Lets begin with objective experience. Under normal conditions, objective experience depends upon physical events which stimulate sense organs. But it also depends upon physiological events of the kind we now wish to explore:
The physicist is interested in the former fact: the dependence of objective experience upon physical events outside the organism enables him to infer from experience what those physical events are.
[We] the psychologist is interested in the latter fact: since experience depends upon physiological events in the brain, such experience ought to contain hints to the nature of these processes. In other words, we argue that if objective experience allows us to draw a picture of the physical world, it must also allow us to draw a picture of the physiological world, it must also allow us to draw a picture of the physiological world to which it is much closely related.
Obviously, however, if the characteristics of [concomitant] naturally accompanying or associated physiological processes are to be [inferred] deduced or concluded from given characteristics of experience, we need a leading principle which governs the transition. Many years ago, a certain principle of this kind was introduced by E. Hering. Its content is as follows. Experiences can be systematically ordered, if their various kinds and nuances are put together according to their similarities. The procedure is comparable to the one by which animals are ordered in zoology and plants in botany. The processes upon which experiences depend are not directly known. But if they were known, they could also be ordered according to their similarities. Between the two systematic orders, that of experiences and that of concomitant physiological processes, various relationships may be assumed to obtain. But the relation between the tow orderly systems will be simple and clear only if we postulate that both have the same form or structure qua systems. Sometimes this principle is more explicitly formulated in a number of “psychophysical axioms.” In our connection, it will suffice if we give some examples of its application.
A sound of given pitch can be produced in many degrees of experienced loudness. In geometrical terms, the natural systematic order of all these loudnesses is a straight line, because in proceeding from the softest to the loudest sounds we have the impression of moving continuously in the same direction. Now, what characteristic of accompanying brain events corresponds to experienced loudness? the principle does not give a direct answer. Rather, it postulates that whatever the characteristic in question may be, its various nuances or degrees must show exactly the same order as the loudnesses do, i.e., that of a straight line. Also, if in the system of experiences a particular loudness is situated between two other loudnesses, then in the order of related brain events the physiological factor corresponding to the first loudness must also have its place between the processes corresponding to the two others. This gives the equality of structure of the two systems to which the principle refers.
It seems that the all-or-none law does not allow us to choose “intensity of nervous activity” as the physiological correlate of experienced degrees of loudness. But the principle can be equally well applied if the frequency or density of nerve impulses is taken as the correlate of loudness.
As another example, colors may be discussed in their relation to accompanying brain processes. This relation has been considered most thoroughly by G.E. Mueller. To be sure, his assumption go beyond the principle now under discussion in that he makes hypotheses about retinal processes. The principle as such applies only to the brain processes which underlie visual experience directly. His theory is also more specific, since it includes a statement about the nature of the retinal processes as such. They are assumed to be chemical reactions. This transgression of the principle is perfectly sound for the following reason. If the system of color experiences and that of related physiological processes are to have the same structure, these physiological events must be variable in just as many directions or “dimensions” as the colors are. It is quiet possible that chemical reactions constitute the only type of process which satisfies this condition. Thus the principle of identity of system structure serves to restrict the number of facts which may be considered when more specific hypotheses are desired.
Gestalt Psychology works with a principle which is both more general and more concretely applicable than that of Hering and Mueller. These authors refer to the merely logical order of experiences which, for this purpose, are abstracted from their context and judged as to their similarities. The thesis is that when related physiological events are also taken from their context, and also compared as to their similarities, the resulting logical order must be the same as that of the experiences. In both cases, it will be seen, the order in question is the order of dead specimens as given the right places in a museum. But experience as such exhibits an order which is itself experienced. For instance, at this moment I have before me three white dots on a black surface, one in the middle of the field and and the others in symmetrical positions on both sides of the former. This is also an order; but, instead of being of the merely logical kind, it is concrete and belongs to the very facts of experience. This order, too, we assume to depend upon physiological events in the brain. And our principle refers to the relation between concrete experienced order and the underlying physiological processes. When applied to the present example, the principle claims, first, that these processes are distributed in a certain order, and secondly, that this distribution is just as symmetrical in functional terms as the group of dots is in visual terms. In the same example, one dot is seen between the two others; and this relation is just as much a part of the experience as the white of the dots is. Our principle says that something in the underlying processes must correspond to what we call “between” in vision. More particularly, it is maintained that the experience “between” goes with a functional “between” in the dynamic interrelations of accompanying brain events. When applied to all cases of experienced spatial order, the principle may be formulated as follows: Experienced order in space is always structurally identical with a functional order in the distribution of underlying brain processes.
This is the principle of psychophysical isomorphism in the particular form which it assumes in the case of spatial order. Its full significance will become clearer in the following chapters. For the present I will mention another application of the same principle. It is a frequent experience that one event lies temporally between two others. But experienced time must have a functional counterpart in brain events just as experienced space has. Our principle says that the temporal “between” in experience goes with a functional “between” in the sequence of underlying physiological events. If in this manner the principle is again generally applied we arrive at the proposition that experienced order in time is always structurally identical with a functional order in the sequence of correlated brain processes.
The field of application of the principle is not restricted to temporal and spatial orders. We experience more order than merely that of spatial and temporal relations. Certain experiences belong together in a specific fashion, whereas others do not, or belong together less intimately. Such facts are again matters of experience. The very moment I am writing this sentence, a disagreeable voice begins to sing in a neighbor’s house. My sentence is something which, though extended in time, is experienced as a certain unit to which those sharp notes do not belong. This is true even though both are experienced at the same time. In this case our principle assumes this form: units in experience go with functional units in the underlying physiological processes. In this respect also, the experienced order is supposed to be a true representation of a corresponding order in the processes upon which experience depends. This last application of the principle has perhaps the greatest importance for Gestalt Psychology. As a physiological hypothesis about sensory experiences as well as about more subtle processes, it covers practically the whole field of psychology.
I have just taken an example from outside the realm of objective experience in the strict sense of this term. A sentence which I am formulating is not a part of objective experience in the way in which a chair before me is such an experience. And yet my statement about the sentence is no less simple and obvious than were the others, which referred to order in experienced space and time. This is not always so, however. The observation of subjective experiences cannot be recommended without limitation. In the present connection, only very simple statements in this field can be regarded as sufficiently reliable. Nor need we at present transcend the realm of objective experience. We have just seen that it provides an adequate basis of operations for our immediate purpose.
In the preceding paragraphs my own experience has served as a material which suggests assumptions about the nature of otherwise unobservable constituents of behavior. Now, the only way in which I can bring my observations in this field before the scientific public is through spoken or written language which, as I understand it, refers to this experience. But we have decided that language as a sequence of physiological facts is the peripheral outcome of antecedent physiological processes, among others of those upon which my experience depends. According to our general hypothesis, the concrete order of this experience pictures the dynamic order of such processes. Thus, if to me my words represent a description of my experiences, they are at the same time objective representations of the processes which underlie these experiences. Consequently, it does not matter very much whether my words are taken as messages about experience or about these physiological facts. For, so far as the order of events is concerned, the message is the same in both cases.
If we now go back to the observation of behavior, we have to deal with language as a particular form of behavior in human subjects. Here again we may safely regard language as a message which refers to facts outside the field of language. Here again we may safely regard language as a message which refers to facts outside the field of language. Only the most superficial view would treat words merely as phonetic events. When listening to a scientific argument, the Behaviorist himself will find that he reacts not to the phonetic characteristics of speech but to its symbolic meaning. For instance, he will regard as equivalent such nouns as “experiment” and “Versuch,” “animal” and “Tier,” although in both cases the first and second words are phonetically quite different. Why should this attitude be changed when speaker happens to serve as a subject, and to give us a revealing report?
To repeat, the statements of a subject may be taken as indicative either of his experiences or of the processes which underlie these experiences. If the subject says, “This book is bigger than that other one,” his words may be interpreted as referring to a “comparison-experience” of his, but also as representative of a corresponding functional relationship between two sensory processes. Since from our point of view the same order is meant in both cases, the alternative is of no particular importance. Form the point of view of behavior psychology, the physiological interpretation must be given; but there is no reason why the other interpretation ought to be excluded. The behavior of a chick can tell me without words that he is able to react to one brightness in its relation to another. On the other hand, if in the course of an experiment a human subject tells me that one object appears to him brighter than another, the scientific import of this sentence is precisely the same as that of the chick’s behavior. Why then should language, which is one of the most instructive forms of behavior, be ignored by the experimenter?
Surely, by applying the same technique to man as we apply to the chick, we can avoid the use of language in human psychology. But why should we? The Behaviorist’s dislike of language seems to have merely historical reasons. The Introspectionists have used “verbal reports” in their attempts to dissect experience. I am ready to admit that what they have called introspection has seemed to be of limited value. Unfortunately, as a result of such mistaken efforts, Behaviorists are now negatively conditioned not only to introspection as such, but also to other, entirely innocent, things which commonly accompany introspection. Hence their dislike of language.
K. Koffka: Principles of Gestalt Psychology. 1935
W. Koehler: Dynamics in Psychology. 1940
W. Koehler: “Die methoden der psychologischen Forschung beim Affen.” Abderhaldens Handbuch der biologischen Arbeitsmethoden, VI, D. 1921.
W. Koehler: The Place of Value in a World of Facts (Ch. IV). 1938
There seems to be a single starting point for psychology, exactly as for all the other sciences: the world as we find it, naively and uncritically. The naiveté may be lost as we proceed. Problems may be found which were at first completely hidden from our eyes. For their solution it may be necessary to devise concepts which seem to have little contact with direct primary experience. Nevertheless, the whole development must begin with a naive picture of the world. This origin is necessary because there is no other basis from which a science can arise. In my case, which may be taken as representative of many others, that naive picture consists, at this moment, of a blue lake with dark forests around it, a big, gray rock, hard and cool, which I have chosen as a seat, a paper on which I write, a faint noise of the wind which hardly moves the trees, and a strong odor characteristic of boats and fishing. But there is more in this world: somehow I now behold, thought it does not become fused with the blue lake of the present, another lake of a milder blue, at which I found myself, some years ago, looking from its shore in Illinois. I am perfectly accustomed to beholding thousands of views of this kind which arise when I am alone. And there is still more in this world: for instance, my hand and fingers as they lightly move across the paper. Now, when I stop writing and look around again, there also is a feeling of health and vigor. But in the next moment I feel something like a dark pressure somewhere in my interior which tends to develop into a feeling of being hunted – I have promised to have this manuscript ready within a few months.
Most people live permanently in a world such as this. which is for them the world, and hardly ever find serious problems in its fundamental properties. Crowded streets may take the place of the lake, a cushion in a sedan that of my rock, some serious words of a business transaction may be remembered instead of Lake Michigan, and the dark pressure may have to do with tax-paying instead of bookwriting. All these are minor differences so long as one takes the world at its face-value, as we all do except in hours in which science disturbs our natural attitude. There are problems, of course, even for the most uncritical citizens of this first-hand world. But, for the most part, they do not refer to its nature as such; rather, they are of a practical or an emotional sort, and merely mean that, this world being taken for granted, we do not know how to behave in the part of it which we face as our present situation.
