The Philosophy of Freedom
Intuitive Thinking As A Spiritual Path, Lipson translation
copyright © Anthroposophic Press, 1995
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 Concepts and ideas arise through thinking. Words cannot say what a concept is. Words can only make us notice that we have concepts. When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation, a conceptual counterpart joins the object, and we consider the object and the conceptual counterpart as belonging together. When the object disappears from our field of observation, only the conceptual counterpart remains. The latter is the concept of the object. The wider our experience extends, the greater the sum of our concepts. But the concepts by no means stand apart from one another. They combine into a lawful whole. For example, the concept “organism” combines with others, such as “lawful development” and “growth.” Other concepts, formed from individual things, collapse wholly into a unity. Thus, all concepts that I form about lions combine into the general concept “lion.” In this way, individual concepts link together into a closed conceptual system, in which each has its particular place. Ideas are not qualitatively different from concepts. They are only concepts with more content, more saturated, and more inclusive. I emphasize here that it is important to note at this point that my point of departure is thinking, not concepts or ideas, which must first be gained by thinking. Concepts and ideas already presuppose thinking. Therefore, what I have said about the nature of thinking—that it rests within itself and is determined by nothing—cannot simply be transferred to concepts. (I note this explicitly here, because this is where I differ from Hegel, who posits the concept as first and original.)
 Concepts cannot be won by observation. This can already be seen from the fact that children form concepts for the objects in their environment only slowly and gradually. Concepts are added onto observation.
 A popular contemporary philosopher, Herbert Spencer, portrays the spiritual process that we perform in response to observation as follows:
 "If, wandering through the fields on a September’s day, we hear a noise a few steps in front of us, and see the grass in motion by the side of the ditch whence the noise seemed to proceed, then we will probably approach the place to find out what produced the noise and movement. At our approach, there flutters in the ditch a partridge, and with this our curiosity is satisfied: we have what we call an explanation of the phenomena. Carefully examined, this explanation depends on the following: because in life we have countless times experienced that a disturbance in the peaceful state of small bodies accompanies the movement of other bodies located among them, and because we have therefore generalized the relationships between such disturbances and such movements, we consider this particular disturbance explained as soon as we find that it represents an example of just this relationship."
Examined more closely, however, the situation looks quite different than this description suggests. When I hear a noise, I first seek the concept that fits this observation. Someone who thinks no more of it simply hears the noise and leaves it at that. But by thinking about it, it becomes clear to me that I must regard the noise as an effect. Only when I combine the concept of effect with the perception of the noise am I inclined to go beyond the individual observation itself and seek a cause. The concept of effect evokes that of cause, and I then seek the causative object, which I find in the form of a partridge. But I can never gain the concepts of cause and effect by mere observation, no matter how many cases I may observe. Observation calls forth thinking, and it is only the latter that shows me how to link one isolated experience with another.
 When people demand of a “strictly objective science” that it draw its content from observation alone, then they must at the same time demand that it renounce all thinking. For thinking, by its very nature, goes over and above what has been observed.
 This is the moment to move from thinking to the being who thinks. For it is through the thinker that thinking is linked to observation. Human consciousness is the stage where concept and observation meet and are connected to one another. This is, in fact, what characterizes human consciousness. It is the mediator between thinking and observation. To the extent that human beings observe things, things appear as given; to the extent that human beings think, they experience themselves as active. They regard things as objects, and themselves as thinking subjects. Because they direct their thinking to what they observe, they are conscious of objects; because they direct their thinking to themselves, they are conscious of themselves, they have self-consciousness. Human consciousness must necessarily at the same time also be selfconsciousness, because it is a thinking consciousness. For when thinking directs its gaze toward its own activity, it has before it as its object its very own being, that is, its subject.
 But we must not overlook that it is only with the help of thinking that we can define ourselves as subjects, and contrast ourselves to objects. Therefore, thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object. It forms both of these concepts, just as it does all others. Thus, when we as thinking subjects relate a concept to an object, we must not regard this relationship as something merely subjective. It is not the subject that introduces the relationship, but thinking. The subject does not think because it is a subject; rather, it appears to itself as a subject because it can think. The activity that human beings exercise as thinking beings is therefore not merely subjective, but it is a kind of activity that is neither subjective nor objective; it goes beyond both these concepts. I should never say that my individual subject thinks; rather, it lives by the grace of thinking. Thus, thinking is an element that leads me beyond myself and unites me with objects. But it separates me from them at the same time, by setting me over against them as subject.
