‘All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another; but we never can observe any tye between them. They seem conjoined, but never connected.’ Thus Hume on the ostensible absence of connections between events. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; VII:26). Denying we have knowledge of connections, he concludes that the ‘constant conjunction’ of events leaves an impression in the mind of a necessary connection and ‘Nothing further is in the case.’ (VII:28).
The notion that reality comprises separate entities and events which are somehow bound together, seems to be elementary and unavoidable. It is inherent in a conceptual legacy that suggests such occurrences are at once distinct and aspects of the process in which they occur. The distinctions and patterns of connection embodied in language and thought establish the terms on which the mind deals with reality, and these parameters constrain the process of thought. Yet it is possible to question them, to suggest, as Hume does, that the links assumed to be present are indiscernible; the mind reads into the pattern of reality the ties that would render recurrences of the patterns necessary simply because they do recur. This appears true not only of causal connections, but all connections – including, for example, those between the words of a sentence and those between the sentence and its meaning. There is no tangible evidence of these links beyond the testimony of a ‘constant conjunction’.
It is possible (and illuminating) to allow scepticism to range in the other direction and ask whether we ever find a ‘loose and separate’ event; whether we can produce an event or entity of any sort without it seeming to be an aspect of something else, something to which it seems inextricably bound, but not palpably connected. Hume’s observation that experience ‘only teaches us how one event constantly follows another, without instructing us in the secret connexion which binds them together and renders them inseparable.’ (VII:13) is not inconsistent with the presence of a connection indiscernible to an observer. The proposition that we don’t find ‘loose and separate’ events (notwithstanding the fact that, like connections, they seem to exist) holds the possibilities of sense no less than does the claim about connections not being found. While this additional suggestion may seem merely to confuse matters, it actually contains the seeds of a resolution. The difficulty of separating things and events from their relations has a bearing on Hume’s missing connections.
There are grounds for thinking all aspects of reality are bound by relation, even those that are loose and separate. The very nature of determinate entities and events is inconsistent with any other arrangement; they form part of the structure that determines them and are only separable or distinguishable in the context of their relationships to it. The problem is to reconcile their autonomy with their being aspects of the structure that determines them.
Things and events attain autonomy when the determining influences or factors generated by relation become aspects of what is determined – as the thought becomes an aspect of the action conceived and the action conceived of what is enacted. Causal influences similarly vanish into effects. We fail to see how it happens, how it can happen in the absence of a link between the determining context and a distinct entity or event. The view here is that these are bound to and divided from the structures that determine them by a shift of aspect operating through an overlap, the overlap sustaining a continuity punctuated by a structural shift. The singularity of the link thus established is that it enables the limits of a concept or form to be simultaneously conserved and transcended by the change of aspect forming the link. This has a bearing on the perplexities associated with the behaviour of entities and events, which seem both to merge into a contingent structure and (by a change of aspect) retain their identity as distinct parts of it. Any sequence of words or concepts contains instances of this transition. A link as such is formed by an entity or event (or the concept of one) migrating between overlapping structures. It disappears when what forms the link is subsumed, by a change of aspect, into what is linked.
The amorphous tendencies present in things and events, their propensity to develop or evolve, and the contribution such fluctuations of form make to the process of change, can be associated with these structural transformations. Things become less solidly and sharply defined, more shifting and evanescent as their affinities with other forms or states are pursued through their connectedness, or conversely are brought more sharply into definition as these links are attenuated; aspects are gained or lost through the links. The fact that at a certain point things appear or disappear altogether, signifies the shift of aspect at work, establishing the continuities and discontinuities associated with the process of transformation in underlying structures.
Experience confirms things and events may exist distinctly, vanish or be subsumed in a variety of forms. States of reality range from the unstable and formless to the solid and marmoreal. Whatever their nature, and whether stable or transient, they are inseparable from the determining pattern of relationships between contingent states and the structures that sustain them. Connection plays a critical role in stabilising these relationships. While the existence of an event as part of a pattern is not necessary, its extinction is neither arbitrary nor illogical. Whether the sun does or does not rise tomorrow, the event will influence and be influenced by other factors; and these factors and their consequences constitute a logically consistent pattern of relationships capable of being understood.
That things and events are sustained and dissolved by the structures they occur in is not a revelation, but what was to be expected - and accords with our usual ways of thinking about these matters. It only becomes unaccountable if events are isolated from their determining structures by an absence of connections, or rather when they are isolated, since this perception too has its place in the range of interpretations applied to reality. The interest lies in the circumstances that give rise to an apparent absence of connections, and in its consequences.
The link associated with the shift of aspect has no determinate form or location and cannot be apprehended - it couldn’t function as a link if it were fixed and determinate. Because it is undetectable, our ideas and understanding of reality are affected in ways we do not apprehend. While reality presents itself in a multitude of distinct forms articulated and apparently linked by determining relationships, nothing tangible seems to constrain the relationships, bind together the forms of order they constitute or account for their influence on what is related. Given an absence of links, the dynamic processes that generate conflict and change in things and events become an anomaly - since without connections there can be no structures and hence no means of transmitting forces and influences between the entities and events sustained by the structures. The view here is that the structures that sustain entities and events are bound together, harmoniously or discordantly, by common aspects - these links (known only by their effects) dissolving and reforming as the pressures generated by conflict and strain in overlapping contexts or structures precipitate shifts.
The role of relation in precipitating shifts of aspect (and other kinds of shift) proceeds from its function in sustaining the structure of reality while enabling changes to occur. As a formal principle, relation conserves structures against internal strains and the disintegrative pressures of other structures. A structure is permeated by tensions that support its integrity but are capable by reversion of being converted into destructive strains. These must be stabilised internally and at its boundaries where other structures are encountered. Relation mediates this process of reconciliation. This role, and the conjoined one of facilitating and regulating the process of transformation and change, involve the antithetical but complementary functions of binding structures on the one hand and dissolving the links that bind them on the other. The functions are reconciled by the operation of the two features referred to above, overlapping and the shift of aspect, which will be shown to have a bearing on what happens to the entities or states related, why the outcome defeats our efforts to understand what has occurred and why the process of change and transformation, so familiar and essential to our picture of reality, remains in some respects a mystery.
