Chapter 4


I am not, then, denying that I might be wrong--far from it. But reasonable people, once they have got beyond the trivial absolute certainties of "There is something" and so on that I discussed in the first section of the first part, 1.1.1 base their conclusions on the evidence that presents itself to them, not on that dogmatist's copout, "Well, how do you know that some day someone won't come along and..." This sounds, as I said, like open-mindedness; but it is an excuse for closed-mindedness and a refusal to look at the evidence--and it is a very feeble excuse at that. The fact that theories have been refuted in the past is no evidence that a given theory can be refuted in the future; and it is simple laziness to fall back on the fact that people have been wrong in the past as a way of not looking at the evidence (which in our subject is certainly very complex and extremely tricky to get a handle on) and drawing the conclusion that is demanded by the facts we know.

With that said, I will assume that if you are reading this, philosophy hasn't advanced so far that new evidence has destroyed what I have been saying; and so I will now pass on to a discussion of the type of consciousness called "sensation." This is basically the consciousness which is directly and intimately connected with the electrical activity of the nerves in the brain. It includes the acts of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and the various kinds of feeling, as well as perceiving, imagining, experiencing "pastness," and emoting.

The effect here is (a) that sensation has to be a spiritual act, since it is consciousness, and consciousness cannot be a mere form of energy; but (b) for various reasons, it must also be a form of energy.

Let me give the evidence that (b) is true. We saw in Chapter 2 of Section 3 of the second part 2.3.2 that a pure spirit can't change, because there is no way it could be unstable (since instability involves a discrepancy between the form of existence and its quantity). But consciousness clearly changes, especially sense consciousness. In fact, the evidence that consciousness is finite, which we saw in Section 3 of the first part 1.3.1 was precisely that my consciousness is experienced as changing (being now this form of consciousness and now that one, while remaining my consciousness). Hence, it would seem, consciousness has to be a form of energy.

Secondly, for the same reason that it can't change, a pure spirit can't react to anything outside itself. But sense consciousness, at least, is a reaction to the energy impinging on the senses. And it recognizes itself as a reaction, or we could not make the distinction we made in Chapter 3 of Section 4 of the first part between the real and the imaginary, 1.4.3 where we argued to objects "out there."

Thirdly, as we saw earlier in this section, sensations vary in degrees of vividness in a direct relation to the degrees of energy in the input into the sense organs (and of the output of the nerve-energy in the brain). But how could a sound be consciously perceived as twice as loud as another sound if the consciousness didn't have a degree to it? But this makes it a form of energy, not a spiritual act.

This last point is a serious difficulty for the conclusion that consciousness is spiritual; because it seems that here we have not only evidence that implies that the consciousness is energy, but an actual degree consciously present in the act of consciousness itself. This can't be in an energy-"reduplication" of the act, since it is in the conscious (and therefore presumably spiritual) dimension of the act that you find the degree of vividness.

But let us assume that there is some answer to this and table this point for the moment, and give the cause of the basic effect (the one that we have indicated earlier in this chapter):

Conclusion 5: Sensation is an act of consciousness which is (a) spiritual, but (b) in one or more of its "reduplications" of itself does so as one or more forms of energy, each with a quantity. These forms of energy are the electro-chemical acts of the brain's nerves.

The reason I say "one or more" energy-reduplications is that the whole system of acts of the brain, with many nerves active simultaneously and in coordinated fashion in many different areas, all show up in consciousness as a single polymorphous act that is a "perception" or an "image," or even a combination of the two, so that you don't just see a color, but a shaped color at a certain distance from yourself in a complex visual field, in which you hear sounds and feel things, and which you find familiar or not, and toward which at the moment you have a given emotional response. All this is just one act of consciousness; but many, many nerves are being active as its energy-"components."

