PHILOSOPHY OF SAMUEL ALEXANDER
was concerned to show that the world, as we know it, is but existents that have
emerged from the basic primordial category of Space-Time.
This hypothesis is to be proven through the empirical method that he
identifies with the experimental. Experience
proves that the world does emerge from the swirling pure motion or nisus of
Space-Time. Hence, the proof of his
metaphysical hypothesis is, in fact, a description or exposition of the manner
in which Experience leads us to the knowledge of the ultimate constituency of
There can be no doubt about the important role that the concept of Experience has played in Alexander’s philosophy. Therefore, the emphasis in this paper will be on presenting an objective analysis of what Alexander intended by his concept of Experience. No attempt at extensive criticism of his concept of “motion” or Space-Time,” as the underlying substance of the universe, will be made since the task of analyzing his concept of experience is a large order in itself if it is to be treated to any degree in detail.
It should be clearly understood, if we are to grasp Alexander’s concept of experience, that his concepts of “mind” and “object” are not the traditional ones. Furthermore, we are at fault, not Alexander, if we construe his terms such as ‘experience,’ ‘knowing,’ and others without recognition of the context, (i.e., his concept of mind) in which they are used. We must, to do him justice, take the printed word shorn of previous meaning and attach Alexander’s meanings to them, else we shall find that we condemn him for inconsistencies of which we, ourselves, are guilty. This in not to mean that he is not inconsistent and ambiguous. But, it is certainly premature to declare inconsistency unless one is ready to lay claim to a complete understanding of his system. I make no such claim and, hence, remain non-committal on this point.
Some preliminary remarks concerning Alexander’s method are necessary, I think, in order to prepare the ground for more extensive and detailed analysis.
Alexander speaks of philosophy as being different from the special sciences, not in spirit, but only in its boundaries. Hence, its method will be similar to that of the special sciences, i.e., empirical. That is to say, reflective description, analysis, and hypothesis will be the means by which its subject matter may be brought into verifiable connection. Its uncertainty, as in the special sciences, will compare only with the efficiency with which system or order can be discovered in the data of its subject matter.
These data, of which Alexander speaks, consist of three orders of existence, which he postulates as (1) material bodies, (2) living things, and (3) beings with minds.
His self-appointed task is to discover the answers to such problems as the relation of the different orders of existence to one another; whether there is a common fundamental nature of which they are examples, and if so, what it may be; and lastly, what is the primary nature of being and how other forms of being are derived from it. I have referred to these problems even though the task or scope of this paper is not to answer them all, because the empirical method is to be exercised in the investigation of their subject matter.
Alexander goes on to say
Taking it as self-evident that whatever we know is apprehended in
some form of experience, we can distinguish in experienced things, as has
been indicated above, the variable from the pervasive characters.(1)
things, then, are empirical, and the non-variables or universals are non-empirical in that “special and more valuable sense.”
Alexander insists, however, that universals are experienced, not
as sense data, but rather in thought or in intuition – reasoned intuition,
i.e., an intuitional insight capable of logical, scientific, and mathematical
correction or verification, which itself is empirical.
More shall be said of this later. What,
then, is the Nature of Experience in Alexander’s philosophy?
Any experience whatever may be analyzed into two distinct elements and
their relation to one another. The two elements which are the terms of the
relationship are, on the one hand the act of mind or the awareness, and on
the other the object of which it is aware, the relation between them is that
they are together or compresent in the world which is thus so far
The perception of a tree is offered as an example. The act of perceiving the tree is the first element, i.e., the act of mind. The second element is the object,
. . . which is so much of the thing called tree as perceived, the aspect of it,
which is peculiar to that perception, let us say the appearance of the tree
under these circumstances of the perception. (3)
The further consideration is the relation of the act of mind and the object
perceived in their compresence or togetherness
. . . which connects these two distinct existences (the act of mind and
the object) into the total situation called the experience. (4)
It should be clear at the outset that Alexander considers separation of the act of mind and object a distinct one. But, we shall see that the acts are dependent upon objects for their conscious existence in a very special sense.
The acts of mind in their totality constitute mind, and, though our mind is experienced differently from other existents, it is still an experience. From Alexander’s viewpoint, mind is experienced through the act of experiencing. The fact that
Experience itself assures us the existence of a mind, an object, and a
relation of compresence between them is an intuition. (5)
We become aware of this by reflection of past experiencing. That is, mind is “enjoyed” in its primal state – not experienced according to Alexander’s definition.
By "enjoyed" is meant living through. We must be careful not to construe “enjoy” in the common sense use of the term. To do so would lead to the paradox (sadists and masochists excluded) of enjoying sorrow. Whereas, to enjoy sorrow in Alexander’s sense is to live through or during one’s own mental state of sorrow.
The act of contemplating, too, is an act of enjoyment. But the distinction is seen in that it signifies an act of enjoyment in relation with an object. The advantage in using the term is that contemplation requires an object. This object, as contemplated, is distinct from the mind, not a content of it. Thus contemplation is the enjoying of an object as differentiated from the mere enjoying.
With these preliminary remarks, we may now begin a more detailed analysis of mind.
a. The Nature Of Mind
. . . our mind is experienced by us as a set of connected processes, which
have the character of being mental, possessing the quality of ‘mentality’ or
as I shall most frequently say, the character of consciousness. . . . A mind,
then, is for immediate experience a thing or organization of processes with
this distinctive property of being mind and however much interrupted it may
be, it is normally linked up by memory in its various forms.
One more quotation will suffice to show that Alexander is equating mind and consciousness with that organization of processes which is the neural:
. . . mind or consciousness is in the same place and time with a neural
process, that is, with a highly differentiated complex process of our
living body. We are forced, therefore, to go beyond the mere
correlation of the mental with these mental processes and to identify
them. There is but one process, which being of a specific
complexity, has the quality of consciousness. . . . That which, as
experienced from the inside or enjoyed is a conscious process, is, as
experienced from the outside or contemplated, a neural one. (7)
Not all neural processes, then, possess the quality of mentality even though they are vital. Only certain neural processes, from which emerges “something new,” can be said to be a quality of consciousness. The localization of these processes, it is to be discovered, lies in the brain.
I come to discover that consciousness is a character which attaches to
brain processes of a certain sort in certain places of my brain. (8)
But we are compelled to make a further differentiation in the neural processes. The characters of different sets of mind are themselves different. Alexander is willing to assume the correctness of the physiological departmentalization of the various mental processes. But, he wishes to make it explicit, that not only does this analysis differentiate the mental processes from merely neural processes, but it also designates distinct differences between the mental processes of the various parts of the brain.
This is a point that I consider worth laboring for a moment. Its consequences for the development of Alexander’s position will become apparent later.
Each section of the brain partakes of neural processes. The processes are different, depending upon the primary function of the part. Hence, the consciousness of different kinds of qualities (textual, visible, audible, etc.) is possible depending upon the collocation and complexity of the neural processes.
But these processes are also vital just as are the processes of the intestinal tract. The difference is that the former, unlike the latter, gives emergence to the quality of consciousness. And though both processes might be explained physiologically, the former possesses the quality of mind. Furthermore, Alexander concludes:
Mind is, through its physiological character, continuous with the neural
processes, which are not mental. It is not something distinct and broken
off from them, but it has its roots or foundations in all the rest of the
nervous system. (9)
It is evident that Alexander wishes to deny all past and contemporary theories of parallelism. He insists that
The separation of the mental process from the neural one [which
is the primary tenet of parallelism] is therefore superfluous, for it is
same process-features which are in the one case enjoyed and in
process-features which are in the one case enjoyed and in
the other contemplated. (10)
He denies equally as strongly the epiphenomenological theory of mind or consciousness that makes the mind an inert accompaniment (of the neural processes) that plays no effective part of its own.
Such a theory is to be rejected for the simple reason that it is empirically false. This is substantiated by the fact that even though the mind is an epiphenomenon, it is so of a particular set of the neural processes. This is further evidenced in that other neural processes do not appear to have any quality of mentality at all which proves that those neural processes from which mind is an epiphenomenon are of a different order.
The neural process and its quality of consciousness, then, cannot be separated meaningfully from “each other.” To abstract is to distort in this case. Alexander accuses the epiphenomenalists of being guilty of misinterpreting the empirical facts.
As for the question of causality between mind and brain, it is because mind (in his sense) is vital (as are all the other neural processes which lack the quality of mentality) that it may be said to act on the brain. Likewise, because certain neural processes possess the quality of mentality, they can act on the mind.
That the mind does, beyond a doubt, behave as an active agent upon
the brain, is recognized if no brain process shall be understood to cause its
corresponding mental process and no mental process its corresponding
brain process. (11)
That is to say, a single (or more) neural process (possessing the quality of mind) or the awareness itself may stimulate any other neural process (mentally or merely vital) except itself. In the following sense, mind is an active agent.
. . .the thought of my friend leads me by association to remember a
reproof which in the fashion of friends he administers to me. (12)
There is much to be examined about Alexander’s concept of mind, and especially about the consequences to which it leads him. More will be said of mind, however, within the discussion of the elements of experience. These preceding pages are to be taken only as a sort of stage setting. I believe enough has been presented to make more meaningful his recurrent phrase, “The Act of Mind.”
b. The Acts of Mind
All that was said of mind was that it was the substance of mental acts
or processes. (13)
Alexander is here referring especially to “unity of consciousness,” which we shall examine shortly, and to the views he expresses regarding the mind as the unity of acts of mind. All these acts are occurring simultaneously, each of which, as a separate act of mind, is an “act or event with a mental character.” (14)
By this, he means there
is an awareness of single qualities (objects distinct from the mind) such as
cold, red, hard, etc. It is
necessary to caution against any inferential values being attached to these acts
at this level of experience. We may
refer to such awareness only as an enjoyment or a living through.
An intuitive or enjoyed qualitative distinction is all that is possible
at this level. The point of importance, however, is that there are other
various acts of mind occurring, all at the same time, in such a way as to
manifest a unity of continuity with other acts both temporally and
To put it in physiological terms, various neural acts (responses to stimuli of coldness, redness, hardness, etc.) may take place all at once. These neural processes unlike “merely vital” ones, however, have the quality of consciousness. Since all the neural processes are rooted together, it is easily taken to be understood as a single neural process. It is this point that Alexander wishes to emphasize. The mind is not a single act or event. It is the simultaneous consciousness of the various multiple acts of the neural processes due solely to the fact that these processes are on a “party line.” If I may use a conversation in a crowd of noisy people as an example, we will readily see Alexander’s point.
If twenty people are talking all at once, we are aware of all the voices as a unity of sound. We may distinguish one voice from among the rest by concentrating our interest upon it. The twenty voices are comparable to the multiple neural processes and any single act of mind chosen for reflection is comparable to the one voice of interest. A mental act, therefore (and so with the object distinct from the mind as we shall see later), is a unity of individual states of consciousness and is a single event only in this “relative sense.” But even this “relative sense” of a single event is meaningless when we consider that the mind is a continuum of mental acts. Such a limited concept of the singleness of mind, therefore, can be no more than a convenient device for discussion. “This continuum of mental acts, continuous at each moment, and continuous from moment to moment is the mind as we experience it.” (15)
Hence, any limit placed upon mental action, that is to say, to abstract a particular point of interest like the touch of a cold object from out of its mental environment, may properly be called only an act of mind. “The mental act is thus the conscious response to some non-mental existent finite which is its object."
