Friday, January 31, 2014

A Manifestation of the Interior Sense Powers

This is a transcript of a lecture I gave to the faculty of Glendale Preparatory Academy:

The other day I asked my sixth graders whether we should use number lines to help us with math.  One of them raised their hands and asked, “Was that invented by that guy Descartes who said, ‘I think, therefore I am?’”  Amazed at her knowledge I responded that he was one of the originators, to which she quickly responded, “Why would we want to learn anything from him; he didn’t know what he was talking about!”
Today I would like to speak about the primary tools of learning: the interior sense powers.  I ask you not to pay too much attention to the fact that you have been using these tools longer than I have and I promise that I will not say too many things that I don’t know anything about (I don’t usually consider myself Cartesian).  Now, I call these sense powers the primary tools of learning since learning takes place in the student, more specifically in the brain where these powers are seated.  They are the powers we use to discern, recognize, and remember, which are the some of the most crucial aspects of learning.  I will not attempt to show all of the possible ways of using them; I will simply manifest their existence using the ancient science of psychology, as I understand it.
Have you ever thought how ironic it is that we cannot see our own eye-ball?  What can look at almost every thing cannot look at itself.  This actually is not entirely true.  We can look at ourselves in a mirror.  Even further, we can be aware that we are seeing, such as when we walk into a dark room and turn on the lights.  Although this is not the same as looking at ourselves in a mirror, we must still say that since we are aware that we are using our eyes, we must be sensing them.  This odd way of seeing that we see is a premise in the science of psychology, at least according to the traditional understanding of psychology.   Before we proceed, however, I will manifest the method that Aristotelian psychology employs, as far as I understand.
I must posit two premises that I really hope you’ll grant me.  They are very important for this lecture.   The first point is that I am giving this lecture and you are listening to me.  I do not say this as an expression of pride or as a warning, though it might be prudent to take it in that latter way.  But it will be important for something that I will establish later.  The second important point is that you should not be afraid of incredibly obvious statements.  There are a plethora of these in psychology, sayings that are so obvious that if you were to question them you could not provide an argument for them.   The best thing to do is to, as they say, “go with your gut.”  This might sound odd but it is very true for psychology since it deals with how you are aware of things: it is the study of the powers of the soul, the foremost of which are the powers of comprehension.  Our first impressions of things come about because our natural powers work to understand something even before we are conscious of the fact.  The “conclusions” that our powers reach are very telling of their capabilities.  So do not fear incredibly obvious statements; they are rich and illuminating because they are the fruit of the results of the powers we are investigating.  If you will grant me what I have said so far, then everything else I will say should easily fall into place. 
I will manifest the method of psychology by using something I have already said and what I hope you have granted: namely, that we can look at ourselves in a mirror.  If I were to ask you what you are looking at when facing a mirror, the first thing you would say is that you are looking at yourself.  Then, perhaps fearing a trick in my question, you might respond that you are really looking at a mirror.  Both of these are true: you are looking at yourself and at the mirror.  The progression that occurs points to that fact that we are first aware of the reflection in the mirror and secondarily we are aware of the mirror itself.  This makes clear the fact that we are looking at ourselves through the mirror: the mirror is an instrument we use to look at ourselves.  This is similar to the part in Hamlet when Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading and Hamlet responds “Words, words, words.”  What Hamlet says is true, but it’s also clear that he does not really give the kind of response that Polonius is looking for, since we are first aware of what words signify before we aware of the words themselves.  Both of these are cases in which the instrument is so well crafted that we forget that we are using them.  And, both of these cases illustrate how we aware of our powers of comprehension: by first being aware of what we use these powers on.  For instance, when we look at something, beyond the mere thing that we are looking at, we can pay attention to the fact that we are looking through something that is transparent.  We can be aware of the instrument we use to do our looking.  This is method of psychology: to be aware of something by first using it and then paying attention to it through the action it performs.  The marvelous thing is that if we can do this with our sense of sight like we have already done, we can be aware of every power of comprehension, since all of these are either used implicitly in this act or are used when paying attention to a power that is used to pay attention to our seeing.  Through this method, I hope to manifest the interior senses, which are distinct from the five outer senses we are already familiar with.