The mediating role of relation in reconciling structures and causing shifts is curiously unapproachable as an event; the familiarity of the circumstances in which it serves its purpose does not dispel the obscurity pervading the process of transformation. Notwithstanding its efficacy, the alchemy of change is inscrutable. The relationship between a structure and the energies it stabilises exemplifies a general principle in this respect. Although the Protean energies underlying the dynamics of change influence both the evolution of a structure and the relationships that sustain it, the resolution of conflict issues in the shift into a stable form. The more complete the resolution, the less sign exhibited (unless intentionally, as in some post-modernist architectural structures, or unintentionally, as in most occurrences of incongruity) of the instabilities associated with the process of reconciling and assimilating conflicting strains and influences from diverse sources. Indeed the elimination of this evidence of a structure’s origins is the only indication of a link having existed; the conflicting strains are accommodated fluently and unobtrusively by the medium of resolution, the connections that admit them vanish. What exists seems inevitable and necessary, revealing nothing of its genesis in contingency and discord. The influences admitted become diffuse, their point of accession indeterminate. At the moment of equilibrium, energy vanishes into matter, conflict is resolved, and the opposing forces cancel each other out in the stasis of form. And while analysis in a suitable context may reveal the origins of what was thus transformed and even trace the course of its transformation by replicating what is known of the circumstances in which it occurred, it can’t produce a link between a structure and the forces reconciled within it. This is true in a sense of all such relations. Connections elude apprehension.
In considering the normal applications of the term, it may seem not at all true that connections elude apprehension. Links or connections between distinct entities or states materialise unsought when we talk or think about things - summoned into the pattern of expression by logic, or perhaps prompted to assume their place as the need arises by the associations of other words and ideas. In any case the links take their place in the flow of ideas or words, in causal chains, in the pursuance of influences and continuities, through the development of ideas, in the description of events and many other activities. Isolating a connection is hardly more of a challenge; located between other ideas, an idea can be seen to provide a connection by virtue of occupying a place in the continuity of ideas disrupted for the purpose of exhibiting it as one. It isn’t the intention here to oust or subvert these applications of the term. The claim that links are indiscernible no more affects the way the term is ordinarily used, than bringing out the obscurities in the workings of the causal mechanism inhibits its use in connecting events. In neither case does the indiscernibility of a link bear on the functioning of the relationships.
Problems involving forms of relation in diverse areas of thought are regularly the subjects of inquiry. Relation itself, distinguished from its contextual applications and their associated difficulties, might be thought too intangible to embody problems. It has no distinguishing qualities that set it apart from the ideas and things related, or none that are perceptible. An idea, or an entity represented by an idea, can be seen as a link or an aspect of one without assuming a different character to that of the ideas or things it links. One might conclude the substance of relation is the ordinary stuff of the world - such as serves a multitude of other purposes; and that this is true of the constituents of any entity bound together by relation. Except things aren’t quite as they seem. Whatever holds an entity together it is not to be found in its constituents. Conversely, in analysing a relation we find only its constituents and not what makes them a relation. It might be supposed that by concentrating our attention on these elements we must eventually discover the means by which they are bound together. This goal, which appears feasible, even logically respectable, is unattainable; it endures in the mind as an unrealisable aspiration by virtue of a paradox (rarely exhibited, even as a paradox) that is a feature of all relationships between distinct entities.
The issue is not our inability to produce, say, both a structure and the energies it stabilizes, or their analytical equivalent, a whole and the parts that constitute the whole. That would be an irrational demand to make of reality, given the process of transformation involves one displacing the other or (as with position and momentum) being surrendered for it. The point rather, that follows from this necessity, is the impossibility of showing a link between them. Once we have conceded we cannot produce a connection we are obliged to re-examine the nature of relation and what it relates - and consider how this hiatus affects our view of reality.
Metaphors of relation buried in our modes of expression suggest that what connects things lies between the entities linked; this reflects the impression we have of a link. (Insofar as its form and location are indeterminate it escapes us altogether.) Yet merely by lying between ideas or things, other such entities would not reconcile them; there is a fallacy in supposing links could function like this. Relation works through a shift of aspect, not the sequence of distinct entities linked by other distinct entities we apprehend. Linked entities are distinct in a sense - and in a sense are not. A link wouldn’t work as a link if it didn’t form an aspect of what was being linked, vanishing into it in the process - as ideas vanish into other ideas or into the expression and conception of things and events. Connections are formed by mundane entities and events or their mental equivalents - just as we had always supposed. What confounds attempts to understand their status as connections is the change of aspect undergone in forming a link to what is linked – and the unfathomable disappearance it entails. Thus the paradox induces us to pursue a vain quest for a connection merged in what it connects. Ideas become links, and links become ideas, by a change of aspect; this is why we don’t find links between ideas.
On the face of it, the elusiveness of connections doesn’t enter into our dealings with things. Hume considered instincts, involving neither reason, understanding, or thought (Enquiry, V.8) determined responses to conjoined states or events. A contemporary view might be that instinct is an adaptation to the pattern of conditions in which it evolves (fire burns, etc.), the response forming part of the pattern. This focuses attention on the factors that shape these patterns. Their existence and the cohesiveness of the determining circumstances beyond them are consistent with the presence of underlying structures of relationships. Dissociated from this determining structure, both the recurrent pattern of events and our responses to them are inexplicable. The conformity of mental and physical responses to recurrent patterns is thus an integral aspect of the process of events and their underlying structure, and not primarily linked to conscious activity.
Only in analysing patterns of relationships does an absence of connections become apparent and the nature of what is related problematic. This is evidently the case in the relationship between an observer and the external world of objects and events. Analysis of such patterns, however, far from revealing an absence of connections in the relationships analysed, eliminates them from the pattern as it is observed – as we now aim to show.
The inclination of the rational mind is to bring things to a halt with a view to finding out how they work. The justification for acquiring an understanding extends beyond the circumstances of a particular intervention. With intuitive activity it is otherwise; the relationship to what is happening is disrupted only when matters take an unexpected turn; we expect it to work in accordance with a familiar pattern and are surprised and inclined to look for an explanation when it doesn’t. In intuitive thought and behaviour, the presence of recognisable and dependable patterns is more important than a knowledge of their causes. Disengagement for the purposes of thinking about what is happening, disrupts the relationship between a pattern and the response to it. The action of a rational inquirer in suspending a train of thought, or a sequence of events or occurrences in order to investigate it - apart from marking the difference between intuitive and rational applications of the understanding - has a significant effect on its links.
