Appearance and Reality/Chapter XXII

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The word Nature has of course more meanings than one. I am going to use it here in the sense of the bare physical world, that region which forms the object of purely physical science, and appears to fall outside of all mind. Abstract from everything psychical, and then the remainder of existence will be Nature. It will be mere body or the extended, so far as that is not psychical, together with the properties immediately connected with or following from this extension. And we sometimes forget that this world, in the mental history of each of us, once had no existence. Whatever view we take with regard to the psychological origin of extension, the result will be the same. There was a time when the separation of the outer world, as a thing real apart from our feeling, had not even been begun. The physical world, whether it exists independently or not, is, for each of us, an abstraction from the entire reality. And the development of this reality, and of the division which we make in it, requires naturally some time. But I do not propose to discuss the subject further here.[1]

Then there comes a period when we all gain the idea of mere body. I do not mean that we always, or even habitually, regard the outer world as standing and persisting in divorce from all feeling. But, still, at least for certain purposes, we get the notion of such a world, consisting both of primary and also of secondary qualities. This world strikes us as not dependent on the inner life of any one. We view it as standing there, the same for every soul with which it comes into relation. Our bodies with their organs are taken as the instruments and media, which should convey it as it is, and as it exists apart from them. And we find no difficulty in the idea of a bodily reality remaining still and holding firm when every self has been removed. Such a supposition to the average man appears obviously possible, however much, for other reasons, he might decline to entertain it. And the assurance that his supposition is meaningless nonsense he rejects as contrary to what he calls common sense.

And then, to the person who reflects, comes in the old series of doubts and objections, and the useless attempts at solution or compromise. For Nature to the common man is not the Nature of the physicist; and the physicist himself, outside his science, still habitually views the world as what he must believe it cannot be. But there should be no need to recall the discussion of our First Book with regard to secondary and primary qualities. We endeavoured to show there that it is difficult to take both on a level, and impossible to make reality consist of one class in separation from the other. And the unfortunate upholder of a mere physical nature escapes only by blindness from hopeless bewilderment. He is forced to the conclusion that all I know is an affection of my organism, and then my organism itself turns out to be nothing else but such an affection. There is in short no physical thing but that which is a mere state of a physical thing, and perhaps in the end even (it might be contended) a mere state of itself. It will be instructive to consider Nature from this point of view.

We may here use the form of what has been called an Antinomy, (a) Nature is only for my body; but, on the other hand, (b) My body is only for Nature.

(a) I need say no more on the thesis that the outer world is known only as a state of my organism. Its proper consequence (according to the view generally received) appears to be that everything else is a state of my brain. For that (apparently) is all which can possibly be experienced. Into the further refinements, which would arise from the question of cerebral localization, I do not think it necessary to enter.

(b) And yet most emphatically, as we have seen at the beginning of this work, my organism is nothing but appearance to a body. It itself is only the bare state of a natural object. For my organism, like all else, is but what is experienced, and I can only experience my organism in relation to its own organs. Hence the whole body is a mere state of these; and they are states of one another in indefinite regress.

How can we deny this? If we appeal to an immediate experience, which presents me with my body as a something extended and solid, we are taking refuge in a world of exploded illusions. No such peculiar intuition can bear the light of a serious psychology. The internal feelings which I experience certainly give nothing of the sort; and again, even if they did, yet for natural science they are no direct reality, but themselves the states of a material nervous system. And to fall back on a supposed wholesale revelation of Resistance would be surely to seek aid from that which cannot help. For the revelation in the first place (as we have already perceived in Chapter x.), is a fiction. And, in the second place, Resistance could not present us with a body independently real. It could supply only the relation of one thing to another, where neither thing, as what resists, is a separate body, either apart from, or again in relation to, the other. Resistance could not conceivably tell us what anything is in itself. It gives us one thing as qualified by the state of another thing, each within that known relation being only for the other, and, apart from it, being unknown and, so far, a nonentity.

And that is the general conclusion with regard to Nature to which we are driven. The physical world is the relation between physical things. And the relation, on the one side, presupposes them as physical, while apart from it, on the other side, they certainly are not so. Nature is the phenomenal relation of the unknown to the unknown; and the terms cannot, because unknown, even be said to be related, since they cannot themselves be said to be anything at all. Let us develope this further.

That the outer world is only for my organs appears inevitable. But what is an organ except so far as it is known? And how can it be known but as itself the state of an organ? If then you are asked to find an organ which is a physical object, you can no more find it than a body which itself is a body. Each is a state of something else, which is never more than a state—and the something escapes us. The same consequence, again, is palpable if we take refuge in the brain. If the world is my brain-state, then what is my own brain? That is nothing but the state of some brain, I need not proceed to ask whose.[2] It is, in any case, not real as a physical thing, unless you reduce it to the adjective of a physical thing. And this illusive quest goes on for ever. It can never lead you to what is more than either an adjective of, or a relation between,—what you cannot find.

There is no escaping from this circle. Let us take the instance of a double perception of touch, a and b. Then a is only a state of the organ C, and b is only a state of the organ D. And if you wish to say that either C or D is itself real as a body, you can only do so on the witness of another organ E or F. You can in no case arrive at a something material existing as a substantive; you are compelled to wander without end from one adjective to another adjective. And in double perception the twofold evidence does not show that each side is body. It leads to the conclusion that neither side is more than a dependant, on we do not know what.

And if we consult common experience, we gain no support for one side of our antinomy. It is clear that, for the existence of our organism, we find there the same evidence as for the existence of outer objects. We have a witness which, with our body, gives us the environment as equally real. For we never, under any circumstances, are without some external sensation. If you receive, in the ordinary sense, the testimony of our organs, then, if the outer world is not real, our organs are not real. You have both sides given as on a level, or you have neither side at all. And to say that one side is the substantive, to which the other belongs, as an appendage or appurtenance, seems quite against reason. We are, in brief, confirmed in the conclusion we had reached. Both Nature and my body exist necessarily with and for one another. And both, on examination, turn out to be nothing apart from their relation. We find in each no essence which is not infected by appearance to the other.

