Reflections Upon Reading Thomas Reid's Inquiry Regarding "Doublizing" of Objects

by Philip McPherson Rudisill

November 20, 1997 (slightly edited 7/11/2018)

Thomas Reid, the 18th Century Scottish philosopher/theologian, wrote an Inquiry in which he sought, among many other things, to explain two facts: 1. how it is that most people never admit of having seen objects doubling (like what I call the two "ghost" fingers when I touch my nose with my finger and focus beyond them); and 2. how it comes about that we do in fact see objects double.

By way of a preface I need to say that in my search to grasp what Immanuel Kant is referring to in his rather obtusely "encrypted" critiques, I have spent considerable time trying to understand what he means with space, especially the assertion that space is an Anschauung* (or as I translate it: a perspective). He speaks of space as though it were within us, and yet at the same time he speaks of the objects in this space as though they were external to us by virtue of that fact (of a location in that internal space). In an effort to grasp such assertions, I have come to notice that my finger splits as I touch my nose with it, and whereupon I then have two ghost-like fingers in view. I appeal to space to explain that, namely that each of my two eyes is an individual viewing mechanism and the two views (which are separate in space) are unified by the brain so that a composite picture arises. But then, I suddenly realize, this means that the actual finger that I see (that I have in immediate view), the finger that splits in the looking but not actually as a solid finger, is not in an space external to me (per my looking), but within me just as Kant asserted and is, as seen, only the appearance of my finger. But I see it in space. And so that space in which this finger appears is entirely within me, for otherwise I would have to believe that the finger itself actually does split. Accordingly then what I see is an appearance per my own looking, my perspective, and not the perception of a thing on its own.**

* See Kant and the meaning of the Anschauung. This word is more commonly translated by scholars with "intuition".

** It may be helpful to consider an example involving the "brainarium," a notion suggested by my reading of Arthur Schopenhauer. Light illuminates some object, e.g., a tree, and some waves are absorbed by the tree, and some are reflected and end up in my eyes. The light through my lens is inverted left and right and projected upsidedown onto the retina and converted into electric impulses. The optic nerves transmit the impules into opposite sides of the brain (for the most part) and there a correction is made for the distortion, and an image of the tree arises, and in general a panorama that we call the universe is projected.***

*** Another recognition by Schopenhauer: the eye is the first object of experience, for it is only by virtue of our recognition of the eye that we are able to realize that the space we spy is a function of our looking and thus within the brainarium and that the things we spy about us are not real things on their own, but merely the appearance of things.

The reconciliation comes about in this way: I see things in space all about me. But then, through some experimentation, I come to realize that all that I see is technically on my retina, i.e., within my brainarium, and not apart from me, although they do represent objects which are physically apart from me and are seen as such.

I see things in a subjectively seated, "split-finger" brainarium space. I, along with Kant, imagine (dream up) a so-called real space in which this split-finger space is merely a point of view, and in which the finger and both of my eyes are situated. It is by means of this imagined space (the so-called "real" space in which I and all objects are situated) that I can actually see my own split-finger space as oriented with regard to the split-finger spaces of other persons (as I imagine them), and in this way arrive at an objective grid-system, if you will, whereby all (external) objects of experience might be located and considered.

The upshot is that when I look about I see chairs and tables and other objects and I see them as things on their own in the space about me, and I refer to them as being this or that color or shape and in this or that location, for example. And it does not (normally) occur to me to pay any attention to the fact that these objects (as retinal objects) get larger and smaller depending on how I am located relative to them. For while I see them in my split-finger, subjectively seated space, I see that space (in my head) as representing an objective real and independent space, and for which reason I know the meaning of "seems to" and "looks like" as in: the stationary objects around me seem to be moving by me as I drive my automobile past them, although I am able to tell, due to the imagined (and real) space in which I am located and which I called objective, that I (and, of course, my split-finger space within me) am actually moving through that space and the impression in my spit-finger (brainarium) space is otherwise and which, if I took it for objective as it appears, would be an illusion (Schein).*

* Kant discourses on this a bit in section III some General Remarks to the Aesthetic of his Critique of Pure Reason (at or about page 76), and includes some important illustrations in the footnote to sentence 9.4 of that section. In an effort to make this clearer: for Kant space is merely a way that I look at things, the form of my Anschauung or take or perspective or viewing and looking at things about me. It's one thing to notice something, e.g., a chair, and another to see it is here rather than there.