Mind, therefore is the unity of all the neural processes, possessing the quality of mentality, in continuous action.
A mental act is only a salient and interesting act which stands out in the
whole mental condition. At any one moment a special mental set or state
is continuously united with other mental acts or states within the one total
or unitary condition; e.g., the perceiving of the tree with the sight of
adjacent objects, the sensation of the cold air, the feeling of bodily
comfort, and the like, not juxtaposed with them, but all of them,
merely elements which can be discriminated according to the trend of
interest, within the whole mass. (17)
An act of mind, furthermore, is identical with “enjoyment.” There are, however, names for the specific acts of mind of which some of the more important ones are: “sensing,” “perceiving,” “imagining,” “thinking,” “knowing,” “remembering,” etc. Each of these is an individual act of mind and state of enjoyment. Each derives its specific name according to the neural process or physiological faculties with which the acts are correlated. “We learn . . . that specific consciousness, such as vision, is correlated with specific movements in the occipital region of the brain.” (18)
I prefer to save discussion of these individual acts, however, for the section on the relation of mind and body, for it is more appropriate to discuss them along with their respective “objects.” However, I may point out, considering what has been said about acts of enjoyment and consciousness, in general, there is no further need to analyze the separate acts extensively, with the possible exception of the acts of knowing, thinking, and remembering. Hence, the emphasis will be placed on the object, and the respective acts will be sufficiently discussed in connection with them. I should like, however, to say a word about Alexander’s use of the term 'perceive' and of the causal relation between an object and an act of mind.
The former, he sometimes uses to mean, “to be aware of” or “to be enjoying.” In one passage, he speaks of the perceiving consciousness. Therefore, considering what has been said of consciousness qua quality, it is apparent that perceiving is used more as the activity of awareness, as acts of mind, contrasted with an act of mind, even though perceiving can be a single act of mind. This is an unfortunate laxity on Alexander’s part that leads to ambiguity. But it is apparent that the meaning of “perceive” must be understood in relation to its contexts. Furthermore, there should not be any “active” (in the Berkelian sense) character attached to any of the separate acts. To do so raises the question of causality as to which, object or mind, would be the cause of the other. Alexander dislikes the idea of one being dependent upon the other but insists that “. . .if we have to speak of dependence at all, it is the mind which is dependent on the objects and not objects on the mind.” (19)
But we must be cautious here, too, for dependence is not to be taken as cause and effect, but rather as implication. “Mind implies objects.” (20) That is to say, when you speak of mind, it implies the existence of objects, else there could be no knowledge of mind. However, objects do not imply mind except in their being known. Alexander would insist upon the dependence of mind on objects, if for no other reason than, for the order of creation in which mind emerged from matter.
It was only in order to repel the notion that objects were dependent
on mind, that we were forced to say that if we must choose sides, if
either is dependent, it must be mind. . . . Strictly speaking there is nothing
which is not dependent on other things, and in the end on the whole
universe, in at least some respect. (21)
What Alexander means, he further explicates. Sensory objects that have a causal effect on mind do not create consciousness. They “awaken” and “give it” its “particular direction.” Without the object, there would be no consciousness. But also, without the organism there would be none. But the organism with the object gives rise to a functional consciousness from what might be called a potential, or better, a dormant consciousness.
We return now to the question of the content of the acts of the mind that was slightly touched upon above. It will be recalled that Alexander denies content to mind if such content is construed in the traditional or Lockian sense. However, mind has content insofar as the separate acts of mind do. Since an act of mind is a conscious process, its contents are those that it possesses in view of its being a process. One of its most distinct qualities is consciousness. But there are others:
They are thus empirical determinations of categorical characters, or in
other words certain empirical determinations of Space-Time. It is these
spatio-temporal features which make the difference between one mental
act and another according to the object it apprehends. The sensing of
green differs not from that of blue in quality, for sensings have no quality,
but consciousness, and the so called quality of the sensing is really the
quality of the non-mental sensum, blue or green or sweet. It is thus some
empirical determination of a categorical feature of the mental process
which is enjoyed differently according to the quality of the sensum. It is
some determination of enjoyed Space-Time. (22)
Let us recall that Alexander identifies enjoyment with physiological processes.
But all that I mean now by various enjoyments is brain-processes with
their quality of consciousness, a quality which they do not have unless the
process is of a certain sort which is, therefore, intrinsic to them. (23)
It is in these physiological processes where the empirical determinations of the categorical characters are to be found, and it is by the intrinsic quality of consciousness of these processes that enjoyment of these characters is possible. As content of mind, or as act of mind, however, the emphasis should be placed on the physiological side. Thus, I think it would be unfair to accuse Alexander of committing a contradiction of first denying content to mind only to admit it later. For the content denied is of the traditional kind and the content upheld is of the kinds that are constituents of all existences physical or non-physical, and hence, are to be found in the awareness itself. Hence, an awareness of green as distinguished from an awareness of blue is explainable on the basis of their being different stimulated responses and , consequently, enjoyments of certain empirical determinations of the categorical features.
1. Direction -- This brings us to the question of Direction that is directly related to the problems of acts of mind. It will, furthermore, supply us with a clearer insight into the functions of acts of mind.
Direction is not to be construed merely as a designation of locality. Rather it is a particular kind of movement that is the neural response. But, “If you try to find a direction, you find none and the problem is queered from the outset.” (24) That is to say, direction is not an object of the mind. It is apprehended rather by the awareness of the response to the localization of an enjoyed Space-Time. It may be pointed out here that any enjoyed thing or object is in fact an enjoyed Space-Time for they are groupings of motions from the matrix of Space-Time.
In considering mental activity, Alexander declares it to be best described as “movement.” He goes on to say:
In all my mental conditions, whether will, desire, inference, perception,
sensation, I am aware of these movements, and these movements have
what I must call direction and differ in direction. . . . When a whole interest
is at work, my mind moves by several converging lines of tendency. As I
pass from stage to stage of a train of ideas, I feel the change of direction
from one thought to another. (25)
So long as the mind is centered on a particular situation or event, it can be said to be moving in its “initial direction.” That is to say, the mental activity is all of one plan or configuration -- more of this later.
It is most difficult to find a simple explicit synonym for the term ‘direction.’ But by further examples, descriptions as it were, or even metaphors, it is possible to have a clearer understanding of it.
The mental movement or direction enjoyed in taking a prolonged hot bath differs in the direction of enjoying a prolonged sound. To put it another way, to be conscious of the sensum blue is entirely of a different direction from sensing the sensum green. These are not qualities in the mind, as Locke would have them. There is only the awareness. But concomitant with that awareness (in Alexander’s sense of identity) is a distinct mental activity or response toward the blue as differentiated from that toward the green.
We may say then that we enjoy our acts of sensing, as they vary with
the quality of the sensum, as the direction of our enjoyment in mental
Space-Time. And this direction is identical with the locality and direction
of the underlying neural process. . .direction of the mental process means
the actual movement within the neural space which is enjoyed as direction
in the identical mental space. (26)
In the latter part of this quotation, Alexander means by the “neural space” that process (or group of processes -- in the sense of their places in the brain) that is, in fact, “the contemplation of the space and place of the stimulus sensed.” (27) There are, however, no assumptions as to identity or resemblances of the dimension or shape of the two spaces, for, “to a square object, there may correspond a fantastically irregular geometrical distribution of brain places.” (28)
To return to the concept of direction, it can be clearly understood if we but realize that it refers to separate and distinct movements in singular or multiple neural processes. As if, so to speak, (and this is in my own phraseology) a particular neural process (or group of neural processes) were in activity as a response to a tree that is the stimulating agent. Whereupon another stimulating agent, such as a chair, a smell, a sound, a thought, or memory calls forth a different response from a different or even the same neural process. This change of movement in the neural processes is what Alexander calls direction. And in respect of the enjoyment of that direction, he puts it quite clearly in the last sentence of the above quotation that I think is worth repeating: “As I pass from stage to stage of a train of ideas, I feel the change of direction from one thought to another.” (Note 25)
Any variation of the mind then, is a variation of direction. Furthermore, he insists upon the possibility of the consciousness of moving from one point to another, where moving is to be understood as direction. As a matter of fact, this mental activity is consciousness. It is meaningless to separate direction from consciousness. Here, of course, is another way of identifying consciousness with neural processes. This is an identity that Alexander is very concerned to emphasize.
. . .when I say I am conscious of this activity I mean that the activity so
described is consciousness and that I can find nothing else in
consciousness except these activities. (29)
A further elaboration of “direction” is required. But, it shall be reserved for another section more appropriate to the particular emphasis needed.
2. Intuition – Now to analyze a fundamental concept, i.e., intuition, in Alexander’s philosophy, that has direct connection with certain acts of mind. The notion of intuition is extremely important to his metaphysical system, and, to be specific, to his notions of Space-Time, Space, and Time, as will as all the categories that are the fundamental characteristics of Space-Time.
In the section on Direction, it was pointed out that the space (shape, size, and locality) of any external thing was not to be identified with any brain space, i.e., visual or touch region of the brain. This is because the
. . .shape and extent of the brain affections depends on the sensory
arrangements of the brain, not on the shape and extent of the object. (30)
Therefore, our apprehension of Space, Time, motion, and the categories is not gotten directly through sensation. These are not empirical qualities. They are not susceptible to the senses as is color that “excites through our eyes a certain spatial tract in the visual region.” (31); or texture that does likewise in the touch region. There is no special and separate spatial region that itself responds to the existents, Space, Time, and motion. Therefore, we must look for another medium by which these non-empirical (in the popular use of the term) existents can be apprehended. This medium is intuition. A clarification of Alexander’s opinion regarding the traditional interpretation of the concept of intuition is now required.
Unfortunately the word intuition suggests direct or
self-evident apprehension as contrasted with indirect. It has no
such implication here. Intuition is no more direct than sensation
and thought. All our apprehensions bring us face to face with their
It will become increasingly clear what Alexander means by this as we progress with our analysis. However, it must be pointed out that intuition depends upon mere spatio-temporal conditions, as contrasted with qualities necessary for sensing, for its character. Yet, consciousness of these conditions is not possible except through some form of sensation. “Every sensory act contains in itself, and consequently conceals or masks a simple act of intuition.” (33)
In any sensing of color, for instance, we attribute to that color a place. When it is asked how we know that the place is the place of the color or of the touch, it must be answered that there are not two enjoyments or separate acts of consciousness. We are not first conscious of the color or of the place and then superimpose one upon the other. Rather, ”The consciousness of intuition of the place is only excited so far as we have a sense of color.” (34)
Hence, there is only one act of mind. And through the sensory character of the act we are aware of the color, through its intuitive character, the place.
There is a fine distinction to be made here. Thus, I shall carry it one step further for emphasis. It is sometimes said that the place is a “partial content” of a sensation. Alexander points out that this does not clarify the mental functions at all. The place in any complex does not function as a stimulus for the act of sensing, whereas, the qualities do. The consciousness of these intuitive characters, then, appears to be an accompanying quality of awareness in any of the acts of sensing. And the categories or complexes of them are the intuitively contemplated objects of these intuitive enjoyments.
