The Relation of Consciousness and Object in Sense Perception


Thilly, Frank. “The Relation of Consciousness and Object in Sense-Perception.” The Philosophical Review 21, no. 4 (1912): 415. https://doi.org/10.2307/2177251


WHAT is the relation with respect to numerical identity or difference between real objects, meaning by these such objects as are true parts of the material world, and perceived objects, meaning by these such objects as are given in some particular actual perception? Different answers are given to this question. It is held by some that the real object is always given in some particular actual perception, that the real object cannot exist independently of any perception, that the real object and the perceived object, the object given in some particular actual perception, are at the moment of perception numerically one. What makes an object an object at all is the fact that itis perceived. Objects which are not given in some particular actual perception are not real, and yet not all objects given income particular actual perception are real. This is the theory that goes by the name of subjective idealism. Epistemological dualism and realism declare that the objects given in some particular actual perception and real objects are not numerically identical. The perceived objects may be representative of the real objects, but they are at the moment of perception numerically two. The real object can exist at other moments independently of any perception. According to epistemological monism and realism, the objects given in perception are sometimes real, that is, true parts of the material world, and sometimes not real; and real objects are sometimes perceived and sometimes not perceived, that is, not given in any actual perception. The real object and the perceived object are at the moment of perception numerically one, and the real object may exist at other moments apart from any perception.

These theories evidently have points in common. Subjective idealism and monistic realism agree that the perceived object and the real object are at the moment of perception numerically one, but that not all perceived objects are real, that perceived objects are sometimes not real, not true parts of the material world, and hence that the perceived object and the real object are sometimes not numerically one at the moment of perception. They differ in this: according to subjective idealism the real object cannot exist independently of any perception, while according to monistic realism it can. Any theory therefore which holds that the object which is perceived, or given in some particular actual perception, can exist independently of any such perception is epistemological realism. Consequently, in so far as the branch of idealism which is called objective idealism holds this, it is realistic; and in so far as it holds that the object given in perception is numerically identical with the real object, this form of idealism is also monistic. Whatever difference, therefore, there may be between monistic idealism and monistic realism will have to be a metaphysical difference, a difference in metaphysical standpoint. Epistemological dualism and epistemological monism, in so far as they are both realistic, agree that the real object can exist independently of any perception; but they differ as to whether the real object and the perceived object are numerically identical at the moment of perception. A realistic theory may, however, be monistic in its epistemology and dualistic in its metaphysics: it may hold that we directly perceive the real object, a true part of the material world, that the real object and the perceived object are numerically one, but that the percipient and the object are ultimately two.


The question at issue may, then, be stated thus: In cases where a real (and non-hallucinatory) object is involved, what is the relation between the real and the perceived object with respect (a) to their numerical identity at the moment of perception,(b) with respect to the possibility of the existence of the real object at other moments apart from perception? Are the real object and the perceived object numerically one at the moment of perception, or are they two? That is, is the complex of physical qualities, which is a true part of the material world, numerically identical with the complex of physical qualities, which is given in some particular actual perception, or is it not?


To the naive man this question will at first appear quite meaningless: to ask what the relation between the real object and the perceived object is will seem to him to ask what the relation of the object to itself is. For him the objects which he perceives here, over there, around him, his body and the things, are real objects and occurrences, of course; objects and occurrences which will go right on existing when he closes his eyes or removes his hands from them, and go right on existing practically as they are. They are what they are: we may perceive them differently at different times, under different circumstances; they may look different; but they are just what they are; the orange is yellowing the light and in the dark, that is its real color; in the dark we do not see it yellow, but it is yellow just the same. The question of the numerical identity of the real thing and the perceived thing does not occur to him at all; the thing he perceives is, ordinarily, the real thing: it does not disappear when hu ceases to see it or touch it or taste it or hear it; he simply ceases to see it or touch it. Other persons will perceive it just as he perceived it; it will remain there for any one that pleases to look at or touch it and even if no one were there, God or man or brute, it would go right on being, being just what it is in itself. Nor does the naive man regard the thing as the cause of his perceiving it; it is simply there, over there, or next to him, against his body. He perceives it exactly as it is; he may not perceive everything about the thing; with greater attention and all kinds of instruments he can see it better, but what he does perceive of it is there, in the thing. Nor does he regard the things as modifications of his soul or consciousness, or even as a state of his sense organs or of his brain.


