Chapter 3 Thinking as the Instrument of Knowledge (1-17)

    Chapter 3 Thinking
        as the Instrument
            of Knowledge

 Paragraph 1-17

 

    [1] When I
          observe how a billiard ball,
             when struck,
           communicates
              its motion
           to another,
       I remain entirely
           without influence
              on the course
                 of this
                observed process.

    The direction
        of motion and
       the velocity
         of the second ball
            are determined
        by the direction
            and velocity
               of the first.

    As long as I
          remain a mere spectator,
       I can only say
          anything
             about the movement
                of the second ball
         when it
            has taken place.

    It is quite different
         when
             I begin
                to reflect
               on the content
                   of my observation.

    The purpose of my reflection
        is to form
           concepts
              of the occurrence.

    I connect the concept
        of an elastic ball
            with certain other concepts
                of mechanics,
      and take
          into consideration
              the special circumstances
        which
           obtain in the instance
          in question.

    I try,
       in other words,
          to add
             to the occurrence
          which
             takes place
           without my assistance
              a second process
                 which
                takes place
               in the conceptual sphere.

    This latter one is dependent
        on me.

    This is shown
        by the fact
       that
          I can rest content
        with the observation,
       and renounce
          all
        search
           for concepts
          if I have no
             need of them.

    If however,
       this need
          is present,
       then
          I am not satisfied until
         I have brought
            the concepts Ball, Elasticity,
               Motion, Impact,
                  Velocity, etc.,
               into a certain connection,
       to which
          the observed
              process
        is related
           in a definite way.

    As surely
        as the occurrence
           goes
              on
            independently of me,
      so surely is
          the conceptual process unable
         to take place
              without my assistance.
 
    [2] We shall have
          to consider
              later
         whether
             this activity
                of mine
                   really proceeds
           from my own independent being,
       or
          whether
             those modern physiologists are right
                 who say
          that we
              cannot think as we will,
       but
          that
             we must think just
                as those
         thoughts
            and thought-connections
               determine
          that happen
             to be
                present
           in our consciousness.

    For the present
         we wish merely
            to establish
         the fact
            that we constantly feel
               obliged to seek
           for concepts
               and connections
                  of concepts,
       which
          stand
             in a certain relation
                to the objects
                   and
                      events
                         which
                            are given independently
                           of us.

    Whether
         this activity
            is really ours
           or
         whether
             we perform it
          according to
             an unalterable necessity,
       is a question
          we need
             not decide at present.

    That it appears
        in the first instance
            to be
       ours is beyond question.

    We know for certain
         that we
            are not given the concepts
           together
              with the objects.

    That I
          am myself
              the agent
                 in the conceptual process
                may be
          an illusion,
       but
          to immediate observation
             it certainly appears
                to be so.

    The question is,
       therefore:
          What
         do
            we gain
           by supplementing
              an event
                 with a conceptual counterpart?

    [3] There
        is a profound difference
           between the ways
         in which,
            for me,
               the parts
                  of an event
            are related
           to one another
         before,
            and after,
               the discovery
                  of the corresponding concepts.

    Mere observation
        can trace
           the parts
              of a given event
                 as they occur,
       but
          their connection
             remains
            obscure
           without the help
               of concepts.

    I see
          the first billiard ball
              move towards the second
           in a certain direction
               and with a certain velocity.

    What will happen
        after the impact
           I must await,
      and
         again
            I can only follow it
          with my eyes.

    Suppose someone,
       at the moment
           of impact,
       obstructs my view
           of the field
         where
             the event
                is taking place,
                   then,
                      as mere spectator,
       I remain ignorant
           of what
              happens afterwards.

    The situation
        is different
           if prior to the obstruction
              of my view
          I have discovered
             the concepts corresponding
           to the pattern
               of events.

    In that case
         I can say
            what will happen even
               when
                  I am
                     no longer able
              to observe.

    An event
         or an object
            which is merely observed,
       does not
           of itself
              reveal anything
           about its connection
               with other events
                   or objects.

    This connection
        becomes evident only
           when
              observation
                 is combined with thinking.
 
    [4] Observation
        and thinking
           are
          the two
             points
           of departure
               for all
                   the spiritual striving
                       of man,
       in so far
          as he
             is conscious
           of such striving.

    The workings
        of common sense,
       as well as
           the most complicated scientific
        researches,
       rest
          on these
             two fundamental pillars
                of our spirit.

