Arousal: The Intertwining of the Within and the Without

James Mensch

The standard account of arousal seems on the surface relatively straightforward. Its basic meaning is to awaken someone, readying him for activity. Physiologically, this involves stimulating the cerebral cortex into a general state of wakefulness and attention. The aroused subject shows an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Psychologically, sensory alertness, mobility and readiness to respond all mark the aroused state. As all the experts agree, arousal involves more than the simple presence of an external stimulation. It requires impulses that are external and internal to the body. To be effective, the external impulses must find a corresponding response. Thus, it is no good trying to wake someone up by a sound outside of the range of his hearing. Similarly, the genital displays of one species will not cause sexual arousal in another. In neither case can the external impulses activate the inner impulses or drives. This requires the presence of appropriate stimuli. Thus, the sight and smell of food arouses appetite. It awakens the drive of hunger, which is directed towards the food. Similarly, the sight, odor and touch of the sexual partner brings about sexual arousal and activation of the corresponding sexual drive. Even in the case of arousal from sleep by such varied stimuli as a light being turned on, a noise, or the touch of a person fit into the pattern of an inner impulse or drive being activated by an external impulse. The drive in this case is towards the various stimuli that our senses prime us to receive. Our need for such is as basic as that for food. Placed in a situation of sensory deprivation, the mind attempts to compensate for the loss of stimulation by generating hallucinations. The German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl spoke in this context of “non-objectifying instincts.” They designate an instinctive “interest in the data and fields of sensation—before the objectification of sense data,” that is, before there is “a thematically actualizable object” for the drive to fasten on.1 In each of these examples, hunger, sex, or simple sensation, the external stimuli trigger internal processes primed to response. Like the key fitted to the lock, they activate their mechanisms.  

What could be clearer than seeing arousal as external impulses activating internal processes? Both psychological and physiological data can be advanced in support of it. The difficulty comes when we try to define “external” and “internal.” If we take a first person (subjective) perspective, then we can speak of the felt impulse or drive as internal and the stimuli that activate it as coming from the outside. The problem here is that the drive and the stimuli are both within experience. Both are “in” the subject understood as a field of experience or, more generally, as a place of disclosure. If we insist on speaking of an inside and an outside, we can do so only in terms of time. On the inside are the momentary experiences that fill our consciousness. On the outside is the object taken as enduring through such experiences. Thus, suppose we take a box and turn it. At each moment, a different view of it fills our consciousness. Turning it, we do not say that the box is different, but only that our momentary experiences of it are changing. Implicit, here, is a distinction between the box and the shifting contents that fill our perceptual field. The latter change, the former does not. “Within” are these momentary contents, “without” is their enduring referent, understood as the one thing that they are contents of.

If we shift our view to the third person (objective) perspective, within and without are not understood temporally, but rather spatially. “Within” is inside the brain, “without” is what originates outside of this location. Arousal is now viewed not as a subjective interest in and turning toward the arousing object, but rather as a causally determined stimulus-response mechanism. The paradigm for this can be illustrated by a thermostat. A change in the external temperature causes a coiled wire within it to expand, tipping a small, attached flask filled with mercury. This causes a contact to be made through electrical leads entering the end of the flask where the mercury has now settled. The current passing through them activates the heater. This view of an external impulse (a rise in temperature) activating a series of internal events suffers from an overriding difficulty. If the first person view never gets us outside of experience, i.e., outside of consciousness, the third person view never gets us inside of experience. Thus, the thermostat used to illustrate it has no consciousness. In looking within it, we never find anything resembling an experience of temperature. In fact, the very notion of an “inside” here is problematic. The difficulty we face in trying to access the inside of a person is amply illustrated by a scene from the film A Man Facing Southeast (Eliseo Subielo, 1986).  In it, an inmate of an asylum assists in an autopsy. Taking the brain in his hands, he begins to part it, remarking that here lie all the person’s memories, hopes, and desires—in short, the person himself. The “madness” of the inmate is his belief that he has actually accessed this inner realm. As we slice into the brain, an external surface lies exposed to our view. The same holds no matter how much we cut. We are always on the outside. What is uncut forms the realm of the inside. This inside retreats, always lying spatially on the other side of the surface we have exposed.

