The Philosophy of the Act

Essay 18 Form and Environment

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PHYSICAL thing lies in a space-time, and it has characters. Both the space-time and the characters are conditioned by the organism within whose field of experience the physical thing lies. This statement, however, carries with it a complication, owing to the fact that the organism is itself a physical thing, and commonly exists in the field of the very organism with reference to which the other physical things are regarded as conditioned. Under the naive assumption that the organism is independent of the determining influence which the organism exercises upon its field, the organism is that of an observer who is regarding the organism. He is, then, bringing the organism within his own field. When he regards his own organism as determining his field, he is then taking the attitude of this other. In so far as it is the generalized attitude of the scientists, he assumes this as that which is the control in his own estimate of the influence which his organism exercises over his own field.

This generalized attitude of the scientists, then, presents a "reality" which implies a passage from one's own field to the field of another. This is accomplished by addressing the other and taking his attitude in reply to one's own gesture. This is the psychological process that answers to the relativist's recognition that what for him is moving may be at rest from the standpoint of another consentient set, while his consentient set is regarded as executing the motion. The relativist's transformation formula appears when the psychological process falls. Psychologically, one places one's self in the co-ordinates of the sun or that of the fixed stars. This becomes impossible when differences in simultaneity are postulated, i . e., we can place ourselves in the spatial perspective of another but not in a temporal per-

(309) -spective of another. The former leads up to the world at an instant and to the presentation of a stuff with a content of inertia as an expression of the quantity of matter. The latter comes back to the definition of things in terms of transformation formulas, and these cannot be brought into the perceptual field. Matter is stated in terms of energy, i.e., in terms of the amount of work that can be done. In the formula one can change it, but not in experience.

Given an absolute space and an absolute time which are presuppositions of physical objects, of the biological objects, and of psychological processes, and it is conceivable that any object presented from any standpoint would have the same implications. It would be a matter of no importance that the organism could be brought into one's picture of one's world only through one's taking the attitude of another, provided that attitude allowed one to present the organism in the same spatial relations as those of the objects about the organism; but if space is relational and presupposes things with extensive characters, and if these relations must find in the organism a point of reference for their emergence as a consentient set, and if these extensive characters of things are conditioned by the organism in the same sense that the other so-called sensuous characters of things are so conditioned and are the source of the relational space, then the inclusion of the organism in the environment of the organism - an environment for whose spatial character the organism is a condition-by observing one's self in the attitude of another, involves the same paralogism that would be involved in including the retina as colored in the colored environment, when one assumes that the structure of the retina is the condition for the color of the environment. On the contrary, we conceive of the retina as containing chemical elements which in their disintegration are the condition for the appearance of color in the environment. We may call these "pigments" and identify them by their color, but the form in which we can state them in their function of determining the character of the environment must be other than that of which they are the condition. In the same

(310) fashion, if we make the organism the condition for the extensive character of things and the consequent spatial relations, we cannot ascribe to the organism as such a condition the extensive character of the thing. What we do actually is to place the organism not in the perspective of the individual but in a generalized landscape in which the magnitudes and forms of objects are not distorted by the perspective of vision, the dominant distance sense. This generalized attitude of the other is an assumption of a space that is absolute over against the relativity of individual organisms. It does not provide us with a statement of the organism in terms out of which the perspective of a consentient set arises with its spatial characters. So far as this is accomplished, it is in terms of the coincidence of events and the intervals between them, generalized from transformation formulas. But these lie entirely outside experience.

In more detail: When the individual assumes the attitude of pushing a heavy object, its character as ponderous is more than stimulation to exercise effort. It is a sense of the pressure or inertia which the body will exert upon the individual. It is true that memory images of past expenditures of effort upon it or like objects may arise, but these images will be of the efforts expended aroused by the stimulation of what we call the resistance of the object. They do not of themselves carry with them the location of the resistance in the object, nor is this location of the resistance given in the definition of the boundaries of the objects through sight and touch. What has taken place is the "feeling one's self into" the object. What are conditions of this attitude? There must be that in the position -- I will say the gesture-of the object which arouses in the individual a resistance of the same sort as that which the body will exercise. I take it that it is the ability of the limbs to act upon the organism which endows the organism with this capacity to feel itself into the physical thing. When one sees the object to be pushed, it is first of all a stimulation to the pushing. Then the awakened tendency to push against the object calls out in the organism the tendency to resist one's own effort, as in the pressure of one hand

(311) upon the other. One, then, identifies the mere stimulation to exercise more effort with the expenditure of force on the part of the object because this playing of the role of the heavy object has excited one's response in advance of the actual contact with the object. There is a dramatic rehearsal of what one is advancing to do. There is doubtless behind this a social attitude, which is explicit at times, especially in childhood and moments of irritation. And this social attitude is of profound importance in the origin of this physical thing.

I am distinguishing here between the adaptation of the organism to the thing, though the thing as a thing does not enter into the experience of the individual (this may take place in automatic adjustments to an object in unexpected and rapid experience, when it is not until after the response to the object takes place that we recognize the object to which we have responded), and the realization of the interaction between an object and the organism, in which both are things. In the physical experience which has been subjected to the analysis and abstraction of a scientific age, the inside of such an object is mainly its inertia, its resistance to effort expended upon it. To a primitive man any object is capable of many other responses, which a sophisticated age regards as magical in their import, though our own irritations against and likings for physical things indicate that the physical things of our experience are abstractions from objects which have arisen in a social experience.

In the first of these two senses we may place the customary relation between form and environment where the form or organism by its selective response determines the environment, and where the environment reacts upon the form with its favorable or hostile influences. It is presumably the situation of plant and animal life below man. Difficult as it may be to conceive, it must have been an experience without selves and others and, hence, things without inherent characters, insides, natures. It was a world of exteriors, though without the experienced value of exteriors. Something like color or odor, taste, sound, hardness, softness or warmth or coldness was there, and the re-

(312) -sponses to these characters were there in the organism, but the mechanism for experiencing the response of the other thing within the organism and the calling-out of the organism's response to this attitude (this creation of an inside both in the self and in the other) waited upon the development of communication.

The account of the second sense in which the relation of the organism and the environment may be conceived may be called also the natural history of meaning. The earlier situation out of which it arises is the relation of form and environment with which evolutionary doctrines have dealt. I have called it a relation of exteriors, with the proviso that the term "exterior" must not carry with it the implication of interiors. It is only from the standpoint of the second stage that the field of this relationship can be called that of exteriors with the implication of interiors. In the terminology which I have just used it is a field of development which precedes the appearance of meanings. Unfortunately the account of it and of the rise of the field of meanings out of it can only be given in terms which have meanings. However, as I have just indicated, we can find protopathic experiences into which we promptly read meanings that were unquestionably there before these meanings belonged to either the objects or the organisms. The relationship is mutual. The environment is only there in so far as the organism is sensitive to it. In this sense the organism selects its, environment. And in so far as the environment does answer to the sensitivity of the form, the environment acts upon the form. The expression of this relationship is found in the term "adaptation." It is this relationship which I have referred to as that between exteriors -- exteriors without the implication of interiors.


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