Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 21: Mentalism > Chapter 1: The Sensed World
The Sensed World
The evolution from a world-view based upon the Eye to one based upon the Idea, is an evolution from materiality to spirituality. It is consummated when the vividness of sense experience is transcended by the truth of abstract conceptions.
The truth is that the hands touch and the eyes see but the surface of things. They do not touch nor see the completeness, the inner reality of things. In our ignorance we look upon forms as reality, we must needs have something to touch and handle if we are to believe in its real existence. The forms are alright where they are but they do not exhaust existence. That which tells us they are there, the consciousness which causes our senses to function and our ego to become aware of the results of this functioning, is itself closer to real being than the physical forms or mental images which are but tokens of its presence. We look always for mere forms and so miss their infinite source. We try to reduce life to arithmetic, to make one thing the effect of some other thing as cause, never dreaming that the sublime essence of both is unchanging and uncaused, formless and bodiless, the self-existent reality of Mind!
Our trouble is that our notion of what constitutes reality is incorrectly limited to the world of the five senses, with the sad consequence that we devise dozens of ways of finding happiness but never arrive at it.
We accept the first and chief suggestion of our senses without inquiry, the suggestion that we are dealing with a world totally outside us. It is an error which arises because we do not possess a deep enough understanding of ourselves. But this ignorance arises in its own turn because we do not penetrate deeply enough into our understanding of the world. Hence, the way out of it involves a twofold inquiry: into both self and not-self.
He sees that in the end the five senses are particular functions of the mind.
This thought that we are hermetically sealed in our five senses, that our sense-world is but a mere fragment of the total existence, and that such existence is itself a mere shadow of reality, is enough to awe us into a feeling of utter insignificance and helplessness.
Do the senses give you any real knowledge of a world outside your mind? Is it not rather that your sensations of such a world are only ideas inside that mind, and that you have no positive assurance of the existence of anything beyond those ideas themselves?
That which seems to be solid substance to the human touch is nothing else than a mental sensation. The testimony of the five senses is thus overthrown by profound reflection, and mind reveals its truth over the illusion of matter.
Thus our five-sensed experience of the physical world is really our remote experience of the divine world. The materialist's error is to take the first as a final experience.
He will come to see by experience, as science is coming to see by experiment, that this vast universe is real in its present form to his bodily senses only. As soon as his mind is freed from them, it takes on quite a different form, the old form having no further existence at all. He is then compelled to correct his false belief in the world's reality. If there were nothing more than the five senses, then this correction would make the universe an illusion. But the presence of mind in him makes it an idea.
The distinction which is often made (especially by the school of Faculty-Psychology) between sensation and idea or between sense-data and thought was once believed to be an actuality, but it is now believed to be only a convenience for intellectual analysis. A compromise view now regards our experience of the world as being a compound of the two, but a compound which is never split up into separate elements. This view represents a big step towards the mentalist position but is still only a step. And this position is that there is only a single activity, a single experience--thought. The idea is the sensation, the sensation is the idea. The sense datum which our present-day psychologists find as an element of experience is really their interpretation of experience. Hence it is nothing else than a thought. And that which it unconsciously professes to interpret is likewise a thought!
Men are not to be blamed for making the eye and the brain their measure of truth or reality: they are to be blamed for stubbornly refusing to heed the reports of those who have not so limited themselves.
It is a commonplace of scientific teaching to say that without the five senses man would know nothing of an external world. This is true, but only while science remains on a materialistic basis. For when it turns over--as it is now beginning to turn--to a mentalistic one, then it has to admit that both those senses and that of which they become aware are themselves mental products. Once this is grasped then it is possible to grasp why they do function during dreams and why we do know an external world in them.
Why is it that when an object gives rise to a sensation and is perceived as being outside the eye or ear which senses it, reflection shows that the process of sensing it could only have occurred within the eye or ear itself? Why is it that what is perceived as being outside the eye cannot possibly be reached by the eye? Mentalism alone can provide the answer.
What actually happens when you see something is that you become conscious of two pictures which are made upon the curved sensitive retinas of your two eyes. The reflected pictures--and not the solid thing itself--are all you directly know and hence all that you see. The whole world in which you really live and move is indeed only a picture-world!
All our ordinary experience of the world is derived from the activity of the sense-organs. But a conviction of mentalism's truth can only be derived from rational thinking or mystical experience. Consequently, he who limits himself to the evidence of the sense-organs and does not perceive its relativity will not be able to perceive the truth of mentalism.
Men who believe this world of five-sense experience to be the only real one can form only a mental concept--and that a wrong one--of the Overself.