Centuries ago, various sciences, most of all physics and biology, began to destroy the simple confidence with which human beings tend to take this world as the reality. Though hundreds of millions still remain undisturbed, the scientist now finds it full of almost contradictory properties. Fortunately, he has been able to discover behind it another world, the properties of which, quite different from those of the world of naive people, do not seem to be contradictory at all. No wonder therefor that now, as psychology begins to be a science, some of its most energetic students should wish to make it go at once the way of natural science. Indeed, if the scientists have found the naive world impervious to their method, what hope of better success can we as psychologists have? And since the enormous feat of jumping from the world of direct, but confused, experience into a world of clear and hard reality already has been achieved by the physicist, it would seem wise for the psychologist to take advantage of this great event in the history of science, and to begin the study of psychology on the same solid basis.
A few words about the history of scientific criticism will help us better to define the material which psychology is to give up, and to indicate what it is to choose as a more adequate subject matter. Our naive experience consists first of all of objects, their properties and changes, which appear to exist and to happen quite independently of us. So far as they are concerned, it does not seem to matter whether or not we see and feel and hear them. When we are not present or are occupied with other matters, they apparently remain just as they were when we gave them our full attention. Under these circumstances, it was a great step when man began to ask questions about the nature of seeing, feeling and hearing. And it was a revolution when he found that colors, noises and smells, etc., were merely products of influences exerted on him by his surroundings. Still, these surroundings seemed to maintain and support oneself in their primary characteristics and remain “the real world.” When those secondary qualities (smell, color,…) were subtracted as purely subjective ingredients, the primary qualities seemed to remain directly given as characteristics of reality. But eventually theprimary qualities of naive realism turned out to be just as subjective as their secondary companions: the form, the weight, and the movement of things had to be given the same interpretation as colors and sounds; they, too, depended upon the experiencing organism and were merely end results of complicated processes in its interior.
What was left? The answer was that, henceforth, no phase of immediate experience could be regarded as part of the real world. Therefore, if both the primary and the secondary characteristics of the experienced world derived from influences which the environment exerts upon the organism, this environment could no longer be identified with man’s experienced surrounding. His experienced surroundings were effects of such influences (of the primary and the secondary characteristics of the environment) Hence they could not at the same time be regarded as the causes from which the influences issue. As a result, science had to construct an objective and independent world of physical things, physical space, physical time and physical movement, and had to maintain that this world appears at no point in direct experience.
At this point we must remark that the same reasoning applies to the organism. On the one hand, our body is given to us as a particular thing in sensory experience. On the other hand, this particular sensory experience is directly accessible to us. About the organism, just as about other physical things, we know merely by a process of inference or construction. To the influence of other physical objects my organism responds with processes which establish the sensory world around me. Further processes in the organism give rise to the sensory thing which I call my body. Again others are responsible for the inner side of my experience, for feelings such as hunger and fatigue, for emotions such as fear and hope, and so forth.
We need not consider how the world of science, which does not appear in immediate experience, can nevertheless be investigated by the physicist. There can be no doubt as to the remarkable success of the procedure. Whereas the world of naive man is somewhat confused, and reveals its subjective character in any critical discussion of its properties, in the world of the physicist no confusion and no contradiction are tolerated. Although the rapid changes which physical theory undergoes in our times may surprise us, we still have the feeling that most of these changes are improvements. Eventually, it appears, all important facts of the physical world will be included in a clear and unitary system of knowledge.
Let us now turn to psychology. For a while this discipline was supposed to be the science of direct experience, of its external and internal aspects, as contrasted with physical objects and occurrences. By description of direct experience the psychologist hoped to get not only an orderly survey of all its varieties, but also a great deal of information about the functional relations among these facts. He even aimed at formulating laws which govern the flow of experience.
This conception of psychology has been severely criticized by the psychological school of Behaviorism, which condemns both the subject matter and the purpose of psychology in the older sense. According to the Behaviorist, it has not been possible to give a convincing survey of direct experience; nor has anything come of the attempt to describe the relations among its varieties, or to formulate the laws of so-called “mental life.” Obviously, the Behaviorist holds, a science of direct experience which has clear methods and reliable results does not exist. Endless discussions of minor and, less frequently, major items cannot be accepted as a substitute, particularly since facts of experience which are supposed to be the same for all are given utterly different descriptions by different authors. Take the example of images. One psychologist claims to have them in numbers, many of them almost as lively and concrete as percepts. Others tell us that in their direct experience there are no such things, and that the first man is probably deceived by words or other motor phenomena which are related to objects not actually present in experience. If in a simple case like this introspection can give no better result, what shall we expect from it when questions of greater importance but also greater intrinsic difficulty arise? As a matter of fact, the adherents of introspection themselves do not seem to trust their procedure. Apparently they have agreed upon facing important problems as seldom as possible, and to occupy themselves mainly with nuances in the field of sensation which can interest nobody but an Introspectionist. If mere description is to give us a science of direct experience, one naturally expects those who hold this view to attack at once the central facts of their subject matter. And yet they timidly keep to its periphery. In European countries, too, people have long since begun to joke about psychology’s ponderous discussion of trifles. It is funny to see how, say in the case of simple comparison as a psychological event, hundreds of pages have been filled with descriptions of minute experiences, while the occurrence and the accuracy of the comparison itself have never been given an explanation. Even in a state of perplexity a science can be highly interesting. But this version of psychology has not only been a complete failure; it also has become a bore to all who do not make it their profession.
The Behaviorist likes to add that the insistence on introspection is closely connected with a philosophical bias. Whether or not we are aware of the fact, in its distinction from the world of physics the concept of direct experience is clearly related to such notions as mind and soul. Surreptitiously the term refers to the activities of a mental substance to which the laws of physics and biology do not apply. As a consequence, a great many superstitions of religious or metaphysical extraction have found it easy to hide within the meaning of the concept. As a child the psychologist has heard a great deal about the soul and its miraculous powers. All this still survives in his statements about direct experience, and makes his introspection a mere defense of medieval darkness.
If this were the only argument against introspection, the Introspectionist might answer against introspection, the Introspectionist might answer that the criticism does not apply to the description of direct experience as such, but merely to a certain danger of which not all Introspectionists may be sufficiently aware. Increased self-criticism and a careful elimination of religious or philosophical interests in students of psychology would have to be recommended as remedies. At the same time such measures would serve as pacifying gestures toward stern Behaviorism.
But the Behaviorist has other reasons for not accepting direct experience as a field of scientific research. First of all, as a procedure, introspection lacks the chief methodological virtue of work in physics: a position of the observer outside the system which he observes. Introspecting and its objects are facts within the same system, and the chances that the former leaves the latter undisturbed are, exceedingly small. Any effort to study sorrow or joy by introspection may serve as an example. If the proper effort is made, such experiences do not remain the same; rather, they tend to disappear, as the selfsame person who has the sorrow or the joy tries to assume the attitude of introspection.
But even if this difficulty could be overcome, according to the Behaviorist we should still find the method useless, because it is so miserably and inevitably subjective. What is the principal characteristic of an objective statement which formulates the result of observations in science? That whoever happens to be interested in the statement can be forced to take it as having a precise meaning. For this purpose we merely have to give the exact definitions of the terms which we are using. For this purpose we merely have to give the exact definitions of the terms which we are using. Thus the atomic weight and the atomic number of an element have clear definitions; thus again the analogy and the homology of morphological structures. There is no physicist or biologist who does not know the exact denotation of these words. But now listen to psychologists who talk, let us say, about the fuzziness which is characteristic of peripheral vision. What exact meaning can be conveyed by this word so long as it has no accurate definition? Such a definition, however, seems to be impossible wherever one has to do with the ultimate data of direct experience. If the psychologist is asked for the definition of fuzziness he may attempt to define it negatively, for instance, as lack of clearness. But this does not help us very much because we must now ask him what he means by clearness. He may now tell us that a high degree of clearness is a normal property of the central part of an orderly visual field. Unfortunately, such a field may have more than one normal property, and in the psychologist’s pseudo-definition no differentia specifica is given – in addition to which the word “orderly” needs definition just as badly as do fuzziness and clearness. In any case, the psychologist has now resorted to the only thing which seems feasible where, as in the field of direct experience, a true definition cannot be achieved: he has merely pointed in a certain direction. If one cannot define a term, he may give a hint about the conditions under which the thing in question can be experienced. In case others understand the words by which those conditions are described, they may now attach the undefined term to that phase of their experience to which the term is actually meant to refer. But what a crude and vague procedure this is, if we compare it with the elegant definitions of exact science!
And still we have assumed that, given the same conditions, a person who cannot know more than his own experience will always find it in the same characteristics, objects and occurrences as another person finds in his. Two individual physicists seem to be able to make statements about one and the same event. They seem, for instance, to make readings from one and the same apparatus or scale. But in the case of direct experience two people always have two facts in two separate experiences. What is our evidence for assuming that under given conditions the ultimate data of experience are the same for several persons? Unfortunately, we shall never know whether or not this is the case. On the one hand, color blindness and similar phenomena show conclusively that such an agreement does not generally exist. On the other hand, we have no proof of agreement even in cases in which all imaginable tests give identical results such as precisely the same verbal reports. One person may always report “red” where another person also says “red.” Still we know only that the first person has throughout a constant quality wherever and whenever the second person talks about red. We do not know that the first person has the same quality as is called red by the second person. Nor does it help us that what one person calls red seems to have the same exciting character as another person finds in what he calls red. For they may not use the term “exciting” with the same meaning, and actually have different experiences while their expressions are the same.
This is subjectivity in an extreme form. If everyone has his own direct experience, and if he is forever excluded from that of all other persons, direct experience is the private affair of each of us, and with respect to it a common science cannot possibly be achieved. Indeed, since about similar experiences in others so little can be derived from the direct experience of one man, we may go further and ask whether even our best friends have any direct experiences at all. Whatever we see or hear when we talk with them is a part of our experience. What in our experience appears as, say, their voice is first of all the result of physical events in the muscles of their mouths and throats. Such physical events must be understood from the point of view of pure physics and physiology. If so, how do we know that in our friends such processes are accompanied by direct experience?
The Behaviorist might add that he does not deny certain contributions which, before his time, the older forms of psychology have made to the advancement of this science. But he will also say that, when looking upon such achievements from the present point of view, one can easily discover a simple fact: nearly all of them are to the credit not of introspection and description but of objective experimentation. The meaning of this word is just as obvious in psychology as it is in natural science. Instead of inviting a subject to observe and describe his direct experience, we place him in a well-defined situation to which he will react in one way or another. We can observe and measure these responses without his giving us any description of his experiences. In this fashion Weber’s law was discovered; this was the kind of experiment by which Fechner made psychology an experimental science; by research of this type, in the almost complete absence of introspection, memory and the formation of habits were investigated; and in the same manner Binet and Simon first measured individual intelligences. At present, even the Introspectionist himself gives us descriptions of colors and tones, pleasures and volition, only so long as he has not found a method in which description is replaced by objective measurement. Again, an individual Introspectionist seems to accept the descriptions of a fellow Introspectionist precisely to the extent to which the other has been able to verify his descriptions by more objective data. What, then, is the use of direct experience and description in any case?
