Lesson 72- Potential And Actual Existence
Well, I still havent finished with the Hegelian Dialectic but I think that I will give it a rest for a while and return to it later. Truth is like a diamond that every time you turn it light hits it from a different direction and you see new facets that you had not seen before. Therefore, let me give it another turn and approach our topic from a different point of view.
One of the basic premises of Catholic philosophy, which we got from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived four hundred years before Christ, was that there were two ways of existing: actually and potentially. Actual existence referred to those things that presently exist or to those things that did exist at one time. Thus, you and I actually exist and, at one time, our great-great-great grandparents once existed. Potential existence referred to those things that can still exist such as the children who are yet to be conceived or to those children who could have been conceived but never were.
For example, I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who are still potential because they have not yet been conceived. By the same token, there are children who, although they could have been conceived, were not and will never move from potentiality to actuality. Thus, when I was sixteen, I thought that I loved Rosemary and that we would be married. But it never worked out. When I was nineteen, I thought that I loved Claire and that we would be married but that didnt work out either. When I was twenty-one, I thought I loved Lorraine but that too never blossomed into anything. Then, at twenty-three, I met Marian, fell in love and got married. As a result, we had eight children, five who died through miscarriages, and three who survived. Thus, eight children moved from potentiality to actuality because of the union that we formed.
Now, if you have a philosophical mind and you start to think about the implication of these two ways of existing, there are numerous additional conclusions that you can draw.
First, if things have been moving from the potential to the actual from the beginning of time, it means that, at least in one sense, the creation is not over. The potential is complete because nothing could ever exist unless it was part of the original potential of the universe. However, the actualization of that potential is still taking place. Thus, the idea of a static universe in which everything is finished is not supported by reality. Instead, we live in a developing universe in which potentials are constantly being actualized.
Second, there is much more potential in the universe than has been actualized. For example, as I have mentioned in a different context, in one human sexual act the male releases over 150 million sperms, each of which is a different human being. When I am explaining this to my high school seniors I say,
Get out your calculators because we are going to compute the number of potential human beings that exist in relationship to just one fertile female in this room. If I relate her to any fertile male in the room, each one represents 150 million potential human beings. Do you have your calculators working? Now, lets take that same female and relate her to every male on the fourth floorNow to every male on third, then the secondTo every male in the buildingwhich would be around 250 times 150 million.
By this time, their calculators have reached their capacity to calculate. However, we are nowhere near finished. I continue:
Now lets relate her to every mature male in North Philadelphiathen South Philadelphia Then West Lets say to every mature male in Philadelphia which is probably somewhere around 1 million. Thus, we have 1 million times 150 million and by this time, your calculators should be smoking.
Now lets take every mature male in Pennsylvaniathe East Coastthe Midwest the West Coast.. All the mature males in the United States
By this time the students eyes are wide with amazement. This one girl in my example in relationship to any of the males that I have mentioned is capable of bringing into existed a number of genetic combinations that literally blows our minds. But I am not finished because theoretically she could meet up with any existing mature males on the face of the planet and each one of them brings another 150 million potential human beings.
Now if this is not enough to blow your mind, consider than every other fertile female in relationship to the same group of males is also capable of producing the same number of genetic combinations. Still not impressed
Well, consider this. This changes every month when all of these females ovulate a new egg and the males produce new sperm and this has been happening within the human species, according to some people, for over a million years.
Now add in all the other species of life, which have been doing the same thing and suddenly it dawns on us that we live in an incomprehensible universe based on a pool of potentiality whose mathematical combinations are astronomical. In other words, the potential for what could have been far exceeds whatever became actual.
To symbolize and portray the relationship between the pool of potentiality which contains all of the potential in the universe, to the stream of actuality, which represents only that part of the potential that ever became actual, I draw a gigantic circle on the board. In it I write, the Pool of Potentiality. And then I draw a straight line with an arrow, coming out of this pool moving from left to right to represent what, out of that pool, ever became actual.