This becomes apparent in the case of the mind-world relationship where rational investigations, in failing to yield evidence of links, are at variance with intuitive forms of understanding unaffected by their ostensible absence. In rational thinking, scepticism of the possibility of a link between mind and its objects, or the world in which it locates them, leads to uncertainty about the status of what is experienced. Forms of expression used in intuitively-pursued activities suggest experience itself links the mind to the world, but are unsupported by evidence of how experience facilitates access to what reason suggests lies beyond experience. Similarly with concepts and perceptions and the things they express; the ordinary use of these terms to express such relations suggests they form a direct link in the mind to things in the world. Ordinary use also seems to suggest knowledge is obtained when our ideas or experiences agree with something beyond themselves. It isn’t clear to the rationalising mind what this something is, whether it is located in or beyond mental space, or whether it even exists. Like intentional expressions and their accompanying behaviour, activities associated with the acquisition of knowledge seem to aim at an insubstantial target, an ‘object’ only determined once we have succeeded in knowing it. The link between the counterparts is obscure. Doubt may be cast on the existence of these spectral presences by the consideration that claims on reality that turn out to correspond to nothing beyond themselves seem no different to those subsequently validated by successful outcomes.
Relationships formed within the mind, like those conceived to occur beyond it, reconcile heterogeneous elements. The reconciliation of differences has its own perplexities (‘How may a moonbeam be united with a lump of clay...’); the means of rendering these elements congruous while retaining their difference isn’t obvious. The uniqueness of the mind/world relation lies in the formulation of thoughts and experiences of the world in the mind. The difficulty is to understand how the relationships formed in the mind can be linked to the non-mental relationships beyond it.
Insofar as it makes sense to think of them thus, the realms of mind and world (as presented in the mind) remain distinct and divided by difference - but a more ambiguous duality and difference than appears from the bare statement of it. As long as it resists assimilation and exhibits a degree of autonomy, an experience can’t be regarded as simply an entity of the mind. The countervailing strain of what is experienced with its ambiguity and intimations of transcendence is the source of both our doubt and the resilience of our grip on reality. The sense, for example, that there is a problem to be resolved of how thoughts and perceptions are related to the things they represent is rooted in commonplace experiences of this relation, at least to the extent that our sense of a palpable difference between mental and physical entities and the difficulty of reconciling them is derived from experiences of this difference manifested in the relationships between them. It is also rooted in our sense of the distinctions employed, in ordinary circumstances and situations, in articulating and organising relations between mental and physical entities that have the power to resist these arrangements. The resistance encountered suggests what is experienced is subject to the influence of determinants beyond the scope of the mind and its experiences; yet the strains materialising in our concepts and experiences have no apparent origin in or links to anything beyond them.
Nor do these considerations apply solely to the autonomy of physical events and occurrences, but likewise to their mental counterparts in the realm of knowledge, where it is difficult to conceive of an instance of truth or an occurrence of nonsense or disorder that doesn’t presuppose the existence of logically compelling links we cannot detect and do not control underlying our attempts to organise the elements of reality. These links form the context in which what is said or done is true or false. It would scarcely be worth seeking the causes of error without them. But ‘order’ in this sense proves elusive, emerging only in response to attempts to determine what is right or true. Though we might speak of it as a autonomous principle, above and beyond its exemplifications, it is improbable its existence or any links to it could be demonstrated, other than in relation to the particular instances of its occurrence.
None of this would make sense if the mind were isolated from the sources of the influences and factors it registers, but doesn’t control. If, as appears to be the case, conflicts associated with reconciling these pressures are routinely resolved in the mind, that which is beyond its control cannot be beyond its conceptions and perceptions. What is sought, whether determinate or indeterminate, is within the scope of the conflicts we endeavour to resolve and the terms employed to do it, not somewhere inaccessible. Despite the absence of discernible links or rational evidence of how it is accomplished, when the invocation is pronounced correctly and the prescribed forms are observed, the constraining influence of reality invests itself in our conceptions and experiences. That being so, it is pointless to seek it anywhere but in our conceptions and experiences. It may not always be found there; but it cannot be found elsewhere. The problem then becomes one of accounting for the presence of constraining influences for which there is evidence in the absence of evidence of a mediating link, or anything to which a link might be attached if it were present. Or at least it does when the intuition that experience is itself the link to reality is dismissed on the sceptical ground that there is an unbridgeable gulf between mind and the non-mental realities experience claims to comprehend.
Setting aside the elusiveness of a link, the apparent migration of thought into things, and things into the mind, makes it difficult to see how the mind, as a distinctly mental structure, is reserved from its engagement, or how it can even be desirable that it should be. The organisation bestowed and the energy infused seem to become inseparable aspects of what is thought - the object itself. The transformation is reciprocal; if the thing known is a product of the relation to mind, the mind, in sustaining and defining thought, is scarcely less dependent on the forms in which it is invested - since thought is nothing without form. Yet each remains distinct, and in most circumstances distinguishable from the other. How can this be?
In the context of the relationships that link them, people usually (intuitively, that is) have no difficulty, at least in principle, in preserving the distinction between physical objects and events experienced as aspects of the world and those experienced as aspects of the mind. Nor do they usually have a problem relating mind to the physical world in the context of the differences that distinguish one from the other. The conflicting strains discernible in the relationship (how can a world that admits or is admitted by the mind be said to remain ‘distinct’ from it?) don’t inhibit the mind’s ordinary functions. Obstacles to sense only present themselves when attempts are made to give an account of the link in the context of the rational distinction between the world in which objects and events are thought to exist and the mind in which experiences of them occur. The intractability of the difficulties encountered suggest the approach is flawed. In any case it is impossible to reconcile with experience and the sense we make of it, which implies that the world is somehow within and beyond the scope of the mind, and likewise implies that thought and the mind that generates thought, though integral aspects of the world, remain distinct from it.
Distinguishing experiences from what is experienced or ideas and perceptions from the things they invoke and express is part of the intuitive activity of thinking and using language, and involves no special skills. Errors occur, but the interface between the mind and the world and the distinctions involved aren’t of exceptional concern to the ordinary user of words and ideas. That is interesting in the light of the constant movement between these domains. In ordinary expression the boundaries are sustained if the forms of language and thought used are sound. In philosophical thinking there is no consensus about the location of the boundaries, the nature of the realms, or even whether they exist.
