From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXVIII No. 1


 Georges Dupenois

In which Georges Dupenois suggests it is not mind that creates matter, but consciousness that creates all. Space and time could not exist without it!

What is matter? Never mind.
What is mind? No matter.

PUNCH Vol.29 p19 (1855) 

The layman is usually content to accept without question that mind and matter (or objects) coexist independently of each other. But life is not so easy for psychologists and physiologists - or philosophers. 

All feel duty-bound to answer questions such as whether mind gives rise to matter, or matter to mind, and just what is the relation between these seemingly disparate elements of perception. Yet merely asking these questions begs them, for by intellectually analysing perception into two parts, we assume that there are, in reality, two such entities to reconcile. But are there? For the 'reductionist' view can be sustained only if it is realised that both the resulting parts, physical and mental, are of our own making. Faced with a dynamic and on-going continuum of awareness which it is not equipped to comprehend in its entirety, our intellect seeks to reduce this continuum to apprehensible pieces, selecting certain aspects on which to focus and arranging these according to formats of its own. Just as a seascape artist finds difficulty in capturing their fluid subject and is obliged to frame and arrest that which they seek to portray, so our intellect seeks to apprehend piecemeal that which is essentially whole and continuous. But a continuum cannot be so fragmented. 

It is in this way that space and time, that which Kant called the forms of intuition, seemingly enable us to reduce what is on-going and dynamic to what, to all intents and purposes, is static, to convert what is essentially activity into the shapes and forms which we call the objects of perception. These objects, then, are partly of our own making, artificial creations construed from the reports of our senses and given form by the superimposition of the formats of space and time. Additionally, perception involves interpretation in accordance with our previous experience, with our expectations, and with our feelings and emotions. Only after the addition of these ingredients to the raw material of our senses may we rightly be said to perceive. So, can we say that mind creates objects and hence matter? And would such a conclusion vindicate the idealist as against the materialist point of view? I think not, for mind is no less an artificial creation than objects. Matter and mind are not two things but two aspects of the same activity, the activity of intellectually perceiving. Thus the basic 'material' of our phenomenal universe is neither mind nor matter but that of which these are aspects, that is to say, consciousness, which not only comprises intellectual awareness but also encompasses experience of any kind. Hence, we may conclude that mind no more creates matter than matter (which includes the brain) creates mind.

So why do we regard them as separate - as a physical universe external to us on the one hand, and a conscious entity which observes this universe on the other? Surely our mistake lies in thinking that the physical organs and brain alone are responsible for perception and that the brain is the seat of consciousness. Because perception is accompanied by physiological changes we assume a causal connection between it and them. But while our brain and physical organs register 'vibrations' (according to the physiologists) these are neither sensation nor perception. If, for instance, we are deeply engrossed in thought we may assume, or seek to have confirmed by encephalogram, that our brain continues to record vibrations and function normally, yet we may register no sensation at all.

 Similarly, there are numerous accounts of servicemen wounded in battle who have felt no pain until after the engagement. In such cases the mind is 'elsewhere' as we sometimes quaintly say. Conversely, if we have an 'out-of-body' experience or even a dream, in particular a lucid dream, we may see and hear even though we believe our physical organs to be dormant.

 Perhaps the reason for the belief that our physical organs are responsible for perception is that the main organ, our eyes, is located in our head and we imagine ourselves as peering out from the skull at an exterior world without realising that the skull is actually part of that world. Another difficulty we have when trying to explain and define perception is that language is not adequate to express a dynamic world of activity (sensing, perceiving, intuiting and so on). To be able to do so successfully would require us to use verbs or verbal nouns where we now use nouns and pronouns, and this would be far too cumbersome. 

Thus, instead of accepting that consciousness is an activity, materialists engage in a futile quest for an agent, an entity which observes and perceives, imagining it to be located in the head (the so-called ghost in the machine) as if our consciousness had its seat there. How could that which we believe to be non-spatial be located anywhere! If we must designate by a noun that which is properly left as an active verb, I would suggest 'frequencies of awareness' in place of perceiving. At least this term, as with physical frequencies, has no connotation of substantiality, and acknowledges that we do not merely observe that which assails our senses but that, if we are to perceive (as well as to 'transmit'), we are obliged to make a contribution, by tuning in.

 But a further question needs to be addressed. Are there objects which exist independently of our being aware of them and which correspond to the shapes and forms of our consciousness? If they did, how could we ever be certain of a correspondence between that of which we were directly aware and that which we did not even apprehend? What construction can we put on 'existence' in this context, or in any context, for that matter? I can think of only two meaningful ways of describing existence , that of 'being in space and time', and that given by Bishop Berkeley: 'to perceive or to be perceived'. As regards the former; since it is we who impose the formats of space and time (albeit unwittingly), how could anything exist unbeknown to us or to an intelligence equal or superior to our own? And for Berkeley, existence is synonymous with perception, although, not necessarily 'our' perception. Objects, then, are artificially created 'parts' of an on-going consciousness and these are conceptual. What underlies, or is the condition of perception, is unknown to us except for a certain involuntariness which we experience. Unlike imaginary objects, perceived objects cannot be willed away.