And with this we are brought to an unavoidable result.[3] The physical world is an appearance; it is phenomenal throughout. It is the relation of two unknowns, which, because they are unknown, we cannot have any right to regard as really two, or as related at all. It is an imperfect way of apprehension, which gives us qualities and relations, each the condition of and yet presupposing the other. And we have no means of knowing how this confusion and perplexity is resolved in the Absolute. The material world is an incorrect, a one-sided, and self-contradictory appearance of the Real. It is the reaction of two unknown things, things, which, to be related, must each be something by itself, and yet, apart from their relation, are nothing at all. In other words it is a diversity which, as we regard it, is not real, but which somehow, in all its fulness, enters into and perfects the life of the Universe. But, as to the manner in which it is included, we are unable to say anything.

But is this circular connexion, this baseless interrelation between the organism and Nature, a mistake to be set aside? Most emphatically not so, for it seems a vital scheme, and a necessary way of happening among our appearances. It is an arrangement among phenomena by which the extended only comes to us in relation with another extended which we call an organism. You cannot have certain qualities, of touch, or sight, or hearing, unless there is with them a certain connection of other qualities. Nature has phenomenal reality as a grouping and as laws of sequence and co-existence, holding good within a certain section of that which appears to us. But, if you attempt to make it more, you will re-enter those mazes from which we found no exit. You are led to take the physical world as a mere adjective of my body, and you find that my body, on the other hand, is not one whit more substantival. It is itself for ever the state of something further and beyond. And, as we perceived in our First Book, you can neither take the qualities, that are called primary, as real without the secondary, nor again the latter as existing apart from my feeling. These are all distinctions which, as we saw, are reduced, and which come together in the one great totality of absolute experience. They are lost there for our vision, but survive most assuredly in that which absorbs them. Nature is but one part of the feeling whole, which we have separated by our abstraction, and enlarged by theoretical necessity and contrivance. And then we set up this fragment as self-existing; and what is sometimes called “science” goes out of its way to make a gross mistake. It takes an intellectual construction of the conditions of mere appearance for independent reality. And it would thrust this fiction on us as the one thing which has solid being. But thus it turns into sheer error a relative truth. It discredits that which, as a working point of view, is fully justified by success, and stands high above criticism.

We have seen, so far, that mere Nature is not real. Nature is but an appearance within the reality; it is a partial and imperfect manifestation of the Absolute. The physical world is an abstraction, which, for certain purposes is properly considered by itself, but which, if taken as standing in its own right, becomes at once self-contradictory. We must now develope this general view in some part of its detail.

But, before proceeding, I will deal with a point of some interest. We, so far, have treated the physical world as extended, and a doubt may be raised whether such an assumption can be justified. Extension, I may be told, is not essential to Nature; for the extended need not always be physical, nor again the physical always extended. And it is better at once to attempt to get clear on this point. It is, in the first place, quite true that not all of the extended forms part of Nature. For I may think of, and may imagine, things extended at my pleasure, and it is impossible to suppose that all these psychical facts take a place within our physical system. Yet, upon the other hand, I do not see how we can deny their extension. That which for my mind is extended, must be so as a fact, whether it does, or does not, belong to what we call Nature. Take, for example, some common illusion of sense. In that we actually may have a perception of extension, and to call this false does not show that it is not somehow spatial. But, if so, Nature and extension will not coincide. Hence we are forced to seek the distinctive essence of Nature elsewhere, and in some non-spatial character.

In its bare principle I am able to accept this conclusion. The essence of Nature is to appear as a region standing outside the psychical, and as (in some part) suffering and causing change independent of that. Or, at the very least, Nature must not be always directly dependent on soul. Nature presupposes the distinction of the not-self from the self. It is that part of the world which is not inseparably one thing in experience with those internal groups which feel pleasure and pain. It is the attendant medium by which selves are made manifest to one another. But it shows an existence and laws not belonging to these selves; and, to some extent at least, it appears indifferent to their feelings, and thoughts, and volitions. It is this independence which would seem to be the distinctive mark of Nature.

And, if so, it may be urged that Nature is perhaps not extended, and I think we must admit that such a Nature is possible. We may imagine groups of qualities, for example sounds or smells, arranged in such a way as to appear independent of the psychical. These qualities might seem to go their own ways without any, or much, regard to our ideas or likings; and they might maintain such an order as to form a stable and permanent not-self. These groups, again, might serve as the means of communication between souls, and, in short, might answer every known purpose for which Nature exists. Even as things are, when these secondary qualities are localized in outer space, we regard them as physical; and there is a doubt, therefore, whether any such localization is necessary. And, for myself, I am unable to perceive that it is so. Certainly, if I try to imagine an unextended world of this kind, I admit that, against my will, I give it a spatial character. But, so far as I see, this may arise from mere infirmity; and the idea of an unextended Nature seems, for my knowledge at least, not self-contradictory.

But, having gone as far as this, I am unable to go farther. A Nature without extension I admit to be possible, but I can discover no good reason for taking it as actual. For the physical world, which we encounter, is certainly spatial; and we have no interest in trying to seek out any other. If Nature on our view were reality, the case would be altered; and we should then be forced to entertain every doubt about its essence. But for us Nature is appearance, inconsistent and untrue; and hence the supposition of another Nature, free from extension, could furnish no help. This supposition does not remove the contradictions from actual extension, which in any case is still a fact. And, again, even within itself, the supposition cannot be made consistent with itself. We may, therefore, pass on without troubling ourselves with such a mere possibility. We cannot conclude that all Nature essentially must have extension. But, since at any rate our physical world is extended, and since the hypothesis of another kind of Nature has no interest, that idea may be dismissed. I shall henceforth take Nature as appearing always in the form of space.[4]

Let us return from this digression. We are to consider Nature as possessed of extension, and we have seen that mere Nature has no reality. We may now proceed to a series of subordinate questions, and the first of these is about the world which is called inorganic. Is there in fact such a thing as inorganic Nature? Now, if by this we meant a region or division of existence, not subserving and entering into the one experience of the Whole, the question already would have been settled. There cannot exist an arrangement which fails to perfect, and to minister directly to, the feeling of the Absolute. Nor again, since in the Absolute all comes together, could there be anything inorganic in the sense of standing apart from some essential relation to finite organisms. Any such mutilations as these have long ago been condemned, and it is in another sense that we must inquire about the inorganic.

