Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Birth of Potential

With much of the unstable foundation set, perhaps it is the right time to address the drive behind my project more directly. This post will attempt to pull several threads together and hopefully will present some new particulars as well. Welcome to a world of possibility (although perhaps not potential!).

So far the narrative threads we have followed have attempted to show that 1) our foundation is our values 2) our values have no foundation, and as such are incredibly unstable 3) our values are incarnated and informed by our locality (in the broad location/time sense of the word 4) our values are envisioned as the potential in each moment (contained within all the possibilities we also envision) 5) potential is on the future-side of each moment, as potential is what pulls us forward, what calls us to act(ualize).

This provides us with an fascinating image. While temporality (change from moment to moment) is a given, let us focus in on a particular locality, which we will call a moment. Recall that each locality is not simply location/time but also the unique perspective given from the particular sentience within that locality (which we might call the ghost of an individual). In other words, the moment is inseparable from the ghost (of the individual). There is always perspective within the moment.

Now, let us consider what the moment consists of. On one hand, we have the "past" end of the moment, i.e. the context/locality of the moment. A traditionalist would claim here that the "past" end of the moment is made up of "what is" leading into the moment, or in other words, the "being" of the moment. However, now that we have rejected the prominence of "being" it would be wiser to recognize that the "past" end of the moment is a flow of non-being and being, of what-is and what-is-not (since neither is reducible to other). This interchange between what-is and what-is-not in turn forms what I have referred to as our "locality-" the unique flux of non-being and being we all (as particular ghosts) live within.

In turn, as we continue to move from the "past" end of the moment to the "future" end of the moment, we discover that the locality in every moment (the "past") informs what possibilities and potential we see. If a kid is not about to be run over in the street, I cannot envision nor actualize saving a child from being run over in the street. It is also this forward-moving element of the moment which helps shape our ever-developing values. Consider that in each moment a "future" becomes a "past" for the next moment, and through this movement, we experience. Those experiences in turn shape our values, gradually changing what we value. Experiences certainly are not a foundation for what we value, but they certainly create/mold/form our values. Needless to say, because of this, as our constant pool of experience shifts, so too do our values shift.

This is not a particularly controversial view of the moment (past-to-future). However, we have also discovered that the "future" end informs how we see the past. That which we envision, grounded on our values, that remains to be actualized (potential) is the "future" end of the moment because it does not "exist" in the strictest sense of the word yet in each present moment - potential awaits act(ualization). The potential we envision may or may not be act(ualized) in the moment or not, and yet regardless it is the future we see at any given moment (and isn't that exactly what the future is... the subjective future?). Potential, as the "future" end of the moment isn't simply informed by the past end of the moment (our locality) for it also informs our locality. As was pointed out previously, our values shape how we see the world. Our potential informs our surroundings in each given moment. As such, there is also a counterintuitive part of each moment that moves from future-to-past. As an image, an easy way to imagine the flow of each moment, both future-to-past and past-to-future is a figure eight - the moment itself is the point where both circles of the eight intersect, and yet, there are two lines leaving the point in each direction - toward the future, away from the future, toward the past, and away from the past.

One of the reasons I really like the image of a figure-eight is that it presents us with a picture of the moment apart from many of the common images. Each moment is, in a sense, a self-contained entity, a past/future instant that flows within itself. There is no sense of progress (since the moment flows within itself in a circular fashion, not as a line off in some direction). Constant progress simply does not make sense here - as long as our values shift, our definition of progress will shift as well, and as such become nonsensical. We can (and should) act toward our envisioned potential, but any actualized potential will become a locality for the next moment, a past that will both help to shape the potential in the next moment and vanish as time passes as well. The thing about the past is that it disappears. Even ghosts cannot persist.

A number of new avenues now present themselves. Consider the possibility that the potential we envision in each moment might overlap a great deal with god-language. What might it mean to talk about God as potential?

Or, consider the possibility of ethics in a momentary world. What motivation do we have for acting toward our potential if there is no such thing as persistence? If everything eventually fades away, washes out, can we still find the drive to be Sisyphus and push uphill? Should we?

Or consider our plurality of values. Don't we envision multiple potentials in each moment? How should we decide which to move toward, which to act(ualize) if our values have no foundation? Is there room in a momentary theology for more than a rigid determinism, albeit a two-way determinism? If we cannot select between our envisioned potentials in each moment, isn't an ethics of choice impossible? And if we have freedom within the moment, how can we possibly choose between potentials with no foundation?

These are the three questions that I will hope to wrestle with over the next month or so. Eventually, I hope to present stories for each problem. Mixed stories of answers and questions. Ghostly stories - stories that have a call toward form. Ultimately, stories, potential, and we, ourselves, all have that ghostly vocation before us - a volition toward act(ualization). A ghost toward haunting.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Oooooooh. This really hits me hard today, just having returned from the feminist theology conference. The interplay between past and future that you describe really seems relevant to the questions that we wrestled with this weekend.

Of course feminist theology draws so much from the social location/experience of the person doing theology. As a woman, the potential available to me is certainly shaped by the past-- the legacy of being shut out by those in power.

But this weekend we also talked a lot about the eschaton (which is a term that had been fuzzy for me before, and of course it is still fuzzy a bit) as less of the virtual "heaven" than a goal or a hope that we hold in common. What we hope for centers us and gives us direction. As a Christian, I look for the actualization of God's reign of justice & love on earth; that shapes what I do in my own life, what I work toward. The moment I live in would look different if it weren't for the patriarchal past, or if I didn't hope for a just and joyous future.

All of which is to say, from my own locality/vocabulary: Lovely post. :)

P.S. Plus the figure eight is very nice. :)