Things seen or felt physically are technically called sensations or percepts in psychological jargon. And the ideas formed of those things are called concepts. But this is the materialistic view. Philosophy says they are one, not two.
That the outside world is reflected in our five senses as is our face in a mirror, is what those senses themselves tell us. That they participate in its making as a movie projection lamp in its screen pictures, is what deeper inquiry tells us. Nevertheless this only reveals the world's unreality, not its significance.
The fact that we do not perceive more than the world's appearances, never its realities, should alone be enough to dispose of old-fashioned crude and naïve materialism.
We have the illusion that here, in this sensory experience, we touch all of reality.
It is through his sense-organs that a man relates himself with the world and thus includes himself in it.
The real power to see, hear or feel, taste or smell does not dwell in the body. A deep unbiased analysis of the physiology of sensation will show that this power dwells in the mind.
In the process of sense-perception, registering impressions of the world are somehow transformed into mental states, that is, ideas. The world itself we never perceive, but only ideas.
All the muscle movements and nerve exertions and brain responses are themselves ideas to the mind.
It is not what most people regard as the world that the senses bring him into contact with, but rather the perception of it--an idea--or the projection of it--another idea.
All human experience is known experience. The world which comes to my attention through the five senses is known to me by the mind. Whatever the shifts of scientific knowledge may be at any time, this will remain as the central fact.
The power of sight in the eyes is to be distinguished from the eyes themselves, the perceiver of the world from the instrument of perception.
The totality of the immeasurably rich nature of the universe never reaches the human senses. This is not their fault. They cannot help but receive nothing more than a limited selection from it. There are numerous vibrations beyond their range and also beneath it. And yet we have the temerity to assert that the world of our experience, the only one we know, is the real world and that all others are illusory!
In mentalism we separate the concept of the senses from the concept of the sense-organs. The two are not the same. The senses must be mentally active before they can be active at all. Although the physical sense-organs are the usual condition for this activity, they are not the indispensable condition. The phenomena of dreams, hypnotism, and somnambulism demonstrate this adequately. The physical sense-organs do not operate, and cannot operate, unless the consciousness takes them into its purview. Absent-mindedness is a common example of what happens when it does not do this. There are even commoner examples, however, of which we never think at all until our attention is drawn to them. A man sitting at his desk will not be aware for long periods of time of the sense of touch or pressure where his body makes contact with his chair; the nerve endings in his skin may report the contact but the mind does not take it in, and consequently is not aware of it. The sense impressions of touch are simply not there at all.
Men live tightly enclosed in the straitjacket of the human senses, so that they never know what is beyond these very limited and very restricted channels of perception. Yet their experience of the world is actually created out of this mysterious element which transcends their ordinary view. All that they get is their own idea of what is real, and never any contact with the real world itself. The lesson of atomic research is that such a world is completely different from the one that seems to surround them.
A curious example, but one helpful to the enquirer, exists in the case of bodily pain. It is utterly impossible for us to imagine pain in the abstract--existing without any mind to be conscious of it. The word becomes quite meaningless if we try to separate it from someone or something to perceive or feel it. Its very existence depends entirely on being thought of, on being related to a conscious percipient. The sensation of being felt, this alone gives reality to pain. This fact refers equally to past or present pain. It should be easy to apply this analogy to the case of mere ideas, for the latter, like pain, can never come into existence without something, some mind, to think of them. Consciousness, on the part of someone or something, alone makes them real and factual.
There are sixty-four different points of the compass. Therefore, it is possible for sixty-four men to take up all these different positions and look at an object. Each will see a different appearance of it. Thus there will be sixty-four different appearances. Yet all the men will glibly talk, when questioned, of having seen the same object when they have done nothing of the kind. And if any one of them asserts that he has studied only the appearance of the real thing and the whole thing, he is obviously talking nonsense. Yet this is what most of us do when we say we have seen the world that surrounds us--this and nothing less. It is completely impossible through the instrumentality of the senses to see the whole of any object, let alone the whole of the world. They can only view aspects. But what cannot be done by the senses can be done by the mind, which can form an idea of the whole of anything. Therefore it is only through reflection--that is, through philosophy--that we can ever get at a grasp of the whole of life and the universe.
