• jse885


Note: this is a concatenation of a series or posts on a short-lived blog which I wrote before the other essays on this site, and repeats some of the Tetralemmic Polarity essay (with a slight terminological difference). I am putting it up here as a handy reference link to the word 'mumorphism', which only appears late in the Tetralemmic Polarity essay.]

Definition of mumorphism

The word 'mumorphism', modeled after the Aristotelian word 'hylomorphism', is a compound of 'mu' -- Japanese for 'not', or 'no', or 'nothingness', but here, taking some liberty, to be understood as 'formlessness' -- and 'morphe', Greek for 'form'. It is shorthand for

"Formlessness is not other than form, form is not other than formlessness" (Heart Sutra)


"Awareness of objects is the Universe. Awareness of absence of objects is Nirvana. But to Consciousness-without-an-object these two are the same." (Franklin Merrell-Wolff).


"Two forces of one power, expanding life and confining form" (Coleridge)


"The Infinite defines itself in the finite, the finite conceives itself in the Infinite. Each is necessary to the other's complete joy of being. The Infinite pauses always in the finite; the finite arrives always in the Infinite. This is the wheel that circles forever through Time and Eternity." (Sri Aurobindo)

Why the word 'mumorphism'

As indicated, the term 'mumorphism', while new, has as referent an old idea, so one thing I want to do here is explain why I think a new term is useful. Some other terms used for this idea are 'polarity' (from Coleridge), "coincidence of opposites" (Nicholas of Cusa), and "self-contradictory identity" (Nishida).

The problem I have with Nishida's term is that I don't see the two nodes of mumorphism, formlessness and form, as being contradictory, so much as contrafactory, that is, as working against each other as they constitute each other. Of course the statement "formlessness is form" is, in conventional logic, a contradiction, but that just means that conventional logic does not apply in this case.

Cusa's term is not sufficiently precise. There are lots of opposites, but mumorphism only refers to one pair (though there are many names of the nodes).

Coleridge's term, 'polarity', captures the way the two nodes relate admirably (that is, constituting each other as they work against each other), as magnetic poles do. The problem is that magnetic poles are switchable -- switch the North and South labels and you haven't changed anything. But one cannot switch the labels 'form' and 'formlessness'.

I also think it useful to have the word take on the same form as the Aristotelian 'hylomorphism', as this suggests a fruitful round of comparing and contrasting, but that I will leave for later.

Lastly, I just think it is useful to have a brand new word for the Absolute, as existing words, like 'Consciousness', 'Mind', or indeed 'God', which have been promoted to Absolute status carry with them differing connotations among readers.

Why mumorphism?

As a philosophy of mind, mumorphism is the claim that all mental activity is mumorphic. Take thinking. Thinking is not just thoughts (each of which has form), that is, the set of thoughts is just another thought. Rather it is what moves from one thought to another, unifying one concept with the next, which (if the thinking is original) changes the concepts. On the other hand, without the confining force of concepts, one would just have meaningless drivel. Thinking, then, in Coleridge's words, is a case of two forces of one power, which act against each other as they constitute the other.

All things have form, but are only actual through the force of formlessness. On the other hand, form is also a force, which restrains the force of formlessness. Thinking exemplifies this best in our experience.

Or consider hearing the sound of a bell. This is a change in my consciousness, but if my consciousness didn't continue (remain unchanged) through the hearing of the sound, I wouldn't have heard it. Now one can't say that most of my consciousness did not change, just the part that heard the sound changed, because if so, then the "most" part would not have heard the sound. Rather it is my entire consciousness that heard it, so my entire consciousness both changed and did not change.

In sum, if we restrict ourselves to conventional logic, one cannot only not say anything about the Absolute, we also cannot say anything about the working of our normal everyday minds. There is the additional point to make that we can, with mumorphic logic, infer the immanence of the Absolute in our everyday minds.

If one also holds (as I do) that there is nothing outside of experience, then all acts are mental (that is, experiential), which makes mumorphism an ontology as well.

