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4. The World As Perception

4. The World As Perception

Compare Ideal Element with External Object

"When someone sees a tree, his thinking reacts to his observation. An ideal element is added to the object, and the observer regards the object and Ideal complement as belonging together. When the object disappears from his field of observation, only the Ideal counterpart remains. This is the concept of the object." TPOF 4.0

Concepts Added To Observation
Concepts cannot be drawn from observation. This is evident from the fact the growing human being only slowly and gradually builds up the concepts that correspond to the objects in his environment. Concepts are added to observation.


Concepts and Ideas are formed by thinking. What a concept is cannot be expressed in words. Words can only draw our attention to the fact we have concepts. When someone sees a tree, his thinking reacts to his observation. An ideal element is added to the object, and the observer regards the object and Ideal complement as belonging together. When the object disappears from his field of observation, only the Ideal counterpart remains. This is the concept of the object.

The wider the range of our experience, the larger the number of our concepts. Concepts are never found in isolation. They combine to form an ordered and systematic whole. For example, the concept “organism”  links up with others such as "development according to law" and "growth." Other concepts, formed from single objects, merge together into a unity. All concepts I form of particular lions merge in the universal concept "lion." In this way, all the single concepts unite to form an enclosed, conceptual system in which each has its special place. Ideas are not qualitatively different from concepts. They are filled with more content, are more complex and more comprehensive concepts.

I must emphasize here that my starting-point is thinking, not concepts and Ideas, which must first be gained by thinking. Thinking precedes concepts and Ideas. Consequently, what I have said about the nature of thought, that it is self-supporting and determined by nothing but itself, cannot simply be transferred and applied to concepts.


STEP #61 (4.1)
Compare Generalize Relationships with Conceptualize Relationships

While wandering through fields in September you hear a rustle a few steps ahead, and see the grass moving by the side of the ditch. You will probably approach the spot to learn what caused the noise and the movement. As you approach, a partridge flutters in the ditch. Seeing this, your curiosity is satisfied; you have what we call an explanation of the phenomena.

Generalize Relationships
Observation: Throughout life you have learned through countless experiences that a disturbance among small stationary bodies, is accompanied by the movement of other bodies among them. Because of having generalized the relationship between disturbances and movements, you consider this particular disturbance explained as soon as you find it to be an example of just such a relationship.


Conceptualize Relationships
Ideal Element: A closer analysis leads to a very different description. When I hear a noise the first thing I do is search for the concept that fits this observation. My thought makes it clear that the noise is an effect of something. Only when I connect the concept of effect with the perception of the noise am I inclined to go beyond the single observation and look for its cause. The concept “effect” calls up the concept “cause.” My next step is to look for the object that acts as the cause. I can never gain the concepts “cause” and “effect” by mere observation, no matter how many cases I observe.

Strictly Objective Science
Representation Of World: If one demands a “strictly objective science” that draws its content from observation alone, then one must also demand that it renounce all thinking. Because thought, by its very nature, goes beyond what is observed..

STEP #62 (4.2)
Compare Thinking Consciousness with Thinking Reference

Thinking Consciousness
Observation: When thought is directed to the observed world we have consciousness of objects; when thought is directed to itself we have self-consciousness. Human consciousness must of necessity be also self-consciousness, because it is a thinking consciousness.

Thinking Reference
Ideal Element: When I, as thinking subject, refer a concept to an object, we must not regard this referring as a purely subjective activity. It is not the subject, but thought, that makes the reference.

Embrace And Contrast Self With World
Representation Of World: The basis for the dual nature of the human being is that he thinks. His thought embraces himself along with the rest of the world. But also, by means of thought, he defines himself as an individual in contrast with the objective world.

STEP #63 (4.3)
Compare Pure Observation with Establish Conceptual Relationship

Pure Observation
External Object: All we would be aware of before our thought became active is the pure content of observation. The world would appear as a chaotic aggregate of disconnected sense-data: colors, sounds, touch, warmth, taste and smell; followed by feelings of pleasure and pain. This aggregate is the content of pure, thought-free observation.

Establish Conceptual Relationship
Ideal Element: Thought is able to draw connecting threads from one sense-datum to another. It unites specific concepts with these elements, and in this way establishes a relationship between them.

Conceptual Relationships Not Merely Subjective
Representation Of World: We will not be tempted to believe the relationships between observations established by thought only have subjective validity, if we recall that in no circumstance can the activity of thought be considered merely subjective.