It is natural for the materialist to ask how any sense can function without a sense organ. It is natural for the mentalist to point to the experience of dreams for the answer. All the senses are functioning during the dream but they do so without the apparatus of sense organs. This fact alone indicates in the clearest possible manner to anyone sufficiently perceptive to understand the indication that it is the mind and the mind alone which is the real agent in all the senses' experience. When, because of distracted attention, our mind is not aware of a thing which stands before our eyes, that particular thing temporarily ceases to exist for us. This means, if it means anything at all, that the thing receives its existence partly at the very least from us. It does not stand alone. Sense-experience actually takes place in consciousness itself: the five senses do not create but limit, canalize, and externalize this experience. We receive the various sensations of hardness, colour, shape, and so on, but they are not received from outside the mind. They are all received from within our consciousness. This is because they are received from the World-Mind's master image within us. The objects which cause those sensations truly exist, but they exist within this image--which itself exists within our field of consciousness. The things of experience are not different from the acts of knowing them. Hence the world exists in our thoughts of it.
Everything happens in these organs, and all their highly complicated functions are carried out with the perfect precision of a finely made watch. Yet it happens without their owner knowing anything about it at all. Does not this show that there is something within the body that does know and does direct these organs?
The body's surface organs explain the nature and reveal the qualities of things in our environment. But without the mind such explanation and such revelation could never be possible. This is easily proven. When we withdraw the mind from the sense-organs, as in deep thinking or profound remembrance, we alienate the environment and hardly observe the things in it. In other words, we sense ultimately only what the mind senses.
The world-picture which the mind creates is, after all, a limited one for it is painted with only five colours. The senses we possess now do not exhaust the possible ranges of perception.
The two physical organs of sight, the eyes, causing two sets of sensation to be experienced, nevertheless produce only a single impression in my consciousness. The experience of an object and the thought of it are two different things. This means that the mind has its own separate existence apart from the body.
We wrongly fix our standard of reality by what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, by the senses which contact only a part of the great universe around us.
Mind is supersensual yet it is the ultimate activating agent in all sense experience. Hence the Koran says: "No sight reaches Him: He, the Subtle, the Knowing, reaches the sight."
The problems of illusory experience and truth and error really belong to epistemology.
The materialist who would confine all experience to sense-experience can no longer get away with such an antiquated argument. Without the instruments which convert these radiations into sights or sounds, his senses do not ordinarily tell him that infra-red and ultraviolet rays exist, for instance. This statement rests upon verifiable fact, not upon fanciful speculation.
The snake [seen in the place of a rope] may be an illusion, but all the same the perception of it was a factual experience. It is not to be ignored merely because it is an illusion, but to be explained.
When we say the world is not real, we mean that it lacks intrinsic reality for it is an idea only in a mind, an appearance only to something else.
We know the world through our thoughts and sensations about it, which are thus like a pair of spectacles. But we do not know what the world is like without these spectacles.
We are aware of the world only as it seems to our existing perceptions. Whole areas of it are therefore shut out merely because they lie beyond those perceptions.
The notion that one's own brain originates all one's own thoughts is shallow and erroneous. It may originate most of them in most cases, but only some of them in other cases. Four possible sources are one's physical surroundings, other people's thought directed to one, one's mental-emotional surroundings, and other people's mental-emotional atmosphere (aura) as it impinges on our own when brought close together.
In every physical illusion the bodily sense falsifies the mind's knowledge, yet this knowledge does not change the fact of deception, does not prevent the senses from continuing their operation even when their falsity has been exposed.
Even the physiologists tell us that the working of the mind is necessary to complete the act of seeing. Philosophy says, however, that the working of mind is necessary even to begin the act of seeing.
We see with our eyes forms and colours, we feel with our hands soft or hard things, wet liquids, large or small objects. All these observations are true ones; the body is not deceiving us but in certain circumstances appearances are doing so. That is, the use the mind is making of body is an interpretational one.
Those who say that everything in man's consciousness has come through the five gates of his senses, forget the consciousness itself.
Brain tissue is not mind. The five senses which are connected by nerves with it could not operate without mind, but mind can operate without the senses. Where are the senses when we work out a mathematical problem "in the head"?
Nature has placed the eyes in the highest part of the body, perhaps to signify that they are the most important of the five senses.
The materialist is also beguiled by his deeply cherished belief in the sole validity of sense testimony. What if Nature had given him ten senses?
Scientifically we never see the real light, but only its manifestations and reflections on various objects and surfaces. Light is invisible. We become aware of it only through its effects. Scientifically the eyes reveal only a part of the world in which we live; like all sense organs they are limited in function to a certain range and we cannot register beyond it. Science has had to invent and make many instruments to supplement this imperfect working of the senses. Detectors of X-rays and infra-red rays are cases in point. A German scientist once calculated that even the dense metal platinum would be reduced to a thousand-millionth part of its original volume if its molecules could be packed together so closely that they could not move. In other words, even the densest matter is mostly empty space! The eyes, however, see nothing of this truth and continue to testify to a platinum which exists more in appearance than in reality.