We don't learn much about this relationship by examining our experiences or forms of language and thought. The intuitive links entailed generate an impression of providing access to the world, without revealing the means of achieving it. Mind, as reflected in thought and experience, presents itself as an integral aspect of the world in the sense that it is woven into a pattern of reality that comprises or leaves an impression of comprising both thought and things, while retaining its distinctness as a mental process. Integration occurs at this point, but occurs in such a way as to exclude the possibility of allowing us to acquire a rational insight into how it happens. This doesn’t handicap the ordinary user of words and ideas; but for the philosopher it remains a problem unresolved. Something crucial to our understanding of this relationship to an autonomous world, and to the rational conception of the possibility of there being such a relationship, is missing; and the process of analysis seems to be incapable of producing it.
The failure of the method to yield results is consistent with the view endorsed here that the approach is the problem - that the inability to obtain an insight into the intuitively-pursued relationship between the mind and its objects is a consequence of analysing it. The intractability of the problem parallels that which emerges in attempts to analyse causal relations between events for evidence of connections. In both cases analysis has the opposite consequence to that intended, eliminating instead of revealing the link that binds events to events, and experiences to their objects in the world. The paradoxical nature of the link resists rational analysis. The two forms of thought are fundamentally incompatible in this respect.
It is possible to distinguish a perception from what is perceived (my perception from this page) and contemplate either in the context of the other; but seemingly impossible to apprehend the link between them. In fact there doesn’t seem to be one. The difficulty is brought about by analysis, which disrupts the link between perception and thing perceived, or more precisely, between the structures that secure the respective identities and functions of the perception and the object perceived. Obviously this isn’t the consequence intended or anticipated. The urge to seek links and causal continuities analytically seems to be prompted by the conviction that an approach that provides access to both whole and parts, ought to reveal what links them. But as noted previously, the whole is nullified in disclosing its aspects. Access is either to a part or the whole through the shift of aspect forming the link; the link itself isn’t available for inspection. The urge to seek it exists because common usage places the link between things; and as long as there seems to be a gap, that is where it will be sought....
In distinguishing thoughts and experiences from their objects, the analytical approach precludes the possibility of acquiring an insight into the process whereby the interwoven strains bearing these aspects of the mind and world are sustained by a structure that relates and distinguishes them through an orderly sequence of shifts facilitated by the medium of thought or expression. These are the links, and the meaning or function of the whole is determined by the relationships established by shifts between the overlapping strains representing thought or experience and its objects. The analytical procedure of isolating each aspect of the relationship dissolves the links and abrogates the transformative function of the shifts. Any initiative that isolates its subject (for example, distinguishing an idea or event from its context) does this, but usually without thwarting its objective in the process. Analysis has consequences here because in aiming to give an account of the link, it dissolves it - along with its constraining influence on a structure.
The divergence of rational and intuitive forms of understanding isn’t absolute. Rational modes are an instance of a distinct but related form rising out of the body of language and being distanced by a structural shift. Analytical activity is an aspect of ordinary language use, and each of these forms of expression may employ the other for its own purposes. But the distinction between them has important consequences for the link, involving as it does an intentional shift affecting the overlapping aspects of the contexts that form it. In the circumstances considered above, analytical activity eliminates the link by seeing it in one context or another, instead of sequentially, in first one, then another (overlapping) context, as in the pattern of intuitive use. In either case the link passes undetected, but in the latter case it works by bearing a function or meaning from one context to another.
The concept of a shift of aspect operating through an overlap entails a different picture of how reality works - one that accords with experience in allowing the mind to engage in the world while remaining distinct from it. The feature permits entities assuming an identical aspect (the thinker and the thought, thought and its objects, ‘the dancer and the dance’) to be distinguished and related by a contextually facilitated shift of aspect. The principal focus here is on the undetectability of this link embodied in relation, on its consequences, and how these determine our view of reality. In the absence of a conception of the link, our picture of reality is fragmentary and lacks sense, and the nature of relation - for example that of thoughts and experiences to the strangely elusive entities they are said to reflect - remains obscure.
A versatile and ubiquitous presence in expression and perception, the change of aspect is the only significant piece of evidence pointing to the existence of such a link. The overlap itself eludes the process of conception. It isn’t possible to see what relates a thing to something else and what distinguishes it at the same time. Words and ideas, for example, have a dual aspect – pointing inwards to experience and outwards to an object or event simultaneously. But we can’t employ them to see both ways at once; and since it is this simultaneity (and the equilibrium it sustains) that constitutes a link between an experience and the thing or event experienced, the limitation conditions our view of reality; we see things as either distinct or related and depend upon the shift of aspect to move between these states. As we have observed, neither the shift of aspect or its function are revealed by analysis. Quite the reverse; an investigation disrupts the link it attempts to investigate.
The principle of connection thus defined illuminates the limitations of Butler’s axiom that 'everything is what it is and not another thing'. The emphasis on exclusion seems to allow for nothing more than a butting together of the parts that constitute a whole. But the parts do more than butt together, they become inseparably interlocked – at times wrongly. Something else is always caught up in (and determined by) a form of life. So although ‘everything is what it is and not another thing’ (and there is a possibility of an identity being conserved), everything exists as an aspect of something else (and there is a possibility of it being changed). Isolating each thing or event contextually from every other implies stasis and inertia. Allowing the aspects of one context or structure to overlap those of another accommodates the dynamic factors of conflict, tension, strain and change, and the complementary possibility of achieving an equilibrium and establishing stable forms. This pattern is more easily reconciled with what is known of relations than an exclusive emphasis on the differences and distinctions between things.
Analysis would have no effect on a structure whose components excluded each other; there would be nothing between them for it to disrupt. Indeed, it is because analysis assumes structural components do exclude each other that it eliminates their links. In the event, while the discrete contextual function of overlapping components (which secures their difference) is not affected by analysis, the link between these functions (which reconciles their difference) is dissolved.
It is impossible to demonstrate a link other than by endorsing its function, however manifestly circumstances suggest one must exist. It is impossible by any means, intuitive or rational, to apprehend the thing or event that forms a link as an aspect of both contexts simultaneously - and hence as a link between the discrete meanings or functions of overlapping structures. Linking functions, executed sequentially and dynamically, are associated with changes of aspect (the change is the link) occurring in the course of expression or comprehension.
