CHAPTER 4



THE ARGUMENT I:

FROM CONSCIOUSNESS

TO EXISTENCE

[For a rather more rigorous examination of this issue, see Modes of the Finite, Part 1, Section 3.]



4.1. The problem about existence

Fasten your seat belts, Ladies and Gentlemen; we are at last on the runway. One of the reasons, as I said in Section 2.1., that I went through the various arguments for and against God's existence is to show you that there's no simple way to answer the question, and to prepare you for the very complex argument that follows.

We saw in the Ontological Argument and the "God exists" is meaningless argument that not everybody seems to agree on what it means to say that something "exists." So the first task we have is to see if we can come up with something either that everyone can agree on (which is probably hopeless in practice) or such that those who disagree can only do so on the basis of some inconsistency.

And the way we can do this is to investigate when it is that we find ourselves forced to say that something-or-other exists, and examine that situation and define existence in terms of the situation.

There are those who say that this is a waste of time, because being (i.e. what exists) is already there in the very first of out thoughts as what we're thinking about, and so it's the most primitive of our ideas. And you can't "explain" or "define" the most primitive idea in terms of ideas derived from it (since they already presuppose it).

But while this sounds plausible, things aren't quite that simple. In the first place, as I said, not everyone is in agreement on what this "primitive" concept actually means; but more importantly, we've all known from the age of five or so that not everything we experience exists.

For instance, just the other night I was in the third floor bedroom of my parents' house in Watertown, Massachusetts, and my son, of about ten, came up to me, when I said, "How does it feel to be sleeping among wombats and wallabies?"--and as I looked down I saw them roaming all over the room. And then I woke up in Cincinnati, with only one son, in his thirties, who lives in New York. And yet I saw him and the wombats--or at least strange animals I took to be wombats, or maybe wallabies.

So while maybe every experience presupposes existence in some sense, it doesn't follow that every experience is of something that exists.

But that means that it's a legitimate question to ask, "When do we say that something exists?" Not just when we experience it, because we can experience what doesn't exist. But it does seem obvious that we can't say it exists unless somehow we experience it, either directly or indirectly. What other grounds could we have?

So we seem to have two kinds of experience: the ones that don't deal with something that exists (the imaginary kind), and the ones that deal with what is real (perceptions). So it sounds like what we should be doing is trying to find out on what basis we can distinguish between the two. Then whatever the "clue" is that lets us know that the perceptive-type belong in this category ought to be what we mean by "existence."

Ah, if only it were that simple! I used to teach this part of the argument that way, when I realized that there was a flaw in it which couldn't be got around until we backed up quite a way and talked about how it is possible to have more than one experience in the first place. It will turn out that existence is the cause of the perceptive-type experience, but it is the condition for the imaginary-type. So the "primitivists" are right in that existence is necessary for any experience. And the indirect involvement of existence in imaginary experience is going to figure in the definition of "existence."

NOTE

In the analysis that follows, I do not want to imply that I think that you can't know existence unless you start from consciousness and then prove that there is such a thing as existence apart from it. I am merely showing that a given act of consciousness is in fact impossible if there is nothing "outside" it.

That is, the "primitivists," who say that existence is given through the experience (and so you don't need to "prove" it) are apt to interpret what I am doing as if I denied this. No, I am not "proving" existence from consciousness in that sense any more than I "proved" the Principle of Contradiction by showing that if you denied it, you had to base your denial on accepting it as true. I merely showed what is entailed in it.

This analysis, then, has three functions: (a) to show that those who hold that it's possible for there to be nothing but consciousness can't make sense out of consciousness, and (b) to arrive at a clear, precise meaning for "existence" and (c) show when it is legitimate to say "X exists" and when it isn't.

In a sense, the argument constitutes a proof for existence; but that doesn't mean that existence needs to be proved. It is immediately evident with the experience and through the experience.

4.1.1. The structure of the argument

It also turns out, however, that this radical investigation of existence is not really even going to be a side-issue. The proof that there has to be an existence in addition to consciousness and the conscious mind is actually based on the finiteness of the given act (or "moment") of consciousness; and so the argument is an exact parallel to the argument from (finite) existence to the Infinite. So in a sense, one you have established that anything at all exists, you have laid the groundwork for showing that therefore the Infinite must exist.

Let me, then, give you a preview of the way the argument will go.

First, as a preliminary, I will show you the effect in consciousness which forces us to say that we have minds which are conscious. This gives us the subjective side of experience. The mind is defined as "the whatever-it-is-that makes all my conscious acts the same (in that they are 'mine' and not yours)."

