You are here

Chapter XVII | Man and His Experience

§ 1. The man who knows

We must now turn our attention from the wheeling galaxies and the whirling electrons, and from the no less dizzying speculations of philosophers, to the strange creature who has propounded these astonishing theories and claims to know this amazing world. Who is it who has set himself to measure alike the immeasurably vast and the immeasurably small? It is a tiny living organism, one of the many animals on the surface of that speck in the universe which we call the earth. No wonder we flatter ourselves that we are rational animals—the paragon of animals, as Shakespeare calls us. And we can echo Hamlet's words—‘What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In apprehension how like a God!’

Man is a complex being and can be studied from many different points of view. Nearly all the scientists can ‘have a go’ at him. The molecules and atoms of which his body is composed are subject to the laws of physics and chemistry, and the new science of biochemistry may be the great hope of human medicine. Physiology knows more and more about our genes, our glands, and the working of our brain and nervous system. Psychology professes to have plumbed the depths, not only of our individual unconsciousness, but also—if Jung is to be believed—of a collective and hereditary unconsciousness, from which we draw our moods and attitudes and thoughts and symbols. The social sciences attempt to study us in the mass, and hope—according to Karl Mannheim—to develop new techniques which will alter our behaviour, outlook, and feelings by making changes in our environment. Samples of what can be done in the way of transforming men have already been given us by the totalitarian States, and especially by ‘the enlightened dictatorship in Russia’.

From all these points of view man is an object to be studied—one object among many others—or even a puppet to be manipulated. We become, as it were, slides under a microscope or vile bodies on an operating table. Yet if this be the whole truth about man, we may be tempted to go back to our Shakespeare again and say to ourselves ‘What is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me, no nor woman neither!’

In spite of some frightening possibilities, of which so-called brainwashing is perhaps the worst, it would be absurd not to welcome our increased knowledge of human nature with its high hopes of a more intelligent and healthier life; but we must not let ourselves be so blinded by the blazing light of scientific progress as to forget that in all this something is left out. Who are these divine beings who tell us so confidently what kind of objects we are—or even, with an unconscious arrogance, what kind of objects we must become? Can it be that after all they are not gods, but only men like ourselves? If their statements exhaust the truth about themselves as well as about us, how can they know what they say they know? There must be something more in the world than molecules and atoms and genes and glands and cerebral processes, something more than the unconscious, whether individual or collective, something more than puppets to be manipulated en masse by social techniques. There must be thinking, which—however much it may be conditioned or influenced, or in some cases hampered, by the various processes revealed to science—is somehow able to grasp truth and to know reality.

This is not to say that even the least developed of the newer sciences—and it is these that are most ready to tinker with human nature—are without truth. On the contrary, it is because they contain so much truth that they can be a menace in the hands of the irresponsible. Nevertheless, when taken as the whole truth, they suffer from a fatal flaw: they ignore the fact that man is a knowing subject, and not merely a known object. This fact is implied in their every utterance, and our account of man is incomplete unless we recognize that man is a knower and thinker as well as an object known.

It is difficult—some would say impossible—to consider man as a knower, and to ask ourselves how his knowledge is possible. Yet this is precisely what we must try to do. My brief suggestions may be as confused as most of what is said on this topic. If we try to talk about man as a knowing subject, must we not turn him at once into a known object? And how can we examine our powers of knowing except by means of these very same powers?

If we engage in such an enquiry, we may seem to be rather like an absent-minded philosopher hunting for his spectacles and unable to find them because he is wearing them all the time. Even when he discovers they are on his nose, he cannot see them properly unless he takes them off. If we make the impossible assumption that without his spectacles he is totally blind, the spectacles are the one thing he would never be able to see—unless he is fortunate enough to possess a duplicate pair.

Perhaps we should rather compare ourselves to a man trying to see his own eyes. He can find no duplicates for them, but at least he can see them in a mirror, in a reflexion. The late Professor Collingwood used to speak of the world as the mirror of the mind, and it may be that we can see our mind, as it were, reflected in our world. The question ‘How can I know the world?’ may not be very different from the question ‘How can the world be known?’ Whatever the difficulty about knowing ourselves as knowing subjects, we may be able at least to discover some of the conditions under which our knowledge or experience of the world is possible. If to know these conditions is so far to know our powers of knowing by means of our powers of knowing, this is precisely the human situation we have to recognize and to accept.

