We usually share inner experience with our fellow people: when someone tells me that he has pains in his foot, I understand him because I know and have often experienced the sensation of pain myself; when someone else tells me about how he spent his holiday, I immediately know that he is recounting a memory to me, because I myself have memories; when another person warns me not to do something, I again comprehend him because I know that I can expect things to happen in the future. And so forth. Our inner world needs the internal world of the others.
We must highlight that the relationships between the internal content are completely different from the relationships between the external things. For example, I can see how a material thing can act on another material thing, but I cannot see how an internal content of my consciousness relates to another one. I can see how a hammer hitting a nail pushes it into a piece of wood, but I cannot see whether and how a memory acts either on another memory, on my present state of mind, or on the thought I have just had.
Also, I am unable to measure in any way these relationships. If I have a feeling, does this feeling influence that memory too, or not? What does it influence? What I experience is that I have some power over my thoughts by being able to remove some and focus on others. Also, I have the power to move my body according to my intentions. Somehow I notice that what could broadly be called an I is constantly present within myself, my self-identity.
These are only a few examples meant to show that what I experience within myself (perhaps together with all my fellow human beings, and maybe also, to some extent, with all other organic beings) is different from what I experience outside of myself.
But I can also experience the fact that the ways I understand some of my internal contents today are different from how others do, how my parents did, or even how I myself have done in the past. My community might have worshipped in the past, and still continues to worship someone considered holy.
But I simply cannot do this, although in the past, imitating my family’s behavior, I worshipped him also. However, today, I am unable any longer to see that person as being much more worthy of worship than others. Thus, there are not only similarities with what others experience within themselves but also differences. The latter can sometimes become tremendous.
Due to this fluid character of the inner world, people understood that, to be able to live together, they must pour all the contents of that inner world into fixed shapes and harshly punish those who attempted to change them. How often did people die for their ideas in history?
The conclusion is that the inner world, unlike the external one, is not given once and for all and does not simply exist in that way but always depends on what is acceptable within the community in which someone lives. Its contents are not ‘natural’ but are more or less always censored.
This can happen either in a friendly manner – when I adjust my thoughts to what others around me think and feel, trying thus to create a coherence between my thoughts and theirs – or violently, when, after expressing openly what I think and supporting it, I am punished by others for those ideas.
The inner world is related to authority: either an embodied one or an disembodied and protean one, like the deeply internalized authority of ideas and beliefs.
Of course, even authority is fluid and can change over time, but it still helps the inner world of a person and the community within which that person lives to remain relatively unchanged for a while. And there exist levels of such authority that can last for millennia, over the ‘longue durée‘ as one of the recent French history schools maintained.
We see now that everything related to the inner world cannot be approached and known with the instruments of natural science. In this internal world, nothing can enter which is not first assessed and declared to be acceptable (either by the subjective authority of my mind – which has internalized and transformed into psychological reflexes ideas dominant within my community – or by the objective authority of my peers). Even natural science is subjected to this assessment. Do we not speak nowadays about the ‘scientific mainstream?’
Thus, among humans, what is acceptable seems to be prior to truth and knowledge. Even the principles of science conform to social authority (in the widest meaning of the word).
Concerning the problem of free will, the conclusion is that free will can be discussed only within acceptable frameworks. It is not, and cannot be, in the first place a topic of natural science. Natural science approaches it within its already established and accepted principles.
The previous part of this article can be read here.