Chapter 4 Philosophy of Freedom Steiner

Revised 07/01/2010
Copyright © Tom Last 2009-10

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Philosophy of Freedom Self-Study Course
 Thinking Cognition Ethics
 Chapter 07   reality-based thinking
self  Chapter 08   ethics of self-knowledge  
 Chapter 06   independent thinking  
 mental picture 
 Chapter 09   ethical individualism
 Chapter 05   critical thinking concept  Chapter 10   ethics of authority
 Chapter 04   reactive thinking perception  Chapter 11   ethical naturalism
 Chapter 03   reflective thinking 
thought  Chapter 12   ethical norms
 Chapter 02   one-sided thinking desire  Chapter 13   ethics of self-gratification 
 Chapter 01   compelled thinking will  Chapter 14   group ethics



The Philosophy of Freedom

Chapter 4
The World As Perception


Reflective Thinking: When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation; a conceptual element comes to the object, and we consider the object and the conceptual counterpart as belonging together. When the object disappears from our field of observation, there remains behind only its conceptual counterpart. This is the concept of the object. (4.0)

Question: Is the whole perceived world only a picture called up in my mind?

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Chapter 4 Discussion Forum
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Summary 1
Summary 2
Self-Observation: Reactive Thinking
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Chapter 4 Summary 1

To answer the question whether thinking is alien to the perception we must ask: What, then, does the world present to our senses for observation and, therefore, to our thinking? Single stimulants of sensation --of the sensations of colors, forms, sounds, odors, etc.-- which we will call perceptions, and which are instantly grouped by the mind into what the uncritical näive person calls objects in space, assumed to be wholly independent of himself. Immediately there arises in consciousness a mental counterpart of the perception (or groups of perceptons), which we call a concept --considered by the uncritical person to be a mere reflection of the perception. But we have an inner perception also of the self, as observing subject.

When the object is removed, the mental counterpart remains --for instance, when the organ of observation is the eye, a mental picture remains-- as part of the content of the self, the observing subject. This after-impression we call a representation. As part of the self, or subject, it is obviously subjective. Modern critical science, confused by this fact, has dogmatically called the perception itself also subjective. But thinking, which creates the concepts of both subject and object, and which must, therefore, be a power within us above the level of both subject and object, clearly associates the perception with the object, thus declaring it to be objective.

This fact, however, is not sufficient to establish beyond doubt the objective nature of the perception. We must proceed further in the effort to determine whether it is truly objective or only subjective. Thus far we have taken only the first step in considering that which the world offers to us for observation and thinking. (next summary Chapter 5 Knowing The World)


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Self-Observation: Reactive Thinking

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4.0 Reactive Thinking
When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation; a conceptual element comes to the object, and we consider the object and the conceptual counterpart as belonging together. Concepts are added to observation.

4.1 Conceptual Search
I first search for the concept that fits my observation. Someone who does not reflect further, observes, and is content to leave it at that. I can never gain the concept by mere observation, no matter how many cases I may observe.

4.2 Conceptual Reference
When I as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this reference as something purely subjective. It is not the subject that makes the reference, but thinking.

4.3 Conceptual Relationship
Thinking is able to draw threads from one element of observation to another. It connects specific concepts with these elements and in this way brings them into a relationship with each other.

4.4 Correction Of My Picture Of World
Every broadening of the circle of my perceptions compels me to correct the picture I have of the world. We see this in everyday life, as well as in the intellectual development of humankind.

4.5 Mathematical And Qualitative Picture
I should like to call the dependence of my perception-picture on my place of observation, "mathematical", and its dependence on my organization, "qualitative." The first determines the proportions of size and mutual distances of my perceptions, the second their quality. That I see a red surface as red --this qualitative determination-- depends on the organization of my eye. 

4.6 Subjective Perception-Picture
The recognition of the subjective character of our perceptions can easily lead to doubt whether anything objective underlies them at all. From this point of view, nothing is left of the perception when we take away the act of perceiving.

4.7 Mental Picture: After-effect Of Observation
When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an after-effect of this process remains in my consciousness: a picture of the tree. This element I call my mental picture, my representation of the tree.

4.8 Mental Picture: My Representation Of The World
The Kantian view limits our knowledge of the world to our mental pictures, not because it is convinced that nothing can exist beyond these mental pictures, but rather it believes us to be so organized that we can only experience the change in our own Self, not the thing-in-itself that causes this change. We do not have direct experience of an independent reality, but only our world of mental pictures

4.9 Mental Picture: What My Organization Transmits
Physics, Physiology, and Psychology seem to teach that our organization is necessary for our perceptions, and that, consequently, we can know nothing except what our organization transmits to us from the things.

4.10 Perceived World Is A Projection Of Soul Qualities
All of the qualities that we perceive in the world are the product of the soul and transferred to the external world. The color is only produced in the soul by means of the brain process. But here I am still not conscious of it; the soul must first transfer the color outward onto a body in the external world. There, on this body, I finally believe I perceive it.

