Creative Power of Consciousness
Psychical, World, Themselves, Laws, Colour, Causes
To this insight into the underivability and pre-eminence of consciousness over the world of external reality there must be added at this stage a recognition of its peculiar creative character. We have here to recognise that consciousness itself creates its world,—that is, the world that becomes our own through actual experience, possession, and enjoyment. We are led to this position even by the conception now current in natural science of the world as it is, not as it is mirrored in consciousness, and the theory of the “subjectivity of sensory qualities.” The qualities which we perceive in things through the senses are “subjective”; philosophy has long taught that, and now natural science teaches it too. That is to say, these qualities are not actually present in the things themselves; they are rather the particular responses which our consciousness makes to stimuli. Take, for instance, tone or colour. What we call tone or sound is not known to acoustics. That takes cognisance only of vibrations and the conditions of vibration in elastic bodies, which, by means of the ear and the nerves of hearing, become a stimulus of consciousness. Consciousness “responds” to this stimulus by receiving a sense-impression of hearing. But in this, obviously, there is nothing of the nature of oscillations and vibrations, but something quite different. What outside of us is nothing more than a complex process of movement according to mathematical conditions, blossoms within us to a world of sound, tone, and music. The world itself is soundless, toneless. And the same is true of light and colour; “light” and “blue” are nothing in themselves—are not properties of things themselves. They are only the infinitely rapid movements of an infinitely delicate substance, the ether. But when these meet our consciousness, they spin themselves within us into this world of light and colour, of brilliance and beauty. Thus without us there is a world of a purely mathematical nature, without quality, charm, or value. But the world we know, the world of sound, light, and colour, of all properties whatsoever, of the ugly or the beautiful, of pain and pleasure, is in the most real sense the product of consciousness itself, a creation which, incited by something outside of itself and of a totally different nature, which we can hardly call “world,” evolves out of itself and causes to blossom. No part of this creation is given from without; not the blue of the heavens, for outside of us there is no colour, only vibrations of the ether; not the gold of the sun nor the red glory of the evening sky. External nature is nothing more than the stimulus, the pressure upon the mind, which liberates from its depths the peculiar reactions and responses to this stimulus, and calls them forth from its own treasure-stores. Certainly in this creating the consciousness is entirely dependent on the impressions stamped on it from outside, and to that extent upon “experience.” But it is by no means a tabula rasa, and a merely passive mirror of the outer world, for it translates the stimulus thus received into quite a different language, and builds up from it a new reality, which is quite unlike the mathematical and qualityless reality without. And this activity on the part of consciousness begins on the very lowest stages. The simplest perception of light or colour, the first feeling of pleasure or discomfort, is a reaction of the psychical, which brings about something entirely new and unique. “The spirit is never passive.”
That the psychical is not derivable from the physical, that it does not arise out of it, is not secondary to it, but pre-eminent over it, is not passive but creative; so much we have already gained to set over against naturalism. But its claims are even more affected by the fact of real psychical causality. We need not here concern ourselves with the difficult question, whether the mind can of itself act upon the body, and through it upon the external world. But in the logical consistence of naturalism there was implied not only a negative answer to this last question, but also a denial of the causality of the psychical, even within itself and its own domain. This is well illustrated in the figure of the cloud shadows. In consciousness state follows upon state, a upon b, b upon c. According to naturalism, b is not really the result of a, nor c of b, for in that case there would be independence of phenomena, and distinctness of laws in the psychical. But as all the states, a, b, and c, of the cloud shadows, depend upon states a, b, and c, of the clouds themselves, but do not themselves form a concatenation of causes, so all the states of the mind depend upon those of the body, in which alone there is a true chain of causes because they alone have true reality.
This is a complete distortion of the facts of the case. It would never be possible to persuade oneself or any one else that the arm, for instance, did not bend simply because we willed that it should. And it is still less possible to doubt that there are sequences of causes within the psychical, that in the world of thought and feeling, of desire and will, one thing calls up another, awakes it, impels it onwards, and influences it. Indeed, the mode of influence is peculiarly rich, subtle, and certain. Mental images and experiences arouse joy or sorrow, admiration or repulsion. One image calls up another, forces it to appear according to quite peculiar laws, or may crowd it out. Feelings call up desires, desires lead to determination. Good news actually causes joy, this is actually strengthened to willing, and the new situation gives rise to actual resolves. All this is so obvious and so unquestionable that no naturalism can possibly prevail against it. It has also long been made the subject of special investigation and carefully regulated experiment, and it is one of the chief subjects of modern psychological science. And especially as regards the different forms of “association of ideas,” the particular laws of this psychical causality have been established.
It cannot be denied, however, that this psychology of association has itself in a deeper sense certain dangers from the point of view of the freedom of the mind, and it is apt to lead, not indeed to naturalistic conceptions, but to views according to which the “soul” is reduced to the level of a passive frame and stage, so to speak, for the exhibition of mental mechanics and statics. “Ideas” or thoughts, or states of feelings, are sometimes represented almost as actual little realities, which come and go in accordance with their own laws of attraction and repulsion, unite and separate again, by virtue of a kind of mental gravitation, move and crowd one another, so that one must almost say “it thinks,” as one says “it rains,” and not “the mind thinks” or “I think.” But more of this later. This psychological orderliness is in sharp antagonism to pure naturalism. It describes the laws of a sequence of causes, which have nothing to do with the physical, chemical, or mechanical, and clearly establishes the uniqueness, independence, and underivability of the psychical as contrasted with the physical.
The individuality and incommensurability of this psychical causality shows itself in another series of factors which make even the form of the psychical process quite distinctive, and produce phenomena which have no parallel in the material sequences of the world, indeed, conflict with all its fundamental laws. The great psychologists of to-day, Wundt in particular, and James, have frequently emphasised these factors. We can only briefly call attention to a few points, as, for instance, Wundt's theory of the creative resultants through which the psychical processes show themselves to be quite outside of the scope of the laws of equivalence which hold good in the physical. If, in the realm of the corporeal, two components of energy, a and b, come together, they unite in a common resultant c, which includes in part a new movement, in part transformation into heat, but always in such a way that c remains equal to a and b. But it is otherwise in the psychical. Here there occurs what may be called an increase (and a qualitative change) of the psychical energy. If we take the notes, c, e, and g, and call the sensation- and perception-value of the individual notes x, y, z, when they come together, the resulting sensation-value is by no means simply x + y + z, for a “harmony” results of which the effect is not only greater than the mere sum of x + y + z, but is qualitatively different. This is true of all domains of psychical experience. The parallels from mechanical operation cannot be applied in any case. These only supply inadequate analogies and symbols which never really represent the actual state of the case.
Let us take, for instance, a motive, m, that impels us towards a particular action, and another, n, that hinders us. If these meet in us, the result is not simply a weakening of the power of the one, and a remaining motive of the strength of m minus n. The meeting of the two creates an entirely new and peculiar mental situation, which gives rise to conflict and choice, and the resultant victorious motive is never under any circumstances m-n, but may be a double or three-fold m or n. Thus, in the different aspects of psychical activity, there are factors which make it impossible to compare these with other activities, remove them outside of the scope of the law of the equivalence of cause and effect, and prove that there is self-increase and growth on the part of psychical energies. And all such phenomena lead us away from the standpoint of any mere theory of association.
|Written By Dr. Rudolf Otto|
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