Now for those of you who have imaginative right lobes that are able to spot the possible symbolic significance and connections of this, it might occur to you that we are looking at the two ways of viewing history: the circle, which is related to Hinduism and the ancient view of the world and, and the line, which is related to the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History and the modern view. We might also be looking at the artistic, creative, imaginative right lobe, which thinks in holistic pictures and is the source of our dreams and what could be, and the scientific, technological, practical left lobe, which thinks in a step-by-step logical progression. In other words, our left lobe actualizes the dreams and fantasies of our right lobe by working out the practical, logical steps that are necessary for making the dream come true.
Without the disciplined left lobe, the dreams of the right lobe remain dreams never to actualize because they cant take the first logical step towards actualization. As a Chinese proverb says, Even a thousand mile journey begins with the first step.
Just visit any bar and you will meet people whose heads are full of wonderful dreams that will never come true because they do not have the energy or the discipline to take the first step towards actualization. They live in the world of might have been because they have been immobilized by the challenges or antitheses of life. They cant pick up their Cross and follow the Truth because, as St. John said, the Light (of Understanding) came into their world and they loved Darkness, which , in this context, symbolizes the unconscious world of empty thought or Gehenna. They cant get out of hell because they are fearful of change and thus they keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results. In other words, they cant face reality, which is just another name for Truth, and, as Jesus said, Only the Truth can set us free.
Thus, the Hegelian Dialectic, which is the process through which we move from the Kingdom of Mental Darkness, or Gehenna, towards the Ultimate Truth is also a model for how things move from potential to actual existence. And, of course, it always involves a struggle that our hedonistic animal nature likes to avoid. Therefore, it is easier for these people in bars to deactivate their logical left lobes, which are the source of actualization, and spin their wheels in the never-never land of the right lobe. Having been offered Life, which is integration and growth, they have chosen Death, which is disintegration and stagnation.
However these observations pertain to our right and left lobes but Aristotles theory of potential and actual existence pertained to the universe. If this is so, then where is this huge Pool of Potentiality, symbolized by my gigantic circle, located? And what is the Actualizing Agent that moves its potential into actual existence.
Let me suggest that the Pool of Potentiality is the right lobe of God, who as the artistic genius who dreamed up the universe is the First Person of the Blessed Trinity whom we call the Creator or Father. He is the Great I AM, who like any artist, sees his masterpiece holistically and complete in His imagination. However, it exists only subjectively and potentially. In order to move it from the potential to the actual, there must be, as there is in our brain, an actualizing agent who can take this holistic picture and translate it into logical steps that will move it from the potential to the actual. In our brains, it is the logical left lobe that performs this function and, since our brains are made in the image and likeness of God, it logically follow that the Rational Mind that created the universe also has a logical left lobe that is the Actualizing Agent for His Plan or dream. And that is exactly what the scriptures say:
Proverbs 8 says that Wisdom was the first born of Gods works, and that it was begotten by God. It goes on to describe Wisdom as a child playing before the Creator and that He was His Fathers craftsman. Then John I says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God and everything was created by the Word and without him, nothing came to be
In previous programs, I have already mentioned that this gospel was written in Greek and that in Greek WORD is spelled LOGOS from which we get LOGIC. Thus we could restate this gospel as saying
In the beginning was Gods Logic or Wisdom who was Jesus. And Gods Logic or Wisdom was with God. And Gods Logic or Wisdom was God, and everything was created by Gods Wisdom and without Gods Logic or Wisdom, nothing came to be
We might also restate it as saying In the beginning was Gods Logic or Left Lobe who was Jesus. And Gods Logic or Left Lobe was with Gods creative Right Lobe. And Gods Logic or Left Lobe was God because it was the logical part of His dialectic mind. And everything that moved from potentiality to actuality was actualized by Gods Logic or Left Lobe and without Him nothing ever became actual.