4.11
External Perception Is Mental Picture
Can I say that the perception acts on my soul? I must from now on treat the table, --which I used to believe had an effect on me and produced a mental picture of itself in me-- as being itself a mental picture. The perception does not have an objective continued existence. It is only a modified representation of my own psychological condition. If everything is a mental picture then they could have no effect on each other.

4.12 Objective Existence Of Organism
One's own organism has objective existence. Only my real eye and my real hand could have the mental pictures "sun" and "earth" as their modifications; my mental pictures "eye" and "hand" could not have these mental pictures as modifications.


Textbook
The World As Perception


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4.0 Reactive Thinking
[1] Through thinking, concepts and ideas arise. What a concept is cannot be expressed in words. Words can only draw our attention to the fact that we have concepts. When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation; a conceptual element comes to the object,

"When we see a tree, our thinking reacts to our observation..."
and we consider the object and the conceptual counterpart as belonging together. When the object disappears from our field of observation, there remains behind only its conceptual counterpart. This is the concept of the object. The more our range of experience is widened, the larger the number of our concepts. But concepts are not found isolated from one another. They close themselves together into a whole according to inherent laws. For example, the concept "organism" includes others, such as "lawful development" and "growth". Other concepts, formed from individual things, collapse wholly into a unity. All concepts I may form of lions fall into the collective concept "lion". In this way, individual concepts connect into a closed conceptual system in which each has its special place. Ideas are not qualitatively different from concepts. They are only concepts that are more full of content, more saturated, and broader in scope. I emphasize here the fact that thinking is my starting point, and not concepts and ideas which must first be attained by means of thinking. Concepts and ideas already assume thinking as a precondition. 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 make special mention of this, because this is where I differ with Hegel. Hegel puts the concept as first and original.)

[2] Concepts cannot be attained from observation. This can already be seen from the fact that children only slowly and gradually form concepts for the objects that surround them. Concepts are added to observation.  


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4.1 Cause And Effect

[3] Herbert Spencer, a widely read philosopher, describes the mental process we carry out in response to observation as follows:

[4] "If, when wondering through the fields one day in September, we hear a noise a few yards ahead, and at the side of the ditch where it occurs, see the grass in motion, we will probably approach the spot to find out what caused the sound and the movement. As we approach, a partridge flutters in the ditch; with this our curiosity is satisfied --we have what we call an explanation of the phenomena. The explanation, please notice, amounts to this; because we have countless times during our life experienced that a disturbance among small stationary bodies is accompanied by the movements of other bodies located among them, and because we have generalized about such relationships between disturbances and movements, we consider this particular disturbance explained as soon as we find it to be an example of just such a relationship."

When examined more closely the matter looks very different from the way described above. When I hear a noise, I first search for the concept that fits this observation. It is this concept that first points me beyond the noise. Someone who does not reflect further, hears the noise and is content to leave it at that. But my reflection makes it clear to me that a noise is to be understood as an effect. Only when I connect the concept of effect with the perception of the noise, am I moved to go beyond the single observation and look for its cause. The concept “effect” calls up the concept “cause,” and this prompts me to look for the object that is being the cause, which I find in the form of a partridge. But I can never gain the concepts, “cause” and “effect,” by mere observation, no matter how many cases I may observe. Observation evokes thinking, and it is thinking that shows me the way to link one isolated experience with another.



[5] If one demands of a "strictly objective science" that it should take its data only from observation, then one must at the same time demand that it should renounce all thinking. Because thinking, by its very nature, goes beyond what is observed.


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4.2 Conceptual Reference
[6] This is the place now to pass from thinking to the being who thinks. For it is through the thinker that thought is joined with observation. The human mind is the stage where concept and observation meet and are linked together. This is, in fact, what characterizes human consciousness. It is the mediator between thinking and observing. To the extent that the human being observes a thing, this thing appears as given; to the extent the human being thinks, the mind seems to itself to be active. It regards the thing as object and itself as the thinking subject. When thinking is directed upon the observation, we have consciousness of objects; when it is directed upon itself, we have consciousness of ourselves, or self-consciousness. Human consciousness must of necessity be at the same time self-consciousness, because it is a thinking consciousness. For when thinking contemplates its own activity, it has its own inmost being before it, that is, it has its subject before it as an object.

[7] But it must not be overlooked that it is only with the help of thinking that I am able to define myself as subject and contrast myself with objects. For this reason, thinking must never be understood as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object. It forms these two concepts just as it does all others. Therefore, when I as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this reference as something purely subjective. It is not the subject that makes the reference, but thinking. The subject does not think because it is a subject; rather it appears to itself as subject because it can think.
"I, as individual subject, exist by the very grace of thinking."
The activity that the human being exercises as a thinking being is, therefore, not merely subjective, but rather it is an activity that is neither subjective nor objective; it transcends both these concepts. I should never say that I, as an individual subject, think, it is much more the case that I, as individual subject, exist by the very grace of thinking. Thinking is an element which leads me out beyond myself and unites me with the objects. Yet at the same time it separates me from them, inasmuch as I as subject, am set over against them.