The fact that related structures behave as if connected persuades us of the existence of a link whenever a thing or event is functioning as an aspect of something beyond itself – a perception, for example, as an aspect of the object perceived. We can’t produce a link, but we still assign this function to contiguous ideas and entities – as in a sentence, where each concept conferring significance on another seems in some way related to it. The limited nature of the notion we are able to form of what it is that binds things in a relationship precludes the possibility of uncovering the links that constrain and preserve the integrity of a structure and provide (by a shift of aspect) a means of transition and access to other structures - including those that admit the mind to the world.
In the absence of a sense of what binds the aspects of a whole and sustains the integrity of any one structure in the complexities of its integration into the functional existence of others (the interweaving effect encountered in expression), the relative stability and durability of the edifice of language and thought, and of the aspects of an autonomous reality it embodies, becomes an unaccountable fact. That touches on the matter of how it is that our ideas and perceptions of things come to present themselves in good order and attached (by whatever means) to the appropriate pieces of reality, as and when required. Sometimes they don’t; but the instances of failure underline the point that on balance order is conserved - the centre holds. These observations tend to support the view that an absence of discernible links affects our ability to register the presence and constraining influence of a unifying structure behind the patterns of occurrence that present mental and physical events as coordinated sequences of distinct and related phenomena.
The concept of an stable body of language and thought is probably more easily assimilated when apprehended, not as an amorphous mental entity lacking specific embodiment, but as an integral feature of the world and its affairs. As a distinct feature of the relationships between people, their activities and the world they occupy, the structures of the mind are securely anchored in those of the mental, physical and material circumstances in which thought is used and evolves, and from which it is abstracted. The contexts, circumstances and situations in which concepts are applied are the most efficient, and probably the only means of conserving the complexities of the structure of thought and experience in a form that facilitates its evolution and use in pursuit of the mind’s goals. The labyrinth of reality itself entrains the understanding as nothing else could, because it is the embodiment of that understanding.
In opposition to this view of the mind and its content as integral aspects of the world, is the sense we undoubtedly have of the mind standing apart from the world in which thoughts and perceptions are invested. Far from being a misconception or indeed anything we might try to ‘put right’ by methodically realigning our thinking, it is a functional notion essential to the sense made of our experience of things and is reinforced by every excursion of the organising principle into what is organised. Every act of mental engagement is an act of dissociation, a dissociation secured by the shift of aspect and the indiscernibility of the link between mind and its objects, and marked by an interval, metaphysical rather than physical, between ourselves and what we see. We will always necessarily seem to stand at a remove from the business in which we are deeply and inextricably engaged.
Confusion arises because the link is indiscernible. From the point of view of an observer, nothing mediates between an observation and what is observed, between mind and world. It is a strange situation, but seems not to disconcert us - perhaps because we’re not required (or able) to rationalise it. In the absence of a link we see ourselves as remote from the world, an impossible location from which to have to make things work. Nothing can be (or is) done from outside. This illusory gap provides objective things with their most distinctive characteristic, the dissociated aspect that logically complements the gap - and following from it, the odd sense we have of something beyond the something we see or otherwise apprehend; the blackbird beyond the blackbird we see. That isn’t to deny the creature (or the space it occupies) autonomy, but to insist, contrary to our impression, that this impression is gained from information delivered by the senses, which convince us the creature before us has nothing to do with our observation.
The mind’s role in presiding over and forming an aspect of a world mindlessly sifted from disorder in the course of eons, impedes and in some respects obstructs the acquisition of an insight into this relationship. Its functions must be distinguished from the objective forms reality assumes, but are themselves, as determinants, a cause of it assuming these forms, which are not simply those of the objects and occurrences of our common experience, but include the observation and the observer as aspects of what is observed. Hence the difficulty of gaining an insight into the relationship. The circularity of the process whereby thought is determined by what it determines, precipitates, at the terminal point of mind’s engagement in the world, an occurrence neither wholly in the mind, nor wholly beyond it. It is at this point that the link goes missing, the workings of the relationship become elusive, and evidence of the all-important encounter between mind and the object of its intentional acts becomes unobtainable.
The presence of this intangible hiatus can be detected in the way perceptions of things and events seem to dissolve at the point of observation – in the process revealing reality, in whatever form it takes, at a discrete metaphysical distance from the observer. This must be an illusion. What is observed doesn’t (in respect of this relationship at least) stand free of experience; it is what is experienced. So much is clear from the consideration that when the relationship is scrutinized, the observation (entailing the presence of an observer) is distinguishable as an inseparable aspect of what is observed, signifying itself in that difference made to the relationships between things that is the substance of an experience. This situation is explicable only in terms of an absolute shift - in the course of which an object migrates from a structure interpreting it as an aspect of an observer’s mind to one that interprets it as an aspect of an objective world inhabited by the observer.
What emerges confounds explanation; a relationship comprehending mind and the world as distinct entities, and their fusion into a single entity that may bear either aspect by interpretation. Seen in appropriate contexts the products of the relationship acquire their familiar aspects. Unregulated, its instabilities yield at most an amorphous realm of shifting phenomena - in some sense distinct perhaps, but, incapable in this state of sustaining any anchorage in meaningful activity, or of being beheld as either thought or thing. This confused possibility is regularly revealed in fleeting forms. Capable of yielding knowledge within the constraints of thought and perception, (the snare of intentionality once negotiated), the relationship’s gross product is incorrigibly ambiguous - an entity of neither mind nor world. In this state it is surely meaningless. Only the ability to transpose it into, or see it in determining contexts (derived from this same phenomena), makes it otherwise...
Attempts to resolve the paradoxes and ambiguities of this relationship, whether attentive to the common currency of thought and experience or not, reveal nothing of how the mind works at a remove from a world integral to its functioning. In this respect, the mind-world relationship seems to withhold from human reason something of its entitlement under that settlement by which it first began to exercise a rational control over things mundane, putting aside dark, intuitive practices and a primitive belief in the power of word, thought and deed to transform matter without the mediation of rational activity. Though reason recoils at the very idea, there remains more than a touch of obscurity in the mind-world relation as it stands. Yes, the contemporary world emerges as the work of human mind and hand; but when it comes to explaining how it gets from one to the other, we remain, not exactly speechless and impotent, but in the matter of these perplexities, captive to our intuitions.