Reflection upon certain experiences, however, such as differences in what is taken to be the same object, dreams, illusions, and hallucinations, provokes the inquiry, why do we perceive objects in the wrong way; why do we perceive objects which do not exist at all? It would appear that, in some cases at least, what is perceived is not a true part of the material world, is not something independent of any perception. Attempts are made to explain these facts, to discover what the real object is, attempts which may lead the inquirer farther and farther away from the naive realism from which he started and finally land him either in a dogmatic metaphysics or agnosticism or scepticism. The practical man will conclude that the object is, normally, actually what he perceives it to be, but that mistakes occasionally happen; he will eliminate certain perceived objects as pseudo-objects, or regard them as different view-points of the real objects, selecting certain experiences as the true reality; he will use his own another persons' normal perceptions to correct his picture of the real world. These very facts, however, will suggest the inference that the real objects are not perceived exactly as they are, that our way of perceiving them contains many elements which are added by the percipient. They may give rise to the view that the real object is never directly perceived, that the perceiver does not get the object at all but only its representatives, which representatives may be, in whole or in part, similar to the real object, or symbols of it. Or the philosopher may declare that though there is a thing independent of the perceiver, this thing neither presents itself to him in propria persona, face to face, nor through faithful representatives, but that it is unperceived and unknown. He may consider even the existence of such a thing in itself problematical, or he may finally deny its existence altogether, coming back to something like the original naive position: perceived world and real world are one and the same; only, the perceived world is a mental world: the world is my idea; there is no extra-mental world.


The question arises whether there is any way of escaping the conclusion that the qualities which are given in some perceptual situations are not true parts of the material world. Natural science seems to confirm rather than shake it; indeed, it appears to compel us to take a still more radical position than the one suggested, namely, that the world of things in themselves is not at all what it is perceived to be. It is conceived to be made up of numberless moving particles of matter or points of force; the scientific conception of the universe does not agree with the naive perception of the universe. The complex of physical qualities, given in some particular actual perception, which we call a round, yellow, solid, fragrant object, is certainly not numerically identical with the complex of physical qualities, moving molecules of matter and ether, molecular action in the sense organs and in the brain, which is said to be a true part of the material world.


