William Kingdon Clifford.

Lectures and essays by William Kingdon Clifford (Volume 2) online

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going round the loop-line. A much larger number
of the messages which go in at a cat's eyes and come
out at her paws go straight through without any loop-
line at all than do so in the case of a man ; but still there
is a little loop-line left. And the lower we go down in
the scale of organization the less of this loop-line there
is ; yet we cannot suppose that so enormous a jump
from one creature to another should have occurred at
any point in the process of evolution as the introduction
of a fact entirely different and absolutely separate from
the physical fact. It is impossible for anybody to point
out the particular place in the line of descent where


that event can be supposed to have taken place. The
only thing that we can come to, if we accept the
doctrine of evolution at all, is that even in the very
lowest organisms, even in the Amoeba which swims
about in our own blood, there is something or other,
inconceivably simple to us, which is of the same nature
with our own consciousness, although not of the same
complexity that is to say (for we cannot stop at
organic* matter, knowing as we do that it must have
arisen by continuous physical processes out of inorganic
matter), we are obliged to assume, in order to save
continuity in our belief, that along with every motion
of matter, whether organic or inorganic, there is some
fact which corresponds to the mental fact in ourselves.
The mental fact in ourselves is an exceedingly complex
thing ; so also our brain is an exceedingly complex
thing. We may assume that the quasi-mental fact
which corresponds and which goes along with the
motion of every particle of matter is of such inconceiv-
able simplicity, as compared with our own mental fact,
with our consciousness, as the motion of a molecule of
matter is of inconceivable simplicity when compared
with the motion in our brain.

This doctrine is not merely a speculation, but is a
result to which all the greatest minds that have studied
this question in the right way have gradually been
approximating for a long time.

Again, let us consider what takes place when we
perceive anything by means of our eye. A certain
picture is produced upon the retina of the eye, which
is like the picture on the ground-glass plate in a photo-
graphic camera ; but it is not there that the conscious-


ness begins, as I have shown before. When I see any-
thing there is a picture produced on the retina, but I
am not conscious of it there ; and in order that I may
be conscious the message must be taken from each
point of this picture along the special nerve-fibre to
the ganglion. These innumerable fine nerves which
come away from the retina go each of them to a par-
ticular point of the ganglion, and the result is that,
corresponding to that picture at the back of the retina,
there is a disturbance of a great number of centres of
grey matter in the ganglion. If certain parts of the
retina of my eye, having light thrown upon them, are
disturbed so as to produce the figure of a square, then
certain little pieces of grey matter in this ganglion,
which are distributed we do not know how, will also be
disturbed, and the impression corresponding to that is
a square. Consciousness belongs to this disturbance of
the ganglion, and not to the picture in the eye ; and
therefore it is something quite different from the thing
which is perceived. But at the same time, if we con-
sider another man looking at something, we shall say
that the fact is this there is something outside of him
which is matter in motion, and that which corresponds
inside of him is also matter in motion. The external
motion of matter produces in the optic ganglion some-
thing which corresponds to it, but is not like it.
Although for every point in the object there is a point
of disturbance in the optic ganglion, and for every
connexion between two points in the object there is a
connexion between two disturbances, yet they are not
like one another. Nevertheless they are made of the
same stuff; the object outside and the optic ganglion


are both matter, and that matter is made of molecules
moving about in ether. When I consider the impression
which is produced upon my mind of any fact, that is just
a part of my mind ; the impression is a part of me. The
hall which I see now is just an impression produced on
my mind by something outside of it, and that impression
is a part of me.

We may conclude from this theory of sensation,
which is established by the discoveries of Helmholtz,
that the feeling which I have in my mind the picture
of this hall is something corresponding, point for
point, to the actual reality outside. Though every
small part of the reality which is outside corresponds
to a small part of my picture, though every connexion
between two parts of that reality outside corresponds
to a connexion between two parts of my picture, yet
the two things are not alike. They correspond to one
another, just as a map may be said in a certain sense to
correspond with the country of which it is a map, or
as a written sentence may be said to correspond to a
spoken sentence. But then I may conclude from what
I said before that, although the two corresponding
things are not alike, yet they are made of the same
stuff. Now what is my picture made of? My picture
is made of exceedingly simple mental facts, so simple
that I only feel them in groups. My picture is made
up of these elements ; and I am therefore to conclude
that the real thing which is outside me, and which
corresponds to my picture, is made up of similar
things ; that is to say, the reality which underlies
matter, the reality which we perceive as matter, is
that same stuff which, being compounded together in a


