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How Two Minds Can Know One Thing
by [?]


In [the essay] entitled ‘Does Consciousness Exist?’ I have tried to show that when we call an experience ‘conscious,’ that does not mean that it is suffused throughout with a peculiar modality of being (‘psychic’ being) as stained glass may be suffused with light, but rather that it stands in certain determinate relations to other portions of experience extraneous to itself. These form one peculiar ‘context’ for it; while, taken in another context of experiences, we class it as a fact in the physical world. This ‘pen,’ for example, is, in the first instance, a bald that, a datum, fact, phenomenon, content, or whatever other neutral or ambiguous name you may prefer to apply. I called it in that article a ‘pure experience.’ To get classed either as a physical pen or as some one’s percept of a pen, it must assume a function, and that can only happen in a more complicated world. So far as in that world it is a stable feature, holds ink, marks paper and obeys the guidance of a hand, it is a physical pen. That is what we mean by being ‘physical,’ in a pen. So far as it is instable, on the contrary, coming and going with the movements of my eyes, altering with what I call my fancy, continuous with subsequent experiences of its ‘having been’ (in the past tense), it is the percept of a pen in my mind. Those peculiarities are what we mean by being ‘conscious,’ in a pen.

In Section VI of another [essay][69] I tried to show that the same that, the same numerically identical pen of pure experience, can enter simultaneously into many conscious contexts, or, in other words, be an object for many different minds. I admitted that I had not space to treat of certain possible objections in that article; but in [the last essay] I took some of the objections up. At the end of that [essay] I said that still more formidable-sounding objections remained; so, to leave my pure-experience theory in as strong a state as possible, I propose to consider those objections now.


The objections I previously tried to dispose of were purely logical or dialectical. No one identical term, whether physical or psychical, it had been said, could be the subject of two relations at once. This thesis I sought to prove unfounded. The objections that now confront us arise from the nature supposed to inhere in psychic facts specifically. Whatever may be the case with physical objects, a fact of consciousness, it is alleged (and indeed very plausibly), can not, without self-contradiction, be treated as a portion of two different minds, and for the following reasons.

In the physical world we make with impunity the assumption that one and the same material object can figure in an indefinitely large number of different processes at once. When, for instance, a sheet of rubber is pulled at its four corners, a unit of rubber in the middle of the sheet is affected by all four of the pulls. It transmits them each, as if it pulled in four different ways at once itself. So, an air-particle or an ether-particle ‘compounds’ the different directions of movement imprinted on it without obliterating their several individualities. It delivers them distinct, on the contrary, at as many several ‘receivers’ (ear, eye or what not) as may be ‘tuned’ to that effect. The apparent paradox of a distinctness like this surviving in the midst of compounding is a thing which, I fancy, the analyses made by physicists have by this time sufficiently cleared up.

But if, on the strength of these analogies, one should ask: “Why, if two or more lines can run through one and the same geometrical point, or if two or more distinct processes of activity can run through one and the same physical thing so that it simultaneously plays a role in each and every process, might not two or more streams of personal consciousness include one and the same unit of experience so that it would simultaneously be a part of the experience of all the different minds?” one would be checked by thinking of a certain peculiarity by which phenomena of consciousness differ from physical things.