But then we will note that we have many conscious acts, each of which is a case of "my consciousness," and yet each of which is different from the others. What this will involve is that each is a finite case of my consciousness; and we will be able to define exactly what this means--and in the course of it show that it involves a contradiction, in that it is (among other things) both the same as and not the same as my consciousness.

That means that my consciousness as finite is an effect. I will show why this cause, whatever it is, can't be (a) another act of consciousness, or (b) any combination of acts of consciousness, even of an infinite number of them. Then it must be something outside my consciousness. But whatever this cause actually is, it can't be my mind, because my mind is what accounts for the sameness of all my acts of consciousness, and what we need is a cause for why this act is this one and not any other. (Different effects have different causes.)

I will call this whatever-it-is "existence," and then show that when it's the cause of a given experience, we call that experience a "perception," and when we're recombining stored experiences, the existence that originally caused them is now a condition for the imaginary experience. I will then generalize and show that existence can be called "activity," and so being is "whatever is active" in any way.

But it turns out that the cause of any given case of finite consciousness is an existence which is both the same as and different from other existences; and, on analysis, this will reveal that the existence which I directly perceive is always a finite case of existence. It is similar to the finite consciousness it causes in that it's finite; but different in that it's a finite case of existence rather than a finite case of consciousness.

But since anything finite contradicts itself simply because it is finite, then it follows that any case of finite existence is an effect. I will then show that (by the theorem that identical effects have identical causes) no other finite existence can be the cause of it as finite, nor can any combination, even of an infinite number of finite existences, be the cause of the finiteness of any given finite existence (because the combination turns out to fit the definition of a "finite existence").

Therefore, there must either be a (finite or infinite) non-existence, or an infinite existence. And I will show that it must be the latter, because similar effects have analogous causes, and what this Infinite does to finite existence is directly analogous to what finite existence does to finite consciousness.

So there is an infinite existence.

4.2. Preliminary step: losing consciousness

Fortunately, we begin with an easy application of the method I gave in the first chapter. The question to be answered is "How do you know you have lost consciousness?" That is, how do you know that you aren't always conscious, that you have been in a state of dreamless sleep at certain times?

The fact that you know that you have sometimes been unconscious is obviously an effect of some sort because you can't directly experience being unconscious without being conscious that you are unconscious--which is clearly a contradiction. And yet you do know that you aren't always conscious.

FIRST EFFECT: We know we have been unconscious, and yet we cannot experience ourselves as unconscious.

And the answer (the cause) is obvious. You know that you've been unconscious without being able to observe yourself as being unconscious, because when you wake up, the sky that was dark is "suddenly" light, the clock tells a different time, the radio mentions what was going on during the time that you weren't aware of, and so on.

That is, obviously as far as you subjectively are concerned, the last moment before you fell asleep (let's eliminate dreams from this since --take my word for it--they just introduce complications that don't affect the argument) and the first moment you wake up have to appear as the same moment, or you would be conscious of the unconscious state, which is a contradiction in terms.

But what you discover on waking is that there are indications of a lapse of time at this moment. So subjectively, no time has passed, and yet perceptively time seems to have passed. That's an effect--and this effect is your evidence for losing consciousness.

There are two possible causes of this effect. (a) Your subjective experience is correct, and the earth slipped on its axis, the clock moved in time with it, the radio announcer is lying, your mother is in on the conspiracy when she tells you how long you slept, and so on; or (b) the world went on its merry way following the laws of physics, and you lost consciousness for several hours.

Obviously, no sane person would accept (a) as the cause; and so we all accept (b) as the only explanation that makes any sense. Note that you couldn't prove that (a) is false, really, because any attempt to do so would just be part of the "conspiracy"--and anyone who is willing to accept that the earth's rotation is different when he closes his eyes will have no problem explaining away, say, a videotape of him snoring as tampering with the equipment ("You just filmed a double and slipped the tape of that in while I wasn't watching!").

But even if you can't prove that the "conspiracy theory" is false, it's still insane, and after all, we're trying to make sense out of experience. So the cause of how we know that we lost consciousness is that the experience after we regain consciousness is an effect whose cause is the actual loss of consciousness (i.e. the evidence for our loss of consciousness).

But this allows us to draw our first conclusion.

FIRST CONCLUSION: Any given person's consciousness is divided into many periods of consciousness separated by periods of unconsciousness.

4.3. Second step: multiple-unit consciousness

And that leads us immediately into our second effect, which is rather more relevant to the actual argument:

SECOND EFFECT: One and the same consciousness is actually many separated consciousnesses.

