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Actualizing Potential

  1. Sep 2, 2008 #1


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    This has a bit to do with Maslow's "Self Actualization" but it is more to do with... all instances of potential that exist.

    For instance, the space between all masses in the universe could become mass, and the masses become space. That is a potential... but, it is the actualization of that potential that serves as the catalyst toward the reality.

    So, what is the relationship between the actualization of a potential and the potential itself?

    Do you need both properties for a potential to happen?

    What actualizes any potential such as the release of light... and what actualizes that actualization?

    If we follow the chain of events that have actualized the potential of the universe, will it lead to an understanding of how things got started?

    Last question... am I just going on about cause and effect? Or is "actualization" different from "cause"?
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  3. Sep 3, 2008 #2


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    Its getting obvious that this thread hasn't actualized any potential for discussion.:rofl:

    Imagine the primitive human... let's put this one at about 2 million years ago. They see a rock... and it turns out to be a piece of basalt... perfect for flint knapping and fashioning a tool out of. But, the 2 million year old human has never seen a requirement for a tool. And the rock doesn't have a shape that would inspire the human to take it and make it into a tool

    Then, something happens, like the fire the rock is next to cracks it open, creating sharp edges. Then the human examines it and cuts their finger on the sharp edge. Blood trickles out of the cut.... this would be an example of "accidental actualization of a potential".

    From this point on, the human may or may not take the accidental cue from this series of events with the rock, the fire and the cut and examine the possibilities by trying to make the rock break again... and make another sharp edge. Through familiarity with the process the human then may begin to actualize the potential of the rock... and make a tool for cutting or hunting.

    Similarly, Benjamin Franklin saw a potential in lightning. It hadn't been harnessed and thus, actualized to the point of using the potential as a source of power. But, he nonetheless saw the potential in the power of the lightning bolt.... and began to explore the possibilities of harnessing that power.

    So, in these cases, I'm pointing out the actualization of a potential through conscious, reasoned interaction with a potential by a human.

    Yet, we can also see similar results during an interaction between say a bird and a stick... and an ant colony. Here we can see that the bird has realized and actualized the potential of a stick. It uses the stick to coax the ants out of their living quarters... then eats them.


    So, what are the criteria for actualizing potential in the animal kingdom? Do they have to have a memory? Do they have to have a reasoning capability? Do they "know" there is a potential before then engage in actualizing it?
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2008
  4. Sep 5, 2008 #3


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    Good question, baywax. :approve:...

    The other half of the question is this:

    Can I call gravity an actualizing force when it acts to bring down the rain?
  5. Sep 9, 2008 #4
    I think the term actualization brings with it to much anthropomorphic baggage to be applicable to actions of non sentient system.

    I do not think that I can be so bold as to attempt to put my conscious into the position of another lower animal conscious, yet the temptation is to much:

    I think the key difference to realise is that of a lack of emotion and of foresight. The two main functions of our relatively enlarged frontal lobes. I imagine the use of clever tricks to obtain sustenance being an experience not unlike that of scratching an itch, or relieving ones self. The act of courtship and mating (often quite complex, especially in bird species) like obsessing over an overpowering urge to itch, without the ability to ponder upon your own actions. A life lived in near constant state of high stress and endless effort. Living almost entirely in the not long gone past and the soon to come present, with only precious few instinctive long term treads of memory.

    Something to that affect, I imagine, would be analogous to life as an animal. But really, it would not be that difficult to determine empirically what an animal's experience of existence is like, and I would be surprised if there were not studies to that effect.

    Don't worry, you at least have me following this thread!!! :wink:
  6. Sep 9, 2008 #5


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    Thanks Robertm...

    What is the proper term for a potential being activated or made to become a reality? A thread I was in once called gravity "potential energy"... in other words it isn't energy but it can either activate or actualize the energy in an object. What is the proper term for this process?

