§ I. THE PROBLEM. People are not only interested in each other because they want to be, they are obliged to be. The business man is not only interested in his partner for social and friendly reasons; success in business necessitates an interest in his personality and a knowledge of his habits. If an employer is to be successful economically, a humanitarian interest in the employees is of utmost importance, for only when a genuine concern for their welfare is shown will they work loyally, efficiently and contentedly. The worker is not merely an economic tool; he is a human being with human rights who insists upon a recognition of these rights. The physician who fails to reveal a human interest in his patients is mistrusted and avoided. The engineer who executes plans without regard for what people like gives way to the one who recognises that in the long run human values—the appreciation of the good and the beautiful—are not to be ignored even in the erection of bridges, the building of railroads and the construction of waterworks. The youth who shows a lack of interest in his associates is soon looked upon with critical regard, if not open contempt. In all walks of life, under whatever conditions, people demand an interest in each other, not for ulterior purposes, but as an end in itself.
§ 2. HUMAN NATURE. Herein lies the popularity as well as the practicability of psychology, for psychology is the science of human nature, a study of just those interests that people demand shall be mutually recognised.
Human beings are naturally aggressive in one way or another; they demand a chance to be active, to achieve, to gain position and power, to command the respect of their associates, to be recognised for something. If thwarted in this demand they will inevitably show a resistance that is both persistent and hostile. Human beings also demand security from danger, not only from danger that forebodes physical harm and therefore a disintegration of their physical being, but danger to the integrity of their egos. Not only their persons but their opinions must be respected. An attack upon a cherished idea, a sacred belief, is an attack upon the security of one’s mind. A person will fight for a principle as readily as for his neck. Paradoxical as it may sound, the reason why he will fight for an idea as vigorously as he will fight for his neck is the fact that the status quo of the mind and the status quo of the body are maintained in accordance with precisely the same set of laws. Of course ideas are more easily replaced than necks, so that if it came to a choice between the two, most people would prefer their necks; but there are many individuals who have chosen death by the sword or the gallows for the sake of an idea, not to mention those who have ignored the dangers of disease, adventure and deprivation for the sake of a scientific cause or a reputation for achieving the spectacular.
What is the secret of these powerful demands? Wherein lies the stupendous force of the human will? A single act of human mind results in the removal of a mountain, in the hurling of millions into war, in the construction of vast institutions that cover entire continents, in the wiping out of whole civilisations. Here, in the human brain is a physical system of energy, but one that must also be called mental, for it is a system that wills. It performs work; it innervates muscles that wield the hammer, the lever and the wheel; but, still as a physical system, it innervates these muscles in such a complicated fashon that the products mean sympathy, co-operation, vindictiveness, greed, altruism, purpose, ideals. It is a “machine” that sees, hears, feels, thinks and reasons. Indeed, the forces within it obey the laws of physics with such precision that by means of mathematical reasoning the wanderings of comets, the behaviour of gases, the properties of magnetic fields and the existence of substances yet unknown can be predicted. Again the paradox, if it is a paradox.
§ 3. MIND AND BRAIN. In the human brain there is a system of energy capable of running the gamut of the most variable, complex and unpredictable events known, to the most accurate and invariable. One never knows just what movement an infant will make next; but when that infant matures into a normal adult and acquires a knowledge of mathematics, the results of his most intricate types of reasoning can, under the right conditions, be predicted by other persons with as much, if not more, certainty and exactitude than any event can be predicted in the physical world. Planets do not revolve around the sun with a greater precision than the potentials of the human brain shift from one form to another in the inevitable reasoning that two and two are four.
It is of no use to posit a mind, alongside the brain, doing the thinking, when the brain must duplicate every detail and aspect of the reasoning process, for it must put these thoughts into words, gestures and actions with a fidelity that is absolute. If existing words do not suffice it must invent new ones, or at least control the muscles of the throat and hand in so precise and delicate a fashion that when the mind instructs it, for the first time, to write a new word never before written, it will carry through the performance without an instant’s hesitation. One might just as well admit that it is the brain that invents, that a system of energy of the kind that solar systems, electrical charges and atmospheric pressures are made of, feels, wills and reasons. Mind is the brain-in-action. It is organised energy that thinks.