It would appear, then, that intuition is another form of consciousness. And so it is, but in the nature of a mother lode from which the other instances of consciousness such as are found in sensing, touching, etc., are but particular samples. And, as in the case where a particular is a poor imitation of the universal (to take the concept out of the mind of Plato) the separate senses not only do not allow a true picture of intuition but even go so far as to cause the intuition to be possible of error. However, reason (though different from it), “may clarify the intuition, as it does in the practical working of the mind in every day life or in the exercise of philosophical speculation.” (35
This is possible since intuition is a kind of reasoning but only in respect of reason being an outgrowth of intuition, an empirical determination of it, as are the senses. By reason, Alexander means reflection. Explication of the unreliability of intuition will be more appropriately treated in the section, “Illusion, Truth, and Error” along with the other problems pertinent to intuition, such as variability of spatial appearances.
c. Objects Distinct From The Mind
We come now to the question of the nature of “objects” and their relation to acts of mind. “These two existences, the act of mind and the object, as they are in the experience, are distinct existences.” (36)
The distinct object is an appearance of a thing. On the one hand, a “thing” is the synthesis of its many appearances of objects of separate acts of mind. On the other, the “object” is but a partial appearance (that may also be a complex of appearances) of the thing. The object is a sensum and is to be distinguished from the act of mind or consciousness of the object. Therefore, it is to be understood that the awareness of an object is, in fact, not the sensum as content of mind, but rather is a consciousness that is a quality of the cerebral neural processes that respond to the sensum. It is implicit in this statement that the sensum (I shall, henceforth, refer to it as “object”) is “outside” the mind.
In an obvious objection to the views on this matter held by Locke and Berkeley, Alexander attempts to show that they arrived at their views because they gave too much importance to the so-called selection by the mind. He points out that “Every object implies a selection from the world of being.” (37) However, the selection may be passive. That is to say, it is impossible for a tone-deaf man to select the distinction between tones. Nor, can the color-blind man distinguish green from red. In this sense, selections are not the same as that of a “standardized” mind because of the “abnormal” condition of their visual and auditory faculties. Their selections are controlled by the state of their physical condition. Objects, except those to which their organisms are receptive, cannot affect these two individuals. An object is compresent with a mind, but if the mind does not have the appropriate capacities for seeing or smelling, then the respective sense cannot be experienced by the mind. If they are experienced at all, only so much of them is sensed as the mind is constituted to receive or select. One would not expect an eye to hear. Likewise, one should not expect an eye to see red if it hasn’t the appropriate capacity for selecting red out of the whole of reality.
I should mention that Alexander is referring to mind as an identification of consciousness and the cerebral neural process with the emphasis placed on the physical aspect. An example is the refusal of one to hear unpleasant remarks about the character of a loved one, or one who prefers death to neglect of duty.
This selectiveness of the mind induces the belief that the objects of
the mind are made by it, so that they would not be except for the mind.
There is no doubt that when I view the corner of a table, it is a selective action, but it is so, merely because I confine myself to a position such that the corner of the table is all I can see. The fact remains, however, that the corner belongs to the table and is not the content of my mind. What do belong to me are the conditions whereby there is no alternative but to observe the corner of the table so long as I maintain the position.
Alexander uses a more obvious example of a steam engine. Not only do the qualities of the steam engine not depend upon mind for existence but, the individual must adopt a course of action in relation to it to avoid possible painful consequences resulting from its qualities.
The term “object” is a question-begging word. It implies a “subject.” But all that the object owes to the subject is “merely that it is known, but neither its qualities as known nor its existence.” (39)
With these prejudices removed, it is clear that experience shows the object to be distinct from the mind. As we shall see presently, the objects of the mind do, in fact, constitute the “external” thing. But more of that later.
The object is not a “mere distinction of the act of mind from its object or so-called content.” (40) Those who have taken it to be the “mere formal object have missed the point.” (41) “How does one know that an object exists independently of the mind?” one might ask. Alexander answers:
In the experience of it the independent object is revealed as entering
into relation with the apprehending mental act. The problem is not
evaded but it is shown to be gratuitous. But it is replaced by a different
problem . . . namely, how amongst the objects of which we are aware as
distinct from ourselves, there comes to arise the distinction of the real
and the illusory.” (42)
We shall investigate this “different problem” in another section. The task at hand is to explain the possibility of objects (sensum, images, appearances, etc.) being distinct from the mind and the manner in which the distinction is revealed. Alexander declares,
I thought I could thus understand how purely vital processes could
be objects to us, as they are revealed to us in organic and kinesthetic
sensations, which certainly seem as much objects as colour. (43)
It may be helpful, at this point, to make clear that by the term ‘revealed,’ Alexander is not suggesting the removal from the object a “veil or screen,” as was suggested in criticism, but rather “I speak of these objects as revealed in order to indicate their externality or non-mentality.” (44)
It may be needless to point out that Alexander is including every kind of sensation as an object of the mind, but I do so because the terms ‘object’ and ‘sensa’ so easily lend themselves to the impression of visible entities. Alexander wishes to include within the scope of the term ‘object’: vision, smell, sound, taste, muscular, tension, mental images, hallucinations, and any other conceivable sensum which can be “contemplated.”
The possibility of distinction is implicit in Alexander’s concept of mind. He has shorn it of all possible content except for its categorical character. The object is perforce distinct. The substantiating facts are the difficulties incurred by endowing mind with content. The activities of mind, then, become unexplainable or indescribable on valid and consistent grounds and are doomed to the rubbish heap upon critical analysis.
In exchange for content, Alexander offers us “consciousness” or “enjoyment” of objects distinct from the mind.
The object is known for what it is, not necessarily as it is in nature
for there may be illusion, but at its face value, as blue or square or table
or the number 2 or the law of gravitation. (45)
For each of the acts of mind, there is a respective object, sensa, percepts, images, concepts, etc. Each of these is independent of the mind, but is related in compresence, not only with each other, but also with their respective enjoying faculties. It is with this concept of compresence that we are led to the problem of the Relation of Mind to Objects.
d. Relation of Mind to Objects
It is with the relationship of the two elements in experience that we find the most interesting consequences of Alexander’s definition of Experience.
Now the experience of this relation of knower to known declares
that mind and its object are two separate existences connected together
by the relation of togetherness or compresence, where the word
compresence is not taken to imply co-existence in the same moment of
time, but only the fact of belonging to one experienced world. (46)
Before looking into the concept of compresence itself, it must first be made clear that though mind is an existence in the world, it is not possible for one to contemplate his own mind as he would objects external to it. If we will recall our treatment of enjoyment, we will see that mind (qualitatively) is total enjoying. And when we experience the enjoyments in the mind, we have a condition of introspection. Alexander permits the word no wider meaning. “Introspection is in fact merely experiencing our mental state.” (47) “Introspection informs me only of myself as the act of perceiving.” (48)
What some schools of thought (especially those holding sensum to be content of mind) normally call introspection is in fact extrospection, contemplation of objects, the enjoyed. “It is extrospection which informs me of the tree.” (49) Mind may be an object only to the “angel” which sees it in compresence with the tree that it (the mind) is contemplating just as the mind contemplates the compresence of the tree and the earth.
1. Compresence -- The relation of mind and its objects, then, is compresence, i.e., is the togetherness of mind and tree. “That togetherness is the togetherness of an “ing”and an “ed,” (50) i.e., the enjoying and the object enjoyed.
Can compresence be experienced? In the case of the compresence of two objects no difficulty arises. The experiencer enjoys their compresence. But, the case of an object being compresent with a non-object quality is another thing. By Alexander’s own definition, the situation, we call an experience, contains an act of mind and a non-mental object. How, then, can compresence be experienced when it is not an object? Compresence, experienced, is the enjoying of the enjoying of the object in which the object is a necessary part of the experience. In this way the togetherness of mind, qua enjoying, with the object it contemplates, is experienced as compresence.
A clearer insight may be found in our explanation of mind as a causal agent. If one, (or more) neural process is contemplating or enjoying an object, another neural process (since all are of the same roots) can respond to and be conscious of that experience of the act of mind and its object -- of its togetherness or compresence. This is possible because an experience is of such a nature that where there is an act of enjoyment, there is an object being enjoyed. And there is no evidence of their ever having been a mental set without an accompanying object. Alexander concludes that, “My awareness and my being aware of it are identical.” (51)
Feel yourself into the whole situation and you will realize that this
situation is the compresence of two things of which one, the act of mind
enjoys itself and in the act of enjoying itself contemplates the other. To
be aware of a thing is to be caught in the common web of the universe,
to be an existence, alongside the other existences. (52)
Hence, enjoying the enjoying of an object is the same as enjoying their togetherness. The latter, in turn, is equal to enjoying the contemplated. And, “I neither ought to count the relation twice over nor can I in fact do so.” (53)
Within the context of the subject of compresence, it should be noted that the mind is the “Substantial Totality” (54) of its various acts in compresence with their objects. Furthermore, acts of mind are compresent with each other. “There is togetherness in enjoyment, as when two acts of mind are distinguished by us as enjoyed, whether at the same time . . . or in succession. (55) We shall have occasion to discuss this further in the presentation of the Synthesis of Objects.
We see, then, that the relation of mind and its objects is one of compresence, of inseparable togetherness where the object is non-mental.
e. Unity of Consciousness
Consciousness is another name for acts of mind. (56)
For the sake of clarity, we should remember that the “acts” (or mind) are, in fact, mind if taken as a continuity and interrelatedness. The unity of consciousness, then, could be spoken of as the unity of the acts of the mind.
Even if there were but one act of mind, there would be consciousness. And if this were the limit of mental activity in a particular creature, this single act would constitute its mind. But where there is a multiplicity of acts, each act a consciousness, “mind” implies their unity.
Furthermore, it cannot be emphasized too greatly that consciousness (or mind in its mental aspect) is a quality as is the color orange. (Alexander often uses the terms interchangeably when he means consciousness as a unity.) This quality is a new quality of existence, and a creature possessing it is of a higher order than any existence lacking it.
Consciousness is a distinctive quality which belongs to organic being
at a certain stage, and . . .it is as much a specific quality as blue or life.
This is all that mind or consciousness is. Any other content attributed to mind, such as images, sensations, etc., are mere psychological fictions. For those who claim such “content,” they are hard put to show evidence of it in the neural process, and, hence, are presented with the difficulty of explaining how the image of a brown table forges the gap from the neural process to the mental process for which the claim of “content” is made.
Alexander doubts that anyone ever really imagined the qualities “tabular” or “blue” to be present in a mental process. Yet, there is a content attributed to the mind that is supposed to vary internally so as to correspond with the view of the external object. Alexander cannot accept this “lingering tradition of representationism” (58) that provides the mind with mental objects.