The question we face in trying to understand arousal involves both the inside and the outside. It is: how does the outside enter the inside so as to awaken it? The genuine outside involves spatiality. As indicated, the first person approach knows no outside. Everything for it is within experience. It can only consider the inside and the outside in terms of the temporal characteristics of experience. It cannot answer how the outside of experience, the genuinely spatial, enters the temporality of experience. Equally, the third person approach is also at an impasse. It cannot see how the inside of experience, the temporal, enters the outside of experience, the spatial. How does the subjectivity we access in our first person perspective embody itself in the spatial? How does it cross the threshold of its passive experiencing and engage in spatially determinate causal action? In what follows, I am going to explore the issues of the inside and the outside, the temporal and the spatial. My guiding thread will be the fact that to arouse is to awaken. It is to actualize our selfhood in its possibilities of acting in the world. My goal is to discover what the reality of the inner acting on the outer implies with regard to our selfhood.

The distinction between the inner and the outer is, as Kant noted, also one of perception. Kant observed that “time cannot be outwardly intuited, any more than space can be intuited as something in us.”2 Kant’s insight is that we grasp time only when we inwardly intuit our memories and anticipations. Thus, for Kant, “if we abstract from our mode of inwardly intuiting ourselves ... then time is nothing.”3 This is because the world that is outwardly intuited is entirely spatial. When we look out, it is always now. What is past has vanished and the future is not yet present. Of course, I can recall previous spatial positions and can anticipate others. To do so, however, I must turn inward. My memories and anticipations are not present as external objects.4 In asserting that space cannot be intuited as something in us, Kant’s point is that there is no space, properly speaking, in the experiences that fill our consciousness. We cannot say that an experience has a certain size or that one is a given distance from another. The house we regard may be so many meters high and so many meters distant from the next one, but such predicates do not apply to our experiences considered in themselves. This is why space as a measurable quality is a feature of external objects. Outer perception, rather than inward reflection, puts us in contact with it.

We, of course, have both inner and outer perception. Relying on the former, we believe the world is in us, that it comes to presence in our consciousness, understood as a place of disclosure. The sense of “within” that supports this belief is temporal. Objects are within us as enduring referents of our shifting experiences. Their presence is a function of our temporal synthesis—the synthesis that grasps a unitary referent for an unfolding pattern of perceptions—say, the perceptions that present us with a box. Relying on our outer perception, we also believe that we are in the world. We take ourselves as embodied and, hence, as one of the objects within the world revealed by outer perception. “Within,” here, is understood in a spatial sense. We believe we are definitely located within the world, so many meters distant from specific objects.

How can we believe that we are in a world that is in us? The apparent impossibility of doing so has given rise to what are arguably the two main currents of modern philosophy. Each takes the other to be based upon an illusion since each has a different notion of the subject. Idealism, taking the subject as that-to-whom-the-world-appears, understands it as a place of disclosure. Its focus is on inner sense, that is, on the temporal relations displayed by the contents of our consciousness. For it, the spatial is derived from the temporal. Spatiality is not a function of individual experiences, statically regarded; its sense comes from their rates of change. Thus, idealism observes that we interpret the different rates of the perspectival unfolding of the objects surrounding us as exhibiting their different distances from us. As the familiar experience of gazing from a moving car window shows, objects we take as close by have a higher angular rate of turning than those that we apprehend as further away. The three-dimensionality of our space is thus grasped through the time it takes for the objects surrounding us to exhibit their different sides. The main representative of this approach is the “transcendental idealism” of phenomenology.

