page contents

Chapter 2 Scientific Impulse

The Philosophy Of Freedom
Chapter 2 Scientific Impulse

The Inner Truth Of Desire

Compare Our World-Content With Our Thought-Content

Prezi Script


Two souls, alas, dwell within my breast,
Each withdraws from and repels the other.
One is bound to earth with primal, passionate zest,
Clinging with every fiber of its being;
The other soars, spurning the dust,
Ever wings its voyage to lofty meadows of the blest.
(Faust I, lines 1112-1117)

2.0 Striving For Knowledge
[1] With these words Goethe expresses a characteristic deeply rooted in human nature. The human being is not a self-contained whole. He always demands more than what the world itself offers. Nature gives us needs, among them are some left to our own activity to satisfy. Abundant are the gifts we have received, yet more abundant are our desires. We seem born to be dissatisfied. A special case of this dissatisfaction is our desire to know.

We look twice at a tree. The first time we see its branches at rest, the second time in motion. We are not satisfied with this observation. Why, we ask, does the tree appear first at rest and then in motion? Every look at the natural world raises questions. Every phenomenon we meet is a new problem to be solved. Every experience is a riddle. We observe a creature similar to the mother animal emerging from the egg, and ask the reason for this similarity. We observe a living being grow and develop to a certain degree of perfection, and seek the underlying causes. Nowhere are we satisfied with what nature displays before our senses. We look everywhere for what we call an explanation of the facts.

[2] The something more we seek in things, exceeds what is given to us in immediate observation. What we add splits our entire existence into two parts. We become conscious of our opposition to the world. We place ourselves over against the world as an independent being. The universe appears to us as two opposing sides: Self and World.

[3] We erect this wall of separation between ourselves and the world as soon as consciousness lights up within us. But we never lose the feeling we belong to the world, that a bond connects us to it, and that we are beings whose place is not outside, but within the universe.

[4] This feeling makes us strive to bridge the opposition. And in the final analysis the entire spiritual striving of humankind consists in bridging this antithesis. The history of the spiritual life is a continuous quest for the unity between ourselves and the world. This aim is pursued equally by religion, art, and science. The religious believer is dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance. He seeks in the revelations granted him by God, the solution to the world problem which his Self sets before him. The artist seeks to embody into his material the Ideas of his Self, in order to reconcile the spirit that lives in him with the outer world. He, too, feels dissatisfied with the world of mere appearance and seeks to build into it that something more which his Self, transcending mere appearance, contains. The thinker seeks the laws at work in the world of phenomena. He strives to penetrate with thinking what he learns by observing. Only when we have made the world-content into our thought-content, do we find again the unity from which we have separated ourselves. We will see later this goal can only be reached when the task of scientific research is understood on a deeper level than is usually the case.

The whole of what I have described here is found historically in the contrast between the one-world view, or Monism, and the two-world view, or Dualism. Dualism pays attention only to the separation between Self and World brought about by human consciousness. Its whole effort is a futile struggle to reconcile these two sides, which it calls Mind and Matter, Subject and Object, or Thought and Appearance. The Dualist feels there must be a bridge between the two worlds, but is incapable of finding it.

Monism pays attention only to the unity and tries either to deny or to slur over the opposites, present though they are. Neither of these two points of view can satisfy us, for they do not do justice to the facts. The Dualist sees in Mind (Self) and Matter (World) two essentially different entities, and cannot therefore understand how they can interact with one another. How should Mind be aware of what goes on in Matter, seeing that the essential nature of Matter is quite alien to Mind? Or how in these circumstances should Mind act upon Matter, so as to translate its intentions into actions? The most absurd hypotheses have been propounded to answer these questions.

The position of the Monists, so far, has not been much better. They have tried three different solutions. Either they deny Mind and become Materialists; or they deny Matter in order to seek their salvation as Spiritualists. Or else they claim Mind and Matter are inseparably united even in the world’s simplest entities, so it is not surprising to find these two forms of existence present in the human being, since after all, they are never found apart.

2.1 Materialism
[5] Materialism can never provide a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin by forming thoughts about the phenomena of the world. So Materialism starts with thoughts about Matter and material processes. In doing so, it already has two different kinds of facts before it: the material (physical) world and the thoughts about it. The Materialist tries to understand thought by regarding it as a purely material process. He believes thinking takes place in the brain in much the same way digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he attributes mechanical, chemical, and organic processes to Matter, so he credits it in certain circumstances with the ability to think. He overlooks that all he has done is shift the problem to another place. The Materialist attributes the power of thinking to Matter, instead of to himself. And this brings him back to his starting point. How does Matter come to reflect upon its own nature? Why is it not perfectly content to be the way it is, and simply go on existing as it is? The Materialist has turned his attention away from the identifiable subject, from his own Self, and instead occupies himself with the nebulous and indeterminate nature of Matter. Here the same problem comes up again. The materialistic viewpoint cannot solve the problem, it can only shift it to another place.

