by Wolfgang Köhler
(Ein altes Scheinproblem, 1929; translated by Erich Goldmeyer, 1971)

(2nd part)

Phenomenal space everywhere offers examples of the relationship "outside one another." Next to my book, outside of it, is the pencil; still farther from both is the phenomenal object, the inkwell. This seems entirely natural to us. The only consideration required for the solution of our curious problem now consists in the fact that "my body," before which and outside of which the phenomenal objects are perceived, is itself such a phenomenal object along with others, in the same phenomenal space, and that under no circumstances may it be identified with the organism as the physical object which is investigated by the natural sciences, anatomy and physiology. Since at first, as long as this distinction is not yet obvious so that the pseudoproblem disappears, the situation is necessarily somewhat confusing, I shall explain it step by step. If I put my own hand next to the pencil and the inkwell, the hand reflects light and this stimulates my eye, exactly as the other two objects do. In that brain field which contains the physiological correlate of our perception - and, according to our assumption, also this perception itself - there thus occur not only two total processes corresponding to the external objects pencil and inkwell, but also a third process of generally exactly the same nature, connected with the appearance of the phenomenal object "hand." Nobody is surprised that the phenomenal object "pencil" is outside the phenomenal thing "inkwell." But it is no more astonishing that the hand as a third phenomenal object appears next to the other two and that they, in turn, appear outside of the hand. The processes in that brain field undoubtedly possess some properties on the basis of which perception in general is spatial; but also, more particularly, specific behavior of several brain processes corresponds to the phenomenal relations next to and outside of the respective phenomenal objects. If this particular behavior exists for the processes corresponding to pencil and inkwell, then in the case just discussed, it certainly does so in exactly the same way for both of these in their relation to the "hand process."

Now, as I sit at my desk, besides my hand there is also visible in the more peripheral field a good portion of both arms and the upper part of my body. Obviously arms and body are phenomenal objects just as the hand or the pencil and inkwell. They arise, physically and physiologically, in exactly the same way as the others, through retinal images and the ensuing processes in the nervous system; consequently they are subject to the same rules of relative localization as those objects. If there are understandable reasons why, under the conditions of our example, those other objects appear external to each other, then exactly the same reasons apply to their being external to my body as a phenomenal object.

To enable us to see the situation still more concretely, we shall introduce an assumption which is certainly not entirely correct in this form and will need later correction. We shall assume that if two objects, such as pencil and inkwell, exist phenomenally side by side at a particular phenomenal distance, the corresponding brain processes simply exist next to each other at a particular distance, in short that phenomenal space and the spatial distribution of the directly corresponding processes in the brain field are, to some extent, geometrically similar or even congruent. Then consideration of the example just discussed shows that the complex of processes for my body as a phenomenal object is localized at a particular place in the physical brain field, that the processes for other phenomenal objects take place all around it, and that, because of the relative geometrical relationships of these processes, phenomenal objects must be next to each other everywhere in phenomenal space, and at the same time they must all lie outside of one (for me) especially important phenomenal object which I call my body.

This is the first essential step to the solution of the paradox. If SCHOPENHAUER and many natural scientists after him were astonished by the "external localization" of phenomenal objects, the reason was only that they failed to apply to their own body an assumption which had become natural to them in considering other objects. For the body they retained the naive identification or confusion of physical and phenomenal object. But if we say some object is in front of "us," then what we mean by "us" is not the organism in the physical, physiological sense, but a phenomenal object among others which must show the same kind of localization relative to them as they have among themselves. And both, the other phenomenal objects as well as the "self" (in the everyday phenomenal sense) depend functionally on certain processes in one's own physical body; and likewise all relative phenomenal localizations depend on the distribution of these processes. Nobody has ever seen a phenomenal object localized relative to (outside of) his physical body. (4)

At this point the reader might still be slightly uneasy because now, to be sure, phenomenal objects are understandably outside of the phenomenal self but still, according to our assumption, both of them exist inside our physical body. Later all doubts in this respect should disappear. But first an extension and a correction of what has been said so far are needed.

An extension is necessary because our phenomenal world contains very much more than just visual facts. So far the discussion has been confined to the visual content of phenomenal space because we know, and are accustomed to this knowledge, that visual processes occur in orderly fashion in one connected physiological field. Therefore the arrangement of the visual phenomenal body next to other visual phenomenal objects is immediately convincing once we know that the phenomenal body may not be identified with the physical organism.