§ 4. IDENTITY OF PHYSICAL AND MENTAL LAWS. There is only one way out. The same laws that govern physical energy govern thought, social intercourse and the possession of ideals. A so-called machine apprehends values, writes music and poetry, and believes in God. So-called mechanical and spiritual laws are the same. Is it better to read physics into mind and to regard the human being as a mechanical thing, or to read mind into the physical world and to consider Nature as non-mechanical? One has his choice, but it hardly matters, for whatever his decision he has forsaken the orthodox position both of the physicist and of the psychologist. He has repudiated the conventional, popular notion of mechanical versus mental events. In accepting the hypothesis that the laws of physics and psychology, in the last analysis, are the same, he has denied materialism as opposed to spiritualism and vice versa. He has declared that neither gravitational systems nor human beings are machines, that there are no machines in Nature. As will become evident, later on, he has taken what he considers of value in so-called mechanistic conceptions and whatever seems good in vitalistic conceptions. He has taken a position that is neither the one nor the other.
The consequences of this point of view are rather far reaching. They upset many of the supposedly demonstrated principles held by psychologists; they seem to oppose that common sense which insists upon a distinction of kind between mind and body. They change the orthodox conception of how man perceives objects, of how he develops mentally and learns. They radically alter the conventional notion of instinct. In short, they change the character of psychology from one end of the field to the other, and challenge the laws of attention and association upon which recent systems of psychology have been based. But the laws of human nature cannot be grasped in their fullest significance and in their relation to the world in which man lives until the apparent conflict between theory and common sense is resolved. Curiously, the very common sense that man has employed for centuries in an effort to save his soul from apparently being explained away by an erroneously mechanistic science delayed the progress of psychology and made man unintelligible to man. But so long as science was mechanistic, this common sense served a good end by preserving man’s belief in his own integrity. It will be the purpose of this chapter to help resolve this conflict between common sense and science by a brief excursion into history. This excursion will answer the questions:—Where did the common sense notion of mind and matter come from? What is wrong with it now?
§ 5. HISTORY AND NATURE OF DUALISM. Primitive man’s ideas were largely monistic. He believed in the existence of something in man of the order of a soul; and this soul was composed of material like that of objects observed around him. The soul was breath, air, fire or water. There were spirits, to be sure, but these also were copies of known objects. A view like this cannot as yet be considered materialistic, because there had not developed any definite notion of a spiritual or mind-entity with which an order of material objects could be contrasted. Materialism and spiritualism originated together and evolved hand in hand, the one depending upon and defining the other. The dichotomy of materialism and spiritualism is known as dualism. One aspect of this dualism was to have a profound effect upon the history of psychology by giving to it the perplexing mind-body or mind-matter problem, a problem whose beginnings take up back to the ancient Greeks.
§ 6. GREEK DUALISM. Dualism commenced in this way. The ancient Greeks asked themselves two important questions regarding the nature of man and the world in which he lived:—What are things made of? How do they work? All things, including man, are made of atoms (small particles, elements) they decided. Even the soul is composed of atoms that are particularly fine and smooth, and unusually active; but all atoms are ultimately of the same material of an unknown character. These atoms, it was thought, combined into systems in the innumerable ways necessary to account for a vastly complex universe. So far, so good. But this is only half of the story. Things may be composed of atoms, but what makes them combine in the innumerable ways necessary to account for all kinds of objects and events? And what makes them combine in uniform ways according to definite laws? What explains the constant changes going on from one combination to another? In other words, how do atoms function?
