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Chapter VIII: Illusion and Ideas

Illusory appearances. Problem IV.

Illusory appearances of things differ from other appearances in not being veridical. Real appearances belong to the thing itself and are contained in it; they are its perspectives; the thing is the synthesis of them effected in the space-time to which they belong; and correspondingly the mind in its experience of these various appearances collates them or rather discovers them to be collated without any exclusion. Mere appearances belong to the thing only under conditions which do not leave it to manifest its appearances by themselves; and, when these conditions are allowed for, such mere appearances are accounted for by the real nature of the thing taken in conjunction with the foreign thing; and are thus real appearances of the two combined and mere appearances of the thing itself. But illusory appearances do not belong to the thing of which they are appearances; and the illusion consists in their being so referred.1 Only in so far are they illusory; there is no illusion until an element in the appearance which does not belong to the thing is perceived as belonging to it: until for instance the green seen by contrast on a piece of grey paper lying °n a red ground is seen as an affection of the place of the grey paper. The green by itself is not illusory; but the patch, occupied by the grey, seen as green. In like manner the paradoxical sensation of cold from a point on the skin touched by a hot metal is not in itself illusory but only when we feel ourselves touched by a cold thing. Hence it is that mere appearances shade off into illusory ones. To see a stick half straight in air and half bent in water is not an illusion. But to see the bent part of the stick as part of the whole straight stick is illusory. When we go further and believe that the straight stick is bent in water, we take a step beyond illusion and are victims of error. For illusion is perceptual error, or it has the same relation to perception as error to judgment. It is undeveloped error; not diverse from it, but error in the germ. Even a real appearance, like the elliptic appearance of the disc when seen obliquely, may become illusory if the disc is viewed as being actually an ellipse, that is if the space it fills is not merely seen with elliptic shape but is seen as being elliptic; and if it is believed to be really elliptic and a judgment made, there is error. So difficult is it to separate the different kinds of appearances from one another, and in particular to separate mere appearances from illusions, while illusions are first cousins to error.2

The illusory appearance of a thing is commonly said to be an illusion if the thing in question is actually present but misinterpreted, as if for instance we perceive a white shirt stretched on a clothes-line as a man returned from the dead, or feel a pencil double with crossed fingers. When the thing is not present at all we are said to have an hallucination. In hallucinations there is always a sensory excitement and not merely an ideal one. The stimulus may be purely internal and involve the sensory neural apparatus as in some reported cases of visual hallucination, or it may be external but produce an inappropriate sensation as when a cold point of the skin is touched by an actually hot piece of metal. There is however no difference psychologically in the structure of the two kinds of experience. In the case of illusion the thing revealed in sense-perception is implemented by an idea which does not fit it in fact; in the other case the ideal supplement is that of the thing which normally gives the sensation. In the one case the mind supplies the interpretation, in. the other it supplies the thing of which the interpretation is sensed. Hallucination is thus an inverted illusion. The mistake is discovered only by further experience of the circumstances. It may be in hallucination that there is no thing at all present corresponding to the sensory experience. It may be that something is actually present which caused the sensation but it is not the normal cause of that sensation. Both the idea in one case and the sensation in the other are, as referred to the thing, illusory objects and differ only for our purposes in respect of being ideal or sensory.

The source of illusory appearances.

The other two classes of appearances have their source in the thing of which they are the appearances. Illusory appearances have their source in the mind itself. Mere appearances come from the interference of some other thing with the thing itself; illusory ones from the interference of the mind. They are therefore subjective in their origin, while as we shall see remaining non-mental in themselves. In other words the apprehending is initiated from the corresponding object in the first two sets of cases, but in illusion from the mind itself. Consider ordinary correct perception of a thing. The yellow colour and spherical form of the orange set going certain intuitional and sensory processes in the mind. These set up connected processes whose ideal objects are fragrance and juiciness-that is, processes to which correspond the physical qualities of fragrance and juiciness, as presented in the form of idea; the ideal and sensory elements are united within the same space-time, and we have the perception of the thing, orange. Accordingly illusion may arise if the qualifying processes initiated by the mind itself at the touch of external experience are not those whose objects really belong to the thing which is contemplated. Whenever this happens the mind interferes with the world of things and disarranges it. The mind which is free from illusion supplements what is forced upon it by elements which are verified by the things themselves when further experience supervenes. Thus there is opportunity for misinterpretation wherever the mind is defective. We cannot take in things at one moment, but only by degrees and in the lapse of time, and the thing is therefore for us always presented partly in sense and partly in idea. But our ideas are affected by whatever affects us.

The causes of such misinterpretation are many. The most obvious are custom, and the predominant interest of the moment. But every idiosyncrasy of every sort may prevent the mind) from responding correctly to things: passion or prejudice, or some mental twist or perversity. These are the defects which are corrected by experience, as acquired not in the haphazard way which leaves us slaves to custom, but systematically and with precautions, or in a word, scientifically. Besides these personal idiosyncrasies which make an individual a bad observer, there are the defects which are normal and common to all persons such as operate, for instance, in some of those geometrical illusions which are so familiar and which are not merely differences of perspective. Sometimes the illusion is engendered by the limitation under which the mind labours, that it is adapted to the general case and its organisation is fixed, not by custom, but physiologically. A simple illustration is the natural illusion we have when we hold a pin close to our eye and look through a hole in a card held in front of our eyes at a source of light, which throws the shadow of the pin on to the retina. We see the pin then, on the other side of the hole, black but inverted.

