Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Thought Thinking Itself

As I have mentioned, I am taking a philosophy class this semester with my favoritest Philo professor. Right now, we're just wrapping up Aristotle's Physics, which is wonderful in its own right, but when paired with this particular professor (Artistotle is really her bailiwick), is also understandable and really exciting. Last week we talked about something that I just thought was so terrific that I want to share it here.

So, Aristotle has this idea about natural things all having potency and motion. This is like kinetic and potential energy in high school physics (yeah, Tahanto Physics Club REPRESENT). Potency is having the potential to do or become any number of things, and motion is...trickier. Aristotle has one of those intense philosophical definitions for it, but in plain English, it's what an object is doing when it's realizing a potency.

Now, time for Aristotle, is a property of motion. Time is simply what happens as a motion is going on. You can divide time into an endless series of "nows," but no matter how small you divide those nows - hours, minutes, seconds, nanoseconds - there still has to be a before and an after, which means time is eternal. It's always been going on, and it always will go on. Since time is based on motion, then motion must also be eternal, because you need something to mark time by. Plus, you need a physical thing to DO the moving, so material must be eternal also.

Now, motion is basically a long string of chain reactions...something moves, and moves other things in response. But Aristotle reasons that there must be an unmoved thing that moves all this other stuff. For Aristotle, the cosmos has Earth at its center, and radiating out from there are the elements, in this order: earth, water, air, fire. Then, you reach a band of "roaming stars," stars that move in several ways (i.e. in orbit, but also spinning, etc.), and then beyond those stars are fixed stars that stay put and don't bother anybody. All these things act on one another, moving each other around and moving other things in response, but there is something else, too. That something else is the concept of God.

So what is Aristotle's God? Well, he can't be physical, because if he was physical, then he would have motion, and if he had motion, he would also have potency. Potency is a state of incompletion - the object in question could be this or could be that - and if this God is incomplete, how can it be higher than any other common earthly object? Okay, so God is non-physical. Fine. Well, he also has to exist outside of time, because time is a property of motion, and non-physical things can't have motion because there's nothing TO move, so God is now a non-physical, timeless something. If he's not physical and he is timeless, he also can't move stuff, because motion creates other motion, and we've already talked about motion, so...he could think. But if he's non-physical and timeless, what is he, exactly? Basically, he is a thought, an idea. God, to Aristotle, is a thought, thinking itself, eternally and perfectly. His perfection is so complete that all the other objects in the world are inspired to move by it, and strive to be like him. That is what moves the universe...the stars, the elements, the earth, the rocks, the trees, you and I and all our families and friends and pets...all constantly inspired by the love of God and his perfection.

Moreover, since God is simply a thought thinking itself and generally being wonderful and simple, the closest we humans can come to God is to spend time thinking deeply, as you would when meditating. How fucking great is that?

The basic reality is that Aristotle's got some significant stuff wrong here...the Earth is not the center of the universe, there are no fixed stars, the elements do not get down the way he thought they did, and even if they did, not everything in the world is comprised of earth, air, water and fire (Captain Planet, however, is). Despite the inaccuracies, I still love the idea of Aristotle's God, apart from the unmoved mover business...a thought thinking itself. A thought thinking itself that is so beloved that everything is influenced by it and is motivated by it. This really taps into my own faith, where we believe that everyone has an Inner Light to guide them. God, for Quakers, is accessible to everyone, and we strive to tune in to that Divine guidance to live the best life possible. We spend Meeting quietly reflecting - thinking deeply - on God, and speaking only occasionally to move each other as best we can towards that ideal. I don't care if you did not have the benefit of modern technology, Aristotle, I still love you!

1 comment:

  1. And this is why I NEED to get me to a Meeting stat.