From this criticism the Behaviorists do not all draw quite the same conclusions concerning direct experience as such. Virtually none, it is true, finds direct experience a matter of interest for science, since as the private affair of individuals it is not accessible to objective and therefore scientific observation by others. Only a few members of the school seem to go so far as to deny the existence of direct experience altogether. These particular people obviously hate the very concept. But such minor differences of opinion are of no particular importance. For, as to the question of method, all Behaviorists hold the same negative and positive opinions. In this respect their program is a simple consequence of the foregoing argument. With his objective experimentation the psychologist has tacitly placed himself on strictly scientific ground. His only weakness is that he has not yet become fully aware of the difference in principle between exact techniques and merely subjective groping. Physicists and chemists are interested in knowing how a system which they are investigating will react when exposed to certain conditions; they also ask how the reaction changes when these conditions are varied. Both questions are answered by objective observation and measurement. Now, precisely this is also the adequate form of research in psychology: a subject of a certain type (child, adult, man, woman, or animal) is chosen as the system to be investigated. Certain conditions, among which the most important are those of outside stimulation, are given and objectively controlled. And the resulting reaction of the subject is registered or measured just as are the reactions of systems in physics and chemsitry.
Thus the only thing which psychologists must now recognize is the fact that this procedure alone can serve any serious purpose in their field. Behavior, i.e., the reaction of living systems to environmental factors, is the only subject matter which can be investigated in scientific psychology; and behavior in no way involves direct experience. The experimental work of the future will study even the highest forms of behavior in purely objective terms. This must be so since direct experience does not occur at a single point of an actual experiment. For some, this truth is somewhat obscured by the fact that in many experiments language reactions seem to be of some importance. If the experimenter himself enjoys what he calls direct experience, and if this experience includes a great many things which are associated with words, he will be inclined to take the words of his subject as signs of similar experiences on the part of this person. Nevertheless, such words must be regarded as responses of the subject; and as such they are purely objective physical facts, produced by certain processes in the larynx and the mouth of the subject. Thought the experimenter knows that other objective processes such as those of innervation occur before certain muscles produce words as trains of sound waves, he will be wise if he does not go any further. According to our analysis, he will never know whether any direct experience accompanies those processes. Perhaps we should discipline ourselves to a less frequent use of language reactions in psychological experimentation, until eventually the danger of associating language with direct experience is overcome, and introspection has disappeared from psychology as a science.
Of course, not all reactions of a subject can be objectively observed with the same facility. Sometimes even strong stimulation will not produce overt behavior which we can register with present methods on the outside. In the majority of these cases, however, highly valuable information may be obtained from physiologists, who have studied the functions of the autonomic part of the nervous system and subsequent reactions in the most important visceral organs, including the endocrine glands. One of the main tasks of psychology will be to develop and to adopt available techniques until such visceral reactions can be registered with perfect ease. We also have evidence for assuming that what the Introspectionist calls “thinking” actually consists in slight innervations which the muscles concerned with verbal reactions undergo at the time.
So far, I hope, I have given a fair statement of the opinions which prevail among Behaviorists. It ought to be the more correct since at several points I sympathize with these opinions and am not very fond of introspection as here criticized. Much of current introspection seems to be rather sterile. In an odd contrast to its ambitions, it deflects research from more urgent problems. We will discuss later whether this is an intrinsic property of introspection or merely a consequence of errors which are particularly frequent among Introspectionists.
At present, we have a simpler problem before us. In the natural sciences, the Behaviorist tells us, methods deal with objective reality, whereas the introspection of direct experience – if there is such a thing – deals with something entirely subjective. Is this true? Is this the real reason why natural science has won the admiration of the world while psychology is still in an embryonic state? I cannot admit it. It seems to me that, starting with an admirable enthusiasm for exactness, Behaviorism has been completely misled at this point, and that, as a consequence, the energy spent in objecting to any use of direct experience has been spent in the wrong direction. For, whatever may have happened during the individual development of our keen Behaviorists, about myself I must give the following report, which brings us back to our starting point.
As a child, I had direct experience before I even dreamed of a world entirely beyond it, such as that of physics. At the time I did not, of course, know the term “direct experience.” Nor could it have any meaning until I learned about the world of physics with which it then became contrasted. In my original world, innumerable varieties of experience appeared as altogether objective, i.e., as existing or occurring independently and externally. Other experiences belonged to me personally and privately, and were in so far subjective, and a warm, overwhelming happiness at Christmas.
In the next chapters we shall be occupied mainly with objective experience. This term, however, may easily be misunderstood. I shall therefore try to specify its meaning more precisely. In doing so, I shall even run the risk of repeating certain arguments, because this is the point where most of our difficulties arise.
The name “experience” seems to indicate that though appearing as objective, the things around me were actually felt to be given “in my perception.” In this sense they would still have remained subjective. But this was not at all the case. They simply were there outside. I had no suspicion whatever of their being merely the effects of something else upon me. I must go further. There was not even a question of their depending upon my presence, upon keeping my eyes open, and so forth. So absolutely objective were those things that for a more objective world no place was left. Even now, their objectivity is so strong and natural that I find myself constantly tempted to attribute to their interior certain characteristics which, according to the physicists, are facts of the physical world. When, in these pages, I use the term “objective experience” it will always have this meaning. For instance, a chair as an objective experience will be something there outside, hard, stable and heavy. Under no circumstances will it be something merely perceived, or in any sense a subjective phenomenon.
In some cases, it is true, the discrimination between the objective and subjective sides of direct experience may become dubious, as with after-images or with the prick of a needle in my finger. This does not make the discrimination less important. To compare with an example from natural science: in physics the discrimination between conducting substances and insulators remains of high value even though between the extremes we find a great many intermediate cases. In our present connection, the main point is the fact that in things, their movements, and so forth, the very highest objectivity is reached.
To repeat, when I first began to study physics I did not learn only about the physical world. Another lesson was necessarily connected with that study: I was introduced to a manner of thinking in which the term direct experience acquired its meaning. The physical world could not be identical with the objective world which I had had around me the whole time. Rather, I learned that physical objects influence a particularly interesting physcial system, my organism, and that my objective experience results when, as a consequence, certain complicated processes have happened in this system. Obviously, I realized, I cannot identify the final products, the things and events of my experience, with the physical objects from which the influences come. If a wound is not the gun which emitted the projectile, then the things which I have before me, which I see and feel, cannot be identical with the corresponding physical objects. These objects merely establish certain alterations within my physical organism, and the final products of these alterations are the things which I behold in my visual field, or which I feel with my fingers.[footnote: We have seen that the same warning applies to the relation between my organism as a physical system and my body as a perceptual fact. My body is the outcome of certain processes in my physical organism, processes which start in the eyes, muscles, skin and so forth, exactly as the chair before me is the final product of other processes in the same physical organism. If the chair is seen “before me,” the “me” of this phrase means my body as an experience, of course, not my organism as an object of the physical world. Even psychologists do not always seem to be entirely clear about this point.]
It remains nevertheless true that things in the latter sense were the first objects of which I knew. Moreover, I now understood that any other objects such as those of physics I could never know directly. Plainly, the characteristics of the physical world could be investigated only in a process of inference or construction, however necessary the construction might be. It was in contrast to this, the constructed, world that the world before me could now be called the world of direct experience.
But how can I say that a chair, for example, is an objective experience, If I must admit that it depends upon certain processes in my organism? Does not the chair become subjective on this ground? It does and it does not. At this very moment we have changed the meaning of the terms “subjective” and “objective”. In a preceding paragraph “objective: denoted a characteristic which some parts of my experience, in contrast to others, possess as such (exactly as they have size, color, hardness, and so forth. But as the term “subjective” has been used just now it refers to the genetic dependence of all experience upon my physical organism. In this latter meaning, subjectivity is not itself an experienced attribute; rather, it is a relationship which we ascribe to all and therefore also to objective, experiences once we have learned to regard them as results of organic processes. Quite often the two denotations of the term are confused n the most deplorable manner, as thought what is genetically subjective ought also to appear as subjective in experience. Some Introspectionists, for instance, seem to think that, properly speaking, the chair before me must be a subjective phenomenon, which appears before me only as a consequence of learning or interpretation. On the other hand, since no such subjective chair can be discovered, the Behaviorist derides the Introspectionist for dwelling in a world of imaginary ghosts. the simple truth is that some of the experiences which depend upon processes in my organism have the character of objectivity, whereas others which depend upon different processes in the same organism have the character of being subjective. This contrast has nothing to do with the genetic subjectivity of both types of experience, i.e., with the fact that both depend upon understandings of the term “objective experience” will no longer be possible. When I talk about a chair, I mean the chair of my everyday life and not some subjective phenomenon.
On the other hand, we have seen, the chair of objective experience cannot be identified with the chair as part of the physicist’s world. Now, since the world of direct experience is the first I knew, and since all I now know about the physical world was later inferred from certain events in the experienced world, how can I be expected to ignore the experienced world? After all, it still remains my only basis for any guesses about physical facts. If I choose, I can, of course, raise the question whether, in a certain sense, the physical world is perhaps the more important one. But even then I must admit that, from the point of view of acquaintance or access, the experienced world is prior to that of physics; also, that my only way of investigating physical realities is that of observing objective experiences and drawing from them the proper conclusions. To be sure, as physiology advances, I may become able to discover the nervous processes which underlie my observing and concluding, and thus to give a physical theory of these events. But again, since the world of physiology is part of the physical world, it can never become directly accessible to me. Any progress which I can make in physiology depends upon my observations of what I call a body in direct perceptual experience. If we listen to Behaviorists we may have the impression that to them the physical and physiological worlds such are directly known, and that in their, the Behaviorists’, case knowing has nothing to do with direct experience. None the less, I cannot change this report about my own case in which there is no direct access to physical and physiological facts. Naturally, with this defect I find it frightfully difficult to become a behaviorist.
What, then, about the Behaviorist’s statement that, in physics, observation deals with objective reality, whereas, in the case of direct experience, it deals with something that has no scientific value?
Let me describe my own procedure when I investigate the properties of a physical or chemical object. In this mixture of chemical substances, is there any considerable amount of H4C202? I know about the presence of the mixture by way of certain objective experiences before me, and I find the positive answer to the question by smelling, i.e., in a further direct experience. Since this is a rather crude procedure, let us consider a case of accurate measurement. What is the intensity of the electric current which, under the given conditions, must flow in that wire? The position of a pointer on the scale of a certain apparatus gives me the answer in visual terms, the apparatus being part of my visual field, exactly as the wire and the given conditions manifest themselves as parts of objective experience. the same holds for all possible statements and measurements which I shall ever be able to make in physics. My observations of physical facts always remain in the same general class as those which refer to after-images, to the fuzziness which I find in peripheral vision, or to my feeling healthy. Hence, the exactness of my observations in physics cannot be related to an alleged avoidance of direct experience in in physical research. I do not avoid direct experience when I am working in physics; for I cannot avoid it. Yet the procedure works. THus at least some observations which refer to direct experience must constitute an entirely adequate basis for science.