[8] This is the basis of the dual nature of the human being: We think, and in so doing embrace both ourselves and the rest of the world. But at the same time it is by means of thinking that we define ourselves as individuals standing against things.

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4.3 Conceptual Relationship
[9] Next, we must ask ourselves: How does the other element, --which we have up to now simply called the ‘object of observation’ and which encounters thinking within our consciousness,-- come into our consciousness at all?

[10] In order to answer this question we must eliminate from our field of observation everything that has been brought into it by thinking. For at any moment the content of our consciousness will already be interwoven with concepts in the most varied ways.

[11] We must imagine that a being with fully developed human intelligence originates out of nothing and faces the world. What it would be aware of, before it brings its thinking into action, would be the pure content of observation. The world would then show this being only the bare collective --without interconnection-- of sense data: colors, sounds, sensations of pressure, warmth, taste and smell; then feelings of pleasure and pain. This aggregate is the content of pure, thought-free observation. Over against it stands thinking, ready to unfurl its activity as soon as a point of attack is found. Experience teaches that a point is soon found. Thinking is able to draw threads from one element of observation to another. It connects specific concepts with these elements and in this way brings them into a relationship with each other. We have already seen how a noise we encounter is connected with another observation by our identifying the noise as the effect of the partridge.

[12] If we now recall that the activity of thinking should never be understood as subjective, then we will not be tempted to believe that the relationships established by thinking have merely a subjective value.

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4.4 Picture Of World
[13] Our next task is to examine, by means of thinking consideration, how the immediately given content of observation --the pure disconnected aggregate of sense data-- relates to our conscious subject.

[14] Because of the varied ways of using words it seems necessary for me to come to an agreement with my readers about the meaning of a word which I will have to use from now on. I will call the immediate objects of sensation mentioned above "perceptions," insofar as the conscious subject becomes aware of them through observation. It is, then, not the process of observation but the object of this observation that is meant by "perception".

[15] I have not chosen to use the term "sensation", because sensation has a specific meaning in physiology that is narrower than my concept of "perception." I can surely call an emotion within myself a perception, but not a sensation in the physiological sense of the term. I also become aware of my feelings by their becoming a perception for me. And the way we become aware of our thinking through observation is such that thinking, too, as it first appears in our consciousness, can be called a perception.

[16] The unreflective (Naive) person regards his perceptions, as they first appear, to be things that have an existence completely independent of him. When he sees a tree he believes, to begin with, that it stands in the shape that he sees it, with the colors of its various parts, and so on, there on the spot towards which his view is directed. When the same person sees the sun appear in the morning as a disc on the horizon, and follows its course, he believes that the whole event actually exists in this way (in and of itself) and goes forward just as he observes it. He clings to this belief until he meets other perceptions that contradict the earlier ones. The child, who does not yet have any experience of distance, reaches for the moon, and only corrects its first impression of what is real, when a second perception contradicts the first.

 
Nicolaus Copernicus
1473–1543

Every broadening of the circle of my perceptions compels me to correct the picture I have of the world. We see this in everyday life, as well as in the intellectual development of humankind.

The picture which the ancients made for themselves of the relationship of the earth to the sun and to the other heavenly bodies had to be replaced by another one, because it was not in agreement with some previously unknown perceptions Copernicus had found.

When Dr. Franz operated on a man born blind, the man said that before his operation he had formed a very different picture of the size of objects from the perceptions of his sense of touch. His tactual perceptions had to be corrected by his visual perceptions. 

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4.5 Mathematical And Qualitative Perception-Picture
[17] Why are we compelled to make these constant corrections to our observations?

[18] A simple reflection brings the answer to this question. When I stand at one end of an avenue of trees, the trees at the other end, away from me, appear smaller and nearer together than those where I am standing. My perception-picture changes to a different one when I change the place from which I make my observations. The form in which the perception-picture presents itself to me is dependent on a condition which is not determined by the object, but by me, the perceiver. It makes no difference to the avenue of trees where I am standing. But the picture I have of it is fundamentally dependent on the place of my viewpoint. In the same way, it makes no difference to the sun and the planetary system that human beings happen to view them from the earth; but the perception-picture of the heavens presented to them is determined by the fact that they inhabit the earth.

