Aristotle states in “On the Soul”, that “…matter is potentiality, while form is actuality...” (165). As is self-evident, the material world is constantly evolving. In contrast, forms are the ultimate essences that dress the material world in supposed certainty. Though there would appear to always be some degree of chance that any given thing would occur, forms go beyond perceptions of life as a gamble. If one was to consider life systematically and mathematically, perhaps in time a formula could be developed that could explain all possible scenarios that could be enacted from any given situation. The roulette is then only a subjective experience, though multiple potential outcomes can be realized. Forms are then universal constants, much like the concept of mathematics; regardless of the ability to manipulate the individual formulae and numbers. With that said, the cognitive component present in animals in all evolutionary stages is intertwined with the physiological functioning of the material world. There is an inherent dependency that the immaterial psyche has on the living body, regardless of one’s belief on the afterlife or current life. Though ideas related to the soul have evolved over the millennia, Aristotle’s ancient philosophical perception of the soul appears to be at its core the beginning of an idea of a “quantum immortal”, which may perhaps be the best representation of an everlasting being.
Unlike many modern ideological beliefs regarding the soul, many ancient philosophers held the view that the soul was representative of a universal essence that composed all life. Aristotle states, “It has then been stated in general what the soul is; for it is substance, that corresponding to the principle of a thing” (166). Conceptually, one can recognize this view as the difference between ideas and actions. An example frequently considered in philosophy is the difference between a table and the idea of a table. There are many things that exist that we would classify as tables, and many things that are not classified as tables; though we may use them in similar ways. The question is then, wherein lies the difference? Aristotle would undoubtedly insist that there is something it is to be a table, which is separate from strictly material qualities. Physical tables that we are able to examine then are merely symbolic representations of the form of table. There is an overarching essence of tablehood, to which all things that are deemed tables must take part in. With this example in mind, it is fairly easy to understand why a body can be viewed as a symbol representative of a greater, universal consciousness (or unconsciousness, depending on one’s interpretation).
Similarly, many Eastern religious philosophies represent the soul as temporally personal, though ultimately a universal concept. The physical form represents subjective experience, which is meant to move in direction of future enlightenment, and in this life the “soul” is essentially imprisoned. This is very similar to notions ancient Greek philosopher Socrates laid forth on his deathbed. At death, the soul leaves and becomes uniform with all other energy. The importance of this point is to note that ancient conceptions of the soul (and by extension, the afterlife) are vastly different than many Western religious ideologies which indicate a strict dualism between mental properties and physical properties. For example, in Abrahamic religions there is a perception that souls exit the body at death and are then judged by God. Regardless, however, souls in general are perceived to be separate properties, which eventually leave the body either to join a universal essence or experience another personal life.
In a move away from the concept of immaterial souls, Atomism maintains the naturalistic philosophical belief that atoms are the basis of everything (Berryman, 2005). This is not a far-fetched philosophical concept, even by modern scientific standards, due to the general consensus in the scientific community that atomic particles (and smaller sub-particles) are the basis for all things. According to American physicist Richard Feynman, the “most important scientific knowledge we posses is that ‘Everything is made of atoms.’” (Al-Khalili, 2007). The implications in materialistic movements, such as the one headed by Epicurus in ancient Greece, are vast. A prime example is the idea that if everything is a physical substance, than the primary goal of life must be a hedonistic lifestyle. This is diametrically opposed to alternative, typically non-materialistic viewpoints that require individuals to follow a set of rules or guidelines in the name of some higher purpose. For materialists, there is no higher calling than to live and exist; hopefully pleasurably and happily, though even this is unimportant in the long run as when an individual dies, their body merely decomposes and returns to an original atomic form.
“Atoms, differing from each other only in shape and size, can be arranged or placed in an infinite variety of ways. Their motions too in the void can be infinitely various, as they collide, bounce off each other, or become entangled in more or less temporary complexes. Nothing else exists. Yet out of these colorless, insensitive, indivisible, unintelligent and imperceptible objects has been evolved the whole world of our thought, sense and experience (Warner).” As is implied, all knowledge and cognitive thoughts are merely created by bodily experiences, which are in themselves dependent on being created by atomic structures. Furthermore, an innate tenant of Atomism is the belief that atoms are uncuttable, which for the sake of this argument, is a property that ultimately makes up a form. The belief is that there is a particle so small that it cannot be altered, and from that particle stems all other particles and physical qualities (Berryman, 2005). The Platonic theory of Forms does not inherently correlate with a strictly physical world. However, with some consideration one could imagine Forms as being universal components from which all other things are able to exist.
This a priori conclusion is reached when one considers the component which is separate from all objects which consist of Forms, yet must exist in some way mutually exclusive from the object(s) associated with the Form; whether it be in some physically manifested way (the Form of greenness) or in a cognitive way. “A form is an abstract property or quality. Take any property of an object; separate it from that object and consider it by itself, and you are contemplating a form. For example, if you separate the roundness of a basketball from its color, its weight, etc. and consider just roundness by itself, you are thinking of the form of roundness. Plato held that this property existed apart from the basketball, in a different mode of existence than the basketball. The form is not just the idea of roundness you have in your mind. It exists independently of the basketball and independently of whether someone thinks of it. All round objects, not just this basketball, participate or copy this same form of roundness” (Banach). While my conception of Forms may be pushing the level of acceptable interpretations, there is reason to believe that atomic structures (and even smaller particles) are the purest Form, though physically manifested, because of their consistent existence in the universe, there lack of physically defining attributes (atoms do not have an inherent shape, though they can conform to any particular shape, for example), and most importantly the fact that all living and non-living things consist of atomic structures. All existing things share in the Form of atom, because all things require atoms to even come into existence.