The antinomiesâ26 are an example of a priori mental procedures that permit reason to detect which theories cannot be supported by sensory data. This mechanism automatically proposes options that are impossible to choose rationally. The antinomies automatically set up a competition between complementary explanations when the sensory data are insufficient so as to avoid unnecessary conclusions. Here is an example:
1. The human spirit can imagine that everything has a beginning. It consists here of an a priori disposition that is automatically activated as soon as an event is perceived. This tool is useful in ordinary life to understand the perceived events; but it becomes problematic when it is applied to an imaginary situation or a theoretical concept, relatively independent of the data from the senses, like an intellection.â27 These mechanisms, for example, force the mind to imagine that there is a beginning to the history of the universe. These a priori mechanisms do not allow us to know if God truly exists, but it inevitably leads the human spirit to imagine a moment of creation in which something like a creator god could have existed.
2. The second a priori argument that arises as soon as the mind brutally lacks information to come to a conclusion about the origin of things is that there is always a moment that comes before and after a given moment; and there is always a space around a given space. Once again, this tool is altogether pertinent for practical everyday life; it becomes more difficult to handle in contexts when the mind functions with insufficient data. It does allow for the construction of the notion of infinity and shows that there will always be a moment before the creation of the universe. This leads to the conclusion that there has never been a creation, and it therefore eliminates the possibility that a god could have created the universe.
As soon as one of these two arguments appears, the other is automatically activated either in the person who is thinking or in those with whom the person is debating. Reason is therefore unable to prove or disprove the existence of God. These antinomies also explain why believers and atheists always have the same valuable theoretical arguments and have the impression that their argument is correct.28 This capacity to generate concepts independently of what exists allows for the clarification of categories, judgments, and a priori concepts.29 Consequently, the spirit spontaneously tries to situate a perception in space and time in an a priori fashion, using mental reflexes that are applied to all perceptions:
It is therefore from the human point of view only that we can speak of space, extended objects, etc. If we depart from the subjective condition, under which alone we can obtain external intuition,30 or, in other words, by means of which we are affected by
This manner of situating a perception exists before it enters into the brain. On the other hand, the fact that the Earth turns around the sun is not an a priori judgment because there was a need of empirical data to establish this truth.
These a priori mechanisms guarantee a constant activity of the mind. They push the sense organs to seek the elements that they can manage in the environment. In that way, the human spirit expects to be able to break down their environment into independent entities that can be distinguished from others in the visual space perceived by visual organs. If the perceptual system did not have this expectation, the mind would not know how to deal with the continuum of information that ceaselessly bombards the retina. As it expects to be able to extract shapes in space, the perceptual system has various tools at its disposal that can isolate these forms and associate them to other properties like color, the direction of a movement, and so on. The mind is thus structured in such a way that sensory data can be analyzed, evaluated, judged, and then cataloged according to certain innate categories. An object can thus be categorized as belonging to me or another person, dangerous or useful, and so on. This is how human psychological activity gradually includes sensory data in increasingly complex forms of analysis. Having understood how the mind operates, it becomes evident that the perception of an object depends not only on its situation in its environment but also on the psychological algorithms that categorize sensory data. Consequently, we can only have approaches, points of view concerning who we are and what surrounds us.31