2.2 Spiritualism
[6] What of the Spiritualistic view? The Spiritualist denies Matter (the World) any independent existence and conceives it as merely a product of Mind (the Self). He considers the whole phenomenal world to be nothing more than a fabric woven by Mind out of itself. From all that it achieves by its own spiritual effort, the physical world is never found. This conception of the world finds itself in difficulties as soon as it attempts to produce from Mind any single concrete phenomenon. It cannot do this either in knowledge or in action, as long as it regards its own nature as exclusively spiritual. It seems as if the Ego had to concede that the world would be a closed book to it, unless it could establish a non-spiritual relation to the world.

2.3 Realism
If one would really know the external world, one must turn one's eye outwards and acquire experience. Without experience Mind can have no content. Similarly, when we carry out actions, we have to realize our intentions on the real, practical level with the help of material things and forces. In other words, we are dependent on the external world.

2.4 Idealism
The most extreme Spiritualist or, better said, Idealist, is Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He attempts to derive the whole edifice of the world from the “Ego.” What he accomplished is a magnificent thought-structure of the world without any content of actual experience. As little as it is possible for the Materialist to do away with the Mind, just as little is it possible for the Idealist to do away with the external world.

2.5 Paradox Of Materialistic Idealism
[7] A curious variant of Idealism is the view of F. A. Lange presented in his widely read “History of Materialism.” Lang accepts that the Materialists are right in declaring all phenomena in the world, including our thought, to be the product of purely material processes. Conversely, he also accepts that Matter and its processes are the product of thinking.

"The senses give us only sense-effects... the effects that things have on them, not true copies, and certainly not the things themselves. But among these mere effects we must include the senses themselves together with the brain and the molecular movements within it.”

This would mean our thinking is produced by material processes, and material processes are produced by our thinking. When translated into concepts, Lange’s philosophy is a conceptual paradox. This makes it an equivalent to the tale of the bold Baron Münchhausen, who holds himself up in the air by his own pigtail.

2.6 Indivisible Unity
[8] The third form of Monism is the one that finds, even at the simple level of the atom, Matter and Mind are already united. But nothing is gained by this either, for here again the question that actually originates in our consciousness is shifted to another place. How does the simple entity come to manifest itself in two different ways when it is an indivisible unity?

2.7 Polarity Of Consciousness
[9] Contrary to all these points of view is a fact that must be emphasized. It is in our own consciousness that we first encounter the basic and primal polarity. It is we, ourselves, who break away from the mother ground of Nature and contrast ourselves as “Self” in opposition to the “World.” Goethe has given classical expression to this in his essay “Nature”, even though his way of speaking may sound at first completely unscientific. “Living in the midst of her (nature), yet are we strangers to her. Ceaselessly she speaks to us, yet betrays not her secrets.” But Goethe also knows the other side: “Human beings are all within her, and she in each of them.”

2.8 Feeling Nature
[10] It is true we have estranged ourselves from Nature, yet at the same time we feel we are within Nature and belong to her. It can only be that the outer workings of Nature live in us too.

2.9 Knowing Nature Within
[11] We must find the way back to her. A simple reflection can show us the way. While it is true we have torn ourselves away from Nature, we must have retained something of her in our own being. We must seek out this essence of Nature in us, and then we will discover our connection with her once more. Dualism fails to do this. It considers the human mind a spiritual entity entirely foreign to Nature and attempts somehow to attach it on to Nature. No wonder it cannot find the connecting link. We can find nature outside us only if we first know her within us. What corresponds to nature within us will be our guide. This marks out our path of inquiry. We will not speculate about how Nature and Mind interact. Instead, we will probe into the depths of our own being, to find there the elements we retained in our flight from Nature.

2.10 Something More Than ‘I’
[12] The investigation of our own being must bring us the solution to the problem. We must reach a point where we can say, “Here we are no longer merely ‘I’, here is something more than ‘I’.

2.11 Description Of Conscious Experience
[13] I expect some who have read this far will not find my presentation to be in accordance with "the present standing of scholarship." I can only reply that so far I have not been concerned with scientific results of any kind, but rather with simple descriptions of what we all experience in our own consciousness. The inclusion of a few statements about attempts to reconcile Mind and the World have been used only to clarify the actual facts. For this reason, I have not found it necessary to use terms such as 'Self', 'Mind', 'World', 'Nature' etc. in the precise way that is usual in Psychology and Philosophy.

2.12 Facts Of Everyday Life Without Interpretation
Ordinary consciousness does not know the sharp distinctions of scholarship. So far my purpose has been solely to record the facts of how we experience everyday life. To object that the above discussions have not been scientific would be like quarreling with the reciter of a poem for failing to accompany every line at once with aesthetic criticism. I am not concerned with how scholarship has interpreted consciousness, but with how we experience it from moment to moment.

© Tom Last 2017
FORM#xn_bar_menu_search{ display: none!important;}