If all concrete statements which I can make in physical research are primarily based on observations within the field of experience, some consequences are plainly inevitable. How do I define my terms when I work as a physicists? Since my knowledge of physics consists entirely of concepts and observations contained in or derived from direct experience, all the terms which I use in this science must ultimately refer to the same source. If I try to define such terms, my definitions may, of course, refer to further concepts and terms. But the final steps in the process will always be: pointing toward the locus of certain experiences about which I am talking, and hints where to make certain observations. Even the most abstract concepts of physics, such as that of entropy, can have no meaning without a reference, indirect though it may be, to certain direct experiences. I shall never be able to give a definition of terms in physics, or to understand such a definition when given by others, which differs in this respect from what I may use as definitions in psychology. Nevertheless, at this point also the method of physics is successful. I never have difficulty with definitions when physicists talk with me about their science. Hence, some definitions which ultimately refer to direct experience must be sufficiently safe for use in an exact discipline. The exactness of definitions in physics cannot result from the alleged fact that in this science definitions are independent of direct experience; for there is no such independence.
But the Behaviorist tells us that observation of direct experience is a private affair of individuals, whereas in physics two physicists can make the same observation, for instance, on a galvanometer. I deny the truth of the latter statement. Even from the point of view of Behaviorism the statement is incorrect. If somebody observes a galvanometer, he observes something different from the galvanometer as physical object. For the object of his observation is the result of certain organic processes, only the beginning of which is determined by the physical galvanometer itself. In a second person, the observed galvanometer is gain only the final result of such processes, which now occur in the organism of this second person. By no means do the two people observe the same instrument then, although physically the processes in one and the other are stated by the same physical object. And yet, in most cases their statements about their observations agree so well that they never ask themselves whether a sufficient similarity of their two experienced galvanometers (and both with the physical object) can be taken for grated. Again, the procedure works. The privacy of direct experience does not disturb anybody – in physics. When working in such a case with others, each individual physicist is naively convinced that his fellow-physicists “have that galvanometer before them.” Thus he tacitly assumes that his fellow workers have objective experiences highly similar to this own, and he does not hesitate to take the words of his colleagues as statements about these experiences. According to the Behaviorist this means, of course, that the physicist allows private affairs to play a part in exact science. Curiously enough, this does not seem to disturb the scientific procedure at all, just as it does not disturb the affairs of everyday life, where the same attitude occurs quite generally and naturally. In some cases, therefore, belief in specific experiences of others must be quite harmless, and cannot be regarded as an obstacle to scientific process. Thus, if psychology does not advance more rapidly, the reason for it cannot be that belief as such.
There remains one consequence of the fact that observation in physics is observation within the field of direct experience. As a physicist who observes his apparatus, I do not fear that my activity as an observer has any serious influence upon the characteristics of what I observe – if only I keep myself as a physical system at a sufficient distance from the apparatus as another physical system. And yet, as direct experiences, both the apparatus to be observed and my activity of observing depend upon processes in the same system, namely, my organism. Again the Behaviorist must be wrong when he declares that, because of the inclusion of observer and observed facts in one system, the observation of direct experience has no scientific value. For in the case of physical observation the situation is similar: the material to be observed and the process of observing belong to the same system. Thus we see that the physicist and the psychologist are once more in exactly the same situation. It does not matter at all whether I call myself a physicist or a psychologist when I observe a galvanometer. In both cases my observation is directed toward the same objective experience. The procedure works in physics. Why should it not be used in psychology? There must be some instances in which the observation of facts within the field of direct experience does not seriously disturb these facts.
To be sure, this argument implies a remarkable limitation of the range of its own application. It does not mean that all forms of so-called introspection are justified; even less does it mean that the findings of introspection are quite generally independent of the activity of introspection. Here the critical position of Behaviorism has only exaggerated the scope of a fair argument in unjustly applying it to all statements of direct experience. The critical point as such is well taken in many cases. I have described how, even as a physicist, I must deal with direct experience. It is true, an extremist such as a Behaviorist could derive from this description some doubts as to the objectivity of methods in physics. But fortunately, such doubts had not yet arisen when in the time of Galileo, Newton and Huyghens the first really important steps were taken in physics. These great investigators just went about their business, pragmatically naive and happily undisturbed by a Behaviorism in physics which would have blocked the whole development for the sake of epistemological purity. The procedure worked in spite of the fact that to justify its steps on logical grounds would sometimes have been a difficult task.
Sciences which wish to carry on their research in a productive fashion generally show a healthy disdain for such scruples. It might be better for psychology, if after listening to a wholesome critical lesson from Behaviorism it would also return to its job with more naivete, and use any techniques which yield results. As a scientific attitude, the Homeric assault of Behaviorism against direct experience appears to me very strange. The Behaviorist does not generally show too great an interest in epistemological considerations. It is just one point which suddenly catches his attention: “How can I know about the direct experience of others? I shall never have a definite proof of the validity of such knowledge. But physics that is another matter. There we are safe.” The Behaviorist forgets that to prove the existence of an independent physical world is about as difficult as to make sure that other people have experiences. If I were an extreme purist, I might argue the former point precisely as the Behaviorist disputes the assumption of direct experience in others. For some reason it does not occur to him to apply his criticism to the assumption of the physical world. He does not say: “Thou shalt not work upon a physical world, the existence of which will always remain a mere assumption.” On the contrary, he assumes the reality of this world with all the healthy naivete which he lacks in psychology. The reason is, perhaps, that the achievements of physical science are imposing, and have become the ideal of Behaviorism. But, as a methodological purist, the Behaviorist ought not to regard mere achievements as satisfactory proof in such matters. Of course, personally I am in this respect as convinced as any Behaviorist has ever been. I am also fully aware of the fact that sciences often believe and postulate where epistemology may have its doubts. But from this point of view I can, of course, also believe that others have direct experience. The decisive point is that this serves to make my work simpler and more productive. To repeat I feel the more justified in this attitude since I find that my work in physics is also founded on direct experience; that in this science the assumption of direct experience in others is made as a matter of course; and therefore, the enormous superiority of physics over psychology cannot derive from any differences in this respect.
At this moment I see the Behaviorist smiling ironically. Probably he wants to say this: “With all his philosophy, Mr. Koehler will never make any headway against sound scientific Behaviorism.” My answer is that the basis of Behaviorism is just as philosophical as my criticism: Behaviorism grows on epistemological ground. In this connection the only difference between the Behaviorist and me is one which concerns the width of our visual fields. The Behaviorists sees only a single theorem of epistemology – one person cannot observe another person’s experience. As an extremist he dwells exclusively on this point and ignores the context from which it is taken. I am aware of this context; it is stated in the foregoing argument. And, obviously, I prefer to draw my conclusions from this wider view of the situation.
W.S. HUNTER: Human Behavior 1928.
K. KOFFKA: The Growth of the Mind. 1924. Second edition, 1928.
J. B. WATSON: Psychologies of 1925 (Ed. by C. Murchison).
A.P. WEISS: A Theoretical Basis of Human Behavior. 1925.
The Virtual Marshall McLuhan stresses the ‘poetic image’ that Marshall McLuhan crafted to support his persona as an intellectual committed to a unique perceptualist poetic vision of everyday life in the post-electric, new media world. This persona – the ‘virtual’ McLuhan – is very different from both what we might call the ‘real’ Marshall McLuhan – a devout, dedicated, Roman Catholic academic deeply enmeshed in the humanistic and theological orientation of the classical era and the high middle ages – and the ‘imaginary’ McLuhan created by various ‘McLuhanisms’ and ‘McLuhanites.’
McLuhan approached the communication, culture, and technology of the 1950s through a poetic vision, essentially a schizo-analytic perspective, that allowed him to generate the witty, comic, poetic images that permeated his work from The Mechanical Bride to his posthumous works, Laws of Media and The Global Village. One major aspect of his schizoid approach to the contemporary post-electric, new media world was his close affinity with both Wyndham Lewis and James Joyce. His approach and his complex use of Lewis and Joyce are part of an extremely complex problem that involves aspects of his personal encounter with Lewis in Canada and the U.S. in the 1940s; religious issues; questions about tradition, modernism – particularly postmodernism – and the rapidly changing technological world; Canadian nationalism; and his personal history.
The Virtual Marshall McLuhan discusses this and also demonstrates McLuhan’s commitment to the trivium and quadrivium of the liberal arts with a particular emphasis on grammar and rhetoric, as well as his commitment to the art of poetry and its relationship to techne and the arts in general, ancient and modern. One of the major aspects of his program throughout his career was to make the history of the liberal arts, the creative arts, and their relation to techne (and hence technology) an immediate part of the reality of the present moment – relevant to the new media and the arts they were engendering. This interest provided him with the technique he used to pursue Ezra Pound’s advice in a July 1952 letter: “start looking for credits rather than debts// not matter much where a man GOT what, but what he did with it (or without it) AFTER he got it.” McLuhan uses his understanding of the past and his immense knowledge of literature and the arts to demonstrate how those in the present, himself included, were involved with the past.
The “virtual” Marshall McLuhan first appeared in the late 1940s, just after McLuhan completed his doctoral thesis, “Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time,” at Cambridge University and was beginning work on his first media book, The Mechanical Bride. The development of his poetic vision was aided by his encounter with James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which was facilitated by his relationship with the major expatriate Canadian critic of high modernism, Hugh Kenner. In the early 1950s, when McLuhan began a group reading of the Wake, he had just discovered the work of Harold Innis, encountered the Catholic theology (particularly Augustine and Thomas Aquinas), encouraged by personal contact with Etienne Gilson and, to a lesser extent, Jacques Maritain, as well as with their writings. Through the Wake and its involvement in high modernism (W.B.Yeats, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis) and radical modernism (the avant-garde, Cubists, Dadaists, Futurists, and Vorticists) McLuhan established the crucial links between his history of the liberal arts and poetry and the arts as well as between his theological and humanistic interests and the transformations of communication media in the emerging contemporary world. These interests had, however, been preceded by his encounters with Lewis while teaching in St. Louis and later in Windsor (from 1943 to 1945). Lewis, who as part of the character of Shaun the Post is a major presence in Finnegans Wake, was one of Joyce’s major critics. McLuhan found in Lewis’s figure of the satirist as enemy who engages in “blasting and bombardiering” the middle-brows a useful base for his own approach.
It is clear that McLuhan’s fundamental project in approaching mass media and everyday life in the post-electric world of new media was shaped initially by Lewis and his interpretations of early avant-garde art, since McLuhan did not become deeply involved with Joyce’s major works until after he began The Mechanical Bride. In the 1940s McLuhan immersed himself in Lewis’s writings; by the time he encountered Finnegans Wake in his readings with Hugh Kenner in the mid 1940s he had already absorbed most of what Lewis had written before the 1940s. Lewis’s writings, particularly Time and Western Man, were probably the primary sources of his growing interest in popular culture and media that was first expressed in The Mechanical Bride and in articles such as his piece in Neurotica on “Time, Life and Fortune.”