This seems as if it is a contradiction, not only because one act (the act of consciousness) is simultaneously the whole system of energy-outputs of the nerves in the brain, but because a spiritual act has no quantity and energy has one. How can an act be quantitatively unlimited and limited at the same time? The answer to both of these difficulties is that a spiritual act (or at any rate an act of consciousness) "duplicates" itself without being more than one act, suspending many "dimensions" or Hegelian "moments" within itself, each of which is not the same as the others, but is not a part of the whole act, but rather a different sort of expression of the whole act as a whole (just as "I know that" is not a part of my consciousness, but itself in a different sort of expression of itself).

Since the act of consciousness "does itself" many times, there is nothing to prevent some of these "times" from having a quantity, because what can do more can do less, and all "having" a quantity means is the act's not being any more than a certain amount of itself. That is, in the "reduplication" of itself that is energy, all the act is doing is refusing to be any more than this much of itself, not "adding" something different to itself. It is as if you chose to do nothing but breathe for a while and not see or think or talk, and so on; you are simply not doing all you can do at the moment. This is more or less what would be going on if an act of consciousness expressed itself as a form of energy.

Now since the act of consciousness is one act, then if one of its reduplications has a quantity, then it would seem that the act could have (as energy) only that one quantity--because a form of energy can't have more than one quantity at once, any more than heat, say, can be two different temperatures at the same time.

But as we can see even with heat, the heat in a room can have all sorts of temperatures; or better, an electrical field can have all sorts of degrees of electrical energy in it (this is what a field is, in fact, as we saw in Chapter 4 of Section 1 of the second part), 2.1.4 as long as these quantities are distinguished somehow from each other, so that the act doesn't have one quantity in the respect in which it has a different one.

And since the energy-"dimension" of the act of sense consciousness is the electrical output of the brain's nerves, which are interconnected into a system by the brain waves and so on, then this system of energies presumably is the actual energy-"dimension" of the act of consciousness that is occurring at the time. This would mean that the electrical output of each of the nerves is one energy-"reduplication" of the conscious act, and together as a system they form the system of energy-"reduplications" of the one act of consciousness which is the polymorphous act of the way you happen to be conscious at this moment.

Presumably also, the energy-output of each nerve (or perhaps of small clusters of nerves) is the energy-"dimension" of a given form of consciousness. That is, a given nerve in the brain produces a given "dot" of color at a certain location in the visual field of your consciousness, another nerve provides a "dot" of a different color or at a different location, others that of the sound you hear, and so on and so on. The reason this is probably true is that the different stimuli set up different patterns of nerve-firings in the brain, and also different conscious experiences. And, for example, when my dog walks across the grass in my yard, then as I watch, everything in the nerves (as far as we can tell) stays the same except that what corresponds to the patch of tan light coming into my eyes moves across the static background. And this, of course, is what I see.

So we can draw this conclusion as the reasonable one:

Conclusion 6: Each energy-output in the brain above the threshold of perception is the energy-"dimension" of a given form of consciousness; and all of the activities of the nerves acting at a certain time is the energy-"dimension" of the polymorphous single act of consciousness (the perception and/or image) that is occurring at that time.

Notice that what this means is that the act of consciousness is one and the same act as each and all of the energies of the nerves in the brain. They don't "produce" it as an effect of themselves (they couldn't, because it is infinitely beyond any and all of them); they are one of its many "expressions" of itself; each of them is and all of them are. So there is no "union" of the energy and the spiritual act of consciousness (as if there were two somethings connected somehow); there is an identity of the energy and the spiritual act. The various forms of energy in the brain may be interrelated among themselves in the brain waves; but they are not interrelated with the act of consciousness, because the act of consciousness is the energy--or rather, to put the horse before the cart as it should be, the energy is the act of consciousness expressing itself ("reduplicating" itself) to a limited degree. Just as "I know that" and "I know" are one and the same act, so the conscious seeing of a color and the energy of the proper nerve is one and the same act.