We begin with the fact that we can be aware that we can see.  Our sense of sight is an instrument that we use to be aware of certain things.   We can also be aware that we are hearing.  This is one of the cases where my first point comes in handy: you granted that you are listening to me.  This means that you are aware of the fact that you are doing some kind of action which allows you to be aware of me.  You are also aware that looking at me is different than hearing me: you cannot see me by listening.  This means that we can be aware of our acts of sensing.  With this, we can pay attention to the first of our interior senses.  Since we cannot see what we listen to nor listen to what we see, then we cannot pay attention to the fact these actions are different by either of these powers.  If we were aware that looking is different from listening by, say, our sense of sight, we would have to be able to see noises.  For, to listen is to sense noises, that is, to receive noises in a perceptive way.  If we could see the action of listening, we would have to be able to see the action of receiving noises.  But we cannot see noises.  Therefore, we cannot use any one of our five outer senses to be aware of the difference between these senses.  Again, it would not be enough if we were to say that we can use our eyes to see that we see and our ears to hear that we hear, anymore than it would be to say that if you see and I listen we could be aware of the difference between what we are doing by these very actions.  We must be aware of the action of seeing and the action of hearing by one and the same power which does the comparison and which is different from the powers that are being compared.  This power by which we are able to compare the actions of the outer senses is call the common sense, “common” because it has access to each of the five outer senses and uses each of them as instruments.  Notice that since it can compare the actions of the outer senses it must also be aware that one of the powers is doing one of its actions.  This means that we can use it to pay attention to and sense that we are seeing or that we are smelling, which answers the question we began with, namely how it is possible to be aware that we can see.  One further conclusion we can draw from this is that this is the power by which we know that we are living in only one reality and not five, one for each of the outer senses.  Think about it: if we had only our five outer senses which could not be aware of the others, we would have no way of telling that what I touch and see and hear when I knock is all the same thing.  But since I have a power that can be aware of all three of these things simultaneously, I am led to think that they originate from one single reality.  Thus, we have a sixth sense, common sense.  I should mention that this is not the sense that is usually referred when we speak of a sixth sense, that one will come later.
Notice what we have been doing: by using these instruments, these means of knowing, we are becoming aware of them.  The first are used as an instrument of the next: the air is used by the eye, the eye is used the common sense.  One of the natural aims of psychology is to manifest all of these means of knowing until we arrive the extreme, the power that uses all of these other powers as instruments.  One question to ask yourself in all of this is, “how do we know when we have arrived at the end? How do we determine what uses all of these other powers as instruments?”  Ponder that and see if you can anticipate the conclusion of this lecture.
 Since the common sense is what we use to pay attention to the actions of our outer senses, when we do not use our outer senses we also do not use our common sense, except perhaps to be aware that we are not sensing.  This is strange given the fact that you can picture to yourself a yellow statue of liberty, even though you have never seen one.  You cannot be using your common sense to do this since your common sense depends on the outer senses for it action.  Further, we are aware that what we use our outer senses and the common sense to perceive is real, yet we know that there is no real yellow statue of liberty.  Since we can store and bring forth sensible things that are not present to us and may not even be real, and since this cannot be done by any of the senses we have named so far, we must posit another sense, what is traditionally called the imagination.  This power is usually referred to when we want to create something that we have not experienced (when we want someone to think outside of the box we tell them to “use your imagination”).  This, however, is just one aspect of this power.  The essential function of this power is to receive what the common sense senses and store it for later use.  Although its primary use is to recall images, this power is not limited to what we can see, which is obvious from the fact that you can replay this sentence in head after I have said it.  Incidentally, you’ll note that what we imagine is usually vague.  This is because it only takes what it can get from the common sense and we often do not pay attention to many details with our common sense unless we consciously intend to.  The retentive nature of the imagination and the vagueness of its images make it a prime candidate for the objects of geometry since we need straight lines that do not have little defects in it and that do not change.  Lines without either of these aspects would make it difficult to do math.  So we have a power that can retain what outer senses and the common senses perceive.