Parallelling his personal interest in Lewis was McLuhan’s complex religious attitude. Lewis, in contradistinction from Joyce, who was an apostate and a heretic, ultimately never rejected, though he seriously questioned, a belief in Christianity. His situation closely parallels McLuhan’s Baptist converted to Catholicism and totally committed to the Church who also embraced and endorsed the ideas of the avantgarde, high modernists, and others who were a-religious, anti-religious or agnostic. McLuhan apparently adopted Lewis’s “transformed moralism,” which vitiated his critiques of the contemporary world.
While it is clear that Lewis was a major early influence on McLuhan’s perceptual approach to media and everyday culture, many of the key strategies McLuhan developed in the Bride and used throughout his writing career, such as his aphoristic style, owed a great deal to other sources as well. Pound shared Lewis’s Vorticist direction in the early twentieth century and his use of aphorism influenced McLuhan directly and also through the subsequent influence that Pound had on Eliot. This interest in aphorism, though perhaps most immediately influenced by Blast and Vorticism, is also influenced by the headline style of the ‘Aeolus’ section of Joyce’s Ulysses and the frequent use of aphorisms throughout Finnegans Wake and is one of a number of reasons that Alexander Pope’s writing, particularly The Dunicad and his mock-rethoric Peri Bathous or The Art of Sinking in Poetry, provides a major part of the conclusion to The Gutenberg Galaxy.
Through his interest in Joyce, Lewis, and the French symbolists, McLuhan developed an interest in such figures as Duchamp, Picasso, Marinetti, Leger, Schoenberg, Antheil, and many others. All of these interests enabled him to confront the way in which, after the mid-nineteenth century and particularly in the early twentieth century, art began to become once again an important guide to understanding technology and the techno-scientific. The Virtual Marshall McLuhan traces the influence of the contemporary world, the early historical world, and the new technologies on arts and technology, such as Sigfreid Giedon and Lewis Mumford. This was particularly true of Giedion and his wife, Carola Giedion-Welcker, who were close friends of Joyce and knowledgeable participants in the new arts and media, as exemplified in their various writings. It is this complex background that allowed McLuhan to construct his unique poetic persona and awareness, first demonstrated in The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media.
A major, implicit thread of The Virtual Marshall McLuhan is the interaction between Joyce, Lewis, and the various modernisms and the way these relations affect McLuhan’s positions on tactility, the interplay of the senses (with an emphasis on “play”), and the problems of orality, literacy, and print. McLuhan was one of the few to discover that the playful satire on Lewis and on Joyce’s own early role as an artist that can be found in the Wake as crucial to understanding contemporary problems and to revealing that the orality-literacy (or oral and written) opposition is transcended by the grounding of human communication in tactility and gesture.
McLuhan found both the importance of tactility and its relation to gesture and the Aristotlean-scholastic conception of the sensus communis (a common sense through which all the senses interact within the human nervous system) throughout Joyce’s work. His discovery occurred in the period between 1950 and 1954 when he was writing his key articles on Joyce. Tactility, he wrote “the integral sense, the one which brings all others into relation, “was “greatly enhanced by “the new electric environment”. In the Wake joyce had developed a complex interplay between the oral, aural, visual, tactile, and intersensory activities of the human body. McLuhan grasped the tactile nature of TV from its treatment in the Wake, which led him to elaborate its closer affiliation with the gestural – for “tele-media” implied a projection over distances as well as, in the case of TV, a scanning of the image and its projection as light through, rather than light on, the screen.
Joyce’s complex ambivalence, playing with and revealing aspects of modern media and post-electric culture, led to McLuhan’s commitment to perceptual revelation as opposed to conceptual. Lewis, in spite of his artistic aspects, confronted Joyce as a conceptualist, while Joyce, in spite of his complex intellectuality, remained a “perceptualist”. In his schizoid manner, McLuhan embraced Lewis’s intellectual critique and moralism, while in his poetic mode he adopted (perhaps with some reservations) Joyce’s playful “perceptualism.” McLuhan had strong Lewisian biases and yet was attracted by the playful, intellectual complexity of Joyce. While approving of Lewis’s moralism and cynicism, he was still seduced by Joyce’s playful, poetically based intellectualism. McLuhan’s analysis of technology was more advanced than Lewis’s, although committed to Lewis’s relative comfort with the period in which he lived, whereas Joyce’s position was, ultimately, more advanced than McLuhan’s, as shown by his success with the avantgarde in the arts such as Cage, Cunningham and Rauschenberg and his overall success: Joyce is probably the top “novelist” of the twentieth century, based on his three major works: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake.
While Joyce may have gone further than McLuhan in his vision of the paramodern, McLuhan has a unique vision of his own that manifests itself through poetic images crafted by interplay within everyday life – the conflicts generated by the world of new media and the evolving techno-cultural world of human communication. McLuhan became a juggler of the video, the verbal, the audio, the tactile, and the interplay of all the senses within the central nervous system of the everyday person. While his poetic practice may have been implicit in Joyce, McLuhan played it out for the broader audience of those whose whole life was governed by the media. He had learned from Lewis that the tribal world was re-emerging in the twentieth century and he intuited that those enmeshed in an electric age lived in an era that was “out of its mind.” In this project he was not directly influenced by anyone.
His position was further complicated by the intersection between his religious beliefs and the influence of the history of humanities and humanistic activities. Here the later medieval period (the thirteenth century) was crucial and the writings of Gilson a significant influence on the way he related the scholastic philosophy of Albertus Magnus and, particularly, Thomas Aquinas to the humanistic tradition. This was complemented by his understanding of the way cathedrals represented a marriage of art and technology with the medieval vision. It is here that he discovered the contrast of light through as opposed to light on, which he then applied to the difference between film and TV, allowing him to show the latter’s greater affiliation with tactility.
His knowledge of the later medieval period allowed him to explore the technology of writing through the manuscripts of scribes. His embrace of Aquinas (which had significant echoes in Joyce, although not in Lewis) was based on his view of Aquinas as fundamentally a humanist using dialectic within a grammatic-rhetorical tradition. Joyce’s complex wit was associated with Aquina’s wit as exemplified in his Latin hymnody and in his discussions of theological disputes in his Summae (Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles). Both had a major impact on the prose poetics McLuhan developed for a post-new media culture. This play with wit and aphorism continued through the Renaissance figures such as Erasmus and Thomas More (who were both Catholics) as well as Rabelais and on into the seventeenth century with Blaise Pascal in his Pensees and then into the early eighteenth century with Alexander Pope.
The importance of these past associations and their relation to McLuhan’s dedicated commitment to Catholicism as an “apocalyptic” is underlined in two of his three posthumous publications: Laws of Media, where the tetrads are consciously associated with “media poetics,” which led him to Vico, the last great, pre-electric grammarian to influence James Joyce (and incidentally the most quoted source in Laws of Media), and The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, a collection of essays and interviews on the Catholic religion and its relevance to the contemporary media world. It is this awareness of the past that makes him a schizoid visionary, for he can embrace Lewis’s stance as the enemy and as a contemporary moralist while also evincing a preference for Joyce’s powerful radical modernism. The playing out of this tension in the context of his classical and medieval training is the key to understanding his approach to the new media and grasping his penetrating insight that an awareness of the conversion of historic learning to its status in the present moment in time is crucial to being able to understand the ascendancy of arts in the world of modern communications technology.
McLuhan also discovered that the satirists he favoured throughout literary history all participated in modifications and transformations of a genre originally defined by the Roman poet Varro as Menippean satire, which later came to be described as Varronian satires. The great practitioners of this tradition were satiric poets and writers such as Ovid, Erasmus, Dryden, and Pope. The form, as McLuhan observed, was further transformed by Joyce, who described himself as a Menippean satirist – using the original term to acknowledge the founder of the form, Mennipus, the Greek cynic philosopher and poet, although in Joyce, and earlier in Pope and Ovid, this form had moved far from its original cynic foundations. In its modified form it is the shaping principle of McLuhan’s prose poetry, particularly in his work following Understanding Media (e.g., The Medium is the Massage, Counterblast (1969), and War and Peace in the Global Village). In these works he brought together his knowledge and understanding of traditions to illuminate the contemporary dilemma of culture and technology. In contrast, Lewis, who looks to the past and mistrusts the modern, is a true cynical post-Menippean satirist.
The Virtual Marshall McLuhan demonstrates that the arts and literature were the crucially relevant grounds from which McLuhan developed his mode of investigation of contemporary media, culture, and technology. His method of investigation provides a poetic technique through which he can create his “percepts” of contemporary culture and avoid the snares of the conceptual and the moralistic. His first experiment with this technique was in The Mechanical Bride, but at the time he still took a moral stance and supplemented his poetic probes with conceptual analysis. It was during the years of Explorations and his early culture and communication seminars with Ted Carpenter that he liberated himself from the overtly moralistic and conceptualistic, which made possible his landmark writings, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). The Virtual Marshall McLuhan elaborates on this in appendices by his lifelong friend Ted Carpenter and his first Ph.D. student, myself, who were both involved in the launching of the seminars and in the formation of McLuhan’s mature vision of “understanding media,” which was developed in that critical decade.
The McLuhan who launched the poetic probing of communication and technology – the “virtual” McLuhan – was committed to exploring the way that contemporary arts, particularly poetry, created a rebirth of the marriage of art and technology that permeated classical poetry and poetic theory and formed the foundation of the techne, which permeated the history of the trivium, from Plato to Pope and Stern, and the high modernists and radical modernists of the first half of the twentieth century. Consequently, some of our deepest understandings of what occurred as a result of the impact of electro-mechanization on contemporary culture emanate from wisdom that has existed for centuries. McLuhan and Joyce reincorporated this wisdom as a vital, living aspect of the present, enabling it to confront the future. A recognition that he had made this confrontation possible is the highest tribute McLuhan himself would have wanted, for he never felt comfortable as a figure affecting the corporate-political force nor did he feel committed to the acceptance of any contemporary political body – even the Church – which is why, although he was a “true believer,” his belief was undertaken as an “apocalyptic” with a satirist’s view of all power structures.
The ‘fact that Christianity began in Greco-Roman culture really is of enormous significance’ for McLuhan who ‘discovered fairly soon that a thing has to be tested on its terms’. Eric Havelock explains that it was the greek medium of the phonetic alphabet that made it possible for ‘men to have for the first time in human history a sense of private identity. A sense of private substantial identity – a self – is to this day utterly unknown to tribal society.’ In this sense McLuhan argue that under Ghengis Khan Christianity could have become what it is now. A centralized, bureaucratic institution with little awareness about the way technology it employs shapes its characteristics.Literacy in Traditional Societies edited by Jack Goody ‘shows not the slightest awareness that the many non-phonetic forms of literacy have no civilizing effects whatever. Civilization is a technical event. There is no other alphabet that has the effect of upgrading the visual powers at the expense of all the other senses. It is the dominance of the visual faculty that creates civilized values.’ McLuhan explains that ‘Havelock was the person who explored the fact that the private individual person was in fact an artifact, or development, from the technology of the phonetic alphabet’ and less an ‘inevitable aspect of the human condition’.
