John's Second Draft of Chapter 3 [4]

Submitted by John Ralph on Fri, 01/07/2011 - 6:29pm.

Chapter 3 [4] second draft JR Work-in-Progress 20110316 

Colour code: [John’s comments] unresolved options preferred options
A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought.
There is visible labour and there is invisible labour.   -- Victor Hugo
Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament,
and for anything I know it may be glandular. -- Robertson Davies
[1918 Chapter 3] 1894 Chapter 4:
The Contribution of Thinking to the Creation of a World Outlook
Thinking as the Instrument of Science
Thinking as an Instrument of Observation
How Thinking Serves the Observation of the World
The Contribution of Thinking to a World Outlook
3.0 Reflective Thinking
[1] When I watch how a billiard ball, that has been set in motion, strikes and transfers its motion to another ball, I have no influence on the course of events I observe. [Note: billiard balls are similar to pool balls.] [a course of events is an active process. Process is used later. This is significant because the fulcrum of this chapter is the activity of thinking as an productive process.] The direction and speed of the second ball’s motion are determined by the direction and speed of the first one. As long as I do nothing but observe, I cannot say anything about the motion of the second ball until after it has moved. The situation is entirely different when I begin to think about what I have observed.

The purpose of my reflective thinking is to establish the concepts of the process I have observed. I connect the concept of a ball’s elasticity to other specific concepts of mechanics, and consider the unique circumstances of this particular event. I look at the process that occurs independently of me and I add a second process which takes place in the sphere of concepts. This additional conceptual process depends entirely on me. This is demonstrated by the fact that if I am satisfied to merely observe, I will not choose to search for concepts that I do not need. But if concepts are needed, then I will not be satisfied until I have established the exact connection between the concepts of ball, elasticity, motion, impact, velocity and so on, that applies specifically to the process I have observed. The observed process certainly happens without my participation, and it is equally certain that the conceptual process can only happen because I do it.

[2] We will examine later whether this activity of mine is actually a product of my independent existence, or whether today’s physiologists are right to say that we cannot think whatever we want because it is the thoughts, together with their connections that we have in mind at the time, that determine exactly what we have to think. (Compare Theodor Ziehen, Principles of Physiological Psychology, 1893, 5. 171)

At this point we only wish to establish the fact that we always feel compelled to search for the concepts and conceptual connections that relate specifically to the objects and events that are presented to us without our explicit involvement. Whether this is in fact our own activity, or whether there is an inescapable necessity that controls us, we will leave open for now. There is no question that this activity initially appears to be ours. We know for certain that objects are not presented to us at the same time as their corresponding concepts. As far as immediate observation is concerned, the conceptual process appears to be my own activity. The question at this moment is: What do we achieve with this additional task of finding concepts that correspond to an event?
[see Correspondence Theory e.g.]

[3] How the various parts of an event relate to one another before the discovery of their corresponding concepts is, for me, profoundly different from their relationship afterwards. Observation, on its own, can only follow the details of an event as they happen, one after the other, but their relationship to each other remains dark without the additional help of concepts. If I observe a billiard ball initially moving in a certaindirection and with a specific velocity towards a second one, without knowing in advance what will happen if there is an impact, I must wait until I can follow it with my eyes. Suppose someone obstructs my view of the event at the moment of impact; as mere observer, I will know nothing of what happens next. The situation is very different if I have already discovered the constellation of active influences before my view is obstructed. In that case I can describe what is about to happen, even if I am no longer able to observe it. On its own, the observation of an object or event reveals nothing that connects it to other objects or events. These connections are only revealed when observation is combined with thinking.

[4] Observation and thinking are the two starting points for the whole of humanity’s mental striving. [Whatever term we choose here must be the same as our choice for this term in Chapter 2: currently mental striving.] The application of general common sense and the most complex scientific research both rest on these two pillars of the conscious mind. Philosophers have started from various polarities [antitheses or dichotomies]: idea and reality, subject and object, appearance and the thing-in-itself, I and not-I [world], idea and will, concept and matter, energy and substance, consciousness and unconsciousness. But it is easy to show that these must all be preceded by observationandthinking, which is the primarypolarity for human beings.