STEP #64 (4.4)
Compare World-Picture Contradictions with World-Picture Corrections

World-Picture Contradictions
External Object: The unreflective, naive person regards his percepts, as they first appear, to have an existence completely independent of him. When he sees a tree, he believes right away that it is standing there on the spot where his look is directed having the shape, color and details just as he sees it. He believes phenomena exists and occurs just as he observes it. He clings to this belief until further perceptions contradict the earlier ones.

Definition Of Percept
The term “percept” is the immediate conscious apprehension of objects through observation. This includes sense-data, feelings and also thought as it first appears to our consciousness. It is the observed object, not the process of observing.

World-Picture Corrections
Ideal Element: Every widening of the circle of my perceptions makes me correct my picture of the world. We see this in everyday life, as well as in the intellectual development of humanity. The picture which the ancients made of the relation of the earth to the sun and other celestial bodies, had to be changed by Copernicus, because the ancient picture did not agree with new, previously unknown perceptions.

Continuous Corrections
Representation Of World: The picture we form of the world needs to be continually corrected with each new perception.

STEP #65 (4.5)
Compare Mathematical with Qualitative Determination Of Perception-Picture

Perception-Picture Dependent On Place Of Observation
External Object: If I stand at one end of a tree-lined avenue, the trees at the far end appear smaller and closer together than those where I am standing. My perception-picture is dependent on my place of observation and changes when I change my place of observation.

Perception-Picture Dependent On Bodily And Mental Organization
Ideal Element: My perception-picture is dependent on my bodily and mental organization. We only perceive vibrations as sound if we have normally constructed ears. The perception-picture of the color blind only has shades of light and dark. The fact that a red surface appears to me red depends on the structure of my eye.

Mathematical And Qualitative Determination Of Perception-Picture
Representation Of World: We are forced to make continual corrections to our observations. The dependency of my perception-picture on my place of observation is "mathematical," and its dependency on my organization is "qualitative." The first determines the relative sizes of my percepts and distances between them, the second their quality. The fact that a red surface appears to me red—this qualitative determination—depends on the structure of my eye.

STEP #66 (4.6)
Compare Percept Exists While Perceived with Object Exists As Collection Of Percepts

Percept Only Exists While Being Perceived
External Object: "The whole choir of heaven and all things of the earth—in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world—have no subsistence outside the mind." From this point of view, nothing remains of the percept if we consider it apart from being perceived. There is no color when none is seen, no sound when none is heard. Outside the act of perception, categories such as extension, form, and motion exist just as little as color and sound.

Object Exists As Collection Of Percepts
Ideal Element: An object is nothing but a collection of percepts connected in a certain way. If I strip a table of its figure, extension, color, etc.—in other words everything that is only my percept—then nothing is left.

The objection can be made that, even if figure, color, sound, and so forth do not existence outside the act of perception, there must still be something else there. Something must exist independently of our consciousness and be similar to our conscious perception-pictures.

Percept Partly Determined By Subject’s Organization
Representation Of World: No objection is made as long as it is only meant as a general fact that the percept is partly determined by the organization of the perceiving subject.

STEP #67 (4.7)
Compare Myself As Observer with My Idea-Image

Myself As Observer
External Object: When I am absorbed in the perception of a given object I am, for the moment, aware only of this object. The awareness of myself can be added to this. I am then not only conscious of the object, but also of my own personality standing over against the object and observing it. I not only see a tree; I know it is I seeing it.

My Idea-Image
Ideal Element: When the tree disappears from my field of vision, an aftereffect of this process remains: an image of the tree. This image has become associated with my Self during my observation. My Self has become enriched; a new element has been added to its content. I call this element my idea (Vorstellung) of the tree.

Idea Within Me
Representation Of World: I would never be in a position to speak of ideas if I did not experience them by being aware of my Self. Percepts would come and go; I would simply let them pass by. By noticing the connection between the observation of the object and the changes that occur in me, I then speak of having an idea.

STEP #68 (4.8)
Compare Idea Inserts Itself Before Object with Object Is Unknowable

Idea Inserts Itself Before Object
External Object: The failure to recognize the relationship between idea and object has led to the greatest misunderstandings. The perception of a change in me, the modification my Self undergoes, is thrust into the foreground, while the object causing this modification is completely lost sight of. As a consequence it is said: We do not perceive the objects, but only our ideas.

Only Ideas Exist
Ideal Element (Berkeley): Knowledge of the world is limited to my ideas because there are no objects other than ideas. What I see as a table no longer exists, according to Berkeley, when I cease to look at it.