Empedocles sensed the limitation of the atomic principle. Atoms cannot entirely explain the soul, he said. The soul is something more than a combination or proportion of discrete entities; it is a thing in itself—just what it is and not something else. It is an entity in itself which transcends its effects that we see in the actions of human beings; and it is capable of migrating from one individual, at his death to another. Here the issue is a little more definite. A spiritual principle, different from an atomic principle, has been conceived. Shortly, the soul-principle was seized upon to answer the second of the two main questions that had been propounded:—How do things work? What explains the behaviour of things? From one standpoint, the standpoint of being, things are atoms; but from another standpoint, that of becoming, happening, change, behaviour, motion, things are expressions of order and intelligence. Motion is reason, the executing of a plan by a World Soul.
While the mind-body problem has not as yet been traced very far, the advances that have been made are more significant than they might seem at first thought. It is necessary, therefore, to pause a moment and take account of stock.
§ 7. STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION. In answering the question, What are things made of?, the Greeks reduced the universe to elemental structures, parts, contents, atoms. The problem was a structural one. A whole is reduced to its parts; the parts are then employed to explain the whole. The whole, in other words, is the sum of its parts. The aspect emphasised here is a static condition. In answering the question, however, How do things work?, the Greeks posited a mind which was synonymous with motion, change, order and uniformity of occurrence. This problem was a functional one. A whole is seen in the form of a dynamic process. The aspect emphasised here is activity. Early Greek thinkers were thus face to face with a problem that has confused philosophers and scientists ever since, the structure-function problem. What is the relation between structure and functions The Greeks attacked the problem of the nature of things from the structural point of view and the result was a world of atoms. They attacked it from the functional point of view and the result was mind. Are not such conclusions incongruous? On first thought, it would seem that mind and atoms are far too unlike to be descriptive of the same thing. But on closer inspection it turns out that structure and function are merely aspects of each other; the same thing is envisaged first from a static and then from a dynamic point of view. Structure is the form of an activity, a something moving, or a something that changes; function is the activity of the form, the moving or changing of the thing. Structure and function have opposite but mutually dependent meanings.
For an illustration, take the human body. In the last analysis it is a mass of motions, but these motions are organised into forms, some of them so stable that structural names are given them, such as stomach, brain, bones, and muscles. Stomach, brain, bones and muscles are structures of the body. Nevertheless, as structures they are relatively stable masses of action. Now note the differences in the terms that describe this action directly:—metabolism, digestion, secretion, absorption, integration, conduction. These are functions of the body and the terms are physiological in their meaning as opposed to structural and anatomical.
The Greeks were concerned both with the anatomy and with the physiology of the universe. They reduced the universe structurally to cells that they called atoms; they reduced it functionally to the activity of a universal mind shared by each person within it.
§ 8. MIND AND MATTER. Dualism had commenced. The function-member of a purely logical and neutral structure function parallelism, implying of necessity neither mind nor matter, had taken on a mentalistic connotation, while the structure-member was left without it. The first step had been taken in the procedure of giving to function a structural content, mind, to which atoms must eventually give way. Still, there was as yet no definite distinction between mind and matter, between the physical and the psychic. It remained for theology and ethics to force the issue; and this is the way it happened. The essential difference between soul and body must be the immortality of the one and the destructibility of the other. Since mind belonged both to the soul and to the body it was partly mortal and partly immortal. The body and that part of the mind belonging to it, namely sense experience and emotion, were base and impure, something that required cleansing. Reason abided in the higher part of the mind, the soul, and it alone could attain the highest good. Thus, gradually, through the philosophy of Plato and his followers the distinction between mind and matter was growing. The base, destructible, mortal, became the material. The noble, indestructible, immortal, became the immaterial.
§ 9. MODERN DUALISM. It remained for Descartes, in the seventeenth century, to crystallise the dualistic position in response to a pressing need. Indeed, this famous philosopher confronted a problem whose gravity can hardly be realised by the modern inquirer. Man had acquired a newborn faith in science and in the mechanistic principle which was clashing seriously with a theological philosophy centuries old. The old and the new must be harmonised somehow.