But let us throw physics to the dogs and start afresh. Let us dogmatically declare that the real object and the perceived object are numerically identical at the moment of perception, in the sense already explained; and let us see whether our difficulties can be removed. Experience tells us that what we regard alone and the same thing changes under the scrutinizing attention, under the microscope, under different conditions of the perceiver and his environment, that it is perceived differently by different senses, in other words, that the complex of physical qualities given in one continuing perception, or in different perceptual situations, is not the same. These facts can be explained, on the basis of naive realism, only by assuming the existence in the real world of all the qualities given in perception. Such an assumption, however, calls for a new theory of perception, to construct which several unsuccessful attempts have been made. Professor Montague1 offers us one based upon the metaphysics of energetics. A material object is a center of inflowing energies. With each form of energy there is correlated a quality, so that an object is not only a group of inflowing energies superposed upon one and the same part of space, but also a system of the qualities correlated with those energies as their reciprocals. It is likewise a center of outflowing energies, some of which impinge upon the termini of the nervous systems of animals; each stimulus having correlated with it a specific guile. The quantity and quality of the stimulus express the nature of the object which is its source except for such modifications as may have been imposed by the medium traversed. Now an externally observable current of kinetic energy in the afferent nerve passes or seems to pass into a sensation. What really happens is that the kinetic energy of motion is transformed into an equivalent potential energy of stress at the nerve center. Whenever the potential energy at a nerve center is greater than the inflowing energy, which is its cause, then there exists a conscious quality of that energy. In the perceptual field of objects, however, to which sensations give rise, the case is quite different. These sensations when connected in one system induce a center of stress or ego from which their several energy currents are reprojected as a field of perceptual objects and out into the same real space and time in which their physical causes are located. The perceived object is identical in substance (because composed of the same energy) with a part or aspect of the physical object, viz., such a part as has directly, in the form of a present sensory stimulus, or indirectly, in traces of past sensations, flowed into the organism. This simply means that energy flows from the object into the organism, is transformed into potential energy at the nerve center, becomes conscious of its quality, is connected with other such conscious energies into a system, and with these reflected back to its source. The qualities march into the brain, become conscious, and then march out again. But is the quality of the perceived object identical with the quality of the material object? It is probable, we are told, that the specific quality correlated with the ether wave-length that produces perceptual red, when the optic nerve current which it arouses is transformed into potential energy in the visual nerve center, is itself something as different from red as the odor of musk. At the same time, we are told again, it must be remembered that our perceptual activity, when directed to an object, contributes to the nature of that object just as truly, though, of course, not so largely, as the sun’s shining upon it. The attributes which we ascribe to it do forthwith belong to it. Hence it would seem, according to Professor Montague's theory, that the felt quality of red, red with consciousness inhering in it, is reprojected outward in a way reminding one of some forms of subjective idealism only, being also a stream of energy, it causes a modification in the original source of the energy from which it sprang. In this view we get the qualities given in perception reflected back into the universe of flowing energies by rather heroic means; but even so, it would appear that we perceive only the qualities which we put into it perceptual red is probably different from the real red and that the qualities, as we perceive them, cease to exist when we shut our eyes. The complex of qualities, conscious of themselves, given in perception, is the result of the interaction of inflowing energies and organic energies; the result is a real energy that lasts as long as the interaction lasts; what the real energies are, apart from their relation to the perceiving organism, perception cannot tell us. Perceived objects are true parts of the material world, but they are the intermittent products of the relation between particular organisms and the world.


Professor Woodbridge's theory1 tries to bring us nearer to the real object than the preceding hypothesis. There are specific qualities or differences in the world, but these would not have their specific effects if it were not for the sense organs: the sense organs are the specific means for rendering the differences effective. Eyes would be useless if there were not something to see. The very purpose of the sense apparatus is to realize interactions between the organism and its environment which otherwise would not be realized. The bare existence of such interaction is the fact of sensation. Hence if we had other and more adequate instruments, we might have a greater variety of sensory content, and if any part of the sense apparatus were lacking, the sensory content would not be so rich in qualities: the so-called secondary qualities, say, might be absent from the objects given in our actual perceptions. But there is no consciousness in sensation as such. If our sense organs existed in isolation and remained only disconnected media for specific causation, the world might possess all the variety we ascribe to sensation but contain no more consciousness than exists in a camera when the sensitive plate is exposed. It is only when the sensations are connected and coordinated by means of the nervous system that what the organism undergoes in interaction with its surroundings is made into a conscious experience. The organism with its sense organs and nervous system provides a center for the interplay and co-ordination of the varied differences in the world without allowing these differences to lose their specific characters.


According to this description of the mechanism of sensation, the sense organs are means of rendering effective the specific differences existing in the world, of enabling them to have their specific effects. Specific effects upon what, we ask? Evidently upon the sense organs themselves, for "it is the eye that sees, the ear that hears." This can mean that there is reproduced in the organ something analogous to the specific difference outside, say, a retinal image in the eye, in which case our sensory content would consist not of the things themselves, but of the analogous reproductions of these things upon our sense organs. If we define sensation as the bare existence of the interaction between the organism and the environment, then we surely cannot say that the perceived object, the patch of blue, is numerically identical with the real object, the physical and physiological events in question, that is, that the complex of qualities given in perception (the patch of blue) is numerically identical with the complex of qualities which is a true part of the material world (ether and eye activity).