Christians, however, have a peculiar war to fight which concerns their identity. The Christian feels the downward mania of the earth and its treasures, and is just as inclined to conform his sensibilities to man-made environments as anyone else. When the secular man senses a new technology is offering a threat to his hard-won human image of self-identity, he struggles to escape from this new pressure. When a community is threatened in its image of itself by rivals or neighbors, it goes to war. Any technology that weakens a conventional identity image creates a response of panic and rage which we call “war”. Heinrich Hertz, the inventor of radio, put the matter very briefly: “The consequence of the image will be the image of the consequences.”
When the identity image which we enjoy is shattered by new technological environments or by invaders of our lives who possess new weaponry, we lash back first by acquiring their weaponry and then by using it. What we ignore is that in acquiring their weaponry we also destroy our former identity. That is, we create new sensory environements which ‘scrub’ our old images of ourselves. Thus war is not only education but also a means of accelerated social evolution. It is these changes that only the Christian can afford to laugh at.
The ‘body of Christ’ is the mental landscape for a Christian for whom faith, as a way of knowing, operates in the realm of percepts, not that of concepts. ‘It is a mode of spiritual awareness and knowing, as acute and as real as vision, touch, smell, hearing. . but a spiritual rather than a bodily sense’. Nobody needs to tell oneself to smell, if you smell something you know that you do it. And the same is true for the faith. In Nietsche’s phrase ‘god is dead’ he interprets ‘that the Incarnation was His death because He became visible. Now in the non-visual time, the visual alienates them… the God who is dead, of course, is the Newtonian God, the visual image of a visually-organized cosmos. With the dethronement of the visual sense by the audile-tactile media of radio and TV, religion, or the relating to the divine, can no longer have a primarily visual bias. The present irrelevance of our political and educational establishments stems from the same situation. God, of course, is not involved in any of this.’
The foundations of social survival are, however, to be found in a switch from reason to passion, from fear to love. And the possibility of the switchover resides in our capacity today to discover the creative dynamics of norm-making. Norm, the region of passion and flux, was no basis for any past city. But norm seen as a produce of an individual and collective creative activity may be a clue to a new social dynamics.
Its a good book with material relating Mcluhan to his complex relationship with the Christian faith. A blog that talks about it is helpful but the best recipe is to read the whole book. It relates also Mcluhan with memetics in which I am interested in. The impact of Mass Media on the Church is a fairly recent doctoral thesis from a polish clerk Father Dariusz Gronowski. If anyone reads my lines and has a copy in english, drop me a line.
There are certain periods in the world’s history which have a special attraction for those who are watching with interest the intellectual and moral development of India. Such a period is the age of Socrates and the Sophists in Greece. Then, as now in India, the belief in an old mythology was being shattered; tradition, authority, and custom, were no longer accepted as adequate sanctions for moral rules and political institutions. In a word, a spirit of rational inquiry and criticism was supervening upon an age of childlike faith. Such a period again is the age of the Reformation and the Revival of Learning. Here, too, we have a revolt of reason against authority. The dangers of such a movement were greater in Greece than in modern Europe. There was no political stability in any Grecian city, and therefore no natural resistance to revolutionary doctrines. There was no organized or powerful system of scientific or moral beliefs to check the free play of crude and wanton speculation. In this respect here is a close analogy between Greece and India. Both countries suffered in the same ways and from the same causes. The Indian mind was bewildered, at the same time that it was attracted, by the novelty of English philosophy and science. Here, as in Greece, the uprooting of old beliefs has begotten a premature and excessive skepticism, and an exaggerated distrust of everything established. The fascination of a new intellectual world has produced a recklessness in speculation and criticism, which time and experience only can correct. Lastly, a gulf has been set between old an young, and there are dangerous disruptions in families and in society. The spirit of the sixteenth century was a more serious one. The Church had established over the world a dominion which was not to be lightly attacked or easily overthrown. On its religious side, the new movement was, in its essence, a revolt in favour of high spiritual principles. On its secular side, it was a free and generous interest in the new world presented by literature, and in the promises of science. India has differed from Europe in this respect, that Europe had by serious struggle and effort to create for herself that great body of knowledge which she has presented as a gift to India. It may be doubted whether this difference represents pure gain to India – “Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental guardian and legislator, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as he loves us better too.”
With the sixteenth century the modern world begins. The spirit of its religion, its philosophy, and its science is our spirit. Reason was asserting, as against authority that independence which is still our dearest object. Bacon is one of the most interesting figures of that interesting age. He represents its deep patriotism, its patient effort, its wide interests, its high aims, its lofty enthusiasm. His earliest and chief interest in life was the reform of scientific method. When only twelve years and three months old he was sent to Cambridge. His experience there was disappointing to him. Aristotle regained supreme in the schools, and Bacon was struck with “the unfruitfulness of his way”. Science had little or nothing to show in the way of results; and nothing, it occurred to him, was to be hoped for, until a new method was invented and applied. To supply this want became henceforth the passion of his life. Writing to Lord Burleigh at the beginning of his thirty-second year, he says, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province; and if I could purge it of two sorts of rovers, whereof the one with frivolous disputations, confutations, and verbosities, the other with blind experiments and auricular traditions and impostures, hath committed so many spoils, I hope I should bring in industrious observations, grounded conclusions, and profitable inventions and discoveries: the best state of that province.” There was, he complains, no “art of invention.” Such discoveries as had been made were the result of accident, not of methodical and rational inquiry. The so-called induction that was practised was nothing but a process of hasty generalization. The human mind had neglected those artificial aids which alone can enable it to cope with the subtlety of nature. Impatience and an undue eagerness to show results had led to premature dogmatizing and hypothesis. Conclusions had been deduced from premises which were mere combinations of inaccurate, ill-defined, inadequate notions of things. Instead of ascertaining the laws of phenomena, science had been content to point out the final causes of things. Above all,
no attempt had been made to compare and co-ordinate the results of the different branches of inquiry.
Besides the mistakes into which men had been led by peculiarities of temperament and education, by language, and by an exaggerated respect for the authority of great names, there are certain fallacies to which the human mind is from its very nature liable. “The mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence: nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture, if it be not delivered and reduced.” These inherent and universal tendencies to error Bacon calls “idols of the tribe.” The times in the world’s history in which learning of any kind had flourished had been but few, and even in them
inquiry had been directed rather to ethics, politics, and theology, than to natural science. The progress of science had been further impeded by the jealousy of theologians
and statesmen, as well as by the credulity and frivolity of professed students, and the ignorance and affection of professed teachers.
It seemed, however, to bacon that there were grounds for hopefulness in his day partly because of the unexpected discoveries which science had recently made, partly because of the extension of cosmography. “It may be truly affirmed, to the honour of these times, and in a virtuous emulation with antiquity, that this great building of the world had never through-lights made in it, till the age of us and our fathers.” Two things where wanted to secure progress: 1. a right conception of the end and aim of science, and 2. a method which should correct the natural defects of the intellect should put all inquirers on one level, and should be certain in its results. “Men have entered into a desire of learning and knowledge, sometimes upon a natural curiosity and inquisitive appetite; sometimes to entertain their minds with variety and delight; sometimes for ornament and reputation ; sometimes to enable them to victory of wit and contradiction ; and most times for lucre and profession ; and seldom sincerely to give a true account of their gift of reason, to the benefit and use of men: as if there were sought in knowledge a couch wherupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon ; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale; and not a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of men’s estate”.
Over and over again Bacon insists that knowledge is to be judged by its results.
By its fruit ye shall know it. “The true relation between the nature of things and the nature of the mind is as the strewing and decoration of the bridal chamber of the mind and the universe, the Divine goodness assisting; out of which marriage let us hope (and be this the prayer of the bridal song) there may spring helps to man, and a line and race of inventions that may in some degree subdue and overcome the necessities and miseries of humanity.” Fruit, in fact, is not so much the justification as the test of knowledge. Bacon is not degrading knowledge by representing it as an instrument for promoting the comfort of man. He was quit aware that study is a duty imposed upon us by the possession of our talents, that it is a source of innocent pleasure, that it is the handmaid of religion, and that it is the condition of all moral and spiritual perfection. God is disgraced and man rendered miserable by ignorance and the barbarism which attends it. The removal of superstition, refinement of manners, and improvement of morals are all included in the fruit of knowledge. Bacon was not thinking merely of additions to man’s stock of material comforts. But he was deeply impressed with the idea that what nature does we can do, if we can only find out how she does it. And man may, if he will possess himself of the key to the interpretation of nature. “The spirit of man is as the lamp of God, wherewith he searcheth the inwardness of all secrets.” It was Bacons mission to 1. point out the vast dominion which a perfected science would open up to man, and at the same time 2. to point out the road which man must follow if he would enter into possession of his kingdom. “I most humbly,” he says, “and fervently pray to God that, remembering the sorrows of mankind and the pilgrimage of this our life, wherein we wear out days few and evil, he will vouchsafe through my hands to endow the human family with new mercies.” It is ordained that man shall possess nothing but by the sweat of his brow. Power can be gained only through knowledge; and knowledge can be reached only by a patient and methodical study of nature. We must be content to be the servants and interpreters of nature. We must become as little children, if we wish to enter into “the kingdom of man”.
Fired with this idea of a perfect science which, besides being a fresh revelation of God’s glory, should also be fraught with untold blessings to man, Bacon projected “a total reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations,” namely, “experience of every kind, and the same well examined and weighed.” This Great Intauration was to consist of six parts. In the first part he proposed “to exhibit a summary or general description of the knowledge which the human race in his day possessed, taking note at the same time of things omitted which ought to be there.” This part of the scheme is represented by the Advancement of Learning. and the expanded translation of it known as the De Augmentis Scientiarum. After this was to come the New Organon, or Bacon’s Own scientific method. This method was, in the first place, to be inductive. But it was to differ altogether from that hasty process of generalization from a few casual observations, which generally passed by the name of induction. Experience was to be analyzed. By a process of exclusion and rejection conclusions were to be reached, the truth of which could not be doubted. The mind was to be led gradually and regularly from one axiom to another, at the most general being reached last, so that no loophole might be left by which error could creep in. Lastly, men were to be warned against such tendencies to error as are ineradicable, as well as against those that are accidental: while instruments and experiments were to supply the failures and correct the errors of sense. The experience which this method of interpretation presupposes was to be accumulated in a Natural and Experimental history, which was to form the third part of the Instauration. It was to supply the intellect with fit matter to work upon, as the Logic supplied it with safeguards to guide and control its working. It was to be a complete and exhaustive description of the phenomena of nature as revealed by observation and experiment. Bacon, strangely enough, thought that, if a sufficient number of workers were employed, such a history might in a short time be compiled, and that then nothing would remain to complete the sum of knowledge but to interpret the “stuff and matter” thus supplied according to the rules of his Logic. Bacon’s own contributions to this history are to be found in the second volume of Ellis and Spedding’s Edition of his works. The Natural and Experimental history was to be followed by the Ladder of the Intellect. As all rules and reasonings are made more intelligible by examples, Bacon proposed in this part of his scheme “to set forth examples of inquiry and invention according to his method, exhibited by anticipation in some particular subjects; choosing such subjects as are at once the most noble in themselves, and most different from one another; that there may be an example in every kind.”
