An Imaginary 2014 Discussion: Aristotle and David Birnbaum
03.03.14 at 09:15
The great thinker Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) has been transported to Manhattan 2014 for a one-on-one with Conceptual Theorist David Birnbaum, author of the Theory of Potential. How does the great Aristotle react to iconoclast Birnbaum’s signature theme – Quest for Infinite Potential∞?
introductory explanatory note: Teleology means –purpose of the universe
Aristotle proposed ‘way back’ that the universe had a teleology, but he did not know exactly what it was. As well, Aristotle proposed a ‘prime mover’ (premium movens) of the universe but did not know more exactly what that was either.
Birnbaum proposes that the specific answer to both issues is one-and-the-same. Birnbaum’s theory proposes that there is, indeed, a protagonist to the cosmic order, but that the protagonist is a ‘quest’ and not a ‘classic entity.’ According to the theory, the universe quests for its maximal potential. The core dynamic Quest for Potential∞ strives with purpose towards ever-greater and higher potential. Birnbaum delineates a pure, elegant and powerful scientific theory of design and purpose.
Birnbaum proposes that Quest for Potential∞ (in-tandem with the equations of Physics-Math) is the ‘prime mover; he furthermore proposes that the teleology of the universe is the related – the universe quests for its maximal potential. Thus, ‘potential’ is at the core of both ‘eternal origins’ and the ‘purpose-of-the-universe’ issues.
Birnbaum: Welcome. You'll be happy to know I'm carrying on your general work of teleology (purpose of the universe) and have crystallized a very specific teleology (i.e. the universe quests for its maximal potentials, what I call extraordinariation).
Aristotle: Oh? You think you've found ‘intentionality’ in the workings of the cosmos? And how have you proven this? Through ‘extrinsic’ motivation (for the sake of something external to itself) or ‘intrinsic’ motivation (for the sake of its own self)?
Birnbaum: I beg your pardon?
Aristotle: Well, to prove the universe advances, if you will, with ‘purpose’ – that it drives towards an end goal with intention, you must show that it either functions with ‘extrinsic’ or ‘intrinsic’ finality. More simply, it either moves for the sake of something external to itself – ‘extrinsic’, or for some self-serving goal – ‘intrinsic’.
Birnbaum: Hmm. Actually, I would postulate that a distinction between the two is incorrect.
Aristotle: And how would you defend that assertion?
Birnbaum: ‘Extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ are motivations that belong to a thing – an object or entity in the universe. The Quest for Potential∞ defines the motivational force/quest of the universe itself. Conceptually, nothing exists outside the universe if you consider it contains both its actuality as well as its Potentiality. So, the concept of ‘extrinsic’ v. ‘intrinsic’ is meaningless when applied to the teleology of the universe.
Aristotle: You consider the universe to be the totality of what it is and what it could potentially be?
Birnbaum: Precisely. Philosophically, you must concede that the very nature of the universe is....well, everything. That is, there is no thing you can point to say that it exists, but outside of the universe. Correct?
Aristotle: I'll concede that.
Birnbaum: Ok. So, let us say I have the idea of writing a paper. Speaking strictly of causal impetus, is not my thought of writing the first step in the chain of reactions that causes the paper to come into existence?
Birnbaum: But by Newton's laws of motion, my apologies, he came after you... but by his Third Law, a body exerting force on a second body will simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. That is to say, if I push something, that object will receive the energy of my push and move away.
Aristotle: Yes, yes. Your Newton aside, that is all rather self-evident.
Birnbaum: Ah. But my primary mover. The mover that started this chain of physical reactions was a thought. My decision was the first action in the series of reactions to instigate my writing of the paper. By inference, I would have to concede that my thoughts were a force. Perhaps not governed by the same laws as physical bodies, but nonetheless, they are able to manipulate physical objects in the material universe.
Aristotle: Okay. You probably annoy modern physicists very much with that assertion. But logically, this does seem to follow. How does this relate to ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’ motivation?
Birnbaum: I would give you this idea to entertain: If thought is physically, or metaphysically if you will – to account for its intrinsically different nature, tied to the physical universe (since it can affect it), then thought is part of the universe in its totality. My challenge to you is tell me something that exists that is external to the universe. If you cannot tell me of any such thing, then the question of ‘extrinsic’ and ‘intrinsic’, in relation to universal teleology, is devoid of meaning.
Aristotle: I see your point. It’s a rather neatly closed argument. If I think of it, it exists in the universe. Even if it is only potential, the thought alone gives it universal presence. Hmm... by extension, anything I can potentially think of exists. The universe would rather unravel itself if this were not so.
Birnbaum: Exactly. This is the pervasive nature of what I call the Quest for Infinite Potential∞. The very nature of the universe is its own proof. The laws of the cosmos themselves lead unerringly to a universe which is striving to unfold itself to greater complexity – what I call extraordinariation. You've nothing to do but look around you at the growing complexity of our universe to see it filling out and expanding and enhancing.
Aristotle: But how do you prove it does so with intent?
Birnbaum: That is where the complexity comes in. There are a million ways the universe could change at random to disintegrate and fall apart, yet on an atomic level, a molecular level, all the way up to intelligent life, we see the universe defy the odds to create, with greater and greater complexity, over and over.
Aristotle: And what do you ascribe this to? Some divinity of creation?
Birnbaum: Not at all. Rather, that is not for me to say with the evidence I have at hand. Certainly, it is obvious there is a prime mover, an alpha, to cosmic order and progress. But ascribing it consciousness/intelligence? It could just as easily be the natural affinity of the universe to grow in such a way. That is why Potentialism is so inclusive of 99% of different beliefs.
Aristotle: Almost. After all, such theories as the (British) Randomness theory cannot survive a teleological universe – even one which doesn't confirm the existence of a God. Any conclusive assertion of a driving force unravels their entire philosophy. What do you say to that?
Birnbaum: Unfortunately, that's true and it is a fact I have to live with. We yield that 1%. My theory and the schema of Randomness are mutually exclusive. As much as I would love to extend an olive branch to the hard-line atheist sect of academia, I must profess it is my job to find the truth and tell it, not remake the world into what I wish it was. Sadly, there are plenty doing that already. In the end, wishes won't change the truth though. And if we're to progress towards our own Potentiality, someone has to speak that truth.