The interference of the mind is not however confined to the introduction of inappropriate ideas. It may produce illusory sensations. Defects in the sense-organs and therefore in the mind, such as those of colourblindness and tone-deafness, illustrate this. These are personal defects and abnormal. But the abnormality of response may be universal and normal as in the paradox of cold sensation, because of the determination of the sensation in this case not by the real cause but by the fixity of the mind's response to stimulation in certain places.

In all these examples the mind itself interferes and apprehends an object that is conformable to the mental act which for one reason or other is set at work. So long as the object is contemplated in and for itself there is no question of illusion. When the mind goes on to refer these, illusory objects, illusory in reference to the real thing, to the thing, then it is in a state of illusion, and we have an illusory appearance of the thing.

We may now restate the difference between illusory and mere appearances. In mere appearance we have the appearance of a thing distorted by the presence of some other thing and both things are contemplated. But in illusion the distorting thing is replaced by the mind itself, or what is the same thing its neural process or organ of sense, which in different ways are instrumental to the mind; and neither the mind nor its instrument is, in the apprehension of the illusion, contemplated. The face behind the mirror is a mere appearance of the face which is in front of it. In illusion the mind as it were carries its own mirror with it. We do not see our eyes and still less our occipital cerebral tracts, as we see the mirror. On the other hand when the mind is taken along with the thing seen, the illusory appearance of the thing is a real appearance of the combination and a mere appearance of the thing. The angel would see the illusory appearance as a mere appearance of the thing. Hence too as we shall presently see the affinity of an illusory appearance to a work of art.3

Their non-mental character; and how they are possible.

But though illusory appearances are inappropriate to or disparate with the thing to which they are perceived to belong and owe their presence to the initiative of mind rather than to that of the thing itself, they are not the creation of the mind. What the mind does is to choose them from the world of reality. They also are an instance of the mind's selectiveness, only the selection is uncontrolled by that part of reality which purports to be perceived. The illusory object is as much non-mental as the real appearance. Yet it is chosen by the mind from the world of things not directly connected with the thing to which it is referred. The grey piece of paper is seen green by contrast on the red ground. The paper itself is not green. But there is green in the world. The appropriate response of the mind to green is the kind of sensory act which the mind is at the moment performing, and accordingly it sees green. Moreover the act is a sensational act and has its individuality, determined by its spatial extent and situation. It is not merely the apprehension of a universal green, as a correspondent of mine suggests ingeniously after Aristotle's dictum. I apprehend an individual sensum. The illusion consists in seeing a sensum of that quality in the grey piece of paper. But though the paper is not green the excitement produced in the corresponding places in the optic centre, part sensory, part intuitional, is the mental process which apprehends sensationally a green patch of that shape in that place.4

We can see now how illusion is possible. The object, with which the mind is brought into compresence by virtue of an act initiated by itself, is transferred from its place in the world into a place to which it does not belong. The illusion is a transposition of materials. Moreover the form of the combination is also real. I see the grey patch green and believe it to be so. The actual intuited space of the grey patch is filled with green quality according to the universal pattern of the combination of dualities within the space of a substance, and the same account applies to all the kinds of illusion we have mentioned. We combine elements not really combined, but both the elements and their form of combination are features of the real world when that world is taken large enough. Sometimes the dislocation involved is more thoroughgoing still. In a rational dream I have not only appearances, but things which behave in the dream-space precisely as they would in reality. They obey physical laws and are thus physical, though apprehended only in idea. The dream may be a perfectly connected and coherent set of related things. The illusion of the dream consists in the disagreement of this world of dream-things with the greater world, which is the whole world of Space-Time, not limited to this particular dream-vision of it. Everything in the dream is real, the materials of it and the ways in which they are related, including the thinghood of its things. But in the larger world they are not found in these arrangements and thus they cannot bear the test of the wider reference.

What my mental act does is comparable to the physical act of turning round and seeing an actual piece of green which is not in the first instance presented to my eyes. My mental act brings me face to face with the green in the world. Thus I do not make the green which I see in the illusory sensation or hallucination. All I do is to act in the appropriate way for seeing it. I select it out of the great external whole of Space-Time with all its contained qualities. Not only therefore is the object non-mental, but it is part of the world. The selectiveness of illusory appearances is but an extension of the selectiveness involved in all appearance. But the mental initiative leads me to select my object from a wider world of things, and the object selected is not appropriate.

A well-known psychological observation may serve as an analogy of what takes place in the mind, and as yet another metaphysical experiment. Fixate with the eyes the point of a pencil held in front, and by shifting the pencil about find out what external object is seen, by each eye respectively, in the direction of the pencil-point and partially covered by it, when the other eye is closed. I happen thus to see two Japanese pots of different shapes at the top of the bookcase in my study. Then open the two eyes again, and the two pots will be seen overlapping each other in the same place, as if they were being seen by a single eye, placed at the base of the nose, in the direction of the pencil point. The eyes then are squinting and the two pots seen together. Now this is what happens in illusion. The mind squints at things and one thing is seen with the characters of something else.5

‘Unreality’ of illusions.