Besides, unfortunately for this theory, the differences do seem to lose their specific characters: in the color-blind man, for example, the specific difference which we call red will not operate, or make itself effective; not only that, his sensory content will be blue or yellow, qualities not identical with the qualities which are a true part of the material world. Sensations would therefore seem to be qualities added to the real world in consequence of the interaction between the real world and the organism. Itis true, when the color-blind man becomes conscious, that is, when meaning is added, he will come face to face with his sensory content as it is; in so far the perceived object will be a real faction the world, but it will not be the red fact which his normal neighbor perceives and which is said to exist independently of any perception: it will cease to be when organism and environment cease to interact. And if the cooperation of organism and environment is the fact of sensation, there is every reason to suppose that qualities are added, even in normal sensation, which disappear with the interaction. Further additions would seem to be made when the sensations are connected by means of the nervous system, so that the perceived object would neither completely agree with the sensory content nor with the specific differences in the world, from which we started.


It may be said that in this case the specific sense apparatus does not work properly, that the specific difference in the world cannot make itself effective, but that it is there nonetheless. This explanation may be acceptable on the ether theory, but it will fail if we declare that the object is exactly what it is perceived to be; how can what is red be also blue or yellow? To place the blame on the apparatus or on the physical media in this case shows the dependence of the sensation on organic conditions which not only make manifest the real qualities existing in the world, but somehow seem to affect these qualities.


The realist can answer that after all we do not perceive the things as they are in isolation or independently of one another, but only in their mutual relations; and that when we perceive them that way we perceive them as they really are.1 The objects seen are seen only through the cooperation of ether waves and the organism; this cooperation is actual, hence the objects are seen as they really are. To apprehend the book is not to know something in isolation, but to know it in its relation to ether and organism. If this means that the blue book, we see is the interaction between a thing, ether, and organism, we are identifying two entirely different things. It is possible to say that object, ether, and organism in interaction produce in the object the colored surface, and that we apprehend directly that colored surface; but this view makes the colored surface relative to the organism and implies that such surfaces would cease to exist as they are with the disappearance of organic beings from the world. The fact is we can identify the complex of physical qualities given in some particular actual perception with the complex of physical qualities which are a true part of the material world, only so long as we ask no questions. What is given in perceptions as real as anything can be, and will be accepted as such until the object begins to change under our scrutiny or otherwise, and we begin to inquire which of the many forms in which it presents itself is the object as it really is. And even here it is possible to take what is normally and universally given as our real world and come to rest. But as soon as we attempt to explain the origin of perception, to construct a theory of perception, on the basis of an organism and an environing world, perceiving becomes a relative affair. We can speak of the real object as directly given, but this object will be relative to another more fundamental reality, the truly real, energies, molecules, ether waves, or whatnot, which is not given in perception. But even if it were so given, the old problems and difficulties which trouble us now would still recur. We should still go on asking whether the object as given is the real object, what it would look like if nobody looked at it, and so on. We should imagine a case of pure looking, a situation in which pure object and pure perceiver meet, as Plato imagined the pure soul to meet the pure ideas face to face; and go right on calling our ordinary perception seeing through a glass darkly. Besides, we can always think of the object as further analyzable, and we do not stop until an ideal object is reached which is used as a standard for judging the real, that is, the perceived object. But even if we disregard the theories of perception, based as they necessarily are upon some theory of the world, and limit ourselves to our experience as we find it, we cannot say that the complex of physical qualities given in some particular actual perception is numerically identical with the complex of physical qualities which are a true part of the material world. Using a figure of speech of which new realists are fond, we may affirm that the momentary light of perception does not reveal the object in its completeness and truth. The true parts of the material world are not presented in a particular momentary perception; our momentary perceptions are not complete and free from error. The true object is not gegeben but aufgegeben; it is the object of our search. Moreover, the true object is not a mere isolated object; as a true part of the material world it is in relation with other objects; indeed, the world is an interrelated, interacting world, and there is nothing in it that stands alone. If we succeeded in isolating a part of what is given from its connections, and staring at it as we might imagine an infant or semi-comatose person to stare at it, we should not have a true part of the material world; true parts of the material world do not exist abstracted from the rest of the world. In momentary perceptions we get a fragmentary world, often a disconnected world; we do not get everything at once, we do not get all the qualities, all the relations, and we do not always get them right, as the experience of everyday life amply shows: if we did, what would be the use of the whole apparatus of scientific observation? The world as perceived by the infant is not the true world; there is both more and less of this than may be given in any momentary perception, and we approximate the true world in developed perception, by perceiving it in the light of past perceptions, that is, by interpreting it.