By an organism we are to understand a more or less permanent arrangement of qualities and relations, such as at once falls outside of, and yet immediately subserves, a distinct unity of feeling. We are to mean a phenomenal group with which a felt particularity is connected in a way to be discussed in the next chapter. At least this is the sense in which, however incorrectly, I am about to use the word. The question, therefore, here will be whether there are elements in Nature, which fail to make a part of some such finite arrangement. The inquiry is intelligible, but for metaphysics it seems to have no importance.

The question in the first place, I think, cannot be answered. For, if we consider it in the abstract, I find no good ground for either affirmation or denial. I know no reason why in the Absolute there should not be qualities, which fail to be connected, as a body, with some finite soul. And, upon the other hand, I see no special cause for supposing that these exist. And when, leaving the abstract point of view, we regard this problem from the side of concrete facts, then, so far as I perceive, we are able to make no advance. For as to that which can, and that which cannot, play the part of an organism, we know very little. A sameness greater or less with our own bodies is the basis from which we conclude to other bodies and souls. And what this inference loses in exactitude (Chapter xxi.), it gains on the other hand in extent, by acquiring a greater range of application. And it would seem almost impossible, from this ground, to produce a satisfactory negative result. A certain likeness of outward form, and again some amount of similarity in action, are what we stand on when we argue to psychical life. But our failure, on the other side, to discover these symptoms is no sufficient warrant for positive denial.[5] There may surely beyond our knowledge be strange arrangements of qualities, which serve as the condition of unknown personal unities. Given a certain degree of difference in the outward form, and a certain divergence in the way of manifestation, and we should fail at once to perceive the presence of an organism. But would it, therefore, always not exist? Or can we assume, because we have found out the nature of some organisms, that we have exhausted that of all? Have we an ascertained essence, outside of which no variation is possible? Any such contention would seem to be indefensible. Every fragment of visible Nature might, so far as is known, serve as part in some organism not like our bodies. And, if we consider further how much of Nature may be hid from our view, we shall surely be still less inclined to dogmatism. For that which we see may be combined in an organic unity with the invisible; and, again, one and the same element might have a position and function in any number of organisms. But there is no advantage in trying to fill the unknown with our fancies. It should be clear, when we reflect, that we are in no condition on this point to fix a limit to the possible.[6] Arrangements, apparently quite different from our own, and expressing themselves in what seems a wholly unlike way, might be directly connected with finite centres of feeling. And our result here must be this, that, except in relation to our ignorance, we cannot call the least portion of Nature inorganic. For some practical purposes, of course, the case is radically altered. We of course there have a perfect right to act upon ignorance. We not only may, but even must, often treat the unseen as non-existent. But in metaphysics such an attitude cannot be justified.[7] We, on one side, have positive knowledge that some parts of Nature are organisms; but whether, upon the other side, anything inorganic exists or not, we have no means of judging. Hence to give an answer to our question is impossible.

But this inability seems a matter of no importance. For finite organisms, as we have seen, are but phenomenal appearance, and both their division and their unity is transcended in the Absolute. And assuredly the inorganic, if it exists, will be still more unreal. It will, in any case, not merely be bound in relation with organisms, but will, together with them, be included in a single and all-absorbing experience, It will become a feature and an element in that Whole where no diversity is lost, but where the oneness is something much more than organic. And with this I will pass on to a further inquiry.

We have seen that beyond experience nothing can exist, and hence no part of Nature can fall outside of the Absolute’s perfection. But the question as to the necessity of experience may still be raised in a modified sense. Is there any Nature not experienced by a finite subject? Can we suppose in the Absolute a margin of physical qualities, which, so to speak, do not pass through some finite percipient? Of course, if this is so, we cannot perceive them. But the question is whether, notwithstanding, we may, or even must, suppose that such a margin exists, (a) Is a physical fact, which is not for some finite sentient being, a thing which is possible? And (b), in the next place, have we sufficient ground to take it also as real?

(a) In defence, first, of its possibility there is something to be said. “Admitted,” we shall be told, “that relation to a finite soul is the condition under which Nature appears to us, it does not follow that this condition is indispensable. To assert that those very qualities, which we meet under certain conditions, can exist apart from them, is perhaps going too far. But, on the other side, some qualities of the sort we call sensible might not require (so to speak) to be developed on or filtered through a particular soul. These qualities in the end, like all the rest, would certainly, as such, be absorbed in the Absolute; but they (so to speak) might find their way to this end by themselves, and might not require the mediation of a finite sentience.” But this defence, it seems to me, is insufficient. We can think, in a manner, of sensible quality apart from a soul, but the doubt is whether such a manner is really legitimate. The question is, when we have abstracted from finite centres of feeling, whether we have not removed all meaning from sensible quality And again, if we admit that in the Absolute there may be matter not contained in finite experience, can we go on to make this matter a part of Nature, and call it physical? These two questions appear to be vitally distinct.

A margin of experience, not the experience of any finite centre, we shall find (Chapter xxvii.) cannot be called impossible. But it seems another thing to place such matter in Nature. For Nature is constituted and upheld by a division in experience. It is, in its essence, a product of distinction and opposition. And to take this product as existing outside finite centres seems indefensible. The Nature that falls outside, we must insist, may perhaps not be nothing, but it is not Nature. If it is fact, it is fact which we must not call physical.