Objectivism, by contrast, takes the subject, not as that-to-whom-the-world-appears, but rather as an object in the world. Its focus is on outer sense, i.e., on the spatial relations that this reveals. Employing the atemporal formulae of mathematics, it attempts to drain time from our experience by expressing its content in unchanging relations. Thus, the experience of the constant movement of an object, which subjectively involves our memories of its just-past positions and our anticipations of those it is about to advance to, is expressed by the static relation, velocity equals distance divided by time (v=d/t). Similarly, a change of motion becomes acceleration understood as distance divided by time squared (a=d/t2). A more complicated motion with a changing acceleration is dealt with by a more complicated, yet equally timeless formula. This mathematization of our experience characterizes the focus of modern science on objectively measurable qualities. Its third person view, which is the view from the outside, is shared by its philosophical analogue, analytic philosophy. The “linguistic turn” that marks its approach is understood as a turn from inner experiences, which are private and subjective, to their linguistic expressions, which are public. Unlike the experiences that they report, such expressions are capable of being objectively analyzed. Through the use of logical symbolism, their relations can be mathematically represented. Spoken and written expressions are thus “third person” objects in the sense that they are externally, rather than inwardly present. In fact, they are designated as “third-person” because they are available to the “he” and “she” of others (the grammatical third person).

Both the idealistic, first person approach and its objective, third-person counterpart are obviously one-sided. Every “he” or “she” is ultimately an “I.” There are no third-person perspectives without first-person ones. Similarly, unless we are to embrace solipsism, every first-person, every “I,” must acknowledge other I’s, other selves that for it are a “he” or a “she.” What contradicts both approaches is the phenomenon of arousal. In it, the outer arouses the inner. Somehow, what is outside in the third-person, spatial sense arouses what is within in the first-person, experiential sense. It thrusts the subject outside of itself into the objective world of affecting spatially distinct objects. The chief point is that to be aroused is to be awakened. It is to be drawn out of oneself, to be, for example, pulled from the intimacy of sleep, of the world of dreams taken as a purely private, first person world, into the alterity of the external world. The resultant readiness for action presupposes our being outside of ourselves—our being in the spatially differentiated world of arousing objects. Among them, we act on them. The fact of arousal is plain; the question, however, remains: how are we to understand this fact?

The problem of our being in a world that is in us occupies Merleau-Ponty in his last unfinished work, The Visible and the Invisible. He argues that it is through our embodiment that we provide a place for the disclosure of the world in which we find ourselves. Using the word tapisser (to cover, drape, line or wallpaper), Merleau-Ponty writes, “our flesh lines and even envelops all the visible and tangible things.”5 Thus, we “line” the world with visual qualities through our eyes, with tactile qualities through our sensitive skin, and so on. Doing so, our embodied being provides measures “for being, dimensions to which we can refer it.”6 In other words, through our flesh we can refer to the sensible aspects of being. We can measure it along the axes or dimensions of its tastes, sounds, smells, roughness and smoothness.7 The world that is present through our embodiment is, however, the very world that our embodiment thrusts us into. This means, Merleau-Ponty writes, “my eyes which see, my hands which touch, can also be seen and touched … they see and touch the visible, the tangible from within” the visible and tangible world.8 Similarly, the flesh that “lines and even envelops” the things of this world is “nevertheless surrounded” by them.9 It is within the world it reveals.

The fact that our flesh is within the world that it “envelops” makes it both internal and external. Thus, the hand that touches an object acts as an internal place of disclosure. It is the venue for the appearing of the external object’s tangible qualities. The same hand, as touched, however, is also part of the external world. It explores the external world from within this world and, hence, can claim to access it directly. As Merleau-Ponty expresses this, “When my right hand touches my left hand while [the left hand] is palpating the things … the ‘touching subject’ passes over to the rank of the touched.” It “descends into the things, such that the touch is formed in the midst of the world.”10 The result is that what was inside, the “palpating” hand that was the place of our internal subjective disclosure, is now objectively outside “in the midst of the world.”

To translate this into the terms of arousal is to see the correlation between the world we disclose through our embodiment and the objective disclosure of ourselves in this world. Thus, as a sexually incarnate being, I am the place of disclosure of the object that awakes me sexually. I bring it to subjective presence as an arousing object. It, in turn, positions me in the sexually charged world, disclosing me as sexual being. Such disclosure is, of course, also a concealment to the point that I take myself as just a sexual being, as simply one more body in the sexual world and not also as a place of disclosure. The same holds for all other forms of arousal that thrust me into their corresponding worlds. A person is both a place of disclosure and an object-in-the-world he or she discloses.