Are you getting the picture? The gospel of St. John goes on to say that this Logos was the Light of Men that enlightened ever man who came into the world. And where is this Light of Consciousness and Understanding? According to modern brain researchers, it is the left lobe of the brain in most people and it is the seat of conscious thought.
Now, if you are still having trouble seeing the connections, consider this. John goes on to say, And this Word, or Wisdom, or Logos, or Logic, or Left Lobe or God, became flesh, in the person of Jesus, and dwelt amongst us. Thus, according to the Church, Jesus is the Incarnate, a word that means made into flesh, Wisdom of God.
To this we can add, based on our analysis of potential and actual existence, that Jesus is the Great Actualizer of Creation who is moving the Fathers Plan step-by-step towards its total actualization. We could further conclude that He is using a dialectical process which involves a cosmic struggle in which He, as leader of the negentropic forces which are swimming against the tide of entropy that is taking everything else towards disintegration, death and chaos, is leading the forces of life in their ever-upward struggle towards the fullness of life. Thus His Passion and Death was a living example and parable for the laws of life and its dialectic laws of integration, growth, and development. The scene in the Garden of Gethseme signified the Thesis, representing His current state of being. The vision of His Passion and Death signified the Antithesis which invoked in Him the fear of things to come. Like most of us, He was almost immobilized by this fear but then, with a great effort of will and total surrender to His Fathers Plan, He overcame His fear and chose the path of struggle and growth. I have already explained in a previous program the types of fears expressed in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary that He had to overcome. Also, in a previous program, I explained that birth and death are two sides of the same coin because the child at the moment of birth would experience the fear of dying as he moved from one level of existence to a higher level. Thus, all birth experiences involve the need to die to the old so that we can move on to the new. Or in Hegelian terms, letting go of the old Thesis so that we can move on to a higher synthesis by integrating the new knowledge and insights presented by the Antithesis. In short, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus is a model for the Hegelian Dialectic and also for how new and higher potentials are actualized. That is why Jesus says, If you want life and want it fully. Pick up your Cross- a symbol for the antitheses of life- and follow Me, who is the Truth.
Thus, to return to my second point, there is much more potentiality in the universe than there is actuality and whatever is actual is slowly evolving through a dialectical process represented by a line emerging from the circle of potentiality.
A third observation is that this Pool of Potentiality has existed from the very beginning of time. In other words, nothing can ever exist unless it was part of the original potential of the universe. This raises an interesting question? Were you and I present at the creation of the universe? And the answer is, We had to be there potentially as one of the possible mathematical atomic structures of the universe or we couldnt exist now..
This raises another interesting question. How long have we been waiting to become actualized? According to some scientists, the universe began over 4 billion years ago and thus it would mean that we have been waiting to become actual for over 4 billion years.
A fourth observation is that what moves from the potential to the actual depends upon the relationships that are formed. For example, a hydrogen atom creates a relationship with two oxygen atom, forming H2O, and water moves from potential existence to actual existence. A female dog forms a relationship with a male dog and puppies become actual. By the same token, our mothers formed a relationship with our fathers and we became actual.
A fifth observation is that if any relationship in the past changed, it would have a significant impact on the path of the future. For example, if my mother had not formed a relationship with my father then neither I, nor my brother would ever have moved from potential to actual existence. And, if this had happened, my wife would never have met me and, if that happened, my children would never have been born and that would have affected my grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc and also all of the other families who were destined to interact with them. Think, for a moment, what both the positive and negative historical impact would have been if Lincoln or Hitler had never been born.
In many ways, our universe operates like an interactive video game such as Super-Mario where each of Marios choice opens up new possibilities and consequences. If he chooses the door leading to Wams Fortress, he opens up one set of potentialities. If, instead, he chooses Bowzers Lair, he opens up another set.
This insight has great significance for understanding the nature of the universe and of God because if God had created a totally actual universe, it would mean that there would be no choices and nothing could change because all change infers moving from a potential state to an actual state. Any change, if it could take place in a totally actual universe, would be pre-determined like the circular movement in mechanical clocks. Nothing new results from it. Thus, we would have to conclude that the God who made a totally actual universe was a dictator who controlled and regulated everything in it. This is the Hindu concept of Karma.