[5] Whenever we want to establish a principle, we must either prove that we have observed it somewhere, or we must formulate it with clear reasoning that others can think through again. When philosophers set out fundamental principles, they must express them in conceptual form and so they use thinking. By doing so they indirectly admit that their work takes their thinking for granted beforehand.
Whether the key element in the evolution of the world is thinking or something else, we will not determine yet. But it is clear from the start that, without thinking, philosophers cannot achieve any knowledge of world evolution. Although thinking may play little part in establishing world phenomena, when it comes to establishing a view about them, thinking’s supreme role begins.

[6] Our need for observation lies in our constitution. Our thinking about a horse and the horse that stands there as an object are two things for us, that occur separately. Our only access to the actual object isby means of observation. We have little ability to produce a concept of the horse by just staring at it, and we cannot produce the corresponding object by merely thinking about it.

3.1 Observation of Thinking
[7] Observation comes at an even earlier point in time than thinking. We even observe thinking first in order to learn about it. That was the point made in the observation described at the beginning of this chapter, which showed how thinking is sparked off by an event, and how its additional activity then reaches beyond what was presented to our sight. We only become aware that something enters the circle of our experience by observing it. It is observation that presents us with the content of our sensations, perceptions, opinions, feelings, acts of will, dreams and fantasies, mental impressions, concepts and ideas, illusions and hallucinations.

[8] However, there is an essential difference between thinking and all other objects of observation. The observation of a table, or a tree, comes to my notice as soon as these objects appear on the horizon of my field of consciousness. But I do not observe my thinking about these things at the same time. As I observe the table, thinking leads away from me to the table, but I do not observe this thinking process at that same moment. If I want to observe my thinking about the table in addition to observing the table, I must first become detached from the place of my own activity. While the observation of objects and events, and the thinking processes about them, are everyday occurrences that fill the course of my life, the observation of thinking itself is a situation of exceptional alertness. This fact must be properly taken into account when we compare thinking – as an object of observation – to everything else we can observe. When we observe thinking, we must be clear that we are applying the same method that we use to study any other object in the world, although this method is not usually applied to thinking itself.

3.2 Formation of a Concept/The Thinker’s Relationship to Concepts
[9] The objection could be raised that what I have just pointed out in relation to thinking is the same for feeling and all other conscious activities [mental is too narrow here]. For example, if a feeling of pleasure [German: Lust echoes the Goethe quote at the head of the previous chapter] is aroused by an object, it is also the object that I am observing, not the feeling of pleasure. This objection is based on an error. The relationship of pleasure towards an object is quite different from the connection of a concept to the thinking that produced it. I am completely conscious in myself that my own activity has shaped the concept of something, however that object may cause pleasure to arise in me in the same way as, for instance, a falling stone has an effect when it hits something. The pleasure and its cause are both presented to the observer in exactly the same way.

This is not the same with concepts. I can ask why a particular event causes a feeling of pleasure in me. But I cannot really ask why that event causes a specific number of concepts in me. The question simply makes no sense. When I am studying an event, I do not think about how it affects me. After observing the effect of throwing a stone at a windowpane, I cannot learn anything about myself from the corresponding concepts. However I definitely learn something about my personality when I know what feeling that particular event arouses in me. When I observe an object in front of me and say that "this is a rose", I am not saying the slightest thing about myself; but if I say that the same thing "produces a feeling of pleasure in me", my relationship to the rose characterizes not only the rose, but also myself.

3.3 Thinking about an Object
[10] So it cannot be said that, as objects of observation, thinking is similar to feeling. It can easily be demonstrated that this difference is the same for other conscious human activities [avoiding spiritual; mental makes no sense here]. Thinking is different to all other observed objects or events.