That is, when you fall asleep, your consciousness stops; it goes (using ordinary terms) out of existence. But when you wake up, that same consciousness begins to exist again. How do you know it's the same consciousness? Because you can remember what you were experiencing before you fell asleep, and you can't "remember" what anyone else is or was thinking; in fact, it's so obviously the same consciousness that, as I mentioned, the last moment when you lost consciousness and the moment you regained it seem to be the same moment.

The point is that there is a very real sense in which your consciousness is one single stream of consciousness; and yet, since it's separated by periods in which that consciousness doesn't exist, it's also many separate consciousnesses. Obviously, in itself that's a contradiction; but since it actually happens, it can't really be a contradiction, and so it's an effect.

And the cause has to be something-or-other that unites these many separated periods into a single stream of consciousness.

DEFINITION: Your mind is whatever accounts for the unity of your consciousness as "yours."

But what is your mind? Is it your brain? Is it some spiritual thing that is somehow lodged inside your body? We don't know, based on this effect. All we know is that there's got to be a mind, or it's impossible for your many periods of consciousness to be a single consciousness.

But notice that the mind has to have all that is necessary to do the job of uniting your consciousness; and so there are some things we can say about it:

FIRST PROPERTY OF THE MIND: The mind exists during the unconscious periods between conscious periods.

We can't argue from this effect that your mind existed before the first moment you were conscious, or that it will exist after you die (if you lose consciousness then); but it must exist in the "in-between" periods of unconsciousness, or it would be impossible for it to unite them into a single consciousness. Hence, whatever the mind actually is (or in other words, whatever it is that contains what we're calling the "mind"), it's got to have this characteristic.

But there's another thing we can say:

SECOND PROPERTY OF THE MIND: Your mind is not the same as your stream of consciousness.

Obviously, it can't be; if it did, it would go out of existence when you lost consciousness, and so it couldn't unite the periods into one single consciousness. So it is something which is conscious (or which has consciousness), rather than the consciousness itself.

So right away, we see that those philosophies which say that there is nothing but a stream of consciousness and no mind "behind" it are false. These people would logically have to hold that they never lost and regained consciousness--or that they never slept. But that view, as we said, is not philosophical, because it's insane. (Then why did they hold it? you ask. Because they didn't notice this particular effect. Their theory sounds perfectly plausible until it runs up against this effect.)

THIRD PROPERTY OF THE MIND: Your mind separates your consciousness from others' consciousness; hence, it is "private" to yourself.



That is, those philosophical theories that "we're all part of one great mind in the sky" are false. Why? Because if we were, then by definition, there would only be one stream of consciousness (the mind unites consciousness into a single stream), and I'd be able to experience what you're experiencing just as I experience what I was conscious of yesterday. Think of what that would be, when it came to take a test!

So you have your mind, and I have mine. If you will, though your mind unites your consciousness into this stream called "your consciousness," it limits your consciousness to being only yours and no one else's.

FOURTH PROPERTY OF THE MIND: The mind is the cause of the subjectivity of each person's consciousness.

That is, it's why your consciousness is distinctively yours and mine is distinctively mine; we have different consciousnesses because we have different minds. Surprise, surprise!

DEFINITION: The self is the causer of a single stream of consciousness.

That is, you are at least your mind; but you may be much more than just your mind. All you know from the effect is what the cause is; you don't know the causer except as whatever contains the cause as an abstract aspect of itself.

So in all probability (in reality, as it would turn out if we pursued this), René Descartes was wrong when he said that what he is is a mind, and that he has a body which is a different substance (i.e. a different thing) "attached" to it somehow.

Actually, it can be proved (but I'm not going to do it here), that what you are is a body which contains a mind; and the mind, it turns out, is actually your brain. This does not mean to imply that consciousness is a physical act your brain performs (it can be proved that this is false too, but I'm not going to do it here); and when you die, your consciousness continues, but your mind doesn't, because there's no possibility of being unconscious, and there's no "connecting into a unity" needed.

But all of that is very complex indeed, and we don't need it for our argument, so let's go on. I mentioned these various properties of the mind mainly to show you how the method I outlined in the first chapter works. We may not know what the mind is in itself, so to speak; but we can say certain things about it based on the effect it is the cause of. And notice how much we could say. This may give you some hope that we can actually say some intelligent things about the Infinite.

4.4. Third step: the single act of consciousness

Now let us focus our attention on a slightly different effect in consciousness, one a bit more difficult to see. At first blush, it seems very simple; but as you examine it, it gets more and more mysterious.

THIRD EFFECT: Any given act of your consciousness is (a) nothing but your consciousness, and (b) different from other acts of your consciousness (which are also nothing but your consciousness).

