Truth suffers from too much analysis

World of the Solitary Mind

Posted by allzermalmer on May 20, 2011

This blog will be derived from a chapter from Walter Terence Stace in his book The Theory of Existence and Knowledge called The World of the Solitary Mind.

When it comes to knowledge, we must begin from our own consciousness. We must start with only what we are aware of, which is our own thoughts and perceptions, since these are self-evident to us. This is the building block of all of our knowledge, and the only thing that can be strictly known by us.

John can only experience his own sensations and thoughts. John can see his purple, yet he can never see Jane’s purple. John can feel his pain in his arm, yet he can never feel Jane’s pain in her arm. John can feel his own emotions, yet he can never feel Jane’s emotions. If Jane is angry, her anger can infect John, yet this would be John’s anger and not Jane’s. John cannot see through Jane’s eyes, nor her through his eyes. Even if Jane were telepathic and could transfer her mental state or image to John’s mind, and he became aware of it, then it is John’s mental image and not Jane’s mental image. Even if John can directly perceive Jane’s mind, without inferring it from her body, it is still his perception of her body that will be his perception, his experience.

All knowledge must be based on experience. Whatever belief John holds, on any subject matter at all, will either be a datum from his experience or an inference based upon his data. If John accepts a scientific belief of a scientists authority, it must be an inference which John makes from the sounds he hears the scientist utter, and his belief in the repute as a scientific authority.  His belief rests, in the end, upon the data of his own consciousness.

The solitary mind, our own thoughts and data, are the foundation of all our knowledge. However, we can add other things upon it, like discovering other minds and our construction of the external world. Just because other minds are discovered and the external world is constructed, does not mean that we leave the solitary mind. It is the foundation upon which other things are built up. Like the root of the tree is the foundation of the tree, and no matter how much it grows, the roots are still there as the tree grows. Also, the solitary mind is the foundation of the building. The foundation is not abolished when upper stories are added upon it. It is still there. Thus, like the solitary mind, we added many rich editions to our knowledge, and build up more and more upon it. However, our foundation is never left behind, or made invalid.

The world we start from is presentations.

There are 3 distinguishing characters of the world of the solitary mind that differs from common world, when it comes to presentations like tables, chairs, and mountains:

(1.) Things do not go on existing when not perceived. The solitary mind has no reason to think that presentations go on existing when they are not being perceived. When the table is no longer presented to the solitary mind, it has no reason to think that it goes on existing. This is not a presentation. If it should go on existing when not a presentation to the solitary mind, it would not be a belief to occur to the solitary mind, since it would not be needed to account for any experiences that the mind has.

(2.) There are no other minds. The world of the solitary mind is not ‘public property’. The solitary mind is not even aware of the existence of other minds. Other people exist only as presentations, like a moving color patch among other color patches, and sounds that we call speech. The solitary mind does not come to believe that there is a mind behind these color patches and sounds, like it has itself. It does not come to believe that the color patches have something behind it that thinks and feels like itself.

(3.) Have not identified sensations to belong to one ‘object’. John sees a table and touches the table. Sight and touch are two different and opposing senses, and so they are not combined together with the ‘object’ known as the table. John’s sight of the table is different from the touch of it. The senses exist in different universes from one another. They are only conjoined at a later time.

For the solitary mind, esse of things are identical with their percipi. In other words, the existence of something is constituted by the very fact that it is being perceived. The differentiation between esse and percipi only happens when what is perceived persists in existence when no other mind is perceiving it. However, none of this can be drawn by the solitary mind. The solitary mind can make no distinction between ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’. Thus, purple=awareness of purple. To differentiate between ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’ can only come about at a later point when the external world is constructed, and other minds are discovered.

When a black book passes before John’s mind, and then taken away, the black book will disappear and no longer exist to him. Even if the black book were to be brought back before John, he will have no reason to think that the black book continued in existence. He will even think that it is a different black book presented to his mind. The book will still have the same color and shape, yet it will not be the same thing to his mind. It is something completely new and different from the last presentation. It cannot be a presentation that it goes on existing, since there is no perception of it existing when unperceived, since that would be logically impossible by it being a contradiction. It cannot be an inference, since it does not know that it exist unperceived and it would have to assume something that it has no evidence for, in order to make an inference to that conclusion. It would be arguing in a circle.

The idea of I and not-I are distinctions that come about when we have constructed the external world, but it is not something of the solitary mind. Thus, for the solitary mind, there is no I. There is only the presentations. For ‘purple’ and ‘awareness of purple’ are one in the same, since esse is percipi. We can call the presentations ‘sense data’. The percipi is the perceiver, which is what we call the I. The esse is what we call the not-I. However, with the solitary mind, these things are one and the same. Thus, all that can be said to exists is presentations, or sense data. There is no I, and only not-I. There is only sense data. All that exists is sense data, or, All that exists is presentations.

Only by coming to find other minds, and construction of the external world, can we make the distinction between I and not-I. The solitary mind is the starting point of investigation, and is the foundation of all things. This is based on purely empiricist position of all knowledge is based on experience. As David Hume also showed, it is the logical conclusion of the empiricist position, or all knowledge comes from experience.


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