But this whole enquiry, on the other hand, seems unimportant and almost idle. For, though unperceived by finite souls, all Nature would enter into one experience with the contents of these souls. And hence the want of apprehension by, and passage through, a particular focus would lose in the end its significance. Thus, even if we admit fact, not included in finite centres of sentience, our view of the Absolute, after all, will not be altered. But such fact, we have seen, could not be properly physical.

(b) A part of Nature, not apprehended by finite mind, we have found in some sense is barely possible. But we may be told now, on the other hand, that it is necessary to assume it. There are such difficulties in the way of any other conclusion that we may seem to have no choice. Nature is too wide, we may hear, to be taken in by any number of sentient beings. And again Nature is in part not perceptible at all. My own brain, while I am alive, is an obvious instance of this. And we may think further of the objects known only by the microscope, and of the bodies, intangible and invisible, assured to us by science. And the mountains, that endure always, must be more than the sensations of short-lived mortals, and indeed were there in the time before organic life was developed. In the face of these objections, it may be said, we are unable to persist. The necessity of finite souls for the existence of Nature cannot possibly be maintained. And hence a physical world, not apprehended by these perceiving centres, must somehow be postulated.

The objections at first may seem weighty, but I will endeavour to show that they cannot stand criticism. And I will begin by laying down a necessary distinction. The physical world exists, of course, independent of me, and does not depend on the accident of my sensations. A mountain is, whether I happen to perceive it or not. This truth is certain; but, on the other hand, its meaning is ambiguous, and it may be taken in two very different senses. We may call these senses, if we please, categorical and hypothetical. You may either assert that the mountain always actually is, as it is when it is perceived. Or you may mean only that it is always something apart from sensible perception; and that whenever it is perceived, it then developes its familiar character. And a confusion between the mountain, as it is in itself, and as it becomes for an observer, is perhaps our most usual state of mind. But such an obscurity would be fatal to the present enquiry.

(i.) I will take the objections, first, as applying to what we have called the categorical sense. Nature must be in itself, as we perceive it to be; and, if so, Nature must fall partly beyond finite minds—this is, so far, the argument urged against our view. But this argument surely would be based upon our mere ignorance. For we have seen that organisms unlike our own, arrangements pervading and absorbing the whole extent of Nature, may very well exist. And as to the modes of perception which are possible with these organisms, we can lay down no limit. But if so, there is no reason why all Nature should not be always in relation to finite sentience. Every part of it may be now actually, for some other mind, precisely what it would be for us, if we happened to perceive it. And objects invisible like my brain, or found only by the microscope, need not cause us to hesitate. For we cannot deny that there may be some faculty of sense to which at all times they are obvious. And the mountains that endure may, for all that we know, have been visible always. They may have been perceived through their past as we perceive them to-day. If we can set no bounds to the existence and the powers of sentient beings, the objection, so far, has been based on a false assumption of knowledge.[8]

(ii.) But this line of reply, perhaps, may be carried too far. It cannot be refuted, and yet we feel that it tends to become extravagant. It may be possible that Nature throughout is perceived always, and thus always is, as we should perceive it; but we need not rest our whole weight on this assumption. Our conclusion will be borne out by something less. For beyond the things perceived by sense there extends the world of thought. Nature will not merely be the region that is presented and also thought of, but it will, in addition, include matter which is only thought of. Nature will hence be limited solely by the range of our intellects. It will be the physical universe apprehended in any way whatever by finite souls.

Outside of this boundary there is no Nature. We may employ the idea of a pre-organic time, or of a physical world from which all sentience has disappeared. But, with the knowledge that we possess, we cannot, even in a relative sense, take this result as universal. It could hold only with respect to those organisms which we know, and, if carried further, it obviously becomes invalid. And again, such a truth, where it is true, can be merely phenomenal. For, in any case, there is no history or progress in the Absolute (Chapter xxvi). A Nature without sentience is, in short, a mere construction for science, and it possesses a very partial reality.[9] Nor are the imperceptibles of physics in any better case. Apart from the plain contradictions which prove them to be barely phenomenal, their nature clearly exists but in relation to thought. For, not being perceived by any finite, they are not, as such, perceived at all; and what reality they possess is not sensible, but merely abstract.

Our conclusion then, so far, will be this. Nature may extend beyond the region actually perceived by the finite, but certainly not beyond the limits of finite thought. In the Absolute possibly there is a margin not contained in finite experiences (Chapter xxvii.), but this possible margin cannot properly be taken as physical. For, included in Nature, it would be qualified by a relation to finite mind. But the existence of Nature, as mere thought, at once leads to a difficulty. For a physical world, to be real, must clearly be sensible. And to exist otherwise than for sense is but to exist hypothetically. If so, Nature, at least in part, is not actually Nature, but merely is what becomes so under certain conditions. It seems another fact, a something else, which indeed we think of, but which, merely in itself and merely as we think of it, is not physical reality. Thus, on our view, Nature to this extent seems not to be fact; and we shall have been driven, in the end, to deny part of its physical existence.

This conclusion urged against us, I admit, is in one sense inevitable. The Nature that is thought of, and that we assume not to be perceived by any mind, is, in the strict sense, not Nature.[10] Yet such a result, rightly interpreted, need cause us no trouble. We shall understand it better when we have discussed the meaning of conditional existence (Chapter xxiv.); I will however attempt to deal here with the present difficulty. And what that comes to is briefly this. Nature on the one side must be actual, and if so, must be sensible; but, upon the other hand, it seems in part to be merely intelligible. This is the problem, and the solution is that what for us is intelligible only, is more for the Absolute. There somehow, we do not know how, what we think is perceived. Everything there is merged and re-absorbed in an experience intuitive, at once and in itself, of both ideas and facts.