 Just this establishes the dual nature of the human being: we think, and our thinking embraces ourselves along with the rest of the world; but at the same time we must also, by means of thinking, define ourselves as individuals standing over against things.
 Next, we must ask ourselves how the other element, which until now we have characterized merely as the object of observation, enters consciousness where it encounters thinking.
 To answer this question, we must purge our field of observation of everything that thinking has already brought into it. For the content of our consciousness at any moment is always already permeated by concepts in the most varied way.
 We must imagine that a being with a fully developed human intelligence arises from nothing and confronts the world. What this being would be aware of, before it brought thinking into action, is the pure content of observation. The world would then reveal to this being only the pure, relation-less aggregate of sensory objects: colors, sounds, sensations of pressure, warmth, taste, and smell, and then feelings of pleasure and unpleasure. This aggregate is the content of pure, thought-free observation. Over against it stands thinking, which is ready to unfurl its activity when a point of departure is found. Experience soon teaches that it is found. Thinking is able to draw threads from one element of observation to another. It joins specific concepts to these elements and thus brings them into a relationship with each other. We have already seen how a noise we encounter is linked with another observation, in that we characterize the former as the effect of the latter.
 If we recall that the activity of thinking should never be considered subjective, we will not be tempted to believe that such relationships, which are established by thinking, have merely a subjective validity.
 It now becomes a question of discovering, through thinking contemplation, how the immediately given content of observation—the pure, relationless aggregate of sensory objects —relates to our conscious subject.
 Because of shifting habits of speech, it seems necessary for me to come to an agreement with my reader on the use of a word that I must employ from now on. The word is percept. I will use the word “percept” to refer to “the immediate objects of sensation” mentioned above, insofar as the conscious subject knows these objects through observation. Thus, it is not the process of observation but the object of observation that I designate with this name.
 I have not chosen to use the term sensation, because sensation has a specific meaning in physiology that is narrower than that of my concept of the percept. I can easily characterize a feeling within myself as a percept, but not as a sensation in the physiological sense. By its becoming percept for me, I gain knowledge even of my feeling. And because we gain knowledge of our thinking, too, through observation, we can even call thinking, as it first appears to our consciousness, a percept.
 The naive person considers percepts, as they first appear, to be things that have an existence quite independent of the human being in question. If we see a tree, we initially believe that the tree, in the form that we see it, with its various colors, etc., is standing there in the spot to which our gaze is directed. From this naive standpoint, if we see the sun appear in the morning as a disc on the horizon and then follow the progress of this disc, we believe that all of this exists and occurs just as we observe it. We cling fast to this belief until we meet other percepts that contradict the first. The child, with no experience of distances, reaches for the moon, and only when a second percept comes to contradict the first can the child correct what at first seemed real to it. Every extension in the sphere of my percepts makes me correct my image of the world. This is evident in daily life, just as it is in the spiritual evolution of humankind. The ancient image of the relation of the earth to the sun and the other heavenly bodies had to be replaced by that of Copernicus, because the ancient image did not agree with new, previously unknown percepts. When Dr. Franz operated on someone born blind, the latter said that before his operation he had arrived through the sense of touch at a very different image of the size of objects. He had to correct his tactile percepts with his visual percepts.
 Why are we compelled continually to correct our observations?
