Chapter 4

Possible being

What we can say, then, based on the theory we have enunciated about how there can be two classes of "formed consciousness," recognized as perceptions and imaginings, is this:

Conclusion 6: Any form of consciousness as a case of consciousness as finite needs an existence as its cause.

Any form of consciousness as a case of imagining has the (present state of) the mind as its cause and one or more existences as its condition.

Any form of consciousness as a case of perceiving has a direct interaction of the mind with some existence as its cause.

In the case of imagining, neither the consciousness nor the mind "by themselves" can account for how my consciousness can be still mine and less than itself in a definite way; and so this problem of the imagining has the existences which were originally responsible for the stored experiences as its cause. If there had not been these original experiences, then there could be no storage of them, and if that were not the case, then this form of consciousness could not be a form of consciousness at all.

On the other hand, insofar as this act of imagining recognizes itself as spontaneous and not a reaction to "something outside the mind," then in this respect the mind in the state it is in at the moment (i.e. as having been altered by those outside existences) is the cause, and the existences which got it into this state are the condition for this act of imagining. This is a different effect from the act of imagining as a finite form of consciousness, though it is related to it; and I have tried to show the relation, and therefore how the causes of the two effects are related.

But the perception, of course, is not a spontaneous act of the mind; and so the existence explains how the mind is producing now this particular form of consciousness, or is the cause of the "thisness" of the particular form of consciousness, and not the condition for it (and the direct "action on" the mind is the cause of our recognition of it as a perception-of existence).

What this says is two things:

Conclusion 7: Imagining as such indirectly refers to existence, not directly.

It also allows the prediction that

Conclusion 8: It is impossible to imagine what has not been perceived in some sense.

That is, you may not have perceived unicorns; but you can't imagine a unicorn if you have had no previous perception of either a horse or a picture of a horse or parts of animals such that you could reconstruct out of these perceptions a composite image of a horse. The "parts" that are put together into the image must somehow have been perceptions in order to be able to imagine.

This prediction seems to be confirmed by people who have not had a given sense from birth. For instance, though a man blind from birth may understand what is meant by "red" (as electromagnetic radiation of a certain wave length, or as that which affects the eyes differently from blue, or as what traffic lights, rubies, and roses have in common insofar as they affect one's eyes); but this abstract notion of what "red" is related to does not, apparently, allow him to picture "red" to himself. He does not even "see black" all the time, any more than we "see black" when we go to sleep; he is simply not visually conscious. Those who receive sight after being blind from birth report a totally new experience that has nothing to do with anything in their past, and to which they can now fit the names they learned dealing with this experience.

Hence, as near as we can tell, it is confirmed that our minds are "blank slates" at the beginning, and existence "writes" on them, and only the "writing" is stored. Locke was right and Leibniz was wrong. When Leibniz said "there is nothing in the mind from the beginning except the mind itself" and so justified "innate ideas," he was mistaken. The mind is not consciousness. It is simply the receiving-and-recording instrument whose act is consciousness; and so there is no consciousness "in" it at all. How could there be? It would have to be "unconscious consciousness," which of course Leibniz said was not a contradiction in terms. But we eliminated this in the preceding chapter. When "conscious acts" are stored in the mind, they are not stored as consciousness, but as nerve-patterns with a lowered threshold for consciousness.

We can also see a little more clearly how the unicorn does not "exist in the mind." The colors, shapes, etc., are stored as nerve-patterns, and consciousness stimulates these particular patterns together, and the result is a lifting of this complex above the threshold of consciousness and "doing each of the parts over again," but "redoing" only one part of a previous perception while simultaneously "redoing" a part of a different perception, with the result that the "combined redoing" is new.

So you didn't search your brain until you "found" a unicorn; you simply restimulated a series of sets of nerves. And so the resultant form of consciousness is not consciousness "of" something, but is just a form of consciousness. Nor did the act of imagining "create a little picture" of a unicorn; it is just that these particular partial forms of consciousness (which are conscious of themselves) occurred at the same time as a single complex form of consciousness. There is no "picture" there; there never was a "picture." There is just a definite way of being conscious, combined from "redoing" pieces of different previous ways of being conscious.

This is important, because it allows us to define "possible being" as opposed to "real being" and make sense out of it.

Real being is being as a causer or condition of a perception.

Possible being deals with imagining, and is the fact that there is no contradiction in supposing that an image like this could be a perception.

Let us take the first definition, because it contains something important: real being is a causer or a condition of a perception. That is, you know that there actually is something if you know that you are perceiving (meaning that an existence is responsible for this act) or if you know that the existence which caused this perception is impossible unless there is something which caused it. You will recall that we dealt with the question of knowing that Rome is real if you'd never actually been there. The people couldn't have said to you what you actually perceived them as saying unless they had perceived Rome; and since if it had been destroyed in the past day or so you would have heard about it in the news, you can say that there must really be a Rome; you have indirect evidence of its existence.

But if the original effect is not a perception, then you can't argue to existence as a cause of it as such (though we did argue to existences as conditions for the constituent parts of it); and when we realize that we "made up" some form of consciousness we precisely realize that it does not "talk about" some existence the way a perception does.

Nevertheless, since the act of imagining is a complex form of consciousness, then these nerves (which happen to be being stimulated from "within" at the moment) are also nerves which can be stimulated from "outside"; and so there is nothing to prevent something from "outside" from stimulating this whole complex at once.

In other words, if we can construct an imaginary image, it is possible that it could have been "constructed for us" by some existence, even though we know that (at the moment at least) it hasn't been "constructed from outside."