We must not suppose that our questions could be answered by psychology. So far as psychology describes experience, it is certainly of importance for our enquiry; for we cannot say how experience is possible unless we know what experience is; and if we can know this scientifically, so much the better. But psychology is itself a part of our experience, and when we ask how experience is possible, we also ask how psychology is possible. These are philosophical questions and are not the concern of psychologists as such.

§ 2. Experience

The word ‘experience’ may be used, as I have used it here, for ‘empirical knowledge of the world’. But sometimes it is employed, especially by philosophical psychologists like Mr. Farrell, to indicate an element in such knowledge—even a simple element like a sensation, or raw feeling, which cannot be further analysed. There then arises a tendency to say that we ought to ‘get rid of experience’ in psychology. The business of psychology is to discover the physiological correlates of behaviour, and ‘there is nothing else to do’.

This view is reasonable enough if it merely claims the right to develop a psychology which confines itself to a study of human behaviour. But if it denies the possibility of examining experience (in every sense of that word) either psychologically or in any other way, it would be fatal to our enquiry, and we must consider its limitations.

A behaviouristic psychology, whatever its merits, has a special and limited point of view: it treats man, not as a knower, but as an animal organism known. We can use a man as a ‘subject’ in a laboratory—perhaps it would be better to say as an object. We can show him differently coloured disks and ask him to indicate—either by words or by depressing keys or by opening lids—which colour is red, which is green, and so on. He is then said to ‘discriminate’ between colours, but this ‘discrimination’ might be no more than the discrimination manifested by a barometer under different kinds of atmospheric pressure; for we are supposed to know nothing of his ‘experience’—of what happens in the gap between the stimulus and the response.

Since this gap is a gap in the experience of the psychologist, not in that of his victim, we might suppose that it could be filled if the psychologist makes himself his own object. For example, he might show himself red and green disks and respond by uttering the appropriate word or depressing the appropriate key. He would then know that the response was preceded by an experience of seeing red or green, and would surmise that a similar experience preceded the similar responses of other people. The gap would be filled.

This is surely the plain truth of the matter, but we are sometimes told that the psychologist discovers no more about experience when he experiments with himself than when he experiments with other people. It is impossible here to examine the ingenious arguments for so paradoxical a view: they rest partly on criticism of some absurd ways in which the word ‘experience’ has been used. Psychologists are sometimes so modest as to forget that they too must be present in the laboratory and that without their own experience of disks and colours and responses there would be no psychology at all.

The element of truth in this attempt to eliminate experience is that we cannot investigate knowings apart from what is known, thinkings apart from what is thought, sensings apart from what is sensed, experiencings apart from what is experienced. This was recognized—perhaps not without some vagueness—by the idealist philosophy which was predominant well into the present century. The opponents of this philosophy protested against what they considered to be a mere confusion, and insisted that we must make a complete separation between the experiencing and the experienced, the sensing and the sensed, or more generally between what has been called the ‘ing’ and the ‘-ed.’ The result was that all the ‘-ings’—knowing, thinking, sensing, experiencing—became pure blanks, all exactly alike and indistinguishable apart from their objects. Nothing whatever could be said about them except mythologically. They became an unobservable series of indescribable ghostly events and aroused the ire of some modern philosophers—Professor Ryle is the outstanding example. This is one reason, though it need not be the only one, for rejecting experience—that is, experiencing—altogether.

Nevertheless we cannot as philosophers, though perhaps we may as scientists, be content with a lot of ‘-eds’ existing all by themselves. Even as plain men, nothing could induce us to believe that we do not know and think and question and imagine, or that we do not see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. All these are elements combined in what I call my experience; but my experience is not a series of ghostly events capable of being investigated by themselves: it is experience of the world as it appears to me. In addition to the goings—on in my body which can be studied by the Behaviourist, there is, so to speak, a whole world going on in me or to me or for me—or however you like to put it.

There are here endless complications and difficulties—about feelings and mental images, for example, not to mention actions—but what I am trying to suggest is roughly that my experience in the first instance is my world as seen from a particular point of view or in a particular perspective. It is as if I were a cone of light: whatever falls within its beams is part of my experience, but the light itself is not seen unless indirectly as it illuminates an object. When colours fall within my perspective, I see colours; when bodies fall within my perspective, I see bodies; when arguments fall within my perspective, I see arguments. Here the word ‘see’ is manifestly being used in different senses; but it goes best with the word ‘perspective’, which has also to be used in different senses. We may prefer to speak of ‘knowing’ instead of ‘seeing’; but the essential point is that my knowing or seeing is not a seeing double. I may see a succession of colours, but I do not see, as it were, a parallel succession of seeings. In short, my experience—and surely this is only common sense—consists in seeing colours, in seeing bodies, in seeing arguments, and so on. It does not consist in a lot of alleged seeings which can be known apart from what is seen. On the other hand, when I see a colour I know that I see a colour. Experience is not only a conscious, but in some degree a self-conscious, experience. If it were not so, we could not even begin to talk about it.