It is not the five senses which know the world outside, since they are only instruments which the mind uses. It is not even the intellect, since that merely reproduces the image formed out of the total sense reports. They are not capable of functioning by themselves. It is the principle of Consciousness which is behind both, and for which they are simply agents, that really makes awareness of the world at all possible. It is like the sun, which lights up the existence of all things.
Body, brain, consciousness
He feels so firmly situated in the physical body that his whole being seems there alone. The first unthought, unanalysed impression supports materialism. But if he remains there he remains an intellectual child. It cannot be said that the brain knows the outside things directly; for it knows them through the intermediary service of the structure of nerves which connects it with the body's eyes, ears, skin, and so on. He hears, touches, or sees a thing or person through the body's senses. But although ear, finger, or eye is involved, analysis shows that in the end the experience is a concept: it is there when he thinks it. Consciousness is involved in the act. For the mere fact that a man is aware of what he does and feels shows that he is a conscious creature in his own right, a mind-being apart from the fleshly form, however much he may be interlocked with it. This perception of the mentalist nature of all our experience of the world opens the way to de-blocking the innate materialism forced upon us by the senses and the thoughts linked with them, a materialism which can be so subtle that even very pious persons are deceived by it.
We have the feeling of complete self-identification with the body. The five senses, the four limbs, the two eyes, and the entire torso report as parts of ourself. Yet mentalism shows that this feeling arises because they are really manifestations of our own consciousness, thoughts in our mind.
The mind issues orders to, and thus uses, the body. The transmission is staged through will, then energy, then nerve vibration, then muscle contraction, and finally, movement. Just as the mind does not act directly upon the body, so the body affects the mind by the same graduated process but in reverse.
The materialistic claim that all mental states, all spiritual experiences, and all ideas generally originate solely in the physical brain or in physical changes of the nervous system would be correct if the term "all" were replaced by the term "some." (This would still leave unsettled the mentalistic claim--which wreaks havoc with the whole underpinning of materialism--that the body, brain, and nerve system exist as a group of states of our consciousness and that we know of no other existence of theirs.)
From where does our consciousness come? The materialists say it is from the brain, and we cannot say that they are quite wrong. But what they need to learn is that although consciousness is expressed through the brain it does not start there. It has a prior existence.
Is it the body that tells you it is there, or the brain which informs you of its existence? No! Consciousness comes first and reveals their presence. If a dead man clutched a dissected brain for a whole year, neither of them would know of his own or the other's existence. Why? Because the mind which really knows has left.
No discoveries made in a physiological laboratory can ever annul the primary doctrine of mentalism. The mechanism of the brain provides the condition for the manifestation of intellectual processes but does not provide the first originating impulse of these processes. The distinction between mind and its mechanism, between the mentalness of experience and the materiality of the content of that experience, needs much pondering.
The intelligence in the deeper human mind manufactures the bodily organs it requires for experience or development. In this way it has built the entire body itself.
Mind is an entirely different thing from body. How can it make contact and interact with it, and vice versa? Yet we know they do. The explanation is that there is no real difference in entity, only a seeming one.
Those who limit mind to the brain are unobservant. The entire body shows its presence, although not in the same highly specialized way that the brain does.
The materialist argument is essentially that mental function varies with bodily condition, that alcohol can convert the coward for a time into a brave man, that the increase in size and weight of the brain as man passes from infancy to maturity runs parallel with the increase of mental capacity, and that therefore mind is nothing else than a product of body. Mentalism says these facts are mostly but not always true but that even granting their truth, the materialistic conclusion does not necessarily follow. It is just as logical to say that mind uses brain as a writer uses a pen, that the body is merely instrumental and the limitations or changes in the instrument naturally modify or alter the mentality expressed. The thoughts and feelings, the ideas and memories, the fancies and reasonings which constitute most of our mental stock can be detected nowhere in the brain, can be seen by nothing physical, and can only be observed by the mind itself as acts of consciousness.
The scientist's statement that the workings of the consciousness are associated with physiology of the brain and the nervous system does not contradict in any way the mentalist's statement that our experience of the separate existence of that brain and nervous system is itself a working of consciousness--that is, an idea.
Philosophy follows a wiser path. Instead of setting up spirit and matter as eternally opposed enemies, it sets out to find the real and true relationship between them.
The man who refuses to acknowledge the fact of mind, as apart from brain, utters the ultimate rejection--of himself!
Mind is its own reality: it does not need "matter" from which to derive itself.
The most important of all metaphysical facts--the fact of their own consciousness--is entirely misinterpreted. The tremendous importance that ought to be attributed to it is instead attributed solely to the body.