The reason for the first clause is that if your consciousness contained something in addition to (i.e. other than) your consciousness, what would this additional something be? It would have to be something (by definition) not conscious. But then how could you be conscious of it? Or rather, how could it be part of your consciousness?

And yet, if you look at the second clause, how could you possibly know that this act of consciousness (e.g. reading this page) is different from that one (hearing music) if there's nothing in the consciousness itself that's different? Obviously, the two consciousnesses as consciousnesses are different, precisely because you are aware of (conscious of) the difference: of the distinctiveness of each of them.

(Now the solution to this dilemma is going to be the obvious one, that the reason they're different is because you're conscious of different things. But that's the cause of the effect; what you have to see first is what the effect is. And remember, the effect is something that doesn't make sense by itself; and when you say, "Well, of course, they're different because they're conscious of different things," you're adding the cause--which of course makes sense out of it. Be patient, and take things a step at a time, because the process by which you get to this cause is the process by which you will have to admit that there is a God.)

So what it seems so far is that the "distinctive aspect" of each conscious act (a) can't be different from the "common aspect" (because then it would be unconscious, or outside consciousness), and yet (b) has to be different from the "common aspect," or both acts would be in every way identical.

FIRST DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it contains what is not itself as identical with itself.

To use the example I gave, the first act of consciousness can't be "your consciousness + seeing the page," and the second "your consciousness + hearing the music" because the "seeing the page" as different from "your consciousness" would be unconscious. Then you'd be conscious, but not conscious that you were seeing the page.

Secondly, it is clear that "seeing the page" is not only part of your consciousness at the moment, it defines what your consciousness is at the moment. Your consciousness at the moment is, as I said at the beginning, nothing but seeing the page. Anything but reading the page is (now) unconscious; that is, hearing the music is (at the moment) precisely not what your consciousness is; it is unconscious.(1)

And so the point I am making here is that (at the moment) "reading the page" is what your consciousness is, and it is all that your consciousness is. And yet, "reading the page" is clearly not what your consciousness is, because then "hearing the music" would not be your consciousness, because it is clearly not "reading the page."

So "reading the page" both is and is not identical with your consciousness. Or, your consciousness (which can also be "hearing the music") contains something other than simply "your consciousness" (the "reading" aspect) as not other than itself.

You see why I said that this is an effect?

"Well, wait a minute," you answer. "It's only an 'effect' as you put it because you described it in that funny way. Consciousness doesn't have some 'other thing' called 'reading the page' inside it; it's just the fact that my consciousness at the moment is no more than reading the page--and at some other moment, it's only that other way of being conscious, and so on. The 'way' is not something else; it's just a fact about my consciousness."

Unfortunately, however, what this means is that you're saying that reading the page is simply the fact that your consciousness (at the moment) is not all there is to my consciousness; because at some other moment, it's hearing the music, or smelling the rose. But your consciousness at the moment is all there is to my consciousness, because (at the moment) all the "rest" of your consciousness is unconscious. And how can what is unconscious be part of consciousness?

SECOND DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it is less than itself. Another way of stating this definition is that it is finite when it leaves some of itself outside itself.

That is, when you say that reading this page is not "my consciousness plus 'thisness' (the reading of the page)," but rather then "thisness" is really just the fact that the consciousness at the moment is nothing more than reading the page, what you're saying is that your consciousness at the moment (which is all that your consciousness really is) is less than what your consciousness really is. Otherwise how could it (at some other moment) be hearing music?

Or, putting it the other way, if you're saying that your consciousness while reading the page is not your consciousness plus something, but is simply a restriction on your consciousness to being not all it could be, then you're taking cognizance of the fact that most of your consciousness (all the ways you ever have been conscious in the past) is left out of your consciousness, because all of these are unconscious now--and you wouldn't want consciousness to contain unconsciousness, would you?

"Well," you say, "that's 'my consciousness' in the abstract, but not my concrete consciousness." Nosir. Your abstract consciousness contains all the ways you could be conscious; but concretely, you actually have been conscious in a limited number of these ways, and you can in principle remember all of them at any moment. So these are "your consciousness" in a sense in which your consciousness of what's on the next page isn't, at the moment (because you may never read it). So there's a sense in which your "real" or "actual" consciousness is mostly unconscious--which is absurd. Your "really real" consciousness is only the way you are conscious at the moment; but this is certainly less than what it is for you to be conscious. So your real consciousness is less than itself--which doesn't make any sense either.

So that "description" of your consciousness doesn't make it any less self-contradictory. So far, then, a given act of your consciousness is (a) either your consciousness plus something that is different from itself which is not different from itself, or (b) your consciousness minus part of itself (the other ways you could be conscious).

