The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
All ideas are but the more or less transformed reflections of real things. Our brain receives, through the medium of the sensory organs, impressions or sensations from the world exterior to it. Our thoughts are all of necessity based upon these impressions, which however, become combined in the most intricate manner. Nevertheless, our ideas can never go beyond the limits set by the experience thus gained.
From this basis the origin of entirely new ideas can only be explained by the fact that man is continually creating an artificial environment, which means that fresh material from which impressions may be received are brought into being, and which also may assist in the perception of a hitherto unknown side and fresh attributes of the material in the Universe, which up till then he had been conscious of only in an imperfect manner or not at all. In either case it is the result of man’s powers of production, which adds to and supplements the world of nature, which is at the root of the new ideas.
Take for example the invention of the telescope. Not only does the newly constructed instrument of itself form the basis of new ideas, but the manner of its use also. The laws of light which may incidentally be discovered by its aid become further objects or rather, subjects of contemplation, as also the details of the Universe unfolded by its use, which previously, although obviously forming a part of man’s environment, had yet been unperceived by him because of the insufficiency for this purpose of his organs of sight.
From Socialist Standard, November 1915.