The notion that consciousness is a sort of "gas" generated in the fleshy brain is the modern Western error, although an easy one into which to fall. There is, of course, a very close interrelation between body and mind, but it is one wherein the latter is expressed through the former, although narrowed and confined by the brain's limitations.
So much do human character, outlook, and mentality depend upon the physical body--its shape, condition, health, and fortunes--that the materialist identification of the self seems completely plausible. It is certainly part of the self, or an expression of the self; but if we analyse the notion of self as deeply and as abstractly as is possible, we find the materialist view to be a fiction. What then is left? Consciousness!
There is a difference--vast and deep--between the way Christian Science denies the body and the way mentalism affirms but changes the ordinary conception of the body.
That what takes place in the mind is only and solely a reflection of what takes place in the body--once a pillar of materialist doctrine--is hardly tenable in these days. It is quite other to say--correctly--that there is a close connection between the two.
The bread you ate last week became temporarily a part of your body but it never was really you at any time. That is, it was not your consciousness although it affected that consciousness.
The person is like an oyster shell, a mere house built around and existing for the living inhabitant within, yet a house that has somehow grown out of it and become inseparably a part of it.
The world is both an experience in the mind and a picture in the mind. The brain is a machine for making thoughts; it is an expression of the mind and yet is itself in the mind.
Consciousness really does exist whereas the things which it makes known are present only when they are perceived, felt, heard, or otherwise sensed by one or more of the five reporting agents. This consciousness is in itself always the same, unvarying, the one thing in us in which thoughts and bodies make their appearance and from which they also vanish.
The brain is in most cases the accompaniment and in some cases the condition of mental working but it is never the origin of such working.
It is a mistake to believe that the body, via the brain, makes its own thoughts. To correct it, reverse the assumption and perceive that thoughts are projections from Thought, that Consciousness comes first.
The world depends on the body's five senses for me to notice its existence. The body depends on the mind, without which I could not be aware of its existence. In the end, all is mental.
The consciousness which tells us that the physical senses are active is not to be mixed up with those sense perceptions, not to be mistaken for the sum of those perceptions. A deep, careful, and prolonged analysis will reveal that it is an entity in itself.
To grasp this mentalism, there must be continuous reflection on the differences between the body, the brain, and the mental consciousness which uses it as an instrument. Embodied consciousness uses instruments to get particular bits of knowledge: the body's five senses, the body's brain for thoughts. But the knowing element in all these experiences is his power of attention, which is derived from purely mental nonphysical being.
Mentalism affirms not only that consciousness is an immaterial thing but also that "no bodily activity has any connection with the activity of reason," as Aristotle taught.
The materialist who regards thought as solely an activity in the brain, and consequently as a physiological product in its entirety, has overlooked the thinker of the thought.
My life as a body is one thing, as a mind it is another.
If the blood, bone, and flesh of the human brain secrete thought then the wood and string of a violin secrete music.
So many use the word "mind" as if they knew perfectly well what they are talking about but the fact is that they confuse it with "body."
The materialist asserts that consciousness has no existence apart from the body, is indeed a product of the brain. A blow on the head may deprive a man of consciousness; an operation on the brain may change its mode of functioning. The mentalist says that these only provide the conditions which normally limit consciousness, thus making it seem as if the brain created it. But under abnormal states (like anaesthesia, hypnotism, drugs, or deep meditation) consciousness shows its own separate being.
The materialist who believes that not only are thoughts and ideas secretions of the fleshly brain but that mystical peace and divine revelation are as well, is wrong.
It is important to differentiate between man and his "garment," the physical body; that is, between mind and the thought of the body which it carries. It is important to make clear the distinction in thinking between the popular belief that man is the sum total of his physical attributes, and the philosophic revelation that mind is the source, projector, and substance of the man-thought.
If there were no such thing as consciousness in the body, we would be perfectly entitled to call it nothing more than a machine, albeit made of flesh and bone instead of steel and wood.
Mentalism tells us that the mind's activity is one thing and the brain's activity which accompanies it is another. Materialism asserts the contrary, that the mind's phenomena are produced by movements of the material atoms composing the brain.
Mentalism based on human experiences from the earliest Asian history right into our own time emphatically affirms that consciousness and brain are two different entities.
It takes keen deep thought to penetrate through the mass of often false and misleading suggestions received from so-called education which confuses two utterly separate things--brain and consciousness. The brain is what the dissection room of a medical school reveals; the consciousness is what enables the teachers and the students in that school to know what is being revealed.