This was to be followed by Anticipations of the New Philosophy, or conclusions which Bacon himself had arrived at, but which, as not being discovered and proved by his new method, were to be accepted only provisionally. Last of all was to come the New Philosophy or Active Science: -“the apocalypse or true vision of the footsteps of the Creator imprinted on his creatures,” which will be revealed by the proper “Interpretation of Nature.” Bacon did not do more than write the prefaces to the fourth and fifth parts. If we wish to understand what practical results he anticipated from that “legitimate, chaste, and severe course of inquiry” which he had propounded, we must read his New Atlantis.
But Bacon’s interests were not confined to the advancement of science. There is nothing, he says, in being and action, which should not be drawn into contemplation and doctrine. He was anxious that “pragmatical men may not go away with an opinion that learning is like a lark that can mount, and sing, and please herself, and nothing else: but may know that she holdeth as well of hawk, that can soar aloft, and can also descend and strike upon the prey.” No more keen observer of life and affairs than Bacon ever lived. he delighted in writings of moralists, like Seneca, Lucian, and Montaign: of critics of character, like Tacitus, Plutarch, and Suetonius: and of critics of affairs, like Cicero and Machiavelli. His curiosity had been whetted and his mind enlarged by travel. In the Essays he presents himsolf as the moralist, the statesman, and the man of the world. He calls them “certain brief notes set down rather significantly than curiously: not vulgar, but of a kind whereof men shall find much in experience and little in books.” As we read them, we naturally compare Bacon to one of those old Romans whom he himself describes as walking at certain hours in the Forum, and giving audience to those that would use their advice. They are specimens of that wisdom which arises out of an universal insight into the affairs of the world. They come home, he says, to men’s business and bosoms. He describes them truly as being not set treatises, but “dispersed meditations.” It was a favourite idea with him that such was the best form of writing in matters relating to conduct. The Essays are the fruits of his observation of life. They reflect his experience of men and the world. The most curious are those which treat of cunning, of suitors, of wisdom for a man’s self, of simulation and dissimulation, and other subjects of the kind. They reveal a habit of thought and action which is naturally generated under despotic rule. When all depends on the favour of one man, men will intrigue to gain his favour. There is probably nothing in the whole range of literature which would be more appreciated in an Indian darbar than these Essays of Bacon and the Prince of Machiavelli. Bacon often checks himself, as if half ashamed of the practices which he is criticizing, if not recommending. He knew quiet well the moral dangers that beset a public man. But he had laid himself out to get on in the world, and success then was hard to attain without servility, adulation, and complacency. The very advantages which he possessed of tact and address were an additional danger to him. Left a poor man by his father’s death, he found himself forced at the beginning of his career to become a suitor to those in power. At first he wanted a place chiefly with a view to securing leisure and means for carrying out his scientific work. During the reign of Elizabeth all his applications for office were unsuccessful. Hope deferred made his heart grow sick. Time was passing, and with it the chances of accomplishing that reform of learning, which was the dominant interest of his life. He was conscious too of great abilities, which might be turned to the advantage of the state. In the House of Commons he found his talents recognised, and his judgment respected. The traditions of his family made him look naturally to a public career. Life and its problems, the world and its honours, the court and its pageantry had a real attraction for him. Yet he remained outside the charmed circle of office. The queen probably thought it unnecessary to reward him with a permanent place, seeing that he was always ready and able to perform such occasional services as were required of him. He was a man of wisdom and discretion beyond his years, an eloquent and thougthful speaker
“He was full of gravity in his speaking. His language, when he could spare, or pass by a jest, was nobly censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more prestly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough, or look aside from him, without loss. He commanded, where he spoke; and had his judges angry and pleased at his devotion. No man had their affections more in his power. The fear of every man that heard him was, lest he should make an end.” Ben Jonson
a keen observer, but above all a pliant instrument. Just as in after times he could sound the very depths of subservience when he thought he had offended Villiers, so under Elizabeth he was willing to appear as the prosecutor of his friend Essex, because hesitation or refusal would have prejudiced his own interests. Promotion came to him under Elizabeth’s successor. The history of his advancement may be told in his own words. Writing to the king, he says, “You found me of the Learned Counsel, Extraordinary, without patent or fee; a kind of individuum vagum. You established me, and brought me into ordinary. Soon after you placed me Solicitor, where I served seven years. Then your Majesty made me your Attorney or Procurator General. Then a Privy Councillor, while I was Attorny; a kind of miracle of your favour, that had not been in many ages. Then Keeper of your Seal: and because that was a kind of planet and not fixed, Chancellor. And when your Majesty could raise me no higher, it was your grace to illustrate me with beams of honour; first making me Baron Verulam, and now viscount St. Albans.” The key to his life is to be found in his favorite quotation, “My soul hath been a stranger in the course of my pilgrimage.” Destined by inclination and capacity to be a student, he found himself engrossed with the cares and occupations of public life. Animated by a high ideal of government and law, he had to stoop to be the instrument of the petty police, the mean conceptions, and the narrow jealousies of James. Profoundly religious at heart, and filled with high principles of morality, he had yet to adapt himself to the conditions of a selfish and intriguing world, and to study and practice the arts by which material success in life was to be won. To James he was invaluable servant. But the very conditions of service were full of danger to one who combined so much ability with so much suppleness. We need not wonder at the cynical contempt which he sometimes expresses for human nature. He found favorites to be conciliated, and rivals to be outwitted. Ready obedience was more valued than honest independence. Courtly deference was necessary to obtain commendation for conscientious and useful work.
It was Bacon’s practice through life to record his opinions on the current questions of the day; and even when the king failed to appreciate his higher aims and statesmanship, yet he could always understand and profit by his knowledge of men, and his keen insight into the requirements of expediency. Bacon said truly of himself that he was never the author of immoderate or unsuccessful counsels, and that he had always desire to have things carried in pleasant ways. He was just the man to smooth away by the practical wisdom of compromise the differences which could not but arise between an arbitrary king like James and his subjects. He was a strong defender of the king’s prerogative.
He regarded monarchy as the earliest and most natural form of government, as being only an extension of the original patriarchal authority. But he wished it to be limited as in England, not despotic as in Turkey.
He saw the economic and social dangers of having too large an idle class. At the same time he thought an order of nobles useful, partly as an ornament and protection to the monarch, partly as a security to the people against oppression. He saw to the full the importance of trade and recommended the regulation of it by law in ways of which we should not approve. With regard to the masses of the people, he says that they must above all things be warlike. War is to the state what exercise is to the body. Pretexts for a declaration of war should never be wanting, when the interests of the state demand war. Our views on this subject are different. The difference is due partly to an improved morality, but partly also to our having learnt, what Bacon did not know, that the industrial prosperity of one country requires peace and prosperity in other nations. Bacon thought of war partly as being useful in diverting popular attention from internal grievances. The position of England, too, among the Protestant powers in his day suggested, if it did not actually demand, a military policy. True to his principle of turning observation and reflection to account for the benefit of man, Bacon was constantly revolving projects of practical reform. He was specially interested in the codification of law and the simplification of procedure. He was the determined foe of empiricism in politics. “It is almost without instance contradictory,” he says, “that ever any government was disastrous that was in the hands of learned governors.” One of his reasons for supporting the English form of government was that it represented government by intelligence. He was a strong advocate of Parliaments; but in all matters of importance he thought that the king and not the Parliament should take the initiative. He objected altogether to the position into which James was drifting with regard to Parliament. It seemed to him politically dangerous and altogether beneath the dignity of the Crown, that the king should become a mere suitor to Parliament, dependent for his supplies upon the concessions which the Commons could wrest from him. It seemed to him that the king should meet the Commons with proposals for legislation, and that they should inform and assist him with advice as to the wishes, the interests, and the grievances of the people. Common dangers and common patriotism had grappled Elizabeth to the souls of her people with hoops of steel. In Hooker’s account of government we find no suggestion of that divergence of interest between Sovereign and people which was implied in subsequent theories of contract, and which was persistently showing itself in the dealings of James with his Parliaments. Bacons studies in Greek and Italian history had familiarized him with the conception of social order as the result of a delicate balance of power, which might at any time be disturbed. We find him constantly endeavoring to keep irritating questions of principle in the background, and to effect a compromise between parties on the particular difficulties that might arise. He talks of setting one powerful noble against another, of balancing the gentry by the higher nobility and the higher nobility by the people. His historical studies will also account for his exaggerated ideas of the political results which can be produced by the intelligence and influence of individuals.
The conciliatory nature of Bacon’s policy is nowhere more manifest than in his utterances with regard to religion. He had himself been educated in a strict and narrow school of theology. The policy which he advocated, however, was a policy of toleration. His Essay on Superstition reflects the natural fear of Catholicism felt by men at a time when the life of the Sovereign was in danger from Catholic plots. The relation of the State to the Church was a question which could not then be overlooked. All matters affecting Church Government, Bacon says, have two considerations, 1.”the one in themselves, 2. the other how they stand compatible and agreeable to the civil state.” he tried his utmost to still the rage of doctrinal controversy within the Church itself. He hated controversy of every kind. In religious matters especially he deprecated it. It seemed to him both fruitless and wicked. Theological controversies, he says, have generally turned upon subjects which the human intellect can never comprehend, or have resulted from attempts to raise human inferences to the dignity of revealed dogmas. He draws a clear distinction between theology or revealed religion, and natural religion, which he defines as “that knowledge or rudiment of knowledge concerning God which may be obtained by the contemplation of His creatures.” The greatness, the power, and the wisdom of God are revealed in the book of His works. But of His nature and will we can know so much only as He has chosen to reveal in the book of His word. The contents of the latter are to accepted on faith. We are to believe absolutely what Scriptures says; and the greater the difficulty, the greater the merit of belief. Reason must be content with the task of understanding and interpreting, so far as she can, the text of the Bible. There is much in it that will always appear puzzling and even contradictory, but we must be content to accept the fact. God has willed that our knowledge of Him should, in this life at least, be imperfect. Our duty is to accept reverently what He has chosen to tell us of Himself. But we are not to pry into that which He has hidden. All must accept what God has positively said; but no man may compel another to accept his own individual interpretations and inferences.