The manifestation of the imagination gives us enough information to become aware of the next interior sense power.  We have already noted that what we sense with the outer senses and the common sense is real whereas what we sense with the imagination is not necessarily.  We know that we are awake right now and that waking is different from dreaming, which we use our imagination to do.  Since we can discern a difference between these two sensations, we must have a power by which we are able to do so.  This is enough to see that there is another, higher power but it does not reveal the full extent of its action. 
We are going to perform a mental exercise in which I will name a few qualities that can be perceived by the imagination and I want you to try to imagine them all at once.  White, soft, furry, moves by completely leaving the ground momentarily and landing in one spot, has two protrusions from its top that sometimes hang down.  If you are imagining all or most of these together, then you should have also made a movement of the mind beyond just merely imagining them.  I believe that most of you merged them together into one thing that has all these qualities.  This one thing is not merely these qualities but is what has these qualities; it’s the foundation, that in which these aspects exist.  So, I hope you began to think about a rabbit, which is the thing that has the aspects of being white, soft, furry, hopping, and two long ears on top.  Seeing this one thing beneath these qualities must be the action of yet another sense power.  This one thing cannot be sensed by the common sense or imagination but can only be sensed through what the common sense or imagination senses.  You cannot sense a rabbit without sensing some aspect of the rabbit.  The five outer senses only sense the qualities that the rabbit has; they do not sense that one thing that has all of these qualities.  We need a higher power to be aware of this.  This higher power, which can sense what the other sensible things exist in is called the cogitative power by the scholastics or the power of judgment as some more recent thinkers have called it.  The characteristic activity of this power is to collect qualities and aspects together and perceive the underlying thing that has all of those qualities.
When Hamlet first sees the skull in act 5 scene 1, he sees it as merely a skull.  Later he learns that the skull belongs to Yorick, the court jester.  Upon realizing this, he gives a soliloquy, reminiscing about Mr. Yorick’s actions, saying
When he first saw the skull, Hamlet seemed rather indifferent about it.  Later, having learned whose it was, he is abhorred at it.  He performed the act of recognition by associating the hard, white thing he had in his hand with the person he knew.  This is slightly different from the action that you did just now. Just now, you saw something underlying a bunch of qualities and aspect.  Hamlet, on the other hand, did this and something else: he perceived that what he was holding was a skull, just like you perceived that what I was describing was a rabbit, but he also associated the skull he was holding with the thing on whose back he rode and the thing which he abhors.  Another case of this would be when we recognize someone’s parents in their face: you can recognize Mr. Bertain’s features in his sons’ faces, so that you think of Mr. Bertain when you see their faces.  This also occurs when you recognize a piece of music by just the first few notes, so that you can even know which notes are going to played ahead of time.  This act of associating, or thinking of one thing with another thing is an action that only the cogitative power can do.  Hamlet was technically incorrect: he could not have really been abhorred in his imagination since he was abhorred at something that his imagination could not perceive, namely Mr. Yorick.  This Yorick is not a certain pattern of colors nor a particular smell or anything like that.  He is a thing that wears colors and exudes odors.  To recognize a thing as Yorick cannot be done by the five outer senses nor by anything that merely receives from the five outer senses, namely the common sense and the imagination.  Therefore, it must be done by the cogitative power, which is the power by which we recognize and judge.  I say recognize and judge because, if you think about it, the cogitative power must be what we use to determine whether we can cross the street safely, by judging whether the speed at which I go will be faster than the speed at which the cars are going. 