A person, in fact, exists in the intertwining, the being in one another, of disclosing self and disclosed world. Such intertwining is, in fact, a distinct ontological category. It is not reducible to the category favored by subjective idealism, which is that of being-for-a-disclosing subject. Neither is it reducible to the being-in-itself, the being that is independent of subjectivity, that is embraced by objectivism. To see the nature of this ontological category we can return to the example of hand touching hand. When I use one hand to touch the other, I both feel the hand I touch and I feel this hand’s being touched. The same holds when I touch the rest of my body: I always experience the double sensation of touching and being touched. It does not hold when I do not touch my flesh. While I feel an external object, I do not feel its being touched. This fact allows me to identify my body as mine. It gives it its identity as my body. Such an identity is neither internal nor external. It is also not some blend of the two. It is rather something set by their intertwining. Thus, the touching hand is an internal (subjective) place of disclosure, while the touched hand, in Merleau-Ponty’s words, “descends into the things,” being externally positioned “in the midst of the world.” My bodily identity, as involving both, has, then, the character of a subjectivity positioned in the world. It is, as touching hand, what brings the world to presence, and, as touched hand, part of the world that is brought to presence. The fact that the touched hand feels being touched means that this being thrust into the world by being touched involves our selfhood as a place of disclosure. Such selfhood becomes itself spread out even as the touched hand as part of the external world is spread out in space.

What we have, then, in this intertwining, is the introduction of the spatial into the temporal, that is, the outside into the inside. This is what allows us to be in relation to ourselves across the divide of space. Limited solely to temporal relationships, we only have the abstract identity of being a subject for the world, i.e., being that-to-whom-the-world-appears.  As distinct from what appears, such a subject cannot itself appear, i.e., cannot have an objective, present relation to itself as a subject.11 For this, the subject must descend “into the things,” i.e., appear “in the midst of the world.” It must confront itself across the divide of space. The self that it does confront must be itself as a spatially located temporal place of disclosure.

The nature of such a place can be indicated by noting the transformation it works on the subjective derivation of space from time. Such a derivation was originally thought of in terms of the grasp of objects as identifiable referents for repeating patterns of perceptions. Each time we can identify a referent for some perspectivally arranged pattern, e.g., the pattern exhibiting first one side and then another of a box, we are said to have grasped an object. The relative rates of the shifting of such patterns as we move among them give us their relative distances from us. Now, the transformation in question involves the interpretation of the phrase, “as we move among them.” Rather than attempting to interpret this in terms of time, it is now seen as the introduction of space into time. In other words, the temporal relation of one to many (one referent for many experiences) that was taken as definitive of space is now understood as including the spatial path involved in moving among objects. The very intention to grasp a single referent for a pattern of perceptions has, in other words, a spatial component that involves changing our location with regard to the object by, for example, moving closer to get a better look, bending down and picking up the object and manipulating it with our hands.

This involvement of space in our temporal grasp of the world shows itself in the spread out nature of time. What distinguishes one moment from the next preventing their simultaneity is the spreadoutness, the alongsidedness of the space that is intertwined with time. It is a function of the extension of subjectivity taken as a located place of temporal disclosure. This can also be put by saying that the difference between two moments can, in Newton’s and Leibniz’s “calculus of infinitesimals” be brought as close as we please to zero. The fact that it cannot be brought to zero is not due to time itself, but rather by the introduction of the apartness of space into it. If space had no apartness, then all our registering of its features would be simultaneous. The content-filled moments of such registering would, then, collapse into one another. The distinction of such moments points to their dependence on what they register and, hence, on its apartness. This means that temporal registering of our movement through extended space is what introduces the apartness of moments into time.