It belongs to the unique nature of thinking that it is an activity focussed entirely on the observed object, and not towards the thinker’s personality. This is even evident in the way we express our thoughts about an object, as opposed to how we express our feelings or acts of will. When I see an object and recognize it as a table, I would not normally say, "I am thinking of a table", but rather, "this is a table". However I could certainly say, "I am pleased with the table". In the first example it seems beside the point to mention that I have entered into a relationship with the table; in the second example the relationship actually is the point. By saying, "I am thinking of a table", I declare that I have entered into that exceptional situation described above, where I am observing the process that is always involved in our conscious activity, although it is not normally observed.

[11] The unique nature of thinking is that the thinker forgets it while actually doing it. The thinking process is not being observed, but the object to which the thinking is being applied.

[12] The first observation we make about thinking is that it is the unobserved element in our habitual conscious life.

[13] The only reason we do not notice thinking during our everyday conscious life is because it relieson our own activity. Whatever I have not produced myself enters my field of observation as an object. I find myself confronted by something that is none of my doing, and I have to accept what comes towards me as the starting point for my thinking process. While I am thinking about this object, I concentrate by focussing my attention on it. Such concentration is absolutely justified when reflecting on thinking. I direct my attention, not at my own activity, but at the object of this activity. In other words, I do not see the thinking that I am producing while I think because I am concentrating on what I am not producing at this moment, which is the object of my thinking now.

3.4 Thinking about Thinking
[14] I am also in exactly the same position when I am able to enter into the exceptional situation of thinking about my own thinking. I can only observe what I am experiencing, which is never my thinking while I am doing it; I can only think about what I have achieved with my thought process afterwards. If I wanted to observe my thinking while I was doing it, I would have to split myself into two personalities: one to think, and the other to observe this thinking. This I cannot do. I can only achieve it through two separate actions. If thinking is to be observed, it can never be the thinking currently in progress, but only another instance. For this purpose it makes no difference whether I observe my own previous thinking or follow the thinking process of another person or, in the end, set up an imaginary thinking process beforehand, like the above example of billiard ball motion.

[15] Two things cannot be combined simultaneously: productive activity and detached viewing. This is already known in the First Book of Moses. God was able to create the world in the first six days, and it was only possible to survey what had been achieved after it was in existence: “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good” [Genesis: 1,31]. It is the same with our thinking. It must be there first before we can observe it.
3.5 Knowing the Content of Thinking
[16] It is basically impossible to observe thinking in progress for the same reason that makes it possible for us to know thinking more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world. It is just because we produce it ourselves that we know the distinguishing characteristics of the process and the details of how it has taken place. We know directly, from our own thinking, what can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation: the relevant factual context and the relationships between individual objects.

Without going beyond mere observation, I do not know why thunder follows lightning; but I know directly, from the content of the two concepts, why my thinking connects the concept of thunder with lightning. This happens naturally and does not depend onwhether I have impeccable concepts of lightning and thunder. Their relationship becomes clear to me through the nature of whatever concepts I have.

3.6 Guided by Thoughts/the Content of Thinking
[17] This transparent clarity of the thinking process is completely independent of our knowledge of the physiological basis of thinking. I am speaking here of the thinking we can observe within our own mental activity. While I am thinking, I do not observe how physical processes in my brain cause [veranlaßt] or influence one another. Observation of my own thinking does not show me what process in my brain connected the concept of lightning with thunder, but what caused [veranlaßt] me to bring the two concepts into a conclusive relationship. My observation shows me that, when I am thinking about connections,I have nothing to guide me but the content of my thinking; the physical processes in my brain give me no guidance.In a less materialistic age than ours this remark would obviously be entirely superfluous. However, as there are people today who are convinced that once we know what matter is, we will also know how matter thinks, it is necessary to point out that thinking can be discussed without gatecrashing into brain physiology.