The mental progress has no character beyond the quality of consciousness or enjoying other than those qualities of the neural processes (mental or merely vital) themselves such as the empirical forms of categorical characters of “intensity or locality, velocity, and the like.” (59) Aside from these qualities Alexander sees no reason to differentiate the neural and mental processes. The neural processes differ in their activity according to the stimulant and since mind is a quality in the processes, there is an awareness of such activity. He points out:
It is not the same act of mind which apprehends green as
apprehends red, still less as apprehends sweet, and my response to a
tree differs from my response to a man. Briefly as the object varies,
however minutely, so do the corresponding enjoyment vary, however
minutely. But this variation in the mind is not a variation of quality. The
mind to experience has only the quality of being mind, that is of being
There are certain difficulties underlying the problem of the unity of consciousness as a direct result of past concepts of the possibility and location of sensory experience. Alexander clarifies them on the basis of his hypothesis that mind is a quality of the neural processes and that sensory objects are distinct from the mind.
The problem is raised regarding the possibility of receiving a sensation different from and as a result of sensations derived simultaneously from two different stimuli. That is, how is it possible, as in the case of “binocular fusion,” that red seen through one eye and blue through the other at the same time result, in the mental content purple when there is no “physical connection” between the two stimuli in the cerebral neural structure? Alexander accuses McDougall of requiring an intervening soul as being responsible for the fusion of red and blue (mental contents) into purple on the level of the mental state.
On Alexander’s hypothesis, the difficulties beset by the assumption of a mental content are not existent. He accepts no content. Only consciousness or awareness; i.e., enjoying is the content or quality that is mind. He insists that as long as there is a physical connection (and we will recall all the neural processes stem from the same root) then there is no need for a connection on a sensory or cerebral level and especially not on a conscious level.
Two simultaneous processes in the mind, not necessarily connected
at the conscious level, may form a single act of consciousness with an
object different from that of either of the two mental processes taken
This passage is somewhat troublesome but supposedly offers the solution to the problem of “binocular fusion.” Alexander has already defined mind as the identification of consciousness with the neural processes that possess the mental character. It is obvious, then, that these two processes, mentioned, cannot be in the mind where he places them if they are below the conscious level, they become so upon reaching this level. I am sure he does not mean to imply that there can be “merely vital” processes identified with mind.
Proceeding on this assumption, two “merely vital” responses (to two stimuli) by the time they reached the conscious level would have formed a single act of consciousness of purple. The implication is that the merely vital neural processes and those processes possessing the quality of consciousness constitute an interconnected structure; such that certain of the processes may respond without there being an awareness of the responses. But, because of the interconnection, the responses are carried on through the neural processes until they reach those possessing the quality of consciousness. By this time, the processes have been integrated into a single process creating an awareness of an object (purple) different from the two stimuli.
If we distinguish the sensing from the sensum, and hold that the
sensum is in the external thing, then all our business is to note the
difference in the neural machinery of response (carrying with it the
quality, not of the sensum but of consciousness) in the binocular
If we grant Alexander’s solution, for the moment, in the binocular instance, another difficulty would be raised. It might be asked, “How is it possible to distinguish consciousness of the hard chair, on which I sit, from consciousness of the tree I see through the window?”
Alexander cites other difficulties that might be raised such as the disconnection involved in a dreamless sleep, and other gaps in time and in space.
It is not how there can be mental unity without complete physical
unification by lines of conscious connection, but how there can be unity
in enjoyment when enjoyments are discontinuous though the neural
structure as a whole is conscious. (63)
“The puzzle arises from the fact that while all psychoses are
neuroses, not all neuroses are psychoses.” (64)
These problems cannot be solved by animistic tenents or for that matter, in any way unless
. . .mind is identical with some physical counterpart and is connected
by some physical connections which need not necessarily be themselves
mental ones, carrying the mental quality. (65)
The solutions, then, rest in a study of the “ways of apprehending” or more to the point of “intuition” of which we have already given a partial account. If we will recall this account, we shall see that in regard to the distinction of separate acts consciousnesses, we rely upon our intuitions that distinguish the categorical characters of any complex of objects. Moreover, it is through further experience and the scientific method (as a corrective measure of intuitions) that we come to associate certain patterns of cause and effect such as
To correlate events in the external world with one another as cause
and effect . . . similarly, with the corresponding mental acts in which the
events are apprehended. (66)
As to the gaps in time, such as in sleep, again our intuitions come into play for we do in fact wake up knowing we are the “same mind as enjoyed reading ‘Moliere,’” (67) before having gone to bed. Furthermore, there is an enjoyment of the memory of having done so. The mental time and space gap itself is enjoyed as not having been filled with mental events.
1. Displaced Objects -- Binocular fusion, however, as well as the case of any form of illusion, is a more serious problem than the others to consider. It could certainly be asked what bearing a “response for seeing” purple has on the sensum purple that we are conscious of as being present in an instance of binocular fusion or in any form of illusion. What does consciousness of a color (or any sensum) mean if it does not entail the presence of the sensum? But Alexander declares:
As no finite existent can affect our mind directly without evoking its
appropriate conscious act, so no conscious act can exist without its
appropriate external object in the spatio-temporal world. (68)
It would appear, then, that there is in the real world of Space-Time, perhaps what Whitehead would call, eternal objects. Whether Alexander would agree to this specific reference, I am not sure. At any rate he expresses it thusly:
I do not make the green which I see in the illusory sensation or
hallucination. All I do is to act in the appropriate way for seeing it. I
select it out of the great external whole of Space-Time with all its
contained qualities. (69)
Alexander is not clear as to whether “out of the great external whole of Space-Time” means what it appears to say or that it means there can be a displacement of qualities from objects in the past of one’s experiences or from coexistent objects of any kind. He intimates the latter in the following passage:
The object, with which the mind is brought into compresence by
virtue of act initiated by itself, is transferred from its place in the world
into a place to which it does not belong. The illusion is a transportation
of materials. (70)
But no matter from what specific locality such objects may be selected, he insists upon their external reality. That is to say,
However, unreal it [illusion, imagination, etc.] may be, all the
materials are in the non-mental world out of which it is built, or to put
the matter otherwise, reality provides the basis of the imaginary
Now just as it is impossible to “see” without an eye to see with, it is impossible to be aware of an object unless there is a proper neural response conducive to it. As it has been shown before, there is a response for seeing red as distinguished from a response for seeing purple. And, in an environment of all the colors, only for those colors for which there are the appropriate responses, will there be an awareness.
The unity of consciousness, then it can now be seen, is identical with the integrated responses of the neural process, possessing the mental quality where these responses may begin on a level that lack consciousness and in their connectedness and integration become altered responses on the conscious level. As we proceed to the next chapter, we shall see what bearing the unity of consciousness (through memory, illusion, imagination, as well as the senses) will have on the possibility and nature of knowledge, truth, and error.
A study of knowledge requires the analysis of the functions by which knowledge is obtained. We have already considered the acts of mind. We shall see that each act entails an act of knowing just as each sensory act masks an act of intuition. I intend to deal, in general, with the “act of knowing” (that includes every kind of act) and in detail with the acts of remembering and thinking, their respective objects, the synthesis of objects, and the nature of truth, illusion, and error.
The nature of knowledge itself, as the object of knowing includes any and all objects (physical or mental) whatsoever. It will do well, therefore, as I treat these concepts to bear in mind their character of knowledge and their functions in knowing. I shall treat them as separate problems (that fall within the scope of knowledge) in order to place the emphasis upon the individual concepts themselves.
We know because we do. (72)
All error in understanding what knowing is arises from holding the
principle that our actions are determined by knowledge, that we first
know then act. All truth in these matters depends on recognizing the
opposite principle that we know in and through acting. (73)
The response is the knowing. We know an apple is edible because we find it to be so by trying to eat it. The apple excites our instincts or appetites to grasp it and eat it. The continuity or responses that led to and during the eating of the apple came first. The consciousness of its edibility came not afterward but during the action and thus became knowledge.
Another situation taken from William James: A young boy who rushes from the edge of a platform to his father’s knees in fear of the onrushing train does not first know the train is dangerous but first “forced by the monster to run away, apprehends it thereby as dangerous.” (74)
This example, I must admit, is not as simple as the first. If the boy had never previously seen or experienced disastrous consequences resulting from such a situation, he would, in fact, never know whether or not the train is dangerous. It might be the case that his reaction is a result of phobia or a misconception, which his state of mind does not correspond to fact.
But, does Alexander mean this as I have shown it? I think not. We must not impute to his concept of knowing any more than has as yet been presented. Knowing is a state of consciousness of the response that was stimulated by the onrushing train. It has nothing to do regarding the correspondence of fact, wherein its state of conditions is not dependent upon any one mind. This, however, borders upon the problem of Truth and Error that we shall discuss shortly.
“The mind Knows” (75) is Alexander’s conclusion as to the nature of the mind’s function. This is brute fact. Any act of mind or enjoying is simultaneously an act of knowing.
Let knowing stand for all kinds of apprehension of objects, whether
sensation, or thought, or memory, or imagination, or any other. (76)
It is necessary to realize that for a cognitive situation, Alexander has in mind the “substantial total” of acts of mind. That is, mind includes all the separate acts functioning in continuity at a given moment including especially the memory function of the neural processes. As a matter of fact, the greater part of our knowledge is dependent upon the memory function. The act of knowing is different from an act of perceiving or any other act in so far as the latter could not be substituted for the former. Perceiving is a part of knowing. Knowing, however, is all-inclusive, while the act of perceiving is restricted to the enjoyment of those processes responsible for the contemplation of objects. Knowing, in this broad sense, should be distinguished from knowing as a mere single act of enjoyment.
1. Cognition As Compresence -- A further distinction to be made is the one between knowing on the human level and cognition. “The cognitive relation corresponds to the word ‘of,’ and it is . . . togetherness.” (77)
Cognition, then, is compresence. And it is only in this sense that inanimate things may possess a cognitive relation. Knowing enters into a cognitive relation and is identified with cognition only to the extent that mind, as an act of knowing, is compresent with the object being known or contemplated. It is to be admitted, however, that Alexander has spoken of the possibility of inanimate objects knowing each other.
We should keep in mind that the knowing process in the human being, on the physical level, is a response in which the creature responding possesses the quality of consciousness of that response. If we look upon it strictly as a response, as it would be and is in the case of many of our neural processes that don’t possess consciousness, then by using the term ‘knowing,’ or ‘cognition,’ Alexander is within his rights in speaking of inanimate things taking cognizance of each other. In fact, they do respond to each other.
Consider Newton’s law of Universal gravitation, wherein two masses are attracted to each other. Take a more obvious example, the expansion of a metal being heated. These are, indubitably, responses. Our difficulty is that the term ‘response,’ from common usage, has taken on the added quality of “deliberateness.” It is exactly this that Alexander rejects. Our neural responses are of the exact nature of passivity as in the response between two inanimate things. This smacks of materialism. But Alexander declares that we must recognize that our neural processes are not inanimate but “full of life.” We are different, furthermore, from inanimate things in that we are so often conscious of our responses.
Moreover, it is the nature of our processes to be capable of retaining memory impressions. Every experience leaves its mark on or alters the neural processes, however minutely, sufficiently to bear the imprint of its past when the proper stimuli calls forth the proper responses. We shall discuss this more fully later.
I have already indicated the manner in which mind is an active agent. Memory of a past experience itself is one of the internal stimuli that give mind its active character. Another is the awareness of hunger or thirst. The difference we have been speaking of, thus far, has been between ourselves as “physical and psychical” entities as compared to inanimate things. But Alexander goes further. He insists that the relation of mind and object is no different from the compresence of objects or things one to another.
