How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

How to retain the primacy of consciousness over matter: attach a carefully worded lie to the greatest scientific hypothesis – thus Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’

Kant wrote: ‘…the fundamental laws of the motions of the heavenly bodies gave established certainty to what Copernicus had at first assumed only as an hypothesis, and at the same time yielded proof of the invisible force (the Newtonian attraction) which holds the universe together. The latter would have remained for ever undiscovered if Copernicus had not dared, in a manner contradictory of the senses, but yet true, to seek the observed movements, not in the heavenly bodies, but in the spectator. The change in point of view, analogous to this hypothesis, which is expounded in the Critique, I put forward in this preface as an hypothesis only, in order to draw attention to the character of these first attempts at such a change, which are always hypothetical. But in the Critique itself it will be proved, apodeictically not hypothetically, from the nature of our representations of space and time and from the elementary concepts of the understanding.’ Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Trans., Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, London, 1987, 25 (Footnote)

and ‘We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. If intuition must conform to the constitution of the objects, I do not see how we could know anything of the latter a priori; but if the object (as object of the senses) must conform to the constitution of our faculty of intuition, I have no difficulty in conceiving such a possibility.’ (22)

Kant’s incorrect assertion that Copernicus had sought the observed movements in the spectator is not the crucial point – it is that Kant thereby had the pretext to give priority over matter to ‘mind’/consciousness – via concepts and the ‘forms of intuition’. Copernicus’ hypothesis is an objective hypothesis about the world, the functioning of which Copernicus recognised requires neither the spectator – nor their ‘mind’/consciousness.1

In On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Copernicus a couple of times referred to the spectator: ‘For every apparent change in place occurs on account of the movement either of the thing seen or of the spectator, or on account of the necessarily unequal movement of both. For no movement is perceptible relatively to things moved equally in the same directions – I mean relatively to the thing seen and the spectator.’ Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Ed., Stephen Hawking, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2002, 12

But the spectator did not figure in his hypothesis itself: ‘For the daily revolution appears to carry the whole universe along, with the exception of the Earth (my emphasis) and the things around it. And if you admit that the heavens possess none of this movement but that the Earth (my emphasis) turns from west to east, you will find – if you make a serious examination – that as regards the apparent rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars the case is so. And since it is the heavens which contain and embrace all things as the place common to the universe, it will not be clear at once why movement should not be assigned to the contained rather than to the container, to the thing placed rather than to the thing providing the place.’ (12-13)

Not only – going beyond Kant’s noumenal barrier (and, most significantly, towards acquisition of knowledge of the world) – was careful observation crucial to Copernicus’ hypothesis: ‘Having recorded three positions of the planet Jupiter and evaluated them in this way, we shall set up three others in their place, which we observed with greatest care at the solar oppositions of Jupiter’ (291), not only was he entirely comfortable with appearances, repeatedly referring to them and setting out the means for counteracting them: ‘For in order to perceive this by sense with the help of artificial instruments, by means of which the job can be done best, it is necessary to have a wooden square prepared, or preferably a square made from some other more solid material, from stone or metal; for the wood might not stay in the same condition on account of some alteration in the atmosphere and might mislead the observer’ (61), he dealt with the reciprocal relationships between sun, earth and moon, irrespective of which body was moving: ‘It is of no importance if we take up in an opposite fashion what others have demonstrated by means of a motionless earth and a giddy world and race with them toward the same goal, since things related reciprocally happen to be inversely in harmony with one another’ (60), even writing ‘And for this reason we can call the former movement of the sun – to use the common expression – the regular and simple movement’ (161).

The Sage of Königsberg steps forth: ‘it is clearly shown, that if I remove the thinking subject the whole corporeal world must at once vanish: it is nothing save an appearance in the sensibility of our subject and a mode of its representations’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 354).