Such a divorce of faith from reason is, of course, quite impossible. At the same time Bacon’s position is intelligible enough. His own acceptance of the Christian creed was little more than nominal. The Reformation was, in the first instance, a return to the text of Scripture, as distinguished from arbitrary interpretations of that text. There was no thought of questioning the claim of the Bible to be accepted as a Revelation. Bacon accepted the creed of Christianity as we accept so many of the commonplaces of the society in which we live. But it was no vital part of his spiritual self, in the sense in which his scientific convictions and interests were. As a statesman, he wished to obtain acceptance for a practical principle of compromise, which should unite all Englishmen upon essential matters of belief. He was anxious, too, in the interests of science, to persuade theologians that their jealousy of science was unreasonable. Hence he argued that theology and science cannot possibly come into competition. If theologians deprecated a criticism of the Book of God’s Word, on what principle could they claim the right to doubt the Book of His Works? Nature is, like the Bible, a book written by God for our instruction. But the two books have different objects, and are to be studied by different methods. The object of the Bible is not to teach science. Any attempts, therefore, to elicit the truths of nature from the Bible must result in false science; and any attempt to limit the inquiries of science in the interest of religion is essentially irrational. Conversely, any attempt to find in nature what can only be found in the Scriptures must end in heresy. The object, the method, and the evidence of science and theology are entirely distinct. But though Bacon was thus indifferent with regard to dogma, yet it is impossible to read his writings without seeing how sincere his religion was, and how profoundly he was influenced by it. He believed nothing for which warrant is not to be found in Scripture; at the same time we are not surprised to find that he supports his beliefs by the evidence of observation and reflection. There is a double advantage in this procedure. It not only gives certainty and precision to the beliefs themselves, but it also affords proof of the divine origin of Christianity. Every fresh analogy between Scripture and the work of God’s hands was to him a fresh proof that Scripture, too, comes from God. A careful and thorough study of nature, Bacon says, proves the existence of a God who created, and who continues to regulate the physical universe. The moral world is equally the object of His judgments, chastisements, deliverances, and blessings,” which history forces upon our observation. Lastly, in the life of each individual man we may trace “His fatherly compassion, His comfortable chastisements, His visible Providence.” Thus Bacon found in religion both a stimulus and consolation. So far as he was true to himself, he worked constantly with the sense of divine guidance and support. He worked in the spirit of an apostle commissioned to reveal to man the glory and the mercies of God. For mercy is the distinguishing characteristic of God. “In the first platform of the divine nature itself the heathen religion speaketh thus, Best and Greatest; and the sacred Scriptures thus, His mercy is over all His works.” Nature and revelation alike teach us that the first duty of man is “to aspire to a similitude of God in goodness or love.” Practical morality, indeed, may be summed up in the one rule of charity. For charity is “excellently called the bond of perfection, because it comprehendeth and fasteneth all virtues together.” Its insistence upon the virtue of charity, and its correspondence in this respect with the teachings of nature are among the proofs of the divine origin of Christianity. The moral teaching of Christianity in this respect naturally exercised a profound influence on a man of Bacon’s character and aims. he had by nature an even temper and a kindly and humane disposition. “The state and bread of the poor and oppressed,” he says, “have been precious in mine eyes; I have hated all cruelty and hardness of heart: I have (though in a despised week) procured the good of all men. If any have been mine enemies, I thought not of them; neither hath the sun almost set upon my displeasure; but I have been as a dove, free from superfluity and maliciousness.” To this we must add his strong conviction that human misery might be indefinitely relieved by scientific discovery. We need not wonder that he was attracted by a religion which exalted a life of active charity. By its condemnation of a life of selfish isolation; Christianity gave the death-blow to the doctrines of half the schools. “Men must know that in this theatre of man’s life it is reserved only for God and angles to be lookers on.” Bacon was no philosopher. Indeed, the questions of philosophy, if they had presented themselves to his mind, would probably have been dismissed by him as “barren.” We need not therefore to look at any systematic treatment of the problem of conduct in his writings. He would have said, and truly, that
moral failure springs more often from the want of will to do what is right, than from ignorance of what right is.
There are some principles of conduct which are self-evident, and which constitute what he calls “the laws of nature.” Further, we have the positive commands of Scripture. The faculty of reason, too, has been given to us to enable us to develop and apply these. Lastly, there survive in man, as relics of the purity of his first estate, certain imperfect intuitions, insufficient indeed to inform him fully of his duty, but at the same time sufficient to tell him that certain actions are wrong. When dealing with the subject of conduct, Bacon lays the chief stress upon the necessity of a good moral training, or, as he calls it, “the Georgics of the mind.” The science of conduct, like all other sciences, must be “fruitful”; and, like all other sciences, it must be founded upon experience. Moral diseases must be studied as diseases of the body are. We require, first, an enumeration of the normal types of character. Special attention should be paid to such differences as involve a large number of subordinate differences. In the next place, just as the physician ascertains by anatomy the possible modifications of the normal bodily structure, so we must ascertain the varieties of disposition and temperament due to the accidents of sex, climate, and circumstances. Lastly, as the physician studies diseases and their cures, so we require a complete analysis of the passions, which are, as it were, the diseases of the mind, and a consideration of the influences of habit, praise, reproof, reading, and all the other cures for moral diseases. This is the course which must be adopted, unless we mean “to follow the indiscretion of empirics, which minister the same medicine to all patients.” There is a close analogy between the methods and the objects of moral discipline and of medicine. “For as we divided the good of the body into health, beauty, strength, and pleasure, so the good of the mind, inquired in rational and moral knowledges, tendeth to this, to make the mind sound and without perturbation; beautiful and graced with decency; and strong and agile for all duties of life.”
Bacon’s writings have always been widely read and admired. There is a stamp of greatness upon them. We are not to look to him for any particular discoveries. His acquaintance even with the results of scientific inquiry in his own time was imperfect. In some cases he rejected the truth, and clung to old fashioned but erroneous beliefs.
The method which he invented is not the method by which science has achieved her conquests. Indeed, it is from the nature of things impossible that the Logician should anticipate the method of science.
He can only formulate it by a study of results. The influence exercised by Bacon has been such as we should expect from a thinker surveying the whole field of knowledge. Inquirers were naturally gratified by the dignity which he gave to their labours, and encouraged by the prospects which held out. He gave to science a human interest. He gave it high hopes and a definite aim. For ourselves his writings have a great historical interest. The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum help to bridge the gulf which separates us from the era of Scholasticism. And, speaking generally, the world profits by an occasional survey and criticism of its intellectual achievements and efforts. Part of Bacon’s influence is of course due to the charm of his style. His sentences are often loosely constructed but they are generally clear and intelligible. He is always interesting, because his own interest in his subject never flags. Enthusiasm stimulates his eloquence. His luxuriant imagination enlivens every page. He is perhaps unrivaled in the combination of picturesqueness with wight. This is well illustrated in the Essays. We are alternately charmed by the play of fancy, and arrested by a sentence into which the experience of a lifetime is compressed. No language is too homely, no example too simple, which will serve to drive home a truth. The maxims of bacon have become the commonplaces of science. Yet his expression of them can never lose its charm and force. To the mass of men their positive value is as great as it ever was. Scientific hypotheses are now taken up, discussed, and adopted, without any adequate comprehension of them, or any appreciation of the evidence for and against them. In the sphere of political and social discussion especially, there is need of that patient and conscientious study and reflection advocated by Socrates in the old world, and by Bacon in the new. The history of Bacon’s fall will always serve to point a moral; yet it is true that he is one of our great masters in the art of life. He has shown men how full of interest life and the world are to every healthy mind. He has directed them to high aims and worthy interests as the true source of real and abiding satisfaction, and has encouraged them by the assurance that wisdom is justified by her children.
But this theory of “pure perception” had to be both qualified and completed in regard to two points. For the so-called “pure” perception, which is like a fragment of reality, detached just as it is, would belong to a being unable to mingle with the perception of other bodies that of its own body, that is to say, its affections; nor would it be able to mingle with its intuition of the actual moment that of other moments, that is to say, its memory. In other words, we have, to begin with, and for the convenience of study, treated the living body as a mathematical point in space and conscious perception as a mathematical instant in time. We then had to restore to the body its extensity and to perception its duration. By this we restored to consciousness its two subjective elements, affectivity and memory.
What is an affection? Our perception, we said, indicates the possible action of our body on others. But our body, being extended, is capable of acting upon itself as well as upon other bodies. Into our perception, then, something of our body must enter. When we are dealing with external bodies, these are, by hypothesis, separated from ours by a space, greater or lesser, which measures the remoteness in time of their promise or of their menace: this is why our perception of these bodies indicates only possible actions. But the more the distance diminishes between these bodies and our own, the more the possible action tneds to transform itself into a real action, the call for action becoming more urgent in the measure and proportion that the distance diminishes. And when this distance is nil, that is to say, when the body to be perceived is our own body, it is a real and no longer a virtual action that our perception sketches out. Such is, precisely, the nature of pain, an actual effort of the damaged part to set things to rights, an effort that is local, isolated, and thereby condemned to failure, in an organism which can no longer act except as a whole. Pain is, therefore, in the place where it is felt, as the object is at the place where it is perceived. Between the affection felt and the image percieved there is this difference, that the affection is within our body, the image outside our body. And that is why the surface of our body, the common limit of this and of other bodies, is given to us in the form both of sensations and of an image.
In this interiority of affective sensation consists its subjectivity; in that exteriority of images in general, their objectivity. But here again we encounter the ever-recurring mistake with which we have been confronted througout this work. It is supposed that perception and sensation exist for their own sake; the philosopher ascribes to them an entirely speculative function; and, as he has overlooked those real and virtual actions with which sensation and perception are bound up and by which, according as the action is virtual or real, perception and sensation are characterized and distinguished, he becomes unable to find any other difference between them than a difference of degree. Then, profiting by the fact that affective sensation is but vaguely localizde (because of the effort it involves in an indistinct effort) at once he declares it to be unextended, and these attenuated affections or unextended sensations he sets up as the material with which we are supposed to build up images in space. Thereby he condemns himself to an impossibility of explaining either whence arise the elements of consciousness, or sensations, which he sets up as so many absolutes, or how, unextended, they find their way to space and are coordinated there, or why, in it, they adopt a particular order rather than any other, or finally, how they manage to make up an experience which is regular and common to all men. This experience, the necessary field of our activity, is, on the contrary, what we should start from. Pure perceptions, therfore, or images, are what we should posit at the outset. And sensations, far from being the materials from which the image is wrought, will then appear as the impurity which is introduced into it, being that part of our own body which we project inot all others.
But, as long as we confine ourselves to sensation and to pure perception, we can hardly be said to be dealing with the spirit. No doubt we demonstrate, in opposition to the theory of an epiphenomenal consciousness, that no cerebral state is the equivalent of a perception. No doubt the choice of perceptions from among images in general is the effect of a discernment which foreshadows spirit. No doubt also the material universe itself, defined as the totality of images, is a kind of consciousness, a consciousness in which everything compensates and neutralizes everything else, a consciousness of which all the potential parts, balancing each other by a reaction which is always equal to the action, reciptocally hinder each other from standing out. But to touch the reality of spirit we must place ourselves at the point where an individual consciousness, continuing and retaining the past in a present enriched by it, thus escapes the law of necessity, the law which ordains that the past shall ever follow itself in a present which merely repeats it in another form and that all things shall ever be flowing away. When we pass from pure perception to memory, we definitely abandon matter for spirit.