This dependence of our perception-picture on our point of observation is the easiest one to understand. But it becomes more difficult when we realize that our perceptual world is also dependent on our bodily and mental organization. The physicist shows us that vibrations of the air take place in the space where we hear a sound, and that also a vibrating movement of its parts is found in the body from which the sound is emitted. We perceive this movement as sound, but only if we have a normally constructed ear. Without this ear the whole world would remain forever silent for us. Physiology teaches us that there are people who perceive nothing of the splendor of color that surrounds us. Their perception-picture shows only shades of light and dark. Others do not perceive just one particular color, such as red, for example. Their world picture lacks this shade of color, and so it is actually different from that of the average person. I should like to call the dependence of my perception-picture on my place of observation, "mathematical", and its dependence on my organization, "qualitative." The first determines the proportions of size and mutual distances of my perceptions, the second their quality. That I see a red surface as red --this qualitative determination-- depends on the organization of my eye. 

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4.6 Subjective Perception
[19] My perception-pictures, then, are at first subjective. The recognition of the subjective character of our perceptions can easily lead to doubt whether anything objective underlies them at all. When we know that a perception, for example the color red or a certain sound, is not possible without a definite structure in our organism, we can easily come to believe that this perception has no permanency apart from our subjective organism and that, without the act of perceiving, --whose object it is-- it would not exist in any sense.

 
Bishop George Berkeley
1685-1753
This view found its classical expression in George Berkeley, who was of the opinion that from the moment we become aware of the importance of the subject for the perception, we are no longer able to believe in a world that exists apart from a conscious mind. He said:

"Some truths are so near and so obvious to the mind that one need only open one’s eyes to see them. One such truth, I maintain, is this important one: that all the choir of heaven and everything that belongs to the earth --in short, all those bodies that together form the vast structure of the world --have no subsistence outside a mind; their being consists in being perceived or cognized; consequently, as long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind or in that of some other created spirit, they either have no existence or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit."

From this point of view, nothing is left of the perception when we take away the act of perceiving. No color exists if none is seen, no sound exists if none is heard. Outside the act of perception, extension, form, and motion exist just as little as color and sound. We never see extension or form on their own, they are always connected with color or some other qualities that are undeniably dependent on our subjectivity. If these qualities disappear when we cease perceiving them, then extension and form, being bound up with them, must disappear also.

[20] To the objection that even if figure, color, sound, and so forth have no other existence outside the act of perceiving them, yet there must still be things that exist independent of my consciousness and are similar to the perception-pictures of my mind, the above view would answer that a color can be similar only to a color, a figure only to a figure. Our perceptions can be similar only to our perceptions and to nothing else. Even what we call an object is nothing but a collection of perceptions which are connected in a certain way. If I strip a table of its shape, size, color, etc. --in short, everything that is merely my perception-- then nothing more remains. If we follow this view to its logical conclusion, it leads to the assertion: The objects of my perception are present only through me, and to be sure, only insofar as, and as long as, I perceive them; they disappear along with the act of perceiving and have no meaning apart from it. Except for my perceptions, I know of no objects and cannot know of any.

[21] There is nothing to object to in this assertion as long as I just bring into consideration the general fact that the perception is partly determined by the organization of myself as subject. It would be substantially different if we were in a position to describe the exact function of our perceiving in the bringing forth of a perception. We would then know what happens to the perception during the act of perceiving, and could also determine what it must already be before it is perceived.

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4.7 Mental Picture: After-effect Of Observation
[22] With this, our investigation of the object of perception leads over to the perceiving subject. I do not perceive only other things; I also perceive myself. The perception of myself consists, first of all, of the content that I am the stable element that remains in contrast to the continual coming and going of the perception-pictures. The perception of my "I" can always appear in my consciousness while I am having other perceptions. When I am absorbed in the perception of a given object, I am for the moment only aware of this object. To this the perception of my Self can be added. I am then conscious not only of the object, but also of my own personality that faces the object and observes it.

I do not just see a tree, but I also know that it is I who see it. I also recognize that something takes place in me while I am observing the tree. When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an after-effect of this process remains in my consciousness: a picture of the tree. This picture has become associated with my Self during my observation. My Self has become enriched; its content has absorbed a new element. This element I call my mental picture, my representation of the tree. I would never be in a position to speak of mental pictures if I did not experience them in the perception of my own Self. Perceptions would come and go; I would let them pass by. It is only because I am aware of my Self, and notice that with every perception the content of my Self also changes, that I am compelled to connect the observation of the object with the change in my own condition, and can speak about my mental picture.

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4.8 Mental Picture: Caused By Unknown Thing-In-Itself
[23] I perceive mental pictures in my Self in the same way that I perceive color, sound, etc. in other objects. I can now make a distinction and call those other objects that confront me the outer world, while I call the content of my Self-perception my inner world. The failure to recognize the true relationship between our representation and the object has led to the greatest misunderstandings in modern philosophy. The perception of an inner change in my Self, the modification that my Self undergoes, has been thrust into the foreground, while the object that causes this modification is lost sight of altogether.