There is nothing in the compresence between the mind and its
objects to distinguish that relation from the compresence between any
two objects which it contemplates. (78)
Hence, the cognitive relation, itself, is not “unique.” If Alexander means, in this passage, mind qua consciousness, his remark is justified. But, it he means by mind both its physical and mental aspect, there is a great difference. For, in this case, we have the neural process in compresence with the object, capable of responding to the object in many ways in which the object is not capable or reciprocating. The one great difference, to give a specific example, is that mind in its physical aspect is conscious of the object whereas the object is not conscious of the mind.
a. Conation -- Along with cognition should be examined the concept of conation. Cognition qua compresence, however, must not be taken to mean only the relation of the two existences as if a relation were possible without the presence of the constituent parts. As we examine conation, we shall see more clearly that cognition, qua relation, is, in fact, the whole, i.e., the “belonging to the same experienced world,” and the existences.
The term ‘conation’ is commonly restricted in its usage to. . .active
processes. . . . Cognition is nothing but the conation itself insofar as it is
compresent with and refers to an object. (79)
In the same sense that enjoying an object is contemplation, conation (of an object) is cognition. The conation is that “part” of the cognition that is active. By “active,” here, we mean every mental act whether passive acts of sense or “active” acts of volition. But, conation, itself, is of two kinds, practical and theoretical.
Practical conation is that which effects our relation with the object, such as the destruction of the apple by eating it, or that that brings us closer to a warm fire. While all mental acts are primarily practical, Alexander considers those acts also theoretical in which we alter ourselves, and not the object.
For example we resolve “neither to hate not to love mankind but to observe them. (80) This kind of activity often resolves into speech. It is speculative or theoretical conation. In any event, our mental action, whichever of the kinds of conation it be, is a “doing.”
We must maintain that the mental act is a conation, which is
something mental, and not merely physiological, and then cognition is
simply the reference of this act to what is non-mental, that is to the
object without which it is meaningless. (81)
It is evident, then that the object of a single act of knowing is, in fact, identical with the object of any single act or mind. An object of knowing, however, qua total enjoying of mind at a given moment, entails an understanding of the manner in which a synthesis of parts into a whole takes place. Furthermore, there is the consideration of the part which illusion, truth, and error play in this synthesis. Hence, a final word regarding knowledge as an object of the mind will be reserved until these problems have been considered.
The object of memory (what I shall call “the memory” as
distinguished from the mental apprehension of it which is
“remembering” is an object imagine or thought of in any past. (82)
The act of remembering is, like all other acts, an act of enjoying and a consciousness. The object of this act is the memory whose pastness is a “datum of experience directly apprehended." (83) The act of remembering, as well as expecting, occurs “at the present moment; but we are not entitled to declare their objects simultaneous with the present.” (84)
The last phrase of this quotation is rather difficult to understand in the way Alexander develops the expansion of it. I must admit that I am not quite sure that I fully comprehend his meaning consistent with his concept of mind and its objects.
Without wanting to digress into the large problem of the nature of Time for Alexander, we are compelled to do so, at least briefly, if we are to understand what he means by a past object belonging to the past.
1. Time -- Time is not the mere measure of fleeting moments. “For time is real and the past is real as past.” (85) If we recall that all existences emerge from Space-Time of which space and time are illegitimate abstracts, it becomes obvious that Space-Time is, in fact, part of any and all objects. Such that when an object is dated, that date (qua time) remains a characteristic of the object. This is possible because time is not only successive but also durational. Space supplies the continuity for that duration and succession.
a. Past and Present objects -- Hence the remembered object is a past object recalled in a present act of remembering.
Not all the subtle and important discovery of temporal signs,
whereby places in time are discriminated as local signs discriminate
positions in space, avails to explain how objective past or future could
be known as past or future were they not already so presented. But if
they carry their time-record with them then past and future need not be
simultaneous with the present in our apprehension of events.” (86)
Those who make the criticism that Alexander is involved in having an object both present and past (two supposedly contradictory concepts if applied to the same object) do so without allowing for Alexander’s concept of time. They criticize on the basis of their own concept of time. For them, there is only a renewal of nows, lacking duration and continuity. “The past instant is no longer present but is dead and gone.” (87) But, Alexander means by “time” an empirically durational existence (that embodies succession) that attaches itself as a date to all events in the world’s history.
If we accept his concept of time, than it is possible to distinguish between a “Past object” and a present one in that the two are enjoyed differently, i.e., the one as past and the other as present. When the object was first contemplated, it had the mark of the present and its presentness was enjoyed as such. At a later date contemplated in an act of remembering, it bears the stamp of pastness.
There is, of course, in Alexander’s philosophy, no doubt, that “as contemplated” the “object in mind does bear the mark of pastness. I strongly suspect that Alexander is not suggesting that the physical object that exists, as a part of Space-time, when it ceases to exist physically, also bears the mark of Space-Time, though one may be able to read that conclusion into his comments about Space-Time. It seems to me that, he is not clear as to whether the Space-Time of the past is a continually existing part of the Space-Time of the present and of the future. If it is, it raises some very serious questions about his hypothesis. As Bertrand Russell quipped, (in paraphrase) “What if God created the universe a second ago.” In such a case, the “past mark” of the contemplated object would be an illusion not baring the mark of pastness in fact.
Alexander denies that memory is a reference to a previously perceived object. As a matter of fact, it should be the reverse. It is the memory that gives us knowledge of having perceived an object in the past. Furthermore, it should be clearly understood that it is the past object (of the mind) and not the past enjoyment of it that is being now enjoyed or remembered. It is remembered, however, that such an enjoyment did occur in the past. This leads to the question: How is it possible to know a past state of ourselves as a subject, since the subject (qua consciousness) is unlike memory qua object? In remembering a past in which the subject took part the:
. . .remembered self is part of my present condition. . . . My past and
future are contained within my present. Indeed my present self is
always broad, and is edged by its own past and future. That is, in fact,
our immediate experience of duration, as well as of succession. My
present always has duration and as the successive broad patches of
mental life in their continuous passage overlap, the sensational element
of the previous patch becomes the fringe of the next patch, and is known
as the immediately preceding event.” (88)
It is obvious that we must not look upon the present, in Alexander’s sense of the word, as a pin point or knife edge moment. A word on the specious present will help to round out what has thus far been covered.
2. Specious Present -- In the specious present, it should be pointed out, “the past element” is a present sensum as contrasted with the image object in memory. Still, it includes both present and future. “For the broad present may contain at least dawning ideas of what is to come, and even dawning sensory objects. . . .” (89)
Time is never sensed as instants, but primarily as a duration in which succession, too, is experienced. It is like “the path of a meteor where the whole movement is sensory and the path of light is seen at once.” (90)
If we analyze a span of sensory consciousness such as the path of a meteor, we are aware that the meteor moved through the path of light that was sensed. It cannot be denied that the position of the meteor at the start of the path preceded in time its position at the end of it. Hence, the start must be construed as being past in relation to the end.
But this whole event has been retained in the mind. There was not necessity to recall, by memory, the start of the meteor in the path of light. For this reason, it may not properly be called “memory.” In the mind, the whole event was present despite the element of time and succession in the event. This is due to our sensible inability to register succession as well as we can measure duration.
3. The Possibility of Memory -- A memory, it will be recalled, is not an object in the same sense as is a present object. It is, however, as real. For both objects are revealed through neural responses. There is this difference. A newly experienced object leaves its trace on the neural processes whereby it becomes a potential memory awaiting the proper stimuli. Alexander feels that it may lie as a disposition in a level of the neural process that is below consciousness. “A memory may remain latent as a physiological trace or disposition awaiting the touch of an appropriate stimulation to take in the full vividness and complexity of a conscious memory.” (91)
This is possible, in his view, because the mental processes (the physical organic structure possessing consciousness) are also vital and are connected with the rest of the vital nervous structure (in which the memory disposition is lodged) that lacks the quality of consciousness. They may, however, also be registered in the “highest level” of mental processes.
The object, by the time it is “recalled” if it is recalled, may have been altered in various ways, by time itself, by experience, or by a breakdown in the neural system due to nutritional deficiency or any of the so-called maladies that experience has shown us to effect the working of the mind. The function of memory itself, however, causes changes. But at the same time it is a factor in retaining its original vividness as well as the completion of itself.
Like a single perception, a single memory is incomplete. The
particular percept is full of movement toward other aspects of the thing
perceived, and the memory in like manner throws out feelers to other
memories. These memories through their internal coherence and
continuity build up for us our memory of the whole thing of which they
are partial representations, and, as in the case just given, may blend in
turn with fresh perceptions, or again, with expectations of the future.
4. Imagination – Alexander often refers to the memory object as an image or thought and has spoken of remembering an object as an object “imagined or thought of.” (93) “In imaging, the act of mind is provoked from within.” (94) In this sense, memory is a kind of imagination for, as in all cases of imagination, no “real thing” is required for the object to be enjoyed such as is required in perception. No image is possible if there was not first some form of perception experienced; i.e., “Imagination is continuous with perception and grows out of it.” (95)
We can. . .construe perception, passing through the images of
memory which are nearer to perception because memory is of
something which was once perceived; thence to an image of an object
once experienced but presented again in imagination without the
consciousness that it is familiar from the past; and thence to the
construction of fancy. (96)
An object of imagination, then, as contrasted with fancy, is a past experienced percept but it is unaccompanied by a consciousness of it having been experienced. It is not clear to me how this is possible nor how the image escapes being stamped with pastness. For, if, as Alexander claims, the object once experienced, belongs to the past in memory, it should be the case also in imagination, unless it is the act of remembering that stamps it in the memory. I doubt, however, that Alexander is prepared to admit this.
The image, however, is an object in the same physical sense and in compresence with an act of imagining or remembering as in an act of perceiving. In the latter, our bodies are acted upon directly by the object, and in the former from “within.” But this does not justify declaring the one mental and the other non-mental. Both are non-mental, and, as we have seen, physical. In both sensations and imaginations, their characteristics are seen to be different. It is only when we cannot verify an image that it is distinguished as being merely an image.
And it is in this way that we come to correct one part of our
experience by another, and to acquire a body of truth, by the use, on
the one hand, of successful dealing with sensible objects, and on the
other, of the thwarting of personal or preconceived expectations by
contrast with sensory fact. (97)
I have found the nature of thought to be one of the more difficult concepts in Alexander’s philosophy. He has made the task of understanding it the more difficult for his carelessness in the use of the term. He has admitted as much.
The word “thought” appears to be used loosely, sometimes it means
thinking proper (judging, conceiving, referring) and this it ought to
mean. Sometimes it is used for any cognitive act of mind. (98)
Still more ambiguity is attached to it since he uses it in an objective as well as an active sense.
Thought is the law of combination of qualities and of their action.
An idea of notion, or concept, or thought, is a very definite form of
mental process, a kind of scheme of mental direction. The physical
object upon which it is directed is the universal. (100)
the percepts and images conform. (101)
A good portion of this ambiguity will disappear if we take care to interpret thought to mean “thinking proper” when the term is used in an active sense.
What the meaning of thought is, in its objective sense, will require careful analysis. At any rate, Alexander appears to equate it with the terms, ‘idea,’ ‘notion,’ and ‘concept.’