particular way, produces mind. What I perceive as
your brain is really in itself your consciousness, is You ;
but then that which I call your brain, the material
fact, is merely my perception. Suppose we put a
certain man in the middle of the hall, and we all looked
at him. We should all have perceptions of his brain ;
those would be facts in our consciousness, but they
would be all different facts. My perception would be
different from the picture produced upon you, and it
would be another picture, although it might be very
like it. So that corresponding to all those pictures
which are produced in our minds from an external
object, there is a reality which is not like the pictures,
but which corresponds to them point for point, and
which is made of the same stuff that the pictures are.
The actual reality which underlies what we call matter
is not the same thing as the mind, is not the same
thing as our perception, but it is made of the same
stuff. To use the words of the old disputants, we may
say that matter is not of the same substance as mind,
not homoousion, but it is of like substance, it is made
of similar stuff differently compacted together, homoi-

With the exception of just this last bridge connect-
ing the two great regions of inquiry that we have been
discussing, the whole of what I have said is a body of
doctrine which is accepted now, as far as I know, by
all competent people who have considered the subject.
There are, of course, individual exceptions with regard
to particular points, such as that I have mentioned
about the possible creation of energy in the brain ; but
these are few, and they occur mainly, I think, among


those who are so exceedingly well acquainted with one
side of the subject that they regard the whole of it from
the point of view of that side, and do not sufficiently
weigh what may come from the other side. With
such exceptions as those, and with the exception of
the last speculation of all, the doctrine which I have
expounded to you is the doctrine of Science at the
present day.

These results may now be applied to the consider-
ation of certain questions which have always been of
great interest. The application which I shall make is a
purely tentative one, and must be regarded as merely
indicating that such an application becomes more pos-
sible every day. j~The first of these questions is that of
the possible existence of consciousness apart from a
nervous system, of mind without body^ Let us first of
all consider the effect upon this question of the doctrines
which are admitted by all competent scientific men.
All the consciousness that we know of is associated with
a brain in a certain definite manner, namely, it is built
up out of elements in the same way as part of the action
of the brain is built up out of elements ; an element of
one corresponds to an element in the other ; and the
mode of connexion, the shape of the building, is the
same in the two cases. The mere fact that all the con-
sciousness we know of is associated with certain com-
plex forms of matter need only make us exceedingly
cautious not to imagine any consciousness apart from
matter without very good reason indeed ; just as the
fact of all swans having turned out white up to a certain
time made us quite rightly careful about accepting
stories that involved black swans. But the fact that



mind and brain are associated in a definite way, and in
that particular way that I have mentioned, affords a
very strong presumption that we have here something
which can be explained ; that it is possible to find a
reason for this exact correspondence. If such a reason
can be found, the case is entirely altered ; instead of a
provisional probability which may rightly make us
cautious, we should have the highest assurance that
Science can give, a practical certainty on which we are
bound to act, that there is no mind without a brain.
Whatever, therefore, is the probability that an expla-
nation exists of the connexion of mind with brain in
action, such is also the probability that each of them
involves the other.

If, however, that particular explanation which I
have ventured to offer should turn out to be the true
one, the case becomes even stronger. If mind is the
reality or substance of that which appears to us as
brain-action, the supposition of mind without brain is
the supposition of an organized material substance not
affecting other substances (for if it did it might be per-
ceived), and therefore not affected by them ; in other
words, it is the supposition of immaterial matter, a con-
tradiction in terms to the fundamental assumption of
the uniformity of nature, without practically believing in
which we should none of us have been here to-day.
But if mind without brain is a contradiction, is it not
still possible that an organization like the brain can
exist without being perceived, without our being able
to hold it fast, and weigh it, and cut it up ? Now this
is a physical question, and we know quite enough about
the physical world to say, ' Certainly not.' It is made


of atoms and ether, and there is no room in it for

The other question which may be asked is this : Can
we regard the universe, or that part of it which imme-
diately surrounds us, as a vast brain, and therefore the
reality which underlies it as a conscious mind ? This
question has been considered by the great naturalist Du
Bois Eeymond, and has received from him that negative
answer which I think we also must give. For we found
that the particular organization of the brain which en-
ables its action to run parallel with consciousness
amounts to this that disturbances run along definite
channels, and that two disturbances which occur to-
gether establish links between the channels along which
they run, so that they naturally occur together again.
It will, I think, be clear to everyone that these are
not characteristics of the great interplanetary spaces.
Is it not possible, however, that the stars we can see
are just atoms in some vast organism, bearing some
such relation to it as the atoms which make up our
brains bear to us ? I am sure I do not know. But it
seems clear that the knowledge of such an organism
could not extend to events taking place on the earth,
and that its volition could not be concerned in them.
And if some vast brain existed far away in space, being
invisible because not self-luminous, then, according to
the laws of matter at present known to us, it could affect
the solar system only by its weight.

