Nature and sensation

Contemporary physics is dealing with the new problem of incorporating the observer into physical definitions and laws, but this throws light on a problem that has always been with the science of nature. On the one hand, nature is a real system outside of us that is unified in an obvious way; but on the other hand nature is what is given to sensation. Now to define nature as what is given to sensation is to make it observer-relative from the start, and to define something in terms of what is very distant from its nature. So far as our sensation is common with animals, it does not even have truth as a value, which is why it is not always easy to detangle the reality of a thing in sense from what is merely useful to our life. Beetles and flies, presumably, rejoice in the sweet smell of poo.

The deeper problem is that even if sense were perfectly objective, the only way we could identify nature as a unified whole with nature as given to sense is if we said we had every possible sensation. But nothing could have all possible sensations, or even all possible sense experiences one could have from a single sense. Sensation is a melange of the object and the animal, and so even a single medium of sense and a single object could give rise to indefinite sensations (as Berkeley points out, just the differences in natural desire and size could make essentially different sense experiences from one object and medium).

Though we can’t have every possible sense experience, we try to overcome it by the common sensibles. Why not say that through the common sensibles we attain to something that would be given in any possible sense? How could a sense experience fails to have at least one thing from a list like motion, number, position, time, magnitude, etc.? But how do we see this about common sensibles? It won’t do to say that we cannot imagine having any sense experience without a common sensible, since we could say the same thing about the proper sensibles. We cannot appeal to anything in the sensible field, whether by its presence or absence (like darkness/black). So nothing seen in light or darkness can serve as the basis to say that nature is sensible, and yet this is the foundation of the possibility of natural science.




  1. RP said,

    January 18, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Poo? A Platonic drift in your thinking?

    Aristotle and Aquinas would have said dung.

    On the other hand, we say “potty” around here (grandkids). No doubt derived from “healthy urine”. Etymologically from: “no pot to pee in”.

    • January 18, 2012 at 12:04 pm

      I thought about “dung”. I thought it ruined the ring of the sentence.

      “…relish the savor of dung” might work.

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