What we merely think is not real, because in thinking there is a division of the “what” from the “that.” But, none the less, every thought gives us actual content; and the presence of that content is fact, quite as hard as any possible perception. And so the Nature, that is thought of, to that extent does exist, and does possess a certain amount of positive character. Hence in the Absolute, where all content is re-blended with existence, the Nature thought of will gain once more an intuitional form. It will come together with itself and with other sides of the Universe, and will make its special contribution to the riches of the Whole. It is not as we think of it, it is not as it becomes when in our experience thought is succeeded by perception. It is something which, only under certain conditions, turns to physical fact revealed to our senses. But because in the Absolute it is an element of reality, though not known, as there experienced, to any finite mind,—because, again, we rightly judge it to be physical fact, if it became perceived by sense—therefore already it is fact, hypothetical but still independent. Nature in this sense is not dependent on the fancies of the individual, and yet it has no content but what is relative to particular minds. We may assume that without any addition there is enough matter in these centres to furnish a harmonious experience in the Absolute. There is no element in that unknown unity, which cannot be supplied by the fragmentary life of its members. Outside of finite experience there is neither a natural world nor any other world at all.[11]

But it may be objected that we have now been brought into collision with common sense. The whole of nature, for common sense, is; and it is what it is, whether any finite being apprehends it or not. On our view, on the other hand, part of the physical world does not, as such, exist. This objection is well founded, but I would reply, first, that common sense is hardly consistent with itself. It would perhaps hesitate, for instance, to place sweet and bitter tastes, as such, in the world outside of sense. But only the man who will go thus far, who believes in colours in the darkness, and sounds without an ear, can stand upon this ground. If there is any one who holds that flowers blush when utterly unseen, and smell delightfully when no one delights in their odour—he may object to our doctrine and may be invited to state his own. But I venture to think that, metaphysically, his view would turn out not worth notice. Any serious theory must in some points collide with common sense; and, if we are to look at the matter from this side, our view surely is, in this way, superior to others. For us Nature, through a great part, certainly is as it is perceived. Secondary qualities are an actual part of the physical world, and the existing thing sugar we take to be, itself, actually sweet and pleasant. Nay the very beauty of Nature, we shall find hereafter (Chapter xxvi.), is, for us, fact as good as the hardest of primary qualities. Everything physical, which is seen or felt, or in any way experienced or enjoyed, is, on our view, an existing part of the region of Nature; and it is in Nature as we experience it. It is only that portion which is but thought of, only that, of which we assume that no creature perceives it—which, as such, is not fact. Thus, while admitting our collision with common sense, I would lay stress upon its narrow extent and degree.

We have now seen that inorganic Nature perhaps does not exist. Though it is possible, we are unable to say if it is real. But with regard to Nature falling outside all finite subjects our conclusion is different. We failed to discover any ground for taking that as real, and, if strictly understood, we found no right to call it even possible. The importance of these questions, on the other hand we urged, is overrated. For they all depend on distinctions which, though not lost, are transcended in the Absolute. Whether all perception and feeling must pass through finite souls, whether any physical qualities stand out and are not worked up into organisms—into arrangements which directly condition such souls—these enquiries are not vital. In part we cannot answer them, and in part our reply gives us little that possesses a positive value. The interrelation between organisms, and their division from the inorganic, and, again, the separation of finite experiences, from each other and from the whole—these are not anything which, as such, can hold good in the Absolute. That one reality, the richer for every variety, absorbs and dissolves these phenomenal limitations. Whether there is a margin of quality not directly making part of some particular experience, whether, again, there is any physical extension outside the arrangements which immediately subserve feeling centres—in the end these questions are but our questions. The answers must be given in a language without meaning for the Absolute, until translated into a way of expression beyond our powers. But, if so expressed, we can perceive, they would lose that importance our hard distinctions confer on them. And, from our own point of view, these problems have proved partly to be insoluble. The value of our answers consists mainly in their denial of partial and one-sided doctrines.

There is an objection which, before we proceed, may be dealt with. “Upon your view,” I may be told, “there is really after all no Nature. For Nature is one solid body, the images of which are many, and which itself remains single. But upon your theory we have a number of similar reflections; and, though these may agree among themselves, no real thing comes to light in them. Such an appearance will not account for Nature.” But this objection rests on what must be called a thoughtless prejudice. It is founded on the idea that identity in the contents of various souls is impossible. Separation into distinct centres of feeling and thought is assumed to preclude all sameness between what falls within such diverse centres. But, we shall see more fully hereafter (Chapter xxiii.), this assumption is groundless. It is merely part of that blind prejudice against identity in general which disappears before criticism. That which is identical in quality must always, so far, be one; and its division, in time or space or in several souls, does not take away its unity. The variety of course does make a difference to the identity, and, without that difference and these modifications, the sameness is nothing. But, on the other hand, to take sameness as destroyed by diversity, makes impossible all thought and existence alike. It is a doctrine, which, if carried out, quite abolishes the Universe. Certainly, in the end, to know how the one and many are united is beyond our powers. But in the Absolute somehow, we are convinced, the problem is solved.

This apparent parcelling out of Nature is but apparent. On the one side a collection of what falls within distinct souls, on the other side it possesses unity in the Absolute. Where the contents of the several centres all come together, there the appearances of Nature of course will be one. And, if we consider the question from the side of each separate soul, we still can find no difficulty. Nature for each percipient mainly is what to the percipient it seems to be, and it mainly is so without regard to that special percipient. And, if this is so, I find it hard to see what more is wanted.[12] Of course, so far as any one soul has peculiar sensations, the qualities it finds will not exist unless in its experience. But I do not know why they should do so. And there remains, I admit, that uncertain extent, through which Nature is perhaps not sensibly perceived by any soul. This part of Nature exists beyond me, but it does not exist as I should perceive it. And we saw clearly that, so far, common sense cannot be satisfied. But, if this were a valid objection, I do not know in whose mouth it would hold good.[13] And if any one, again, goes on to urge that Nature works and acts on us, and that this aspect of force is ignored by our theory, we need not answer at length. For if ultimate reality is claimed for any thing like force, we have disposed, in our First Book, of that claim already. But, if all that is meant is a certain behaviour of Nature, with certain consequences in souls, there is nothing here but a phenomenal co-existence and sequence. It is an order and way in which events happen, and in our view of Nature I see nothing inconsistent with this arrangement. From the fact of such an orderly appearance you cannot infer the existence of something not contained in finite experiences.[14]