On the whole, therefore, we seem entitled to con-
clude that during such time as we can have evidence of
no intelligence or volition has been concerned in events
happening within the range of the Solar system, except

F 2


that of animals living on the planets. The weight of
such probabilities is, of course, estimated differently by
different people, and the questions are only just begin-
ning to receive the right sort of attention. But it does
seem to me that we may expect in time to have negative
evidence on this point of the same kind and of the same
cogency as that which forbids us to assume the existence
between the Earth and Venus of a planet as large as
either of them.

Now, about these conclusions which I have described
as probable ones, there are two things that may be said.
In the first place, it may be said that they make the
world a blank, because they take away the objects of
very important and widespread emotions of hope and
reverence and love, which are human faculties and
require to be exercised, and that they destroy the
motives for good conduct. To this it may be answered
that we have no right to call the world a blank while it
is full of men and women, even though our one friend
may be lost to us. And in the regular everyday facts
of this common life of men, and in the promise which it
holds out for the future, there is room enough and to
spare for all the high and noble emotions of which our
nature is capable. Moreover, healthy emotions are felt
about facts and not about phantoms ; and the question
is not 'What conclusion will be most pleasing or eleva-
ting to my feelings ? ' but ' What is the truth ? ' For it
is not all human faculties that have to be exercised, but
only the good ones. It is not right to exercise the
faculty of feeling terror or of resisting evidence. And
if there are any faculties which prevent us from accept-
ing the truth and guiding our conduct by it, these


faculties ought not to be exercised. As for the assertion
that these conclusions destroy the motive for good con-
duct, it seems to me that it is not only utterly untrue,
but, because of its great influence upon human action,
one of the most dangerous doctrines that can be set
forth. The two questions which we have last discussed
are exceedingly difficult and complex questions ; the
ideas and the knowledge which we used in their dis-
cussion are the product of long centuries of laborious
investigation and thought ; and perhaps, although we
all make our little guesses, there is not one man in a
million who has any right to a definite opinion about
them. But it is not necessary to answer these questions
in order to tell an honest man from a rogue. The
distinction of right and wrong grows up in the broad
light of day out of natural causes wherever men live
together ; and the only right motive to right action is
to be found in the social instincts which have been bred
into mankind by hundreds of generations of social life.
In the target of every true Englishman's allegiance the
bull's-eye belongs to his countrymen, who are visible
and palpable and who stand around him ; not to any
far-off shadowy centre beyond the hills, ultra monies,
either at Rome or in heaven. Duty to one's country-
men and fellow-citizens, which is the social instinct
guided by reason, is in all healthy communities the one
thing sacred and supreme. If the course of things is
guided by some unseen intelligent person, then this
instinct is his highest and clearest voice, and because
of it we may call him good. But if the course of things
is not so guided, that voice loses nothing of its sacred-
ness, nothing of its clearness, nothing of its obligation.


In the second place it may be said that Science ought
not to deal with these questions at all; that while
scientific men are concerned with physical facts, they
are dans leur droit, but that in treating of such subjects
as these they are going out of their domain, and must
do harm.

What is the domain of Science ? It is all possible
human knowledge which can rightly be used to guide
human conduct.

In many parts of Europe it is customary to leave a
part of the field untilled for the Brownie to live in,
because he cannot live in cultivated ground. And if
you grant him this grace, he will do a great deal of
your household work for you in the night while you
sleep. In Scotland the piece of ground which is left
wild for him to live in is called ' the good man's
croft.' Now there are people who indulge a hope that
the ploughshare of Science will leave a sort of good
man's croft around the field of reasoned truth ; and they
promise that in that case a good deal of our civilizing
work shall be done for us in the dark, by means we
know nothing of. I do not share this hope ; and I feel
very sure that it will not be realized : I think that we
should do our work with our own hands in a healthy
straightforward way. It is idle to set bounds to
the purifying and organizing work of Science. With-
out mercy and without resentment she ploughs up
weed and briar ; from her footsteps behind her grow
up corn and healing flowers; and no corner is far
enough to escape her furrow. Provided only that
we take as our motto and pur rule of action, Man speed
the plough.


Meaning of the Individual Object.