It is this concrete experience which has to be investigated, but this can be done in different ways. We can approach the experience of an individual from our own point of view as detached observers, supposing we know all about his body and brain and nervous system and about the material world which stimulates his body; and we can try to find out how his experience develops in the world as we know it. This is the task of philosophical psychology, and its character is admirably indicated by the title of Professor Broad's well-known book ‘The Mind and its Place in Nature’. But there is another, and a logically prior, type of investigation. This would not begin by taking it for granted that a material world exists independently of our knowledge. A fortiori it would not begin by supposing that our sensations were effects produced by the action of other bodies on our body and ultimately on our brain. Can we begin instead by asking how our alleged experience of the material world is possible and how it can be justified? Can we ask what our mind must be or do if it is to know the world it seems to know, and indeed what our mind must be or do if it is to know itself? Can we, in short, try to look at the experience of the individual from his own point of view instead of from the point of view of some detached observer who knows a great deal more than he does and tries to put him in his place?

As each of us is an individual who knows and experiences the world from his own point of view, this task, though one of colossal difficulty, should not be wholly beyond our powers.

If we want a name for the kind of philosophy which undertakes this task, we may follow the usage of Immanuel Kant and call it ‘Critical’ philosophy. But it does not matter whether the doctrines here expounded are to be found in him or not. I am adapting or modifying his views to suit my own purposes.

§ 3. My point of view

It is obvious enough that in speaking of my experience and my point of view I am taking for granted a great deal that may be hard to justify and that may not even be consistent with itself. I am proposing to stand away from my experience and try to look at it—in what can only be another experience, and indeed only a part of my experience as a whole. In trying to identify my experience with the world as seen from my point of view, I seem at the same time to be separating myself from my experience. I seem also to be taking for granted that there is a world which exists independently of my experience and my point of view—a world which none the less appears to me, or is experienced by me, from my own point of view. And although I am speaking in the first person—as I must in order to make my meaning clear—I am doing so impersonally: I am expecting that my words may be intelligible, and perhaps even acceptable, to other beings who also make use of the personal pronoun ‘I’.

Assumptions of this kind have to be made, so far as I can see, by any one who tries to talk about his experience or about the world as it appears to him. All of these assumptions are in need of clarification, and some of them may become a little clearer as we advance.

What then is my point of view?

At least to begin with, the phrase can be taken literally. My point of view is the point from which I see my world, the point where I am here and now. I look out from here and see perhaps a room full of furniture and people. My own point of view in this literal sense I do not and cannot see—unless I move and see it from a different point of view; but then I have a different vista, a different perspective, a different experience.

My own body is one of the things I can see, though only in part, from my own point of view; and my point of view in space is continually changing as the world on which I stand goes whirling and hurtling through space; but this is a late discovery and for practical purposes can be ignored. Usually I think of my point of view as the same unless I move about—for example, by getting nearer to some object I see. But all movement takes time, and if I am to have a different point of view in space, I can do so only at a later time, and so at a different time.

Space is ordinarily conceived as standing still; and when the uninstructed are told that space is stretching with a speed greater than that of light, they have to think of it as stretching through another space that stands still and does not stretch. But time is thought of as moving inexorably on, so that even if I could keep the same point of view in space, my point of view in time is for ever changing. I always look at my world from the point of time I call ‘now’; but the ‘now’ is always a different ‘now’, even when the ‘here’ is supposed to remain the same ‘here’.

If this is true, my experience—or the world as experienced by me—is not one momentary perspective: it looks like a whole series, or succession, of perspectives, each of which disappears as the next appears. Yet somehow or other—and this is the great puzzle—the past perspectives must remain with me: they must in some sense be reproduced or remembered; and unless this were so, I could never know that I had a new perspective—still less that I had a new point of view in space and time. When I look out of the window of a moving train, I see a succession of many perspectives, and I could not even know that I was moving unless I were able somehow to hold these perspectives together. Hence, on the one hand, my experience—or my world—seems to be a collection of successive perspectives. On the other hand, this whole collection is still part of one perspective (though not in so literal a sense); for it has still to be viewed by me as a whole here and now: it has still to be reproduced or remembered by me, however imperfectly and however schematically, if I am to be aware of it at all. The railway traveller must be able to say to himself ‘I have seen quite a lot of country in the last five minutes’.