Let us turn to the act of thinking for the moment. If we keep in mind all that has been said of acts of mind in general, we will recognize that the act of thinking is no different in principle. It is but the enjoyment of the object appropriate to thinking, identified with the proper neurological process without which there could not be the awareness. Hence, to better understand the act of thinking, we must first understand the object of that act.
Since Alexander’s use of the word, “Thought,” is not entirely consistent, I shall use it only objectively and shall refer to the act as “thinking.”
There is, however, a necessary digression forced upon us before we may entertain the problem of thought. In the above quotation, defining “thought,” Alexander refers to “qualities,” “universals,” “Law of construction,” and “scheme of mental direction. The last, we shall deal with in the problem proper. The first one requires at least a minimal explanation even though it be at the risk of over-simplification.
1. Qualities and Categorical Characters -- By qualities, Alexander means those variable characteristics, including the so-called primary and secondary qualities, that one existent may possess and another may not, such as materiality, life, color, consciousness, taste, mass, etc.
Other distinctions between primary and secondary qualities require a word regarding categorical characters that are “the ground work of all empirical reality. (102) These are the pervasive characters, as for example, extension, number, substance, identity (of number and kind), and diversity, that are found in every existent. Primary qualities are the empirical variations of these categorical characters which are themselves “not only universals but . . . are truly universal in the sense that all existents partake of them.” (103)
If we observe the changing dimensions or shape of a malleable object, we are, in fact, witnessing the categorical character of extension manifested as a primary quality in an “empirical circumstance.” The secondary qualities in turn are “correlated with complexities in the primary qualities themselves.” (104) Qualities, in general, like all other existents, are groupings of motions within the whole of Space-Time, that is “pure motion.”
The categorical characters are “the universal constituents of whatever is experienced.” (105) In the limited sense of the term, they are often referred to as “the non-empirical characters.” The distinction between the qualitative and categorical characters is discovered within experience itself.
2. Thought Without Images -- We shall return now to the central problem. The universal will be seen to be the object of thinking and, in this capacity, is identified with thought, insofar as the mind is aware of the enjoyment of the universal. In relation to the problem of synthesis, however, it is the “law of construction.” Regarding the mind, it is the law or scheme of directions or acts of mind by which the synthesis in the external world may be known as a synthesis by the mind. Each of these, however, is identical with universality. The term ‘universal’ may be substituted with any of them. However, the reverse will not hold inasmuch as each of the terms requires a specific context. But it will be seen that they are inseparably, though according to Alexander, not inseparately interrelated.
The universal is the plan or law of the construction of the thing, whereas the act of thinking is the response to it of the proper neurological processes plus awareness.
What thinking does is merely, as in conceiving, to contemplate the
universal in the object, by itself, and detach it from its particular
surroundings as a separate object of attention. Thinking is the
corresponding mental act which apprehends the universal as such. (106)
The thought (idea, notion, or concept) as differentiated from both of these is the universal, law, or form of construction or scheme of direction as it is apprehended in the mind, by the mind, after the act of thinking has contemplated it and centered its attention upon it in the object. We have already verified the existence in consciousness of the distinct awareness in enjoyment of the plan of any complex. (107)
a. Mental Objects -- It is the universal or categorical characters which stimulate the act of thinking, that is, toward which the act of thinking is drawn in direction. And it could be said in a peculiar sense that thinking has two objects, one the universal in things, the other, the plan, law, or scheme of direction; that is the thought, idea, notion, or concept in the mind.
The latter is imageless and is known as the awareness that is the total activity of consciousness identified with direction.
Thoughts are a specific kind of mental objects and thinking a specific
sort of mental process, but the results show that extraordinary variation
which may exist in the thought according to circumstances. Thoughts
may in the first place exist without corresponding images, though it is
not shown that they may exist except in conjunction with other
individual mental contents, for example the words of the question. But
the thought may be of the vaguest description: a mere awareness of
some thing or other, or reference in a certain undefined direction, or
again it is shown that in remembering we may, without calling up an
image, have a thought of an object once experienced or the thought of
having once experienced it. There may be thoughts of relations
between objects or the thought of my own relation to some object and
the like. (108)
The categorical characters are the content of mind qua mental objects. They are objects of which we are aware, not through the senses, but through intuition. In the enjoyment of any universal (qua categorical characters) such universal is not perceived or sensed as in color, taste, etc. It is intuited.
The plan of action or response or direction or the law of construction, whatever we choose to call it, may not be separated from the action itself, except for discursive purposes, unless that plan or law is identified with the universal in the thing as opposed to the universal or law (thought) in the mind.
3. Ideas -- I have shown the apparent identification of “idea” with “thought.” However, Alexander refers to ideas as “things or partial selections from them.” (109) This is his way of comparing himself with Berkeley who held that things are ideas. I think the passage is quite consistent with his frequent references to universals or schemes of direction.
a. Ideation -- His language is at times such as to imply that by “idea,” he means the ideation in any given existent non-mental or physical. And, in fact, he does mean this in the capacity of a universal. We ideate things in their absence. We ideate the back of a desk as we contemplate it from the front. But we do not ideate it in detail. For example, when I think of a dear friend, I think of him in terms of his personality in terms of the “singular universal” that persists from day to day as “he” changes from day to day. True, I may attach qualifications, such as a “sick” friend or a “brown” desk, but this, too, is in the capacity of universality. To use Alexander’s example -- a gold mountain does not exist (at least that we know of) except in the mind by attaching the two universals, “gold” and “mountain,” together. If we place this particular “gold mountain” in a particular place, the idea of the place is, itself, an awareness of a universal -- a “singular universal,” i.e., the law or plan of construction or categorical characters to which the other distinguishing qualitative existents (all of which, themselves, are ridden with categorical characters) “attach themselves.”
4. Direction -- Ideas then, as identified with thought are a kind of mental process in which the mental activity is an activity of directions and the ought is the plan of those directions. What makes one idea or thought different from another in a consciousness is merely the difference in the plan of the mental direction. The consciousness of green or blue is no different from the consciousness of yellow, or of tree or man. “When the object is different, the direction of my activity is different, but the object has nothing to do with my mind,” (110) except to stimulate awareness and a difference of direction.
The thought then, is but the plan or law of the direction of the various responses. This law of direction or scheme of construction is a limited total of activity that is both stimulated and (whose limitation is) fixed by the universal in the thing or object that is, itself, a limitation beyond which a specific existent could not be recognized as such.
d. Synthesis of Objects
1. The Nature of Things
Consider as related to a mind and contemplated by it, a thing is seen
to be a synthesis of scensa, percepts, images, memories, and thoughts,
or plans of configuration. . . . All these are partial objects which in their
synthesis constitute the thing. (111)
Alexander is not saying that we synthesize a thing out of its various qualities. Rather, we discover that a thing is a synthesis of its qualities.
a. Nature of Synthesis -- Synthesis is but another instance of compresence as is the experience of knowing.
The first and simplest relation between finite existences, under
which name are included not merely things in the ordinary sense but
components of them or aspects or parts of them, is their compresence
within the one Space-Time of which all alike are differentiations. (112)
For greater clarity, it should be said that synthesis is differentiated from knowing in that the latter has included in it an emphasis on conscious doing or response, whereas, the former has no reference to consciousness at all. Synthesis is the bare togetherness, or the intermixture of grouping of motions in Space-Time, that constitutes the separate qualities. It is on these motions where the emphasis of synthesis must be placed in Alexander’s system. These different groupings of motions are so intermixed that it is only by a continuous stream of varied experiences that we are able to discover the synthesis. Alexander says:
Considered in itself, a thing is, we have seen, a portion of
Space-Time with certain contour of its own and a plan of configuration
of the various motions which take place and are connected together
with it. As a piece of Space-Time it has substance. As the whole
within which the motions take place, it is the synthesis or them. . .the
unifier which makes a thing is its Space-Time. (113)
This description applies not only to physical things but also to mind. The difference, however, is recognized in that the former is contemplated by way of its qualities as objects distinct from the mind. The latter is enjoyed in its contemplation of the objects. In passing, it might be mentioned that Alexander believes, in a strict sense, there is only one thing, i.e., Space-Time. In this respect, it could be said that Alexander’s system is a pantheistic one with a smattering of Parmenides' singular Being. But, he takes the edge off of this view in declaring that, “motions do cohere together in groups and form things, so that a plant is a distinct thing from a stone.” (114)
He is then using the term ‘thing’ to refer, in the wider sense, to the whole of Space-Time, and in a narrower sense to the synthesis of motions that are themselves the qualities that constitute a thing.
As I have already stated, it is not the task of this paper to criticize, or defend, extensively, Alexander’s metaphysical hypothesis. Hence, the question as to the meaning of “Space-Time” or “motion” is left for another time or for others. I have included the passage, “112,” merely to give a more comprehensive view of Alexander’s concept of the nature of things. It is possible, at any rate, to understand it in its relation to mind, as he uses the term, without being sidetracked by a criticism of his use of the terms ‘Space-Time’ and ‘motion,’ not to mention, ‘mind,’ and ‘reality.’
2. Synthesis of Experience -- It is important to recognize that non-mental objects are individually “selections according to interest, from a completer object that is discovered by the synthesis of my experiences.” (115) Emphasis is to be placed on the term ‘discovered.’ This synthesis of experiences is, in fact, the way our organic processes function in their responses to objects. There is no question of deliberateness or of intention. The phrase “selections according to interest” would seem to belie this. But let us consider another passage:
Thus immediately, or by a union of many experiences, we are aware
not merely of a mental act but of a mind to which that act belongs,
which we experience in an enjoyed synthesis of many mental acts, a
synthesis we do not create but find. In like manner we become aware
of a thing as the synthesis of its appearances to mind on different
occasions where again the synthesis must not be supposed to be made
by the mind, but to be in the actual objects themselves. (116)
The quotation above appears to contradict the following:
When I have the visual objects ‘brown,’ ‘square’ before me, I do
not see the table, but only when by repeated experience I have
connected these objects into a unity with “solidity” and “wooden” and
the rest; so that when I perceive the table, that object is revealed to me
in perceiving as the total of its constituents. (117)
If one is inclined to
accept Alexander’s metaphysical hypotheses, the apparent contradiction can be
explained away first if we realize that it is “by repeated experiences”
that “I have connected.” The
“I” refers to the organism, mental and physical, in its passivity for, in
continuing, he declares the whole to be “revealed.”
This is reference to the awareness of the thing as the sum total of its
If one is inclined to accept Alexander’s metaphysical hypotheses, the apparent contradiction can be explained away first if we realize that it is “by repeated experiences” that “I have connected.” The “I” refers to the organism, mental and physical, in its passivity for, in continuing, he declares the whole to be “revealed.” This is reference to the awareness of the thing as the sum total of its qualities.
We see, then, that it is possible to enjoy, in contemplation, not only separate objects like color, line, etc., but also their synthesis that constitutes, for instance, the corner of a table. Further, it is possible to enjoy the whole table because the mind is unified, not only by Space-Time but by memory as well. When we look at the corner of the table, we do, in fact, respond as if there is a whole table present. Our memory serves us as proof, on the basis of past experiences regarding the table. Furthermore, from our past experiences of the nature of things, if we have not previously experienced a part or quality of a thing, such as the back of a new desk, our minds function so as to supply in ideation the formerly unexperienced part.
a. Thing As Seen – Alexander insists that the non-mental objects, present to the mind, constitute the thing only as seen, not that they constitute the thing in its total reality.
