Discovery of Fellow-Minds
Another background for current experience may be found in alien minds.
When a ghostly sphere, containing memory and all ideas, has been distinguished from the material world, it tends to grow at the expense of the latter, until nature is finally reduced to a mathematical skeleton. This skeleton itself, but for the need of a bridge to connect calculably episode with episode in experience, might be transferred to mind and identified with the scientific thought in which it is represented. But a scientific theory inhabiting a few scattered moments of life cannot connect those episodes among which it is itself the last and the least substantial; nor would such a notion have occurred even to the most reckless sceptic, had the world not possessed another sort of reputed reality—the minds of others—which could serve, even after the supposed extinction of the physical world, to constitute an independent order and to absorb the potentialities of being when immediate consciousness nodded. But other men's minds, being themselves precarious and ineffectual, would never have seemed a possible substitute for nature, to be in her stead the background and intelligible object of experience. Something constant, omnipresent, infinitely fertile is needed to support and connect the given chaos. Just these properties, however, are actually attributed to one of the minds supposed to confront the thinker, namely, the mind of God. The divine mind has therefore always constituted in philosophy either the alternative to nature or her other name: it is par excellence the seat of all potentiality and, as Spinoza said, the refuge of all ignorance.
Speculative problems would be greatly clarified, and what is genuine in them would be more easily distinguished from what is artificial, if we could gather together again the original sources for the belief in separate minds and compare these sources with those we have already assigned to the conception of nature. But speculative problems are not alone concerned, for in all social life we envisage fellow-creatures conceived to share the same thoughts and passions and to be similarly affected by events. What is the basis of this conviction? What are the forms it takes, and in what sense is it a part or an expression of reason?
This question is difficult, and in broaching it we cannot expect much aid from what philosophers have hitherto said on the subject. For the most part, indeed, they have said nothing, as by nature's kindly disposition most questions which it is beyond a man's power to answer do not occur to him at all. The suggestions which have actually been made in the matter may be reduced to two: first, that we conceive other men's minds by projecting into their bodies those feelings which we immediately perceive to accompany similar operations in ourselves, that is, we infer alien minds by analogy; and second, that we are immediately aware of them and feel them to be friendly or hostile counterparts of our own thinking and effort, that is, we evoke them by dramatic imagination.
Two usual accounts of this conception criticised:
analogy between bodies
The first suggestion has the advantage that it escapes solipsism by a reasonable argument, provided the existence of the material world has already been granted. But if the material world is called back into the private mind, it is evident that every soul supposed to inhabit it or to be expressed in it must follow it thither, as inevitably as the characters and forces in an imagined story must remain with it in the inventor's imagination. When, on the contrary, nature is left standing, it is reasonable to suppose that animals having a similar origin and similar physical powers should have similar minds, if any of them was to have a mind at all. The theory, however, is not satisfactory on other grounds. We do not in reality associate our own grimaces with the feelings that accompany them and subsequently, on recognising similar grimaces in another, proceed to attribute emotions to him like those we formerly experienced. Our own grimaces are not easily perceived, and other men's actions often reveal passions which we have never had, at least with anything like their suggested colouring and intensity. This first view is strangely artificial and mistakes for the natural origin of the belief in question what may be perhaps its ultimate test.
Dramatic dialogue in the soul.
The second suggestion, on the other in hand, takes us into a mystic region. That we evoke the felt souls of our fellows by dramatic imagination is doubtless true; but this does not explain how we come to do so, under what stimulus and in what circumstances. Nor does it avoid solipsism; for the felt counterparts of my own will are echoes within me, while if other minds actually exist they cannot have for their essence to play a game with me in my own fancy. Such society would be mythical, and while the sense for society may well be mythical in its origin, it must acquire some other character if it is to have practical and moral validity. But practical and moral validity is above all what society seems to have. This second theory, therefore, while its feeling for psychological reality is keener, does not make the recognition of other minds intelligible and leaves our faith in them without justification.
Subject and object empirical, not transcendental, terms.
In approaching the subject afresh we should do well to remember that crude experience knows nothing of the distinction between subject and object. This distinction is a division in things, a contrast established between masses of images which show different characteristics in their modes of existence and relation. If this truth is overlooked, if subject and object are made conditions of experience instead of being, like body and mind, its contrasted parts, the revenge of fate is quick and ironical; either subject or object must immediately collapse and evaporate altogether. All objects must become modifications of the subject or all subjects aspects or fragments of the object.