 A simple reflection provides the answer to this question. If I stand at the end of an avenue, the trees at the other end appear to me smaller and closer together than those where I am standing. My perceptual picture changes as I change the place from which I make my observations. Thus the form in which the perceptual image confronts me depends on conditions determined not by the object but by me, the perceiver. The avenue does not care where I stand. But the image that I have of the avenue is fundamentally dependent on where I stand. In the same way, it makes no difference to the sun and the solar system that human beings regard them just from the earth. But the perceptual image of the heavens that presents itself to human beings is determined by their living on the earth. This dependence of the perceptual image on our place of observation is the easiest kind of dependence to understand. The issue becomes more difficult when we realize the dependence of our perceptual world on our bodily and spiritual organization. The physicist shows that vibrations of the air are present in the space where we hear a sound, and that even the body in which we seek the source of the sound displays a vibrating movement in its parts. But we become aware of this movement as sound only if we have a normally constructed ear. Without this, the whole world would be forever silent for us. Physiology teaches us that there are some people who perceive nothing of the magnificent splendor of color surrounding us. Their perceptual picture shows only nuances of dark and light. Others fail to perceive only a specific color, such as red. Their image of the world lacks this hue, and is therefore actually different from that of the average human being. I should like to call the dependence of my perceptual image on my place of observation a “mathematical” one, and its dependence on my organization a “qualitative” one. The relative sizes and distances of my percepts are determined through the former; their quality through the latter. That I see a red surface as red—this qualitative determination—depends on the organization of my eye.
 Initially, then, our perceptual images are subjective. This recognition of the subjective character of our percepts can easily lead us to doubt whether anything objective underlies them at all. If we know that a percept, for example the color red or a particular sound, is only possible thanks to the structure of our own organism, then we can easily come to believe that the percept does not exist outside our subjectivity, and that apart from the act of perceiving, whose object it is, it has no kind of existence. This view found its classic expression in George Berkeley, who believed that as soon as we become aware of the importance of the subject for percepts, we can no longer believe in a world that exists apart from the conscious spirit:
"Some truths are so near and so obvious to the mind that man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important truth to be, to wit, that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any subsistence without a mind, that their being is to be perceived or known; that, consequently, so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit."
From this point of view, nothing remains of the percept if we exclude the process of its being perceived. There is no color when none is seen, no sound when none is heard. Outside the act of perception, categories such as extension, form, and movement exist just as little as color and sound. Nowhere do we see extension or form alone; rather, we always see these in conjunction with color or other qualities indisputably dependent on our subjectivity. If the latter disappear with our perception, then so must the former, which are bound to them.
 To the objection that, even if figure, color, sound, and so forth do not exist outside the act of perception, there must still be things that exist without consciousness and are similar to the conscious perceptual images, the Berkeleyan response would be to say that a color can only be similar to a color, a figure similar to a figure. Our percepts can be similar only to our percepts, not to any other kind of thing. Even what we call an object is nothing but than a group of percepts connected in a certain way. If I take away from a table its form, extension, color, and so forth—in fact, everything that is only my percept—then nothing more is left. This view, followed through logically, thus leads to the assertion that the objects of my perception are only present through me; they disappear with my perceiving and have no meaning without it. Apart from my percepts, I know of no objects and can know of none.
 There is nothing to object to in this claim, as long as it remains merely a general consideration of how the percept is partly determined by the organization of the subject. The matter would appear fundamentally different, however, if we were in a position to describe the exact function of our perceiving in the origin of a percept. We would then know what happens to the percept during perceiving, and could also determine what aspect of the percept must already exist before it is perceived.
 With this, our investigation is directed away from the object of perception and toward its subject. I do not perceive only other things; I also perceive myself. In contrast to the perceptual images that continually come and go, I am what remains. This, initially, is the content of my percept of myself. When I have other percepts, the percept of the I can always appear in my consciousness. However, when I am immersed in the perception of a given object, then for the time being I am conscious only of the latter. The percept of my self can be added to this. I am then not merely conscious of the object, but also of my personality, which stands over against the object and observes it. I not only see a tree, I also know that I am the one who sees it. Moreover, I realize that something goes on in me while I observe the tree. If the tree disappears from my view, a remnant of this process remains in my consciousness: an image of the tree. As I was observing, this image united itself with my self. My self is thereby enriched: its content has received a new element into itself. I call this element my mental picture (Vorstellung) of the tree. There would be no need to speak of mental pictures if I did not experience them in the percept of my self. In that case, percepts would come and go; I would let them pass by. It is only because I perceive my self, and notice that with every percept the content of my self also changes, that I find myself compelled to connect the observation of the object with my own changed state, and to speak of my mental picture.