We may now consider a question which several times we have touched on. We have seen that in reality there can be no mere physical Nature. The world of physical science is not something independent, but is a mere element in one total experience. And, apart from finite souls, this physical world, in the proper sense, does not exist. But, if so, we are led to ask, what becomes of natural science? Nature there is treated as a thing without soul and standing by its own strength. And we thus have been apparently forced into collision with something beyond criticism. But the collision is illusive, and exists only through misunderstanding. For the object of natural science is not at all the ascertainment of ultimate truth, and its province does not fall outside phenomena. The ideas, with which it works, are not intended to set out the true character of reality. And, therefore, to subject these ideas to metaphysical criticism, or, from the other side, to oppose them to metaphysics, is to mistake their end and bearing. The question is not whether the principles of physical science possess an absolute truth to which they make no claim. The question is whether the abstraction, employed by that science, is legitimate and useful. And with regard to that question there surely can be no doubt. In order to understand the co-existence and sequence of phenomena, natural science makes an intellectual construction of their conditions. Its matter, motion, and force are but working ideas, used to understand the occurrence of certain events. To find and systematize the ways in which spatial phenomena are connected and happen—this is all the mark which these conceptions aim at. And for the metaphysician to urge that these ideas contradict themselves, is irrelevant and unfair. To object that in the end they are not true, is to mistake their pretensions.

And thus when matter is treated of as a thing standing in its own right, continuous and identical, metaphysics is not concerned. For, in order to study the laws of a class of phenomena, these phenomena are simply regarded by themselves. The implication of Nature, as a subordinate element, within souls has not been denied, but in practice, and for practice, ignored. And, when we hear of a time before organisms existed, that, in the first place, should mean organisms of the kind that we know; and it should be said merely with regard to one part of the Universe. Or, at all events, it is not a statement of the actual history of the ultimate Reality, but is a convenient method of considering certain facts apart from others. And thus, while metaphysics and natural science keep each to its own business, a collision is impossible. Neither needs defence against the other, except through misunderstanding.

But that misunderstandings on both sides have been too often provoked I think no one can deny. Too often the science of mere Nature, forgetting its own limits and false to its true aims, attempts to speak about first principles. It becomes transcendant, and offers us a dogmatic and uncritical metaphysics. Thus to assert that, in the history of the Universe at large, matter came before mind, is to place development and succession within the Absolute (Chapter xxvi.), and is to make real outside the Whole a mere element in its being. And such a doctrine not only is not natural science, but, even if we suppose it otherwise to have any value, for that science, at least, it is worthless. For assume that force matter and motion are more than mere working ideas, inconsistent but useful—will they, on that assumption, work better? If you, after all, are going to use them solely for the interpretation of spatial events, then, if they are absolute truth, that is nothing to you. This absolute truth you must in any case apply as a mere system of the conditions of the occurrence of phenomena; and for that purpose anything, which you apply, is the same, if it does the same work. But I think the failure of natural science (so far as it does fail) to maintain its own position, is not hard to understand. It seems produced by more than one cause. There is first a vague notion that absolute truth must be pursued by every kind of special science. There is inability to perceive that, in such a science, something less is all that we can use, and therefore all that we should want. But this unfortunately is not all. For metaphysics itself, by its interference with physical science, has induced that to act, as it thinks, in self-defence, and has led it, in so doing, to become metaphysical. And this interference of metaphysics I would admit and deplore, as the result and the parent of most injurious misunderstanding. Not only have there been efforts at construction which have led to no positive result, but there have been attacks on the sciences which have pushed into abuse a legitimate function. For, as against natural science, the duty of metaphysics is limited. So long as that science keeps merely to the sphere of phenomena and the laws of their occurrence, metaphysics has no right to a single word of criticism. Criticism begins when what is relative—mere ways of appearance—is, unconsciously or consciously, offered as more. And I do not doubt that there are doctrines, now made use of in science, which on this ground invite metaphysical correction, and on which it might here be instructive to dwell. But for want of competence and want of space, and, more than all perhaps from the fear of being misunderstood, I think it better to pass on. There are further questions about Nature more important by far for our general enquiry.

Is the extended world one, and, if so, in what sense? We discussed, in Chapter xviii., the unity of time, and it is needful to recall the conclusion we reached. We agreed that all times have a unity in the Absolute, but, when we asked if that unity itself must be temporal, our answer was negative. We found that the many time-series are not related in time. They do not make parts of one series and whole of succession; but, on the contrary, their interrelation and unity falls outside of time. And, in the case of extension, the like considerations produce a like result. The physical world is not one in the sense of possessing a physical unity. There may be any number of material worlds, not related in space, and by consequence not exclusive of, and repellent to, each other.

It appears, at first, as if all the extended was part of one space. For all spaces, and, if so, all material objects, seem spatially related. And such an interrelation would, of course, make them members in one extended whole. But this belief, when we reflect, begins instantly to vanish. Nature in my dreams (for example) possesses extension, and yet spatially it is not one with my physical world. And in imagination and in thought we have countless existences, material and extended, which stand in no spatial connection with each other or with the world which I perceive. And it is idle to reply that these bodies and their arrangements are unreal, unless we are sure of the sense which we give to reality. For that these all exist is quite clear; and, if they have not got extension, they are all able, at least, to appear with it and to show it. Their extension and their materiality is, in short, a palpable fact, while, on the other hand, their several arrangements are not inter-related in space. And, since in the Absolute these, of course, possess a unity, we must conclude that the unity is not material. In coming together their extensional character is transmuted. There are a variety of spatial systems, independent of each other, and each changed beyond itself, when absorbed in the one non-spatial system. Thus, with regard to their unity, Space and Time have similar characters (pp. 210-214).