These are just two sides to the same coin: two different avenues of approaching what is basically the same dilemma; and there is a third one. Whichever approach you take, the fact is that now your consciousness (which is all there is to your real consciousness) is different from what your consciousness was five minutes ago (which at the time was all there was to your consciousness).

THIRD DEFINITION OF THE FINITE: Something is finite when it is different from itself.

That is, either your consciousness contains a property we can call "thisness" or it doesn't. If it does, this property both is and is not identical with the consciousness itself. If it doesn't, this "property" is not a property, but a fact about the consciousness which makes it in any given case less than what it is to be itself (because even now it could in itself be a different act, which it really isn't); and since there are many acts, and each one is the whole of your actual consciousness, then your actual consciousness is different at different times--but since it's always your whole actual consciousness, it is simultaneously the same while it's different.

NOTE

I am not playing with words here. Try yourself to see if there is any way you can describe your consciousness in such a way that (a) you're being honest with the data, and (b) it makes sense without going beyond it. My point is that no matter how you describe it, you are going to run into a contradiction, unless you go beyond the conscious act.

As the definitions imply, the fact that your consciousness at any given moment is a given way of being conscious just a special case of the general fact of something's being limited (or finite). Think of a wooden ball; it has a surface. But what is the surface? It isn't something in addition to the wood, or you couldn't put a new surface on it by paring away some of the wood. And yet it's not the wood, because if it were, then that "surface" that will be there after you've carved away some wood would actually be there now. But it's absurd to say that there's a real surface under the surface. So the surface is not wood but is nothing but wood. It's not a "what," it's a "where": it's where the wood stops, where there's no more wood; but it's in the wood itself, not outside it (that would be the surface of the air touching the wood).

In other words, the surface is simply the fact that the wood is not all over the universe; or it's the wood as being less than what it otherwise would be. A limit is in itself nothing at all; yet it really makes what it limits less than what it otherwise would be. But how can nothing at all do anything? Well it can't. The limit doesn't limit the wood; it's just that the wood is limited. By what? Clearly, it doesn't limit itself because by itself (as just wood) it would be greater than this limited example of it. Then what does limit it to being this ball and only this ball? Clearly, the person (or machine) who carved it.

But what that says is that anything limited is an effect, which has to have some cause beyond itself. to account for how it got into this restricted condition.

SECOND CONCLUSION: Anything finite is an effect simply because it is finite. By itself it contradicts itself.

So what I am saying here is that your consciousness itself cannot make sense out of the fact that at this moment, it is only this form of consciousness, or this way of being conscious, or whatever. And the reason is that the "form" of consciousness (as both the same as and not the same as the consciousness) contradicts itself--unless consciousness is forced from outside this act to be less than what it is in itself, or what it otherwise would be.

That is, in common-sense language, your consciousness at the moment as you read this page is simply inexplicable without there actually being a page that you're conscious of. Why? Because at the moment, your consciousness could be any of the possible forms it could take; and there's nothing in your consciousness that would pick out this one rather than some other one.

But that's not quite rigorous; it leaves open a lot of loopholes where someone could logically say, "Well, yes, but ..." And the reason we're proceeding in this tedious fashion is to close the loopholes, so that anyone who objects to the reasoning process will have to admit that he's not being reasonable.

4.5. Fourth step: toward the cause

Very well. I think I can now take it as established that any given conscious act of yours is an effect simply because it is a case of finite consciousness. It either contains unconsciousness within it as identical with itself, or it leaves some of "your consciousness" outside itself, and so is both all there is to your consciousness and not all there is to your consciousness (it is less than itself), or it is your consciousness as different from your consciousness.

But you do have conscious acts; so they make sense somehow. Since they don't make sense by themselves, they must make sense through some cause.

DEFINITION: Existence is the cause of the finiteness of any finite act of consciousness.

This is another of those "solutions by definition." That is, we have no idea what existence is so far, based on this definition; it's just defined as "whatever it is that makes sense out of a finite way of being conscious." But now our job is to explore what is necessary to explain any finite act of consciousness, and see (as we did with the mind) if we can come up with some properties existence has--and some it doesn't.

FIRST QUESTION: Can existence be another finite act of consciousness?

That is, maybe the act of seeing the page doesn't make sense by itself, but some other act of consciousness you had makes sense out of it. And this seems like a plausible explanation; after all, if you remember your mother at the moment, it's obvious that your experience of your mother at some time in the past is what accounts for the particular experience you are now having.