Sapere aude…



1. Bertrand Russell wrote that Kant should have ‘spoken of a “Ptolemaic counter-revolution (my italics)”, since he put man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him..’ Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1948, 9, in Paul Redding, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1996, 3. Kant’s calculated nonsense was replicated by A.C.Ewing ‘“Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which men had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is correct.”’ Ibid. Space is the objective distribution of matter, time (not the measure of time) is the objective movement of matter in space. Space, time, matter and motion (all objective) are inseparable. Kant’s crucial spectator with their consciousness is the product of these.

16 thoughts on “How to retain the relevance of metaphysics (the primacy of consciousness over matter)

  1. Hi Phil. Thanks for your entry.

    It seems to me humanity still hasn’t worked out our part and our part to play in “reality”. And we cannot do so unless “our reality” of conscious mind, of self and experience, “the whole corporeal world” of “appearance in the sensibility of our subject”, is recognised as a part of the whole body in reality, created and placed, or “projected” by the Central Nervous System. Only then can we come to understand and begin to relate with our whole who is in reality, and encompass in his/her living whole being all of his or her parts including projected.

    It is hard for we are in a paper bag, held and created by a whole being. There is an urgency however, as over population, environmental strain and our way of life all threaten the whole being, and point to our self (in the bag) and probably its isolation from its whole inside the bag, as the problem.


    • Hello tt4r, In my view, consciousness doesn’t need to be integrated with the body (and therefore the world) because it is their product – it is one function (though, as with reason, one of the highest) of the body. The problems occur when consciousness, so to speak, seeks to integrate the body (and therefore the world) into ‘its‘ processes. Putting the product before what produces it is not possible. Phil


      • yes, I understand your view. I consider the whole body as with his or her own consciousness though, and ours a part of his or her being. Like the Gyer theory that personifies the Earth, I feel the whole self or whole body to be primary, and to be the human person. We have personified the self and mind identity when it is disassociated into the self having an experience, the conscious, a deeper being and witness.

        I do hope you can accomodate my persistence at this. I appreciate you opening the topic, and our exchange. You make me formulate into words. Thank you, Phil. From Tach.


      • Yes. Good. I’m getting used to this. Look forward to further contacts. Wouldn’t mind your thoughts on “The human condition and reality 1”. It’s tricky introducing a concept of a universal reference. I want to take it further to an universal process in the next follow up entry.


      • Tach, you describe the self as a mystic presence and process. It would seem to me that there is your basis. Build on that. Believe in that. Explore that and have confidence in yourself as you do it. And I can see this development reflected in your art – it is becoming more confident (broader strokes, introduced elements, how you write about what you do). Phil


      • Thank you. I really appreciate your involvement.

        I did write “the whole self”. Would you think about my theory that the whole body is the whole being and whole self, the who that may be “projecting”, ie. creating and placing, our reality, including the numerous and disassociated self-s that we are? It is the basis for a practice for us to relate with the whole body. both as presence and process for us being a part. It is what I pursue, but also see as universal, and so human condition and reality.


      • Tach, in my view the body is the self. One can’t say ‘But there is consciousness’- consciousness is a function of the body (the brain). You write of the self creating its reality – I think that we (thinking bodies) create in reality. I refer you to Lenin’s words ‘from living perception to abstract thought and from this to practice, such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.’ You write of ‘numerous and disassociated self-s that we are’. It seems to me that you are extremely sensitive to the richness of consciousness and the reflective potential of the brain. Phil


      • Phil. I want to clarify with you some of the terms we have used.

        I think it useful to distinguish the whole self, whole being or whole body from the self and our reality that are “projected” parts of the former. I write of the whole self creating our reality not “of the self creating its reality”. Rather than “we (thinking bodies) create in reality”, the whole body creates in reality. The whole body is the whole self, but our sense of body is not our sense of self, and the self as an actuality takes us to the grounds of phenomenology and the self referencing conundrum.

        Don’t you think it useful to refer to our self and our reality, of cognitive, emotive, somatic, instinctive, or intuitive and further mystic and spiritual sense, of others and the world, as “projection” separate from the whole body in reality, of other whole beings present in the present, solid in gravity, alive on Earth and in creation? The whole body “projects” or creates and places our reality as projection in projection. All human experience, levels and states of consciousness and being, sense and notion of self as well as the witness and their actuality, can be referred to as projected parts of the whole body.