It is also the same with time. Even as it is one thing to see the chair and to see it as now rather than as before, both a way of looking at and considering things. Consider this: when I remember something and picture the memory in my head, that memory is now. And so to consider that memory as a before, it requires that I look at it that way, i.e., not now. It may be that not all animals look at things in the world this way, though certainly all humans do so.

Now returning to the Inquiry of Thomas Reid: my own interest, which is always kantian, is primarily in what Reid did not report, namely how it is that the human finds such doubling to be curious* and the experiments/observations undertaken to explain the doubling. Thomas Reid's treatment is essentially that of all empiricists, including Bishop Berkeley** (and which was articulated by Hume in Section 118 of his own Enquiry), namely: we are dealing with uniform objects which are independent of human perception; and so the problem (according to Reid) is merely to explain how it is that we come to see such objects as variable, e.g., as doubled into "ghost-like" objects when we look in a certain way.

* That we do find such doubling curious lies in the fact that even now, when our attention is drawn to this fact, we find it curious. And it is by virtue of this curiosity that we undertake a certain experiment to discover the cause for this; but which experiment first follows upon the careful observation, originally undertaken when we are very young and before the advent of articulated language, that a finger does in fact double into two ghost-like objects when brought close to the nose (and in certain other positions.)***

** Bishop Berkeley dreamed up a world of mere representations, which he called perceptions; and to him what we call the world of space was merely an ordering of these representations such that objects changed size and shape according to a formula, and in which way we obtained the impression of a continuous space in which things appeared larger and smaller depending on our distance from them. Given this conception, it was necessary that someone always have these perceptions in mind, or else admit that the objects perceived did not exist when not looked at; for the object, for Berkeley, was merely another way of referring to a group of perceptions ruled by the same formula. He made use of God's perceptions for this purpose, namely to ensure the continuation of all of the externally perceived world so that we could speak of it as existing (but still only as a set of perceptions).--But now even the good bishop (as Kant fondly referred to him) could not have come to such a conception except that he first have assumed the actual existence of objects in an objectively existing space (and as described above), for the impression made otherwise is that of objects which themselves change size and shape, and the only remedy to which is the conception of space. So then first he must conceive of an objective space in order to reduce the specters/appearances of the eye to mere images (instead of leaving them as things on their own), and then he is free to engage in the poetic fantasy of reducing the objects to perceptions and thus to a dogmatic, i.e., merely asserted, idealism (and which, incidentally and to the credit of his genius, was irrefutable, as the insightful and candid David Hume observed, but also unconvincing {per that same David Hume}).

*** This careful observation (as a process) is expressed in the German by Wahr-nehmung which, thanks to Walter Pulhar, I have come to realize means: careful-taking; and what we in English render with: perception. This "careful-taking" (or "paying attention"), it seems to me, is first prompted by the suspicion of hint of a pattern**** in time and space which the category (of Kant's system of pure reason) is aimed at necessitating; for example: with fixed gazed, the closer my finger comes to my nose, the greater the divergence of the two ghosts.

**** I suspect that patterning is an innate view of the human imagination, for it is the pattern, in my opinion, which first catches our eye and makes us wonder. It is interesting that a pattern, e.g., larger when closer, is not at all a thing as far rather the organization of a thing. It is a perspective, for example, to notice that in a given field of cows, the cows are all facing the same way, and then further that that same way is either a parallel, which is relative to the direction of the compass, as these three marks, / / /, all point the same way or else it is a focus as when the cows were pointing at an incident in the middle of the pasture much as the numbers of the circular dial of an analog watch were pointing to the center of the dial. And then, of course, there is the perspective relating to the pointing of a line, /, for example, where it could be seen as pointing upward or downward.

It was Kant, I suppose, who first realized that the secret to grasping human understanding lay in discovering how it is that we come to the accepted notion that Hume expressed, i.e., independent and uniformly existing objects, when all that is given to us are the dependent and variable objects of human perception and sensing like splitting fingers and things decreasing or increasing in size with distance. In other words: if all the data available to us is what we call appearances, i.e., Erscheinungen, how is it that we come to think that these specters or appearances are not things on their own, as they most certainly appear to be, but rather go out of our way to dream up objects such that these appearances are found to be mere retinal (and, in general, sensory) images of objects, since we are never given these objects (but only retinal data).

Hume, for example, noticed that we have a proclivity toward association* and went so far as to declare that our notion of cause and effect were merely a formalized expression of this association. What he did not realize is that the primary function of the concept of causation is to prompt an experiment whereby we are able to differentiate between the sighting/perspective of some object and the existence of that same object. For when he speaks of us having noticed, for example, that bread is associated with certain healthy signs in the human, and then finds room to doubt the continuation of such an association in the future, he neglects to mention (having no doubt forgotten, as Thomas Reid noticed with regard to doubling) that the original perception of this "connexion" was not a gradual feeling developed over a long period of time, as Hume suggests, but rather an a priori, (cause and effect) category-driven observation** for the express purpose of making-sure of that association, i.e., that indeed it is the bread-eater who is healthier; it is in that way that he became essentially confused.

* Where, for example, when A occurs we also find B. This seems to be a function of the intensity of the impression, a certain fright, for example, or of the frequency of the impression, the best example perhaps being sing-song configurations like the recitation of the alphabet and where, for example, upon hearing R we think S and then T, etc..

** The material is empirical and thus given a posteriori, but the consciousness in the observation is called a priori for it is an awareness of the gathering of data in pursuit of a connection, and all connections are a function of our connective understanding (Kant's "categories" of thinking and recognition).

Hume admits to the certitude of this observation. He reports:

"As to past Experience, it can be allowed to give direct and certain information of those precise objects only and of that precise period of time, which fell under its cognizance, but why this experience should be extended to future time, and to other objects, which for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar; that is the main question on which I would insist."*

* Hume's Enquiry, Section 29, emphasis my own.

And he does not realize (as Kant finally did when pondering this matter) that it was only by virtue of the category-driven observation that he was able to make the assertion of the relationship of bread and health in the first place. And while he implies (per the emphasized portion of the quote), he fails to mention, that if bread (or its look-alike) were found now not to result in such effects, then since these effects will already have been found in fact (per experiment) to be embedded, as it were, in the bread itself, we would have every reason to suspect that what we now were dealing with either were not bread, or at least were being eaten under different circumstances; and furthermore, and of the greatest significance! we would be warranted to insist upon that (as of yet unknown) difference either in the bread or in the consumer of the bread, and therefore in continuing a search for the cause of that difference until it were found.*

* This is the essential meaning, as I understand it, of the difficult paragraphs, 7 - 11, of the last section of the (A version of the) Transcendental Deduction of the Categories (at or near page 726) of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, namely that perception itself is only possible upon the presupposition of the categories; for without the category, we may find a spectral object (appearance) enticing and interesting, but there is no intellectual curiosity to find out what makes it tick, i.e., necessitate its pattern, which is the original impetus for that so-called "second look" for making sure of the data (paying careful attention), nor of the a priori (and entirely gratis) insistence on a reason for its "ticking" such that an search is warranted which can be canceled only when an answer is discovered.***

*** Overlooking something lost is such a common experience as to be trite. And yet it is precisely due to the category of substance (beginning on or near page 201 of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason), i.e., that objects of the world are substance and, therefore, do not come into and go out of existence and accordingly, therefore, we are prompted to continue a search for some missing object and then, if it is found in a place where we had looked earlier, we are able to conclude that it was there all the time and that, therefore, we had overlooked it in our first, evidently cursory search**** and not that it comes into, and goes out of, existence. And so obviously this category (as with all) must be innate to the human mind and understanding to carry such force to make us conclude that we had overlooked something, which, on the face of the matter otherwise seems strained and even absurd.

**** We can extrapolate now and see how it is that William Quine is wrong (in his philosophic writings) in negating the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgments and of relating everything in this regard to a matter of degree of belief. Once we have established a fact, that holds for all time and for all such objects, e.g., Aristotle's fact that bodies tend to go downward and fire upward; then any apparent contradiction is due either to a confusion in the original concept, which calls for clarification, or else the circumstances are different. For the words of Hume above: "which for aught we know, may be only in appearance similar," presuppose this, i.e., the fact that we have established something, are universally valid; and accordingly diversity in effect means diversity in cause, and we would have every reason to think that there were a difference in the objects from the one time to the other.

The most interesting narrative of this section of Hume's Enquiry (page 18) is the candle episode of Section 33. The details of the logic that Hume demands are given in the essay on "Circles in the Air." This discussion justifies beyond any question (in my opinion) how it is that Kant answers Hume's objection regarding the validity of the concept of cause and effect, for we see here that it is this concept (which, as categorical, brooks no deviation, being in that way unlike all empirical concepts) that first enables the perception of the association of heat and the candle flame to take place. The animals may flee the candle due to fear, but it is only the human, even the child, who establishes beyond doubt that it is the candle flame that is hot, and that the feelings of heat and the presence of the candle are not an episodic correlation, i.e., a fluke, but a necessary fact, i.e., the candle's flame itself is hot!

We may thank Thomas Reid for helping us realize that we have undertaken experiments and observations concerning such fundamental facts as the existence of the independent and uniform objects that Hume marveled at, and that nonetheless we have forgotten all about these (our own activities), for the results of these experiments and observations are these very objects which are so obvious to us now, e.g., the finger which does not split when it touches our nose, and what we are seeing in the split is an appearance (and indeed an illusion if we take this appearance for the real finger on its own) which is produced by the two points of view (the two eyes) which are melded by the brain into a single object (most of the time!).* ** ***

* The nearest such experiment to us in memory, I suppose, speaking now generally of the human race as a whole, is when we discover that the appearance in the mirror is an image which is caused by a play of light between our bodies and the mirror and our eyes. While we may not remember precisely, most of us will have a vague notion of trying to escape our mirror image (even as we tried to escape our shadow). What we will not be cognizant of is the transcendental assumptions necessary in order that such a confirming experiment even occur to us as a possibility. Reid is helpful in reminding us, with Kant, that such knowledge is not some vague familiarity (that this "person" in the mirror happens to be in the bathroom looking at us all the time, or that this dark splotch {our shadow} follows us around unless it is very cloudy), but that our physical appearance is in fact reflected and our shadows are in fact cast; and that violations of these will be apparent (and thus ultimately explicable), or else we will find ourselves in a dream or in a heaven or a Wonderland.

** Incidentally Reid also observed in the above cited section of his work the fact that the human mind can focus intently on only one thing at a time; e.g., as you increase your concentration on the trumpets in a concert performance, you will lose "sight" (notice, hearing) of the strings (in a direct proportion); and which contradicts a "correction" of Kant on the part of Robert Paul Wolfs in Kant's Theory of Mental Activity 1973, P. 152, by supporting the verbiage of the text of the Critique of Pure Reason (at or around page 712), namely where Kant states: "...denn, als in einem Augenblick enthalten, kann jede Vorstellung niemals etwas anderes, als absolute Einheit sein" ("...for, as contained in one moment, every representation can never be anything other than absolute unity").

*** Technically speaking there is no illusion unless we take the two ghost fingers as objectively present and thus which would be discernible by all persons who would look at me, for example, as I draw my finger to my nose.

And we may thank Immanuel Kant for isolating and identifying the intellectual wherewithal that the experiments that Reid will have surmised are made possible, namely the categories of pure understanding. And as became very clear to Kant, it is the so-called "affinity of all appearances," namely that all appearances are connected either directly or remotely, and accordingly that coincidences and patterns are hints of some connection and warrant an investigation in pursuit of that connection. And this is a result of the categorical makeup of human understanding.

In summary: Thomas Reid has made some observations which we will all have made at some early time, namely that objects split before our very eyes. But we will have conducted some experiments and will have discovered that this splitting is a trite appearance which is due to the physical make up of our looking mechanism, and will have dismissed that as unimportant and distracting. Thus we forget about these early experiments and are imposed upon when asked about them.

Likewise we engage in all sorts of experiments and observations which are so fundamental to our conception of the world that we consider their enumeration also to be trite, e.g., that the visual hand and the hand of feeling are one and the same thing, one being sighted or looked at and the other being felt. It is by means of the categorical makeup of the human mind that we conceive of an orderly world, i.e., a nature, in which patterns not only appear to us (a function of our looking or perspective capacity), but which then (by virtue of the patterning) are curious to us and which we then in turn seek to necessitate through an explanation, e.g., the reason that the split of the finger is proportioned to the distance from our nose (a pattern), given a distance-sighting of the eye (looking as though to a distant object beyond the finger), is the same reason that each of the split fingers also appears larger as the finger approaches the eyes (a pattern), namely: because the single finger is sighted by two different eyes in an objective space (which is a sheer representation/Vorstellung, dreamed up like the works of novelists, in order that experience become possible).

Again: these experiments are fundamental to the possibility of experience and are driven by the categorical mind in search of necessitation to the patterns and coincidences that appear to us via our perspectiveal capacity. And they give a very adequate justification of the thesis of Immanuel Kant in his monumental Critique of Pure Reason that the categories of pure understanding are necessarily a priori to any experience, for it is by means of these that experience and indeed even the perceptions making up an experience are first made possible.

See also this humorous Onion article on size of humans (added 12/25/2013).

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