28 July 2001 | Draft
Entelechy: actuality vs future potential
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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:
The design science of artificial systems which studies the structural and
functional logic of those systems as actually implemented, as it appears to
humans who interact with them and who are often components of them. Entelics
is all about noticing, and taking seriously, the immediate reality or "actuality"
of things, especially with respect to the designed environments in which people
spend most of their lives. For official myths about how physical artifacts
and social systems work, entelics substitutes people's
real experience of them, the empirically
verifiable here-and-now reality of how those systems function in practice.
Entelics concentrates on the qualitative, combinatoric, and algorithmic aspects
of systems that humans most readily perceive, with special emphasis on depicting
essential logical structure and control mechanisms. Entelics leaves detailed
quantitative analysis, where that is possible, to existing science and engineering
specialties. It concentrates especially hard on interactions between system
components which are currently designed in isolation from each other by independent
groups of specialists. (http://www.bcadresearch.com/glossary.html)
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).
"Derived from the Greek word for having a goal, entelechy is a particular
type of motivation, need for self-determination, and an inner strength and
vital force directing life and growth to become all one is capable of being.
Gifted people with entelechy are often attractive to others who feel drawn
to their openness and to their dreams and visions. Being near someone with
this trait gives others hope and determination to achieve their own self-actualization."
(Deirdre Lovecky, "Warts and Rainbows: Issues in the Psychotherapy of the
Gifted", Advanced Development, Jan., 1990)
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:
- "In Aristotle's use : The realization or complete expression of some function;
the condition in which a potentiality has become an actuality" (The Oxford
English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, London, 1933).
- "In Aristotle a : the full realization of form-giving cause or energeia
as contrasted with mere potential existence b : the form that actuates this
realization" Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English
Language, Unabridged, Merriam-Webster, Springfield, 1986 (orig. 1961).
- "Entelechy" is also a technical term in Leibniz for the primitive active
force in every monad..." (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1995).
- "An inherent regulating and directing force in the development and functioning
of an organism" Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, Merriam-Webster,
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
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:
It is tempting to speculate that the breaking of space and time symmetry
plays an important part in the fascinating phenomena of morphogenesis. These
phenomena have often led to the conviction that some internal purpose must
be involved, a plan realized by the embryo when its growth is complete. At
the beginning of this century, German embryologist Hans Driesch believed that
some immaterial "entelechy" was responsible for the embryo's development.
He had discovered that the embryo at an early stage was capable of withstanding
the severest perturbations and, in spite of them, of developing into a normal,
functional organism. On the other hand, when we observe embryological development
on film, we "see" jumps corresponding to radical reorganizations followed
by periods of more "pacific" quantitative growth. There are, fortunately,
few mistakes. The jumps are performed in a reproducible fashion. We might
speculate that the basic mechanism of evolution is based on the play between
bifurcations as mechanisms of exploration and the selection of chemical interactions
stabilising a particular trajectory. (http://www.littlesputnik.net/trpearce/orderchaos.htm)
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:
The problem here, it is important to note, is not with a theory of teleological
forces, or entelechy, or chaotic attractors, or deep structures, or however
one chooses to name it. The problem is the irreconcilable tension in Wilber's
evolutionary theory between the unprecedented, undetermined, innovative, self-transcending
emergence (1995: 47-8) of human holons and the predetermined linear actualization
of their inbuilt spiritual code, entelechy or deep structure. The distinction
between surface and pre-programmed deep structures does not resolve this tension;
on the contrary it makes it worse by undermining human creativity with an
account of its inescapable superficiality. The incoherence can be resolved
by a deeper view than Wilber's: by holding that a person's, or a culture's,
inner spiritual potential or entelechy consists of seeded patterns of possibility,
the selection from and linear actualization of which is indeterminate and
a matter of deep creative choice. The built-in code is not a linear programme,
but a deep map of options, through openness to which our creative choices
are made. We co-create our path with inner divine life impulse and the possibilities
it proffers. This more coherent idea, incidentally, leads on to a theory of
the valid diversity of spiritual paths, rather than to the assimilative totalitarianism
of Wilber's system. (http://www.sirt.pisa.it/icci/WilbErrs.htm)
[To Part 4]