The leap from sense to thought
There is a stubborn psychological problem, with profound metaphysical implications, which has remained unsolved throughout the whole history of science; but the range of data available today being greater, the prospects of its solution are brighter. Put briefly, this problem is as follows: is consciousness a property developed by the physical body in the course of its activity or is it a primary and intuitive part of the individual's nature? If the solution proved favourable to the theory of primacy of consciousness, then the effects upon our culture would be incalculable. The Christian teaching about the immortality of the soul would be vindicated, the value of religion in human life would be established, and the intellectual materialism of our time, which has given birth to such horrible evils as Nazism and Communism, would be eradicated.
The brain is physical--material, if you wish--but the mind, the private consciousness, is not. Most scientists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts would not agree with this statement, but the far-seeing ones would. The dispute can be solved only in two ways: having one's own personal experience of mind-in-itself, apart from brain, or awaiting the discovery of new, further extrasensory phenomena.
Psychologists have pursued the mind into that lump of greyish-yellow protein, that most complex of all organisms, the brain. They have triumphantly concluded that brain and mind are one and the same thing. Philosophy says that it is a mistake to identify the fact of general awareness--which no one can pursue simply because he is awareness itself--with a particular faculty of awareness as shown by some part of the brain. Brain is physical, consciousness is mental.
The study of man's brain and nervous system tells us a great deal about his brain and nerves; it tells us nothing about his mind, all the psychologists to the contrary.
Psychology, like all the sciences, has to turn itself into philosophy the moment it puts to itself such a radical question as "what is mind?"
There is nothing a man knows more directly than the experience of his consciousness. He does not know a physical brain but a mental fact--that of being aware. Yet it is man alone who has produced that strange creature the materialist, who stubbornly denies the mentality of mind and insists on its materiality!
Because it studied the body first, it was inevitable that medical training should produce a group of materialists. But now that it is adding a study of the mind to its curriculum, it is only a matter of time before it will abandon its materialism.
No stimulus from any bodily sense, nervous system, or brain accounts for the existence of consciousness in many dreams and most imaginations. Its existence is independent.
Medical science still does not know how to answer with any certainty two questions which seriously affect its knowledge of how the body works. They are: (a) What is thought? and (b) Why do nerves--which are physical objects--feel pain and pleasure--which are not?
Those who believe that mental power and intellectual endowment are entirely products of the physical brain, glands, and nervous system will have to explain why Anatole France's brain weighed less than the ordinary man's. No, mind is an imponderable element.
Materialists who try to derive thought from a material brain and life from a material substance are fooled by the very accuracy of their observations. The connection in each case is close and definite, but it is not a causal one.
There is no adequate explanation why the nerves feel. The medical one only describes what happens; it does not explain. The mentalist one alone solves the mystery.
When we discuss these questions with medical men, they often raise the objection that the changes of thought and feeling as a result of liquor, drunkenness, drug narcosis, tropical fever, or brain lesion constitute a clear proof that mind is the product of body and that materialism is a true doctrine. We answer that they prove only that mind is closely connected with the body.
The old-fashioned medicine identified the mind's working with the brain's. The newer psychosomatic medicine begins to see how mind can of itself affect brain, that is, body. But its perception is unclear, its conclusions still shaky and uncertain.
Where the materialist scientists and psychologists have gone wrong is, first, the refusal to admit any other existence than the physical. Therefore they can offer no valid explanation for Consciousness in all its phases. If the body renews its cells every seven years, as was formerly claimed, or every one and one-half years, as others now claim, the very ordinary phenomenon of memory is inexplicable.
The researcher can most truthfully say that what he knows best of the world is its description as it appears to be. Under microscopic examination it is seen to be undergoing changes, however slight, all the time. But why does the feeling of its reality persist? Why does the feeling that the world is really present in our experience refuse to leave us? We have to say ruefully that there are really two levels of experience and therefore of truth--the common one and a higher one.
Scientists and psychologists who are trying to find the origin of mind by poking in the nervous system and the brain would do well not to make this one-sided research stand alone. They should inquire into the nature of mind--the very opposite of what they are doing.
The scientist's error begins when he assumes there is a gulf between the idea and the thing. For it is only his assumption. The experience of the thing and the idea of it are not two sunderable entities. If they were, we should register them as such. But actually we don't; we find that they form a unit of experience, a unit in consciousness.
Mind is the great mystery, so little known by the glib expounders of psychology who flounder within and never transcend the ego-bubbles thrown up to its surface.
In their haste to assert that mind is only a function of brain flesh they use the very mind whose existence, unnoticed and overlooked, makes their assertion possible.
The psychology which divides the brain of man into different centres of perception and reaction does not thereby explain the consciousness of man. And it is this principle of consciousness which alone makes possible all his perceptions and reactions.