Consequently, it has been said: We do not perceive the objects, but only our representative mental pictures. I supposedly know nothing of the table-in-itself, which is the object of my observation, but only of the change that occurs within me while I am perceiving the table. This view should not be confused with the Berkeleyan view mentioned before. Berkeley upholds the subjective nature of the content of my perceptions, but he does not say that I can know only about my own mental pictures. He limits my knowledge to my mental pictures because, in his view, there are no objects outside the act of mental picturing. What I take to be a table no longer exists, according to Berkeley, when I cease to look at it. For Berkeley, my perceptions immediately originate by the power of God. I see a table because God causes this perception in me. Berkeley knows of no real beings other than God and human spirits. What we call the "world" exists only within spirits. What the naïve person calls the outer world, or physical nature, is for Berkeley non-existent.



Immanuel Kant
1724-1804
This view is confronted by the currently prevailing Kantian view which limits our knowledge of the world to our mental pictures, not because it is convinced that nothing can exist beyond these mental pictures, but rather it believes us to be so organized that we can only experience the change in our own Self, not the thing-in-itself that causes this change. This view concludes --according to the circumstance that I know only my mental pictures-- not that there is no reality independent of these mental pictures, but only that the subject cannot directly receive such a reality into itself; the mind can merely: "through the medium of its subjective thoughts; imagine it, invent it, think it, cognize it, or perhaps even fail to cognize it." (0. Liebmann, On the analysis of Reality) This Kantian view believes it is saying something absolutely certain, something that is immediately obvious, requiring no proof:

“The first fundamental principle that the philosopher must bring to clear consciousness is the recognition that our knowledge, to begin with, does not extend beyond our mental pictures. Our mental pictures are the only things that we have and learn of directly; and just because we have direct experience of them, even the most radical doubt cannot rob us of our knowledge of them. On the other hand, the knowledge that goes beyond my mental picturing --mental picturing is meant in its broadest sense, to include all psychological processes-- is not secure from doubt. Therefore, at the start of all philosophizing, all knowledge that goes beyond mental pictures must expressly be presented as being open to doubt”; so begins Volkelt’s book on Immanuel Kant’s Epistemology

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4.9 Mental Picture: Modification Of Our Organization

What is here presented as though it were an immediate and obvious truth, is really the result of a thought operation that runs as follows:

“Naïve common sense believes that objects, just as we perceive them, also exist outside our minds. But Physics, Physiology, and Psychology seem to teach that our organization is necessary for our perceptions, and that, consequently, we can know nothing except what our organization transmits to us from the things. Our perceptions are, therefore, modifications that occur in our organization, not things-in-themselves.”

This line of thought has in fact been characterized by Eduard von Hartmann as the one which must inevitably convince us of the principle: We can have a direct knowledge only of our mental pictures (from his Basic Problem of Epistemology).

Because we find, outside our organism, vibrations in bodies and in the air that are represented to us as sound, it is concluded that what we call sound is nothing but a subjective reaction of our organism to these motions in the external world. In the same way, color and warmth are found to be only modifications of our organism. And, it is the view that these two kinds of perceptions, color and warmth, are produced in us by the effects of processes in the external world that are thoroughly different from our actual experience of warmth or color. When these processes stimulate the nerves in the skin of my body, I have the subjective perception of warmth; when they meet the optic nerve, I perceive light and color. Light, color, and warmth, then, are the reaction of my sensory nerves to external stimuli. Similarly, the sense of touch does not present me with the objects of the outer world, but only with conditions in myself. In the sense of modern physics we can imagine, for example, that bodies consist of infinitely small particles --molecules-- and that these molecules are not in direct contact with each other, but are a certain distance apart. Between them, then, is empty space. Across this space they affect each other through forces of attraction and repulsion. If I put my hand on a solid object, the molecules of my hand never directly touch those of the object, but there remains a certain distance between object and hand, and what I sense as the object’s resistance is nothing more than the effect of the force of repulsion that its molecules exert on my hand. I am completely outside the object and only perceive its effect on my organism.


Johannes Müller
(1801-1858)
[24] In addition to these considerations, we have the teaching of the so-called Specific Sense Energies, advanced by J. Müller (1801 - 1858). It consists in the fact that each sense has the peculiarity of reacting to all external stimulus in only one specific way. If the optic nerve is stimulated, perception of light results, no matter whether the nerve is stimulated by what we call light, or by a mechanical pressure or an electric current. On the other hand, the same external stimulus applied to different senses evokes different perceptions. This seems to indicate that our senses can transmit only what occurs in themselves, but nothing from the outside world. The senses determine our perceptions, each according to its own nature.


sense organs
[25] Physiology shows that there can also be no direct knowledge of what the objects cause to take place in our sense organs. When physiologists follow the processes that occur in our own body, they find the effects of the external motion modified within the sense organs in the most diverse ways. We can see this most distinctly in the case of eye and ear. Both are very complicated organs which modify the external stimulus considerably before they bring it to the corresponding nerve. From the peripheral end of the nerve the already modified stimulus is then led further to the brain. Only now can the central organs be stimulated. From this the conclusion is drawn that the external process must have undergone a series of transformations before it reaches consciousness. What takes place in the brain is connected with the external stimulus through so many intermediate modifications, that any similarity between them is unthinkable. What the brain finally transmits to the soul is neither external processes, nor processes in the sense organs, but only those that occur in the brain. But even these are not directly perceived by the soul. What we finally have in consciousness are not brain processes at all, but rather sensations. My sensation of red has no resemblance to the processes taking place in the brain when I sense redness. The redness appears only in the mind as an effect that is caused by the brain processes alone. This is why Hartmann (Basic Problem of Epistemology) says, "What the subject perceives are always only modifications of its own psychological states and nothing else."