Objects originally soaked in secondary and tertiary qualities.
Now the fact that crude experience is innocent of modern philosophy has this important consequence: that for crude experience all data whatever lie originally side by side in the same field; extension is passionate, desire moves bodies, thought broods in space and is constituted by a visible metamorphosis of its subject matter. Animism or mythology is therefore no artifice. Passions naturally reside in the object they agitate—our own body, if that be the felt seat of some pang, the stars, if the pang can find no nearer resting-place. Only a long and still unfinished education has taught men to separate emotions from things and ideas from their objects. This education was needed because crude experience is a chaos, and the qualities it jumbles together do not march together in time. Reflection must accordingly separate them, if knowledge (that is, ideas with eventual application and practical transcendence) is to exist at all. In other words, action must be adjusted to certain elements of experience and not to others, and those chiefly regarded must have a certain interpretation put upon them by trained apperception. The rest must be treated as moonshine and taken no account of except perhaps in idle and poetic revery. In this way crude experience grows reasonable and appearance becomes knowledge of reality.
The fundamental reason, then, why we attribute consciousness to natural bodies is that those bodies, before they are conceived to be merely material, are conceived to possess all the qualities which our own consciousness possesses when we behold them. Such a supposition is far from being a paradox, since only this principle justifies us to this day in believing in whatever we may decide to believe in. The qualities attributed to reality must be qualities found in experience, and if we deny their presence in ourselves (e.g., in the case of omniscience), that is only because the idea of self, like that of matter, has already become special and the region of ideals (in which omniscience lies) has been formed into a third sphere. But before the idea of self is well constituted and before the category of ideals has been conceived at all, every ingredient ultimately assigned to those two regions is attracted into the perceptual vortex for which such qualities as pressure and motion supply a nucleus. The moving image is therefore impregnated not only with secondary qualities—colour, heat, etc.—but with qualities which we may call tertiary, such as pain, fear, joy, malice, feebleness, expectancy. Sometimes these tertiary qualities are attributed to the object in their fulness and just as they are felt. Thus the sun is not only bright and warm in the same way as he is round, but by the same right he is also happy, arrogant, ever-young, and all-seeing; for a suggestion of these tertiary qualities runs through us when we look at him, just as immediately as do his warmth and light. The fact that these imaginative suggestions are not constant does not impede the instant perception that they are actual, and for crude experience whatever a thing possesses in appearance it possesses indeed, no matter how soon that quality may be lost again. The moment when things have most numerous and best defined tertiary qualities is accordingly, for crude experience, the moment when they are most adequately manifested and when their inner essence is best revealed; for it is then that they appear in experience most splendidly arrayed and best equipped for their eventual functions. The sun is a better expression of all his ulterior effects when he is conceived to be an arrogant and all-seeing spirit than when he is stupidly felt to be merely hot; so that the attentive and devout observer, to whom those tertiary qualities are revealed, stands in the same relation to an ordinary sensualist, who can feel only the sun's material attributes, as the sensualist in turn stands in to one born blind, who cannot add the sun's brightness to its warmth except by faith in some happier man's reported intuition. The mythologist or poet, before science exists, is accordingly the man of truest and most adequate vision. His persuasion that he knows the heart and soul of things is no fancy reached by artificial inference or analogy but is a direct report of his own experience and honest contemplation.
Tertiary qualities transposed.
More often, however, tertiary qualities are somewhat transposed in projection, as sound in being lodged in the bell is soon translated into sonority, made, that is, into its own potentiality. In the same way painfulness is translated into malice or wickedness, terror into hate, and every felt tertiary quality into whatever tertiary quality is in experience its more quiescent or potential form. So religion, which remains for the most part on the level of crude experience, attributes to the gods not only happiness—the object's direct tertiary quality—but goodness—its tertiary quality transposed and made potential; for goodness is that disposition which is fruitful in happiness throughout imagined experience. The devil, in like manner, is cruel and wicked as well as tormented. Uncritical science still attributes these transposed tertiary qualities to nature; the mythical notion of force, for instance, being a transposed sensation of effort. In this case we may distinguish two stages or degrees in the transposition: first, before we think of our own pulling, we say the object itself pulls; in the first transposition we say it pulls against us, its pull is the counterpart or rival of ours but it is still conceived in the same direct terms of effort; and in the second transposition this intermittent effort is made potential or slumbering in what we call strength or force.
