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September 19, 2010

realization vs. actualization

Appropriations posting

Saying “I realized X” seems different from saying “I actualized X.” Actually, saying the latter seems odd to me. “Actualizing” something seems to belong to engineering or similar roles (relatively odd to me, though I’m around implementors daily). “Realizing” something is common. One actualizes a project. To realize this seems to be like saying: I appreciate this.

But someone might see no difference between calling something “real” and calling it “actual,” while readily seeing a difference between realizing and actualizing.

We often don’t have hardfast differences in our terms—until there’s good reason to clearly define differences, typically for some technical purpose.

I often use ‘realize’ and ‘actualize’ to distinguish two kinds of psychological disposition, but I haven’t focused on this. (I feel the difference and tend to appreciate it in practice, but I surely don’t seem to have a clear sense of the difference. But ambiguity may be useful at times, as realizing and actualizing are, to my mind, intimately related; so, ambiguity is good for expressing the belonging together of separates. But here I want to better distinguish a difference.)

Dictionary definitions are delightful to me, you know. The first definition of ‘realize’ in Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged (online) is “1 a (1) : to make real : ...”

OK, so what’s “real”? “... : change from what is imaginary or ficticious into what is actual : ...” (They put a space between the last word of a definitional phrase and the colon transitioning to the next phrase, indicating [I believe] synonymity.) So, to realize something, first of all, is to make it actual, which is a change from being imaginary or fictitious.

Yet, we commonly realize things imaginatively, so realizing can also be imaginative. But historically, we have wanted to distinguish what’s ostensible from what’s not. That’s what a first-of-all definition indicates: The etymological inheritance (Middle French realiser to modern French réaliser, imported into English as ‘realize’) was about the interest in ostensibility: “ : bring into concrete existence : ....” That’s not just “bring into existence,” but concrete existence; so, presumably, existence can also be unconcrete; otherwise there’s no point in the modifier. Indeed, “what is imaginary or fictitious” has existence—mental existence. First of all (historically), to “realize” is to bring out of mental existence into shared, ostensible existence. Realizing, first of all, presumes mental existence. A plant comes into existence because it grows from a seed, but our initial interest in “realizing” wouldn’t apply to plants, not surprisingly, because plants have no mentality to realize!

But that very point puts a spin of reflectivity into realizing. The realized is recognized to have a precursor in mind. Realizing is translating, if not transforming, something mental into something ostensible. First, something is in mind, then made ostensible.

What is this translation or transformation? To realize is to “ : ACCOMPLISH...” (M-W uses all caps, also making the word a link. The dictionary becomes a net of linked kindreds.) M-W now indicates a first example of ‘realize’: “<realizing a long-cherished wish> <realized the project at last>....” The latter suggests my opening sense of ‘actualize’; and sure enough, we have definition 1 a “(2) : to bring from potentiality into actuality : ACTUALIZE....”

This isn’t the same as definition 1 a (1), but a kindred under 1. Relative to its kindred, to realize as actualizing is like considering mental existence as a potential, and the translation/transformation is an accomplished ostensibility as actuality. But we wouldn’t say that we actualized something in imagination. To actualize is really to bring into ostensibility. If you want to use ‘actualize’ in a sense pertinent to mental existence, my guess is that you’d be mapping the value of ostensibility into mental existence: “I had a vague idea that I got clear about. I realized my interest in the idea, such as it vaguely was, but now I’m clear about what it actually is.” I can do something with the idea.

Getting “actual” is accomplishing a translation/formation of something in mind into what can be used because representational manipulability has been gained.

Such was the historical value of being ostensible: You could make use of it, especially in a shared way. To realize or actualize is to externalize, relative to mental existence or a potential (or mental existence as potential for ostensibility—which is to not yet value mental existence as such—as, say, a value of imagination or hypotheticalness).

Historically, we’ve had the survivalist need to make what is useful—or to give attention to something inasmuch as it could be externalized, therefore cooperatively used. And there’s a legacy of ambivalence about whether usefulness can be prevalently mental (i.e., an ambivalence about the “realness” of what’s mental), other than the mental being potential for externalization.

“1 b (1) : to cause to seem real : ....” M-W doesn’t provide an example yet, but I immediately associate to being entranced in thought or imagination. “It was so appealing, so affecting, it was, like, real, and I thought I could not live without you.”

“... : make appear real: ‘the stage set that realized the atmosphere of a colonial town perfectly’….” “The story so inhabited me.”

“(2) : to present or bring before the mind with vividness and clarity: ‘a picture that recalled to her and realized scenes of her early childhood’….”