Nowhere in the physical brain can any anatomist find that which creates thought, although he may find conditions in it which prevent thought or distort it or weaken it. This is because the principle of consciousness exists before the physical body's brain exists, while it lives, and after its death.
Because there is an obvious connection and relation between consciousness and the brain, science cannot conceive how consciousness can exist separately. For the scientist, his life is in his body--nowhere else.
Where is his consciousness when a man falls into coma? Or when an anaesthetic drug displaces everything from his mind?
Despite all its parade of learning and experiments, what science really knows about the real origin, the essential nature and inmost working of the human mind, is still amazingly little.
The process of becoming aware of the world makes a second thing of the world, objectifies it, and thus materializes it. Whoever proclaims himself a materialist cannot be blamed. But he is blameworthy for failing to go farther and recognize what has happened. What he experiences is the mentalness of the world. What he falsely understands by his experience is the materiality of the world.
Human experience of the world is the basis of the materialist theory of the world. But mentalism sufficiently explains that experience. This materialism cannot do, because it cannot account for the "leap" from sense to thought. The materialist theory collapses altogether when this simple analysis is made.
How can you convert solid lumps of matter into unseen intangible spirit? It is impossible without converting them into ideas first. For otherwise, you cannot get rid of their mass, volume, tangibility, and so on, nor reduce them to unity.
The attempt to regard Spirit and Matter as two separate self-existent substances must end in failure, for they cannot then be brought together, or interact together, either in man or in the universe. The same is true of Mind and Matter. But the opposing attempt, that of the materialists, to make Mind the highest product of the evolution of Matter, must end in equal failure.
If materialism were true, there would be no possibility of human memory and human imagination, from no physical origin could they be derived. Yet Descartes cut up the heads of animals, hoping thereby to find a physical explanation of memory and imagination!
If a man were made up of nothing more than brain and spine, blood and flesh, bone and skin, materialism could account for every phenomenon. But he is also made up of consciousness. And this is where materialism breaks down.
The powers of the mind increase with age in some men (as with Winston Churchill) even when the powers of the body decay. If thought were the product of flesh, it would always become enfeebled along with it. But this is not the case. Therefore the materialistic argument fails here.
The materialist tells us that the sciences of biology and anthropology prove man to be a thinking animal and nothing more. But we have already demolished the materialistic theory of the world. Therefore we cannot bow in complacence before such a solution of the enigma of human existence. How then shall we regard the materialistic view? Armed with philosophic preparation, we must now look within ourselves for an answer and subject the self to strict analysis. We must bring it up out of the darkness and look it full in the face. This alone when sufficiently prolonged and perfected can cause its meaning to appear.
When all mental facts are completely accounted for by corresponding physical conditions in the body, why look farther? Why not accept materialism as a perfect explanation? The answer is that this is not so, that certain supernormal, abnormal, mystical, and religious mental facts are not accounted for.
He who would make mind an incidental function of matter does not know what either mind or matter is.
How the electrical changes in the brain stuff which follow every activity of eye or ear, skin or nose, permit a man to acquire conscious knowledge of what lies outside eye or ear, skin or nose, is a complete mystery to science.
The critic may point out that all biology is opposed to mentalism, that when forms attain a particular level of organization they become thinking forms, that inanimate insentient Nature preceded living conscious form in the order of evolution, that the embryonic mind of animals appeared in the universe before the maturer mind of man itself, and that consequently it is quite absurd to suggest that the mind of man could have thought into existence what in fact was already in existence before it had itself appeared. He may finally observe scornfully that these are mere commonplaces of scientific knowledge, which now have long passed the need of being defended. We must give as a reply to our materialistic critic a fundamental counter-criticism. If the world's existence is completely and satisfactorily accounted for by its reactions to the physical senses of the human body, and if this body itself is a consequence of the evolutionary process of the larger world outside it, the materialist's explanation explains nothing, for it falls into a vicious circle. He forgets that if, according to his theory, the appearance of consciousness were the consequence of an evolution of material forms, then the cerebral-nervous structure of the sensory instruments--which are supposed by him to explain the possibility of consciousness--not having yet manifested themselves, no sensations telling of a world's existence could have been possible! This dilemma cannot be got over except by mentalism. The only world of which we can be certain is that constituted by sensations of colour, shape, breadth, bulk, taste, smell, solidity, weight, and so on. But sensations form the experience of individual minds and such experience, being always observed experience, is formed by thought. Hence if we talk of an uninhabited world--that is, of a world utterly devoid of a mind--we contradict ourselves. The error of materialism is to separate things from the thoughts of them. The consequence of this error is that it can speak of a world by itself as though the latter includes no such existence as thought. It forgets that each individual knows only its own world, because it knows only its own sensations, and that the identity between a Man's consciousness and the world of which it is conscious, is complete and indissoluble. We must place the mind inseparably alongside of the world. The world does not precede it in time. This is so and this must be so because, as the psychological analysis of perception shows, it is the constructive activity of the individual mind which contributes toward making a space-time world possible at all. An uninhabited world has never existed outside the scientific evolutionary theory. For sensations have never existed in separated form, as some celebrated metaphysicians of the eighteenth century supposed, but only in the combined form which they take in the individual's own perceptions.
