Second, there is the principle of individuation. The need for a principle of individuation can be understood from this consideration: I could describe everything that can be known about something, but that description that form could apply to any number of individual things. The principle of individuation is the principle in a substance that makes it that individual , and not another. This principle Aristotle called matter. Specifically, prime matter. Every substance is a composite of form intelligibility and matter individuation.
A substance is a unitary thing. The form and the matter that comprise it are principles, not things in themselves. Aristotle showed how this hylemorphic matter-form perspective explained change. Everything that exists has things it can be but is not and a thing that it is.
Aristotle called the material principle in a substance the potency, and the formal principle the act. Every substance is in potency and act for various properties. Change occurs when potency is elevated to act — that is, when what something potentially is becomes what it actually is. In this way, Aristotle explained change in nature: change is elevation of potency to act. The matter which is the subject that persists in change remains while the form changes. The potency matter is what persists through change, while the form changes.
With the onset of the age of quantum mechanics, many scientists and philosophers were astonished and perplexed by the strange quantum world. The reason they were astonished is that they presupposed generally without realizing it a Cartesian definition of matter — that is, that matter is tangible stuff extended in space. But that definition of matter is woefully inadequate to explain nature.
Heisenberg, almost alone among the great physicists of the quantum revolution, understood that the Aristotelian concept of potency and act was beautifully confirmed by quantum theory and evidence. Heisenberg wrote :. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality…The probability function combines objective and subjective elements.
That is, in Aristotelian terms, at the quantum level an electron is a kind of naked form. The collapse of the quantum waveform is the reduction of potency to act. Many of the imponderables of modern science — the strangeness of the quantum world, the intractability of the mind-body problem, the remarkable apparent directedness of convergent evolution — cease to be strange when examined from the Aristotelian perspective.
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