We are therefore not free to suppose that illusory appearances are the creations of the mind or owe to it anything but their selection. They are perspectives of the real world as seen by a mind in abnormal condition. Nor are we free to suppose that there is a neutral non-mental world containing illusions amongst other neutral objects, neither mental nor physical. The real world is not got by adding something to this neutral world. The alleged neutral world is got by taking something away from the one real world. Illusions do not belong to a wider world of which reality is a selection plus an addition. Illusions are the real world seen awry or squintingly. The world of illusions is the same as what we call the real world, but dislocated, its parts taken from their proper places and referred amiss. That dislocation is the mind's own work. Illusion is due to the intrusion of the mind's own idiosyncrasies into the apprehension of reality. But it does not create but only rearranges what is already there. Hence illusion and in like manner error or mistakes of judgment are truly the result of overhaste on the part of the mind. Could it suspend its habit of reference, it would not be the victim of illusion. Descartes said of error that it was the result of the intrusion of the will into the judgment: overhaste of the will precipitated the judgment. This is perfectly true of error. Extend the explanation to illusion and we have the intrusion of personal defect of all kinds into perception. Thus all the materials of illusory percepts are real and, if the world of reality is taken wide enough, the percept itself is a perspective of the real world, and is just as objective and non-mental as any other percept; and if it is a percept of a physical thing it obeys the laws of physics and is not merely non-mental as being neither mental nor physical, but is physical. But the percept is unreal in the sense that it is untrue, though like any error it is perfectly real when taken along with the mind which possesses it.

Illusions therefore introduce us to the subject of values; they are unreal as being untrue, and unreconcileable in their illusory form with the whole world of reality. To understand illusion fully we must place it in its relation to images on the one side and to art on the other. It is more than a mere image, for it contains an element corresponding to belief, though not actually belief, which belongs not to perception but to judgment. But it is less than a work of art, for it is undesigned. In virtue of the distorted selection of its materials from the real world it is a mental construction. On the other hand, whereas the work of art is designed by the mind and can be beautiful or ugly, because the mind is an essential ingredient of it; the illusory percept is as naive as any other percept, and stands over against the mind and distinct from it. And accordingly it is not as such beautiful or ugly. Correspondingly the work of art in its turn always involves illusion. Illusion is next door to art and truth or error; but I connect it with art rather than truth and error because like art it is a perceptual object and not a judgment.6 Values are to be treated in the next chapter, and we merely note here the affinity of illusion to value, to which it naturally leads on. It remains to consider images and ideas and to see that mere ideas begin to show the same feature which condemns illusions to be called unreal.


The images of things are appearances of things although not sensible ones, and are included for synthesis or rejection in the space-time of the thing. As images of memory or expectation they are in part veridical, but they are in part illusory, and it would be difficult to find any cases of memory free from illusion. For the time between us and the past or future of the thing acts so as not only to produce omissions in our minds, which need not destroy the veridical character of the memory, but also to produce additions from ourselves and falsify the thing. Hence since Time acts on our images through first altering the complex of mental acts which correspond to the thing, the faults of memory may be of the nature of illusory appearance. All our images of things in memory or expectation are, it is safe to say, part true, part false. We discover the truth as well as the falsity of them by reference to the test of sensory experience, with which imagination is continuous. There is good reason for taking sensory experience as the standard, for in sense things act upon us directly, and there is no appreciable intervention of Time which throws us back upon our own initiative and may, in proportion as our minds are not faithful, introduce illusion. But though sense is pungent and compulsive, and memory or expectation pale and unstable and unfaithful, the remembered and the expected are none the less, so far as they are trustworthy, as much genuine appearances of the reality as the sensory ones. They are revelations of the past as past, or future as future, and to be a past object does not mean to have sunk into unreality but into the past. The past, if Time be real, has such reality as pertains to the past. Indeed while memories are outgrowths of present perception, it is also true that memories or expectations may enlarge and anticipate sensory experience. Thus features of the thing may stand out in memory which were overlooked or blurred in the hurry and pressure of sensory contact with the thing. And imagination may by way of hypothesis or otherwise suggest features unobserved which subsequent sensation may verify.

Thus memories and expectations are equally with perceptions revelations of the thing to which they refer, and the thing synthesises and accounts for them, both in actual reality and in our experiencing of that reality. Such synthesis is also rejection of what is false in imagination or sensation. Now it is in this inter-play between sensation and idea that the distinction of images and perceptions comes to be established. When images fail to fit in within the one portion of space-time with veridical sensations, they are distinguished as being only images. If they were wholly veridical, the distinction would perhaps not be made. The image would be a perfect substitute for the sensory appearance. As it is they are subject to the introduction of illusory elements and are in part rejected by the thing. Thus we get to know the real characters of things in two ways; first by actual handling of them in sense, secondly because our images of them are limited or checked or even annihilated by contact with sensory experience, and with ideas as faithful to that experience. Success and disappointment are thus the two means by which the mind is led into the truth of things; and this means from the other side that things on the one hand contain or account for certain partial objects, and reject others as not belonging within their contour of space-time. Thus neither sensa and percepta nor memories are mental, but because they are non-mental they force on us the distinction between what in them is real in the thing and what is only imaginary. Prima facie sensa and images are on the same footing. It is the experience of reducing them to coherence which betrays their inadequacies, which are most obvious and ubiquitous in the case of images, but occur also in sensations when they are hallucinatory.

Constructive imagination.

