What kind of material process is directly associated with consciousness?
Are we prepared to believe that this very special turn in the development of the higher animals, a turn that might after all have failed to appear, was a necessary condition for the world to flash up to itself in the light of consciousness? Would it otherwise have remained a play before empty benches, not existing for anybody, thus quite properly speaking not existing? This would seem to me the bankruptcy of a world picture.
Not every nervous process, nay by no means every cerebral process, is accompanied by consciousness.
Any succession of events in which we take part with sensations, perceptions and possibly with actions gradually drops out of the domain of consciousness when the same string of events repeats itself in the same way very often. But it is immediately shot up into the conscious region, if at such a repetition either the occasion or the environmental conditions met with on its pursuit differ from what they were on all the previous incidences.
Every day of a man’s life represents a small bit of the evolution of our species, which is still in full swing.
Is there still physical evolution to be expected in man, I mean to say relevant changes in our physique that become gradually fixed as inherited features, just as our present bodily self is fixed by inheritance—genotypical changes, to use the technical term of the biologist?
We must not wait for things to come, believing that they are decided by irrescindable destiny. If we want it, we must do something about it. If not, not. Just as the political and social development and the sequence of historical events in general are not thrust upon us by the spinning of the Fates, but largely depend on our own doing, so our biological future, being nothing else but history on a large scale, must not be taken to be an unalterable destiny that is decided in advance by any Law of Nature.
Instead of letting the ingenious machinery we have invented produce an increasing amount of superfluous luxury, we must plan to develop it so that it takes off human beings all the unintelligent, mechanical, ‘machine-like’ handling. The machine must take over the toil for which man is too good, not man the work for which the machine is too expensive, as comes to pass quite often.
Without being aware of it and without being rigorously systematic about it, we exclude the Subject of Cognizance from the domain of nature that we endeavour to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world.
I have very good reasons for believing that these other bodies are also linked up with, or are, as it were, the seats of spheres of consciousness. I can have no reasonable doubt about the existence or some kind of actualness of these foreign spheres of consciousness, yet I have absolutely no direct subjective access to any of them. Hence I am inclined to take them as something objective, as forming part of the real world around me.
A moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non-concerned observer.
The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it, removing it; mind is not part of it; obviously, therefore, it can neither act on it nor be acted on by any of its parts.
Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff. Mind could not cope with this gigantic task otherwise than by the simplifying device of excluding itself—withdrawing from its conceptual creation. Hence the latter does not contain its creator.
Then the impasse meets us. The blank of the ‘how’ of mind’s leverage on matter. The inconsequence staggers us. Is it a misunderstanding?
We have entirely taken to thinking of the personality of a human being, or for that matter also that of an animal, as located in the interior of its body. To learn that it cannot really be found there is so amazing that it meets with doubt and hesitation, we are very loath to admit it.
It is very difficult for us to take stock of the fact that the localization of the personality, of the conscious mind, inside the body is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use.
Let us assume that in a particular case you eventually observe several efferent bundles of pulsating currents, which issue from the brain and through long cellular protrusions (motor nerve fibres), are conducted to certain muscles of the arm, which, as a consequence, tends a hesitating, trembling hand to bid you farewell—for a long, heart-rending separation; at the same time you may find that some other pulsating bundles produce a certain glandular secretion so as to veil the poor sad eye with a crape of tears. But nowhere along this way from the eye through the central organ to the arm muscles and the tear glands—nowhere, you may be sure, however far physiology advances, will you ever meet the personality, will you ever meet the dire pain, the bewildered worry within this soul, though their reality is to you so certain as though you suffered them yourself—as in actual fact you do!
The reason why our sentient, percipient and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific world picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is itself that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as a part of it.
There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousnesses. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind.
To declare that, of the component cells that go to make us up, each one is an individual self-centred life is no mere phrase. It is not a mere convenience for descriptive purposes. The cell as a component of the body is not only a visibly demarcated unit but a unit-life centred on itself. It leads its own life… The cell is a unit-life, and our life which in its turn is a unitary life consists utterly of the cell-lives.
How far is the mind a collection of quasi-independent perceptual minds integrated psychically in large measure by temporal concurrence of experience? … When it is a question of ‘mind’ the nervous system does not integrate itself by centralization upon a pontifical cell. Rather it elaborates a millionfold democracy whose each unit is a cell… the concrete life compounded of sublives reveals, although integrated, its additive nature and declares itself an affair of minute foci of life acting together… When however we turn to the mind there is nothing of all this. The single nerve-cell is never a miniature brain. The cellular constitution of the body need not be for any hint of it from ‘mind’… A single pontifical brain-cell could not assure to the mental reaction a character more unified, and non-atomic than does the roof-brain’s multitudinous sheet of cells. Matter and energy seem granular in structure, and so does ‘life,’ but not so mind.
The over-all number of minds is just one. I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now. There is really no before and after for mind. There is only a now that includes memories and expectations.
Man’s mind is a recent product of our planet’s side.
We may be sure there is no nervous process whose objective description includes the characteristic ‘yellow colour’ or ‘sweet taste,’ just as little as the objective description of an electro-magnetic wave includes either of these characteristics.
Neither the physicist’s description, nor that of the physiologist, contains any trait of the sensation of sound. Any description of this kind is bound to end with a sentence like: those nerve impulses are conducted to a certain portion of the brain, where they are registered as a sequence of sounds. We can follow the pressure changes in the air as they produce vibrations of the ear-drum, we can see how its motion is transferred by a chain of tiny bones to another membrane and eventually to parts of the membrane inside the cochlea, composed of fibres of varying length, described above. We may reach an understanding of how such a vibrating fibre sets up an electrical and chemical process of conduction in the nervous fibre with which it is in touch. We may follow this conduction to the cerebral cortex and we may even obtain some objective knowledge of some of the things that happen there. But nowhere shall we hit on this ‘registering as sound,’ which simply is not contained in our scientific picture, but is only in the mind of the person whose ear and brain we are speaking of.
Democritus introduces the intellect (διάνοια) having an argument with the senses (αίσθήσεις) about what is ‘real.’ The former says: ‘Ostensibly there is colour, ostensibly sweetness, ostensibly bitterness, actually only atoms and the void,’ to which the senses retort: ‘Poor intellect, do you hope to defeat us while from us you borrow your evidence? Your victory is your defeat.’