    Philosophers
        have started
           from various primary antitheses:
      idea and reality,
         subject and object,
      appearance
          and thing-in-itself,
      "I" and "Not-I",
         idea
       and will,
      concept
         and matter,
      force
         and substance,
      the conscious
          and the unconscious.

    It is easy
        to show,
           however,
              that all
                 these antitheses
       must be preceded
          by
        that
           of observation
              and thinking,
      this being
          for man
              the most important one.
 
    [5] Whatever principle
         we
            choose to lay down,
       we must either prove
          that somewhere
             we have observed it,
       or
          we must enunciate
             it in the form
           of a clear thought
          which
             can be re-thought
           by any other thinker.

    Every philosopher
          who sets out
             to discuss
         his fundamental principles
            must express them
           in conceptual form
               and
             thus use thinking.

    He therefore indirectly admits
         that his activity presupposes thinking.

    Whether
        thinking
           or something else
        is
           the chief factor
              in the evolution
                 of the world
                will not be decided
                   at this point.

    But
         that
            without thinking,
       the philosopher
          can gain no knowledge
             of such evolution,
       is clear
           from the start.

    In the occurrence
        of the world phenomena,
       thinking
          may play
             a minor part;
       but
          in the forming
             of a view
                about them,
       there can be
          no doubt that,
       its part
          is
             a leading one.
 
    [6] As regards
          observation,
       our need of it
          is due to the way
         we are constituted.

    Our thinking
        about a horse
            and the object
      "horse" are two things
         which
      for us
           emerge apart
        from each other.

    This object
        is accessible
           to us
               only by means
                  of observation.

    As little
        as we can form
            a concept
               of a horse
                  by merely staring
                     at the animal,
      just
         as little are
        we able
           by mere thinking
              to produce
                  a corresponding object.
 
    [7] In sequence
        of time,
       observation
          does in fact come
         before thinking.

    For even thinking
         we must get
            to know first through observation.

    It was essentially a description
        of an observation
       when,
      at the beginning
          of this chapter,
      we gave
          an account
             of how thinking lights up
                in the presence
                   of an event and
                      goes
                         beyond what
                       is merely presented.

    Everything that enters
        the circle
           of our experience,
      we first become aware
          of
             through observation.

    The content
        of sensation,
           perception
        and contemplation,
           all feelings,
        acts
           of will,
        dreams and fancies,
           mental pictures,
        concepts
           and ideas,
        all illusions
           and hallucinations,
      are given
          to us
              through observation.
 
    [8] But
         thinking
            as an object
               of observation
                  differs essentially
           from all other objects.

    The observation
        of a table,
           or a tree,
        occurs
           in me as soon
              as these objects
                 appear
                upon the horizon
                    of my experience.

    Yet
         I do not,
       at the same time,
          observe my thinking
             about these things.

    I observe the table,
       and
          I carry out the thinking
             about the table,
       but I
           do not
              at the same moment
                 observe this.

    I must first take up
        a standpoint outside
           my own activity if,
      in addition
          to observing
         the table,
      I want also
         to observe
            my thinking
          about the table.

    Whereas observation
        of things
            and events,
      and thinking
          about them,
      are
         everyday occurrences
            filling
          up the continuous current
              of my life,
      observation
          of the thinking itself
             is a kind
          of exceptional state.

    This fact
        must be properly taken
           into account
          when
             we come to determine
                the relationship
           of thinking
              to all other contents
                 of observation.

    We must be
          quite
              clear
           about the fact that,
              in observing thinking,
           we are applying to it
              a procedure
          which constitutes
             the normal course
           of events
               for the study
                   of the whole
                       of the rest
                           of the world-content,
       but
          which
         in this normal course
            of events
               is not applied
                  to thinking itself.
 
    [9] Someone
        might object
           that
         what
             I have said
           about thinking
              applies equally
                 to feeling and
           to all other spiritual activities.

    Thus
         for instance,
       when
          I have a feeling
             of pleasure,
       the feeling
          is also kindled
             by the object,
       and
          it is
             this object that
                 I observe,
       but
          not the feeling
             of pleasure.

    This objection,
       however,
          is based
             on an error.

    Pleasure
        does not stand
           at
              all in the same relation
                 to its object
                    as the concept formed
                       by thinking.