That which for ordinary purposes I call “real” Nature, is the extended world so far as related to my body. What forms a spatial system with that body has “real” extension. But even “my body” is ambiguous, for the body, which I imagine, may have no spatial relation to the body which I perceive. And perception too can be illusive, for my own body in dreams is not the same thing with my true “real” body, nor does it enter with it into any one spatial arrangement. And what in the end I mean by my “real” body, seems to be this. I make a spatial construction from my body, as it comes to me when awake. This and the extended which will form a single system of spatial relations together with this, I consider as real.[15] And whatever extension falls outside of this one system of interrelation, I set down as “imaginary.” And, as a mere subordinate point of view, this may do very well. But it is quite another thing on such a ground to deny existence in the Absolute to every other spatial system. For we have the “imaginary” extension on our hands as a fact which remains, and which should cause us to hesitate. And, when we reflect, we see clearly that a variety of physical arrangements may exist without anything like spatial interrelation. They will have their unity in the Whole, but no connections in space each outside its own proper system of matter. And Nature therefore cannot properly be called a single world, in the sense of possessing a spatial unity.

Thus we might have any number of physical systems, standing independent of spatial relations with each other. And we may go on from this to consider another point of interest. Such diverse worlds of matter might to any extent still act on and influence one another. But, to speak strictly, they could not inter-penetrate at any point. Their interaction, however intimate, could not be called penetration; though, in itself and in its effects, it might involve a closer unity. Their spaces always would remain apart, and spatial contact would be impossible. But inside each world the case, as to penetration, might be different. The penetration of one thing by another might there even be usual; and I will try to show briefly that this presents no difficulty.

The idea of a Nature made up of solid matter, interspaced with an absolute void, has been inherited, I presume, from Greek metaphysics. And, I think, for the most part we hardly realize how entirely this view lies at the mercy of criticism. I am speaking, not of physics and the principles employed by physics, but of what may be called the metaphysics of the literary market-place. And the notion common there, that one extended thing cannot penetrate another, rests mainly on prejudice. For whether matter, conceivably and possibly, can enter into matter or not, depends entirely on the sense in which matter is taken. Penetration means the abolition of spatial distinction, and we may hence define matter in such a way that, with loss of spatial distinction, itself would be abolished. If, that is to say, pieces of matter are so one thing with their extensions as, apart from these, to keep no individual difference—then these pieces obviously cannot penetrate; but, otherwise, they may. This seems to me clear, and I will go on to explain it shortly.

It is certain first of all that two parts of one space cannot penetrate each other. For, though these two parts must have some qualities beside their mere extension (Chapter iii.), such bare qualities are not enough. Even if you suppose that a change has forced both sets of qualities to belong to one single extension, you will after all have not got two extended things in one. For you will not have two extended things, since one will have vanished. And, hence, penetration, implying the existence of both, has become a word without meaning. But the case is altered, if we consider two pieces of some element more concrete than space. Let us assume with these, first, that their other qualities, which serve to divide and distinguish them, still depend on extension—then, so far, these things still cannot penetrate each other. For, as before, in the one space you would not have two things, since (by the assumption) one thing has lost separate existence. But now the whole question is whether with matter this assumption is true, whether in Nature, that is, qualities are actually so to be identified with extension. And, for myself, I find no reason to think that this is so. If in two parts of one extended there are distinctions sufficient to individualize, and to keep these two things still two, when their separate spaces are gone—then clearly these two things may be compenetrable. For penetration is the survival of distinct existence notwithstanding identification in space. And thus the whole question really turns on the possibility of such a survival. Cannot, in other words, two things still be two, though their extensions have become one?

We have no right then (until this possibility is got rid of) to take the parts of each physical world as essentially exclusive. We may without contradiction consider bodies as not resisting other bodies. We may take them as standing towards one another, under certain conditions, as relative vacua, and as freely compenetrable. And, if in this way we gain no positive advantage, we at least escape from the absurdity, and even the scandal, of an absolute vacuum.[16]

We have seen that, except in the Absolute in which Nature is merged, we have no right to assert that all Nature has unity. I will now add a few words on some other points which may call for explanation. We may be asked, for example, whether Nature is finite or infinite; and we may first endeavour to clear our ideas on this subject. There is of course, as we know, a great difficulty on either side. If Nature is infinite, we have the absurdity of a something which exists, and still does not exist. For actual existence is, obviously, all finite. But, on the other hand, if Nature is finite, then Nature must have an end; and this again is impossible. For a limit of extension must be relative to extension beyond. And to fall back on empty space, will not help us at all. For this (itself a mere absurdity) repeats the dilemma in an aggravated form. It is itself both something and nothing, is essentially limited and yet, on the other side, without end.

But we cannot escape the conclusion that Nature is infinite. And this will be true not of our physical system alone, but of every other extended world which can possibly exist. None is limited but by an end over which it is constantly in the act of passing. Nor does this hold only with regard to present existence, for the past and future of these worlds has also no fixed boundary in space. Nor, once again, is this a character peculiar to the extended. Any finite whole, with its incomplete conjunction of qualities and relations, entails a process of indefinite transition beyond its limits as a consequence. But with the extended, more than anything, this self-transcendence is obvious. Every physical world is, essentially and necessarily, infinite.

But, in saying this, we do not mean that, at any given moment, such worlds possess more than a given amount of existence. Such an assertion once again would have no meaning. It would be once more the endeavour to be something and yet nothing, and to find an existence which does not exist. And thus we are forced to maintain that every Nature must be finite. The dilemma stares us in the face, and brings home to us the fact that all Nature, as such, is an untrue appearance. It is the way in which a mere part of the Reality shows itself, a way essential and true when taken up into and transmuted by a fuller totality, but, considered by itself, inconsistent and lapsing beyond its own being. The essence of the relative is to have and to come to an end, but, at the same time, to end always in a self-contradiction. Again the infinity of Nature, its extension beyond all limits, we might call Nature’s effort to end itself as Nature. It shows in this its ideality, its instability and transitoriness, and its constant passage of itself into that which transcends it. In its isolation as a phenomenon Nature is both finite and infinite, and so proclaims itself untrue. And, when this contradiction is solved, both its characters disappear into something beyond both. And it is perhaps not necessary to dwell further on the infinity of Nature.