 The belief that objects have an existence independent of awareness (sometimes termed Realism) has led to two further misconceptions - that of a once-and-for-all created physical universe and that there is a subject which is aware of this universe. Yet, I suggest, if we examine the evidence, we find only activity - sensing, thinking, feeling and so on, wherein there is no 'thing' which can rightly be designated by a noun or pronoun. It is as Heracleitus said, two and a half thousand years ago, all is flux. In what sense, then, can we call objects of perception real and how should we define reality? Is all experience 'real' and, if so, why do we call some 'real' and some 'imaginary'? Is there a criterion to be applied other than that element of involuntariness already suggested? Let us ask those whose business it is to interpret the 'real' world, those arch-realists, the scientists, to tell us about matter and the material world which seems to be 'out there'.

 In the last century when the atom was still intact and considered irreducible, one could still imagine a physical world composed of tiny solid pieces of matter having shape and existing in their own rights. This was so even after the atom's real nature was revealed to be not solid but consisting of energy - electrons, protons and so on. The old view, although illogical, persisted, at least amongst the general public. But with the advent of quantum mechanics in the first part of this century, the situation changed. Scientists discovered that they could no longer predetermine the position in space at a given time of certain subatomic particles since, until observed, these could exhibit either wave or particle characteristics. The idea that some 'thing' cannot be observed without interacting with it and thereby determining its nature, seemed the final nail in the coffin of materialism, even if, at least for the moment, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle was acknowledged to apply only at subatomic level. Disconcerting as this principle may seem to confirmed materialists, they may even come to realise that the theory of quantum mechanics is not so bizarre as some of them imagine. Their observations require a certain input from themselves without which these cannot even be registered as observations, not only at microcosm level but also at the level of the macrocosm. In that the same principle obtains for both macrocosm and microcosm, it may even be a step in the search for the Grand Unified Theory which otherwise seems so elusive.

 Physicists also have to account for the origin of our physical, phenomenal universe other than by the Big Bang theory. Leaving aside their difficulties in determining whether their Big Bang itself occurred in real time or is a singularity either in real or imaginary time. Might we not say, in any case, that without a witnessing intelligence, even that which immediately followed a Big Bang could not presumably have happened in space and time, since it is intelligence itself which imposes these formats on the unknown ground, or condition, of perception and hence of existence. The theory may therefore only be regarded as an attempt to accommodate the physicists' idea of space and time as substantial to a twentieth century phenomenal scenario, to infer a continuous phenomenal sequence from a Big Bang to the present day. But, to return to Bishop Berkeley, I argue that without that perceiving intelligence, phenomena do not exist, aside from, perhaps, the 'vibrations' of the scientific terminology, or the 'possibilities' of quantum mechanics. Indeed, unless we assume that God merely lit the touch paper to set off the Big Bang and then took no further part in the maintenance of our universe, the subjective idealist argument does not square with an idea of God as the One, the Infinite, the Changeless. For by becoming a witness to a world of space and time, God would also be in space and time and therefore subject to change, and definable.

 Before Man (or beings of equal or superior intelligence) there were no events in space and time, since consciousness would have been too primitive to create these or any other concepts. Could we but become as plants or animals (at least as they are supposed simply to be!) we would realise what such a timeless, spaceless world was like - mere sensitivity in the case of the former, only sensation in the case of the latter; one without forms and shapes and, for some animals, colourless as well.

 Berkeley argued that God, as creator of the universe, would have been the witnessing intelligence of that creation and of subsequent events, a position encapsulated in the following celebrated limericks: 

There once was a man who said "God 
Must think it exceedingly odd 
If he finds that this tree 
Continues to be 
When there's no one about in the quad." 
Dear Sir, Your astonishment's odd 
I am always about in the quad And that's why the tree 
Will continue to be 
Since observed by 
Yours faithfully, 

My notion that space and time began only with the advent of an intelligence which could make use of them would pose considerable problems for palaeontologists and evolutionists. Regarding only the physical aspects of the natural world, they have constructed a universe going back millions and millions of years. By introducing into a present-day phenomenal, spatio-temporal scenario that which never was phenomenal, they have begged the question of which came first, matter or mind, by assuming that it was matter, that the physical universe was created first and that intelligence was a later development. But, as I have tried to demonstrate, the question itself is an improper one. Since matter and mind are aspects of one activity, neither has temporal priority over the other.

 The philosophy outlined above requires from us a great leap of faith. Yet, in an age which has witnessed the creation of the hologram and cyberspace, is it easier to believe that in the beginning there was a pinpoint of matter so dense that, on exploding, it gave birth to the whole universe including ourselves and all life forms; or, alternatively, that our universe is a gradual evolution of consciousness, a response to the Unknown (or whatever other name we choose to give it - God, Nature, Life Force, Energy or ... ?) And are we merely discovering the secrets of a static once-and-for-all created universe or are we co-creating a dynamic, developing and perhaps holographic one?

 As a philosophy it is a strongly anthropic since, whatever the underlying condition of its manifestation, our universe does not exist unless it is realised or made real by us. Each one of us creates, or rather, co-creates his or her own reality - a reality which we can do no more than assume is the same for all. 

George Dupenois' Private Worlds

Also read Steve Davis's critque of 'Private Worlds', by Georges Dupenois, on the Philosopher website



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