    I am conscious,
       in the most positive way,
          that
             the concept of a thing
          is formed through my activity;
       whereas pleasure
          is produced
             in me
                by an object
                   in the same way as,
                      for instance,
                         a change
        is caused
           in an object
               by a stone
              which falls on it.

    For observation,
       a pleasure
          is given
             in exactly
                the same way
               as the event
              which causes it.

    The same
        is not true
           of the concept.

    I can ask
         why a particular event arouses
            in me a feeling
               of pleasure,
       but
          I certainly cannot ask
             why an event
                produces in me
         a particular set
            of concepts.

    The question
        would be simply meaningless.

    In reflecting
        upon an event,
       I am
           in no way concerned
              with an effect
                 upon myself.

    I can learn nothing
        about myself
           through knowing the concepts
      which
           correspond
        to the observed
           change
              in a pane
                 of glass
                    by a stone thrown
                        against it.

    But
         I do very definitely learn
            something
           about my personality
         when
             I know
                the feeling
             which a certain event arouses
                in me.

    When I
        say of an observed
           object,
       "This
           is a rose,"
          I say absolutely nothing
              about myself;
          but when I say
            of the same thing that
              "it gives me a
                 feeling of pleasure,"
     I characterize
      not only the rose,
        but also myself
          in my relation
            to the rose.
       

    [10] There can,
       therefore,
          be no
             question
           of putting
              thinking
                 and feeling
           on a level
               as objects
                  of observation.

    And the same
          could easily be shown
             of other activities
                of the human spirit.

    Unlike thinking,
       they must be
          classed with other
             observed
            objects or events.

    The peculiar nature
        of thinking
           lies
       just in this,
      that it
         is an activity
            which
               is directed solely
              upon the observed
                 object
          and
             not on the thinking personality.

    This is apparent
        even from the way
       in which
         we express our thoughts
        about an object,
       as distinct
           from our feelings
              or acts
                 of will.

    When
         I see
            an object
           and
        recognize it
           as a table,
       I do not
          as a rule say,
        "I am thinking
           of a table,"
              but,
            "this is
               a table."

    On the other hand,
       I do say,
          "I am pleased
             with the table."

    In the former case,
       I am not
           at all interested
               in stating
              that
                 I have entered
                    into a relation with the table;
           whereas
               in the latter case,
       it is just this relation
           that matters.

    In saying,
        "I am thinking
           of a table,"
              I already enter
                 the exceptional state characterized above,
           in which
              something
                 that is always contained
       -- though not
           as an observed
              object --
             within our spiritual activity,
       is itself made
           into an object
               of observation.
 
    [11] This
        is just
           the peculiar nature
              of thinking,
       that the thinker forgets
           his thinking
         while
            actually engaged
           in it.

    What occupies
          his attention
             is not
          his thinking,
       but the object
           of his thinking,
       which he
          is observing.
 
    [12] The first observation
         which
             we make
           about thinking
              is therefore this:
       that it
          is the unobserved element
             in our ordinary mental
            and spiritual life.
 
    [13] The reason
          why we
              do not observe
                 the thinking
          that
              goes on
                 in our ordinary life
                is none other
          than this,
       that it
          is
             due to our own activity.

    Whatever
         I do not myself produce,
       appears
           in my field
               of observation
                   as an object;
       I find myself
          confronted
             by it
           as something
              that has come
                 about
               independently of me.

    It comes
          to meet me.

    I must accept it
        as something that precedes
           my thinking process,
      as a premise.

    While
         I am reflecting
            upon the object,
       I am occupied with it,
          my attention
        is focused
           upon it.

    To be
         thus
        occupied
           is precisely
              to contemplate
                 by thinking.

    I attend,
       not to my activity,
          but
             to the object
           of this activity.

    In other words,
       while
          I am thinking
             I pay no
           heed to my thinking,
       which
          is
             of my own making,
       but
          only to the object
             of my thinking,
       which
          is not
             of my making.
 
    [14] I am,
       moreover,
          in the same position
         when
             I enter
           into the exceptional state
               and
                  reflect on my own thinking.

    I can never observe
        my present thinking;
       I can only subsequently take
           my experiences
              of my thinking process
                 as the object
                    of fresh thinking
         If I
        wanted
           to watch
              my present thinking,
       I should have
           to split myself
               into two persons,
                  one to think,
               the other
          to observe this thinking.