The Scholastics had attempted to stem the tide of dualism by a return to the philosophy of Aristotle, who held that the soul was to the body what form is to matter; but this philosophy was too abstract. And moreover, if form depends on matter for its existence, the soul must depend on the body for its existence. Too great a stretch of the imagination was required to understand the immortality of the soul on this basis. Accordingly, the appeal of Scholastic Philosophy became more and more limited in the face of advancing knowledge concerning the innumerable ways “matter” could undergo a change in form, thus indicating that form was after all quite temporary. But neither Scholastic Philosophy nor the principles of science could be changed radically enough to effect the necessary harmonisation. The only recourse was to find a larger, more comprehensive system of thinking into which both would fit.
This was the secret of Descartes’s greatness. He apprehended the larger whole in the light of the knowledge and thinking of his time. He put the finishing touches upon dualism to the end that matter and mind were defined as distinctly different substances, the one extended and occupying space, the other inextended and not occupying space; the one passive, the other active. Terms pertaining to mind described the soul; terms pertaining to objects outside the mind described matter. The world of reality was sharply divided into two realms, the material and spiritual, that were totally unlike and obeyed different laws.
§ 10. INFLUENCE IN SCIENCE. The influence of this doctrine in science was to last for centuries. Physics became the study of material things; psychology became the study of the soul. The method of one must of necessity be objective observation; the method of the other, introspection, or self-observation. The methods were by definition as different as the realms to which they were applied.
This philosophy of Descartes was simple and easy to understand and was therefore profound in its influence on the culture of the masses. Of course mind and matter are different in kind. Anyone can perceive that wood can be burned, that a stone can be crushed, that water can be boiled, that a ball can be thrown; but try to burn an idea of wood, crush a feeling of the stone, boil the sensation of thirst, throw the concept ball across the field! Obviously the two realms are distinctly different.
§ 11. OCCASIONALISM. All is simple sailing so far, but the rest is not so easy. If these two realms are distinctly different, how are they related? It is easy to understand how one billiard ball, hitting against another, can set the latter in motion, or how a spark can explode a charge of powder. The one, being a material thing, can affect the other. Physical force in the arm can transmit momentum to a ball; hence the ball can be thrown. But how can an idea, having no physical properties whatever, cause one’s arm to move? How can the intention to rise from one’s chair and open the door ever become effective in the physical movements of carrying out the act? Here was the weak spot in Descartes’s theory. By definition mind could not, of its own account, affect the body or vice versa. Accordingly, a third, omnipotent agent, capable of doing anything, must be posited to effect an interaction between mind and body. This agent was God. But this did not solve the problem. It is unsatisfactory theology to blame God for something that is logically unintelligible to human beings. The will does produce physical movements of the body. There is no question about it. A person can demonstrate that any time he wants to, merely by raising his hand. If it is necessary for God to intervene every time each one of several billion human beings will to move a single muscle, he must be kept incredibly busy. And animals, birds and insects are in the same predicament. Of course by definition it is easy for an Omnipotent Being to do anything, but for this very reason it makes the solution of the problem unsatisfactory to the intelligent human being.
Ever since Descartes’s time, therefore, philosophers have tried to bolster up the weak spot in his hypothesis. This problem was difficult because it was artificial, and there was little chance of realising, at the time, how artificial it was. The original nature of the problem had been distorted in the course of erecting systems of ethics and theology.
Notice what Descartes had done to structure and function. The structure of all reality had previously been reduced to atoms; they had been regarded as the substance of things; they were the content of the universe. The activities of things constituted mind. Atoms were the substance of mind; mind was the activity of atoms. There was no activity other than mind, no substance other than atoms. Descartes, however, attributed to mind a substance of its own that was not atomic. This deprived atoms of their activity, for mind had previously been regarded as the activity of atoms. It was necessary, therefore, to give atoms an activity of their own that was not mind; this activity was energy, now popularly defined as physical energy, something conceived as different from mind. Since atoms were no longer the substance of mind, they must be a substance unto themselves. This substance was matter, the stuff of which earth, trees, water and air are supposedly made. Since mind was no longer the activity of atoms it must have a substance or structure of its own, that is, its own unique content, a mind-substance. So, mind-substance became the stuff of which sensations, feelings, ideas and will are made. Through the influence of theology and ethics the original structure-function problem was made into two structure-function problems; out of one dualism, two dualisms were forged. Structure and function, alike, were duplicated on the side of matter and again on the side of mind. Philosophers were quick to see the superfluity of two dualisms and have been trying ever since to resolve them into one again. The artificiality of the problem which they faced lay in the unnecessary duplication. But artificiality brings troubles, and these will soon be evident.
