Chapter 8

Consciousness as finite

With that out of the way, I want to consider consciousness as finite by pulling some things together; we have actually seen three similar cases of consciousness as finite: (1) each stream of consciousness is only this (stream of) consciousness (mine) and no other (stream of) consciousness; (2) each period of consciousness within this stream is only this (period of my) consciousness (today's) and no other (period of my) consciousness; and each way of being conscious within any given period is only this (form of my) consciousness (looking at the computer screen) and no other (form of my) consciousness.(1)

I stated them in this way, obviously, to show how they are similar, and to separate out the points of identity from those in which they are diverse. Note first that they are identical with each other precisely as effects: as consciousness insofar as it is finite. The precise way each is consciousness-as-finite differs in each case.

That is, in the first case, the fact that this stream of consciousness is this one and no other means that (a) as a stream of consciousness, it is different from itself as a stream of consciousness (because it is just this one, and it doesn't have to be this one to be a stream of consciousness), (b) it contains what it not itself as identical with itself (it contains the "myness" of it as "infecting" its consciousness, because the consciousness to be consciousness has to be some definite stream), (c) it leaves some of itself outside itself (it precisely excludes from consciousness all the consciousness of any other stream); and (d) it is consciousness as less than what it is to be consciousness (or all consciousness would belong to this one stream)

In the second case, the fact that this period of my consciousness is this one and no other means (a) that as a period of consciousness it is different from itself (because yesterday's period was just a period of my consciousness, and yet it isn't this one), (b) it contains what is not itself as identical with itself (it contains "todayness" as defining it as a consciousness, because consciousness to be consciousness has to be some period of consciousness, but it doesn't have to be today's), (c) it leaves some of itself outside itself (it leaves out of "my consciousness" all the other periods, but these belong in it as "my consciousness"); and (d) it is my consciousness as less than what it is for me to be consciousness (or today would be the whole stream of my consciousness).

And in the third case, the fact that this form of my consciousness is this one and no other means (a) that as a form of consciousness, it is different from itself (because any other form is just my consciousness and no more), (b) it contains what is not itself as identical with itself (because the form is not the consciousness and yet is not anything else), (c) it leaves some of itself outside itself (it leaves out consciousness beyond this form); and (d) it is my consciousness as less than what it is for me to be conscious (or I would be conscious only in this form all the time).

So all of these fit all the definitions of the finite--which is not surprising if they fit one of them, because the four definitions are simply ways of stating the same effect. In the case of consciousness as mine, the limit itself (the "real nothing") is the "myness"; in the case of the period, the limit is the "duration" (or perhaps if you prefer, the beginning and ending instants); and in the case of the particular way of being conscious, it is the form. None of these limits are anything at all; what is "there" is the consciousness; they are simply the fact that it is not all there is to it (in various senses). This is perhaps more obvious in the case of the "myness" and the "end-points" than it is in the case of the form; but I must keep stressing that the form is no more a "something" than the "myness" of my consciousness is; they are strictly similar to each other as nothing but "leaving off's."

There are several avenues of exploration we could take from here: having established that anything finite is an effect insofar as it is finite, we could try to name a cause for the finiteness of anything finite (i.e. for finiteness as such), and then find the analogous causes of particular kinds of finiteness as--what? Limited cases of "the cause of finiteness"? But that sounds odd, to say the least.

Or we could take the three types of finiteness we have found so far, which are all consciousness as finite, and find the analogous causes for consciousness as finite, and then find how each of these is--restricted?--to being "the cause of (e.g.) just the finiteness which shows up as "myness" rather than "todayness." But again this sounds like we're going to wind up with a cause of finiteness that is itself finite.

But after all, we were investigating this to find out if there was a real world, based on some effect in our consciousness; and since at least some of our forms of consciousness can be called "perceptions," it sounds as if the way we are conscious is the place to look to answer this particular question.

So what I propose to do is investigate first the way we are conscious: consciousness as "formed," and see if it argues to some kind of "object" outside itself and outside the mind. And we can use the fact that the way we are conscious is similar as effect to other types of finiteness of consciousness to help us in our investigation (because similar effects have analogous causes); and then when we are done, we can perhaps widen the notion of "the cause of consciousness as formed" to include "the cause of consciousness as limited in any way" and even "the cause of anything as limited in any way," since all of the causes will have to be analogous somehow--and once we have got one of them, we can see the analogy in terms of it--if we're careful.