MY feelings arrange and order themselves in two distinct
ways. There is the internal or subjective order, in
which sorrow succeeds the hearing of bad news, or the
abstraction ' dog ' symbolizes the perception of many
different dogs. And there is the external or objective
order, in which the sensation of letting go is followed
by the sight of a falling object and the sound of its fall.
The objective order, qua order, is treated by physical
science, which investigates the uniform relations of
objects in time and space. Here the word object (or phe-
nomenon] is taken merely to mean a group of my feelings,
which persists as a group in a certain manner ; for I
am at present considering only the objective order of
my feelings. The object, then, is a set of changes in
my consciousness, and not anything out of it. Here is
as yet no metaphysical doctrine, but only a fixing of the
meaning of a word. We may subsequently find reason
to infer that there is something which is not object, but
which corresponds in a certain way with the object ;
this will be a metaphysical doctrine, and neither it nor
its denial is 'involved in the present determination of
meaning. But the determination must be taken as
extending to all those inferences which are made by

1 ' Mind/ January, 1878.


science in the objective order. If I hold that there is
hydrogen in the sun, I mean that if I could get some of
it in a bottle, and explode it with half its volume of
oxygen, I should get that group of possible sensations
which we call 'water.' The inferences of physical
science are all inferences of my real or possible feelings ;
inferences of something actually or potentially in my
consciousness, not of anything outside it.

Distinction of Object and Eject.

There are, however, some inferences which are pro-
foundly different from those of physical science. When
I come to the conclusion that you are conscious, and
that there are objects in your consciousness similar to
those in mine, I am not inferring any actual or possible
feelings of my own, but your feelings, which are not, and
cannot by any possibility become, objects in my con-
sciousness. The complicated processes of your body
and the motions of your brain and nervous system,
inferred from evidence of anatomical researches, are
all inferred as things possibly visible to me. However
remote the inference of physical science, the thing in-
ferred is always a part of me, a possible set of changes
in my consciousness bound up in the objective order
with other known changes. But the inferred existence
of your feelings, of objective groupings among them
similar to those among my feelings, and of a subjective
order in many respects analogous to my own, these
inferred existences are in the very act of inference
thrown out of my consciousness, recognised as outside of
it, as not being a part of me. I propose, accordingly,
to call these inferred existences ejects, things thrown out


of my consciousness, to distinguish them from objects,
things presented in my consciousness, phenomena. It
is to be noticed that there is a set of changes of my con-
sciousness symbolic of the eject, which may be called
my conception of you ; it is (I think) a rough picture
of the whole aggregate of my consciousness, under
imagined circumstances like yours ; qua group of my
feelings, this conception is like the object in substance
and constitution, but differs from it in implying the ex-
istence of something that is not itself, but corresponds
to it, namely, of the eject. The existence of the object,
whether perceived or inferred, carries with it a group
of beliefs ; these are always beliefs in the future se-
quence of certain of my feelings. The existence of this
table, for example, as an object in my consciousness,
carries with it the belief that if I climb up on it I shall
be able to walk about on it as if it were the ground.
But the existence of my conception of you in my con-
sciousness carries with it a belief in the existence of you
outside of my consciousness, a belief which can never
be expressed in terms of the future sequence of my feel-
ings. How this inference is justified, how consciousness
can testify to the existence of anything outside of itself,
I do not pretend to say ; I need not untie a knot which
the world has cut for me long ago. It may very well
be that I myself am the only existence, but it is simply
ridiculous to suppose that anybody else is. The position
of absolute idealism may, therefore, be left out of count,
although each individual may be unable to justify his
dissent from it.


Formation of the Social Object.

The belief, however, in the existence of other men's
consciousness, in the existence of ejects, dominates every
thought and every action of our lives. In the first
place, it profoundly modifies the object. This room,
the table, the chairs, your bodies, are all objects in my
consciousness; as simple objects, they are parts of me.
But I somehow infer the existence of similar objects in
your consciousness, and these are not objects to me,
nor can they ever be made so ; they are ejects. This
being so, I bind up with each object as it exists in my
mind the thought of similar objects existing in other
men's minds ; and I thus form the complex conception,
' this table, as an object in the minds of men,' or, as
Mr. Shadworth Hodgson puts it, an object of conscious-
ness in general. This conception symbolizes an inde-
finite number of ejects, together with one object which
the conception of each eject more or less resembles.
Its character is therefore mainly ejective in respect of
what it symbolises, but mainly objective in respect of
its nature. I shall call this complex conception the
social object ; it is a symbol of one thing (the individual
object, it may be called for distinction's sake) which is in
my consciousness, and of an indefinite number of other
things which are ejects and out of my consciousness.
Now, it is probable that the individual object, as such,
never exists in the mind of man. For there is every
reason to believe that we were gregarious animals before
we became men properly so called. And a belief in
the eject some sort of recognition of a kindred con-
sciousness in one's fellow-beings is clearly a condition


of gregarious action among animals so highly developed
as to be called conscious at all. Language, even in its
first beginnings, is impossible without that belief ; and
any sound which, becoming a sign to my neighbour,
becomes thereby a mark to myself, must by the nature
of the case be a mark of the social object, and not of the

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