Mind is all there is - Philosophical Idealism!
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Metaphysics - What is Really Real!
Last modified on: 27-Sep-98.
If materialism is wrong, and if we have only mind and matter to choose from, then the only possibility that remains is that everything is mind. This is sometimes called idealism in philosophy. The word idealism here has nothing to do with trying to obtain something perfect, but with ideas! Idealism claims that only ideas, or mind exist. There is no matter.
Idealism is probably perfectly logical. The main problem is that it conflicts with common experience that there are real things out there. When we see a chair, we assume and believe a chair is really there.
Yet our reasoning and knowledge tells us that we can only experience ideas and never real things. The immediate object of perception is an idea, or sense impression, and not an object. Common sense tells us when we look at a tree, we immediately perceive the tree. But scientific theory tells us that what is really happening is that the light from the tree strikes the retina and causes an electro-chemical event, which is transmitted through nerves to the perceptual area of the brain. Thereafter, something happens which results in an image of the chair. It is this image that we directly perceive, not the object (the tree).
Take the classic experiment of the three bowls of water: one hot, one cold, and one lukewarm. We put one hand in the hot, one in the cold, and then both in the lukewarm. To one hand this feels cold, and to the other hot! The actual lukewarm water cannot be both hot and cold. Although our thinking tells us that there is one object, the lukewarm water, our senses tell us that there are two objects - hot water and cold water! Our perception of things, and particularly of emotions and ideas is not fixed but is dependent on our minds, not the thing itself.
The philosopher Kant tells us we can know only phenomenon (experience) and never know the noumenon or reality. In spite of common sense, the thing as-it-really-is, the thing-in-itself, as it really exists cannot be known by the senses. Kant was not an idealist, but said that we cannot know the world as it really is, only infer it from our experience. We perceive qualities, not things, and these are dependent on the mind of the observer. We impose our understanding on the world, not the other way round!
What about films?
We all know that films and television programmes are just light shows. A combination of light and movement. A great illusion! Yet we do watch films and get enthralled with them. For example, we might watch a pretty person and fall in love with them or want to marry them, when all we are seeing is a trick of light. We watch other things and become outraged at the wickedness of the images. We certainly appear to act as if we were seeing something real, rather than a light show! Yet what we are looking at has no substance. It is just a reaction in our own minds, clearly with no reality. Is this what reality really is? A light show? Images and appearances with no substance? Existing in minds only?
The Dancing Skeleton Show
Have you ever seen a puppet show where in complete darkness you see a skeleton dancing? You may think that the 'skeleton' is a dancer wearing a black suit with luminous paint. The show is really good and the puppeteer must be highly skilled. And then, at the end, the head dances off, the arms dance off and the legs dance off. Not only is this the work of an expert puppeteer, the puppet is not even one thing, but different parts all working together to give us the illusion there is one thing, the skeleton, whereas it is just parts moving together giving the impression of a whole. The one thing, the skeleton, just doesn't exist! Was the puppeteer demonstrating to us that life is a similar illusion and we group the perceptions together and believe there is an underlying reality?
Psychologists have carried out many experiments to illustrate how we impute causality, movement, and of course mental qualities to things when none of these actually exist! The simplest example is the psi phenomenon. When sitting in a dark room looking at a small lamp the light appears to move when by any other standard it does not.
Idealism is a most exciting idea! If we create our world, then we have the possibility of changing it. By changing our minds, we can change our world!
I am not especially talking about psychokinesis or magical mind over matter here. I am talking about how we are not merely the effect of some materialistic universe, but the cause, to some extent of our own universes, and those we share.
The world, our world at least, may be changed! (This last sentence does not follow logically from what has been said before, but requires further support.)
Yet does this mean that the world as we see it is determined wholly by ourselves as perceivers and there is no objective reality? Is it all subjective?
Last modified on: 27-Sep-98.