Creative Power Of Consciousness

To this insight into the underivability and pre-eminence of consciousness

over the world of external reality there must be added at this stage a

recognition of its peculiar creative character. We have here to recognise

that consciousness itself creates its world,--that is, the world that

becomes our own through actual experience, possession, and enjoyment. We

are led to this position even by the conception now current in natural
science of the world as it is, not as it is mirrored in consciousness, and

the theory of the "subjectivity of sensory qualities." The qualities which

we perceive in things through the senses are "subjective"; philosophy has

long taught that, and now natural science teaches it too. That is to say,

these qualities are not actually present in the things themselves; they

are rather the particular responses which our consciousness makes to

stimuli. Take, for instance, tone or colour. What we call tone or sound is

not known to acoustics. That takes cognisance only of vibrations and the

conditions of vibration in elastic bodies, which, by means of the ear and

the nerves of hearing, become a stimulus of consciousness. Consciousness

"responds" to this stimulus by receiving a sense-impression of hearing.

But in this, obviously, there is nothing of the nature of oscillations and

vibrations, but something quite different. What outside of us is nothing

more than a complex process of movement according to mathematical

conditions, blossoms within us to a world of sound, tone, and music. The

world itself is soundless, toneless. And the same is true of light and

colour; "light" and "blue" are nothing in themselves--are not properties of

things themselves. They are only the infinitely rapid movements of an

infinitely delicate substance, the ether. But when these meet our

consciousness, they spin themselves within us into this world of light and

colour, of brilliance and beauty. Thus without us there is a world of a

purely mathematical nature, without quality, charm, or value. But the

world we know, the world of sound, light, and colour, of all properties

whatsoever, of the ugly or the beautiful, of pain and pleasure, is in the

most real sense the product of consciousness itself, a creation which,

incited by something outside of itself and of a totally different nature,

which we can hardly call "world," evolves out of itself and causes to

blossom. No part of this creation is given from without; not the blue of

the heavens, for outside of us there is no colour, only vibrations of the

ether; not the gold of the sun nor the red glory of the evening sky.

External nature is nothing more than the stimulus, the pressure upon the

mind, which liberates from its depths the peculiar reactions and responses

to this stimulus, and calls them forth from its own treasure-stores.

Certainly in this creating the consciousness is entirely dependent on the

impressions stamped on it from outside, and to that extent upon

"experience." But it is by no means a tabula rasa, and a merely passive

mirror of the outer world, for it translates the stimulus thus received

into quite a different language, and builds up from it a new reality,

which is quite unlike the mathematical and qualityless reality without.

And this activity on the part of consciousness begins on the very lowest

stages. The simplest perception of light or colour, the first feeling of

pleasure or discomfort, is a reaction of the psychical, which brings about

something entirely new and unique. "The spirit is never passive."

That the psychical is not derivable from the physical, that it does not

arise out of it, is not secondary to it, but pre-eminent over it, is not

passive but creative; so much we have already gained to set over against

naturalism. But its claims are even more affected by the fact of real

psychical causality. We need not here concern ourselves with the difficult

question, whether the mind can of itself act upon the body, and through it

upon the external world. But in the logical consistence of naturalism

there was implied not only a negative answer to this last question, but

also a denial of the causality of the psychical, even within itself and

its own domain. This is well illustrated in the figure of the cloud

shadows. In consciousness state follows upon state, a upon b, b upon c.

According to naturalism, b is not really the result of a, nor c of b, for

in that case there would be independence of phenomena, and distinctness of

laws in the psychical. But as all the states, a, b, and c, of the cloud

shadows, depend upon states a, b, and c, of the clouds themselves,

but do not themselves form a concatenation of causes, so all the states of

the mind depend upon those of the body, in which alone there is a true

chain of causes because they alone have true reality.

This is a complete distortion of the facts of the case. It would never be

possible to persuade oneself or any one else that the arm, for instance,

did not bend simply because we willed that it should. And it is still less

possible to doubt that there are sequences of causes within the psychical,

that in the world of thought and feeling, of desire and will, one thing

calls up another, awakes it, impels it onwards, and influences it. Indeed,

the mode of influence is peculiarly rich, subtle, and certain. Mental

images and experiences arouse joy or sorrow, admiration or repulsion. One

image calls up another, forces it to appear according to quite peculiar

laws, or may crowd it out. Feelings call up desires, desires lead to

determination. Good news actually causes joy, this is actually

strengthened to willing, and the new situation gives rise to actual

resolves. All this is so obvious and so unquestionable that no naturalism

can possibly prevail against it. It has also long been made the subject of

special investigation and carefully regulated experiment, and it is one of

the chief subjects of modern psychological science. And especially as

regards the different forms of "association of ideas," the particular laws

of this psychical causality have been established.

It cannot be denied, however, that this psychology of association has

itself in a deeper sense certain dangers from the point of view of the

freedom of the mind, and it is apt to lead, not indeed to naturalistic

conceptions, but to views according to which the "soul" is reduced to the

level of a passive frame and stage, so to speak, for the exhibition of

mental mechanics and statics. "Ideas" or thoughts, or states of feelings,

are sometimes represented almost as actual little realities, which come

and go in accordance with their own laws of attraction and repulsion,

unite and separate again, by virtue of a kind of mental gravitation, move

and crowd one another, so that one must almost say "it thinks," as one

says "it rains," and not "the mind thinks" or "I think." But more of this

later. This psychological orderliness is in sharp antagonism to pure

naturalism. It describes the laws of a sequence of causes, which have

nothing to do with the physical, chemical, or mechanical, and clearly

establishes the uniqueness, independence, and underivability of the

psychical as contrasted with the physical.

The individuality and incommensurability of this psychical causality shows

itself in another series of factors which make even the form of the

psychical process quite distinctive, and produce phenomena which have no

parallel in the material sequences of the world, indeed, conflict with all

its fundamental laws. The great psychologists of to-day, Wundt in

particular, and James, have frequently emphasised these factors. We can

only briefly call attention to a few points, as, for instance, Wundt's

theory of the creative resultants through which the psychical processes

show themselves to be quite outside of the scope of the laws of

equivalence which hold good in the physical. If, in the realm of the

corporeal, two components of energy, a and b, come together, they unite in

a common resultant c, which includes in part a new movement, in part

transformation into heat, but always in such a way that c remains equal to

a and b. But it is otherwise in the psychical. Here there occurs what may

be called an increase (and a qualitative change) of the psychical energy.

If we take the notes, c, e, and g, and call the sensation- and

perception-value of the individual notes x, y, z, when they come together,

the resulting sensation-value is by no means simply x + y + z, for a

"harmony" results of which the effect is not only greater than the mere

sum of x + y + z, but is qualitatively different. This is true of all

domains of psychical experience. The parallels from mechanical operation

cannot be applied in any case. These only supply inadequate analogies and

symbols which never really represent the actual state of the case.

Let us take, for instance, a motive, m, that impels us towards a

particular action, and another, n, that hinders us. If these meet in us,

the result is not simply a weakening of the power of the one, and a

remaining motive of the strength of m minus n. The meeting of the two

creates an entirely new and peculiar mental situation, which gives rise to

conflict and choice, and the resultant victorious motive is never under

any circumstances m-n, but may be a double or three-fold m or n.

Thus, in the different aspects of psychical activity, there are factors

which make it impossible to compare these with other activities, remove

them outside of the scope of the law of the equivalence of cause and

effect, and prove that there is self-increase and growth on the part of

psychical energies. And all such phenomena lead us away from the

standpoint of any mere theory of association.