For all its familiar aspect, the relationship remains a mystery, though not one that impinges on us in the course of our mundane activities. The difficulties the apparent absence of a connection creates for a rational inquirer are resolved intuitively by people who link diverse structures through what would be considered their usual conceptual and linguistic practices. The order apparent in our conceptions and perceptions of things and events is revealed as an aspect of the world; or it may be that the order of the world is revealed as an aspect of the mind. On this basis, the two are reconciled to the degree possible in an imperfectly conceived world. If there is, as dualism suggests, a rift between them, it is no less effectively concealed than the link that spans it. We don’t encounter it in the course of our business with the world.
In these forays of ours into the labyrinth, it is impossible to see where the boundary between mental and physical environments lies or how it is crossed. Yet still we go to and fro, almost unerringly. Thoughts and designs formed in the mind are executed in a world extended expediently before us by our conceptions and perceptions - these, in concert with our actions, segueing flawlessly from the mind of an observer into the third person realm through the physical presence, thence into a mental and physical environment attuned to this sensory presence, where they enable us to enjoy its pleasures, consume its contents, engage in its activities and intermingle on equal terms with its inhabitants. This is the state - previously alluded to - of our being both dissociated from and inhabiting the world; and though in conception such a design sounds illogical and impracticable, realisation confers on it the sense of normality we are accustomed to experiencing...
The transmission between mind and body of mental initiatives issuing in actions implemented in the physical realm is accomplished without apparent impediments. Though these initiatives are termed acts of the ‘will’, as noted previously, there is often no evidence of effort or resistance in their implementation. But to consider a example where physical resistance and a degree of effort bearing a mental aspect may be thought integral to the execution of the act, imagine an obscure unease seeded in the mind by circumstances, thence becoming a feeling of anxiety brought on by physical separation, translated next into a sense of physical urgency, then into an increasingly brisk stride aimed at alleviating the mental stress by a physical means, the physical response fitting and fueled by an anxiety diminishing in a ratio to the progress made in eliminating the physical distance causing it....until the state of anxiety abates into one of equanimity.
Such resistance as is evident here, presents itself as an aspect of the accomplishment, as essential to it as gravity to exertion. In this narration of events, all evidence of a link has vanished, subsumed by the expression as it shifts from one logical realm to another, by a process not revealed. It may be held that the value of such accounts as an illustration of the mind-world relation is undermined by their being purely verbal reports of something not intended to be purely verbal. If what is described here were actually happening, some part of it at least would not be verbal at all and would not be present. And it isn’t as simple as saying; ‘Well, yes, the mental part would be here, not the physical’ - for though something would indeed be absent, it isn’t something we could show, flourishing as it does only in the relationship to the world itself. Our verbal account embraces that difficult relationship in its entirety in ideas, including the physical part. Mind’s role is usually to integrate physical reality into its procedures. Mind is our link to the physical world; an opening onto it (a window), not a point of entry (a door) - since the body is the mind’s only extension and its proxy in the physical world.
So it might seem to be a reasonable objection to such accounts that in rendering the transition verbally when in fact it is a transition from ideas and experiences to something that is neither (thought stops where things begin), they defeat the intended purpose of illuminating the transition between mental and non-mental domains. Perhaps so; yet whether the invocation of the physical world is imaginary or not, all uses of the mind seem to employ uniformly an occult trick of language and thought to perpetuate what is surely an illusion of thoughts and experiences having become aspects of the physical dimension they are merely being used to invoke. Since we know well enough that these experiences, including those of our own actions, are mental events and nothing more than mental events, and that this is not the impression intended or given in either imaginary or actual invocations, a measure of deception is surely unavoidable and would exist even if an encounter with the world were under way?
Considering all dealings with reality (including those comprehended by the sciences) depend on symbolic invocations of what is held to stand beyond language and thought, none would here seem to evade the imputation of employing a means verging on the irrational to put worldly business of one kind or another in hand. The thought is intriguing, but best not pursued as it stands. Though all forms of expression are an indiscernible (and indispensable) link to a version of reality that seems to exist without them, not all set out to practice a deception. But to regain the point; our objective must be to understand how the mental ‘goes into’ the physical (or seems to), yet in some way remains distinctly mental while furnishing a context for the physical. No purpose would be served by a physical domain that wasn’t mentally accessible, or by one deprived of its relationship to the mind. But neither would any purpose be served by conflating the two – as, in a certain sense, the imaginative invocation above sets out to do in the special circumstance of the absence of sensory data. In an actual physical context, whatever extends before us is what we experience as the mind interprets it - and it isn’t altogether clear what that phrase means. The sense of mentally occupying a world beyond the mind is compelling. How do we make an autonomous world of what is and must be in the mind? Why do we have this disconcertingly irrational sense of mind infusing matter? How does the relationship work?
In forms of thought and experience the overlap is embodied in ideas and impressions that present themselves and something (things, events and other entities) beyond themselves. A shift of aspect takes us from a thought or impression to what it invokes without apparently employing any means or encountering a boundary. Nothing seems to stand between the appearance of something and our apprehension of it. The immediacy of this precipitation into the world accounts for certain anomalies that exemplify the difference between our experiences, and philosophical views of the mind/world relation. People tend to be convinced they inhabit an autonomous world outside the mind experiencing it. While the evidence supporting this intuition comes from experience, experience has a subsidiary role in people’s notion of reality, usually being regarded as something derived from what goes on in the world. The mind seems to be the source of the convincing illusion of unmediated access to what many philosophers consider can be known only through mental entities of one kind or another. But whatever the case, the sense of being in a world rather than dealing with a mental version of it is consistent with the occurrence of a mind/world shift that places people as observers, within a world determined by its relationship to the mind. The view that the content of one is a reflection of the other arises from the impression of dual images engendered by the shift of aspect.