Imputed mind consists of the tertiary qualities of perceived body.
It is obvious that the feelings attributed to other men are nothing but the tertiary qualities of their bodies. In beings of the same species, however, these qualities are naturally exceedingly numerous, variable, and precise. Nature has made man man's constant study. His thought, from infancy to the drawing up of his last will and testament, is busy about his neighbour. A smile makes a child happy; a caress, a moment's sympathetic attention, wins a heart and gives the friend's presence a voluminous and poignant value. In youth all seems lost in losing a friend. For the tertiary values, the emotions attached to a given image, the moral effluence emanating from it, pervade the whole present world. The sense of union, though momentary, is the same that later returns to the lover or the mystic, when he feels he has plucked the heart of life's mystery and penetrated to the peaceful centre of things. What the mystic beholds in his ecstasy and loses in his moments of dryness, what the lover pursues and adores, what the child cries for when left alone, is much more a spirit, a person, a haunting mind, than a set of visual sensations; yet the visual sensations are connected inextricably with that spirit, else the spirit would not withdraw when the sensations failed. We are not dealing with an articulate mind whose possessions are discriminated and distributed into a mastered world where everything has its department, its special relations, its limited importance; we are dealing with a mind all pulp, all confusion, keenly sensitive to passing influences and reacting on them massively and without reserve.
This mind is feeble, passionate, and ignorant. Its sense for present spirit is no miracle of intelligence or of analogical reasoning; on the contrary, it betrays a vagueness natural to rudimentary consciousness. Those visual sensations suddenly cut off cannot there be recognised for what they are. The consequences which their present disappearance may have for subsequent experience are in no wise foreseen or estimated, much less are any inexperienced feelings invented and attached to that retreating figure, otherwise a mere puppet. What happens is that by the loss of an absorbing stimulus the whole chaotic mind is thrown out of gear; the child cries, the lover faints, the mystic feels hell opening before him. All this is a present sensuous commotion, a derangement in an actual dream. Yet just at this lowest plunge of experience, in this drunkenness of the soul, does the overwhelming reality and externality of the other mind dawn upon us. Then we feel that we are surrounded not by a blue sky or an earth known to geographers but by unutterable and most personal hatreds and loves. For then we allow the half-deciphered images of sense to drag behind them every emotion they have awakened. We endow each overmastering stimulus with all its diffuse effects; and any dramatic potentiality that our dream acts out under that high pressure—and crude experience is rich in dreams—becomes our notion of the life going on before us. We cannot regard it as our own life, because it is not felt to be a passion in our own body, but attaches itself rather to images we see moving about in the world; it is consequently, without hesitation, called the life of those images, or those creatures' souls.
"Pathetic fallacy" normal yet ordinarily fallacious.
The pathetic fallacy is accordingly what originally peoples the imagined world. All the feelings aroused by perceived things are merged in those things and made to figure as the spiritual and invisible part of their essence, a part, moreover, quite as well known and as directly perceived as their motions. To ask why such feelings are objectified would be to betray a wholly sophisticated view of experience and its articulation. They do not need to be objectified, seeing they were objective from the beginning, inasmuch as they pertain to objects and have never, any more than those objects, been "subjectified" or localised in the thinker's body, nor included in that train of images which as a whole is known to have in that body its seat and thermometer. The thermometer for these passions is, on the contrary, the body of another; and the little dream in us, the quick dramatic suggestion which goes with our perception of his motions, is our perception of his thoughts.