From Hylomorphism to Mumorphism

Hylomorphism is the Aristotelian idea that all physical things are composites of matter (hyle) and form (morphe). An example is a butter knife, whose matter is stainless steel, which has been given the appropriate form to allow one to cut a slab of butter and spread it. From this one gets Aristotle's four causes of a thing: the formal cause (the right shape), the material cause (stainless steel), the final cause (wanting something that spreads butter), and the efficient cause (the actual making of the knife).

The problem with hylomorphism comes when one notes that stainless steel, or at least its constituent molecules, are also form/matter composites. Hence one calls it "proximate matter". Now the question is, as one burrows down into these proximate matters, from iron atoms to protons, neutrons, and electrons, is there some fundamental stuff? Whatever physicists might identify as fundamental particles, or resonances, or what have you, is going to have form. Thus, the Aristotelian says one bottoms out with prime matter (a term not used by Aristotle, and as I understand it, there is debate over whether the concept would have been acceptable to him, but that is not our concern). So what is prime matter? The Aristotelian calls it "pure potential", which brings up the more basic Aristotelian idea of actual and potential existence. Suffice it to say that form is understood to actuate the potential of matter, both proximate and prime. That is, the steel has the potential to be a knife, and prime matter has the potential to be anything physical. In itself, though, it is inert and formless, though it never is "in itself" -- that is, it never occurs in the absence of form.

Well, this makes some sort of sense, but I find it unsatisfactory. Prime matter is undetectable, and so the question is, must one infer its reality? I shall argue that, no, one can do without it. And I shall do so by accepting another Scholastic idea, namely that of Divine Simplicity.

One should insert here a lot of Thomist argument (including his Five Ways on the existence of God), but I shall just give the conclusion, which is that God is perfectly "simple", that is, has no parts, is not in any way a composite, and so on. In short, God is formless. But there are many words that one can apply to God, like Being, Love, Intellect, Will, and so on (the capital letters are needed to remind us that such words apply to God differently than they apply to humans). But since God is perfectly simple, God's Being is the same as God's Love, and so on. Oh yes, another such word is Act: God is Pure Act, which is to say is at the opposite pole from the Pure Potential of prime matter.

So far, so good. Basically, I accept all of that, but wish to note one additional thing about God according to Thomists (and other classical theists), which is that God sustains everything in existence at all times. Call this God's Sustenance. But as God is simple, one must add this to to the list: God's Will is God's Intellect, is God's Sustenance. This is what keeps every physical thing in existence. So what if we just eliminate prime matter from our metaphysics and replace it with God's Sustenance? In themselves they are both formless, and I have to wonder about having two formlessnesses hanging about.

Of course, this means a bigger change for the Aristotelian/Thomist, for God is Pure Act, while prime matter is Pure Potential, in itself completely inactive. The change to mumorphism will also add the characteristic of Pure Potential to God.

It seems to me that one can also reduce Aristotle's four causes to two, now that matter has been eliminated. Thus the material cause of something becomes an elaboration of the formal cause -- a plastic knife differs from a steel knife by having different molecular subforms. In addition, a final cause, like any idea, is a form. (This does not mean that the concept of final cause isn't useful -- just recognizes that it is an additional formal cause.) And so, one can say that an object has a (variously complex) formal cause and an efficient cause. If one examines the efficient cause, it reduces ultimately to the application of energy. Which is ultimately formless. Thus the existence of anything is ultimately the result of the interplay of form and formlessness, or mumorphism.

A minor point: in replacing hylomorphism with mumorphism one also removes any fundamental difference between physical and non-physical objects. They are both mumorphic, while only physical objects are hylomorphic.

A major point. While hylomorphism can be said to be a composite of matter and form, one cannot say of mumorphism that it is a composite of form and formlessness. This is because form is not other than formlessness. What word should one use, then? Well, that is the reason for coining the word 'mumorphism' -- there is no previously existing word for this relation.