Matter and Memory – Summery and Conclusion part2


Here we seem to return to realism. But realism, unless corrected on an essential point, is as unacceptable as idealism and for the same reason. Idealism, we said, cannot pass from the order manifested in perception to the order which is successful in science, that is to say, to reality. Inversely, realism fails to draw from reality the immediate consciousness which we have of it. Taking the point of view of ordinary realism, we have, on the one hand, a composite matter made up of more or less independent parts, diffused throughout space, and, on the other hand, a mind which can have no point of contact with matter, unless it be, as materialists maintain, the unintelligible epiphenomenon. If we prefer the standpoint of the Kantian realism, we find between the “thing-in itself,” that is to say, the real, and the “sensuous manifold” from which we construct our knowledge, no conceivable relation, no common measure. Now, if we get to the bottom of these two extreme forms of realism, we see that they converge toward the same point: both raise homogeneous space as a barrier between the intellect and things. The simpler realism makes of this space a real medium, in which things are in suspension; Kantian realism regards it as an ideal medium, in which the multiplicity of sensations is coordinated; but for both of them this medium is given to begin with as the necessary condition of what comes to abide in it. And if we try to get to the bottom of this common hypothesis, in its turn, we find that it consists in attributing to homogeneous space a disinterested office: space is supposed either merely to uphold material reality or to have the function, still purely speculative, of furnishing sensations with means of coordinating themselves. So the obscurity of realism, like that of idealism, comes from the fact that, in both of them, our conscious perception and the conditions of our conscious perception are assumed to point to pure knowledge, not to action. But now suppose that this homogeneous space is not logically anterior, but posterior to material things and to the pure knowledge which we can have of them; suppose that extensity is prior to space; suppose that homogeneous space concerns our action and only our action; being like an infinitely fine network which we stretch beneath material continuity in order to render ourselves master of it, to decompose it according to the plan of our activities and our needs. Then, not only has our hypothesis the advantage to bringing us into harmony with science, which shows us each thing exercising an influence on all the others and, consequently, occupying, in a certain sense, the whole of the extended (although we perceive of this thing only its center and mark its limits at the point where our body ceases to have any hold upon it). Not only has it the advantage, in metaphysic, of suppressing or lessening the contradictions raised by divisibility in space – contradictions which always arise, as we have shown, from our failure to dissociate the two points of view, that of action from that of knowledge. It has, above all the advantage of overthrowing the insurmountable barriers raised by realism between the extended world and our perception of it. For whereas this doctrine assumes, on the one hand, an external reality which is multiple and divided, and, on the other hand, sensations alien from extensity and without possible contact with it, we find that concrete extensity is not really divided, any more than immediate perception is in truth unextended. Starting from realism, we come back to the point to which idealism had led us; we replace perception in things. And we see realism and idealism ready to come to an understanding when we set aside the postulate, uncritically accepted by both, which served them as a common frontier.

To sum up: if we suppose an extended continuum, and, in this continuum, the center of real action which is represented by our body, its activity will appear to illuminate all those parts of matter with which at each successive moment it can deal. The same needs, the same power of action, which have delimited our body in matter, will also carve out distinct body in the surrounding medium. Everything will happen as if we allowed to filter through us that action of external things which is real, in order to arrest and retain that which is virtual: this virtual action of things upon our body and of our body upon things is our perception itself. But since the excitations which our body receives from surrounding bodies determine unceasingly, within its substance, nascent reactions – since this internal movements of the cerebral substance thus sketch out at very moments our possible action on things, the state of the brain exactly corresponds to the perception. It is neither its cause, nor its effect, nor in any sense its duplicate: merely continues it, the perception being our virtual action and the cerebral state our action already begun.

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