On the other hand, if the universe is a potential-to-actual universe then it is one that involves change and change, since it infers a change for the better or the worse, suggests that it is a developmental universe in which the creatures, through the relationships that they form based on their likes, dislikes, values, and choices, move things from the potential to the actual. Thus, where a totally actual universe would reflect only the mind of the Creator, a potential-to-actual universe allows the creature significant input into what the future will become.
In fact, we could compare the totally actual universe to the economic and political system of Communism and totalitarianism where the leaders determine what the people are allowed to experience through their dictatorial control over education, entertainment, the media, and industry. Thus, even when their choices are good, the results are tainted by the fact that they were imposed upon the people who were given no choice in the matter. On the other hand, the potential-to-actual universe operates like the economic and political systems of capitalism and democracy where each persons values are registered in what is produced and the direction that the society will take. Its a risky system because it allows the people the freedom to choose and, in doing so, it takes the chance that they might lack the wisdom to make the right decisions. I have already addressed this in a previous programs where I contrasted the superior products of Soviet education with the less than superior products of our own system. Yet, it appears that whoever created our universe thought that freedom was so valuable and necessary that He was willing to risk the chance that His creatures might move negative potentials rather than positive potentials into actuality through the ignorant and stupid relationships that they formed. In other words, He was willing to allow them to sin or miss the mark. One might legitimately asked why He would take such a risk and I can think of only two possible answers.
The first one comes from St. Thomas Aquinas whom I quoted in previous programs as saying, :
God has said so little (through Scripture and Revelation) and yet what He has said has so much meaning for our living. To have said more would mean less of reverence by God for the splendor of His image in us. Our knowing and loving, He insists, must be our own: the Truth ours because we have accepted it; the love ours because we have given it. We are made in His image. Our Maker will be the last to smudge that image the name of security, or by way of easing the hazards (or dangers) of the nobility of Man.
The second comes from the Song of Thanksgiving which was written by four priests known as the Damiens. It says:
Love that freely given wants to freely be received.
In other words, there is an intimate connection between love and freedom and thus if the Creator of the universe is Love, then freedom, no matter what its risks, must be part of everything that He creates.
However, before you think that our God, who is Love, is totally crazy in allowing His creatures to upset His universe through their stupid choices, let me remind you that according to the scientists nature is ruled by the Laws of Natural Selection and Survival of the Fittest. Thus, you are allowed to do it your way but, since the universe is ruled by Gods Wisdom, who is Jesus, stupidity will always reap what it sows. In other words, if we take the stupid path it will result in stupid consequences and, in the battle and competition for life, the laws of Natural Selection will eliminate us from the Book of Life. Only the fit will survive because they have followed the path of Wisdom.
If this offends those who believe that because God is Love He is that Big Marshmellow in the Sky dripping with niceness let me refer you to the Book of Revelation where Jesus, in His role of Judge of the World, separates the sheep from the goats, the blessed from the damned. You cant mess with the Truth and get away with it. Everybody will reaped what they sowed. Its all logical and Gods Logic is obligated and committed to give us the logical conclusions that flow from our premises as they are reflected in our choices. In fact, it is the only just and loving thing to do because He is just honoring our choices by giving us what we want. If we choose chaos, we will reap it. If we choose against life, we will receive death.
This leads us to our sixth observation. The potential of the universe is both positive and negative. The positive potential is negentropic because it is moving the universe from the simple to the complex towards higher levels or organization and order through the laws of integration. The energy that is driving this is Love which, like the Hegelian Dialectic, is able to take two and integrate them into one. The ultimate aim of this positive potential is the fullness of life. The negative potential is entropic because it is moving the universe from higher levels of organization and order towards disorganization and chaos. The energy that is driving this is Hate which drive things apart and blocks any attempt at integration.