Hence, if I am to have the experience I do have, I must continually be holding together, or putting together, different parts of filled time and of filled space. It would be false to suggest that I must remember all the past in detail or reproduce it vividly in my imagination, but I seem always at least to receive my present perspective as part of a whole of past perspectives and, as it were, to attach it to that whole or attach that whole to it. This is true even if I remain at the same point in space and look at objects which do not seem to change; and the process is a kind of treadmill which can never stop while I continue to have experience or while the world continues to appear to me.

This process is sometimes called ‘synthesis’, which is merely the Greek for ‘putting together’. Such language has been criticized on the ground that we do not put things together—we merely know that they are together. But, so far as my experience is concerned, this is not true. My past perspective never was together with my present perspective. The two are together only as I now hold them together or put them together in thought or memory or imagination.

The same principle holds, though less obviously, in regard to parts of space and bodies in space, even when the bodies are supposed to remain in the same place and not to change. Only by putting together and holding together a whole series of different successive perspectives can I know the front, sides, and back of a house: in common-sense language I must walk round the house and remember what I see. When I see the front of a house new to me, I take for granted that it has a back and sides which could be known in the same way. When I look out of my window, I see fields and trees and houses with hills in the distance, all disposed in three-dimensional space. What is going on in my mind it is very hard to say. It is not a simple process of inference, but it is at least an active intellectual process of synthesis which would be impossible without imagination and memory and expectation (or something analogous to these).

The queer thing is that the world as experienced by me seems to stretch out indefinitely in all directions in space and also to stretch indefinitely backwards in time, and perhaps even forwards as well. I perceive only a part, but I am always connecting part with part and pressing on to attain a whole which none the less can never be complete. I take all material objects, even the remotest galaxies, to be ordered in one space continuous with my present space; and I take all events, even the beginning and the end of the solar system, to be ordered in one time continuous with my present time.

Needless to say, this vast universe is not present to me in the same detail as the room in which I stand. At any moment only a very small part of this room—or even of the desk at which I sit—is clearly present to me, but this part is always taken to be only a part, and it shades off into other parts less clearly present. There are parts of the room—for example, the wall behind me—which I do not see at all, but they are taken for granted and may be present to me schematically in imagination. I take it for granted that I am in this room, and this room is in a building, and this building is in a town, and so on indefinitely in one space and time. To experience a world of this kind is manifestly impossible apart from a most elaborate process of synthesis, which yet seems to be guided or directed throughout—consciously or unconsciously—by the principle that my world must be a whole in one space and in one time.

Endless complications are here passed over. There are many, for example, who tell us that there are all sorts of space—visual space, tactual space, psychological space, physical space, and so on. It is hard to see how there can be all these spaces, and how we could ever come to know them and to connect them with one another. But if this view is right, it shows only that the process of synthesis is far more complicated than I have said. Personally I feel more inclined to the view of the Hindu sage who remarked to an impatient European complaining about lack of time ‘I suppose you have all the time there is’. I should at least like to think that I have all the space and all the time there is. Then it would be meaningless to say that you had one space (or time) and I had another—although we should be aware of them from different points of view and perhaps measure them by different measures.

§ 4. Other points of view

We must now try to envisage the possibility of points of view other than our own—the possibility of other experiences and other minds.

Besides reproducing and remembering and combining past perspectives of my own, I can construct possible new perspectives: when I see the front of a house I can imagine, however vaguely, what the house looks like from the sides or the back, even if I have never seen the house before. In imagination I can, so to speak, place myself in different parts of space and time and construct in fancy the perspectives open from these points of view; and I can sometimes check or verify these products of my fancy, though only by means of another synthesis of the same kind. I am not confined to my own lifetime. I can imagine myself talking to Socrates in the market place at Athens or listening to Cicero in the Senate House at Rome. This power is important when we consider our knowledge of other people—people with perspectives other than our own. A man of genius who grew up alone on a desert island might perhaps be able to imagine a person other than himself—an alter ego. In ordinary life I am driven to believe in the existence of other people by knowledge of my own body and of other bodies like it.