This means that we don't have the Platonic--or rather Cartesian--problem of how the "ghost" can be affected by what is going on in the "machine." Those who have held that consciousness (or the mind) is spiritual have always had the problem of how the physical activity of the body (the senses and so on) can effect a change in what is infinitely greater than it. Descartes "solved" the problem by having the stimuli go to the base of the brain and make the pineal gland vibrate more or less the way the phonograph needle is made to vibrate by the grooves in the record; and this vibration was picked up by the mind the way the cartridge in your phonograph converts the mechanical motion to electricity and then sound from the speakers. But of course, as so many have pointed out, all this does is localize the impossibility; it doesn't solve it. If what is mechanical is infinitely beneath spirit, vibrations of the pineal gland, which are mechanical, are also infinitely beneath it.

But in the view I gave above, the "ghost" is the "machine." The energy of the nerves in the brain isn't something that causes the act of consciousness, it is the energy-"dimension" of the act of consciousness itself, so that the conscious act is actually altered by the energy impinging on the sense organs and carried up to the brain, but it is altered because it is also energy, not because energy "does something" to what is spiritual and infinitely beyond it. The difference is subtle, I suppose; but it is all the difference in the world.(1)

This theory I have advanced, then, explains many peculiarities about sensation. First of all, why we can be unconscious when the energy in the brain is below the threshold of perception is explained by the fact that the act organizing the faculty (and the soul of the sentient body also, as we saw) is simultaneously a spiritual act that has a form of energy as one of its "reduplications." For reasons of survival and optimal operation of the body, the act acts only as a form of energy when the input is low enough, so that you aren't bombarded with enormous amounts of irrelevant information and can cope better with what is important to you as a body at the moment. This enables your consciousness to "shut down" and for you to close yourself inside yourself for a time, so that your body can take care of internal repairs and housekeeping without having to respond to the external world-- while at the same time being able to respond to a strong stimulus, which could signal danger.

Secondly, it explains how consciousness can be affected by energy from outside. Each form of the polymorphous act is the form associated with a given nerve (or nerve-cluster) in the brain--or, as we will see, some other energy-act integrating these nerves; and the nerves put out their energy as they are stimulated by energy coming into them from the sense organs. As different energy comes in, different nerves in the brain are connected to it; and so different forms appear in the polymorphous act of consciousness, because these energies are the energy-"dimension" of that act.

Thirdly, this theory explains, of course, why when the threshold of perception is reached, no energy "drains off" out of the electrical activity of the nerves. The spiritual "dimension" of the act, as spiritual, has no quantity at all, and so it need not take anything from the energy (which, after all, is only a limited expression of the spiritual act, and not something that produces it).

But we are still faced with the difficulty of the degrees of conscious vividness, as when a sound sounds twice as loud as the one heard just before it. Can this theory account for this? There is at least a way out.

If we note that the conscious awareness of things like "twice as loud," "three times as bright," and so on is very very rough, then there is a hint that perhaps these "quantities" inside the consciousness itself are only forms that refer to quantities of the energy "out there" and report differences in that energy that happen to be in themselves quantitative.

That is, in the first place, you can't actually set up a scale in your consciousness by which you could hope to measure with any accuracy the actual degrees of the stimulus; the best you can do is that (a) there is a difference between them, (b) the difference is one of degree, not type of act, and (c) it is more or less in this range (twice as loud).

Now it is true that experimenters have come up with pretty accurate correlations between the actual degrees of the stimulating energy and degrees of the differences as perceived (and have noted, as Weber and Fechner and then S. S. Stevens have done, that the correlation is logarithmic or exponential), but these findings are based on a large number of subjects making subjective judgments, and are averages of some rather disparate data. When a given subject is given the same sound as one he heard before, for instance, he does not always give it the same number as he gave it the last time. This is perfectly consistent with the fact that all we can come up with is something that more or less reports the degree of the stimulating energy; if you take large numbers of these "more or lesses" and average them out, then the guesses that are greater will tend to be balanced by guesses that are too little, and the set of guesses will approach reasonable accuracy.

