Chapter 2

One act or two?

The way I want to approach an investigation into sensation is this: First, I want to rediscuss something I talked about in Chapter 11 of the first section of the first part, 1.1.11 whether consciousness and being-conscious-of-being conscious are actually two acts or one and the same act. Secondly, having determined that the only sensible answer is that "they" are actually one single act, I want to find out what is implied in an act's being able to "duplicate" itself without being two acts or two parts of a greater whole. Thirdly, having come to the conclusion that this implies spirituality in the act, I want to discuss what this means with respect to the faculty and its organization, and fourthly, what it means with respect to the conscious body and its organization. Fifthly, I want to get into what the special kind of consciousness called "sensation" entails; and we will see that it means that the spiritual act of consciousness "reduplicates" itself as a form of energy also, so that the energy and the spiritual act "are" one and the same act in reality--and how this is not a contradiction. Then I will briefly run over some things that actually belong to psychology: the various types of sense acts and their functions and the aspects of the sense faculty they involve.

Let me, then, review what I said in the first part about why consciousness and being-conscious-of-being-conscious cannot be two acts. To take the second part of the argument first (because I intend to expand on the first a bit), if they were not two acts, then we could not be absolutely certain of the contents of our consciousness, since our knowledge of what we know would be awareness of what is in a different act, which it is certainly possible to be mistaken about. It would be like remembering; and we know how faulty our memory can be--so even if we "remember" the act we just had, it is certainly possible to be mistaken about it. But we know, as I stressed so often, that it is not possible to be mistaken about facts like, "There is something." The only way we could be absolutely certain of this is if the very act of knowing knew itself immediately, and knew itself to be something.

The other line of reasoning went this way: The act (of knowing that one knows) knows all about the act of knowing. It is not simply aware that "knowing (seeing, hearing, whatever) is going on," while the other act (the seeing or hearing) supplies the contents of the complex system of acts. The reason for this is that the act of knowing that one knows knows the characteristics of the supposed "other" act exhaustively. Insofar as you know your reading of this page, you know that you know what words you are reading, how clearly you see them, how clearly you understand them, how bored you are, and so on and so on.

It is not possible, then, for the act of seeing, say, simply to send out energy to another part of the brain that reacts to activity in the visual centers, and the two acting simultaneously would be "knowing that I am seeing," because, while differences in energy levels might indicate knowing how clearly you are seeing, you would still not know in this second act the contents of what you were seeing--or the whole of the act of seeing gets transferred to this other area, and then what is going on in the visual centers themselves are superfluous. The other area of the brain is where you both know and know that you know--because, as I mentioned above, you don't know until you know that you know.

Secondly, as I also mentioned, this "second act" theory leads to an infinite regress, because the act of knowing that you know is conscious (you know that you know that you know, or you couldn't talk about it), and hence it would need a "third act," which would also have to be conscious, and so on. This would imply an infinite number of areas of the brain, each devoted to making the preceding act conscious.

Thirdly, as I mentioned too, the "I know that I know" act is aware, not only of the "first act" and (whether directly or indirectly) itself, but of the relation between itself and the "first act": that it is an act of knowing the "first act," and in fact of being absolutely certain of what the first act is, even when it knows with absolute certainty that the "first act" is not absolutely certain of its contents, or even that the "first act" is doubtful or probably erroneous.

Fourthly, there is something I did not mention, that the "second act" has to know whether the "first act" is spontaneous (imagining) or a reaction to an outside stimulus (perception) in order for us to be aware of the difference between the real and the imaginary. Hence, the reach of the "second act," if there is one, is beyond the "first act" to its being an effect or not of something other than itself. This problem is easily solved if the "first act" is aware of itself; because if so, it can recognize whether it is spontaneously acting or is being forced to act by something other than itself; but how a second act could be aware of this character of the act is very hard to see, to say the least.