This naturally leads us to inquire into the question of consciousnesses, a factor in the perceptual situation, the factor by virtue of which the perceived object differs from the unperceived object. What is the positive nature of the difference, it is asked, between the status of a given object at those moments when it figures in some particular individuated stream of perceptions, and its status at those moments when it does not figure in that stream? The answer to this question will depend upon the answer given to the other question. To decide what consciousness adds to the status of the unperceived object we must have some notion of what is meant by the unperceived object. We may dogmatically declare that the object perceived is the object unperceived, numerically identical with it; that the complex of qualities given in some particular actual perception is a true part of the material world; that it goes right on existing as it is independently of any perception, that is, whether perception shines on it or not. In that case, of course, there is no difference between the object, as object, in the perceptual situation and the object out of it, though there may be a difference in the two situations as a whole. We may say the object figures in different contexts; in the perceptual situation it stands in different relations from the relations in which it stands in the non-perceptual situation. It slips in and out of consciousness undefiled, untouched, unchanged; or rather, it stays what and where it is, consciousness simply turns its light upon it. An ideal spectator, observing the scene, would tell us: I see an object variously related with other objects, many of which affect and are affected by it; and I see that self-same object in relation with thought, feelings, and volitions, which do not affect its qualities or other relations in the least.


Let us see how some of the more radical thinkers deal with this part of our problem. It is argued that there is no difference between the perceived and the unperceived objects. Perceptions are pure natural events, not cases of awareness, and apprehensions, says Professor Dewey; the plain man does not regard noises heard, light seen, etc., as mental existences or as things known; they are just things. His attitude to these things as things involves, they’re not being in relation to a mind or knower. Seeing is not knowing; 'seen' involves a relation to organic activity; the joint efficiency of the eye-activity and of the vibrations of ether condition the seen light. According to Professor Montague, as we have seen, qualified energy flows from the object to the organism, is transformed into potential energy, becomes conscious of its quality, is connected in the brain with other such conscious energies, and with these reflected back to its source. We are conscious of quality in sensation: the quality felt and the feeling of it are inseparably blended. Perception is an organic activity by means of which energies are modified, made conscious, connected into a system, and turned back to their source. For subjective idealism, objects are here in consciousness; for Professor Montague, consciousness inheres in its objects, which belong to the spatial-temporal system of nature. At the same time, it is also a relation existing in a material nature along with other relations, describable ultimately in terms of basic relations of space and time. The perceived object is the result of the interaction between organism and environment; consciousness is a by-product of the same interaction. Professor Woodbridge tells us that sensation is a natural event, the bare existence of specific interaction brought about by means of a specific sense organ: it is the eye that sees, the ear that hears. But sensations are no more knowledge than the eclipse of the moon is knowledge. They account for the sensory content of experience without the addition of any faculty or power of sensibility, simple apprehension, or awareness. In order, therefore, that what we are wonton call sense qualities may exist, consciousness would appear to be unnecessary. These sense qualities become indices of a variety of possible reactions in the organism and are thus connected in the relation of implication. It is then, when sensations are connected and coordinated by means of the nervous system, that what the organism undergoes in interaction with its surroundings is made into conscious experience. That is, when sensations are connected by the nervous system in the relation of implication, consciousness, which is a relation of meaning or implication, arises. When the necessary physical and physiological conditions are fulfilled, consciousness appears, full-fledged, like Minerva springing from the head of Jove: we not only bakeware of the object, but of the meaning of the object; we cannot become aware of the object without at the same time becoming aware of the meaning of the object. If objects were in my consciousness, but utterly devoid of meaning, I should not be aware of them.