For many people today it has become difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking. Anyone who immediately counters this conscious awareness [Vorstellung!], which I have developed here from thinking, with the assertion of Cabanis, who declares that "the brain secretes thoughts as the liver gall or the salivary glands saliva", simply does not understand what I have just described. Such a person is attempting to find thinking through nothing more than an observation process, in the same way that we would approach any other object in the world. But as I have shown, thinking cannot be found in this way because it escapes normal observation. Anyone who cannot transcend Materialism has not acquired the ability to enter the exceptional situation I have described, where consciousness is brought to what remains unconscious in all other mental activity. It is as difficult to describe colour to an unsighted person as it is to speak about thinking to those who, without goodwill, are unable to look at it from this exceptional situation. [There is an issue of inadvertent discrimination against the non-sighted to be avoided here.] Such people should, at least, not believe that we would accept thinking as a physiological process. They cannot explainthinking clearly because they simply do not perceive it.

3.7 Existence as the Content of Thinking

[18] For everyone else who can observe thinking – and, with goodwill, every normally constituted person has this ability – it is absolutely essential to make these observations yourself. Here we can observe something that we have produced ourselves, for we are not confronted by anything that is initially unfamiliar, but purely by our own activity. We know how what we are observing has happened. Its connections and relationships are transparent to us. A point of absolute certainty has now been reached from where we can reasonably hope to discover a clear explanationfor all other world phenomena.

[19] The experience of finding this same point of absolute certainty led the founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, to base the whole of human knowledge on the statement: “I think, therefore I am”. Everything else, every other event exists separately from me, and I do not know if it is truth, illusion or dream. Only one thing I know with absolute certainty, for I am certain that I bring it into existence: my thinking. Although it may also have another origin, coming perhaps from God or from elsewhere, there it is, and I am certain that I have produced its meaningful existence. Descartes had no justification, at this point, for giving his words any other meaning. He could only claim that, of all there is in the world, I can only understand what I harvest myself in my very own activity of thinking.

What the additional rider, "therefore I am", means has often been debated. It only makes sense in one single situation. The simplest statement I can make about anything is that it is: it exists. The existence of something cannot be explained as soon as I lay eyes on it, at the same time as it enters the horizon of my experience. Every object must be studied in relation to others before we can determine anything meaningful to say about its existence. The experience of an event could be a series of perceptions, but so could a dream, a hallucination, and so forth. I cannot immediately tell the meaning of its existence. I will notbe able to determinethis directly from events themselves, however I will find out when I consider the event in relation to other things. But even then, I will learn nothing more than how this event relates to those other things. My investigation only reaches certain ground when I find an object where I can determine the meaning of its existence directly from it as it is. As a thinker I am such an object myself, for I give to my existence the defining, self-supporting content of my thinking activity. From here I can go on to ask whether other things exist with the same or a different significance.

3.8 Remaining within Thinking
[20] When thinking becomes an object of observation, something that usually escapes unnoticed is added to everything else that can be observed in the world, but the way all these things are approached remains unchanged. The number of observed objects increases, but not the methods of observation. While we are observing these other things that are involved in world events – and here I include even observation – a process emerges that is overlooked. This process differs from everything else that happens, and it emerges without being noticed. However when I observe my own thinking, no such unheeded element is present. For now what hovers in the background is only thinking itself. The object being observed has the same distinguishing qualities as the activity directed towards it. This is another unique characteristic of thinking. When we observe thinking, we are not compelled to use something else to help us that has a different quality; we can stay within the same element.

[21] In my thinking, when I spin a web around an object that appears without my activity, I go beyond my observation, and questions will arise: What gives me any justification for doing this?Why not let the object just influence me? How is it possible for my thinking to relate to the object? These are questions that must confront everyone who thinks about their own thinking processes. But they fade away when thinking about thinking itself. As we add nothing foreign to our thinking, we have nothing external to justify.