What we shall call a thing is largely determined by our interest. . . . But
it may be impossible to perceive a thing alone, and the foreign thing may
distort the object and make it not a real appearance but a mere
Illusion, too, distorts the whole as seen, and we shall consider it shortly in the major role it plays in the determination of truth and error.
By “real appearances,” Alexander means what a thing would appear to be if it were isolated in a universe without other things to cast reflections or distortions upon it – assuming of course the existence of what he calls “standardized” or normal minds.” (119)
Mere appearances are those that do not belong to the thing but are attributed to it or cast upon it by “foreign” things such as the appearance of a bent stick in water or the hue of a distant mountain. “Thus a thing in its true nature accepts the real appearances and rejects mere and illusory appearances.” (120)
e. Illusion, Truth, and Error
We have seen how spatial characters and other categories are apprehended by intuition. We have now to look into the possibility of truth and error, of variation and distortion in intuition. Basically, the defects of intuition stem from the defects of our senses. There can be intuiting only concomitant with sensing. “Our intuitions are affected by whatever conditions affect the perception by sense of a thing.” (121) This is so because our consciousness is limited by the conditions that evoke it. It was seen that the objects distinct from the mind evoke our consciousness.
For example, when we see a disc at a touching distance from the eye, there is a particular area of the retinal region stimulated giving rise to the concomitant intuition of a particular size. At a greater distance, however, the disc appears smaller because of the medium of sensing, i.e., the transference of light from the disc to the eye at this distance, stimulates a smaller area of the retinal region due to the subtended angle of the light rays controlling the size of this area. Since intuiting is stimulated only in conjunction with sensing, it functions within the conditions of the sensing. This is better understood if we consider it in terms of the object distant from the mind. The object is what it is seen to be and it is seen to be smaller at a distance from the mind.
We may not properly separate the “smaller” from “its distance” because its size and distance are both considered by the mind. The question of truth and error, in regard to the seen size and place, does not enter until a belief of some sort is attached to it. It is when a belief is attached to the intuition that the possibility of truth or error enters. There is no need to labor upon the defects of intuition when, in our analysis of illusion, we shall see what the defects of the senses are. We need keep in mind, when we consider this problem, only that all our intuitions do in fact bear all the defects of the senses.
a. Correction of Intuition -- It was previously stated that reason corrected intuition.
Our remedy for the disabilities under which our intuitions labour is
found in our capacity for reflection, for contemplating not merely the
particular but the law of its configuration. (122)
There are two ways in which they may be accomplished. The first is through the invention of instruments making our observations of both primary and secondary qualities more exact. Now it may be argued that we still depend upon the senses for observing the results obtained through the instruments. This is indeed true. But, methods are devised for controlling the instruments in such a way as to cancel out the errors of the observer, that is, to make us independent, to a large extent, of our defects. Secondly, reflection develops sciences by which the defects of the senses can be accounted for. Especially in respect of intuition, we have the science of mathematics that, in place of reality, substitutes its own spatial-temporal laws.
Mathematics is thus engendered from the defects of our intuitions, as
the other sciences from the defects of our senses. And it is the
fundamental science because it deals with the fundamental material of
which all qualities represent complexities.(123)
For Alexander, the content of mathematics is not hypothetical. As with Plato, he insists it is the universal in things. Triangles, numbers, etc., are not inventions of the mind, they are, rather, discoveries of the nature of the world, and, hence, are realistic. Seemingly contradicting himself, he insists that mathematics is, in fact, “experimental” and
. . . deals with empirical determinations of Space-Time like triangles or
integers, or irrationals. It is only its material which is a priori and not its
Thus it is seen that mathematics is concerned with the discovery and interconnections of the empirical determinations of Space-Time, from which it arrives at the laws of intuitional objects; and, these objects would be real ones without the aid of corrective measures if we could but strip intuition of its sense. As it is, it does not deal with qualitative characteristics of existents.
I suppose, considering the evolution of mathematical language as a system of logic, and its usefulness as a tool, in many ways it is used experimentally.
In an analysis of his concept of illusion, and truth and error, we shall see more detailed reasons for the assertions just made. And though little or no further mention of intuition may be made, all that is about to be said applies to intuition as well as to any of the senses.
To see a stick half straight in air and half bent in water is not an
illusion. But to see the bent part of the stick as part of the whole straight
stick is illusory. When we go further and believe that the straight stick is
bent in water, we take a step beyond illusion and are victims of error.
It is common in holding a disc at an oblique angle, upon asking what is the shape of the article, to be answered “round.” It is, in fact, judged as being round though seen as elliptical. But if the perceiver saw the disc as being elliptical, this would be an illusory appearance and if he judged or believed it to be elliptical, when, in fact, it was round [assuming, of course that physical roundness equated with definitional roundness] this would be error.
But, the abnormality need not be physical. It may be caused by custom, ideas, false intuitions, passion, prejudice, some predominate interest, or some mental twist or perversity.
However, such idiosyncrasies may be corrected by further direct experience, whereas, an illusion due to a physical defect cannot be so corrected. A color-blind person sees gray when he is looking at red. Thus, there is an illusion. But this illusion cannot be corrected by further direct experience, that is, by reflection or further perceiving. Yet, the person may not believe that the thing, he is perceiving, is really gray. Therefore, he is not a victim of error.
The world of illusion is the same as what we call the real world, but
dislocated, its parts taken from their proper places and referred amiss.
That dislocation is the mind’s own work. Illusion is due to the intrusion of
the mind’s own idiosyncrasies into the apprehension of reality. (129)
It has already been suggested that “ . . . reality and truth are not identical and that they are differently apprehended by the mind.” (130) “Reality is that which belongs to Space-Time.” (131) It is through enjoyment or contemplation that we become aware that ourselves or some object or thing is a part of Space-Time. We are aware of reality in enjoying ourselves as a part of the local area of Space-Time that belongs to the whole of Space-Time. The objects we contemplate are experienced as external objects -- as some part of Space-Time distinct from the mind. It is “ . . . this distinctness of external objects” that gives “ . . . to our experience of non-mental reality, the consciousness we have of being controlled from without.” (132)
The correspondence theory of truth requires that a proposition agree with reality. But how can you know reality except through the coherence of the propositions about it?
It is clear, then, if I speak of (a) “A’s going down the street,” I am speaking of a relation that I perceive. If I assert, (b) “’A is going down the street,’” (136) I am asserting a fact and am at the same time judging “a.” “a” then, is an element of the judgment “b.” “a” is also the perception being judged. Hence, the relation apprehended in reality, i.e., “a” is the same relation apprehended in the judgment “b.” The difference is only in the form.
“The judgment is the percept dissected and reconstructed; it is not
merely a perspective of reality, but a perspective containing an assertion: I
shall say an asserted perspective.” (137)
As a mental proposition, then, we have the enjoyment of an enjoyment. These are the two “distinguishable features within it.” (139) We enjoy or contemplate the relational union of complexes in an external reality and within our minds enjoy the union of the enjoyments of the “separate” complexes. This is but another case of awareness. But it is such as to include belief within it. We are aware of these mental propositions through introspection that has already been discussed.
c. Mental Truth and Error -- Little, so far, has been said about truth and error. But, I have said enough, I believe, to allow me to discuss, now, what Alexander calls “mental truth and error” before considering it in relation to external reality.
The only difference from truth and error as to external realities is that
the propositions [mental propositions] here are the contents of the
believing, and there is in general no necessary inclusion with the true or
erroneous proposition of the contemplated proposition with which it is of
The “contemplated proposition” is (the statement of) an external state of affairs. Though the mental proposition is compresent with it, there need not be inclusion of one within the other. This, for the simple reason that the contemplated proposition may be true while the mental one (the belief), regarding my reaction to it, may be false. For example, someone may do me wrong. I have an enjoyment of this wrong deed. But my reaction of indignation may have been borne of malice toward the person while I believed my reaction to be one abhorrent to my sense of right. Though the two propositions (mental and contemplated) are compresent, the former is erroneous simply because my belief was, in fact, not in accordance with my feeling of malice. However, the enjoyment of the mental proposition of believing the wrong to be a slight to my sense of right was real, as an enjoyment, but erroneous as applied to the whole state of my mind in which my sense of right lay dormant.
d. Relation of Reality to Truth and Error -- When we speak of judgment as fact, we are speaking of something real and this has no bearing on truth or falsity. For it will be remembered that we have shown error to be part of reality, that is a part of reality misplaced, such as attributing whiteness, that is reality, to a place where the internal structure is redness. Now it may not sensibly be asked if reality or fact is true or false. But it may be asked if that which we called fact is truly “what . . . it claims to be.” That is to say, is the rose that we claim, as a fact, to be white, in its “internal structure,” white? What, then, constitutes truth and error?
For it is by experience of reality and experiment upon it that the
propositions become sorted out into groups. The one group, which the
internal structure of reality allows to retain, are truths; those which are
rejected are errors. (141)
Thus while on its objective or contemplated side, error is detected by
being convicted of introducing an element of reality which does not belong
to the reality investigated, on its subjective or believing side it fails to
cohere with the social believings. . . . Truth means the settling down of
individuals’ believings into a social whole and the condemnation of the
heretical or unscientific believing. . . . True knowledge, therefore, owes its
truth to the collective mind but its reality to the proposition which is
Truth is thus the ever-increasing adaptation of minds to the reality
which they know [and] . . . is the progressive revelation of reality to the
minds which know it. (148)
When we speak of knowledge we think naturally of external things,
but we get to know of these by perception, memory, thought, and the like.
The greater part of our knowledge is present in our minds (as I would
express it, “in every instance, present experience of past events”) from
past experience in its ideal form, so that through appropriate neural or
mental behavior we know real things without having them really acting
upon us. (150)
True knowledge is not therefore the same thing as reality [i.e.,
Space-Time], but is that reality regarded as the satisfaction of that special
In this way we obtain knowledge of things and of the fact that
. . . the universe consists of distinct real existences of different orders,
compresent with each other and “knowing” each other in such measure as
is possible to them at their various stages of development. (153)
When one of these real existences has the quality of consciousness:
The intuitional fact of enjoyment and the compresent object,
contemplated, leads up to an equally intuitional principle of compresent
reals constituting a universe. This principle is corroborated by all fact, for
all knowledge is in detail the statement of various coherences of things or
characters of things. (154)
Thus, true knowledge is true in respect of the agreed upon perspectives of many minds as determined by reality. And erroneous knowledge, error being a second kind of knowledge, is such in respect of believing minds accepting illusory appearances as properties of reality that the internal structure of reality, itself, does not reveal. [Bear in mind, Alexander’s claim that “error is always partial truth, and truth. . .may contain the seeds of error” (See quotation, 146).] Alexander does not mean this to apply only to “things” but rather to all existents. This includes mind, for it might be asked, “If mind is not an object distinct from reality, how can it be an “object “ of knowledge?” As if he were not aware of the existence of creatures, including, possibly, babies at birth, aware of their environment but not of their awareness, implying the need for the development of two different sets of neural responses, Alexander claims, “My awareness and my being aware of it are identical.” (155) In like manner the mind knows itself as an existent merely in knowing some external existent. “When the mind knows an external thing, it is itself knowledge.” (156)
In thus having knowledge of an object, I also have the knowledge
which consists in my action and is, therefore, self-knowledge. (157)
If we abstract, for any purpose except for discussion, from the situation of Experience any of its various elements (i.e., various acts or objects) we are, in fact, not entitled to consider the abstraction as a part of “the experience.” It is a part only so long as it remains within the situation. We must, in abstracting it for discussion, still consider it within context.