Now what Professor Dewey calls perception, the pure natural event without awareness of consciousness, is not what we ordinarily understand by the term seen light of which nobody is aware is not what we mean by seen light. Sooner or later, these natural events will have to become conscious in Professor Dewey’s system, and they do become conscious under a different name; instead of being perceived they are experienced: to give a just account of a thing is to tell what that thing is experienced as. If we take Professor Dewey's notion of perception as a natural event without awareness literally, we shall have to say that a given object never figures in any particular individuated stream of perceptions, because there is no such stream; the given object simply is, and our second question is just as artificial as our first. It is true, as Professor Dewey declares, that consciousnesses not merely cognitional or logical, that it is also emotional, esthetic, and morally practical, that, therefore, an experience may be existent which is not known, but it does not seem to me to be true that a perceptual experience can be existent, as an experience, which does not somehow get itself reported income perceptual stream. The 'de facto presence in experience of a discriminate or outstanding quale or content' is a case of knowledge, not in the sense of logical or adequate knowledge, but in the sense of awareness, or whatever other harmless name we may choose to indicate the fact that such an experience is not an unconscious brain event. For Professor Montague, too, perceptions are after all a consciousness of qualities; indeed, if we carry out his thought, we find that the given object is always conscious, that consciousness is born at the very moment the sensory contents are born. For Professor Woodbridge, what we should call perception in our psychologies is a highly developed process: it is awareness of a fact, and awareness of a fact is awareness of it meaning something. Consciousness arises the moment the unconscious sensations are connected in the relation of implication by means of the nervous system; wherever, however, the sensory content is not connected up, the given objects (the sensations)exist, but they do not exist as they exist in consciousness, namely, connected in the relation of implication.


In the case of all these thinkers, perception is always, explicitly or implicitly, a biological process accompanied by consciousness; consciousness is a by-product of the interaction between organism and environment; the sensory content is, explicitly or implicitly, similarly dependent, to some extent, on this relation; and consciousnesses a harmless looker-on. According to Montague and Woodbridge, the sensory content is connected and coordinated by the nervous system, which also makes additions from its personal history to the result. Starting out with a naturalistic metaphysics, these philosophers naturally end with a naturalistic metaphysics: consciousness is an epiphenomenon, inhering in the objects. The object figuring in a conscious perceptual situation differs from the object out of it in the possession of consciousness. The nervous system, for example, in Woodbridge’s view, connects the sensations in a relation of implication; consciousnesses a relation of implication appears as a kind of unnecessary adjunct; why it appears no one knows; the connections are not conditioned by its existence; its existence is conditioned by them. Consciousness looks on; there is nothing else left for it to do. The real problem of perception here becomes a biologic alone. The question as to the difference between the status of the given object figuring in an individuated stream of perceptions and its status when it does not figure in that stream will have to be answered in biological terms. And so far as I can see from the accounts of the writers discussed, factors enter into the biological perceptual situation which depend on the nature and personal history of the organism, which means that the object with which the perceiver comes face to face bears the impress of his own nature and life history. Translated into terms of consciousness, this will mean that the object figuring in the conscious perceptual stream is interpreted, apperceived, and that we get more than a sensory content, more than an isolated piece of pure experience.