How then are we to understand the fact of arousal? According to the above, being aroused is being placed in the world of the arousing object. My being aroused is a thrusting of myself outside of myself by virtue of my embodiment. In other words, my arousal is my arousal as flesh. It is the arousal of my capability, qua sensate flesh, of being both inside and outside of myself. Its result is my intertwining with the outside—i.e., with the world of the arousing object. Strictly speaking, it is not the case that I first existed in myself and then became intertwined with this world. There is no self-subsistent selfhood. Our selfhood exists only as awakened, as aroused flesh. It exists, in other words, as the intertwining that is our actualization as flesh. It exists as being in that which is in it—this being the world of the arousing object. Only as such can it be what it is: both a place of disclosure for the arousing object and as a subject disclosed by this object. It can be both only as the intertwining of the inside with the outside that defines flesh.

To deny this is to fall into idealism or objectivism. The difficulty of idealism is that there is no outside of experience. There is nothing beyond experience that exceeds and provokes it. Idealism’s view of arousal as a felt awakening is not false, but simply one-sided. The same holds for the view that understands arousal as a mechanical process—an automatic response to a material stimulus. This, too, is not false, but simply one-sided. As I noted, the first focuses on time, the second on space. Both are united in their failure to acknowledge the equiprimordiality of time and space. What they do not realize is that the awakening of our selfhood involves the intertwining of both time and space.

A new type of arousal will allow us to see more precisely what this involves. Thus far, arousal has been defined in terms of need and satisfaction—on the most basic level, instinctual needs and their satisfaction. The arousal of the drives associated with such needs thrusts us into the world that can satisfy them. My being in this world is self-directed. Driven by need, my being-in-the-world is, necessarily, my being-for-myself. There is, however, evidence that there is a thrusting of ourselves outside of ourselves that goes beyond need. This is an arousal of myself, not as a being-for-myself, but rather as a being-for-the-other. It is a thrusting of myself outside of myself through my embodiment in the other. I experience this whenever I see someone cut his hand and I reach for my own hand. When I do so, my action points to my experiencing the affection of the other as my own. I experience the cut here, in my flesh, now. This occurs in spite of the visual evidence that contradicts this. My eyes tell me that my hand has not been cut, the other’s has. Yet, on the level of tactile affection, I experience displacement. My actions indicate a type of arousal that thrusts me outside of my embodied subjectivity.

The sense of such subjectivity involves both the here and the now. My sense of my being here is set by the perspectival unfolding of my visual field. Wherever I am, the perspectival foreshortening of objects situates me as the center of this field. As I move, different objects show different sides to me. They visually “turn” as I pass them, with nearer objects having a greater apparent angular velocity than those further away. As already indicated, the rates of such turning give me my sense of their relative distances from me. They position me as a 0-point, a point from which these distances are to be measured. As such a zero-point, I have my constant “here.” My constantly being here as I move about is accompanied by a corresponding sense of being now. The extension of space is such that it takes time to move from one place to another. I can grasp the time this takes because I can retain my previous experiences and anticipate what I shall experience. Thus, I could gain no sense of the perspectival unfolding of my surrounding objects if I could not retain what I have experienced. To grasp the chair as visually turning and, hence, as showing different sides, I have to retain the progressive experience I have had of the different sides. This ability to retain along with the corresponding ability to anticipate makes my present experience temporally locatable. It positions it at the divide between my retained past and anticipated future, a divide that I take as now. Given that the contents that fill this time are those that position me as a here, this now that constantly remains between the retained past and the anticipated future is necessarily linked with my constant sense of being “here.” Both, in turn, are linked with my bodily self-identity, the identity that comes from the double sensation of touching and being touched that identifies my body as mine. My here and now thus designate an embodied place distinguished by the fact that when I touch myself, I both feel what is touched, say my face or my hand, and I feel myself being touched.

Given this, what are we to make of the fact that when we see another cut his hand, we reach for our own? It seems that there are data that do not fit, that cannot be constitutively integrated with the visual and tactile phenomena that give us our sense of being an embodied here-now. This point may be put in terms of the self’s intertwining with the content that affects it. Normally, we say that a content—for example, an odor or a sound—affects the self and the self responds by turning and directing its attention to it. Yet, as Husserl observes, on the most basic level there is no distinction between the self that feels and the content that is felt. As Husserl puts this, “Content is non-ego, feeling is already egological. The ‘address’ of the content is not a call to something, but rather a feeling being-there of the ego. . . . The ego is not something for itself and the non-ego something separate from the ego; between them there is no room for a turning towards. Rather the ego and non-ego are inseparable; the ego is a feeling ego with every content.”12 The point is that the definition of each involves the other. Thus, affecting content is such only in relation to the capacity of the self to be affected by it. As for the self, it exists only in relation to such affecting content. In other words, self and content are intertwined, each providing a place for the other to appear. But when I see the other cut himself and reach for my hand, this intertwining of self and content displaces the self. I experience, in other words, a decentering content. The self that is disclosed by it is not visually integratable with the self that appears as centered by its environment. It is, rather, at the place of the other self, the self that has cut his hand. Insofar as I feel the other cut his hand, there is a corresponding rupture in my sense of bodily identity. The phenomenon of double sensation extends beyond me to include the other. I feel his being touched. I, thus, experience in my very selfhood an incompatibility between my visual and tactile presence as a here-now and the actions and feelings that would locate me there where the other is.

Seeing someone cut his hand is an exceptional event. Normally, regarding others does not involve witnessing their distress. It does, however, exhibit some degree of decentering. This can be put in terms of the fact that our body is not just sensate flesh. As animate, it expresses our “I can,” that is, our ability to engage in projects through our functioning bodies. Such projects range from those we learned in childhood, such as learning to walk, to dress and feed ourselves, to the various activities that characterize our adult life. We were not born with these abilities, but rather learned them from others. Insofar as this involved our “I can,” it demanded a certain decentering. It required that we place ourselves within their action, their enactment of the “I can.” Thus, we learned to tie our shoes by imitating those who first showed us how. Doing so, we observed the process from their perspective. Somehow, we were there with them as they knelt down, grasped the laces, and moved and knotted them with their fingers. This empathetic ability to experience through the other is not just crucial to learning, it is a general feature of our encounters with others. A batsman swings his bat, a basketball player strains to get the ball in the hoop and we feel ourselves experiencing these exertions. The same ability allows us to watch movies and feel ourselves present in the actors. At work in almost all our forms of imitative learning, it is crucial to our social and political functioning. What is behind this ability? How are we to account for the presence of data that do not fit with those that constitute our visual and tactile sense of being here-now, but rather thrust us into the person we are observing “over there” at a distance from ourselves?

These questions indicate that we have only half of what we need to understand the arousal that decenters us. Our descriptions have concentrated on our first-person, subjective experience. But if our selfhood is set by the intertwining of the inner and the outer, the temporal and the spatial, then the second of these pairs must also be taken into account. We must understand the objective process of this decentering arousal. Such understanding must not be reductive; it must not explain away our experience. Rather, the intertwining of our subjective experience and this objective process must be such that each discloses the other. Each must provide the other with a context of sense, either spatial or temporal, that it is unable to provide for itself.

A good third-person description of the objective process of decentering arousal is provided by neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, the Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego. He relates that primates’ frontal lobes contain neurons that fire as they perform specific movements.13 Thus, there are neurons that will fire when a monkey reaches out and grabs a peanut; there are also neurons that fire when the monkey pulls something, and still others that fire when it pushes something. They are called “motor command neurons” since they issue the commands that enable our bodily “I can.” Some of these, experiments show, “also fire when the monkey watches another monkey performing the same action.” Thus, the “peanut-grabbing neuron which fires when the monkey grabs a peanut” also fires “when monkey watches another monkey grab a peanut.” As Ramachandran remarks, this is “quite extraordinary because the visual image of somebody else grabbing the peanut is utterly different” from that of your own grabbing the peanut “so you have to do this internal mental transformation to do that computation and for that neuron to fire.” These “monkey-see monkey-do neurons” are called “mirror neurons.” In allowing us to mirror the actions of others, they are obviously crucial in our learning from one another.