But not so fast. Your previous experience of your mother might account for why this memory is a remembering of your mother (i.e. why the finite act has this form rather than the form of the image of your father); but that's a different effect from the one we're interested in. The same affected object can be many different effects.

What is, then, the effect we are interested in? The mere fact that the act is finite, not the particular way it happens to be finite. That is, it doesn't matter which act of consciousness you pick as the effect we are investigating, because they are all the same as cases of finite consciousness, even though the form the finiteness takes is different in each case.

But by Theorem IV of Chapter 1 (that identical effects have identical causes) if some other finite act of consciousness were the cause of the act we picked out as the effect, it would also have to be the cause of itself as finite.

But by Theorem II, nothing can be the cause of itself; therefore,

THIRD CONCLUSION: existence cannot be another finite act of consciousness.

SECOND QUESTION: Can existence be any combination of finite acts of consciousness all acting together on the one in question?

That is, maybe one single other act of consciousness can't be the cause of another one, because it's identical as effect. But a pair of them acting together wouldn't be identical with the act of consciousness they're supposed to explain (even though each of the components would); so maybe they could do the job.

But no. A pair of conscious acts, even taken together, is a case of consciousness that contains non-consciousness (the defining forms of each of the components) within it making it the particular (complex) act of consciousness it is; it just contains two "non-consciousnesses" rather than one. So it's finite. Also, it's clearly not all there is to your consciousness, since it leaves out of itself the act which is the effect you want to explain. So it's a (complex) finite act of consciousness.

Since two acts of consciousness acting together is actually nothing but a complex case of finite consciousness, then by the argument above, existence cannot be a pair of finite acts of consciousness.

The same argument would apply to a combination of three, four, five, or any number of components in this "other" (complex) act of consciousness that is supposed to explain the finiteness of the first one.

Even if the complex "cause" contained an infinite number of components, it would still be finite in our sense of the term, because (a) it would contain all of the particular forms of consciousness of the components, and these would be non-consciousness as within the consciousness defining it as this particular (infinite) set of components, and (b) it would leave out the act that it is supposed to be the cause of, indicating that it is less than what it is for you to be conscious.

Therefore, since any combination of finite acts of consciousness, however large--even with an infinite number of components--is still only a (complex) case of finite consciousness, existence cannot be any combination of conscious acts.

FOURTH CONCLUSION: existence is outside (i.e. other than) consciousness.

THIRD QUESTION: Can existence be the mind?

We know now that existence can't be within consciousness; but we already know that there is something "outside" consciousness: the whatever-it-is that we defined as the "mind," when we were talking about the different periods of consciousness.

But this won't work. The mind, as you will recall, was the cause of the fact that all of your consciousness is the same as "yours." But the effect we are now examining is the peculiarity inherent in the fact that each of your acts of consciousness is distinctively "this" act and not the same as the others.

But by Theorem V of chapter I (that different effects have different causes) existence cannot be the mind.

FIFTH CONCLUSION: existence is be both outside consciousness and outside the mind.

By this long and tedious route, we have been able to establish that when you're looking at something like this page, there really is a page "out there."

And having said this, we can say several other things about existence. For instance, we can resort to Theorem III and its Corollary I: that the cause is not affected by the fact that it's a cause, and the cause is always independent of the effect, and we can say this:

SIXTH CONCLUSION: Existence is not affected by the fact that you are conscious of it; it is completely independent of your conscious act.

True, you couldn't know there was a given existence if you didn't have an act of consciousness that "talked about" it (i.e. was the effect of which it was the cause); but that makes no difference to the existence itself. Whether you know it or not, it is still just what it is.

Your consciousness depends on existence, not the other way round.

Another way of saying this is that you can't make something exist by thinking that it exists.

You will remember that we said that the mind accounted for the subjectivity (the "your-ness") of any of your experiences. Existence accounts for the "thisness" of a given experience of yours. Hence, it follows that

SEVENTH CONCLUSION: Existence accounts for the objectivity of a given finite act of consciousness.

Let me make another definition analogous to the one between the mind and the self now, before I take the next step:

DEFINITION: Being is the causer of a given finite act of consciousness.



That is, being is "what exists." Is it anything but existence? We don't know at this point; it may be existence + various other traits, for all we know; but it is whatever it is that at least contains existence, whether it is just plain old existence or more than this or not.

But since existence is the cause of the objectivity of consciousness, but what we are actually conscious of is something concrete, not an abstraction, then we can now say this:

DEFINITION: Being is the object which I am conscious of in a given finite act of consciousness.

Furthermore, it is obvious now that

EIGHTH CONCLUSION: The finite act of consciousness is the reaction of my mind to existence (or to being).