Dualist views of the mind-world relationship oblige us to explain how we reach a physical world beyond the scope of mind and thought within the mind. It isn’t possible to make sense of this demand as it stands, nor does it make sense of our experience. While the metaphor of the mind as a reflection of the world (or reality) has is uses, it implies the existence of a discontinuity and a polarization of the relationship at best only ambiguously evident in experience. Our experience is that the world in which we live and act occupies the realm of mind without the least disturbance to suggest where one might end and the other begin. Indeed idealists and realists have been unable to settle between themselves just what a person who inhabits the realms of experience is looking at - an entity of the mind or of the world. Common sense opts for ‘the world’ or ‘reality’, even when mistaken. The mistakes we make in this respect serve to emphasise that notwithstanding confident assertions to the effect physical and mental entities aren’t the same (and they aren’t), we are thoroughly deceived by the resemblance between them in making errors. The ease with which we can confound one type of entity with the other and, given circumstances conducive to error, compound the mistake by producing a deceptively convincing amalgamation of the two, suggests the ambiguities inherent in the relationship are far from resolved by polarizing the mind and the world.
A potential for ambiguity and confusion is present in the commonest of our transactions with reality. When we arrange words and ideas we arrange something else at the same time by the same act. A shift between thought and thing can occur at any point in the relationship, though the successful implementation of an intention entails a degree of control over the circumstances that determine the event. The mind/world relationship is capable of sustaining either interpretation, of furnishing the mind with an image of the world or the world with an image of itself observed. Or it may link one to the other. The status of the image is undetermined until the context in which it is to be interpreted is clear. At the point of indeterminacy it occupies neither mind or world, nor does it link them. Potentially, any of these roles is possible. A relationship undetermined by a context remains ambiguous. Is the image of the cat an impression in my mind or the creature before me? I can’t say can I? And telling myself ‘the image is the cat’, which it is and it isn’t in a sense we all (intuitively at least) understand, doesn’t resolve the matter. The ambiguity is only resolved by interpretation - by seeing the image as that of the cat prowling its worldly habitats, or by meditating it unambiguously as the image my mind. Such images are at once the mind’s limits and aspects of the world beyond, and the hinge upon which swings the Janus visage of our intentional acts.
According to this account, reality alternates between the mind and the world by a shift of aspect. Our experience is consistent with this view. When I look at the cat I don’t see it as an image in my mind - I see it as a cat. But I can easily conceive how it can acquire the aspect of an image in my mind - seen in an appropriate context; and nothing changes, except the significance attached to what is seen (which is perhaps everything). Finding a way between the impression in my mind and a cat in the world becomes a matter of interpreting my perceptions correctly in the context of what is perceived. The aspect shifts; the perception that seemed to stand in the way of the cat ceases to be an obstacle and becomes a link, the link vanishes into what is linked, and the image appearing to me is the cat’s. The drawback to this facility is that it works equally well with errors. Should I happen to mistake a cushion on the chair for the cat, the mind’s error becomes an aspect of the world, though not one I can relate to physically, since it lacks the requisite reality. Errors of this sort usually become apparent (if at all) in consequence of their incongruity being uncovered by the context or the circumstances in which they were intended to function.
Humans aren’t unique in inhabiting a space outside their own organism. Consider the bat. The creature doesn’t pursue events in its brain, but consumable substances on the wing, in a realm within and beyond the brain. The brain extends ambiguously into this space, the space into the brain. Responding to an echo, it is drawn into a dimension, part and not part of the creature, by an event registering on a shifting boundary; an event it seeks to engross in the form of the matter it predates on...
Mind no more invests ideas and sensations in physical objects than bats invest echoes in insects. Echoes are ambiguous; links taken for what is linked. What is echoed is distinguished from an echo by the motion of the insect. Likewise, a cat observed is defined relative to observation; it is within and beyond the scope of observation, an unaccountable disturbance in the pattern of things registered by the organs of sight. Perceiving the cat (and the dimension it occupies) entails a relationship that makes it an aspect of the mind. This affinity is countered by its relationships to the things around it, which, when attended to, distinguish the cat perceived from the mind and its perception. These relationships are the source of our sense of its autonomy and aren’t controlled by the mind; but like the cat they become aspects of the mind by being apprehended. The capacity of a creature to extend its relationships to other life-forms into their relationships, and plot their autonomy, is perhaps biological and not exclusively human in origin.
Our engagement in the domain of things, entails an ability to detect other organising principles and assign these a place within the human realm. There has been a tendency to regard this as an deceptive achievement, an incursion into a domain the mind doesn’t and can’t occupy other than indirectly through ideas and other determining mental forms that make a difference (considered detrimental in this context) to what is known. Putting it in that way clarifies the oddness of the project such thinking imposes on the mind in relation to the world. It was never the intention to infuse or permeate the physical domain or its relationships mentally, not even that part of it constituted by the body’s own relationship to the mind - but to integrate the relevant aspects of it (often temporarily) into our activities, using sensory and conceptual encounters to profile and map the realm of things. It isn’t a true metamorphosis, in that a concept or sensation doesn’t cease to be itself and become something else (an object), but like an echo returns the presence of things to their source as a modification of the input. Thus it is emphatically the product of a relationship to something else that is registered, whether interpreted as a link, an experience, or the thing or event itself. The pattern is familiar; the acquisition or the donation of incremental aspects through relations to procure an advantage or benefit from the commerce of sensory intelligence with the habitat or environment.
My perception is an aspect of the cat and the cat an aspect of my perception. This overlapping relationship gets lost in words. Words express it in a distinct and sequentially-related form; but it isn’t sequential, and the occluded aspect only becomes distinct when it is revealed by a shift of aspect. We confuse our perceptions with the things that are supposed to be beyond them because an entity seems to stand within and beyond the bounds of the thought or perception that invokes it. Reality is inherently ambiguous, and can be seen as an aspect of the conceiving mind or the world perceived. Its ambiguity derives from functioning as an aspect of both and seeming to move between them. Reality as it is conceived or experienced has no determinate location until we ourselves assign it one by interpretation. It can be in the mind or the world - or in the process of migrating from one to the other by a shift of aspect. At this interpretive stage, we may assign what we see to the wrong domain...
Ideas don’t literally become things. No more do experiences become forms of language. But we have the impression that this is exactly what does happen; things seem to shift into the realm of thought and thoughts into the realm of things. The sense that a thought enters a thing is at the root of mind-world difficulties. It persuades us that thought literally ‘goes into’ things – is invested in matter or the physical entity itself. The source of this deceptive impression is the shift of aspect whereby (for example) words seem to take on the aspect of our experiences of things, experiences the aspect of the things experienced, and things the aspect of the thoughts expressing them. The duality of mind and thing and the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between them are incidental consequences of the shift of aspect and the apparent autonomy both mind and world derive from it.
