28 July 2001 | Draft
Entelechy: actuality vs future potential
Presenting the Future (Part 3)
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In order to take this exploration further it is necessary to focus briefly on the nature of the experience of the actuality of the moment in contrast with any sense of a potential future.
There is a curious contemporary interest in entelechy, a term highlighted by Aristotle that has now been taken up by the human potential movement -- and notably by Jean Houston through her Entelechy Institute (http://www.west.net/~ceu4you/huston.html). Practices relating to this focus include: evocation of entelechy; opening to, affirming and talking to the underlying source/wellspring/ground of lived experience; a felt sense of good/fitting/appropriate timing in personal and social behaviour, both secular and sacred; a felt sense of good/fitting/appropriate spatial patterns; Subud latihan; Kitselman's E-therapy; Gendlin's experiential focussing.
Some companies concerned with human resource development have also taken up the term. The various interested parties have adapted understandings of its meaning to their particular ends. The idea of a form-giving agent in matter takes on a resemblance to some of the speculative modern notions of L-fields, morphogenetic fields, and scalar potential fields.
For example, Michael W. Dwyer of Entelics Research defines entelics as:
Entelechy is considered to be an inherent regulating and directing force in the development and functioning of an organism, the actualization of form-giving cause as contrasted with potential existence (with which future orientation is strongly associated).
For Aristotle entelechy was effectively the "end within" -- the potential of living things to become themselves, e.g., what a seed has that makes it become a plant, namely actuality rather than what might later be fruitfully expressed. This example points to the fact that nature disseminates many seeds -- few of which survive to become plants. In the presentation of projects for the future, many humans are expected to dedicate themselves in the present to assist the few to achieve such benefits. The fundamental flaw in this logic has been highlighted by the social security funding crisis in which many effectively invested over decades on governmental promises that they would be assured of a safety net after years of such contributions.
Following Aristotle, some see the active reason part of the soul as providing humans with their highest purpose, namely their entelechy. "According to Aristotle, the purpose for which a thing exists and which remains a potential until actualized. Active reason, for example is the human entelechy, but it exists only as a potential in many humans" (Hergenhahn, 1997). Other definitions include:
The difficulty with such conceptualizations is that they detract from, and effectively denature, the experiential and operational dimensions that they purport to define. In fact there is a degree of inherent incompatibility -- even confusion -- between how entelechy may be understood in relation to any meaningful experience of the present actuality in the moment -- as contrasted with the future potential embryonic in that understanding. (cf David Bohm's sense of implicate). This lies at the root of the problematic (even paradoxical) relationship between the experiential present and the embryonic future.
The difficulty is that conscious understanding of the present moment can be very superficial -- as a kind of interface between any form-giving cause and the potential to which it may give rise. There is a more profound sense to actuality that is normally only accessible in altered states of consciousness -- and possibly to the unconstrained multi-dimensionality of childlike awareness. It is from the complex dimensionality of this higher (or deeper) order of understanding that the future is engendered -- manifesting the form that is embryonic within it. In these inadequate terms understanding both the present and the future is a challenge -- as is understanding their relationship at the present/future interface.
In considering what might be usefully understood by entelechy in relation to the present moment there is therefore a danger of simplistic conceptual closure as reflected in statements such as: "Aristotle referred to a process known as "entelechy" the perfect and the total realization of what was previously in a potential state". Or: "The ancient conception of entelechy was of development from what is potential to what is perfected and actualised. It was closely allied to that of an informing spirit." The argument of this paper is that by stressing such "development" the experience in the moment, of whatever can be understood by an "informing spirit", is sacrificed.
The physicists Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers (Order Out of Chaos) have their own way of marginalizing the complexities of what might be termed the action of the creative spirit "selecting" in the moment. They naturally favour those complexities amenable to their theoretical approach:
John Heron (A Way Out for Wilberians) offers a useful insight into the role of entelechy in his critique of the approach of Ken Wilber:
[To Part 4]
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