The primary qualities of bodies are determined, I suggested earlier, by counting and weighing and measuring. These mathematical processes I can apply to my own body, but in this case I have further sources of information besides my external senses. I have enough in the way of internal sensation to feel that I have an inside as well as an outside, although the feeling is so confused that I could never know my own size and shape apart from external sensations of sight and touch. My body and its feelings are always a very near and intimate part of my total perspective (which is never merely visual); and yet the point of view from which I literally see the world seems to lie in my body. When I close my eyes the visible world is blotted out. Hence it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that I see with my eyes. Similar discoveries are made about hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.

Among the many material bodies in my world I find some like my own, which behave in much the same sort of way. They open and close their eyes, for example, very much as I do. It is not difficult for me to imagine the perspectives I should see from their point of view. I very naturally suppose they have the same kind of perspectives as I have, and that they put these perspectives together as I do in one time and space. In short I take them to be persons with an experience like my own, and this seems to be confirmed by the possibility of communication. I can say to them ‘Look and see’; and they can respond.

This highly intellectual process should not be regarded as the way in which we actually come to know other people. We probably come to know them by cruder processes of fighting and co-operation, of love and hate; and we may have no notion of ourselves till we, as it were, sort ourselves out from others. But at present we are considering in abstraction the cognitive element in our experience. My main point is that even on this cognitive level, although the bodies and experiences of others are in one sense only elements in my complicated system of perspectives, I also think of them as having a complicated system of perspectives like my own. Although I believe that I have privileged access to my point of view as they have to theirs, I can enter into their point of view in imagination—in somewhat the same way as I can construct points of view and perspectives which I might have had if I had lived in some other place at some other time. I can even understand how from their point of view I may be only an element in their system of perspectives and yet may be supposed to have a point of view of my own into which they too can enter in imagination. This means that I can stand to other people in a relation of subject to subject as well as in a relation of subject to object. In Martin Buber's more poetical language—though perhaps he would not agree with this—I can use the primary word ‘I-Thou’ as well as the primary word ‘I-It’. And I suppose that other people can do the same. We are in some ways like mirrors reflecting one another ad infinitum.

§ 5. The common world

It is not very difficult to pass from such considerations to the thought of a comprehensive or ideal experience in which all different systems of actual and possible perspectives could be combined. Such a thought might be regarded as a thought about God, but it would be hard to articulate and would seem to be still necessarily incomplete: it is one of those conceptions almost forced on us by experience and yet seemingly impossible for us to grasp. It is easier for us to think of what is common to all possible and actual human experiences or human perspectives—to think of our common world. We may regard this as primarily a world of material objects determined by scientific measurements in one space and time; but we also know that it must look different from different points of view, and we assume that other people are aware of secondary—and even tertiary—qualities similar in some degree to those we observe ourselves. Hence so far as we can enter in imagination into the point of view of others, our common world is richer and more varied than the world of material objects, although it is only the material objects that can be determined with precision.

On the other hand, my experience—and so presumably that of others—is more than a mirror of the order of physical events. When I watch a moving aeroplane, I see its different positions one after another, and I assume that it passes through these positions one after another; but when I look at a house, although I see its four walls one after another, I assume that they are all there at the same time. The order of my observings is not always the same as the order I attribute to what is observed. In more technical language the subjective order of my perceptions need not be the same as the objective order of what I perceive. Furthermore, when I perceive anything, I may at the same time be conscious of thoughts, images, feelings, and desires, which I do not attribute to the object perceived but to myself.

Into the complications of all this it is impossible to enter here. I measure time—even the time at which I observe objects or entertain thoughts or see images or have feelings or am conscious of desires—by the movement of physical bodies like clocks or stars. Nevertheless, although my experience, whatever else it may be, is always experience of the physical world, the time order of physical events is not the same as the time order at which I come to know these events; it is not the same, that is to say, as the time order of my mental history even if my mental history is reduced to an awareness of physical events. Say if you like—though this is far too simple—that what I call my mental history is only a succession of perspectives of the physical world. These perspectives have nevertheless to be arranged in one time order if they are to constitute my mental history and in a different time order if they are to constitute the world as experienced by me. Here and now I can look back on my own mental history and endeavour to put it in its place in the history of the physical world. I can, for example, remember my first sight of the Roman forum and can ask how many years had then elapsed since the first foundation of Rome.