So let us concentrate on a given way of being conscious, and take as our example the particular way you are conscious now as you read this page. We are not interested in the particularities about this way of being conscious, but just in the fact that this isn't the only way you are conscious, and yet it is the same as your consciousness; that is, we are interested in it as a case of (this type) of consciousness as finite.

We must be very clear on this. I am taking the reading of this page as an example, not as what has to be explained; any other example of a way of being conscious will do just as well, because all I am interested in is the fact that my consciousness is at any moment some way of being conscious.

If you define the effect in this general way, then, the particulars about this way of being conscious are irrelevant; you can replace any given way with any other one and you have identically the same effect: consciousness is less than itself in (some) definite way.

This, of course, was done deliberately, to avoid tangling ourselves up with the characteristics of the page and the particular words on it as explaining the way you happen to be conscious now (because obviously it is responsible for the way you see it) and confusing this with whatever it is about the page that is the cause of restricting your consciousness to being a form of consciousness (the page as causing the consciousness to be finite in this particular mode of finiteness). Remember, it is important to be very clear about just what effect it is you are investigating. We are investigating all forms of consciousness insofar as they are identical as a mode of the finiteness of consciousness, not this form of consciousness as this instance of this mode of finiteness of consciousness.

What, then, exactly is the effect in question, stated as a contradiction?

(1) My consciousness as "formed" is nothing but my consciousness; and (2) my consciousness as "formed" is less than what it is for me to be conscious.

You could replace (2), of course, with any of the other formulations of the finite as effect. That is, you are interested in the reading of this page as being your consciousness and yet being only this form of your consciousness; in exactly the same sense as your listening to a symphony is your consciousness and only this form of being conscious. The "this" in each case refers to different forms, but which form it refers to makes no difference to the effect we are considering; so that one form could replace another with no change at all in the effect as so defined. (Effects are abstractions, remember.)

Let us now recall Theorem I about effects and causes, and remember what it implies: Theorem I states that the cause is always outside the effect. The reason for this theorem was that the effect as a contradiction-taken-by-itself is necessarily impossible by itself and needs something other than itself to exist.

Let us make this "impossibility by itself" into an explicit principle applied here:

Principle I: Any form of consciousness is impossible by itself; by itself it is a contradiction and cannot exist.

This should be obvious in the case of consciousness as finite, because as finite it both is itself and is less than itself (or it is nothing but itself but contains something else, or whatever other formulation you choose).

So right away we know that a form of consciousness can't be "alone"; if it were "alone" without something outside it--i.e. outside this particular act of consciousness--making it less than it could be, it would be greater than this or at least different from the way it is, because "in itself" it doesn't have this (or any) limitation; but "in the concrete" (as it actually exists) it does.

All right, so we know that there is something, somewhere outside of this act of being conscious that "forms" consciousness or "restricts" it to being just a form of consciousness, and not just plain "consciousness." Obviously, in the case of the way you see the page, this cause is going to be something or other about the page itself (we don't give up our sanity when we do phenomenology, remember)--and it's going to be something that the page has in common with any other thing that can account for any other form of consciousness.

But we don't want to leap to conclusions like this, because, remember, there are such things as hallucinations, and so it doesn't follow that the cause of a form of consciousness has to be "out there" in the real world unless we can eliminate all other possibilities. So let us see if we can.

So far, all we know is that the particular "formed consciousness" can't be its own cause. We then have several candidates for its cause before we get into the "real world": (a) the cause could be another aspect of this act of consciousness: e.g., its consciousness-of-itself-as-conscious; or (b) it could be another formed consciousness (i.e. some other act of my consciousness); or (c) it could be some combination of several formed consciousnesses (a stream of forms of consciousness, perhaps a stream of an infinite number of them, if consciousness as formed is "finite"); or (d) it could be the mind. Only if all of these are eliminated will it have to be (e) something that is not part of consciousness or the mind: something "out there."

Let us now test these possibilities and see if they work. Possibility (a) is a little tricky, and so I am going to take these in the order (b), then (a), showing that in fact it is a case of (b), then (c), showing that any "set" of formed consciousnesses is also a case of (b) (even if the set has an infinity of members), then (d) (which will be easy); and then show that (e) is the only possibility.

First, then, let us assume that there are two "formed consciousnesses" Way A (e.g., seeing the page, the one needing a cause), and Way B (some other way of being conscious which is the cause of Way A).