The illusory part of our images arises then from the liberty of the mind, released from the control established in sense by things. In constructive fancy that freedom is at its height. We follow a creative impulse and imagine a result which satisfies that impulse. In doing so we may get far away from anything that we can verify in sensory experience; but the remoteness depends on the kind of impulse which inspires us. In scientific imagination as employed in the creation of hypothesis or in practical imagination inspired by the desire to produce apparatus to serve an end, we are manifestly controlled at every point by the realities we deal with. We are using imagination with a speculative or practical purpose, to anticipate the facts presented in sense. Illusion is eliminated, as fast as it is generated, by the requirements of the task. Imagination in these cases shows itself the servant of fact, and there is no difficulty in recognising that however new the combinations struck out by desire to solve the problem before us, we are all the while handling real things in the external world. In the mere play of fancy for fancy's sake or in artistic production, the creativeness of the mind, as backed by passion or thought or both, which is expressed in our fancies and may be embodied in words or stone, seems to operate unchecked. The result does not exist in the external reality till we put it there. But fancy not only borrows its materials from reality, but as hinted in speaking of illusion, it combines them according to the laws of its materials. Thus not only do the objects of fancy obey, as in reference of an illusory quality to a thing, the categorial combinations which are universal; but it is bound by the special laws of its own creations, though the limits within which it is so bound are very flexible. To go back to an old instance, I may fancy a diamond mountain. A mountain must be made of some stone or other; I have only chosen in my freedom an alternative which never in fact exists. A fish to be a fish must have some head and body as well as a tail; I give it the head and trunk of a woman and fancy a mermaid. When we deal with error the same thing will be seen, and in a more convenient place. While thus the forms in which materials are combined are forms of combination found somewhere in reality, though not perhaps as between the things which fancy combines in those forms it is a commonplace that the materials themselves so found. This is quite consistent with the possibility that by some chance internal stimulation, imagination may envisage an object never presented to it in actual experience, some shade of colour never before perceived, or certainly some intensity of sensa which may not have been sensed. How far some positively new sensum may be fancied is a point I will not raise, but it is gravely questionable whether if the nerves have not responded to stimulation from without they can be so far functional as to present images from within.7 Even so the ideatum would be a non-mental object.

What fancy does, in fact, is precisely in a speculative way what the mind does in the practical handling of things to create fresh combinations like steam-engines. We take material things and recombine them according to their own laws, which we must obey to suit our purposes. Just so in fancy, we are taking from the physical world what we find there, and reconstituting them at our will into fresh combinations. We handle them in thought, though not in practical reality. The result always contains the element of illusion in so far as it is not reproduced in its fancied form anywhere in things. But in proportion as it is scientific or artistic, it embodies in illusory garment the outlines of things as they are, like a robe which betrays the shape of the limbs. Because all great scientific imagination or artistic creation starts from realities and returns to them again, the discoverers or artists seem to themselves to owe their creations not to themselves but to inspiration from without. There are abundant testimonies in this sense;8 not only do their creations come to them as it were from without, but in working out their fate, the authors feel themselves to be following not their own will but that of their creations. The wilder the fancy the less I suppose is this sense of government from without. But just so much greater is the measure of the illusion involved. This humility of the great is prompted by a true feeling for the situation. They are minds attuned to reality and able to anticipate it.

Assumptions and unrealities.

From images and mere ideas we may now pass to certain other cases. First of all we may here conveniently trench upon a subject of the next chapter and allude to the whole class of what are called assumptions or supposals. In his famous book (Ueber Annahmen) Mr. A. Meinong has exhibited systematically the immense part played in our experience by assumption. Examples are the antecedent clause of an ordinary hypothetical judgment; or again a scientific hypothesis; a question; a fanciful representation of events, a make-believe; in all which an assertion is not made but is as it were suspended. In all of them predications are made, without the characteristic mark of propositions about reality, which is belief. It might be thought that such supposals are additional testimony to a neutral world which is neither mental nor physical; but the conclusion would be erroneous. Such assumptions stand to propositions or ‘facts’ in the real world in a relation comparable to that of ideas to percepts; with this difference, that ideas presuppose and succeed percepts, whereas an assumption is an inchoate proposition, and precedes it. As an idea lacks the fulness of context which a percept possesses, so an assumption lacks that reference to the whole context of reality which carries with it belief.9 Supposals may be either veridical or not; if they are not they involve illusion or unreality, but they remain apprehensions of reality in the same sense as ideas which also may be verified or may be mere ideas.

Of another class of objects we have had an example already in the so-called ‘Spaces’ of more than three dimensions. They are constructions of thought founded on the spatio-temporal conception of dimensions, which they extend by unlimited combination with the equally spatio-temporal conception of number. In themselves they are mere thoughts or ideas, and if believed to exist are fictitious or unreal. They owe their value to two considerations; one is their internal consistency, which puts them on a level with any other work of art; the other, and for our purposes the more important one, is their connection with the real Spaces from which they arise. The foundation of the elements combined in them exists in Space-Time, and because this is so, and because having ascended in thought from Space-Time we can return to real Space from our height again, they are (according to the testimony of mathematicians) useful for the understanding of real Space. They are thus in part illusory or at least mere thoughts; in part they are tied fast to real Space, and are thus once more perspectives of reality from the point of view not of a distorted mind but of a mind giving play to its artistic fancies along lines of thought which begin in reality.

We must distinguish from such legitimate fictions the idea of a great number of three-dimensional Spaces or of many Times, which has been used to cast doubt on the ultimate reality of Space and Time and condemn them to the rank of appearances of an ultimate Absolute. The Space of a hashish dream is as objective as our Space; the adventures of Sinbad occur in Time but not in ours. There may thus, Mr. Bradley thinks,10 be a multiplicity of Spaces and Times; and with regard to Time he even goes so far as to say that not only may there be many Times going on along with ours, but we may think a Time whose order is the reverse of ours, in which say death precedes birth. Thus it is supposed there may be on the one hand independent Spaces or Times; on the other hand a Time or a different order. The interest of these speculations for metaphysics is different from that of the present topic, and details are left to a note.11 But as regards the notion of independent Spaces and Times (an example of which is the notion we have already met of the alleged separate Spaces of touch and of vision) we have only to say that when not false like the last example they are again nothing but perspectives of one and the same Space or Time. They are certainly objective; we cannot, as Mr. Bradley points out, correlate the time of a fairy tale with ours merely by considering the time in which the teller tells it. They are real Time or Space perceived under the conditions introduced by the subject which may distort them as in the magnification of an opium dream. The dream-time or the time of Sinbad's adventures may have no determinate date; the fairy history occurred only ‘once upon a time.’ But the same consideration applies to the most significantly real part of our knowledge, our universal concepts. The idea of a Time reversed is, I submit, a mistake.

