The Realm of Potentials

Seen from the perspective of the past, the current state we are in at this moment was only a scenario, or a potential among other possibilities (when viewed in the past).  

Similarly, the actual state at present contains future scenarios, or potentials of change.  

It is reasonable consider the "field of potentiality" as an inseparable part of our actual state of the current situation.

All objects possess a field of possibilities engulfing their actual state. Let's take a simple example of a metallic object such as a nail or a screw - and let's list all its apparent properties to identify its state.  Although the metallic item under observation can be new and shiny, nevertheless its complete identification must also include its ability to react with the surrounding molecules of air, and consequently forms (further in time) a layer of rust.  The possibility of change and development of the current state of any object - possesses a field of potentials, which, although physically nonexisting at present, nonetheless constitute part of the full identity of the object under observation.  

Potentials and the Identity of object 

Because of the dynamic nature of existence, a complete description of the identity of object must include the factor of time.  Changes, which objects manifest, are either caused by the environment, or caused by inner disposition for change within the make up of object.  

Suppose we take the example of the actual state (A) of a seed of a fruit - under observation.  We can verify its class of belonging and its specific properties (a) - a description identifying its actual state.  According to a general view to expand the Law of Identity - which includes the full spectrum of states of identity of objects -  this seed has a number of future possibilities (p) that it can develop into.  

One possible situation is trivial, for example the possibility that during the time of observation the seed is terminated, swallowed by a bird, or in another situation it could be dried up with other seeds and made into powder to extract its essential oil for use in cosmetics – but of great interest is the potential of the seed to absorb moisture and chemicals from its surroundings soil, enough to sprout.  The three mentioned possible situations, which can be encountered by the seed - constitute the field of potentials (p), a property in this object A (which is described by current field of properties (a).  Hence, through a general view of identity: A = {a, p}.  

If we focus on the potential of the simple seed to grow into a full tree bearing fruits in the future, then obviously the state of the seed (A) undergoes successive phases of growth in time.  None of the successive stages of growth is possible without the preceding one.  The whole process of growth is a cascade of potentials turning into reality.

Regardless of the properties we use to define a particular stages of growth, each stage (actual state) can be seen as the origin of the next following one.  The field of potentials (p) exists within the seed from the very start, and it continues to exist at each phase of growth, being inseparable from the dynamic identity of this observed object - hence it should be considered as part of the identity of the object.

Possible Situations in the life of the individual

Where from do potential states of life of the individual originate?  Within the actual state of the individual at each moment in time, there is a mental storehouse of tendencies, aspirations, desires, hope and beliefs – which dormant existence may evade the conscious mind.  These mental powers paint dynamic images of potential actions in the future. Developing scenarios of possible situations are influenced by individual's past actions and current intentionality.  Individual's motivations keep the mind polarised towards realising inner scenarios.  The power of inner scenarios act as a magnet leading to selecting appropriate factors from the environment to turn some of the potential scenarios into possible states of existence.

Considering the realm of potentials {P} in the identity of the individual can also explain why individuals get engaged in relationships.  Depending on the intensity of desire of the individual, some inner potential states can acquire considerable strength of motivation.  A desired scenario becomes repetitively nagging in one's mind seeking realisation, and in this way it acquires the power of influence on one's behavior and choice.

If a desired potential (p) of one person is shared with another individual's potentials (p'), then both fields of potentials ( p and p') act as magnets driving them into a shared scenario of events.  This understanding of merging of potential scenarios of individuals indicates also that there is a level of responsibility of each individual in the making of the shared relationship.

Dispositionalism: Another indication of Potentiality

In an attempt to explore the essence of causality of events, why - for example - glass is shattered when a stone is thrown at it - a perspective known as Disposionalism explains that objects possess inner potentials and - in this example - one of the potential of fragile glass is to be broken upon impact:

          "[Dispositionalism] is built on the idea that individual objects can contain their own dispositional properties

          or, as some call them, causal powers.  It is these that are responsible for any effect that those objects have.

          [When] something is fragile, it suggests that there is some hidden potentials within it.  There is a disposition for

          some other possible properties".  

(Causation: A very Short Introduction, page 97 - S. Mumford and R L Anjum, Oxford University Press, ISBN: 978-0-19-968443-4)


The view of Dispositionalism suggests that potential properties are part of the identity of an object in focus.  This is an important perspective, which merges the two concepts of Causality of events and Identity of involved objects, supporting the inclusion of the 'field of inner potentials (p) ' - within the basic make-up or identity of objects.

Potentiality: An essential component in the make-up of Identity

When we identify an object or an individual, we become "judgement makers": categorizing the observed entity according to our already established references. This is not wrong in itself. It is beneficial for the practice of social institutions - such as medical services or the police - to provide a quick description of identity based on age, ethnicity, education, etc... A common practice as it is, responsible institutions usually acknowledge that the information they use to accomodate individuals in their systems will not be used as a discriminatory element.

In this perspective of establishing identity, the individual in focus acquires an identity with strictly defined boundaries - an identity, which is externally (socially) delivered.  This surface-thin identity is static; it cannot encompass the dynamic truth about who the individual really is (being a continually-progressing and changing entity).  Scenarios of future developments of the identified object or individual - are part of the actual state of the individual, however, it is an invisible part, which cannot be perceived by the senses.  That's why the surface-thin identity, which is offered by the observation of the senses and social categories, remains incomplete and of limited usage.  A complete identity must include the field of potentials.

Identity is a matter of choice

Including the field of Potentiality as an inseparable part of Identity - gives an insight to the problem of Identity over time.  Without the inclusion of Potentiality as a driving power within the formation of identity, the problem of change over time becomes deadlocked.

Most importantly, Potentiality allows the individual to choose a future development of own identity, surpassing the limitations of views about the individual's circumstances and conditions.  One's personal identity becomes that of own choice, rather than limited to the identity given by others. .  


Author: Darshams