To take this account in a non-reductive manner is to understand it in terms of a first person account. It is, in fact, to see such neurons as interjecting into my here and now material that does not fit with this. The visual experience of the other’s performing some action locates it over there; its perspectival unfolding positions it at a distance from my body. Yet I experience it as if I in my here-now were engaged in the action. It is because of this that I can, without effort, watch movies, theater pieces, and ball games and identify myself with the actions going on. Aroused by what I see, I mirror the emotional states and actions of the players. I may even, if I see someone being struck, wince myself. I can do this because the neurons in question insert data that belong to another person’s world into the constitution of my world. Such data overlay my “here” with another “here,” one that remains visually “there” at a distance from myself. The result is my arousal, my waking up from my primordial world (the world for me, in which I am the center). Aroused by multiple others, I am thrust into a world with multiple centers, multiple “heres.” I “wake up,” as it were, in a third-person world, a world that is present to multiple subjects. This, of course, is also the world explored by science, including the neuro-science that gives us the account of mirror neurons. Its account of these neurons in the brain speaks of the “inside” in spatial terms, just as the first person account of data that do not fit understands the “inside” in temporal terms.

Both, of course, are required for us to understand the phenomenon of decentering arousal. Without empathy, understood in the literal sense as our ability to feel something occurring in another person, we would not have the context to understand the import of the firing of the mirror neurons. Without the account of such neurons, we could not objectively understand the subjective presence within experience of what does not fit with it. Both are required to make sense of our experience of being thrust outside of ourselves into the objective world.

As containing multiple subjects or centers of experience, this objective world includes as levels within it our social and political worlds. Intertwined with them, we become social-political beings. We become socially and politically aroused and define ourselves in such terms. The selfhood that is thereby aroused is capable of a multiple intertwining, a multiple disclosure and, hence, a multiple definition. Being awake as a self is, correspondingly, a multistaged, multidimensional process. Through this process, which begins in our infancy and continues throughout the stages of our life, we are thrust into various overlapping worlds. Our progressive intertwining with them defines the ongoing process that is our selfhood. It is because of this that Heraclites could write, “You could not find out the boundaries of a soul, even by traveling along every path: so deep a measure it has.”14 The depth of its measure is that of its capacity to be aroused, to be progressively awakened by what is beyond it.

James Mensch is a professor of philosophy at Saint Francis Xavier University in Canada. He is the author of ten books that range in content from Husserlian phenomenology to theology to the problem of otherness. He lives in Nova Scotia.


1 Edmund Husserl, “Interesse an Sinnesdaten und Sinnesfeldern—vor der Objektivierung Sinnesdaten ...” (Ms. C 13, 11b, Feb. 1934), in Späte Texte über Zeitkonstitution (1929-1934), Die C-Manuskripte, ed. Dieter Lohmar (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2006), 258.

2 See Immanuel Kant, “Kritik der reinen Vernunft” (Ak. III, B37, NKS), in Kants gesammelte Schriften, ed. Königliche Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: George Reiner, 1955), 68.

3 Kant, “Kritik der reinen Vernunft” (Ak. III, B51), 60.

4 This does not mean that outer things cannot be characterized as in time. It does, however, signify that we have to project onto the objects of our outer sense, our inner representations of time. Thus, when we relate these representations to an outer object, the object itself assumes a temporal character. We ascribe to it the past we recall and the future we anticipate even though, strictly speaking, we cannot outwardly intuit either. Ibid.

5 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 120.

6 Ibid., 103.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 123.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid., 134.

11 As Husserl puts this: “the ego which is the counterpart (gegenüber) to everything is anonymous. It is not its own [objective] counterpart as the house is my counterpart. And yet I can turn my attention to myself. But then this counterpart in which the ego comes forward along with everything which was its counterpart is again split. The ego which comes forward as a counterpart and its counterpart [e.g., the house it was perceiving] are both counterparts to me. Forthwith, I—the subject of this new counterpart—am anonymous.” Husserl, Ms. C 2 I, 2b-3a, Aug. 1931, in Späte Texte über Zeitkonstitution (1929-1934), Die C-Manuskripte, 2.

12 Husserl, Ms. C 16 V, p. 68a, Sept. 12, in Späte Texte über Zeitkonstitution ..., 351.

13 Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, “The Emerging Mind: Synapses and the Self,” Reith Lectures 2003, Lecture 2, available at, 6.

14 Heraclites, Fr. 45, in The Presocratic Philosophers, eds. G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 205.