3.9 Creation before Cognition/Knowing
[Tom, if you want cognition at this point, it needs to be in the text too. It isn’t, and as far as I can see, I won’t be.]
[22] Schelling says that "the discovery [German: erkennen] of Nature means the creation of Nature". If we take this bold nature philosopher’s words literally, we will have to abandon a lifetime’s riches of natural history study. Nature already exists, so we would have todiscover all its original principles in order to create it a second time. To re-create nature we would first need to replicate the already existing conditions. This replication, needed to prepare the work of creating, would already be the discovery of nature, even if nothing were created afterwards. Even a non-existent nature could not be created without discovering it first.

[23] What we cannot do with nature – creation before discovery – we can achieve with thinking. If we want to wait until we have discovered all there is to know about thinking before beginning to think, we never will. We must determinedly start thinking, and only afterwards, by means of observation, discover what we have done. Thinking is the one and only object of observation that we create ourselves, for all other objects are presented to us without our participation.

[24] My suggestion that we must think before we can study our thinking could be readily countered by making a comparison to digestion, which we can also do without waiting until we have observed the process. A similar objection was made to Descartes by Pascal, who declared that one could just as well say, "I walk, therefore I am". Certainly I must also determinedly start digesting before I have studied the physiological process of digestion. But this would only be comparable to thinking about my thinking if I did not apply thinking to my digestion afterwards, but wanted instead to eat and digest it. There is simply no basis for applying digestion to digestion, however applying thinking to thinking is perfectly possible.

[25] So it is beyond any doubt that in thinking we hold world events by the tail, [Why not corner? There are subtle references here: previously to Münchausen’s pigtail, and below to thinking being the tail end of the evolutionary tree.] and there we must be, where nothing could happen if we were not.And now we arrive atthe crucial point. The reason why the things that confront me are so puzzling is precisely because they are not the results of my own activity. I simply find them there in front of me, whereas I know exactly how thinking has occurred. This is why the study of any world event can have no initial starting point other than thinking.

3.10 Principle of Self-Subsistence [what does this mean? Self-sufficiency? Self-Supporting Existence?]
[26] Now I would like to point out a widespread error regarding thinking. It is said that thinking, as it really is, never reveals itself to us.  The thinking that brings together the observations of our experiences and entwines them into a lattice of concepts, is not at all the same as the type of thinking that we use later on to separate objects out in order to study them. What we weave into things, unconsciously at first, is completely different from what we consciously draw out of them later.

[27] Anyone who holds this view does not comprehend that it is still impossible to escape from thinking in this way. I cannot leave thinking behind when I want to study thinking. If we separate out pre-conscious thinking from subsequent conscious thinking, we should not forget that this division is purely external, and does not change the thinking it is applied to. When I study something by means of thinking, I do not make it into something else.

I can imagine that a being with very different sense organs, and a functionally different intellect, could have a completely different conscious awareness [mental impression] of a horse than mine, but I cannot conceive that my own thinking becomes something different when I observe it. I observe what I have created myself, exactly as it is. How my thinking is obscured from a different intellect to my own is not the issue here, but how it is obscured from me. In any case, the image of my thinking within another intellect could not be more authenticthan mine. However if I am confronted by some thinking that is not mine, but the activity of a unfamiliar being, I could only say that, while my own imagination of this thinking might take a certain course, by no means could I really know the other being’s thinking exactly as it is.

[28] I can see no reason to look at my own thinking from another point of view that is less certain than my own. With the help of thinking, I study everything else in the world. Why should I make an exception of my own thinking?

[29] I consider that this is justification enough for starting my study of the world from thinking. [Here is an echo of Chapter 1:16.] When Archimedes had invented the lever he thought he could use it to lift the whole cosmos off its hinges if he could only find a point that would support his implement. He needed a self-supporting point that did not stand on anything else. With thinking we have a principle that is free-standing. [literally: exists out of itself] From here every attempt to understand the world begins. We can understand thinking by means of thinking. The only question is whether we can understand anything else by the same means.