    As for the potential of a stick to become a tool to gather food, what is it called when a bird takes that opportunity and turns it into a meal? Is it not actualizing the potential? Its not done deliberately yet, the result is the same as if a human picked up a fork and actualized its potential to be a... fork. Thanks again!
  7. Sep 9, 2008 #6
    Potential energy is indeed energy, not just "possible" energy. Kinetic energy is also energy. These are two categorized types of energy. Energy is the ability to do work. When you use energy, you do work. I guess what you mean by "actualizing" a potential is, at least from a physical perspective, simply "using" energy (to perform work).

    I just call it "using" the tool.

    I just say "he used a fork".

    Then again, maybe you have something entirely different in mind...
  8. Sep 9, 2008 #7


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    What I have in mind is the difference between latent potential and utilized potential. The only difference is that the latent potential is "used" as you say.

    But, "used" is often associated with anthropocentric determinism. Whereas, when we see a current of a river exerting influence by gathering logs and creating a dam... the energy of the river, by our own vocabulary, isn't being "used" to create a dam.... it simply happens and we make note of it.

    What I'm trying to determine is whether or not the potential for a dam being created has been "actualized' by the current and motion of the river, for example.
  9. Sep 9, 2008 #8
    I'm struggling with your meaning.
    Isn't this saying the "potential for potential"? That doesn't work. Are you speaking of a "possibility"?
    Utilized potential is "work" in physics terminology but that's not what you mean either. Do you mean an "event"?

    The possibility of an event is needed for the event to happen. :confused:
  10. Sep 9, 2008 #9


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    I guess what I'm trying to discern is whether or not the term "actualized potential" is applicable in physics... to begin with!!

    It would not be so confusing to say... the possibility for an event is needed for the event to happen... this describes "the potential for an event".

    So many components go into an event that, if one of the components is missing... the event either doesn't happen or turns out to be a completely different event.
  11. Sep 9, 2008 #10
    Then you need to produce a definition of the term using precise terminology. If you cannot define it unambiguously then it's unlikely to be a scientifically workable concept.

    EDIT: I guess you could start by asking yourself what you are trying to measure or quantify, what physical units you would use for that...
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2008
  12. Sep 12, 2008 #11


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    I'm letting the potential answers to these requirements boil to the surface of my consciousness and actualize themselves.

    So far, there don't seem to be any units that I can apply to the "actualization of potential".

    There does seem to be a "tipping point" where a potential is transformed into an event. That could be measured in terms of pressures, weights, tensile stresses, volume and so on. But each situation would demand only some or all of these measurements.

    There could still be a standardized checklist with which to measure what actualizes any event. There might even be a common denominator found in every circumstance of actualized potential.
  13. Sep 12, 2008 #12
    Aren't you looking for vocabulary instead of science then?
  14. Sep 12, 2008 #13


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    Science is rife with vocabulary. What are you saying?

    In many cases a potential will be actualized through the power of neurlogical impulse. This can be measured scientifically and communicated with a scientific vocabulary.
  15. Sep 12, 2008 #14
    A Means for Self Actualization

    Abraham Maslow defined a hierarchy of needs to be:
    1) Biological and Physiological (water, food, shelter, air, sex, etc.)
    2) Safety (security, law and order, stability, etc.)
    3) Belonging and love (family, affection, community, etc.)
    4) Esteem (self-esteem, independence, prestige, achievement, etc.)
    5) Self-Actualization (self-fulfillment, personal growth, realizing personal potential, etc.)

    This hierarchy makes us conscious of the obvious fact that we did not fret about the absence of self-esteem if we did not already have security nor did we worry about security if we did not have water to drink or air to breath.

    "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This is the need we may call self-actualization ... It refers to man's desire for fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything that one is capable of becoming ..."

    I think that the area in which Western society fails most egregiously is in the matter of an intellectual life after schooling. We have a marvelous brain that goes into the attic after schooling is complete and is brought out only occasionally on the job or when we try to play bridge or chess.

    It appears to me that the fundamental problem faced by most Western democracies is a lack of intellectual sophistication of the total population. Our colleges and universities have prepared young people to become good producers and consumers. The college graduate has a large specialized database that allows that individual to quickly enter the corporate world as a useful cog in the machine. The results display themselves in our thriving high standard of living, high technology corporate driven life styles.