And, passing next to the question of what is called Uniformity, I shall dismiss this almost at once. For there is, in part, no necessity for metaphysics to deal with it, and, in part, we must return to it in the following chapter. But, however uniformity is understood, in the main we must be sceptical, and stand aloof. I do not see how it can be shown that the amount of matter and motion, whether in any one world or in all, remains always the same. Nor do I understand how we can know that any world remains the same in its sensible qualities. As long as, on the one side, the Absolute preserves its identity, and, on the other side, the realms of phenomena remain in order, all our postulates are satisfied. This order in the world need not mean that, in each Nature, the same characters remain. It implies, in the first place, that all changes are subject to the identity of the one Reality. But that by itself seems consistent with almost indefinite variation in the several worlds. And, in the second place, order must involve the possibility of experience in finite subjects. Order, therefore, excludes all change which would make each world unintelligible through want of stability. But this stability, in the end, does not seem to require more than a limited amount of identity, existing from time to time in the sensations which happen. And, thirdly, in phenomenal sequence the law of Causation must remain unbroken. But this, again, comes to very little. For the law of Causation does not assert that in existence we have always the same causes and effects. It insists only that, given one, we must inevitably have the other. And thus the Uniformity of Nature cannot warrant the assumption that the world of sense is uniform. Its guarantee is in that respect partly non-existent, and partly hypothetical.[17]

There are other questions as to Nature which will engage us later on, and we may here bring the present chapter to a close. We have found that Nature by itself has no reality. It exists only as a form of appearance within the Absolute. In its isolation from that whole of feeling and experience it is an untrue abstraction; and in life this narrow view of Nature (as we saw) is not consistently maintained. But, for physical science, the separation of one element from the whole is both justifiable and necessary. In order to understand the co-existence and sequence of phenomena in space, the conditions of these are made objects of independent study. But to take such conditions for hard realities standing by themselves, is to deviate into uncritical and barbarous metaphysics.

Nature apart from and outside of the Absolute is nothing. It has its being in that process of intestine division, through which the whole world of appearance consists. And in this realm, where aspects fall asunder, where being is distinguished from thought, and the self from the not-self, Nature marks one extreme. It is the aspect most opposed to self-dependence and unity. It is the world of those particulars which stand furthest from possessing individuality, and we may call it the region of externality and chance. Compulsion from the outside, and a movement not their own, is the law of its elements; and its events seem devoid of an internal meaning. To exist and to happen, and yet not to realize an end, or as a member to subserve some ideal whole, we saw (Chapter xix.) was to be contingent. And in the mere physical world the nearest approach to this character can be found. But we can deal better with such questions in a later context. We shall have hereafter to discuss the connection of soul with body, and the existence of a system of ends in Nature. The work of this chapter has been done, if we have been able to show the subordination of Nature as one element within the Whole.


  1. For some further remarks see Mind, No. 47 (Vol. XII).
  2. For me my own brain in the end must be a state of my own brain, p. 263.
  3. This result (the reader must remember) rests, not merely on the above, but on the discussions of our First Book. The titles of some chapters there should be a sufficient reference.
  4. I may perhaps add that “resistance” is no sufficient answer to the question “What is Nature?” A persisting idea may in the fullest sense “resist”; but can we find in that the essence of what we mean by the physical world? The claims of “resistance” have, however, been disposed of already, pp. 116, 225, 263.
  5. It is natural in this connection to refer to Fechner’s vigorous advocacy.
  6. If we consider further the possibility of diverse material systems, and of the compenetrability of bodies within each system, we shall be even less disposed to dogmatize. See below, pp. 287, 289.
  7. On the main principle see Chapter xxvii.
  8. “’Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste
    Of all beyond itself.”
  9. See more below, p. 283.
  10. That is, of course, so long as Nature is confined to actual physical fact.
  11. The question whether any part of the contents of the Universe is not contained in finite centres, is discussed in Chapter xxvii.
  12. If Nature were more in itself, could it be more to us? And is it for our sake, or for the sake of Nature, that the objector asks for more? Clearness on these points is desirable.
  13. It is possible that some follower of Berkeley may urge that the whole of Nature, precisely as it is perceived (and felt?), exists actually in God. But this by itself is not a metaphysical view. It is merely a delusive attempt to do without one. The un-rationalized heaping up of such a congeries within the Deity, with its (partial?) reduplication inside finite centres, and then the relation between these aspects (or divisions?) of the whole—this is an effort surely not to solve a problem but simply to shelve it.
  14. I admit that I cannot explain how Nature comes to us as an order (Chapters xxiii. and xxvi.), but then I deny that any other view is in any better case. The subject of Ends in Nature will be considered later.
  15. With regard to the past and future of my “real” body and its “real” world, it is hard to say whether, and in what sense, these are supposed to have spatial connection with the present. What we commonly think on this subject is, I should say, a mere mass of inconsistency. There is another point, on which it would be interesting to develope the doctrine of the text, by asking how we distinguish our waking state. But an answer to this question is, I think, not called for here. I have also not referred to insanity and other abnormal states. But their bearing here is obvious.
  16. I would repeat that in the above remarks I am not trying to say anything against the ideas used in physics, and against the apparent attempt there to compromise between something and nothing. In a phenomenal science it is obvious that no more than a relative vacuum is wanted. More could not possibly be used, supposing that in fact more existed. In any case for metaphysics an absolute vacuum is nonsense. Like a mere piece of empty Time, it is a sheer self-contradiction; for it presupposes certain internal distinctions, and then in the same breath denies them.
  17. For a further consideration of these points see Chapter xxiii.