 I perceive mental pictures in my self in the same way that I perceive colors, sounds, and so forth in other objects. From this point of view, I can now make a distinction, calling these other objects that stand over against me the outer world, while designating the content of my selfpercept as the inner world. Failure to recognize the relation between the mental picture and the object has led to the greatest misunderstandings in modern philosophy. The perception of an inner change, the modification that my self undergoes, has been thrust into the foreground, and the object causing this modification has been lost sight of altogether. It has been said that we do not perceive objects, but only our mental pictures. I am not supposed to know anything of the object of my observation, the table in itself, but only of the change that occurs in my self while I perceive the table. This view must not be confused with the Berkeleyan view mentioned above. Berkeley asserts the subjective nature of my perceptual content, but he does not say that I can know only my mental pictures. He limits my knowledge to my mental pictures because he believes that there are no objects outside mental picturing. In this view, once I cease directing my gaze toward it, what I regard as a table no longer exists. Hence for Berkeley my percepts arise immediately from the power of God. I see a table because God calls forth this percept in me. Berkeley knows of no real beings other than God and human spirits. What we call the world is present only within spirits. What the naive human being calls the outer world, corporeal nature, does not exist for Berkeley. Berkeley’s view stands in contrast to the currently prevailing Kantian view. This also limits our knowledge of the world to our mental pictures. But it does not do so because of the conviction that no things except these mental pictures can exist. Rather, the Kantian view believes us to be so organized that we can learn only of modifications in our own self, not of the things-in-themselves that cause them. From the circumstance that I know only my mental pictures, the Kantian view draws the conclusion not that there is no existence independent of these mental pictures, but only that the subject cannot directly receive such an existence into itself. This view then concludes that only through “the medium of its subjective thoughts can it imagine, fantasize, think, cognize, or even perhaps fail to cognize” this existence. This (Kantian) view believes it is saying something absolutely certain, something that is immediately evident without any proof.
"The first fundamental proposition that the philosopher must bring to clear consciousness consists in the recognition that our knowledge does not initially extend beyond our mental pictures. Our mental pictures are the only things that we know directly, experience directly; and just because we experience them immediately, even the most radical doubt cannot tear from us our knowledge of them. By contrast, the knowledge that goes beyond our mental pictures—I use this expression in its widest sense, so that it includes all psychical events—is not safe from doubt. Hence, at the start of philosophizing, all knowledge that goes beyond mental pictures must be explicitly posited as open to doubt."
This is how Volkelt’s book, Immanuel Kant’s Epistemology, begins. But what is presented in it as if it were an immediate and self-evident truth is really the result of the following kind of thought process. “The naive human being believes that objects, just as we perceive them, also exist outside human consciousness. But physics, physiology and psychology seem to teach that our organization is necessary for our perceptions and that consequently we cannot know anything about things other than what our organization transmits to us. Hence our percepts are modifications of our organization and not things in themselves.” Eduard von Hartmann characterizes this train of thought as necessarily leading to the conviction that we can have direct knowledge only of our mental pictures. 7 Because we find, outside our organism, vibrations of bodies and of the air that appear to us as sound, this view reasons that what we call sound is nothing more than a subjective reaction of our organization to these vibrations in the outer world. In the same way, color and warmth are only modifications of our organism. According to this view, the percepts of warmth and color are evoked in us by the effects of processes in the outer world that are utterly different from our experience of warmth or color. When these processes stimulate the nerves in my skin, I have the subjective percept of warmth; when they stimulate the optic nerve, I perceive light and color. Light, color, and warmth are therefore what my sense nerves create as responses to outside stimuli. Even the sense of touch presents me not with objects of the external world, but only with my own states. Following modern physics, we might think that the body consists of infinitesimal particles—molecules—and that these molecules do not border one another immediately but are a certain distance apart. Between them, then, is empty space. They affect one another through this space by means of forces of attraction and repulsion. When I bring my hand near a body, the molecules of my hand never touch those of the body immediately. There always remains a certain distance between body and hand. What I feel as the resistance of the body is nothing more than the effect of the repellent force that its molecules exercise on my hand. I am completely outside the body in question and merely perceive its effect on my organism.