It's the reaction of my mind to existence if I'm just interested in the cause; if I want to think of it as the reaction to the (concrete) object, then it's a reaction to being. In either case, the finite act of consciousness is what could not be what it is, unless my mind (which accounts for why my experiences are distinctively "mine") were affected by existence (which accounts for why the experience is "this" act of my mind).

Now I have used "act" of my mind and "reaction" here advisedly. The most primitive thing for us is consciousness as "talking about" existence; and what I have proved is that (as long as you have more than one conscious act) consciousness always "talks about" existence at least in some sense (we will see this shortly). So the act of consciousness is never "by itself" in any absolute sense; it is always an act that is responding to some existence or other.

Therefore, as an act, it is a reaction.

But a re-action is a response to an act.

Therefore, it is legitimate to make the following definition:

DEFINITION: Existence is activity. Being is whatever is active.

That is, existence (as the cause of the finiteness of a finite case of consciousness) is whatever it is that can cause a mind to react; and so any sort of activity would fall under this way of considering existence. This is "activity," then, in the broadest possible sense; it would include passivity, since being passive is actually reacting to something that's acting on you; and this is a (perceptible) activity; similarly, "just sitting there" apparently doing nothing has to involve some kind of activity, or you couldn't be perceived as "just sitting there." If you weren't doing anything at all in any sense, then no mind could react to you, and so there'd be no difference between you as "absolutely inactive" and nothing at all.

4.6. Existence and the imaginary

Well, we've come quite a distance, actually, because of this effect we saw in consciousness as finite. If we explored it enough, we could show that various philosophical theories (such as idealism) simply are untenable. But this is an attempt to investigate whether there's an infinite being or not; so let's move on, except for one problem that needs to be addressed:

What is the relation between "existence" as we just defined it and the rough-and-ready distinction we made earlier between what "exists" in the sense that it's something you perceive and what "doesn't exist" in the sense that it's imaginary? Obviously, the dream I had of the wombats and wallabies had to have existence as its cause, since it was a finite case of my consciousness. But it was obviously just a recombination of past experiences I had; and it was the past conscious acts which accounts for the contents of the experience.

There really isn't any contradiction here. Those past conscious acts are not the cause of the particular dream as a finite act of consciousness; they are the cause of the particular form that this finite act happened to be taking. If I had never seen wombats or wallabies, then I couldn't have dreamed about them; I was recombining past, stored images into a new combination, that is all.

And this solves the problem. If we make the assumption that we can store our acts of consciousness and recall them later without their being now caused by the existence that originally caused them, then we can make sense out of "existence-as-opposed-to-the-imaginary."

DEFINITION: Existence is the cause of perception-type as opposed to imaginary-type experiences. Such experiences have a being as their object.

DEFINITION: Existence is the condition for imaginary-type experiences. It is the cause of the original experience(s) of which the imaginary experience is a reproduction. Such experiences have no object.

That is, imaginary-experiences as such are not experiences of anything; their cause (as imaginings and not perceptions) is simply the mind in the state it happens to be in (i.e. as having past experiences stored in it). But the mind alone can't produce any experience; it has to have some previous experiences in order to imagine; and so existence indirectly causes the imaginary experience by being the cause of what is stored there.

I'm sorry it couldn't have been simpler; but I'm describing things the way they are, not trying to make a neat little scheme.

Now the reason I say that imaginary experiences have no object is, of course, that they aren't really reactions of the mind (now) to existence; they are (now) spontaneous acts of the mind, reproducing and recombining its previous reactions. And so when I dreamed of the wombats and wallabies, I wasn't dreaming of anything real; there was no object which I was experiencing; I was just "having an experience." Put it another way: the "wallabies" in my experience weren't wallabies at all; they were nothing but the "shape" of my act of consciousness; they were its particular finiteness, its limitation. The wallabies which were the ones I saw earlier (which gave me this stored experience) were the actual animals at the zoo which "shaped" my perception into the act of "wallaby-seeing."

NOTE

Be very clear on this. The object of your experience is not the "picture" you have in your perception; that "picture" is simply the limitation of your act of perceiving. The object is the being which forced your mind to configure its perception in this way. And in general, the object itself is not like the "picture" you have of it.

We know this, because we know from science that the heat we feel and the light we see are as acts (i.e. as existences) the same kind of act (electromagnetic radiation) and only differ in degree from each other; but the appearance in our consciousness of these two acts is different in kind (because we perceive them with different organs, actually).