When I have the sensations, however, they are still far from being grouped together into what I perceive as "things". Only single sensations can be transmitted to me by the brain. The sensations of hardness and softness are transmitted to me through the sense of touch; sensations of color and light through the sense of sight. Yet all of these are found united in one and the same object. This unification, then, can only be caused by the soul itself. This means that the soul assembles the separate sensations, mediated through the brain, into bodies. My brain conveys to me separately --and by widely different paths-- sensations of sight, touch, and hearing that the soul then combines into the mental picture “trumpet”. What is really the last link in a process (the mental picture of the trumpet) is the very first thing that is given to my consciousness. In this last part nothing more can be found of what exists outside me and originally made the impression on my senses. The external object has been entirely lost on its way to the brain and through the brain to the soul.

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4.10 Creation Of Soul
[26] It would be difficult to find in the history of human intellectual life another structure of thought which has been built up with greater ingenuity and yet which, on closer examination, collapses into nothing. Let us take a closer look at the way it has been constructed. It starts with what is given in naïve consciousness; with the thing as it is perceived. Then it shows that all of the qualities that we find in this thing would not be there for us if we had no senses. No eye--no color. So the color does not yet exist in that which affects the eye. The color is the result of the interaction of the eye with the object. The object then, is colorless. But the color is also not found in the eye, for in the eye there is only a chemical or physical process which first has to be conducted by the optic nerve to the brain, and there initiate another process. Even this is not yet the color. The color is only produced in the soul by means of the brain process. But here I am still not conscious of it; the soul must first transfer the color outward onto a body in the external world. There, on this body, I finally believe I perceive it. We have traveled in a complete circle. We become conscious of a colored object. That comes first. Now the thought operation begins. If I had no eye, the object would be, for me, colorless. Therefore I cannot attribute the color to the object. I go in search of it. I look for it in the eye --in vain; in the nerve --in vain; in the brain --also in vain; in the soul; --here I do find it, but not connected to the body. I find the colored body again only on returning to my starting point. The circle has been closed. What the naïve person thinks as existing outside in space, I believe I recognize as a creation of my soul.


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4.11 External Perception Is Mental Picture
[27] As long as one stops here, everything seems to fit beautifully. But we must go over the whole thing again from the beginning. After all, I have so far been dealing with something --the external perception-- of which earlier, as a naive person, I had a totally wrong view. I thought that the perception, just as I perceive it, had an objective continued existence. But now I notice that it disappears with my act of perception, that it is only a modified representation of my own psychological condition. Do I still have, then, any right to start from the perception in my deliberations? Can I say that the perception acts on my soul? I must from now on treat the table, --which I used to believe had an effect on me and produced a mental picture of itself in me-- as being itself a mental picture. But from this it follows logically that my sense organs and the processes going on in them are also only subjective manifestations. I have no right to speak of a real eye, but only of my mental picture of the eye. The same is true of the nerve paths, and the brain process, 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 go though the steps of my act of cognition once more, assuming the correctness of that first circle of thought, then the cognitive act shows itself as a web of mental pictures that, as such, can have no effect on one another. I cannot say that my mental picture of the object acts on my mental picture of the eye, and that the result of this interaction is my mental picture of color. Nor is there any need for saying this. For as soon as it is clear to me that my sense organs and their activity, my nerve and soul processes as well, can only be given through perception, then the circle of thought that I have described shows itself in its full impossibility. It is true: I can have no perception without having the corresponding sense organ. But neither do I have a sense organ without having a perception. I can pass from my perception of a table to the eyes that see it, to the nerves in the skin that touch it, but what takes place in these I can, once again, learn only from perception. And there 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 perception of color just by pointing to the process that takes place in the eye during this perception. Nor do I find the color in the nerve or brain processes; I only connect new perceptions located within my organism, to the first perception that the naïve person locates outside his organism. I only pass from one perception to the next.

[28] In addition, the whole conclusion contains a break in the method of observation. I am in a position to follow the processes taking place in my organism up to those in the brain, even though my assumptions become more and more hypothetical the closer I come to the central processes in the brain. The method of external observation ends with the brain processes, more precisely, it ends with what I would observe if I examine the brain with the help of the instruments and methods of Physics, Chemistry, and so forth. The method of inner observation, or introspection, begins with the sensation and extends to include the construction of things out of the material of sense-data. At the point of transition from brain process to sensation, the sequence of observation is interrupted.