3.11 Conceptual Explanation/Consciousness
[30] So far I have discussed thinking without considering the human consciousness that conveys it. Most of today’s philosophers will complain to me that, before thinking, there must be consciousness. Therefore consciousness is the point of departure, and not thinking. There is no thought without consciousness. To this I must reply that, on the contrary, if I want to clarify the relationship between thinking and consciousness, I have to think about it. I put thinking first. The response will be that, although philosophers who want tounderstand consciousness certainly apply thinking, this is jumping ahead; in the normal course of life, thinking only arises in consciousness, so consciousness always precedes thinking. Had this answer been presented to the World Creator when He was about to create thinking, it would no doubt have been entirely justified. Of course nobody can begin thinking before consciousness has arisen. However, it is not the business of philosophers to create the world, but to understand it. Therefore they have to search for the starting point from which they can understand the world, not create it.

I find it bizarre [very strange] when philosophers are criticized for being preoccupied with the justification of their principles before everything else, rather than immediately turning to the objects they want to understand. The World Creator had to know, before everything else, how to find a medium for thinking; philosophers however, have to seek a firm foundation from where they can understand what already exists. What will we achieve by starting from consciousness and subjecting it to reflective thinking, if we do not know beforehand whether it is even possible for thinking to inform us about anything?

[31] We must first consider thinking completely on its own and without distraction, without reference to any subject to think about, or any object to imagine. For with a subject or an object we already have concepts produced by thinking. There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thinking must be understood. Anyone who would deny this has not noticed that, as a human being, they are not the first linkin creation but the last. [see Glied end note] Therefore, to clearly explain the world by means of concepts, we cannot start from the earliest elements of existence, but we must begin with the element that is closest and most intimately connected to us. We cannot take ourselves back to the beginning of the world with a single leap in order to begin our study there; instead we must start from what immediately confronts us, and see if we can climb up from the latter to the former. Geology groped in darkness while it debated imaginary upheavals to explain the earth’s present condition. It only achieved a firm footing when it began to investigate the processes that are currently working upon the earth, and reasoned backwards from the present to the past. As long as philosophy makes assumptions about all its potential principles, such as the atom, motion, matter, will, or the unconscious, it will remain suspended in mid air. Only when philosophers observe the very last thing first will they achieve their aims. The very last thing that world evolution has just produced is thinking.

3.12 The Application of Thinking
[32] Some say that we cannot determine with certainty whether our thinking is justifiable in itself or not. To the extent that this is so, and regardless of anything else, it will remain a doubtful starting point. It would be just as clever to doubt whether a tree is justified or not. It is a fact that thinking exists, and it is meaningless to discuss whether that is right or wrong. The most I can doubt is whether thinking is applied with adequate justification, just as I can doubt whether the wood of a certain tree is used appropriately for a particular implement. The specific purpose of this book will be to demonstrate how far the application of thinking to the world is justifiable or misguided. I can understand anyone who  harbours doubts about how much can be determined by means of thinking about the world, but it is incomprehensible to me how anyone can doubt whether thinking itself is justifiable.
======== end of chapter =========
[Paragraph 31. German: Glied in Anfangsglied and Endglied. I cannot yet see how to completely replicate, in English, the colourful capacity of German to conjure up limb, branch and link in one word. Ideally the translation will contain all three, and not take only one facet, because they all reference other parts of the text. Previous translators have opted for link, which is dead as a door handle, but it unlatches the later discussion of Darwin. A link is usually connected at either end, and the ‘last shall be first’ appears earlier (para. 30) and also later in this paragraph. So link is rather good, but inert. However, the other meanings also have to be considered, or at least attempted, because they are there in the German word and also reference other parts of the text.  These are limb, as instruments active will, and branch, which echoes the tree of this and the previous chapters.  The Tree of Knowledge and the evolutionary Tree of Life are also implicit here (for anyone who accepts the word of the World Creator). Neither of these are inert. Flowering is more lively. Although the flower seeds the next plant, it is not as obvious to the reader as the link option. I have not gone for flowering tendril (has an active connecting gesture) or flowering bud, because they are too florid. Other options could be: member, step (suggested by a native German), rung, offshoot, bud, seed, upstart.  The current option remains in creative process, and is thrown open to the inspiration of others.]