The Universe Has a Face - Defending Aristotle's Notion of Immaterial Form - Some Personal Thoughts

The Universe Has a Face

One of the key tenets of Aristotle's metaphysics is the necessity for an idea which has many different nuanced terms, but which surround a central notion, what we may call "form". It has also been called substance, essence, harmony, as well as other terms. Yet, each is getting at what Aristotle thought was the most fundamental constituent of reality, a reality which could not be defined by anything more primary than itself. His idea, resulting from the paradoxes of the Pre-Socratic philosophers, was that at the core of any aspect of being is an non-physical and continual act of existing causing the thing to exist and to exist in this unique way. He expresses this idea of a continued existence against the background of non-existence in terms of a constant action or work. Being is a continual work of existing. It is this non-physical spark or flame of existence which allows the human mind to ask the question of something, "What is it?," and to intellectually perceive an answer which identifies the thing as a patterned type of thing. 

While Plato emphasized that the intellectual form that we come up with must exist in a higher realm due to an idea's nature as universalized, un-dying, and without the blemish of individuality, (the opposite of the physical world), Aristotle held that the universal form, or "whatness," of a thing exists as the foundation for and in the thing itself. (This he refers as "energia," and also "entelechia.") When things undergo substantial changes of this type of thing into another type of thing, the form itself changes. For example, when our physical senses perceive green and brown in a particular shape, our mind perceives the unified identity of the thing, not the individual components that make it up, for example, a "tree." Let's say that this tree is burned, then what was a tree has now become ash, the what-ness or identity of the thing has changed. 

Now, modern Materialistic ideologies have tried to deny the existence of anything metaphysical, or immaterial, and to view this framework for reality as superstitious. They reject Aristotle's notion of form in favor of the idea of the continual flux the physical world, in which everything is supposedly reducible to basic particles and energy, of which they assume as time goes on that we may eventually arrive at some base homogeneous substance. Thus, they say, that there no need to posit any immaterial basis for reality. 

Here's one point that this view fails to take into consideration. Let's speculate and say that, indeed, eventually all the fundamental particles are reducible to something more fundamental, some unifying particle or energy. The question is still there, though, as to why this particle has the properties that it has. Isn't this itself, a type of nature or form, if indeed it can be reduced to nothing further and yet has specific values which signify what it is? 

Secondly, and more importantly, why is it the case that when this particle is combined in certain ways it creates all the other particles and elements which we know in the universe? ... and does so in a consistent and intelligible way? How is it that there is a periodic table of the elements which is so stable which can use these patterns in being to manipulate the world? What am I getting at here? Well, think about it this way ... from the most fundamental elements to the most complex living thing, being takes a specific and hardwired pathway to get there. 

For example, when these particles come together like this, it produces x. When x comes together with other things, it becomes y. On and on there are consistent levels of forms that emerge on this upward path of complexity. Again, the question is why? Why shouldn't it all be completely random productions that are generated every time these particles comes together? Rather, they are so orderly and consistent that, again, we can make a table of elements out of the process. 

Therefore, implicit in the hypothetical fundamental element are all of these definite pathways and patterns that emerge when very specific components are put together in certain ways. The universe has a face, so to speak. Existence has a form to it. It has a specific way in which it exists, from its most basic units to its most complex. There is no getting around that.

And so what are these implicit patterns of being which exist in even the most fundamental element of the universe? Here we have arrived right back at Aristotle's notion of immaterial or substantial form. There is undeniably a non-physical intelligibility which is infused into existence, what could be called the "logos" of reality. Without this immaterial flame of existence which gives being patterns and allows being to be intelligible, then reality itself falls apart. We would not be able to perceive reality without it. And so existence has a face. 

A talk I saw recently which is an interesting connection to this would be Jordan Peterson's "The Logos at Ephesus."