The only thing worst than Hate in terms of the universes desire to reach the fullness of life is apathy, which is the lack of any feeling. It is unable to unite anything and thus is incapable of moving the universe at all. Jesus might have been referring to this when He said, I wish that you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Hate at least is an energy with a direction and, if it can be turned around, it can be transformed into a great positive force. Apathy, no matter which way it points, unites nothing.
The ultimate goal of negative potential is death or disintegration and thus we can rightly conclude that, since life is integration, it is anti-life because it attacks everything necessary for the survival and advancement of life. The leader of the negative potential of the universe is the Devil, which is LIVED spelled backwards and to the extent that he tempts and draws us into entropic behavior, we become his agents. The leader of the negentropic forces is Jesus or Gods Wisdom and to the extent that we act negentropically, we become His agents. Thus, as Christians who claim to be His Body, we are called upon to be negentropic forces in this world.
But how do we do this? Well, lets compare some actions which are negentropic and entropic.
Marriage is negentropic
Divorce is entropic
Peace is negentropic
War is entropic
Health is negentropic
Disease is entropic
Maintaining your house & property is negentropic
Failing to maintain them is entropic
Raising your children properly is negentropic
Failing to raise your children properly is entropic
Once one understands the theory of potentiality and actuality and its relationships to entropy and negentropy, it become clear that every act that we do that has a entropic or negentropic effect, moves the universe either backwards or forwards. In other words, we all bear a responsibility for all of our actions because of their effects and influence on the macro system, which is the universe, as well as the micro system, which is our own personal world. As Christians then, we should be consciously aware of the nature of our actions.
Due to my awareness of this, I try to consciously perform negentropic acts each day as my contribution to the Kingdom of God. Thus, I hold on to paper wrappers until I can find a waste can. I pick up discarded bottles and cartons on my way home from church. I put shopping carts back when others leave them standing in parking places. I try to thank and congratulate other people for the positive things they do. In one instance, I was in back of a car occupied by five people. While waiting for the light to change, they rolled down the back window and threw a bucket of chicken remains from Kentucky Fried Chicken on to the road. I stopped. Gathered up the debris and put it in my trash when I got home.
Some of my action might seem trivial to others but I believe that they have significance in the eyes of God because, although they might not change the world in any significant way, they are training my soul which, when it leaves this physical container called my body, will naturally gravitate towards the negentropic forces of the universe. In other words, I am developing a servants heart which I believe is the only path to salvation.
Each time I act in this way, I believe that the universe becomes actually more ordered, just as each time others perform entopic acts, it becomes more disordered. Can you imagine the effect that this view might have on young people who often have no awareness of how their individual actions collectively are capable of shifting the entire direction of their community.
It a view that teaches that we have to be personally responsible for everything that we do because everything that we do moves the universe by bringing into actuality either the positive or negative potential of the universe.
It also makes us aware that, since it is our relationships that determine what moves from potentiality to actuality, that we must strive to relate to things that are higher rather than those that are lower.
However, we have to learn to keep our focus on the micro world of our own lives and leave the macro world of the universe to God. Years ago I read a modern parable about two frogs who fell into a pitcher of cream. The cream was too deep to touch the bottom and they were too far from the top to climb out. The first frog said to the second frog, This is hopeless. Were as good as dead. Well never get out of here. Therefore, Im going to stick my head in the cream. Take a deep breath and end it as quickly as possible. The second frog agreed but he couldnt just give up. Therefore, he began to swim around and around in the cream. After hours of swimming and with his last ounce of strength, he took one last stroke only to discover that he was sitting on a pile of butter. His swimming had churned the cream.
What this story meant to me was that we should struggle to do what we can and leave the consequences to God. Who knows? Maybe if I begin to swim by performing little negentropic acts and you begin and he begins, we might discover that we too have made butter. It is not my job to be concerned with whether my actions will save the world. Rather, it is my job to be concerned with whether my actions will save me.
Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom!