version of:   June 27, 2004

Chapter 11: The Heart

Opening up new terrain does not always involve an extension of the old terrain. Sometimes the movement is in the opposite direction. When we discover that we have conflated two or more different terrains, we can subtract one or more of them in order to study the remaining ones. An example of this opening through retraction, rather than extension, is the discovery of the vacuum in physics, in the seventeenth century. Until then, air and space were considered to go together, to come in a package deal. But once physicists learned how to pump the air out of a container, thus creating a vacuum, they could study both air and vacua in new ways.

Experiment 1.5: Mental Objects

We have made a distinction between hearing rain hitting the roof, and hearing the sound of rain hitting the roof. We have seen that switching between the two, while doing subject-object reversal does make a difference that can be noticed quite easily. The difference even reflects in our physical embodiment and tensions, as well as in our emotional reactions.

But we can make yet a further distinction between sound as a physical phenomenon, that can be recorded, and sound as a mental phenomenon, what you experience when you hear the sound of rain. The easiest way to start exploring this distinction is to subtract the presence of the physical phenomena, and to work initially with purely mental phenomena.

You can close your eyes and wait to see what kind of thoughts or feelings or images come up. Each of those is a type of mental object, that we normally consider as being experienced by you, the subject. Watch this normal way of dealing with mental events for a while, and make several lab entries about the process, being careful to notice what is really involved, as best you can. Then reverse the process: let the thoughts think you, the feelings feel you, the images watch you.

After you have done this for a considerable number of sessions, you can return to objects that you perceive through sight and/or sound and/or your other senses. In these cases, too, let the experience of the various sense modalities experience you: instead of you experiencing a sound or a touch, let the sound or touch experience you.


The mind is a funny thing, especially because it is not a thing. Mental objects are things of sorts, in the sense that they appear as object poles of acts of conscious experience. But the status of the mind itself, as the landscape in which mental events appear, is more problematic.

Nowadays, we tend to associate the mind with the brain, and many researchers in neuroscience and cognitive science consider it obvious that it is just a matter of time until we will map out and elucidate the relationship between the two; or perhaps do away with the term mind altogether as an archaic pre-scientific concept.

It has not always been like that. Aristotle considered thoughts and emotions as movements of the soul, and the soul to reside in the heart. Our language still contains many expressions that refer to the heart, especially when referring to emotions. For the Chinese, heart and mind were so closely related that they had only a single character for it; the Japanese, too, in copying the Chinese script, kept this tradition.

Interestingly, Buddhists consider the mind on a par with the senses. In addition to the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, they list mind as the sixth sense. While this may strike us as odd and unfamiliar, when we first hear about it, it does make a lot of sense, no pun intended, and at least in our case it gives us a natural transition from the previous to the present chapter.

Prove Yourself

By now you will be familiar enough with the process of experimentation that you can design your own series of experiments, using purely mental events, and report on them. If you are good at letting images appear in your mind, you can work directly with them in letting them watch you. But any normal thought or feeling is fine, too.

If you can prove Pythagoras' theorem in your mind, for example, you can do an interesting series of different subject/object reversals. At the point where you would imagine a triangle, you can let the triangle imagine you; or you can let the thought of a triangle think you. When you would focus on one angle of the triangle, you can let that one angle focus on you instead; and so on.

I'm sure you can come up with various other variations. Some of them you may imagine already while reading this, others will force themselves upon you when you do the experiment -- or when you take notes. I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of taking notes: in my own experience and in that of others, many insights break through only after the formal experimentation session has already ended, and while you are groping for words and expressions in the process of writing a lab report.

Finally, you may even be able to reverse the whole process, letting the theorem of Pythagoras prove you!

Two Pens

Let us look at one case study, and go into a bit more detail, to get a glimpse of the enormous range of possibilities. Take a simple object, a pen for example. Move this object closer to you and away from you a few times. Notice how the perceived size of the pen is getting smaller and larger. Notice too how the felt size of the pen does not change.

This latter conclusion is not an intellectual one. Without using any explicit reasoning processes, we simply are aware of the constant size of the `real' pen, we feel it as a lived experience. For example, if we would move our arm out and the pen would not seem to shrink, we would be surprised. In that case, we would interpret the situation as caused by an unexplained expansion of the pen. And it would really feel like an expansion.

While we are moving our pen a few times more to and from, consider now what is happening, according to our usual explanations. The size of the pen is constant. Its distance to you is changing. Therefore the angle under which it is viewed by you is changing. Therefore, the picture projected on the retina by the diminishing angle is changing in size as well. And indeed, you can verify this directly by seeing the apparent size of the pen shrink. Nonetheless, you are also `seeing' that the pen itself does not shrink.

Clearly, two different types of seeing are involved. And corresponding to them, two types of pen are `seen'. There is the apparent pen, shrinking and growing. And there is the `real' pen, which we feel to maintain the same size. And presumably, the `real' pen is indeed the real, objective pen that other people can agree upon, even though they will see an apparent pen that is different (as an image) in many ways from the apparent pen I perceive. Or is it?

Three Pens

Would it not be more correct to say that we have three pens? There is the apparently shrinking pen that you `see' directly as clearly shrinking, at least in appearance. Then there is the `real' pen that you can also clearly `see' as keeping its old size. And then there is the `really real' pen, the one objectively out there, the one you and your friends all agree upon.

This is the objective pen, that can be talked about, handed over, borrowed and forgotten-to-be-given-back; the pen that can be analyzed physically and chemically and described in scientific equations of various sorts. In contrast, the other two pens are subjective, in the sense of being part of subjective experience, according to our normal interpretation.

Here is a simple experiment that will draw out the distinction between the last two pens: close your eyes, and immediately the `real' pen will disappear, while the `really real' pen will still be there.

But we still have been a bit sloppy in our investigation. We can easily find finer distinctions than the ones we have drawn so far, and that have resulted in three pens.

Four Pens

Closing our eyes was a good move: paradoxically, by shrinking our available data set, we became aware of more detail -- just as we physicists learned more about air by creating a vacuum. Our procedure split our notion of the `real pen that we saw in front of us' into two branches. With closed eyes we no longer saw the `real' pen, but still believed there to be a `really real' pen. With open eyes we saw both, or more accurately, a package deal of both-in-one.

Alternatively, we could have pulled out the `real' one while suppressing the `really real' one, by holding up a mirror. Looking at the reflection of the pen through the mirror, we would know that the really-real pen was not really behind the mirror. All the same, we could still watch the pen in the mirror as not-really-changing-in-size, as if it were moving to and from us, in the space of the world conjured up behind the mirror.

But were we correct in our identification of the two branches in which our closing-the-eyes had split the object? Surely, the `real' pen, `meant' as a constant-size pen in its overlay on top of the apparent pen had disappeared. What we were left with was our conviction that the pen was `really' still there. But is a conviction the same as an objective object?

Clearly not. The conviction was still something that belonged to us, to our realm of experience. In contrast, the objective pen by definition is not something that as such can enter our experience. Conclusion: somehow we have to admit that a fourth pen has appeared in our midst!

Another Disappearing Act

To sum up: there is 1) the apparent pen, 2) the seen-and-felt-as-real one, 3) the assumed-to-be-there one which remains as a conviction when we close our eyes, and there is 4) the objective pen, that others can agree upon. The third is still part of my subjective experience, and the latter is (posited as) objectively present.

But who does the positing? Don't we fall into an infinite regress here? If we come to the conclusion that the objective pen will forever remain outside our bubble of experience, what can we say about our attempts to try to reach it anyway? It seems that we generate a new type of `pen' each time we try.

No matter how we try to resolve these problems, for now we have to conclude that there are at least four pens that can be separated. And to prove the reality of the distinction, here is an experiment to separate the last two. If you put the pen on a table and leave the room for a while, it is reasonable to assume that it will still be there when you come back, especially when you are convinced that you are home alone.

Let us imagine that a clever thief intruded and made off with your pen. When you return and realize what had just happened, you have to conclude that the `objective' pen was not present after all, and did not cover any of the other three pens. Enter the fourth pen, the only one that was stolen.

Five and More Pens

While we are at it, why not throw in an additional pen, by making a distinction between the objective pen of the every-day world, as a piece of metal and plastic, and the scientific model of the pen, as a congregate of atoms and molecules. They couldn't be more different!

So we have the pen as it appears to us, the pen as we feel it to be, the pen as we think it should be, the pen that others can agree upon as a piece of plastic and metal, the pen the scientist sees as a collection of molecules, and, yes, there are more!

The last pen immediately splits once again into several varieties. There is the pen of the solid-state physicist, describing its molecular structure. There is the pen of the nuclear physicist, describing the properties of the nuclei and the electrons that are the building blocks of the molecules. There is the pen of the particle physicist, who see the nuclei as made up out of bunch of quarks and gluons. And so on.


With just this single case study of pens proliferating, you can see how much material you will be able to find for subject-object reversals! Each of these pens can look at you, at the same time, while you hold a single pen in your hand. Chances are, you will never look at a pen in the same way again, as `just a pen.'

Or you can hold your pen in front of you, perhaps moving it toward and away from you a few times, and one by one you can bring out each of the different pens. And one by one you can reverse the subject-object structure of experience, letting each of the pens look at you, in turn.

You see, the possibilities are endless: including mental objects as material for reversals provides you with a cornucopia of experimental material. I strongly encourage you, first, to actually do the experiments described in this one case study, instead of just reading about doing them, and second, to explore at least one completely different case study, whatever you can come up with.

It is important to carry out subject/object reversal with mental objects before moving on to the next chapter. There we will start traveling in the time dimension, so we will be forced to use memories and anticipations, mental constructs that will act as time machines. Unless we build up considerable experience with experimentation with mental objects as such first, we will not be able to appreciate and recognize what is unique about invoking and entering the time dimension.

Forward to next page

Back to previous page

Return to title page