Seeds, Plants and Free Will

Seeds, Plants and Free Will: Growing plants

Having a property is, in fact, having the tendency, the potentiality to interact according to that property. Thus, in the same way in which the seed has within itself the tendency to become an oak (for example), the atom of hydrogen has within itself the tendency to fasten to an atom of oxygen.

And, like the seed that does not manifest that tendency until it is put into the ground, the atom of oxygen does not manifest the tendency to adhere to an atom of oxygen until it is put beside it. But the tendency, the potentiality, is there. 

But all this amounts simply to the idea that all these elements, atoms, and other ‘material’ stuff were made to stick to each other and build a world together. Suppose that those tendencies were not there. That atoms of hydrogen did not have inside (eternally) the tendency to fasten to atoms of oxygen, as well as (perhaps) an infinite number of other tendencies to fasten to other types of atoms. No universe could ever emerge.

Without those tendencies, that is to say, if we take the atom of hydrogen strictly as a ‘material’ or ‘rigid’ element, devoid of any internal tendencies and potentialities – in fact, devoid of pure ‘passivity’ (which is one of the logically necessary features of the concept of ‘matter’) – you would never have any new substance.

You can have that because the ‘material’ atom of hydrogen is, in fact, not a pure ‘material’ atom, similar to a completely passive billiard ball that only reacts to external impacts, but is endowed with some spontaneity in that it can interact with oxygen. 

I say ‘spontaneity’ because the presence of tendency implies the fact that hydrogen ‘awaits’ the oxygen and recognizes it. This ‘recognition’ is what allows hydrogen to start fastening to oxygen. It also recognizes other elements with which it does not interact as being improper mediums to actualize its internal tendency or potentiality.

This recognition is absolutely identical to the way the seed recognizes the fact that it was put into the ground, and therefore, it starts the process which it was awaiting long before, namely the process of transforming into the oak tree. 

‘Recognition, spontaneity, memory (a trait necessarily intertwined with the two previous characteristics) as features of material elements, like an atom of hydrogen!’ will scream the scientist. ‘This is the acme of absurdity! You ask us to return to the old, naive, and long-before-overcome anthropomorphic worldview!’ he will continue.

‘No, my dear scientist,’ I would answer; ‘I do not ask you or science to return to that naive stage. Besides, you, as a scientist, are utterly unable to do this because science sets iron limits to any attempt to approach things from an angle different from efficient causation. In fact, it constrains you to overlook the presence of any feature not related to this causation or, even worse, to block any discussion that might lead beyond the accepted framework of efficient causation, declaring, ‘This is not science. Let’s move on!’

Now, coming back to the idea that everything in the universe is endowed with ‘tendencies,’ with ‘potentialities,’ we might say that everything in the universe has the capacity to choose: that is to say, either to let the internal tendencies be manifest or not.

The seed also has that capacity since it ‘chooses,’ not to start developing and transforming into a tree when in an empty bottle, but only when it ‘feels’ the earth around. The conclusion is that some degree of ‘free will’ is present everywhere in the universe.

This conclusion, indeed, seems absurd. But, if you try to sneak a look at these things under the rims of the iron spectacles of science, the conclusion is inescapable.  

A tendency or potentiality means having inside something which could be likened to an image or representation of something non-existent yet. If the seed has the potential to become a tree, it carries within itself the ‘image’ or a ‘blueprint’ of the future tree.

If the atom of hydrogen has the potential to interact with an atom of oxygen, it carries within itself the ‘image’ of the atom of oxygen that it will recognize in the future. It did not ‘know’ anything about oxygen previously. Still, once near an atom of oxygen, it recognizes it immediately, actualizing in this way the latent image of the atom of oxygen. 

The universe functions thus like an endless space of actualization of tendencies and, therefore, as a space of distinction between something subject-like and something object-like. Of course, these are metaphors, but they allow us to make things intelligible. 

Thus, what we encounter in the case of human ‘free will‘ is not something peculiar to the human being. On the contrary, in humans, free will only has the most developed form. Here, free will does not actualize instantaneously, as in the case of the hydrogen atoms that instantaneously recognize and stick to the oxygen atom. 

Due to its immense complexity, or rather to its ontological structure, the human being has the capacity to think of or represent the goal of the tendencies he feels acting within itself. An atom of oxygen or any other material thing does not have this capacity of representation; animals have it but at very different levels. 

For example, the hungry prey animal is moved by its hunger until it meets a prey. It does not simply feel the hunger and then lie down on the ground doing nothing, but it also acts according to it, and it constantly chooses the paths that could lead it where its prey can be met and not paths going in the opposite direction. Once it sees it, it starts running after its prey.

This shows that a prey animal is able to stick to a goal for a longer period of time, but only as long as the tendency – in this case, hunger – is there and powerful. 

This capacity to follow the goal of a tendency is the most visible in man. Here, the tendency can be present for a very long time (sometimes for an entire life: as in the case of the German poet Goethe, who worked on his poetical masterpiece Faust all his life, until he finished it). 

But, like animals, though at a much higher level, man can evaluate how to follow his immanent tendency in such a way that he is successful. In the same way, in which the prey animal adapts its actions to the environment in which it follows the prey, humans follow their tendencies by taking into account their natural, historical and social environment. 

But they are also able to take into account a different environment: the ideal or purely conceptual environment. (It is not the place here to discuss why this is possible. It would extend our discussion too much. Besides, you cannot explain everything in a few pages.)

They can interpret themselves not only as dwellers in the natural environment but also as dwellers in an ideal, spiritual environment, usually called a ‘worldview.’ If they think there is a God, then God is necessarily a part of their worldview.

Then they will assess how to fulfill their tendency by relating it to this part of their worldview. And like the prey animal, able to follow the goal of its tendency in the outer world for a while, man is able to stick with an iron will to his goal. 

Since science ignores ab initio the distinction between tendency and actualization of that tendency – and therefore everything that logically follows from those concepts – it also necessarily must deny free will and consider something blatantly evident for every common person only as a delusion.

Science will constantly relate the phenomenon of free will to something external to it, making it a delusory effect instead of considering it a necessary structure of the entire world. 

And since (at least for now) natural science is entirely unwilling to abandon its fundamental materialist approach to the world and is blind to any other approach, it also has no meaning to try to enter a dialogue with it on this topic.  

The previous part of this article can be read here.

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