So let us draw the following conclusion:

Conclusion 7: The apparent degree of vividness in consciousness is actually a form of consciousness that in itself is not a degree, but which is caused by the degree of the stimulating energy, and hence reports it.

That is, the consciousness of the sound as "twice as loud" as the previous one is simply an auditory consciousness that has a different form from the previous one, though it is the same in all the other forms of this polymorphous act. This particular form, however, does not "report" (i.e. respond to) the pitch or timbre of the sound coming in, but to the loudness, which we know varies in degree; and hence it "tells us" of a difference in degree. But the perceived difference in loudness is not itself a difference in "degree of perceiving," (because the perception of a soft or a loud sound is equally clear), but a difference in perception that speaks about a difference in degree of the sound "out there."

This might be confirmed by the fact that what we perceive as obviously different qualities are in fact different quantities "out there." For example, the different hues we see (red, green, etc.) are caused by different wave lengths of the same basic energy; and even light and radiant heat are just different wave lengths of the same electromagnetic energy. Similarly, the pitch of sound is a difference in the frequency of the sound-pulses, and that also is in fact a difference in quantity. So it is quite reasonable to say that even when we seem to perceive with different "degrees" of perception (such as loudness or brightness) these also are different forms that now report explicitly the quantities in question (amplitude of the wave in this case). Perhaps we can only perceive one "set of forms" (degrees of loudness) as reporting the quantity, and the other quantities are perceived as different qualities.

This hypothesis could be tested in the following way. Since quantities are variations in what is basically the same quality, then perceived quantities would be variations in the same perceived quality. But if these "perceived quantities" are not actually quantities of the perceptions, but themselves forms of consciousness, on an equal footing with the "qualities" they are supposed to be the quantities of, it would seem that it ought to be possible to turn the tables and make what was first considered the "qualities" be variations on what was perceived as the "quantity."

That is, it should be possible to set up an experiment such that the quantities of a certain set of perceivable qualities is held constant, and only what would ordinarily be perceived as different forms of energy varies. You could then ask the subjects how much "more" of a generic type of perceived quality one of these forms is than another; and the hypothesis predicts that you would come up with answers analogous to the kind of thing S. S. Stevens got in talking about "degrees" of loudness, volume, density, and so on of sound.

I tried a not carefully controlled experiment of this type, and got results that seemed to verify the hypothesis. I chose a number of color cards, trying to keep them of equal saturation (i.e. "pureness," or lack of mixture of white or black in them) and brightness and so on; and I held the green one up to my class and told them to consider that card the number 5. I then asked them to write down the numbers they would put to each of the other cards I held up, in relation to how much "more or less of a color" it seemed to them as in relation to the green card. I got a set of numbers that rated red at the low end and blue at the high end, with ambiguity with respect to purple, some of them making it less than red and some more than blue.

Now this study is flawed for several reasons, I realize. First of all, people are apt to know the spectrum and how the colors arrange themselves in it, and this would bias what numbers they would use. Secondly, the colors were not in fact perfectly equal as stimuli in every respect except hue. Thirdly, by my picking out green and giving it the "middle" number, I was creating a bias in the students' minds, hinting at the spectrum.

Still, it was possible for the students to put numbers on hue as being "more or less of a color," which was all I needed for my purposes. I did not need to know which number one would put on orange, say, if one were making a perfectly unbiased study of "degrees of hue"; Stevens, for instance, has the subjects put any number they want on the first item shown (which is not the same item for different subjects) and then rate all the rest in relation to that one; and then with fairly complicated mathematics, he reduces the different ratings of different people to a common scale. But as I say, it was not necessary for me to do this merely to find out whether people would have trouble comparing red and blue as two different degrees of something.