Now this opens up a whole new can of worms which we are promptly going to close, because it's not relevant to the precise problem we're dealing with here. But you will have to take my word for it that the solution doesn't affect our argument for the existence of an infinite being.

Actually, we will be dealing in the next chapter on some very general aspects of this problem; but let us leave it for now.


SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 4

It would seem that what exists is what can be experienced, but (in dreams) we can experience what doesn't exist. Let us get a clear notion of existence from examining experience (though actually existence doesn't need to be "proved"; this is an analysis to clarify why we use the term and what we mean).

1st effect: We know we have been unconscious and yet can't observe (be conscious of) our unconscious state. Solution: Effects after we wake up ("sudden" shifts of time, etc.) have as their only sane explanation that we lost consciousness. 1st conclusion: our consciousness is interrupted by periods of unconsciousness.

2nd effect: One and the same consciousness is actually many separated consciousnesses. Solution: There is something that connects these into a single stream of consciousness. The mind is the cause of the unity of a single consciousness. 1st property: The mind exists during the unconscious periods--or it couldn't unify the conscious ones. 2nd property: The mind is not the same as the stream of consciousness--or it couldn't exist when unconscious. 3rd property: The mind separates this consciousness from all other streams of consciousness. 4th property: The mind is the cause of the subjectivity of consciousness--since it makes this consciousness "this" one and no other. The self is the causer of a single stream of consciousness.

3rd effect: Any given act of consciousness is nothing but your consciousness and yet different from all other acts (which are also nothing but your consciousness). If it is so by splitting into two aspects, "consciousness" and "thisness," then the "thisness" (as not the same as the "consciousness") is an unconsciousness contained within consciousness defining it as the consciousness which it is. 1st definition of the finite: That which contains what is not itself as identical with itself.

If you say that your consciousness does not contain something else, then this act of consciousness is your consciousness as less than what your consciousness is (since it clearly doesn't have to be this act to be your consciousness). In other words, your consciousness in a given case leaves some of your consciousness out of itself. 2nd definition of the finite: That which is less than itself, or that which leaves some of itself outside itself.

If you say that what is "left out" is abstract consciousness, not your concrete consciousness, this is not true. In this act, you are not conscious in all the concrete different ways you have been conscious, and yet they, like this act, deserve the name "all there is to your consciousness" (since everything but this act at the moment is unconscious, and how can what is unconscious be consciousness?). 3rd definition of the finite: What is different from itself.

This is not a word-game. The fact is that your consciousness, as a limited case of consciousness, contradicts itself if taken by itself, no matter how you want to describe it. But finite consciousness obviously occurs, and so it is possible. 2nd conclusion: Anything finite is an effect simply because it is finite.

Since it is an effect, it has a cause. Existence is defined as the cause of the finiteness of any finite act of consciousness. But what is existence? 3rd conclusion: Not another act of consciousness, because no effect can be the cause of itself, and the other act of consciousness is identical as effect with the one in question (and so has an identical cause), which would mean it was the cause of itself--which is absurd.

4th conclusion: Existence is outside consciousness. Since any combination of finite acts of consciousness (even of an infinite number of them) would (a) contain the non-consciousness defining each member, and (b) would exclude the act they were to be the "cause" of--making the combination fit the definition of "a (complex) finite act of consciousness," and so by the earlier reasoning it can't be the cause.

5th conclusion: Existence is both outside consciousness and outside the mind, since different effects have different causes, and the mind explains how consciousness is unified, and the effect here is that each act is different from every other.

6th conclusion: Existence is not affected by the fact that you are conscious of it; it is completely independent of the conscious act. The cause is independent of the effect. 7th conclusion: Existence accounts for the objectivity of a given act of consciousness. Being is the causer of this act. Being is the object which I am conscious of in a given act of consciousness. 8th conclusion: The finite act of consciousness is the reaction of my mind to existence. Existence is activity; Being is whatever is active.

But in a more refined sense, Existence is the cause of a perception-type as opposed to an imaginary-type experience. Existence is the condition for the imaginary-type experience (whose cause is the mind as having past experiences stored in it, to be spontaneously reproduced and manipulated). Since existence (causing the past experience) is only a condition for the imaginary-type experience imaginary experiences have no object.

Note that the "unicorn" you imagine is not a "something" (an "interior object") which you imagine; it is simply the "shape" or form (the finiteness) of the act of imagining. A conscious act reacts to itself, and so it (also) has as a kind of "pseudo-object" itself as active. But this is not a real object.


Notes

1. Of course, if you explicitly remember hearing the music while you are reading the page, your consciousness now is the complex act "hearing the music and reading the page," but this act, of course, is different from smelling a rose, and so it's still finite.

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