The relation between any member of one group and those of the other
is the relation of cognition or, in general of experience. (160)
We have shown in another section that this relation is also one of knowledge. We shall refer to this again. The relation of compresence, then, would allow one to speak of two inanimate objects experiencing each other. This is permissible so long as we reject the identification of experience and subjectivity.
While before the experiences meant the togetherness of the mind as
perceiving and the percept table, so now the experience means the
togetherness of mind as imagining an image table. (161)
I. Synthesis In Experience – Within the “broader experience” lies the possibility of experiencing things as wholes. Much emphasis has been placed upon the synthesizing character of experience. Whether it could be said (as Konvitz holds) that, for Alexander, “Experience is Synthetic,
Experience varies from that of “something or other” through all the
grades of mental life, sensation, perception, imagination, memory,
1. Synthesis In Experience
Within the “broader experience” lies the possibility of experiencing things as wholes. Much emphasis has been placed upon the synthesizing character of experience. Whether it could be said (as Konvitz holds) that for Alexander, “Experience is synthetic,” I am not sure. The phrase does not strike a meaningful cord for me. To say, “Experience is a synthesis” does hold meaning. The latter has no signification of artificiality or deliberateness attached to it; whereas, the former does. It should be remembered that the mind only discovers the synthesis in reality and in the experience. And, in discovering the synthesis, it selects wholes, qua objects, just as readily as it does parts. It is the nature of these acts of mind to act simultaneously so as to be simultaneously conscious of many objects. This simultaneity is the synthesis. Separate objects, and wholes for that matter, are selected by the mind, which responds passively, depending upon the plan of all the elements in the “broad experience.”
2. Fluidity of An Experience
No experience . . . ever is isolated or has boundaries which shut it off
rigidly from the rest of the world. . . . Every experience has its fringes, or
shoots out its corona into some larger whole which encircles it. Some of
these surroundings are supplied in memory or imagination, some in present
consciousness, and thought. . .carries us still further beyond. (163)
3. Identification of Experience and Knowledge
The dentist’s knowledge that his patient has a toothache is not indeed
experience of the patient’s toothache, but it is an experience to the dentist,
though it takes the highly developed form of judgment, let me say a judicial
What is pain to the patient is a diseased condition to the dentist. The “judicial apparition (remembering what was said of judgments) is an object to the dentist’s act of judging. Both dentist and patient know their respective experiences directly. It is to be admitted that one knowing situation is less perfect or less complete than that of the other. The dentist cannot experience the patient’s pain. But this does not make his own experience about the tooth less immediate than the patient’s pain. It merely makes his knowledge of the toothache less complete inasmuch as the dentist’s knowledge of the pain is not as completely representative of the reality of the pain as is the patient’s. Since the dentist can never become compresent with the patient’s pain, he can never have a direct or immediate knowledge (the pain, itself) of it.
b. Public and Private Experience
Now were objects (illusions included) public from the beginning no
experience of their unification in the thing would be possible, whether for
the individual or through the co-operation of many individuals. No
collection of private objects, which were not already public insofar as
they were altogether distinct from the persons whose objects they are
could make up a public one. (170)
We have already discussed perspectives and the possibility of truth and error. We see now that it is because perspectives are public, that any subjective qualities attached to them are eliminated when many minds perceive many objects in common.
1. S.T.D., I or S.T.D., II == Vol. I or Vol. II of Space, Time, and Deity, S.
2. P. N. I., == “Preface to New Impression,” Vol. I of Space, Time, and Deity, S.
3. B.R., == “Basis of Realism,” S. Alexander.
4. B.R., Sn. == “Basis of Realism,” Supplementary Note, S. Alexander.
5. S.I., == “On Sensations and Images,” S. Alexander.
6. N.M.A., == “The Nature of Mental Activity,” S. Alexander, a Symposium with
Ward, C. Read, and Stout.
7. A.M., == Art and Material, Philosophical and Literary Pieces, S. Alexander.
8. S. S. P., == Self As Subject and As Person, Proceedings of the Aristotelian
Society, Vol. XI, S. Alexander.
9. M. A. W. I., == Mental Activity In Willing And In Ideas, Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society Vol. IX, S. Alexander.
10. M.A., == Morality As An Art, Journal of Philosophical Studies Vol. III #10,
Apr. 1928. S. Alexander.
11. S. P., == Sense Perception: A Reply to Mr. Stout. Mind, Jan.1923, Vol.
XXXII, 125, S. Alexander.
1. S.T.D., I, p.4. 2. Ibid. p.11. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. p. 12. 5. B.R., p. 285. 6. S.T.D., II, p. 4. 7. Ibid. p. 5. 8. B.R., p. 287. 9. S.T.D., II, p. 8. 10. Ibid. p. 12. 11. Ibid. 12. S.T.D., I, p. 29. 13. Ibid. II, p,116. 14. Ibid. I. p. 13. 15. Ibid. p. 14. 16. Ibid. II, p. 117. 17. Ibid. I, p. 13-14. 18. Ibid. p. 109. 19. B.R., p.304. 20. B.R., p. 304. 21. Ibid. p. 305. 22. S.T.D., II, p. 127. 23. P.N.I., p. xvii. 24. Ibid. p. xv. 25. N.M.A., p. 219. 26. S.T.D., II, p.128. 27. Ibid. p.146. 28. Ibid. 29. N.M.A., p. 221. 30. S.T.D., II, p. 147. 31. Ibid. p. 144. 32. Ibid. p. 147, Footnote. 33.S.T.D., II, p. 148. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. p. 147. 36. S.T.D., I, p. 13. 37. Ibid. p.15. 38. Ibid. 39. Ibid. p. 16. 40. B.R., p. 283. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid. p. 286. 43. P.N.I., p. xv. 44. S.I., p. 4. 45. B.R., p. 292. 46. Ibid. p. 283. 47. S.T.D., I, p. 18. 48. S. I., p. 3. 49. Ibid. 50. S.T.D., I, p. 20-21. 51. Ibid. p. 12. 52. B.R., Sn. p. 313. 53. S.T.D., I, p. 21. 54. Ibid. II, p. 81. 55. Ibid. I, p. 27. 56. Ibid. p. 12. 57. B.R., p. 289. 58. S.T.D., II, p. 11. 59. Ibid. 60. Ibid. I, p. 26. 61. Ibid. II, p. 22. 62. Ibid. p. 21. 63. Ibid. p. 23. 64. Ibid. 65. Ibid. p. 2566. Ibid. p. 152. 67. Ibid. p. 150. 68. Ibid. p. 85. 69. Ibid. p. 215. 70. Ibid. p. 214. 71. Ibid. p. 85. 72.P.N.I. p. xvi. 73. A.M., p. 220. 74. Ibid. 75. S.T.D. II. p. 81. 76. Ibid. p. 82. 77. B.R. p. 292. 78. S.T.D., I. p. 26. 79. Ibid. II. p. 118. 80. Ibid p. 120. 81. Ibid. p. 121. 82. Ibid. I. p.113. 83. Ibid. 84. Ibid. p. 117. 85. Ibid. p. 119. 86. Ibid. p. 117. 87. Ibid. p. 45. 88. S.S.P., p. 20. 89. S. T. D., I. p.122. 90. Ibid. p. 121. 91. Ibid. II. p. 28. 92. Ibid. I. p. 115. 93. Ibid. p. 113. 94. Ibid. p. 25. 95. S. I. p. 17. 96. S.T.D., I. p. 25. 97. Ibid. 98. B.R., p. 294. 99. S. I., p. 32. 100. M.A.W.I., p. 21. 101. S.I., p. 31. 102. S.T.D., I. p. 186. 103. Ibid. 104. Ibid. 105. Ibid. p. 185. 106. S.T.D., II. p. 132. 107. Ibid. 108. M.A.W.I., p. 20. 109. S.T.D., III. p. 207. 110. N.M.A., p. 220. 111. S.T.D., II. p. 183. 112. Ibid. p. 81. 113. Ibid. p. 183. 114. Ibid. p. 185. 115. B.R., p. 292. 116. S.T.D. I. p. 14. 117. B.R., p. 292. 118. S.T.D., II. p. 185. 119. Ibid. p. 184. 120. Ibid. p. 185. 121. Ibid. p. 201. 122. Ibid. p. 206. 123. Ibid. 124. Ibid. 125. Ibid. p. 210. 126. Ibid. p. 209. 127. Ibid. 128. Ibid. p. 185. 129. Ibid. p. 216. 130. Ibid. p. 247. 131. Ibid. 132. Ibid. p. 247. 133. Ibid. p. 252. 134. Ibid. p. 248. 135. Ibid. p. 250. 136. Ibid. 137. Ibid. p. 250. 138. Ibid. p. 249. 139. Ibid. p. 266. 140. Ibid. p. 267. 141. Ibid. p. 253. 142. Ibid. p. 252. 143. Ibid. p. 258. 144. Ibid. p. 261. 145. Ibid. p. 263. 146. Ibid. 147. Ibid. p. 263. 148. Ibid. p. 264. 149. M.A.W.I., p. 33. 150. A.M. p. 222. 151. M.A., p. 148. 152. Ibid. p. 147. 153. B.R., p. 289. 154. Ibid. 155. S.T.D., I. p. 12. 156. M.A.W.I., p. 26. 157. Ibid. p.27. 158. M.N.A., p. 223. 159. S. I., p. 6. 160. S.T.D., I. p. 5. 161. S.I., p.15. 162. S.T.D., I. p. 23. 163. Ibid. 164. Ibid. 165. S.P., p. 2. 166. Ibid. 167. Ibid. 168. Ibid. 169. S.T.D., II. p. 228. 170. Ibid. p. 230.
Space, Time, and Deity, Volumes I and II, S. Alexander. Reprint, 1950, Humanities Press, New York.
Preface to the New Impression, Space, Time, and Deity, S. Alexander.
Basis of Realism, S. Alexander. Proceedings of the British Academy, 1914.
Art and Material, Philosophical and Literary Pieces, S. Alexander. Edited by John Laird, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1939.
Morality as an Art, S. Alexander. Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. III. No. 10, Apr., 1928.
Sense Perception: A reply to Mr. Stout, S. Alexander. Mind, Jan., 1923. Vol. XXXII, No. 125.
On sensations and Images, S. Alexander. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. X, 1909-10.
The Nature of Mental Activity, S. Alexander. A Contribution to a Symposium with Ward, C. Read, and Stout. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1908.
Self as subject and as Person, S. Alexander. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. XI, 1910.
Mental Activity in Willing and in Ideas, S. Alexander. Proceedings of the Aristotelian society, Vol. IX. 1908.