It should be understood that by starting with the consideration of matter as something already existent and mind as something which has yet to come into existence, science has arrived at the impassable "gap" in its explanation of human world experience. This gap will remain forever impassable because unless consciousness existed previously, the sense-stimuli might strike on the brain incessantly but they would never get any response. However, by science retracing its steps, dropping materialism, and starting with the mentalist line first, the gap vanishes and science can proceed to wonderful discoveries which will bring it into fraternal relation with religion and metaphysics. It will then understand that all life becomes a play of consciousness.
A quarter century ago it was hoped that extended research into the colloidal material of nerve fibres would help solve the tantalizing problems that lie at the root of organisms having life and consciousness. Much progress has certainly been made since then. That the connection between the physical and the mental lies in the tiny nerve cell's colloidal structure will certainly prove indisputable eventually. But there is no basic solution of these problems without an adoption of the view that the physical itself is but an aspect of the mental. If this is done it is then possible to trace the building up of the individual's world picture through the ages by a combination of mnemonic images, associated ideas, thought tendencies, and habit energies; and his body picture through the evolution of functions like sight, digestion, and so on, which in their turn generated suitable sense apparatuses like eyes, stomach, and such. All these are memorized and conserved in a planetary mind which underlies all individual minds and without which indeed the activity of the latter could not be possible. Stromberg and Korzybski must eventually find themselves in a cul-de-sac unless they can comprehend that the wonderful synthesis which results in the actual perception of objects can be achieved by a consciousness which observes and interprets the reactions not only of the sense organs but also of the brain centres which, physiology supposes, give birth to or control the functions of thought, sensation, and memory. There is no use talking in terms of neurological structure or cerebral changes here, for with the detection of a principle of awareness one departs from everything physical and enters another world. If, therefore, he wishes to find just where a conscious connection with the nonmaterial energy can be made, he will have to detect this principle itself and not necessarily a particular point in his structure as an organism. And this can be achieved only by ultramystical methods.
By starting with the consideration of matter as something already existent, and mind as something which has yet to come into existence, nineteenth-century science arrived at this impassable gap in its explanation of human world-experience. It is still impassable and will remain so forever because the premise with which science started is wholly wrong. If a human being takes a wrong road and cannot arrive at his destination, the sensible course is for him to retrace his steps and take the right road. There is no other course open to science if it wants to arrive at a satisfactory explanation. It must go back from the materialistic line of thought and start with the mentalistic one, that is, with mind first. The essential point which must not be missed is that unless consciousness existed previously, the sense stimuli might strike on the brain forever but they would never get any response. There is no hope for success in solving this problem along the materialistically scientific road of explanation so long as it pursues a rigidly non-metaphysical course, no hope that the secret of consciousness dwells in a stimulated nerve or that the medium of interaction between thought and flesh is in colloidal structure. That secret dwells where it always has dwelt--in the mind alone--and both nerve and colloidal structure dwell there too. Once he grasps this fact, that the whole of his life-experience is only a play of attention, he will have grasped the essence of mentalism. This will liberate him intellectually from materialism.
The mentalist knot cannot be untied without arriving at the conclusion that the processes of sensation are mental ones throughout. In The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga the author deliberately led the argument to a gap and then said we must stop there, as science has to stop there, unless we drop the original premise that we are dealing with material objects which give rise eventually to a mental perception, and switch over to a new premise that we are dealing all the time with mental objects only. In other words, the gap does not exist except in the imagination of scientists.
The theory that we perceive the outer world through a sensing process which results in a picture arising in the brain, or on the brain's surface as it does on the eye's surface, still leaves unexplained how we are able to perceive this picture itself. The brain cannot see it for it cannot see colours--only the eye can do that. Nor can the brain feel it, for then it would have to touch it, which would be impossible in the case of large pictures of outer objects larger than itself. Nor can the picture look at, feel, or experience itself. The gap in this theory cannot be crossed. Only by reversing this theory and acknowledging that our awareness of the world really comes to us from within, that by a trick of the mind it only seems to come from without, can the correct and true explanation be found.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.