So, the ambiguity of “real” existence—mental? ostensible?—doesn’t let go of mentally realizing, in the use of ‘realize’. Indeed, it gets more mental!: “3 : to conceive vividly as real : to be fully aware of : understand clearly <realized the risk he was taking> <realized that everything depended on the move> ‘hardly realized what was happening‘....” “synonym see THINK.”

I think, therefore you are.

(That was supposed to be God’s work: to think something into ostensibility.)

“To see an art in you was a great thing.”

But I digress.

ac•tu•al… 2 a : existing in act and not merely potentially b : existing in fact or reality...,” yada, yada....

One thing’s clear: to be able to hold something, to enact relative to its availability, is different from witnessing an emergence.

One may be born with a capacity, a potential, but bringing that into enactive efficacy, accomplishing the growth of a capability to enact ostensibly, is a wonderful translation, a transformation into something that can be given or held to be good, as: “I hold good that you are like an art” in potential, as I realized you beyond what you actually saw in yourself.

Someone else can see an emergence in another as the other is emerging in terms of what emerges, which the other cannot appreciate as representation of the emerging itself (only retrospectively). The emerging of what emerges is, like, pure being that results in the what (or who) held or drawn into whatever further.

Lost in thought, her hands combed through her hair, as if her mental weaving was emblemized by her hands.

I said “I love the way you weave your hands through your hair when you’re thinking.”

She looked at me as if coming out of a trance. “I didn’t know I was.”

She at heart (the flowing I) was thinking and weaving with no overt sense of weaving her hair while she thought. But the mention of this frames a sense of “I” to her, retrospectively in the moment. She acts, firstly nonconscious of her enacting, then representable as “I,” the to-me of first-person sentences, which is not immanently I articulating (being), but articulated as “I” (i.e., to-me) having enacted, now as a representation of the emerging, the enacting.

Spontaneity is a nonconscious possession of oneself (in oneself, absorbed), from which a novelty (ostensible: “that result”) is emerging.

A feeling is realized as what is felt.

A gesture can be interpreted only after its unwitting emergence (then, in representation), “which actually seemed to mean....,”

“But I meant nothing at all. It was a pointless gesture.”

“You say now; but you love the points you make, and it shows in the tilt of your head, as if the elation is going to make you dance, and you hold the joy away.”



I want to associate ‘realization’ with emergence; ‘actualization’ with intent: having a point or purpose.

Realization may express purposefulness, but purpose there emerges, as if one is a channel for the flow that, retropectively, has purpose (is represented as having had purpose).

Actualizing brings implicit intents into presentness. But I may have an intent in mind (actualized mentally) before you know what I intend, because my actually-realized intent is not yet ostensible.

The ostensible difference is typified in articulating an articulation, but ambiguity accrues with the actor who realizes what is to be ostensibly actualized.

But nonconsciousness works its wiles. We may be shown to others beyond our own mental actualizations, further realizing ourselves implicitly (unwittingly) by what we intently show in our actualizations. I intend to say what I say, but may show more in the saying than I overtly intended (which you may realize in my showing, but which I recognize only reflectively, typically by being shown what more I did than what I overtly intended).

Yet, conversely, there may be the showing of you I realized beyond (evidently) what you intended, so there was more to your intending than you recognized (or admitted).

Of course, there are common senses of how we have nonconsciousness (or unconsciousness) which distinguishes itself from what is intended. That’s ordinary to dramatic forms. But getting at the experience of the difference can be an elusive matter. The difference is essential to doing art (or clinical psychology). But how the difference goes is such a multifaceted thing.

We’re commonly in an ambiguity of actualized realization and realizing actuality which expresses a primordial difference in our presence: emergence and intention.

“Growing up” is not understood as such in the growing. An adult may appreciate a 10-year-old in ways the child doesn’t. Yet, the child is actualizing potentials that no one may yet recognize.

Being human embraces any given sense of there being that sense—embraces as its giving-way to what will be made of Its moment, Its scene, Its day.

I most want to associate realization with discovery and inspiration—the Giving of givenness that seems unintended and forms desire as if received.

Actualization I associate with overt intending, given desire.

A person realizes a capacity as desire to develop the capacity, which is actualized as a specific capability or capability to do something specific.



According to the original sense of ‘realize’, one first has in mind what’s transformed into ostensibility. But we do things with thoughts only due to a given thought being already ostensible mentally. I can compare, contrast, prefer, etc. what’s available to me mentally. The notion of ostensibility belongs to mental life as well as to external life.