Fifthly, the "I know that I know" act has to be the one that makes the "first act" conscious and not just a reaction. When you react visually to some stimulus but do so "subliminally," this reaction can even cause overt behavior; but you are not conscious of seeing anything. So the "second act" somehow changes the nature of the "first act," and converts its contents into being consciously perceived contents from being mere reactions. If the "second act" is a mere reaction to the "first," it cannot do this, any more than the pilot light on the stove can alter what is going on in the burner. Hence, the "second act" in this case would have to act on the first one to make its contents conscious. But if it is making the other act conscious, how does it appear as a reaction to it? And it does, because it seems to be aware of what is happening in the "first act." And again we have the problem of what makes it conscious, if the act does not somehow contain itself within itself--which is what this "two-act" theory is trying to avoid.

Sixthly, if the "second act" actually does something to the "first act" to make its contents conscious, then (a) it can presumably only act after being acted on by the "first act," because it would have to be triggered into altering the "first act" by there being something to alter; but (b) then after doing what it did to make the "first act's" contents conscious, the "first act" would then have to act on it again, so that it could know what the contents were (because in its first reaction, of course, the contents weren't conscious, and in doing what it did to make them conscious, this only affected the "first act" and not its knowledge of it); and it is only when all this happens that consciousness actually occurs--though presumably, the "first act" is actually conscious between the time when its contents are made conscious and the second act becomes aware of the new status of the act. And we are, of course, still confronted with the difficulty of how this second act, when all this happens, knows that it knows what is going on in the "first act."

No, the more you try to see how it is possible that there could be two acts (or two distinct parts of the same act, which amounts to the same thing), the more impossible it seems to be able to explain how the evident facts about consciousness come about: how we are perfectly clearly aware of what our act of consciousness is.

Hence, it seems only sensible to take the view that the act of consciousness knows itself completely. Hence, we can give a more accurate definition of consciousness:

A conscious act is an act that contains the whole of itself within itself; or it is an act that reacts directly and completely to itself.

This means that I think that the view of Aristotle and St. Thomas on sensation is wrong. They noticed that we don't see ourselves seeing, and so concluded that what I will call the "integrating function," (the sensus communis) is what makes acts like seeing conscious. For the reasons above, I don't think that this position is tenable. St. Thomas does hold that at the intellectual level this single act is aware of being aware (where the Scholastics call it "complete reflection"); but his grounds for not holding it at the sense level is that sensation is not really spiritual but only "immaterial" (something I am going to hold, but with a different meaning), because it is tied down to individuality, space, and time, while concepts are not.

As to our not seeing ourselves seeing, seeing as such is a form of consciousness; and while I claim (because I can't see any way around it) that the act "duplicates" itself, it does not follow that its limitation "repeats" itself. In fact, as we will see, any given act of consciousness (even a "simple" sensation like seeing) contains many different forms of consciousness in this same act: you see a color and a shape; you hear a pitch and a volume and a timbre, and so on--and these various forms of consciousness "interpenetrate" each other so that the color contains the shape and the shape contains the color, and are obviously what Hegel might call "moments" of one single act of consciousness.

So the act of consciousness, apparently, in "duplicating" itself, takes on various forms, and is one polymorphous act. Hence, the fact that we don't see ourselves seeing is no argument that being aware that we are seeing involves a different act from the seeing itself, still less a different faculty.

The reason this "duplication" is called "complete reflection" in Scholasticism is that the act acts back on itself totally. The reflection in a mirror is incomplete reflection, because what you are looking at is an image of your face, and you don't duplicate the seeing in the mirror: that is, you don't, in seeing your face, get into the mirror somehow and experience yourself as looking back out of it. But this sort of thing is what happens in consciousness. André Marc, in Psychologie Reflexive, uses a term that I find expressive: he calls it "self-transparency." The act is perfectly clear to itself, because it contains the whole of itself within itself, including all of its multiple forms (and presumably some formal representation of its quantity, if any, as we will see).