Object (thing-in-itself) Is Unknowable
Ideal Element (Kant): Kant also limits our knowledge of the world to our ideas. But it does not do so because of a conviction that nothing other than ideas exist. Rather, the Kantian view believes we are organized in a way that we can learn only of the changes undergone by our own Self, not the things-in-themselves that cause them.

Knowledge Of The World Limited To Mental Representations
Representation Of World: Our ideas are the only things we experience directly and learn to know directly. At the very beginning of all philosophy, it is necessary to state explicitly that all knowledge that goes beyond ideas is open to doubt. --Kantian view

STEP #69 (4.9)
Compare Object Is Motion with External Object Lost

Object Is Motion In External World
External Object: Physics
Outside our organism we find vibrations of physical bodies and of the air perceived by us as sound. What we call sound is nothing more than a subjective reaction of our organism to these motions in the external world. The same external stimulus applied to different senses evokes different sensations. Our sense-organs can transmit only what occurs within them, and transmit nothing from the external world.

External Object Lost On Way To Psyche
Ideal Element: Physiology And Psychology
The external process undergoes a series of transformations through the nerves to the brain. What the subject perceives are always only modifications of his own psychical states and nothing else. The psyche constructs things out of the various sensations transmitted to it by the brain. The final stage of the process, the representational idea of the object, is the very first thing to enter my consciousness. The external object has been completely lost on the way to the brain and through the brain to the human psyche.

Our Organization Determines What We Perceive
Representation Of World: Physics, physiology and psychology teach us that for perception to take place our organization is necessary. Consequently, we cannot know anything about external objects other than what our organization transmits to us.

STEP #70 (4.10)
Compare External Object Is Colorless with Color Projected Onto Object

External Object Is Colorless
External Object: The theory begins with what is given in naive consciousness, the thing as perceived. Then it shows that none of the qualities found in it would exist for us if we had no sense organs. The object, then, is colorless.

Color Projected Onto Object
Ideal Element: Color is produced in our psychical nature by the brain process. But even here I am still not conscious of it. It is first projected outwards by our psyche onto a spatial body in the external world. Here, finally, I see the color, as a quality of this body.

Perceived World Created By Psyche
Representation Of World: The theory leads me to believe that what the naive person thinks is existing outside him in space, is really a creation of my own psyche.

STEP #71 (4.11)
Compare The External Percept Is My Idea with Ideas Cannot Act On Each Other

The External Percept Is My Idea
External Object: As a naive person, I had an entirely false view of it. I thought the percept, just as I perceive it, had objective existence. Now I realize it disappears as I represent it to myself in the act of perceiving. The external percept is no more than a modification of my mental condition. Previously I believed the table had an effect on me, and brought about an idea of itself in me. From now on I must treat the table as itself an idea.

Web Of Ideas Cannot Act On Each Other
Ideal Element: If I go through each step of the act of cognition once again, the cognitive act described reveals itself as a web of ideas that, as such, cannot possibly act on each other. The full impossibility of the described line of thought reveals itself. I cannot say: My idea of the object acts on my idea of the eye, and the result of this interaction is my idea of color.

Confuses External And Internal Observations
Representation Of World: There is a gap between external and internal observations. The method of external observation ends with the process in the brain. The method of internal observation, or introspection, begins with the sensations, and continues up to the construction of things out of the material of sensation.

STEP #72 (4.12)
Compare Objective Reality with Subjective Reality

Objective Reality
External Object: Naive Realism accepts that one's own organism has objective existence. To be consistent, the theory that “The world is my idea” would mean our organism would be a mere complex of ideas. This removes the possibility that the content of the perceived world is solely a product of our mental organization. For only my real eye and my real hand could have the ideas of sun and earth as their modifications—my ideas “eye” and “hand” could not.

Subjective Reality
Ideal Element: The Critical Idealism says the world is my idea. "This truth applies to every cognizing being. The world around me is present only as an idea. It is there only in relation to something else, to the one who depicts it, namely, myself. My eye that sees the sun, and my hand that feels the earth, are my ideas just like the sun and the earth."

Collapse Of “The world is my idea” Theory
Representation Of World: Critical idealism can only refute Naive Realism if it accepts, in naive-realistic fashion, that one's own organism has objective existence. As soon as the Idealist realizes the percepts of his own organism are exactly the same kind as those Naive Realism assumes to have objective existence, his theory can no longer use those percepts as a secure foundation for his theory.

Next Chapter
Critical Idealism is unable to gain insight into the relationship between percepts and ideas. It cannot find what must already be present in the object before it is perceived. To do this, we must find another way to approach this question.

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© Tom Last 2017