Now then, since Way B is simply a case of formed consciousness, it is identical with Way A in every respect we are interested in. Let me make this clear. Let us say that seeing the page is Way A, and this supposed "cause" is that actually you saw it before and it is the particular memory you had (as, for example remembering your mother seems to be "caused" by your previous experience of your mother that you are now recalling--as indeed it is, but not as a form of consciousness, as we will see). What the particulars are about the conscious act that is the effect, however, is irrelevant; we are only interested in the act as (some, any) form of consciousness.

Hence, you could replace Way A with Way B and not alter the effect in question at all. As effects (consciousness as "formed") they are absolutely identical. But Way B is supposed to be the cause of Way A as "formed consciousness"; but since identical effects have identical causes, if it were the cause of Way A as formed consciousness, it would be the cause of itself as formed consciousness.

But this violates Principle One: we would then have a case of a formed consciousness that made sense by itself.

Notice that it doesn't matter which way of being conscious we use for Way B, because it is the mere fact that it is some form of consciousness that makes it identical as effect with A, and which therefore makes it impossible for it to be the cause of A as "formed consciousness."

Hence, we can conclude,

Conclusion 20: No way of being consciousness can be the cause of any other way of being conscious as "formed consciousness."

Notice that this doesn't mean that no aspect of any way of being conscious can account for the particulars of the form of some other act of being conscious (i.e. can answer the question, "Why is it this form of consciousness at the moment and not some other one?"). Your memory of yesterday's experience as this particular act is obviously explained by yesterday's experience. What I am saying here is merely that yesterday's experience "by itself" (i.e. as a way of being conscious) can't account for how your consciousness gets restricted to being (some, any) way of being conscious.

Now let us look at possibility (a): the "consciousness of the consciousness" accounts for the restriction of Way A to being just a form of consciousness. The problem with this is that you either have to say (1) that this particular "consciousness of being conscious" is restricted to being "consciousness of seeing the page," in which case it must be "formed" to being just this "consciousness of being conscious"--which makes it in some sense "another formed consciousness" and the argument above applies--or (2) you have to say that "consciousness of being conscious" is always the same, in which case it would know that your consciousness is "turned on" and would not know what that act of consciousness was--and we are back to the "two act" theory of consciousness. In fact, in either of these cases, we're really back to a two-act theory, assuming that the "consciousness of the consciousness" is somehow "other than" or "outside" the "formed consciousness"; because if it's "inside," then by Principle One it couldn't be the cause. No, in fact the "consciousness of the consciousness" is identical with the "formed consciousness" and if "one of them" is an effect, so is the "other," because in fact they are one and the same. So that eliminates that possibility.

Very well, then, let us move on to possibility (c): What about saying that maybe one other "formed consciousness" can't do the job, because as "formed consciousness" it's identical with the effect it's supposed to be the cause of, but maybe some combination of "formed consciousnesses" acting together could be the cause, especially if the number of them is infinite.

The trouble with this hypothesis is that if "they" are unified somehow and are different from the "formed consciousness" that they are supposed to be the cause of, then obviously (1) they are consciousness and (2) they "have" forms (in fact, many of them, all combined), and (3) they exclude from this "combination" the "formed consciousness" they are the cause of. But in that case, they are my consciousness as less than what it is to be my consciousness, because my consciousness has this other form which is explicitly not in the (multiplex) form that is supposed to be its cause.

This is true even if the forms combined are infinite in number; they still lack the one they are to be the cause of. They would have to, because the cause has to be outside the effect; and so they couldn't contain the effect.(2) And in fact, any form of consciousness can be analyzed into an infinite set of "sub-forms," if you want to do it; your seeing the page involves all the different colors you see, the different shapes you see, the distance at which you see them, etc., etc., none of which can be separated from the rest, and each of which can also be called "consciousness as formed." So actually a "form" of consciousness (as a limitation) is not necessarily (and probably never is) simple; and in fact, it's impossible to say when one type of consciousness ends and another begins, since the two forms "flow into each other" continuously. So the "form's" being "just this" form does not depend on its being in a simple sense "just one"; all it means is that "This isn't all there is to my consciousness, however infinitely complex it may be in itself."

Hence, what that allows us to conclude is the following:

Conclusion 21: no combination of "formed consciousnesses," however many elements it may have, can be the cause of "formed consciousness" as a mode of finiteness of consciousness.

