the proposition is denied by the denial of any one of its three component clauses or by the denial of any combination of the component clauses. If we had substituted ‘Green Park’ for ‘Regent’s Park’ a false proposition would have resulted. Also the erection of a second college in Regent’s Park would make the proposition false, though in ordinary life common sense would politely treat it as merely ambiguous. ‘The Iliad’ for a classical scholar is usually a demonstrative phrase; for it demonstrates to him a well-known poem. But for the majority of mankind the phrase is descriptive, namely, it is synonymous with ‘The poem named “the Iliad”.’ Names may be either demonstrative or descriptive phrases. For example ‘Homer’ is for us a descriptive phrase, namely, the word with some slight difference in suggestiveness means ‘The man who wrote the Iliad.’ This discussion illustrates that thought places before itself bare objectives, entities as we call them, which the thinking clothes by expressing their mutual relations. Sense-awareness discloses fact with factors which are the entities for thought. The separate distinction of an entity in thought is not a metaphysical assertion, but a method of procedure necessary for the finite expression of individual propositions. Apart from entities there could be no finite truths; they are the means by which the infinitude of irrelevance is kept out of thought. To sum up: the termini for thought are entities, primarily with bare individuality, secondarily with properties and relations ascribed to them in the procedure of thought; the termini for sense-awareness are factors in the fact of nature, primarily relata and only secondarily discriminated as distinct individualities.

Author Alfred North Whitehead Isbn 1107113733 File size 1MB Year 2015 Pages 144 Language English File format PDF Category Philosophy Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare This influential discussion of the fundamental metaphysical problems of space, time and substance continues to be important and illuminating for philosophers and scientists alike. With a specially commissioned preface written by Michael Hampe, this book is presented in a fresh twenty-first-century series livery for a new generation of readers.     Download (1MB) Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics Perception, Causation, and Objectivity Kant’s Dialectic Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers Durkheim’s Philosophy Lectures: Notes from the Lycée de Sens Course, 1883-1884 Load more posts

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