This, then, is what is meant by "possible being." There is no possible being, in the sense that there is a "being" halfway between non-existence and existence, or that there is a being which is "merely possible." If being is, it is, and it's not "merely possible"; and if it isn't, it ain't, and there isn't anything which is "possible."

No, "possible being" is just a verbal expression that refers to a way of stating a sentence which begins with the phrase, "It is possible that..." (meaning, "There is no contradiction in assuming that...")

So the act of imagining doesn't "refer to" or "talk about" possible being, while the act of perceiving "refers to" real being. There is only real being, and the act of imagining doesn't "refer to" anything at all. It is only that this act of imagining has the same form as it would have if it were externally caused.

We can see this when we recall something real; let us say your mother is alive, and you recall her now, and imagine her standing in front of you. As standing in front of you, she doesn't exist; there's no human being there; but of course, since you are recalling a being which you have actually perceived, she could be standing there if she weren't where she happens to be at the moment. And you recognize this. As you recall her, you recognize her as real as the condition for the complex experience you have as a recollection and not a "construct"; and so you recognize that she is a real being. Her "possible being" as standing in front of you isn't a being, however; it's just not a contradiction, supposing the conditions to be fulfilled; but what you are aware of is that she (who is real) is not in fact standing there. The point, of course, is that she doesn't "have" the "real being" of her physical self and some "possible being" of "standing in front of you."

Supposing that "possible being" is "something" is, however, an easy mistake to make, if you haven't carefully thought through the form of consciousness and the distinction between perceived forms of consciousness and imaginary forms of consciousness. If you're not very careful, you think that consciousness is always "of" something, and since unicorns aren't real, then the act of imagining a unicorn is an experience "of" some "possible being" in that never-never-land that violates the Principle of the Excluded Middle.

With that distinction out of the way, we can say this:

Conclusion 9: We can only know that something exists if we recognize that (directly or indirectly) we are perceiving it.

That is, existence is not a property something "has"; it is the fact that it happens to be the cause of a given way of being conscious. And remember that Theorem II says that the cause is no different because it happens to be having an effect. So the fact that I can see my dog out in the back yard means that I know that my dog exists, because I know that this experience is a perception and not an image; but this makes no difference to my dog.

That is, my dog is lying there radiating out the light that allows me to see her whether or not I glance up and look out the window. That pattern of light, at the moment, is what makes me conscious "of" her, because it makes me conscious in the "seeing the dog" way--and in fact, I tend to suppress the causal chain between her (the source of the light) and me, because it is constant, and so I don't need to consider her, really, as the condition for my perception; I think of her as what I perceive (though in a different situation--for instance, if I hear a bark and don't see her--I might say, "Was that Luthien barking?" and then I might need to know her as a condition for what I perceived).

So all of those who say, "Existence is not a predicate" are right; existence simply is asserted when the act of consciousness is a perception (is passive) and not an image (spontaneous, reacting-to nothing at all). It is what is perceived; but it is not caused by the perception; the perception is caused by it; and so I can only say "X exists" when I mean "I am (directly or indirectly) being acted on by X."

Here, then, is where the fallacy of "passing from the logical to the ontological order" lies, not in the fact that we can't get "outside" our consciousness in the sense that we can't know anything but our consciousness. If the ontology of my consciousness is such that by itself it is impossible, then it is not alone, and something else exists. This kind of reasoning is not "passing from the logical to the ontological order." You are no more in the "logical" order when you know that perceptions "talk about" existence than I am in the "logical" order when I say that you had parents, because I know that there's really no human being who, like Topsy, "jus' growed." Either that, or there are real contradictions, and in that case, why deny anything, since the denial is its own assertion?

On the other hand, if I construct a form of consciousness, I precisely cannot assert existence of it, neither "real" existence nor "possible existence." I know that, as constructed, I am responsible actively for the form of consciousness, and am not reacting to anything. Hence, even though it is possible that this same form of consciousness could be a reaction to something, I know that at the moment it isn't, and so there's no way I can "argue" from the contents of this consciousness to existence.

I am, of course, referring to St. Anselm's famous "proof" for the existence of God, which Kant called the "ontological argument." His reasoning goes this way:

Think of (i.e. make a mental construct of) the greatest conceivable being (i.e. "that than which no greater can be conceived."). You can do this, because you can understand what these words mean. It is the greatest that can be conceived, and so obviously it can be conceived. Obviously, if this construct lacks any quality which, if added, would make it "greater," then it isn't the greatest conceivable, and so you would have to conceive it with that quality.

Now then, if you admit that it's greater to exist (and be something real) than not exist (and be nothing at all), and you now say this being doesn't exist, then obviously any being which exists would be greater than it is as conceived by you, and you are clearly not conceiving of the "greatest conceivable being."

This sounds very plausible, because in fact it is greater to exist than be nothing. But the point is that I can't say that X exists unless my consciousness "of X" is not a mental construct: unless I am acted on in such a way that this form of consciousness is produced from outside.

But based on the fact that I can form a construct of "the greatest conceivable" I can't "include" existence in it, because existence is not something things "have"; it is the fact that I am not constructing this.

It is when we do things like this that we "pass from the logical to the ontological order." It is when we make mental constructs and then based on the fact that this experience could have been a perception (if it were externally produced) we try to find a way in which we can assert "external production" (existence) of what we know was a mental construct (imaginary) that we are using linguistic devices to fool ourselves into thinking logically that an act of imagining is "of" something.

This whole subject can be very confusing; but I think I have said enough to show where the fallacy lies, and to show why there isn't any such thing as "possible being," even though it's not impossible for (i.e. there is no contradiction in supposing) an image to be a perception.