There is something instructive here, and it is worth singling it out for emphasis:

Conclusion 22: There are various senses of "finite" and "infinite"; and what is infinite in one sense can still be finite in another sense.

In our case, even an infinitely complex way of being conscious (with an infinite number of sub-forms) is consciousness as finite, because it is my consciousness and yet is not all there is to my consciousness. And so the fact that it is infinite in some sense doesn't allow it to be the cause of "formed consciousness," because as a way of being conscious it is finite and so identical with its supposed "effect."

Well, that gets us out of consciousness, at least, because anything "in" consciousness is going to be some form of consciousness (because consciousness, for some reason, has to be some form at any given moment). But we already know that there is something outside consciousness: the mind. Can the mind account for "formed consciousness"?

In one sense it does, of course; The mind is the cause which explains why all these instances of "formed consciousness" are my consciousness and no one else's ways of being conscious. But that's a different effect from the one we are interested in.

That is, the mind accounts for the unity of all the ways I am conscious (as "mine"); but what we are interested in is how consciousness can be some definite way of being conscious and no other one at the moment. That is, how it can "leave some of itself as my consciousness out of itself." The form is my consciousness as distinctively this instance of my consciousness; it is not my consciousness as the same as all other cases of my consciousness.

The two effects, then, are actually opposite; and since different effects have different causes, then obviously the mind (which unifies) can't be what accounts for the distinctiveness of each way of being conscious.

Conclusion 23: There must be something which is not a way of being conscious and is not the mind which can "restrict" my consciousness somehow to being just a way of being conscious.

Well, we made it to the "real world out there." The idealists are wrong, unless perhaps they're "transcendental idealists" like Kant, who holds that there's an "x" "out there" which is somehow responsible for the "manifold of sensation," even though, with his view of what "cause" means, he doesn't say this "x" causes the manifold--and in fact doesn't establish that this "x" has to be "out there," but just takes it for granted that there's something-or-other, and you can't know what it is.

His instincts were right. You can't have more than one form of consciousness unless there is more than just consciousness or even just consciousness and the mind. But Kant was wrong, as we will see, since it doesn't follow that you can't say anything about it.

Well, since we know that there is a distinct cause for any way of consciousness insofar as it is a mode of consciousness as finite, let's pick out a term and define it as this cause: i.e. as the "whatever it is that accounts for consciousness's 'having' a form." And since we seem to be dealing with the "real world", here's our term:

Existence is the cause of a way of consciousness as "formed consciousness."

That is, existence is whatever it is that anything that "restricts" consciousness to being a form of consciousness has in common with any other something that does the same job; it is the minimum "common core" in every explanation of the problem of "formed consciousness."

But since, in all probability, what actually does the restricting won't be just what's necessary to do this job (i.e. there's more to the page you're looking at than just whatever it's doing to give you a form of consciousness), then we want a term to use to talk about the causer.

Being is the causer of a way of consciousness as "formed consciousness."

A being, therefore, "contains" existence, but may be more than just existence. If this sounds strange, what we are going to discover is that being (in every case but one) is actually existence as less than existence, or existence as finite; but that remains to be established. I mention it here now for those of you who have misgivings about saying that there can be something "more" than the very realness of reality (which is apparently what "existence" is talking about).

Once again, we must be very careful here. Just because we picked out "existence" and "being" as our technical terms, because they seem to be what the "formed consciousness" as incomplete-in-itself "talks about" or "reports," it does not follow that we can know anything more about what is referred to by these terms than we can prove is necessarily true about them or our consciousness as "formed" remains a contradiction.

What then can we say about existence?

Conclusion 24: Existence is not any "formed consciousness," and it is not the mind.

Here's our first instance where we have to be careful. It doesn't follow from this that the "formed consciousness" doesn't exist or that the mind doesn't exist. But how could they? Didn't we just prove that they couldn't be the cause of "formed consciousness"?

Yes. So they're not existence. But let's look more closely at the mind. We do know that there has to be a mind, because without it we can't have a unified consciousness, and we have one. So the mind, by explaining this effect, has somehow produced the particular way of being conscious which can be expressed in the sentence, "I know I have a mind"; and this is a case of "formed consciousness." Hence, something about the mind as the unifier of consciousness also accounts for this particular restriction of my consciousness to being "the act of knowing I have a mind" and not knowing anything else in this act. Or in other words, some aspect of the mind is existence. The mind, as well as being the unifier of my consciousness, is also a being of some sort, (and is "real").