 To complete these considerations, we have the teaching of the so-called specific sense energies proposed by J. Müller. According to this theory, our senses have the peculiar quality that each sense responds to all external stimuli in only one specific fashion. If a stimulus is applied to the optic nerve, then the percept of light arises, whether the excitation occurs through what we call light, through mechanical pressure, or through an electrical current impinging on the nerve. On the other hand, the same external stimuli evoke different percepts in the different senses. It appears to follow from this that our senses can transmit only what occurs within them and transmit nothing from the outer world. The senses determine the percepts according to their nature.
 Physiology shows that there can also be no direct knowledge of what effect objects have within our sense organs. When physiologists follow the processes in our own body, they find the effects of external motion already transformed within the sense organs in the most various ways. We see this most clearly in the eye and the ear. Both are very complicated organs, which fundamentally alter an external stimulus before bringing it to the corresponding nerve. From the peripheral nerve ending, the already modified stimulus is now led on to the brain. Here, the central organs must in turn be stimulated. From this, the conclusion is drawn that the external process undergoes a series of transformations before coming to consciousness. What goes on in the brain is connected to the external process through so many intermediate processes that we cannot imagine any similarity between them. What the brain then finally transmits to the soul are neither external processes, nor processes in the sense organs, but only processes within the brain. Yet even these the soul does not perceive directly. What we ultimately have in consciousness are not brain processes at all, but sensations. My sensation of red has no similarity to the process occurring in the brain when I sense redness. Redness emerges again only as an effect in the soul, and is caused by the brain process alone. Therefore, Hartmann says: “What the subject perceives are therefore always only modifications of its own psychic states and nothing else.” When I have the sensations, however, these are still far from being grouped into what I perceive as things. After all, only individual sensations can be transmitted to me through the brain. Sensations of hardness and softness are transmitted to me through the sense of touch; color and light through the sense of sight. Yet these are united in one and the same object. Such union, then, can only be effected by the soul itself. That is, the soul assembles separate sensations, transmitted by the brain, into bodies. My brain conveys to me separately, and by altogether different pathways, sensations of sight, taste, and hearing that the soul then combines into the mental picture of a trumpet. This final stage of a process (the mental picture of the trumpet) is given to my consciousness as the very first. In it, nothing may be found of what is outside me and originally made the impression on my senses. On the way to the brain and, through the brain, to the soul, the external object has been completely lost.
 It would be hard to find another edifice of thought in the history of human culture that has been constructed with more ingenuity and that nevertheless, on closer scrutiny, collapses into nothing. Let us look more closely at how this edifice has been built up. It begins with what is given to naive consciousness of the thing perceived. Then it shows that everything found there would be non-existent for us if we had no senses. No eye, no color. So color is not yet present in what affects the eye. It first arises through the interaction of the eye with the object. The object, then, is colorless. But the color is not present in the eye either. In the eye there is a chemical or physical process that is first led through the nerve to the brain, where it sets off another process. This process is still not yet color. It is only through the brain process that the color is evoked in the soul. There, it still does not yet enter my consciousness, but is first transferred outward by the soul onto a body. Finally I believe I am perceiving it there. We have come full circle. We have become conscious of a colored body. That comes first. Now the thought-operation begins. If I had no eyes, the body would be colorless for me. Therefore I cannot attribute color to the body. I go looking for it. I look for it in the eye, in vain; in the nerve, also in vain; in the brain, again in vain. Finally, I look for it in the soul. There I find it, to be sure, but unconnected with the body. I find the colored body only where I began. The circle has been closed. I recognize as the product of my soul what the naive human being imagines as externally present in space.