The problem the shift of aspect poses for the rationalising mind is that we cannot apprehend the relationships involved because a contextual overlap places what is dealt with (the cat) within and beyond the means of dealing with it (our perception) in such a way as to defeat any hope of inspecting the relationship between the two. The same obstacle prohibits the possibility of attaining an insight into the workings of intentional relationships that allow access to what we don’t determine through ideas and perceptions we do. The workings of the intentional relation are of critical importance, but resist comprehension. A further indication of the defectiveness of the conceptual resources available to rationalists is the incapacity of rational language to provide an account of such commonplace devices of thought as metaphors, paradoxes, ironies and ambiguities, without taking for granted their most significant feature - that they deal (like intentionality) with elements simultaneously related and distinguished; that is say, elements that overlap and undergo transformations or changes of meaning through a shift of aspect leaving no evidence of how the aspects were related.
The shift of aspect confronts the rational mind with a unique obstacle in the form of a hiatus it either cannot detect, or cannot traverse. Inspection reveals no link between distinct entities - even though clearly related by meaning or function. This is the source of our impression that mind and the world along with experiences and what is experienced are either one and the same, or else must be separate entities linked by something we have yet to discover. In some circumstances the evidence suggests there is no distance at all between the mind and the world, that the transition (as we previously observed) is seamless and instantaneous. In other respects it indicates there is a barrier, and the barrier is nothing less than the conceptions and perceptions that in more propitious circumstances conveyed us immediately to what they were said to ‘reflect’ via a shift of aspect, but now seem to resist the migration from thought to thing. Thus the mechanism of relation presents the inquiring mind with the equally inscrutable options of an open door or a blank wall. Neither is satisfactory or helpful to the inquirer.
The hiatus introduced by the shift of aspect creates an impasse for those seeking a logical route from the realm of mind into the autonomous domain of what can be known. Why else but because the knower stands at the brink of a chasm does the claim to know something (that the cat’s fur is smooth...) seem to attach itself to an entity beyond the impression that yields this information? What else but the void before us makes the claim to know something seem to amount to a claim to be able to transcend the toils of thought or perception and its contexts and arrive magically at a certainty about what lies beyond the mind and its impressions? And in a sense this faith in transport without visible means is entirely justified by the outcome, since after the act of knowledge (or its failure) the fruits of knowledge (or those of error), having made their way across the great divide, become evident as features of the inaccessible kingdom.
The difficulty of understanding relation and its determining consequences arises from the obscurity of the means by which, given that 'everything is what it is and not another thing', in the course of normal conceptual activity one thing becomes another or modifies another. That brings us to something worth noticing; the ease with which ordinary language overcomes the paradoxes that constantly baulk attempts to rationalise these shifts. Tacitly, this characteristic seems to have provided the foundation for the achievement of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. A primary function of language is to distinguish and relate things - without revealing to the inquiring mind how it is done. The only demonstrable evidence of a sustaining link (ie an overlap) is the change of aspect itself, whereby elements of the determining context become aspects of what is determined, thus transforming or modifying it, without ceasing to be aspects of the determining agent. But since what is changed is vanquished by what emerges from the change via the shift of aspect, no enlightenment is obtained in the course of using language and thought to bring about such changes.
The endeavours of the rationalising mind are equally unsuccessful, but, as we have said, for different reasons. Its attempt to discover a connection between distinct entities disrupts the functioning of the very thing it seeks to apprehend - the relationship holding between the aspects it is distinguishing and the shift between them. The interesting thing is that it should seem possible to us we might overcome this limitation and discover a link. The division in the mind exhibited here suggests the paradox underlying our knowledge of things. What we conceive and experience seems to us to exist in some absolute sense that has nothing to do with our seeing it in a particular context, situation or set of circumstances and so is unaffected by our choice of context. This is surely because the hiatus introduced by the shift of aspect divorces the knower’s context and its power of determination from the entity known - which consequently seems to stand free of the mind and its influence.
A good part of philosophical history has been taken up with a quest to see what lies behind what we see. In a sense we do this all the time. That is, we investigate what lies behind appearances or behind the way people or things behave, usually extending our understanding in some degree in the process. As is often the case, however, commonplace activities employed in pursuit of philosophical knowledge are transformed - and what would once have counted as success no longer does. The strangeness of the philosophical quest was perhaps the wish to see without seeing in the sense that people wanted to transcend the determining factors invariably associated with instances of 'seeing' and 'knowing', factors conceived to make a difference to what is known. There was a time evidently, when it was possible to believe the nature of reality could be discovered by delving behind things. In the case of the materialist thinkers and their successors, the result turned out to be a different but useful understanding of a world hitherto yielded by reason and experience, one that has proved to be capable of supplementing and expanding the scope of human activity in many areas. What is of interest now for our purposes in this impulse to 'see without seeing' is the belief it might be possible to transcend the limitation that prohibited access to what was putatively held to lie behind or beyond the mind's relationship to the phenomenal world. Perhaps it seemed if this could be done it might be possible to inspect the perplexing relationship between what is seen or known and what lies beyond it. Though it was an illusion to suppose this (since nothing lies beyond what is known in the sense envisaged), it is an illusion worth understanding.
The illusion is that there could be a ‘beyond’ of any sort not relative to a determinant such as those constituted by the mind or a physical body. The impression of something beyond what we see, dissociated from the seeing, is a consequence of the connection between the observer and what is observed being subsumed by a shift of aspect into what is seen, leaving a gap between the observation and what is observed. This hiatus is the source of our impression of something beyond what we see; and more comprehensively of the possibility of a logical space behind the reality conceived and experienced. The dissociation of things and events from the determining context or the circumstances of observation is functional, but capable of generating confusion when isolated from its function.
Attempts to gain an insight into the relationship between mind and the world and other relationships bearing on it are compromised by the limitations of the forms of thought used in the investigation, which obscure rather than reveal the nature of relation and its workings, substituting a mystery for the transparency of experience. The existence of a connection between language and thought and the physical world becomes uncertain. Without a connection between mind and the entities ideas and experiences represent as objective aspects of the world, the evidence supplied by experience becomes problematic, perhaps solipsistic - and in any case divorced from the sense of reality informing the tenor of ordinary life. Isolated from its roots in experience, the evidence for the existence of reality becomes problematic.