Similarly, the act of consciousness is recognized by itself as "this act of consciousness"; now it isn't the consciousness as "formed" which is the cause of the (definite case of) "consciousness of the consciousness," but it is the act as happening or if you will as an act or as real that allows it to recognize itself. In other words, there is an aspect of the "formed consciousness" itself which is the fact that you're not just dealing with some theoretical construct but a real case of "formed consciousness" that allows your act of consciousness to realize that it's dealing with this real case. And what that amounts to is that this case of "formed consciousness" exists: some aspect of it is its existence.

All this tends to confirm that we didn't do a bad job in picking out the term for our cause; because in fact we recognize our mind as existing and our act of consciousness (the one we're now having) as existing--as well as recognizing (when we're perceiving) that there's something else that's existing too, or that something else existed, or whatever. We recognize the existence of the act of consciousness and the mind in every act of consciousness, simply because the act of consciousness is conscious of itself; and so it knows that it's real and that it's part of "my" stream of consciousness. We recognize other existences, presumably, by the particular form the consciousness "has" at any given moment. But more of that in the next section.

Let me finish up this section by pointing out one more thing about the cause of any "formed consciousness":

Conclusion 25: Any way of my being conscious has as its cause both existence and my mind.

Why is that? Because any way of my being conscious is both "this form of my consciousness" meaning no other one and "this form of my consciousness" meaning that it's part of or "belongs to" my stream of consciousness.

Since I'm never conscious without the consciousness's being both some definite form of consciousness and my consciousness (being both distinctively itself and the same as all my other forms of consciousness--but nobody else's) then it follows that

Conclusion 26: my consciousness comes about as the result of an interaction between existence and my mind.

Somehow, presumably, existence "acts on" my mind, and the result is I become conscious in some definite way.

Well, of course. The light reflected off my dog (or if you prefer "re-radiated" from it) hits my eyes and sends nerve impulses to my brain, raising a certain pattern of nerves above the threshold of perception; and something about this reaction of my brain to the energy coming into it is the particular form of consciousness I call "seeing my dog."

That's the most plausible scientific explanation for a given form of consciousness. And it's just a kind of speculative concretization of what we said; the "mind" as the "unifier that's there even when we're unconscious" is "fleshed out" as the brain with its neurons, and "existence" becomes the "energy coming in" which activates certain neurons somehow or other resulting in consciousness.

But the point is that even if this explanation is disproved, our "common underlying core" isn't; because something or other has got to "get together" somehow with whatever it is that unites all my consciousness into "mine," in order for the result to be both mine and this instance of my consciousness. There's the difference between this phenomenological method and science. Phenomenology, if it's careful, will result in what has to be true of any scientific explanation of the same problem; and consequently it will be true of the true one. Science and philosophy don't fight; they're just on different levels; and science, being more concrete in its search for "the true explanation," is more likely to take some part of the causer and assert that it belongs to the cause.

But that is enough for now. We can explore existence in the next section and see if we can make a distinction between what is real and what is imaginary. If not, we've misread our effect somehow, and will have to start again. But we have made a considerable harvest: twenty-six conclusions important enough to deserve numbers. Phenomenological investigation can arrive at the truth.



1. Note that in the first two cases, the "mineness" and the "nowness" is not in any sense considered as a "something" added to the consciousness; it is only in the third case (because in the third case, you are actually looking at something or reawakening a past time when you looked at something) that the limitation of consciousness is thought of (because, really, of imagining) as a "something" in its own right.

2. That is, suppose the infinite set of formed consciousnesses contained the one it was supposed to be the cause of--but went beyond it, and so was not identical with it. Could not that be the cause of the one in question? No, because (1) it would both contain and not contain the formed consciousness in question, because on the one hand, the effect is one element within it, but as cause it is different from the effect; so (2) that would make it consciousness as somehow different from itself. Anyhow, (3) it can't be the absolute whole of my consciousness, since clearly it does not contain the forms of consciousness I am going to have tomorrow. Hence, in some sense, it is consciousness as less than what it is for me to be conscious, even though it has an infinite number of aspects within itself, and therefore it is (a) an effect, and (b) identically the same as effect as the one in question.