Sound is also localized in phenomenal space but, in general, less precisely so. Likewise I feel the hardness of the table under my hands (as phenomenal objects), thus again in phenomenal space. An old controversy is concerned with the relations to vision of such phenomenal spatial data in other modalities. But in any case one fact is phenomenologically certain: Whether sharply or diffusely localized, sound appears to us in places of the same phenomenal space in which we see phenomenal objects (in the same or in different places). It is only because of this that I can say, for instance, "Just now I heard a rustling sound in the bushes over there," and thus relate the place of a sound to the position of a visually given phenomenal object. In just the same way I feel the hardness of the table for instance, somewhat to the left of the place where the phenomenal object pencil lies, and thus I localize a felt place in relation to a seen one. Anyone who is in the habit of letting his judgement about the facts of perception be determined by his knowledge of the peripheral sense organs may not at once agree at this point, since the organs of sight, hearing, and touch represent separate receptor surfaces, and certainly the primary regions of entrance of the respective nerves into the cortex are also separate from each other. But as to the first point, the two eyes are also two separate peripheral sense organs, the stimulation of which nevertheless unquestionably results in one connected visual phenomenal space. Furthermore, there is no good evidence at all for the assumption that the primary regions of entrance of the several sensory nerves are also the last stations of the sensory process. The alternative hypothesis would correspond much better with direct experience - that all sensory processes finally enter a field common to them all, and that here they interact according to their respective relations; this would be the basis for their localization in a single phenomenal space. This is the physiological version of a view which at one time was considered almost obvious, and which more recently has been advanced again by William STERN. It would be a bad argument if someone wished to object that not infrequently discrepancies are observed between the localization of a sound and the position of the visual source of the sound, and that there are similar inconsistencies between the felt object and its seen form. The above assumption by no means implies that this could not happen; the observation of such a discrepancy indeed presupposes that acoustic location and visual location of the source of sound, that the tactual and the visual image, have in principle comparable characteristics since, in fact, I do compare the two. Normally, of course, not only does the localization of the phenomena of different sensory modalities take place in one and the same phenomenal space but also, at least by and large, whatever belongs together is perceived together; thus the locus of the sound and the locus of the source of the sound as a visual object coincide, etc. It is not essential for our question whether this approximate "fit" of the relative phenomenal localization of visual, auditory, and tactual objects is partly based on anatomy (as the unitary spatial order of seeing with the two eyes), or if an almost inconceivable amount of learning brings the locations of sounds, tactile objects, etc., into an approximately fitting relation to the unitary spatial order of the visual world, or if, finally, still other possible explanations might be considered. At any rate, this coordination of localization already exists very early in the life of the human being. And thus the other phenomenal data fit inte the one phenomenal context which was described first in its visual extension before the visually given body-self. Therefore we may also conceive of the sensory processes of nonvisual origin as taking place in the same regions of the cerebral field where the corresponding visual process complexes take place (but see below).

But a corresponding extension must also be made in regard to the phenomenal make-up of our bodily self. For it and its changing states, sensory data of nonvisual origin are undoubtedly even more important than its visual appearance which, for ourselves, always remains rather incomplete. Just as our phenomenal world is enriched by the sense of touch, but at the same time preserves to a high degree the correct correlation of visual phenomenal objects and tactile data in one phenomenal space, so what we perceive of ourselves through the sense of touch incorporates itself in and attaches itself, on the whole correctly, to the visual object, "our body." Into the same region of phenomenal space, again in proper context, a great deal of data are included which exist essentially only for one's own phenomenal body and its members, and about whose physiological foundations in sense organs of the skin, muscles, joints, etc., we are actually very poorly informed. These are what we experience even without looking: the phenomenal positions of our limbs, the felt tension or relaxation of extremities and parts of the body. In the consideration of the immediate phenomenal data, we need continually to guard against slipping what is meant by these words into the physical-physiological states and changes in the corresponding regions of the physical organism. Obviously one of the most important groups of phenomenal data may not be forgotten, the one that concerns the change and motion of the phenomenal body and its limbs. It is well known that stimulation of the vestibular nerves gives rise, in a sense, to the purest perception of spatial dynamics. And all these states and events occur in and on the same phenomenal structure for which we have -phenomenologically quite properly - a single name, the self (in the everyday sense) without concerning ourselves with the enormous variety of different sensory inputs which, physiologically, contribute constantly to its make-up. This is again possible only because all these data, whatever their peripheral physiological source, may be ordered, in general, so entirely adequately in one structure of phenomenal space. The tension, which I just now feel in my right arm as I make a fist is localized in the structure which I experience visually as my right arm, etc. Again there is a conclusion to be drawn for brain physiology: the data from all these different sense organs contribute to the determination of one single segregated process complex, whose phenomenal correlate is called "self." Neither from considerations of brain physiology nor of phenomenology, therefore, does the "sensory heterogeneity" of the phenomenal self and of the phenomenal environment change anything of the fact that the one is surrounded by the parts of the other. There is then no reason whatever why the phenomenal environment should appear within the phenomenal self. This actually occurs only in special cases where it is a consequence precisely of the principle of normal appropriate organization of all sensory data in one phenomenal context: In taking food, I certainly perceive phenomenal objects, just now objects of the phenomenal environment, in the interior of the phenomenal body self - that is to say, in the mouth - for a few minutes. But, of course, this has nothing to do with the paradox from which we started. It only means that in a unitary perceptual field (and, correspondingly, in a brain field of unitary structure) it is quite possible to have continuous shifts of a phenomenal image (and likewise of the underlying brain processes) from a surrounding area to a surrounded one (the complex of self processes).

continue (3rd part)
back to 1st part


(4) When we speak of the phenomenal self, the personality in a deeper sense remains entirely outside of our discussion. We speak here of the self which is intended when we say, "I lie down on the couch," "I sit down," "I go downstairs," etc. (-> back to text)

This article was first published in German as "Ein altes Scheinproblem" in the journal
Die Naturwissenschaften, 1929, 17, pp. 395-401.
It was reprinted by permission of Springer-Verlag and translated by Erich Goldmeier in
Mary Henle (Ed.), The Selected Papers of Wolfgang Köhler, New York: Liveright, 1971, pp. 125-141.

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