Sunday, January 22, 2012

From potential to actual: A skater is not an apple!

At the skate park I frequently hear the expression, 'He's a natural skater', and the like. Taken literally, such expressions make it appear as though the skater being described was born to blossom into a skateboarder,naturally, as part of his genetic makeup. But is this true? And furthermore, does this statement do justice to the skateboarder? After all, it sounds as though the skater is merely manifesting his inbuilt potential, without much input and effort on his own part.

In answer, let's dig into the mechanics of 'actualizating potential'. Firstly, in some cases, actualization occurs automatically, while in other cases conscious intervention is required. For instance, while an apple typically progresses from potential to actual - from bud to fruit - naturally, without any effort on its part, the actualization of human potential strongly depends on the efforts of the individual. It is well known that exercising muscles strengthens them, while failure to exercise them may result in them becoming weak and flabby. The same principle applies to the brain. Individuals that put effort into using their brain to think deeply and analytically tend to develop and refine their thinking abilities. In contrast, those that fail to do so leave their intellectual potential lying farrow. Furthermore, their brain is more prone to deteriorate with age. What is perhaps less often considered is that this same principle also applies to emotional traits. In exercising one's capacity to be honest and sincere one cultivates that quality, and by deliberately practicing kindness one develops that virtue.

However, an element is still lacking from the equation. If we observe the way our potential is actualized, generally, it is through a stimulus. For example, though the eye contains the potential for sight, it cannot be made to see on its own; light is required to carry images to the eye. Similarly, intellect may contain the potential to understand, but without ideas to contemplate, it remains passive. (Of course there is a difference between light and ideas. Light must stem from an external source whereas ideas can be generated internally.)

What this implies is that the actualization of potential is not merely a matter of exercising a specific faculty, for without an appropriate stimulus there's nothing to exercise the faculty with. And this doesn't only imply the lack of a stimulus, but also a wrong one. Hence, by attempting to stimulate the eye with sound (the stimulus for hearing) one will not effectively activate the eye's potential to see. Furthermore, a stimulus must match a faculty's current capacity. Thus, in exposing the eye to excessive light, its potential to see is not only untapped but impeded, as in the case of blindness caused by gazing directly at the sun. Similarly, if the mind is prematurely exposed to highly complex concepts, confusion may result.        

The actualization of potential is thus a result of exercising a given faculty by providing it with a correct stimulus and in the right amount.
This notion helps explain why in the biblical account of creation all creatures were created by God on His own - 'let their be light; let the waters teem with aquatic life, etc - whereas in the creation of Adam God employed a mysterious partner - 'Let us make Adam'. For while the potential in all creatures is actualized by God (that is, actualization is inbuilt into the creatures genetic program), the complete Adam is created by God only in potential, each individual must then actualise their potential through conscious effort and the right choices...we are thus God's partners in  our own creation!

Based on the above, a 'natural' skater may indeed be endowed with the potential to become an incredible skater. Nonetheless, for the potential to actualize, the skater must exert himself to train and practice, and to provide himself with the most effective 'stimuli' ( I.e. suitable challenges that serve to optimally tap his potential, as above).

A skater may be a 'natural', but he's no apple!

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