The biological theories all point to the view that the object given in perception never appears in isolation, that it is never out of relation to an organic being. Organic perception is so complex, so many functions are involved in it: actions and reactions and interactions, that it is more appropriate to speak of the perception of an object than of an object of perception. Examination of our conscious perceptual experiences reveals a situation similar to the one suggested by biology. However, we may explain the machinery of perception, the nature and condition of the perceiver have something to do with the result of the process. The object, we say, looks different to different perceivers at the same time and to the same perceiver at different times; a thing located in the same place, or otherwise identifiable as the same thing, is not quite the same thing; the complex of qualities appearing in one situation is not quite the same as that of another situation: there is likeness and yet there is difference. And so too we cannot talk of a perceived object as an isolated object, out of its relation to a conscious being. The object must be given or presented, presented to a self; someone must be aware of it, experience it in the way of awareness; it must somehow get itself reported. Perception is not a mere natural event, but the perception of a natural event, the perception of an events natural, as objective. It is knowledge in the sense that something is presented for inspection. Being that is not presented may slumber on in the lap of reality till doomsday; unless the light of consciousness falls upon it, it is as good as nothing for us. To be aware, therefore, means to be conscious. But can there be awareness without further functioning of consciousness, that is, can there be mere awareness of objects and nothing else? The infant in the first months of infancy, the semi-comatose person, and even the wide-awake adult at times, may have experiences closely bordering on such states of mere awareness. However, that may be, in our ordinary adult perception, awareness is a more highly developed process, or perhaps better, other mental functions enter into it. Objects are identified, recognized, assimilated, discriminated, felt as continuous with one another, held together in a unique way of felt togetherness, attended to, apperceived, suffused with meanings, judged; emotional and volitional elements play a part in the total result. The fact is, in perception the entire self is more or less in action. Physically and physiologically speaking, perception is the entire organism in interaction or relation with its environment; we cannot single out one particular element in that complex situation and call it the physical or physiological counterpart of the process of perception. No more can we, in speaking of perception as a mental event, abstract the so-called perceived object from the functions involved, in the hope that we may in this way get at the core of being. A perceived object cannot be torn entirely out of its relationship with a perceiving subject. Perceiving an object is an indivisible activity, which we can afterwards analyze, according to our purposes, but not with the idea of discovering the object exactly as it would be apart from any perceiver. We cannot set up the so-called pure experience of the infant, "the original flux of life before reflection has categorized it," as the aboriginal object, because we do not know what that big buzzing blooming confusion is. The only way we can form a picture of the original flux is to abstract from the adult perceptual situation; and each theory will get out of that and put into the pure experience exactly what it needs: no pure infant has ever failed to live up to what was expected of it by its theory.


It is possible to say that an object figuring in some particular individuated stream of perceptions also figures outside of that stream, but not that it always figures in both situations in the same way, that is, possessing all and the same features. Within continuing perceptual stream, it differs according to the presence or absence of attention, discrimination, selection, apperception, and interpretation; it may even contain characteristics which contradict each other. Which of these qualities shall we think of as existing independently of the perceptual stream? If we say all of them, are we not saddling ourselves with a chaotic world? If it be held that one and the same object is present, but that it may be inadequately perceived, the question at once arises as to what the adequately perceived object is. One of the objects must be chosen as the representative of the others according to some standard or ideal object actually experienced or constructed in the imagination. This would make it necessary to account for the inadequately and falsely perceived ones as somehow dependent on the perceiving process; perception can give, and perception can take away. Besides, the question would always arise as to the standard object itself: Have we reached the truly real? We might choose as the standard the pure experience of the infant, the normal and social object, or the developed perception of the specialist; but the question of the truly real would persist: could not better means of perceiving give us a different object? It might be said that all the characteristics normally perceived are real, exist independently of perception; the one object is present in all the perceptual situations in which it figures, with varying characteristics; every one of them is as real as any other. The one object is many things, has many qualities; some of them figure in the particular perceptual stream, others not; but all of them exist independently, outside of the perceptual stream, just as they are; all of them are true parts of the material world. The obstacle in the way of this view is the fact that the object reveals not merely more characteristics but contradictory ones in different perceptual situations: the staff in the pool cannot be both straight and bent. Most of our difficulties are removed if we assume that the mind has something to do with the way in which the object figures in the perceptual situation. We may say that in the perceptual situation an object is revealed, made manifest, its qualities are brought out, and that this is the work of consciousness. Bute must also say that much that appears belongs to the mental realm, is read into the object, sometimes truly, sometimes not. This does not mean that the mind alters the object or that it creates the object out of nothing, or that the object creates a picture of itself in the mind, or that the object lies embedded in the mind. All we can say is that a conscious organism perceives real objects in a certain way, according to the mental and physical factors involved. How it is possible for us to perceive at all, no theory has yet been able to tell.