A sense for alien thought is accordingly at its inception a complete illusion. The thought is one's own, it is associated with an image moving in space, and is uncritically supposed to be a hidden part of that image, a metaphysical signification attached to its motion and actually existing behind the scenes in the form of an unheard soliloquy. A complete illusion this sense remains in mythology, in animism, in the poetic forms of love and religion. A better mastery of experience will in such cases dispel those hasty conceits by showing the fundamental divergence which at once manifests itself between the course of phenomena and the feelings associated with them. It will appear beyond question that those feelings were private fancies merged with observation in an undigested experience. They indicated nothing in the object but its power of arousing emotional and playful reverberations in the mind. Criticism will tend to clear the world of such poetic distortion; and what vestiges of it may linger will be avowed fables, metaphors employed merely in conventional expression. In the end even poetic power will forsake a discredited falsehood: the poet himself will soon prefer to describe nature in natural terms and to represent human emotions in their pathetic humility, not extended beyond their actual sphere nor fantastically uprooted from their necessary soil and occasions. He will sing the power of nature over the soul, the joys of the soul in the bosom of nature, the beauty visible in things, and the steady march of natural processes, so rich in momentous incidents and collocations. The precision of such a picture will accentuate its majesty, as precision does in the poems of Lucretius and Dante, while its pathos and dramatic interest will be redoubled by its truth.
Case where it is not a fallacy.
A primary habit producing widespread illusions may in certain cases become the source of rational knowledge. This possibility will surprise no one who has studied nature and life to any purpose. Nature and life are tentative in all their processes, so that there is nothing exceptional in the fact that, since in crude experience image and emotion are inevitably regarded as constituting a single event, this habit should usually lead to childish absurdities, but also, under special circumstances, to rational insight and morality. There is evidently one case in which the pathetic fallacy is not fallacious, the case in which the object observed happens to be an animal similar to the observer and similarly affected, as for instance when a flock or herd are swayed by panic fear. The emotion which each, as he runs, attributes to the others is, as usual, the emotion he feels himself; but this emotion, fear, is the same which in fact the others are then feeling. Their aspect thus becomes the recognised expression for the feeling which really accompanies it. So in hand-to-hand fighting: the intention and passion which each imputes to the other is what he himself feels; but the imputation is probably just, since pugnacity is a remarkably contagious and monotonous passion. It is awakened by the slightest hostile suggestion and is greatly intensified by example and emulation; those we fight against and those we fight with arouse it concurrently and the universal battle-cry that fills the air, and that each man instinctively emits, is an adequate and exact symbol for what is passing in all their souls.
Whenever, then, feeling is attributed to an animal similar to the percipient and similarly employed the attribution is mutual and correct. Contagion and imitation are great causes of feeling, but in so far as they are its causes and set the pathetic fallacy to work they forestall and correct what is fallacious in that fallacy and turn it into a vehicle of true and, as it were, miraculous insight.
Knowledge succeeds only by accident.
Let the reader meditate for a moment upon the following point: to know reality is, in a way, an impossible pretension, because knowledge means significant representation, discourse about an existence not contained in the knowing thought, and different in duration or locus from the ideas which represent it. But if knowledge does not possess its object how can it intend it? And if knowledge possesses its object, how can it be knowledge or have any practical, prophetic, or retrospective value? Consciousness is not knowledge unless it indicates or signifies what actually it is not. This transcendence is what gives knowledge its cognitive and useful essence, its transitive function and validity. In knowledge, therefore, there must be some such thing as a justified illusion, an irrational pretension by chance fulfilled, a chance shot hitting the mark. For dead logic would stick at solipsism; yet irrational life, as it stumbles along from moment to moment, and multiplies itself in a thousand centres, is somehow amenable to logic and finds uses for the reason it breeds.
Now, in the relation of a natural being to similar beings in the same habitat there is just the occasion we require for introducing a miraculous transcendence in knowledge, a leap out of solipsism which, though not prompted by reason, will find in reason a continual justification. For tertiary qualities are imputed to objects by psychological or pathological necessity. Something not visible in the object, something not possibly revealed by any future examination of that object, is thus united with it, felt to be its core, its metaphysical truth. Tertiary qualities are emotions or thoughts present in the observer and in his rudimentary consciousness not yet connected with their proper concomitants and antecedents, not yet relegated to his private mind, nor explained by his personal endowment and situation. To take these private feelings for the substance of other beings is evidently a gross blunder; yet this blunder, without ceasing to be one in point of method, ceases to be one in point of fact when the other being happens to be similar in nature and situation to the mythologist himself and therefore actually possesses the very emotions and thoughts which lie in the mythologist's bosom and are attributed by him to his fellow. Thus an imaginary self-transcendence, a rash pretension to grasp an independent reality and to know the unknowable, may find itself accidentally rewarded. Imagination will have drawn a prize in its lottery and the pathological accidents of thought will have begotten knowledge and right reason. The inner and unattainable core of other beings will have been revealed to private intuition.