    We are excellent at instrumental rationality and deficient at developing the rationality and understanding required for determining normative values. It seems to me that our societies are not prepared intellectually for the demanding task ahead. The only solution seems to be a change that will significantly increase the intellectual sophistication of the society as a whole. We need a rising tide of intellectual sophistication and Self-Actualization might be the way for our adults to add an intellectual life to their acquisitions.

    Maslow learned to distinguish “special talent creativeness” from “self-actualizing (SA) creativeness”,
    which springs more directly from the personality, and showed itself in the ordinary affairs of daily life. This is all potentiality given to most people at birth and is generally lost or buried or inhibited, as the person becomes more acculturated. These self-actualizing humans “do not neglect the unknown, or deny it, or run away from it or try to make believe it is really known…They do not cling to the familiar, nor is their quest for the truth a catastrophic need for certainty, safety, definiteness, and order.”

    The creativity of self-actualizing individuals is a derivative of their “greater wholeness and integration”. SA creativeness stress first the personality, individuality, character and attitude rather than accomplishments. Character traits, the habits of behavior, such as boldness, courage, freedom, spontaneity, perspicuity, integration, and self-acceptance express itself in the creative life. “It is emitted like sunshine.”

    What means do we have to consciously help us to become self-actualizing adults? I think that self-actualization can best come through self-learning (autodidactic).

    I would like to introduce a concept that perhaps many have not given consideration. I would like to introduce post-schooling scholarship. I do not use the word ‘scholarship’ to mean some form of education stipend. I mean ‘scholarship’ as tailor-made learning. The individual creates her or his own learning in a process of developing a Self-Actualizing person.

    I think we have placed scholarship on a too lofty pedestal and in doing so we have placed it beyond reach or consideration. I want to suggest that middle class scholarship is something that we all should consider as a friend to be embraced as our own.

    The development of an economic middle class is the hallmark of success in any mature nation. I think it is possible that the development of a scholarly middle class could represent a similar development in the life of democracy of a nation. We might express the concept as middle class scholarship or post-schooling scholarship.
  16. Sep 12, 2008 #15
    You said in post #9 you wanted to relate "actualization" to science.

    I pointed out in post #10 that you would need to define what you mean by that word first, considering what you want to measure.

    You replied today in post #11 without such a clear definition but with additional generalities on what it may or may not involve.

    So what I suggested at #12 is that your problem is not science but vocabulary. If the word of interest cannot be defined clearly then the difficulty must be linguistic instead of scientific. You can't discuss a word rationally until you define its meaning.
  17. Sep 12, 2008 #16


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    Ah... yes... I got side tracked..

    Here's the closest I can come with out falling into the self help or self actualization category...

    EDIT: http://www.vub.ac.be/CLEA/liane/papers/cap.htm

    This is still within the study of Psychology which remains a "wet" science in most people's eyes until you look at some of the neurophysics and other neuro-sciences that have sprung out of psychology.

    I have a feeling I will be able to describe actualized potential in a purely scientific and quantitative manner... but the other feeling I have is that I'll need some help doing so.

    For that I will look to the foremost reaching neuro-sciences lab in the world, at the U of O. I suspect the nature of the quantification will be in terms of Functional Magnetic Resonant Imaging showing the evoked potentials brought about by stimuli. In fact, "evoked potential" is probably a better way to describe "actualized potential".

    Thanks out of whack!
  18. Oct 4, 2008 #17


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    In a scientific manner, actualized or "evoked" potential can be measured to a great degree. For instance when tests are done to determine the threshold of the evocation or actualization of colour discrimination potential in the human nervous system, the results are good enough to use the tests as a standard to determine which people are able to detect what colours in various conditions. Like in a test for colour blindness.


    This is a useful bit of testing to have since EVERY science relies on the perceptual abilities of the scientist. Colour, auditory and other sensory tests of the evoked potential thresholds of each participant in a study should be tested and standardized in order to provide a unified field of observers with regard to observation and the record of observed results.

    These tests haven't been done or proposed as far as I know. So there is no standardized qualification that applies to each of the participants in a scientific study, where there ought to be, if a truly balanced and unified result is to be achieved from a level playing field of observers.
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