        This distinction also allows us to recognise the whole body as a special entity in reality for us as his or her (whole body’s) projected part. All other things and influences can only manifest through the whole body as indication in our projected reality. A relation with the whole body is made possible beyond our usual isolating identification with what we experience. The whole being may be considered beyond projected reality (including our self), and may certainly be more than the sum of his or her projected parts.

        Can we not make use these terms of distinction? Tach


  2. I should add – Together with our sense of being, our “living perception to abstract thought”, and doing or “practice”, our individual reality includes the “cognition of truth”; objective reality is the whole truth, reality including the whole body, who projects “our truth” or our reality.


    • Tach, I understand that you distinguish between the physical ‘whole body’ self and another self – its ‘projection’. But why the need to distinguish between product and its producer? Yes, undoubtedly the product is astonishing in all its richness – and I would hope that my posts are evidence of my recognition of this and of my belief that the range of this product should be fully acknowledged and explored – but this ‘other self’ to which I understand you refer is still a product, a function, a manifestation of matter in motion, of objective reality. Is that not wonder enough?

      As a doctor you would be very aware of how our species has developed over many millions of years – one example is the development of our hand with its thumb, another is the eye etc. And another is the development of the ‘other’ self to which you refer. Because the results of our brain processes cannot be touched, held and physically dissected does not deny their materiality. Have I misunderstood your position in any way?


      • Phil, I hate for us to seem to strain. We are not hard of hearing, nor tired of typing, and hope this is worthwhile for you too. It’s not often, I don’t think that people bother to understand one another. So ….

        You replied you understand my distinction “between the physical ‘whole body’ self and another self – its ‘projection’”, but question the need.

        You say that the “product is astonishing in all its richness”. I think I need to clarify with you that what I mean to be the product of the whole body’s projection is the self.

        I know we mean to be the definitive entity, and when we refer to the self we do not make a distinction with a “whole body self” and presume to be the same, even though the reality we are given is not complete, it extends and opens in different ways in different directions. Clearly only a part of our reality is a virtual indication of what is mainly to the front of the whole body and, in our reality being dominantly visual, mostly of what is to the front of his or her eyes. This indication of the world is placed mainly to the front of our self or identity, we regard it as the world or reality, and the self seems to be in it. It also is in an inner world. Both outside and in are within projection.

        The whole body is the “producer”, the self is a product of him or her.

        Is that what you understand of my position?

        If so, yes both are wonderful, but for us as self that wonder is in projection together with us, where we can only postulate and wonder at the whole body in reality.

        As I outlined in my previous reply, and express in my blog, the distinction is important for humanity to consider a relation with the whole body as a whole being and our producer. I began to think, during my clinical days, that this is the missing link from the human condition identified with itself and what it experiences.

        It is my passion (excuse me and thank you for pointing it out). The distinction of self and whole self, reality and our projected reality, opens the way for us to relate beyond self, with reality – the whole body is a special entity for us because we are his or her “product” and part.

        It is a difficult position to share. I’ve strained many relations with it. I think it is partly because of passion, but also it stems from reality, of our projected part and of whom we are a projected part in reality, confronts the human condition, swamps the self referencing conundrum both in subject as actual self and topic, and unleashes our relation with the whole body which begins with our eternal denial – because of the lack of distinction by the self who has been left on its own.

        Back to you Phil, and Thank you most sincerely. I have not been able to write or speak and type like I do, right up till now. Reading your blog, having contact with you, and these comments and replies have helped to put my thoughts together, but also you’ve helped hone me to communicate – you’ve contacted me. And I appreciate, having communicated predominantly with patients with whom I’ve strained to understand and to have them understand, that you have tried to make sure of “what” we understand. Whether we agree or not, you have made me explain. Did I? Is this philosophy? Tach.


      • Tach, Thank you for expressing your ideas. You obviously feel strongly about them and I will be interested to see how you develop them, particularly in relation to your art which I think is unique. Phil


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