Secondly, as confirmation that we can put numbers on what is known as qualitatively different, there is the fact that we are doing this all the time whenever we buy things. If you have enough money for dinner or for the symphony, then in choosing one over the other, you are saying that listening to music is a greater experience for you than eating dinner; and you can even say how much, when it comes to haggling over the price. This is a way of putting quantities on what are known to be qualities, and regarding qualitatively different experiences as different "degrees" of some abstraction called "satisfaction." There is, of course, no unitary consciousness called "satisfaction," of which various pleasures like that of reading this book or of helping a sick friend or of eating an Oreo cookie are simply degrees. The mistake of Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarians (not to mention David Hume, who started all of this) was to assume that since we could compare apples and oranges as "more or less desirable," therefore they were objectively more or less desirable, and you could work out a calculus of "objective goods" which would form the basis of ethics. It has failed, because "desirability" is not really a quality of which various pleasures are quantities, any more than saturation is a quality of which various hues are quantities.

But the point here is that what the "quantity of the perception" actually is is the perception of the quantity. It is not itself a quantity of the spiritual act, but a form that responds to a quantity of the object, and hence there is no reason to say that perceptions, which vary in vividness, actually vary in degree.(2)

So there is no insuperable objection against the theory that sense consciousness is in itself a spiritual act which "reduplicates" itself in one or a system of quantitatively limited acts, while remaining just the one act.



1. On the assumption that the Incarnation of Jesus was in fact God's "becoming" human while still remaining God, we can call upon sensation and the nerve-energy of the brain as a pretty good analogy. What it implies is that God is the body in question; it is just an expression (a word, if you will) of the Infinite spiritual act. And the fact that this body is a complex system, like the system of many energies in the brain, each of which is an expression of God, and all of which are the one expression of God. And so when Jesus suffers as a human being, it is in fact God who suffers, just as when the nerves in the brain are activated, the consciousness takes on different forms corresponding to the different locations and the degree of the energy in them. These are expressions of the one act of consciousness, just as everything that Jesus does is the expression of the one God.

The Catholic Church also teaches that all those who believe form the "mystical body" of Christ, a kind of social person. The idea here is this: Since Christ is the human expression of the life of God, then anyone who shares the life of grace--God's own life--is a human expression of the life of God. But there is only one human expression of the life of God, because God himself is one. Hence, each of us is Christ, and all of us are Christ, in an even more intimate way than that cells in a body are somehow the body, since their life is the body's life. So we form that social person who is the "completion," somehow, of the individual Jesus, and are--and each of us is--the human expression of God's own life. We are God, as Hegel would say, in his "otherness." (But this is not to be taken quite as Hegel meant it, though it is very close to it.)

Also, since one and the same thing, if it is spiritual, can have many material expressions of the different "reduplications" of the one act, then if the Eucharistic "bread" is in fact organized with the same form of unifying energy as the body of Jesus, while the appearances of bread are maintained (i.e. Jesus chooses to express himself now by "doing" only what bread does when he takes over what used to be bread), then we can see that there is no contradiction in saying that each wafer is the body of Christ, and so is each other one, and so are all of them just the one body of Christ, which expresses itself multiple times over. To put it another way, this now is what Jesus chooses to look like. (So to ask to see Jesus "in" the wafer is nonsense. He is the wafer.) The fact that this one body can be many wafers at once is because the basic act is spiritual.

All this is not by way of "proving" that Catholic teaching is true; all it says is that there is no necessary contradiction in it, and so if you believe it, you are not forcing yourself to believe nonsense.

2. It is also true, of course, that this pseudo-limitation of the spiritual aspect of the act is due to the fact that in another "dimension" of itself it also has a quantity, since the energy-dimension is not something attached to it, but is an expression of the (basically spiritual) act itself. There is not a system of acts here, however tightly knit, but one and the same act, which is simultaneously both spiritual and energy. So it is reasonable to suppose that even the spiritual dimension of the act is somehow "infected" by its energy dimension, even though it is in itself infinitely beyond it.