At this point you may be wondering to yourself why I would say that one single power can distinguish between dreaming and waking, can recognize things that underlie qualities and aspects, can associate those things with other things, and can judge situations, whereas earlier we said that since the eyes see and the ears hear they must be different powers.  Why would I group all of these actions under one power?  The first thing to notice is that none of these actions can be performed by the other sense powers we have spoken about, since all of these imply something beyond the regular sensible things like color and sound and motion and shape that we can sense directly.  Recognizing a person demands perceiving the peculiar qualities that they have, but recognizing them and recognizing their qualities is different.  This brings us to the solution to the question of how we know that the cogitative power can do all of these actions.  There is one power present where there is only one action.  All of these actions, namely recognizing, associating and judging can all be described in the same way: they all imply collecting or bringing together or thinking together the qualities and aspects of things.  When you thought of a rabbit, it was by bringing together the qualities that distinguish rabbits.  When Hamlet sensed Yorick, it was by bringing together the skull that he sensed (by his cogitative power) with the person he knew (who had to be perceived by the cogitative power).  When we sense a car going a certain speed when crossing the street, we compare the speeds of two things and either perceive danger or not.  All of these actions are done by thinking of either one or many things that have certain qualities and aspects.  So, all of these must be done the power that can do this, which we call the cogitative power or judgment.
There is one final sense power that I will manifest by reviewing what has been said so far and showing a gap.  St. Thomas Aquinas gave a very handy layout of these interior sense powers that we have been talking about.  First, he noticed that each of our sense powers have corresponding organs, such as an eyeball or a tongue.  Modern day scientist have noticed that when the brain is damaged or affected, the actions of these interior sense powers are affected, which is a quick way of proving what it took St. Thomas a bit longer to prove, namely that the interior sense powers have organs as well.  Well, if they have organs, then they must be made out of certain kinds of stuff.  St. Thomas noticed that there are two kinds of stuff: one kind that can receive the qualities of other things really easily, such as putty or good conductors of heat or maybe even transparent things.  There are also things that really good at retaining the qualities that they have, such as diamonds or oven mitts or maybe even batteries.  This distinction should also apply to the organs of the sense powers.  Some organs must be good at receiving the qualities, such as our five outer senses and the common sense and even the cogitative power.  Other sense powers must be good at retaining qualities.  So far we have seen that the imagination is good at this since it retains what the common sense perceives, which is why we can picture for ourselves a yellow statue of liberty.  Notice, however, that the imagination can only retain things the common sense perceives: just as the common sense cannot perceive a rabbit or Mr. Yorick or other such things, so also the imagination cannot retain those things.  But, we can retain those things: you can remember a time in your life when you saw a rabbit, and Hamlet could remember that gorge-rising time when he rode on Mr. Yorick’s back.  Therefore, we must posit a fourth interior sense power, one by which we can retain what the cogitative power perceives, by which we recall the situations we have been in, a power by which we remember.  This is called the memory.
Thus, we have seen the four interior sense powers: the common sense, by which we can discern our five outer senses and what they perceive, the imagination, which retains what the common sense perceives, the cogitative power, by which we can perceive things that underlie peculiar combinations of qualities and associate them, and finally the memory, by which we can retain and recall what the cogitative power perceives.  These are the four instruments we use for the majority of our lives and are the primary instruments of learning, which I will manifest with one quick example.
As I speak, I make noises in the air.  These noises come in certain patterns, which I hope you are still able to detect.  These patterns occur over time and are not present all at once.  Therefore, if they are to be perceived, they must be retained and recalled by the imagination.  Further, these noises signify certain things: the noise “rabbit” signifies the white, furry thing that hops.  There is nothing about the noises themselves that imply a rabbit.  Rather, we merely associate the noise with the animal.  This cannot occur without the cogitative power.  Finally, I hope you retain some of what I have said, for which you will need you memory, which can recall all of the various things that your cogitative power perceived in them. 

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