When I try to do this I am still the centre here and now from which both my mental history and the succession of events in the physical world are viewed. These two series are both of them held together or put together by my act of synthesis here and now. What is more, the two series are not merely parallel—they seem to be inter-connected. The working of my brain I take to be a series of physical events connected causally with other physical events, and yet at the same time I take it to be the cause or condition of my having any mental history at all.

What I believe to be true of my own experience, I believe also to be true of the experience of other people. Hence what I have called the subjective succession of our perceptions—and of our thoughts, feelings, images, and desires—is itself also a part of our common objective world. I cannot know the succession of your perceptions as I know the succession of my own, but I can construct them in imagination in a way that I suppose not to be wholly remote from the reality; and I have some reason to assume that the kind of complications which I find in my own experience will be found equally in yours. Unless I do assume this, I cannot take you to be a person like myself at all, and there would be no possibility of communication between us.

§ 6. Phenomenalism and materialism

It may be objected that my perceptions just happen to arrange and co-ordinate themselves into an ordered world: they trip like ballet-dancers into their places in a strange theatre which has no stage and no audience and nothing behind the scenes. Why should we indulge in this elaborate talk about syntheses and imaginative constructions when all that is required is the association of ideas?

It is hard to believe that unordered perceptions and casual associations of ideas could ever constitute knowledge of an ordered world. What is more, this doctrine seems to reduce knowledge to a succession of momentary experiences, each gone before the next appears. It reduces my world to a succession of momentary worlds, each dead before the next is born. But if this were so, how could it ever be known that there was a succession of momentary experiences? How could a succession of ideas ever give rise to an idea of succession? And even if I could know the time order of my momentary experiences, how could I pass from this to know the different time order of objects in my world? How could I discover that the walls of a house were not successive but simultaneous?

If answers can be given to these questions, they will be no less elaborate than the doctrine they are intended to replace.

Another possible view is that what I call my experience results from changes in the atoms which happen to have come together in my body and brain in accordance with the laws of physics and of biological evolution.

Such a doctrine assumes that I already know a great deal about my experience and about my body and brain, and it seeks to establish correlations or conjunctions between them. This is a fascinating enquiry, but a quite different one: it does not even begin to ask how the material world of bodies and brains can be known.

If we say that the brain itself does all our thinking and knowing, the word ‘does’ is used very loosely. What the brain does literally is to manifest electrical activity, sometimes described anthropomorphically as receiving and sending messages. But if we say—as is said by Professor J. Z. Young in his Reith Lectures on Doubt and Certainty in Science—that what the brain does is ‘to comprehend the pattern of the stars’, this is metaphorical or even metaphysical. Comprehending a pattern is a phenomenon unknown to handbooks on electricity and magnetism; and although there may be a pattern of electrical activity in my brain, this is something entirely different from the pattern of the stars which I am supposed to comprehend by means of it.

From the point of view of my experience, the action of my brain is only one of the many things that I can comprehend. I must have experience of the world before I can know anything about my brain or what it does; and such knowledge would be impossible unless my thinking has already principles of its own by which it can distinguish, reflectively or unreflectively, between truth and error, between fact and fancy, between inference and mere association of ideas. From this point of view the causal connexion between my thoughts and the changes in my brain is a connexion between different elements within my total experience.

To all this it may be objected that vague philosophical theories are being pitted against established scientific facts.

Such an objection is due to misunderstanding. A philosopher is not rejecting the facts established by science when he asks how they are to be interpreted and how they can be known. Scientists have no more right than theologians to claim immunity from philosophical questioning. Even if the materialistic view is accepted by simple faith, it remains a miracle that a little eddy in the dust of which this vast universe is composed should be able, because of its changing conformation, to say to itself ‘I am only a little eddy of dust, and I know that I am; and indeed I know that in the whole endless universe only a few little eddies like myself have any notion of what is going on’. The knowledge thus claimed is so different from a physical movement that a material world in which it is found is a world in which anything might happen. Perhaps it is a dim feeling of this that makes some scientific thinkers so anxious to get rid of knowledge altogether—to reduce experience and thinking to mere behaviour, or mere talk, considered as a physical movement. A philosopher can speak even of his own talk in this way; but in the long run there must be some one who can understand his words and judge that they are true or false; and indeed he is presumably able to do so himself. This is a breach in the material order. To a materialistic philosophy it is a perpetual miracle, which must be blindly accepted or blindly denied.

From the book: