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F. Metaphysics: 2nd Student Essay

Ochieng Ombok

An Attack on the Idea of Matter

Once, I was challenged to imagine the world being pulled into the sun. I could very easily visualize the situation, with the earth accelerating towards the sun and performing the final dip into the ball of fire. However, I was standing at an unidentified vantage point where, with all the knowledge that the earth would be sucked into the sun with me helplessly resting on it, I could still see it happen with me outside of it. While indulging in the imagination, I created a world of myself which could not subsist without my presence, since it was necessary to have one to see the earth's final dive.

Whenever we observe the outside world, what we perceive is not necessarily the same for all of us, neither is it necessarily that which is out there. If we all observed, say, a building, I would perceive its colour, size, shape, form etc. in a way so unique, and probably different from the way anybody else perceived the same building, since the essence of any non-egocentric view is that objects in the world have sides other than the sides they present to any individual. If I suddenly ceased to exist, the building would remain unchanged, but the perception of the building, which had been lodged inside my mind would accompany me into 'non-existence.'

For example, two creatures whose eyes perceive very differently from each other, and from humans, happened to visit planet earth. A human showed them a circle and introduced it to them as a closed figure whose eccentricity is equal to zero. The first creature perceived the circle as a four equal-sided closed shape, while the second creature perceived it as a three equal-sided closed shape. Although they both learnt to call it a circle, their subjective representations were quite different. When the first creature went back to its home planet, it went with its own subjective four equal-sided perception of a circle. When the second creature went back to its home planet, it went with its own subjective three equal-sided perception of the circle. The human, on the other hand, remained on earth with his own subjective closed figure with an eccentricity equal to zero perception of a circle.

The circle, despite all these subjective perceptions, continued to exist as it is, unknown, unchanged and unaffected. It seems, therefore, that although the world continues to exist independent of us, our subjective perception of it dies along with us. To believe that with the ceasing to exist of the four equal-sided, the three equal-sided and the zero-eccentricity perceptive concepts of a circle, the circle also ceases to exist is failing to discover that there lies an inexplicable phantasm between what is observed and what is perceived. Or according to Kant, to mix up an empirical claim with a metaphysical one. But is there any relationship between what we perceive and what we observe? Or in other words, what constitutes this inexplicable phantasmagoria?

Let us allow ourselves to be the starting point. At least I know that I am. I exist. The only other thing I can really talk on behalf of is my consciousness. I am conscious. I look and see, I listen and hear, I touch and feel etc. But the question is when I look, what do I see and how does it represent what I look at? Do I see what is out there or what is and has been in my own mind all along? Do I possess an agile, acrobatic and infinitely flexible consciousness that presents itself to me in its many contorted forms and shapes, and a mind that deceives me that these contorted forms and shapes of my own consciousness are an external reality that I are observing? Is my own consciousness the ALL that I can possibly perceive, and my own mind the Ultimate liar that keeps, by occupying the place of the inexplicable phantasmagoria and bridging the gap between what I observed and what I perceived deceiving me that I am perceiving the external world?

How can we be sure, then, that we have ever perceived the outside world? How can we challenge the idea that there is nothing beyond the mind, and that it is the mind that is responsible for all that we think of as the observed external world? Could it not be possible that my mind, since it is my mind, knows what I want and what I expect, and will direct my consciousness to contort in such a way that a chair will be registered in my subjective experience whenever I want it to register there? In this case, it would be possible for a chair to register in my subjective experience even when there is no chair at all, just depending on my mind and, wish and my expectations. Is there any reason why this should not always be the case?

This brings us to the question on whether matter continues to exist when it is not being observed in any way. If we assume that all the external observations we perceive are only creations of our minds projected into our consciousness, then it would mean that external matter does not exist, and that what exists is the consciousness and probably the mind, and this mind could either be my own individual mind continuously playing perception tricks on me or a common Great Mind continuously playing perception tricks on all, or both working as one.

But if this is the case, then why do we knock ourselves on items we never knew existed? Why can't we just pass through them since, as far as we are concerned, they are not there? Why do people who are blind and deaf knock themselves on the wall? Why don't they just pass through the wall as though the wall were not there? So, does external matter exist even when it is not being observed in any way? If we assume that the mind creates it and projects it into our consciousness, then we would want to know what prompts the mind to project a vision that is unknown to us. My own mind or the Greater Mind would not project a vision that is alien to me because the perception I receive is one among an infinite number of contortions that my incredibly agile and acrobatic consciousness can perform.

Maybe if I perceive something alien to me, it means that my consciousness is performing a contortion that it has never ever performed, probably because the mind is projecting a lie it has never ever projected. But why should my own mind project to my consciousness a lie that will make it necessary for me to bang my head on an object whose existence can be easily done away with, or is it that the existence of the object is a necessary event for what the mind would like the future to be? Is this really my mind or a Greater Mind?