The next set of objects are unrealities, whose status has been already touched upon, but is mentioned here again for completeness, and for further remark. Such unrealities are either empirical ones like the golden mountain, which is as a matter of fact unreal; or categorial, like the round square, which is self-contradictory and impossible, but yet can be entertained in thought. An intermediate case is that of a mare's nest. Since we can think unrealities, where do unrealities live? If there is no neutral world of objects of thought as such, are we not driven to say that unreals are in the real world which then must contain errors and illusions in their proper shape? The answer is that unreality is a mark neither of neutral nor of real being but of value, and value arises within reality. When we say the round square or golden mountain is unreal, we mean that it is incompatible with the rest of reality; we do not mean that it belongs to a world outside the real world. Unreality introduces the notion of falsity or error. The reality which belongs to the unreal belongs to it in virtue of its falsity which we shall see implies its possession by the mind, and always involves judgment. Illusion is ever on the brink of being an unreality; and becomes so when it is believed. In its naïve character of a misinterpreted perception, it falls short of error and unreality and is simply a dislocation of elements in reality, a mentally distorted perspective of the real.12

Appearances in mind itself.

Besides physical things which are the objects of contemplation, the world contains in itself and for us the enjoyed thing which is our mind and those other things which we neither enjoy nor contemplate directly but are assured of and acknowledge, the minds of others. Hitherto we have been dealing with physical or external things and examining what we can know of them, partly by reference to the whole scheme of things in Space-Time to which they belong, partly by reference to simple inspection of our contemplations; and we have found the two methods to confirm each other. But we also know ourselves by enjoyment; though we have not knowledge of ourselves, but on the contrary every act of enjoyment is a part of ourselves. I have already spoken of knowing our own mind and shall continue to do so. Now in our enjoyments of ourselves we find the same distinctions as we find in the objects we contemplate. We enjoy ourselves in the form of intuitings, sensings, imaginings, rememberings, thinkings; and each of our acts is the appearance of the whole self as contained within its proper spatio-temporal enjoyed contour. It is not the appearance of the mind to itself, for it cannot be an object to mind, but it is a partial act which appears in the mind itself. The mind is the synthesis of all these appearances.

Not only is the mind in this way exactly comparable to an external thing, but in becoming aware of external things as a totality of appearances, sensory, ideal, or of thought, and some real, some mere appearances, some illusory, we enjoy ourselves under the same denominations. We have seen before that every categorial intuitum is intuited by a categorial intuiting; that imagining an image is an enjoyment of ourselves in imaginative form, a remembered mental state is the enjoyment of ourselves in the past, just as the remembered object is an object contemplated as past. We can now see that there is the same distinction in mind between what is truly itself, even though, as in memory, remoteness makes it appear only in partial form, and what is partly due to other elements in the field of view and what is illusory. When we make a mistake about an external thing, our enjoyment is also mistaken; but we rarely notice that we are subject to illusions and errors about ourselves except when we are directly interested in observing ourselves carefully in enjoyment, as when for instance we imagine ourselves by an illusion to be advancing a man's interests from a sense of public duty when we are really doing so from friendship; or imagine ourselves to be in love with a person when, as novelists say, we are really in love with the idea of being in love.13 When we separate out from our enjoyments those which are illusory in this way or mere appearances, e.g. the mere appearance that we are enjoying ourselves seeing the stick bent in water or our own face in a mirror, we distinguish between what is really ourselves and what is not, that is between our true self and what is accidental or illusory.

There is however a difference between our appearances in enjoyment and the appearances of external things in contemplation; namely that our enjoyed appearances all are in the mind whether true or distorted or false. We enjoy our illusions as well as the correction of them which may ensue upon reflection, and equally, to turn to mere appearances, the enjoyment corresponding to the distorting circumstance, whether it be another external object or mere distance in time or space, is contained within the mind. Whereas the external thing does not contain its mere appearances or its illusory ones. In fact, as we have seen, our illusions are always in a manner artefacts of our own and their reality in the form which they possess is owing to the mind which entertains them. Thus the distinction of the true self and the unreal self is a distinction which grows up within and is contained within the self. Here we must be content to leave the matter for the present. In a later chapter, when we discuss error in general, we shall see that this state of affairs in ourselves is one way by which we can help ourselves to understand what error is (pp. 267–8).

Public and private, personal and impersonal, experience.

It remains to apply these considerations as to the objective physical character of images of physical things to an ancient problem. In every experience we can distinguish a personal and an impersonal element in the situation. What is personal in the strictest sense is the act of enjoyment, which no other person but the experient can enjoy and which neither the experient nor another person can contemplate. Enjoyments cannot be shared, and are private. Objects contemplated can be shared, and in general are public. But besides the act of enjoyment which is strictly private, illusory objects are also private because they are due to the intrusion of the individual's idiosyncrasy. One man sees the ghost, another man does not see it; the first has in his mind from education or other sources the distorting idea which is peculiar to him. Even this statement is to be received with qualifications. The illusory object is private only so far as it cannot be shared. In the first place, though you do not see the ghost I see, the ghost is so far public that I can make it by description an object to you also, or you can understand it. Secondly, some illusory objects like colours seen by contrast are universal. Still the illusion is not strictly public. We all see the same patch of space, and we all fancy it coloured. But we do not see the same colour of the patch, for there is no such colour in the patch, but we imagine we do because our experiences are of the same sort. The same thing is true of collective hallucinations induced by hypnotising several persons at once. Hence it is that a subjectivist philosopher can maintain the idea that real things are collective hallucinations.

Sensa and images are thus not private but public, except so far as they contain illusory features. It happens that my sensum is sensed only by me, but any one else in my place would have the same sensum, if we are both standardised minds. So if we are not subject to illusion, our objects are either real appearances or mere appearances, and belong as such not to us but to the external world. Now sensa perhaps you will admit to be public. But images, how can they be so? Are they not eminently private? The answer is no, except for the personal idiosyncrasy of the imager. If you could put yourself in my place you would have the same image. Even without performing that feat which is practically not possible, I can describe my image to you and you can have the image too. If it were not so, how should we hear another person say, my memory of this event coincides exactly with yours? The acts of imaging are numerically different, but the images agree with allowance for the difference of perspective, which happens in such a case to be inappreciable. If I put myself in your place and we are both standardised, there is no difference of perspective at all. Let the image be one of a man whom we remember to have seen before in a certain place. Our images of him may be without place or date; our memories of him are the man at that place and date. It is true that memory may falsify, and distance in time and place may make us date and place the event of meeting him differently in our two cases. But it is still the man in that place and date whom we remember under these distorting conditions. If there is no distortion the date and place coincide even in our perspective objects. If you fall into a mistake discussed before and urge that the real man is out of sight and cannot be revealed in the two images, I remind you that you only know him in imagination as his image, and you only remember him as the memory-object which you have of him. Let the man come into our presence and we should identify our images with the seen man, and though in the case of memory we should remember him as being before in a different situation in the whole of Space-Time, we should still refer both our memory-image and our perception of the man to the same contour of space-time. For though he occupies different places now and then, his contour remains the same. The individual is universal in respect of the different dates and places he occurs at, but he remains one and the same (of course within limits) because Space-Time is uniform, and though he changes his situation he retains his configuration. It is in this sense that two images of two different observers can be images of one and the same thing; and I may add that an imaged space can belong to the seen space which it reproduces. Even a virtual optical image, we saw in actual experiment, belongs to the same place as the touched thing.

Accordingly the important distinction is not that between private and public experience but that between personal and impersonal experience. The things we know are independent altogether of our enjoyments, and they reject what is imported into our objects by our personal bias, our idiosyncrasies or illusory interpretations; they are the depersonalised syntheses of the objects which are selected from them by our own or other minds. On the other hand the so-called private experience is but each man's individual perspective of the thing, and it is from the beginning (illusion barred) public. This follows at once when we are considering knowing as merely one illustration of the relations between finites. For then the perspective or private view of a thing is but the revelation of the thing to a mind at that point of view. It follows also from simple inspection of our experience which assures us that the object is something not-mental and a distinct existence from ourselves. But according as we take one or other point of view we express our experience differently. If we begin from the world of things and consider its relation to minds, we say that ten men see the same sun, for it is the one thing, the sun, which gives the ten men their experiences of it. But from the point of view of simple inspection which is the point of view of the individual man in his position, the ten men see not indeed ten different suns but ten objects called sun, that is, they see ten different appearances of the one sun. These different objects (whether they are objects for ten persons, or for one and the same person as he occupies ten different positions) are found by experience to coalesce and be contained in the one thing, the sun, and when that has happened each can say that he has seen a different appearance of the sun. It is from the confusion of these two points of view that the belief arises that our objects are mental, the objects of imagination most clearly so and after them even the objects of sense. We do not in apprehending the sensum or the ideatum apprehend the whole thing. We say therefore, shifting over to the absolute point of view, that our sensa and ideas belong to us and guide us to things. By this confusion we distort our mental history. We know in the first instance objects; then we know things, by discovering the syntheses of these objects; then we know our objects to be selected from the things.

Intersubjective intercourse: its function.

Now were not objects (illusion excluded) public from the beginning no experience of their unification in the thing would be possible, whether for the individual or through the co-operation of many individuals. No collection of private objects, which were not already public in so far as they were altogether distinct from the persons whose objects they are, could make up a public one, any more than, as Hamlet says of Laertes' love for Ophelia, forty thousand brothers could with all their quantity of love make up his sum; meaning that his love as of a different kind. But because the perspectives are public, their personal ingredients, if they have any, are eliminated when many objects are put by many persons into the common stock and we are left with truth. Thus intersubjective intercourse (the phrase is Mr. Ward's), depersonalises experience; but it does not change it from a private to a public experience. Nor in the individual taken by himself could his various objects, if they were merely his, give him experience of any thing or substance in which they are united. But every object being of itself public, the discovery of the thing of which it is the revelation is a matter of more experience, that is of the collation of experiences with one another so as to recognise their coherence within one space-time contour. Hence the objection to solipsism as a philosophical doctrine is not that it would isolate us from one another, or that as Mr. Bradley has shown it would equally isolate any one part of my experience from any other; and certainly not in any repulsiveness such as it seems to many to possess. Its impossibility lies in its infidelity to the facts of experience whether as delivered to simple inspection or as derived from a consideration of finite existence in general.

It might be thought that intersubjective intercourse in making us aware of things as distinct from individual knowledge of them establishes the connection of the individual mind with a universal mind for which the thing is object. Now of a universal mind experience tells us nothing, and in the sequel we shall see that when we seek to transcend finite mind we arrive not at universal mind or “consciousness as such” but at something different. Universal mind is, within our experience, nothing but the universality of mind which is its law of configuration as universality is everywhere. In truth what the combination of many objects into one thing, the recognition of their belonging in themselves to one thing, does for us in respect of mind is something different and much simpler. So far as these objects belong to one mind alone and that mind realises their unity in the thing, it correspondingly realises its own unity of substance as the substance of it sown enjoyments. We thus come by the enjoyed experience or ourselves as the totality of our acts within our mental space-time, and we learn also to exclude the elements of illusion which may creep into our enjoyments. The thing called mind enjoys and ‘knows’ itself just in so far as it contemplates and knows external things. In so far as the objects of many minds are synthesised in the thing, we become aware of truth on the one hand and social connection on the other. But of mind as such we learn nothing; only of finite minds we learn to know more and better.

One particular but fundamental illustration of these remarks must be mentioned again at the cost of repetition; it is that of Space and Time. Our intuitions (intuita) follow the same lines as sensa, in which they are included, and are subject to the same variations of perspective and illusion. But real Space is not public as distinct from private space. Private spaces are but public spaces as they happen to be observed by individuals at different points of view. Real Space is their synthesis, and they are discovered to belong to it as sensa or images do. Thus just as there is no such thing as the Spaces of touch and of sight which experience connects by a customary bond, but touches and colours which are correlated within their single extension, so the various intuita of Space are appearances of the one Space of which they are appearances. In the same way we do not arrive at public Time by union or private times. The private time of the events which I experience in the outer world is the one Time in which all events occur, seen by me from my angle. The universal Time is arrived at by depersonalising the perspective times of many persons, that is, correcting the illusions to which they are subject. I can say, this will not happen in my time, but it will in yours, meaning that my bit of the one Time will not last long enough to include your experience. By what means the standard Time is reached I will not pursue. Along with this reference of many times to the one Time there goes the awareness of the time-order of my enjoyments, and in the end I come to assign the time of my mind to its proper lace in the one Time which is both contemplated and enjoyed; just as I learn to locate mental space in the one Space.


On the Possibility of Many Spaces or Times

For Mr. Bradley these notions are fresh evidence that Space and Time are appearance and not reality. It is all the more necessary to indicate where I think he is proceeding on a mistaken basis, because of his clear insistence on the objectivity of all these Times and Spaces. I do not know if other persons have had the same experience, but it was this very passage on the space and time of ideas which taught me convincingly the non-mental character of ideas.

Of independent Spaces and Times I have little more to say than in the text. The difficulty of recognising the spaces and times of our ideas to be in the one real Space and Time is that of dating or locating them, assigning them to their proper places. The events may have no determinate date; or they may be fictitious events occurring at a real date; or as in an historical romance the dates may be real but the events half-real and half-fictitious. In all instances, as in the supposed independent Spaces of touch and sight, the problem is not how to correlate different spaces or times, but how to correlate different sets of sensible events within the one Space or Time; or how to correlate distorted intuitions of Space and Time itself, as in the opium dream, with true physical Space-Time or with mathematical Space and Time. The synthesis by which in experience we discover the unity of Space or Time shows us at the same time how much of our space or time experiences is mere idea or illusory or erroneous.

The empirical arguments for independent Spaces or Times break down on consideration of the relation of imagination to its objects. On the other hand the a priori possibilities which are alleged of different orders, especially of Time, arise from neglecting the empirical character of Space-Time, like the considerations of relation discussed in a previous chapter.14 Take first the notion that in the Absolute there may be included a time series of the reverse order, in which death precedes birth. This clearly neglects the empirical fact that Time within our experience is of one direction. But the thought of a reversed series in Time would have no meaning unless Time were considered as a mere relation not between times but between events like death or birth which take place in time. In other words events like these which owe their character to the forward movement of Space-Time as we experience it are now taken by themselves independently of the Time in which they occurred, and referred to an abstract Time supposed to have a reversed order. Complex events are considered by themselves apart from the very spatio-temporal events which are their material. Death is a particular kind of motion which is supposed to go backward and to cease therefore to be death It is fairly evident that here again the error arises from separating Time from Space. To suppose concrete events to occur in the reverse order15 is to alter their spatial character as well. You could only save yourself from this conclusion by supposing Space too to be, as it were, turned inside out. But the result of that would be to leave you with precisely the same world as before, and the fancy of a reversed Time becomes gratuitous.

Nothing in what has been said conflicts with the fact that there are in our world symmetrical objects with the same character, like Kant's right-hand and left-hand gloves. But the fancy in question would require us to have left-hand gloves which fitted the right hand. This they could only do if the right hand became the left; in which case things would remain precisely as before, with perhaps a change of names.

When once it is recognised that a forward movement of Time is nothing by itself, but is a forward dating of points of Space in Time, the hypothesis of a reversed Time loses all its support. With it there vanishes also the fancy of a reversible order of causation.

