Bodies Dispel the Dream
Bodies are much more clearly known to me than this puzzling ‘I’ that cannot be pictured in the imagination.
But I see that the trouble is that my mind likes to wander freely. It refuses to respect the boundaries that truth lays down. So I shall let it run free for a while, so that when I rein it in, it won’t be so resistant to being pulled back.
What are physical bodies?
This piece of wax, for example. It has just been taken from the honeycomb. It still tastes of honey and has the scent of the flowers from which the honey was gathered. Its colour, shape and size are plain to see.
But if I hold it near a fire:
- its taste and smell vanish
- its colour changes
- its shape is lost
- its size increases
- it becomes liquid and hot that you can hardly touch it
But is it still the same wax?
Of course it is, no-one denies this*.
*Superphysics note: According to David Hume, it is a different wax.
The properties of the wax changed even if is the same wax.
It means that the wax is not:
- the sweetness of the honey
- the scent of the flowers
- the whiteness, shape, or sound
It was rather a body that recently presented itself to me in those ways but now appears differently.
But what exactly is this thing that I am now imagining?
It is now something that is extended, flexible and changeable.
What do ‘flexible’ and ‘changeable’ mean here?
I can imagine this wax changing from round to square, from square to triangular, and so on.
But that is not what changeability is. In knowing that the wax is changeable I understand that it can go through endlessly many changes of that kind, far more than I can depict in my imagination; so it isn’t my imagination that gives me my grasp of the wax as flexible and changeable.
What does ‘extended’ mean? Is the wax’s extension also unknown?
It increases if the wax melts, and increases again if it boils; the wax can be extended in many more ways (that is, with many more shapes) than I will ever bring before my imagination. I am forced to conclude that the nature of this piece of wax isn’t revealed by my imagination, but is perceived by the mind alone. (I am speaking of this particular piece of wax; the point is even clearer with regard to wax in general.)
This wax that is perceived by the mind alone is, of course, the same wax that I see, touch, and picture in my imagination – in short the same wax I thought it to be from the start. But although my perception of it seemed to be a case of vision and touch and imagination, it isn’t so and it never was.
Rather, it is purely a perception by the mind alone – formerly an imperfect and confused one, but now clear and distinct because I am now concentrating carefully on what the wax consists in.
I have realized how prone to error my mind is. I use words to think all this out within myself. But those words can lead me astray.
When the wax is in front of us, we say that we see it, not that we judge it to be there from its colour or shape.
This might make me think that knowledge of the wax comes from the eye rather than from the mind’s perception alone.
But this is clearly wrong, as the following example shows.
If I look out of the window and see men crossing the square, as I have just done, I say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; yet do I see any more than hats and coats that could conceal robots? I judge that they are men.
Something that I thought I saw with my eyes, therefore, was really grasped solely by my mind’s faculty of judgment. However, someone who wants to know more than the common crowd should be ashamed to base his doubts on ordinary ways of talking.
When was my perception of the wax’s nature more perfect and clear?
Was it when I first looked at the wax, and thought I knew it through my senses?
Or is it now, after I have enquired more carefully into the wax’s nature and into how it is known?
It would be absurd to hesitate in answering the question; for what clarity and sharpness was there in my earlier perception of the wax?
Was there anything in it that a lower animal couldn’t have? But when I consider the wax apart from its outward forms – take its clothes off, so to speak, and consider it naked – then although my judgment may still contain errors, at least I am now having a perception of a sort that requires a human mind.
But what am I to say about this mind, or about myself? (So far, remember, I don’t admit that there is anything to me except a mind.) What, I ask, is this ‘I’ that seems to perceive the wax so clearly?
Surely, I am aware of my own self in a truer and more certain way than I am of the wax, and also in a much more distinct and evident way.
What leads me to think that the wax exists – namely, that I see it – leads much more obviously to the conclusion that I exist. What I see might not really be the wax; perhaps I don’t even have eyes with which to see anything.
But when I see or think I see (I am not here distinguishing the two), it is simply not possible that I who am now thinking am not something. Similarly, that I exist follows from the other bases for judging that the wax exists – that I touch it, that I imagine it, or any other basis, and similarly for my bases for judging that anything else exists outside me.
As I came to perceive the wax more distinctly by applying not just sight and touch but other considerations, all this too contributed to my knowing myself even more distinctly.
This is because whatever goes into my perception of the wax or of any other body must do even more to establish the nature of my own mind.
What comes to my mind from bodies, therefore, helps me to know my mind distinctly.
Yet all of that pales into insignificance when compared with what my mind contains within itself that enables me to know it distinctly.
Intellect alone perceives anything by being understood, not by the senses nor imagination. This helps me perceive my own mind more easily than anything else.
The grip of old opinions is hard to shake off. I must pause and meditate for a while on this new knowledge of mine, fixing it more deeply in my memory.