So I’ve been reading The Theory of Mind as Pure Act by Giovanni Gentile, a book about his philosophy of Actual Idealism. Being Catholic, Gentile refers to the soul constantly in his works. What I find interesting, however, is the way he uses metaphyisical and philosophical reasoning to make his point that the soul is really what we identify as our “mind”.
“Just as in vision we have two objects of the one experience, the scene or the term which we call the object and the eye or the term which we call the subject, so also in our actual living experience not only is the object of that experience an object, but even the subject by the fact that it is made a term of the experience in an object. And yet the eye cannot see it itself except as its reflection in a mirror!”
What Gentile is getting at here is that we’re objectifying our own mind. If we’re to understand an object from the point of view of our mind, then we’re equally establishing our mind as an object; An object of experience, the subject of an outside onlooker.
“In so far as consciousness is an object of consciousness, it is no longer consciousness. In so far as the original perception is a perceived object, it is not longer perception. No longer subject, but object. No longer self, but non-self.”
And this is the problem with the modern understanding of our minds. We perceive ourselves as objects as opposed to something higher. Once we deny this understanding, we’re left with one other possibility: That the self is transcendental. That is to say it exists separate from physical reality as we understand it.
“The new point of view we then gain is that of the actuality of the I, a point of view from which the I can never be conceived as its own object. For in defining our thinking activity as definite object of our thinking, we have to remember that the definition is only possible through the fact that our thinking activity remains the subject for which it is defined as an object, in whatsoever manner this concept of our thinking activity is conceived. The true thinking activity is not what is being defined but what is defining.”
So let’s say you’re sitting in biology and the teacher says that your thoughts are controlled by a mix of chemicals and hormones that cause your brain to fire certain neurons. The question then must be “Teacher, do these chemicals and hormones define themselves, or have you attributed these qualities to them?”