§ 12. MONISM. Mind and matter, the philosophers then said, are not two substances, requiring the intervention of God in order to make an interaction possible. They are two aspects of the same thing, but the aspects are all that can be observed; the thing itself is unknown. For example, the physiological processes in the brain and the mental processes of the mind run hand in hand, in parallel fashion; they are two distinctly different views of the same process, just as concavity and convexity are different views of a curved line. In the latter case the line is known, but in the former the process, of which physical activity and mental activity are the two aspects, is not known. Mental processes do not act on the brain; they are the mental aspects of a process of which brain activity is a different aspect. It is not an act of will that causes the body to move; the cause of movement is a physiological process that parallels the act of will. To admit an act of will implies but does not describe the physiological cause of movement. This view, known as psycho-physical parallelism, owes its origin chiefly to Spinoza, and it was apparently so satisfactory that it has retained its popularity to the present day. It seems to solve the problem nicely. But on closer inspection it is nothing but Descartes’s out and out dualism over again.
Mental processes cause only the mental; physical processes cause only the physical. It is impossible to reason from the one to the other; by definition they are entirely unrelated. To posit the substance of which mind and matter are the two aspects does not assist in relating them, because the aspects are logically ultimate and final, just as Descartes’s substances were. It should be possible to reason from one aspect of a thing to another, and to understand how these aspects are related and dependent upon each other. In the case of the curved line this is easy, for the line can be seen; it is known. The line is the ultimate thing, relating concavity and convexity to each other. It is the thing that logically furnishes or creates the aspects of concavity and convexity. But in Spinoza’s theory of parallelism there is nothing equivalent to the line. There is only a question mark taking the place of a third agent, God. Therefore, by positing two ultimate aspects, Spinoza substituted aspects for substances and the double dualism remained as double as ever. Matter and mind were still distinct and opposite things, quite as different in kind as Descartes had made them, quite as much in two separate realms as before.
§ 13. IDEALISM. Efforts of subsequent philosophers to solve the difficulty by making mind the only real thing in the world, and matter more or less of an illusion (absolute idealism) were doomed to failure. The physical world is after all too tangible to be explained away. Efforts to make matter the only real thing and mind an illusion (absolute materialism) also failed because if there is anything of which a human being is certain it is that he sees, thinks and wills.
§ 14. COMMON SENSE. Thus it can be seen that the common sense notion of mind and matter, prevalent to-day, came from seventeenth century philosophy. That philosophy is responsible, however, in no way indicts philosophy of a crime. On the contrary, philosophy saved the day then. It is saving it now. Times change; and it is the responsibility of philosophy to anticipate the human needs of the future by supplying that future with an appropriate interpretation of man’s place in Nature. The thinking of the masses follows long years behind the thinking of intellectual leaders. Three hundred years ago, the man in the street had no definite idea at all of an ultimate distinction between two kinds of worlds, in fact, was governed in his own thinking by superstitions that hardly improved upon the beliefs of primitive man. At the same time a philosophy was being worked out by geniuses like Descartes that was to become the common sense of the masses, the substitute for superstition centuries later. The man in the street, to-day, is just as sure of a material and a spiritual world as his counterpart, centuries past, was sure of spirits and ghosts which were substantial copies of living persons. The two worlds are for him demonstrated facts, not theories. The belief is common sense, and it came from a philosophy known, three hundred years previously, only to a few selected intellectuals.