 As long as we keep to this, everything seems to fit beautifully. But we must begin again at the beginning. After all, so far I have been dealing with an entity, the external percept, of which, as a naive human being, I had an altogether false view. I believed that it had an objective permanence just as I perceived it. Now I notice that it disappears with my mental picturing; that it is only a modification of my own soul states. Do I still have the right to take it as a starting point for my reflections? Can I say that it has an effect on my soul? From now on, I must treat the table itself—which I used to believe affected me, and produced a mental picture of itself within me—as a mental picture. But then to be consistent my sense organs and the processes in them must also be only subjective. I have no right to speak of a real eye, only of my mental picture of the eye. It is the same with nerve conduction and brain processes, and no less so with the process, in the soul itself, by which things are supposedly built up out of the chaos of the various sensations. If I run through the elements of the act of cognition once again, assuming the correctness of that first circuit of thoughts, then the cognitive act reveals itself as a tissue of mental pictures that, as such, can have no effect on one another. I cannot say: my mental picture of the object has an effect on my mental picture of the eye, and from this interaction there proceeds the mental picture of the color. Nor do I need to do so. For as soon as it is clear to me that even my sense organs and their activities, the processes of my nerves and soul, can be given only through perception, then the above train of thought reveals itself in its perfect impossibility. So much is correct then: I can have no percept without the corresponding sense organ. But neither can I have a sense organ without perception. I can pass from my percept of the table to the eye that sees it, or to the nerves in the skin that touch it; but what takes place within these I can learn, once again, only through perception. Then I soon notice that there is no trace of similarity between the process occurring in the eye and what I perceive as color. I cannot deny my color percept by pointing to the process in the eye that takes place during this perception. Nor can I find the color in the nerveand brain-processes; I only connect new percepts within my organism to the first percept, which the naive person places outside the organism. I only pass from one percept to the next.
 Moreover, there is a gap in the whole train of argument. I am in a position to follow the processes within my organism, up to the processes in my brain, even though my assumptions become ever more hypothetical the closer I come to its central processes. The path of external observation ends with the process in my brain; more precisely, it ends with what I would perceive if I could examine the brain with physical and chemical means and methods. The path of inner observation begins with sensation and goes as far as the construction of things from the material of sensation. At the point of transition from brain process to sensation, the path of observation is interrupted.
 This way of thinking, which calls itself “critical idealism”— in contrast to the standpoint of naive consciousness, which it calls “naive realism”—makes the error of characterizing one percept as a mental picture, while accepting another percept in exactly the same way as the naive realism it had ostensibly refuted. Critical idealism seeks to prove that percepts have the character of mental pictures, while naively accepting the percepts of one’s own organism as objectively valid facts. What is more, it fails to notice that it is throwing together two fields of observation between which it can find no connection.
 Critical idealism can only refute naive realism if, in naive- realist fashion, it accepts one’s own organism as something that exists objectively. The moment it becomes aware that the percepts connected to one’s own organism and those assumed by naive realism to exist objectively are completely equivalent, it can no longer base itself on the former as if on a sure foundation. It is forced to regard its own subjective organization, too, as a mere complex of mental pictures. But thereby the possibility of thinking that the content of the perceived world is caused by our mental organization is lost. We would have to assume that the mental picture “color” was only a modification of the mental picture “eye.” So-called critical idealism cannot be proved without borrowing from naive realism, while naive realism can be refuted only by accepting its own presuppositions, unexamined, in another sphere.
 This much, then, is certain: investigation in the perceptual realm can neither prove critical idealism, nor strip the percept of its objective character.
 Still less can the proposition, “The perceived world is mental picture,” be hailed as self-evident and in need of no proof. Schopenhauer begins his main work, The World as Will and Representation [Mental Picture], with the words:
"The world is my mental picture. This truth applies to every living and cognizing being, though human beings alone can bring it into reflected abstract consciousness. And when they actually do so, then philosophical understanding has dawned upon them. It is then clear and evident that we know no sun and no earth, but always only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels the earth; that the world around us is present only as a mental picture, that is, only in relation to something that pictures it, namely ourselves. If any truth may be asserted a priori it is this one: for it expresses the one form of all possible and conceivable experience that is more universal than any other, than time, space, and causality, for all of these presuppose it. . . .
This whole proposition collapses in the face of the fact, noted above, that the eye and hand are percepts no less than the sun and the earth. And thus, in Schopenhauer’s sense, and using his style of expression, we could answer: My eye, which sees the sun, and my hand, which feels the earth, are mental pictures in exactly the same way as the sun and the earth are. With this insight and without further ado, it is clear that I cancel out Schopenhauer’s proposition. For only my real eye and my real hand could have the mental pictures of sun and earth as their modifications, but my mental pictures of eye and hand could not. Yet critical idealism can speak only of these mental pictures.
 Critical idealism is completely unable to gain insight into the relationship of percepts and mental pictures. It cannot begin to make the distinction, mentioned above (cf. p. 59), between what happens to the percept during the process of perceiving and what must already be present in it before it is perceived. To do this, we must take a different path.