September 1, 2010 at Santa Fe Complex.

A short philosophical discourse with Stuart Kauffman, eminent theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher.

“We have lived with scientific “monism” since Newton. Monism is the view, shared by virtually all scientists, that the world is made of one kind of “stuff,” the Actual world of matter and energy and with some question marks, space and time and information.

There are very good grounds to accept monism, and it has an ancient history. No less an ancient philosopher Empedocles said, “What is real in the universe is what is actual.”

Aristotle was less sure, he toyed with the idea that both the Actual and the Possible were “Real.” He called the Possible “potentia” and meant a variety of things by Potentia. And no less a mathematician and philosopher than Alfred North Whitehead, he of Principia Mathematica in the early 20th Century, written with Bertrand Russell, moved on to think of both Actuals and Possibles as “real”, or “ontologically real”, meaning two kinds of “stuff,” Actuals and Possibles in the universe.

I’m beginning, to my surprise, to think Aristotle and Whitehead may have been right.

If so, the implications are radical.

I’m beginning to think of a dualism, not the Res Extensa and Res Cogitans of Descartes, but a new Res Extensa and Res Potentia.”

Continue reading Stuart’s essay at at NPR’s 13.7 blog on science and culture at

Introduced by Stephen Guerin.

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