[29] The way of thinking described here, which calls itself “Critical Idealism” --in contrast to the viewpoint of naïve consciousness, which it calls “Naïve Realism”-- makes the mistake of characterizing one group of perceptions as mental pictures, but accepts another group in exactly the same way as naïve realism, which it apparently refutes. Critical Idealism sets out to prove that perceptions have the character of mental pictures; but at the same time it accepts --in naïve fashion-- that perceptions belonging to one's own body as objectively valid facts; and, what is more, it overlooks that it is throwing together two fields of observation, between which it can find no connecting link.

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4.12 Modification Of Real Eye
[30] Critical Idealism can refute Naïve Realism only if, in a naïve-realistic way, it accepts that one's own organism has objective existence. The moment Critical Idealism becomes aware that the perceptions belonging to one's own organism are exactly the same as those assumed by Naive Realism to have objective existence, it can no longer rely on the perceptions of the organism as being a secure foundation. To be consistent, it would have to regard its own subjective organization as a mere complex of mental pictures. But this removes the possibility of thinking that the content of the perceived world is caused by our mind’s organization. One would have to assume that the mental picture "color" is only a modification of the mental picture "eye". So-called Critical Idealism cannot be proven without borrowing from Naïve Realism. The apparent disproving of Naive Realism is achieved only if its own assumptions are uncritically allowed to be valid in another area --without examination.

[31] This much, then, is certain: Investigation within the realm of perceptions does not provide proof of Critical Idealism, and consequently, cannot strip perceptions of their objective character.


Arthur Schopenhauer
1788-1860
[32] Still less can the principle: "The perceived world is my mental picture," be claimed as self-evident and needing 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 is a truth that applies to every living and cognizing being, though human beings alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness; and if they truly do, then philosophical self-consciousness has been attained. It is then clear and certain that we know no sun and no earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels the earth; that the world around us is there only as mental picture, that is, only in relation to something else, to the one who pictures it, namely ourselves. If any truth can be declared a priori, it is this one; for it expresses the one form of all possible and thinkable experience that is more universal than all others, such as time, space, and causality, for all these already presuppose this first form...”

This view, based on the principle above: “The world is my mental picture,” collapses by the fact, already mentioned, that the eye and the hand are perceptions in just the same way as the sun and the earth. Using Schopenhauer's expressions in his own sense, we could answer: My eye that sees the sun, my hand that feels the earth, are my mental pictures just as much as the sun and the earth themselves. When put in this way it is immediately clear that the whole theory cancels itself. Only my real eye and my real hand could have the mental pictures "sun" and "earth" as their modifications; my mental pictures "eye" and "hand" could not have these mental pictures as modifications. It is only in terms of these mental pictures that Critical Idealism is allowed to speak.

[33] Critical idealism is in no position to form a view about the relationship between perception and mental picture. It cannot begin to make the distinction, mentioned above in par. 21, between what happens to the perception during the act of perception and what it must already be before it is perceived. To do this, we must take a different path.

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Chapter 4 Summary 2

The World As Perception
What's a concept? According to Steiner, we can arrive at an understanding of "concept" if we think about what happens when a person sees a tree. When we observe a tree, we immediately think, bringing forth the idea of tree. Even after the object disappears from view, we continue to hold the thought form of the tree. This is the concept of the tree. The difference between ideas and concepts is that ideas are "fuller in content, more saturated, and wider in scope (47)." Since thinking is the means to acquiring ideas and concepts, thinking precedes concepts--a difference, Steiner notes, between himself and Hegel.

On the matter of causality, Steiner maintains that "cause" and "effect" cannot be understood through simple observation. Only thinking can bring together the observed cause and the observed effect in a conceptual pattern that relates one to the other. Accordingly, an objective science that pretends to rely on "observation alone" is a science that has abandoned thinking.

From thinking to the thinker
Human consciousness, says Steiner, mediates between observation and thinking, which gives the illusion that thinking is a dualistic, subject-object activity. We believe that the thinking subject can either take something from the outside world as its object, or take its own thinking activity as its object. But, Steiner argues, "(t)hinking is beyond subject and object (49)." Thinking is the thing that forms the concepts of "subject" and "object," so thinking is not merely a subjective activity. "I must never say my individual subject thinks; it is much more the case that my subject itself lives by the grace of thinking (50)."

The object comes into consciousness
Steiner invites us to imagine a person with fully developed intelligence dropping out of nowhere into the world. This person starts to see, smell, and hear things, but has no prior experience of any of the world's phenomena. Yet, because this person possesses the ability to think, thinking will begin immediately to form connections between the stuff of the external world. This thinking is not subjective, though--it is the activity that makes observed data intelligible.

The objects of observation, i.e., the things the person sees, hears, and smells are "perceptions."

