Page:Blackwood's Magazine volume 044.djvu/561

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
An Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness.

found the great law connected with them to be this; not that they grew with each other's growth and strengthened with each other's strength, but, on the contrary, that each of them gained just in proportion as the other lost. Wherever a passion was observed to be carried to its greatest excess, a total absence or cessation of consciousness was noticed to be the result, and the man lost his personality. When consciousness began to reassert itself, and to regain its place, the passion, in its turn, began to give way, and, becoming diminished or suspended, the man recovered his personality. The same was observed to be the case with regard to sensation. A sensation is notoriously most absorbing when the least consciousness of it has place; and, therefore, is not the conclusion legitimate that it would be still more effective—that it would be all-absorbing, provided no consciousness of it interfered to dissolve the charm? And does not all this prove that consciousness is an act of antagonism against the modifications of man's natural being, and that, indeed, it has no office, character, or conceivability at all, unless of this antagonist and negative description?

But this act has, as it were, two sides, and although single, it fulfils a double office. We have still to show, more clearly than we have yet done, how this act, breaking up the great natural unities of sensation and of passion, at once displaces the various modifications of man's given existence, and, by a necessary consequence, places the being which was not given, namely, the "I" of humanity—the true and proper being of every man "who cometh into the world." This discussion will lead us into more minute and practical details than any we have yet encountered.

The earliest modifications of man's natural being are termed "sensations." These sensations are, like all the other changes of man's given existence, purely passive in their character. They are states of suffering, whether the suffering be of pleasure or of pain, or of an indifferent cast. There is obviously nothing original or active connected with them. There is nothing in them except their own given contents, and these are entirely derivative. In the smell of a rose, for instance, there is nothing present except the smell of a rose. In a word, let us turn and twist, increase or diminish any sensation as we please, we can twist and turn it into nothing except the particular sensation which it is.

Let us suppose, then, a particular sensation to be impressed upon any of man's organs of sense—let us suppose it propagated forward along the nerves—let us trace it forth unto the brain—let us admit Hartley's or any other philosopher's "vibrations," "elastic medium," or "animal spirits," to be facts; and finally, let us suppose it, through the intervention of the one or other of these, landed and safely lodged in what metaphysicians are pleased to term the "mind;" still we maintain that, in spite of this circuitous operation, the man would remain utterly unconscious, and would not, in consequence of it, have any existence as "I" (the only kind of existence which properly concerns him), nor would the external object have any existence as an object for him. He would not perceive it, although sentient of it; the reason of which is, that perception implies an "I" and a "not I," a subject and object; and a subject and object involve a duality; and a duality presupposes an act of discrimination. But no act of discrimination—no act of any kind, is involved in sensation—therefore, man might continue to undergo sensations until doomsday without ever becoming "I," and without ever perceiving an external[1] universe.

  1. The statement that we become acquainted with the existence of an external world through, and in consequence of, our sensations, besides its falsehood, embodies perhaps the boldest petitio principii upon record. How are we assured of the reality of an external world? asks the philosophy of scepticism. Through the senses, answers the philosophy of faith. But are not the senses themselves a part of the external universe? and is not this answer, therefore, equivalent to saying that we become assured of the reality of the external universe through the external universe? or, in other words, is not this solution of the question a direct taking-for-granted of the very matter in dispute? It may be frivolous to raise such a question, but it is certainly far more frivolous to resolve it in this manner—the manner usually practised by our Scottish philosophers.