We cannot then suppose that the same sensible events may occur in different worlds in changed orders of Time. But it may still be urged there are or may be contained in the Absolute different orders of Time, not on the previous epistemological ground, but on the ground that there is nothing a priori impossible in the supposition. Let us turn again to the empirical nature of Space-Time. It is true there are independent lines of advance; and so far different time-series are suggested. But since Time is spatial, the unity of these time-series in Time is secured by their unification in Space, by their belonging to the one Space. Occurring in the one Space, these time-series are connected in time by the temporal relations between their respective places. Correspondingly the unity of all Spaces is secured by their belonging to one and the same time-series. The independent lines of Time are thus unified when they are taken along with their Space. If we once separate Time from Space we may doubtless conceive the notion of various time-orders which are unified in the Absolute, not in time (it is not suggested in space), but in some other way to us unknown. This leads to the contradictory conclusion that several moments of time which for the Absolute are each ‘now’ in its own series are not identical instants. Whereas if an instant is treated as being also a point, we may have the same instant repeated at many (indeed at all) points and the same point occurring at every instant. Thus when Time is regarded as it must be spatially, there are no Times which do not all belong to the one Time, belonging as they do to the one Space. Repetition of instants in Space is in fact a feature of Space-Time.

If any one still insists on a possible multiplicity of Times or Spaces, he can but assert that the whole of Space-Time is repeated in the Absolute. In other words the Absolute contains the same world over and over again. Such an absurdity it needs not be said is not contemplated by the absolutist theory. And yet when Space and Time are undivorced, that is the only way in which we can have a possible multiplicity either of Spaces or Times.

No one has contended more forcibly than Mr. Bradley for the Kantian principle that the possible is only what may be thought in accordance with the conditions of experience. It is just because neither Space nor Time is taken as it presents itself in experience, each united with the other, that he has been able to indulge himself in the hypothesis (to which of course he does not attribute reality) of different worlds of Space and different orders of Time.

  • 1.

    For the truth that illusion lies in reference of the imaginary element to the thing to which it belongs see Mr. Russell's remarks in Scientia, 1914. (Mysticism and Logic, p. 176) and again in External World, p. 85, which make clear wherein illusion consists.

  • 2.

    An illusion is a mistake of perception, not of judgment. It is quite possible that illusions may themselves be founded upon preceding judgments, as is maintained for so many cases of geometrical illusions by Lipps. But there is no explicit judgment in the illusion itself.

  • 3.

    In the above I am omitting for the present illusions and other appearances in the mind itself. They are described later. I am dealing here with illusions as to external things.

  • 4.

    For this view of illusion (and error) as displacing elements in reality and combining them according to real modes of combination see Mr. Stout's paper ‘The object of thought and real being’ in Proc. Arist. Soc. N. S. vol. xi., 1910–11. His important addition to the matter is that the combination follows real lines, as well as the materials

  • 5.

    The king in Hamlet admirably describes his own hypocrisy and the illusion he wishes to produce in others of his sorrow for his brother's death: “with an auspicious and a dropping eye.”

  • 6.

    We shall see however that though the work of art is a percept, its beauty also involves judgment (ch. ix. D, p. 295).

  • 7.

    See later, ch. x. p. 325, and above, vol. i. p. 333.

  • 8.

    I quote one such testimony from what is reported of George Eliot by her biographer: “She told me that in all that she considered her best writing there was a ‘not-herself’ which took possession of her, and that she felt her own personality to be merely the instrument through which the spirit, as it were, was acting. Particularly she dwelt on this with regard to the scene in Middlemarch between Dorothea and Rosamond, saying that although she always knew they had sooner or later to come together she kept the idea resolutely out of her mind until Dorothea was in Rosamond's drawing-room. Then abandoning herself to the inspiration of the moment, she wrote the whole scene exactly as it stands, without alteration or erasure, in an intense state of excitement and agitation, feeling herself entirely possessed by the feelings of the two women” (Life and Letters, by J. W. Cross, vol. Hi. p. 424).

  • 9.

    A similar conception of assumptions was stated by Mr. Russell in a Paper on Mr. Meinong's book (Mind, N. S. vol. xiii., 1904, p. 348), but withdrawn, I believe, by him subsequently. Mr. Meinong's answer (Annahmen, ed. 2, pp. 132 ff.) is directed to showing that supposals are not simply ideas. I have been careful to say only that they are related to judgments as ideas to percepts. For the connection of supposal and judgment, on the conative side, in the act of willing, see a suggestion later (ch. ix. B, p. 248).

  • 10.

    Appearance and Reality, ch. xviii. and ch. xxii. pp. 286, 287.

  • 11.

    See Supplementary Note at the end of the chapter.

  • 12.

    An excellent illustration of the usefulness of this method of comparing the different kinds of the objects of our experience, as if they were varieties of a species or species of a genus or specimens of development within a case in a museum, will be found in Miss L. S. Stebbing's recent paper on ‘The philosophical importance of the verb “to be”’ in Arist. Soc. Proc N. S. vol. i., 1917–18. I do not accept all its details. It has suggested to me to add the present section by way of a fuller prosecution of the matter than I had originally written.

  • 13.

    This illusory condition is the standing diagnosis which the eminent K. C. makes of his clients in one of Mr. Shaw's plays: “You think you do, but you don't.”

  • 14.

    Bk. II. ch. iv. vol. i. pp. 25 ff.

  • 15.

    Of course to two individual observers, events may occur in the reverse order, the one may hear before he sees, the other see before he hears. But this is a reversal of the order of experiencing and not of that of the events experienced; and further to each observer no matter in what order his experiencings occur, for him the order of the objects is irreversible. In fact we discover the true order of events by making allowance for these subjective variations.