Limits of insight
This miracle of insight, as it must seem to those who have not understood its natural and accidental origin, extends only so far as does the analogy between the object and the instrument of perception. The gift of intuition fails in proportion as the observer's bodily habit differs from the habit and body observed. Misunderstanding begins with constitutional divergence and deteriorates rapidly into false imputations and absurd myths. The limits of mutual understanding coincide with the limits of similar structure and common occupation, so that the distortion of insight begins very near home. It is hard to understand the minds of children unless we retain unusual plasticity and capacity to play; men and women do not really understand each other, what rules between them being not so much sympathy as habitual trust, idealisation, or satire; foreigners' minds are pure enigmas, and those attributed to animals are a grotesque compound of Æsop and physiology. When we come to religion the ineptitude of all the feelings attributed to nature or the gods is so egregious that a sober critic can look to such fables only for a pathetic expression of human sentiment and need; while, even apart from the gods, each religion itself is quite unintelligible to infidels who have never followed its worship sympathetically or learned by contagion the human meaning of its sanctions and formulas. Hence the stupidity and want of insight commonly shown in what calls itself the history of religions. We hear, for instance, that Greek religion was frivolous, because its mystic awe and momentous practical and poetic truths escape the Christian historian accustomed to a catechism and a religious morality; and similarly Catholic piety seems to the Protestant an æsthetic indulgence, a religion appealing to sense, because such is the only emotion its externals can awaken in him, unused as he is to a supernatural economy reaching down into the incidents and affections of daily life.
Language is an artificial means of establishing unanimity and transferring thought from one mind to another. Every symbol or phrase, like every gesture, throws the observer into an attitude to which a certain idea corresponded in the speaker; to fall exactly into the speaker's attitude is exactly to understand. Every impediment to contagion and imitation in expression is an impediment to comprehension. For this reason language, like all art, becomes pale with years; words and figures of speech lose their contagious and suggestive power; the feeling they once expressed can no longer be restored by their repetition. Even the most inspired verse, which boasts not without a relative justification to be immortal, becomes in the course of ages a scarcely legible hieroglyphic; the language it was written in dies, a learned education and an imaginative effort are requisite to catch even a vestige of its original force. Nothing is so irrevocable as mind.
Unsure the ebb and flood of thought,
The moon comes back, the spirit not.
Perception of character
There is, however, a wholly different and far more positive method of reading the mind, or what in a metaphorical sense is called by that name. This method is to read character. Any object with which we are familiar teaches us to divine its habits; slight indications, which we should be at a loss to enumerate separately, betray what changes are going on and what promptings are simmering in the organism. Hence the expression of a face or figure; hence the traces of habit and passion visible in a man and that indescribable something about him which inspires confidence or mistrust. The gift of reading character is partly instinctive, partly a result of experience; it may amount to foresight and is directed not upon consciousness but upon past or eventual action. Habits and passions, however, have metaphorical psychic names, names indicating dispositions rather than particular acts (a disposition being mythically represented as a sort of wakeful and haunting genius waiting to whisper suggestions in a man's ear). We may accordingly delude ourselves into imagining that a pose or a manner which really indicates habit indicates feeling instead. In truth the feeling involved, if conceived at all, is conceived most vaguely, and is only a sort of reverberation or penumbra surrounding the pictured activities.
Conduct divined, consciousness ignored.
It is a mark of the connoisseur to be able to read character and habit and to divine at a glance all a creature's potentialities. This sort of penetration characterises the man with an eye for horse-flesh, the dog-fancier, and men and women of the world. It guides the born leader in the judgments he instinctively passes on his subordinates and enemies; it distinguishes every good judge of human affairs or of natural phenomena, who is quick to detect small but telling indications of events past or brewing. As the weather-prophet reads the heavens so the man of experience reads other men. Nothing concerns him less than their consciousness; he can allow that to run itself off when he is sure of their temper and habits. A great master of affairs is usually unsympathetic. His observation is not in the least dramatic or dreamful, he does not yield himself to animal contagion or re-enact other people's inward experience. He is too busy for that, and too intent on his own purposes. His observation, on the contrary, is straight calculation and inference, and it sometimes reaches truths about people's character and destiny which they themselves are very far from divining. Such apprehension is masterful and odious to weaklings, who think they know themselves because they indulge in copious soliloquy (which is the discourse of brutes and madmen), but who really know nothing of their own capacity, situation, or fate.
If Rousseau, for instance, after writing those Confessions in which candour and ignorance of self are equally conspicuous, had heard some intelligent friend, like Hume, draw up in a few words an account of their author's true and contemptible character, he would have been loud in protestations that no such ignoble characteristics existed in his eloquent consciousness; and they might not have existed there, because his consciousness was a histrionic thing, and as imperfect an expression of his own nature as of man's. When the mind is irrational no practical purpose is served by stopping to understand it, because such a mind is irrelevant to practice, and the principles that guide the man's practice can be as well understood by eliminating his mind altogether. So a wise governor ignores his subjects' religion or concerns himself only with its economic and temperamental aspects; if the real forces that control life are understood, the symbols that represent those forces in the mind may be disregarded. But such a government, like that of the British in India, is more practical than sympathetic. While wise men may endure it for the sake of their material interests, they will never love it for itself. There is nothing sweeter than to be sympathised with, while nothing requires a rarer intellectual heroism than willingness to see one's equation written out.
Nevertheless this same algebraic sense for character plays a large part in human friendship. A chief element in friendship is trust, and trust is not to be acquired by reproducing consciousness but only by penetrating to the constitutional instincts which, in determining action and habit, determine consciousness as well. Fidelity is not a property of ideas. It is a virtue possessed pre-eminently by nature, from the animals to the seasons and the stars. But fidelity gives friendship its deepest sanctity, and the respect we have for a man, for his force, ability, constancy, and dignity, is no sentiment evoked by his floating thoughts but an assurance founded on our own observation that his conduct and character are to be counted upon. Smartness and vivacity, much emotion and many conceits, are obstacles both to fidelity and to merit. There is a high worth in rightly constituted natures independent of incidental consciousness. It consists in that ingrained virtue which under given circumstances would insure the noblest action and with that action, of course, the noblest sentiments and ideas; ideas which would arise spontaneously and would make more account of their objects than of themselves.
The expression of habit in psychic metaphors is a procedure known also to theology. Whenever natural or moral law is declared to reveal the divine mind, this mind is a set of formal or ethical principles rather than an imagined consciousness, re-enacted dramatically. What is conceived is the god's operation, not his emotions. In this way God's goodness becomes a symbol for the advantages of life, his wrath a symbol for its dangers, his commandments a symbol for its laws. The deity spoken of by the Stoics had exclusively this symbolic character; it could be called a city — dear City of Zeus — as readily as an intelligence. And that intelligence which ancient and ingenuous philosophers said they saw in the world was always intelligence in this algebraic sense, it was intelligible order. Nor did the Hebrew prophets, in their emphatic political philosophy, seem to mean much more by Jehovah than a moral order, a principle giving vice and virtue their appropriate fruits.
True society, then, is limited to similar beings living similar lives and enabled by the contagion of their common habits and arts to attribute to one another, each out of his own experience, what the other actually endures. A fresh thought may be communicated to one who has never had it before, but only when the speaker so dominates the auditor's mind by the instrumentalities he brings to bear upon it that he compels that mind to reproduce his experience. Analogy between actions and bodies is accordingly the only test of valid inference regarding the existence or character of conceived minds; but this eventual test is far from being the source of such a conception. Its source is not inference at all but direct emotion and the pathetic fallacy. In the beginning, as in the end, what is attributed to others is something directly felt, a dream dreamed through and dramatically enacted, but uncritically attributed to the object by whose motions it is suggested and controlled. In a single case, however, tertiary qualities happen to correspond to an experience actually animating the object to which they are assigned. This is the case in which the object is a body similar in structure and action to the percipient himself, who assigns to that body a passion he has caught by contagion from it and by imitation of its actual attitude. Such are the conditions of intelligible expression and true communion; beyond these limits nothing is possible save myth and metaphor, or the algebraic designation of observed habits under the name of moral dispositions.