Bishop George Berkeley asserted that size is not a primary quality of an object since it varies with the distance of the object from the observer. A man standing beside you may be as tall as yourself but from the end of the street he is smaller than your little finger. This law of perspective affects the size of everything in the universe and seems imperceptible only in relation to one’s own body. One’s hand appears to be constant in size whether at the dinner table it covers a saucer or from a high flying jet aeroplane it covers a city.
The Ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, said that ‘man is the measure of all things.’ Everything we know is the perception of a human mind and all knowledge is relative to the human condition. The sum total of knowledge is so vast that it is easy to forget that it was compiled entirely by human beings. It is easy to conceive knowledge as being somehow abstract and independent of humanity, but this is a mistake. Even if some religions claim knowledge revealed by God, it came through a human being
Big is bigger than the human scale and small is smaller. Size variations are so great that they have to be expressed as powers of ten and even then the numbers are large. The biggest thing we know, the universe, is roughly as many times bigger than the human scale as the smallest things we know, sub-atomic particles, are smaller. The universe and the quark are roughly equidistant from man. Is this just another example of wherever you stand you appear to be at the centre, or is this whole phenomenon a unique feature of the human mind? Is man at the centre for a reason and a purpose?
Bishop Berkeley had another interesting idea. Since all objects are merely perceived qualities, he doubted if an object existed if no one was looking at it, or sensing it in some other way, and argued that its continued existence was contingent on the will of God: He was always looking at it! Berkeley even put this idea forward as a proof of God’s existence; someone had to be observing everything all the time.
Since the time of Laplace, explanations are sought that do not require the agency of God, and that makes the Bishop’s idea even more interesting. Man is the only known conscious being, and everything known about the universe has been observed, measured and recorded by men, so is the presence of man necessary for the existence of the universe? If the only evidence of the existence of objects are the qualities perceived by men, can the universe have any existence independent of the mind of man?
Mind and matter used to be considered separate substances; the questions were asked:
What is matter? Never mind!
What is mind? No matter!
Modern neurological research seems to suggest that mind could be an emanation of matter, but could Bishop Berkeley be right is seeing matter as an interpretation of mental perceptions? Is mind the crowning achievement of the evolution of matter: the agency by which matter knows itself, or is it a consciousness that constructs the material world as a ‘visual reality’ embracing all the senses?