    But
         this I cannot do.

    I can only accomplish it
        in two separate acts.

    The thinking
          to be observed
         is never that
            in which
               I am actually engaged,
       but another one.

    Whether,
       for this purpose,
          I make observations
             of my own former
            thinking,
       or follow
           the thinking process
              of another person,
       or finally,
          as in the example
             of the motions
                of the billiard balls,
       assume
          an imaginary thinking
              process,
       is immaterial.
 
    [15] There
        are two things
           which are incompatible
              with one another:
       productive activity
           and the simultaneous contemplation
              of it.

    This is recognized
        even in Genesis (1, 31).

    Here God
        creates
           the world
              in the first six days,
       and only
          when it
             is there is
                any contemplation
           of it possible:
        "And God
              saw everything
             that he
                had made and,
                   behold,
                      it was very good."

    The same
        applies
           to our thinking.

    It must be
          there first,
       if
          we would observe it.
 
    [16] The reason
         why it
            is impossible
          to observe
             thinking
                in the actual moment
                   of its occurrence,
       is the very one
          which makes it possible
             for us
          to know
              it more immediately
                 and more intimately
          than any other process
             in the world.

    Just
         because it
            is our own creation
        do
             we know the characteristic features
                of its course,
       the manner
          in which
             the process takes place.

    What
         in all other spheres
            of observation
               can be found
          only indirectly,
             namely,
           the relevant context
              and the relationship
           between the individual objects,
              is,
                 in the case
           of thinking,
       known
          to us
         in an absolutely direct way.

    I do not
        on the face
           of it know
         why,
            for my observation,
       thunder
          follows lightning;
       but
          I know directly,
       from the very content
           of the two concepts,
       why my thinking
          connects the concept
             of thunder
           with the concept
               of lightning.

    It does not matter
        in the least
       whether
          I have
             the right concepts
        of lightning
           and thunder.

    The connection
        between those concepts
       that
          I do have
             is
       clear to me,
      and this
          through the very concepts themselves.
 
    [17] This transparent clearness
          concerning
              our thinking process
                 is quite independent
           of our knowledge
               of the physiological basis
                   of thinking.

    Here
         I am speaking
            of thinking
           in so far
              as we know it
           from the observation
               of our own
                   spiritual activity.

    How
         one material process
            in my brain
               causes
            or influences
           another
          while
             I am carrying
                out a thinking operation,
       is quite irrelevant.

    What
         I observe
            about thinking
               is not
         what process
            in my brain
               connects
           the concept lightning
              with the concept thunder
             but
                 what causes me
                    to bring
                       the two concepts
                   into a particular relationship.

    My observation
        shows me
           that
         in linking one
        thought
           with another
              there is
          nothing to guide me
             but the content
                of my thoughts;
       I am not guided
           by any material processes
               in my brain.

    In a less materialistic age
          than our own,
       this remark
          would
         of course
              be entirely superfluous.

    Today,
       however,
          when there are
             people
                who believe
          that once
             we know
         what matter
            is
               we
                  shall also know how
                      it thinks,
       we do have to insist
          that one
             may talk
           about thinking
               without trespassing
           on the domain
               of brain physiology.

    Many people
        today find it difficult
       to grasp
           the concept
        of thinking
            in its purity.

    Anyone
         who challenges
            the description
           of thinking
         which
             I have given here
           by quoting Cabanis' statement
         that
        "the brain
            secretes
               thoughts
                  as the liver
                does gall
               or the spittle-glands spittle ...",
           simply does not know
              what I
                 am talking about.

    He tries
          to find
             thinking
           by a process
               of mere observation
                   in the same way
                  that
                     we proceed
                   in the case
                       of other objects
                          that make
                             up the world.

    But
         he cannot find it
            in this way
         because,
       as I
          have shown,
       it eludes just
          this ordinary
           
observation.

    Whoever
          cannot transcend materialism lacks
             the ability
                to bring
               about the exceptional condition
             I have described,
       in which
          he becomes conscious
             of what
           in all other spiritual activity
              remains unconscious.

    If
         someone is not willing
            to take this standpoint,
       then
          one can
             no more discuss thinking
           with him than
              one can discuss
                  color
               with a blind man.

    But
         in any case
            he must not imagine that
         we regard physiological processes
            as thinking.

    He fails
          to explain
             thinking
                because
                   he simply does not see it.