Relative to such mental “actuality,” what’s to be realized? What about the emergence of a thought in the first place? Relative to what’s conscious (mentally actual), what’s to be realized is there (nonconscious, implicit, immanently disposed to emergence), which we readily admit in retrospect as what was to be brought to mind (which, of course, wasn't yet represented, because it wasn’t yet emerged into presence). Yet, if what’s to be thought is immanent, among many possible thoughts, depending on what’s called to mind by happenstance, then a “thereness” of the implicit (which has been called a “tacit dimension”) is, in a sense, implicitly realized, but not yet mentally actualized.

And we can step back even further to wonder about the conditions of what’s to become implicit.

This recursiveness of mind is intrinsic to what mental life can be: not only framing and acting with what’s conscious, but mapping conscious notions into surmises about what’s nonconscious.

This is how we get notions of nonconsciousness as an agent apart from us, when actually that’s just a mapping of our own sense of agency into the mysterious efficacy of what “is” implicitly “there.”

At worst, in mental trauma, this capability for distinguishing agency can seem to be a separate or deliberate agent in us, but apart from us, like bad spirits, ghosts, and demons.

But I digress. My point is just the natural recursiveness of mental life.

Possessed with one’s own thoughts and feelings, one is a flow of absorption in oneself—in one’s self, one self. But the coherent sense of self (felt as comfort with oneself or enjoyment in being oneself) is inevitably less than the entirety of nonconscious, emerging, growing, being oneself that can be surprising to oneself, imaginative, enchanting, etc., such that one discovers who one is as who, retrospectively, one was to be, like finding out what we think only by drawing ourselves out, to discover what that desire to have drawn already presumed (or should not have presumed, but did—already was presuming, and so already thought, though nonconsciously). The explorer ventures out to discover why he needed to venture. The artist draws in order to know why.

Anyway, there’s good reason to distinguish one’s cohering sense of self from the inferred, inevitable, but mysterious wholeness of being that grew from infancy into oneself (but who lacks a coherent conception of the entire growth), and is still growing (but in some way that can only be partially captured as future past).

I want to distinguish (a) the apparent sensibility that is to a person one “self” (uncapped) from (b) the temporal and horizonal wholeness of being: Self (capped). (I’ll bold the ‘S’ of ‘Self’ at beginnings of sentences or phrases.) One’s sense of Self is one’s self: oneself as identity emergent from oneSelf (though probably not as emergent identity, except inasmuch as we all know in abstract that we are the result of our past experiences, etc.—and may even have overt conceptions of human development that we identify with).

I want to use a hyphen for recursiveness in all of this:

We grant that a plant arises from itself (in a sense, though it’s environmentally dependent). The seed forms “itself” into the plant. There’s a kind of recursiveness to the generativity of life: a self-formativity that is like self-sufficiency of the seed (given opportunity, i.e., good ground), as if there is a telic immanence of the plant, emerging purposively out of its potential as what it was to be. It’s a fiction we love to make of nature, but it actualizes our self-reflectivity in nature as belonging to nature itself, as one’s generativity may really belong to oneself (enowned, so to speak).

It’s a hallmark of our being human (i.e., our mentability, I like to say) that we can ascribe potential and purpose, modeling natural processes as if they are telic efficacies, because that is the reality of our nature: having potential for telic efficacy. Our capacity for self-reflectivity yields both our capable senses of realization and our endearing of others, human (first) and (then) non-. Some persons in biology talk of self-realizing life as “autopoiesis”: a self-formativity of life, as if life is creating itself out of itself (having intentionality or telic efficacy). Yet, in the grand scheme of things, that is what our form of life is doing.

Our self-formativity results, individual by individual, in a formation of Self—self out of oneSelf, out of primal ontogeny—which gradually generates a sense of Self or Self identity.

So, I drop the hyphen in ordinary “self-identity” when I want to represent identity of Self, i.e., sense to oneself that “I am—….” I would think of self-identity (with hyphen) as a concept of the reflectivity that results in overt senses of one’s identity (sense of Self), a concept of reflectivity that few persons bother to have—except theorists and philosophers.

We are instances of the species that may have concerted interest in itSelf, a self-interested (or reflective) interest in oneself as temporal horizonality. A confusion of realization and actualization can symbolize a profusion of intimacies and differentiations, including realizations lived as actualities; or actualities that remain part of intimate realizations of oneSelf.

This isn’t inevitably egoistic (though too often egoism prevails). At heart, a reflective interest in oneself (proximally) can become a wonderful, even profound, excursion of Self-actualization.