The subjective nature of perceptions
Perception, says Steiner, is the object of both observation and sensation--but it is not the thing observed, nor the thing sensed. Perception is what happens when the subject, through thinking, takes hold of an object or an emotion, and comes to some knowledge of them. The difference between a sensed observation, and a thought perception seems analogous to the difference between David Hume's "impression" and "idea," the latter being the result of impressions that are reflected upon. Perception is thus a term that can also be used to describe the thinking that first works upon the observed or felt thing to make it a known thing.

After establishing this relationship between thinking and perception, Steiner goes on to say that perceptions will change as other sense data and other perceptions enter consciousness to either build upon or contradict earlier perceptions. "Every broadening of the circle of my perception obliges me to correct my picture of the world (52)."

Elaborating on the subjective component of the perception, Steiner identifies two subjective properties of the perception--the first property, "mathematical," relates to the actual physical position of the observer vis a vis the object; the other is "qualitative," a term which relates to the soundness of the physical organs which sense the object.

The subjective quality of perception
Perception seems to be a highly subjective operation, so much so that many philosophers in the western tradition have denied the existence of any objective world apart from the mind. Steiner quotes George Berkeley at length, demonstrating Berkeley's famous position that if objects "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 (55)." The logical conclusion of this thinking, as Steiner observes, is the belief that nothing exists outside of perception.

But, says Steiner, this is a limited appreciation of perception, because the function of perceiving depends on the existence of things outside ourselves.

The object of perception is not only the thing outside ourselves, but also our own "I"s in the act perceiving. "When I am absorbed in the perception of a given object, I have for the moment only a consciousness of it. To this can then come the perception of my self. I am from then on not only conscious of the object, but also of my personality, which stands before the object and observes it (56)."

Once we perceive something, we form a picture of that thing, and retain it. The formation of these "mental pictures," or "representations" (vorstellung), occur as part of our perception of ourselves (in addition to our perception of the thing) and they change us.

Mental pictures and subjectivity
Steiner describes the subjective quality of perception with so much precision you would almost think he is arguing for it--what he's actually doing is showing the degree to which modern philosophy has created the subject-centered definition of perception--only to destabilize it in the final pages of this chapter.

He begins by talking about the "mental picture," which is formed when an external object makes a sense impression on an observer and the observer forms a self-conscious thought about it. The mental picture is now an object of perception too, and the experience of this perception makes an "enriching" change in the observer. The mental picture becomes such a part of the subject observer, that it comes to be seen as the primary object of perception, replacing the external object that was observed in the first place. As Steiner writes, "I supposedly know nothing about the table-in-itself, which is the object of my observation, but only about the change which takes place within my self while I am perceiving the table (57)."

While Berkeley made the radical argument that there was no object world outside of these mental pictures, Kant brought this kind of extreme idealism back to earth--somewhat. He asserted that there could be an objective, a priori "thing-in-itself," but we were unable to know anything of that thing-in-itself beyond what our mental pictures told us. Thus, according to Kant, we are still limited to our mental pictures, and by the cognitive apparatus that perceives them. Our physical and mental "organization" then, is the property that determines the way we perceive the world--the absolute objective Real is not something we can make certain judgments about. The external world is only a source of sense stimuli that the subject's physio-mental organism processes into knowledge.

This assumption about perception has huge implications for modern knowledge because it drives all psychology and cognitive sciences. As long as the brain, nervous system, and senses are the things that determine our perception, we need not worry about any underlying meaning in the object world--not only is it unknowable, it makes no real change to the way we perceive--only the operations between the sense-impression and the brain process does. Quoting Edouard von Hartmann, Steiner writes "What the subject perceives are always only modifications of his own psychic states, and nothing else (62)."

Ultimately (according to this kind of subject-based thinking) any meaningful connection between the external object world and the inner soul is lost to the internal operations of the cognitive, self-perceiving apparatus.

Uncovering the problem of purely subjective perception
Steiner recapitulates the subjective position: if there are no senses, there is no perception. The subject, due to its physical organization produces the perception, and it produces these perceptions on the basis of "mental pictures" of the object.

"But then my sense organs and the processes in them are also merely subjective. I have no right to speak of a real eye, but only my mental picture of an eye. It is just the same with the nerves and the brain process, and no less so with the occurrence of the soul itself through which things are supposedly built up out of the chaos of manifold sensations (64)."

What this means is that even though we may argue that perceptions are derived subjectively from the operations of the physical organism, the physical organism itself can't claim any "objective" reality more absolute than the object perceived. So "critical realism," (subjective realism), is no more authentic than "naive realism" (objective realism)--in fact it "naively" assumes, without critical examination, the objective reality of the subject's perceptive apparatus.

Steiner thus refutes Schopenhauer's axiomatic "The perceived world is my mental picture (vorstellung, 67)." Subjective reality as a model for perception is shown to be unsatisfactory, and "another path must be taken (68)." (next summary Chapter 5 Knowing The World)


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