How common the belief that philosophy is a dry, impractical subject, fit only for the aberrated, academic freak who has nothing better to do but to theorise. How often one hears the claim that the philosopher knows a great deal about nothing. Little is it realised that philosophy is a religion, the religion of the trained mind that thinks abstractly instead of with concrete pictures. How seldom is it recognised that there is no influence in the world so powerful as philosophy, and that centuries in advance it determines the culture and policies of millions. The capitalist may insist that money runs the world, but in making such a claim, he fails to realise that his philosophy of life, a social heritage from the past, determines his attitude toward money and what he shall do with it. Money is a servant, not a master; economic laws are, at bottom, psychological laws. Business is essentially a materialistic institution, tempered, to be sure, by idealism and humanitarian interests; and that proves the point. Common sense is a naive, and in many respects an antedated philosophy, and this philosophy determines the properties and values even of business institutions.
§ 15. INSTINCT AND INSIGHT. There are others who claim that man is dominated not by his thinking but by his blind instincts. He is driven, it is thought, by the urge to survive and to dominate. But this view dates back also to a materialistic and mechanistic philosophy, a system of thinking which entirely neglects the fact that emotion and instinct are in themselves powerless without insight. If that insight is limited it only means that the influence of instinct is limited in proportion, and proves the thesis that, after all, the final appeal is to insight. It is the evolution of philosophical thought in one generation that furnishes this insight to future generations. If the philosophy turns out to be wrong the only alternative is to find a better one. To repudiate philosophy is for mankind to commit suicide.
§ 16. DUALISM IN PRESENT-DAY SCIENCE. A rather severe exercise in intellectual gymnastics has just been required in order to discover where the popular notion of mind and matter came from. But the effort has been worth while, albeit the argument has not yet been entirely convincing. Suppose, therefore, that philosophy be abandoned, momentarily, in favour of actual facts.
§ 17. PHYSICAL SCIENCE. Ask the physicists of to-day what they mean by matter. All kinds of answers will be forthcoming. The more naive among them will give the dualistic answer in face of the admission that they lack the faintest idea what matters is, as opposed to mind (assuming that such a thing exists). This is because, with the layman, they share the social heritage of a dualistic doctrine. The notion of matter was conceived in philosophy, not in science; and there is more ancient philosophy, to-day, in the physics that is being taught than most physicists would like to admit. Others will assert, more thoughtfully, that matter means only the structure or form of energy, and that it is merely a logical tool by which to relate one kind of energy with another. It is a common denominator, merely a conceptual thing, employed in an effort to make the facts of physics intelligible in something other than a mathematical sense. Mathematical symbols are essential when it comes to measuring and predicting; but, because they are quantitative symbols they do not describe the phenomena they symbolise. Others will say that the concept of energy is enough, and that matter is synonymous with energy, perhaps a cross section or longitudinal section of it. Still others will say that even the concept of energy is superfluous, and that the sole data of physics are measurements of time, space and wave-motion, expressible in terms of mathematics. Thus, from the standpoint of the physicist, the material world of the layman has evaporated into thin air; the search for matter has turned out, so far at least, to be a wild goose chase, no doubt because matter was a fictitious thing in the beginning.
All this is hard for the layman to understand, but only because he was brought up to regard anything solid or fluid or gaseous, anything palpable, as something material and made of matter. Unless the table is made of matter how could it possibly feel hard to the touch? The physicist replies:—“Simple enough. A wave-motion strikes the skin and induces other wave-motions in the nerves.” The differences between solids, liquids and gases are differences in compactness of wave-motions. Wave-motions of what? Of themselves. So it turns out that as far as the physicist is concerned the wave-motions might just as well be mind as matter. In fact, the word “mind” could be written wherever the word “energy” or the word “matter” used in a physics textbook and the science of physics would not in the slightest be altered. No mathematical formula would be changed—so far as we know—and not a single exact prediction of a “physical” event would be jeopardised. The scientifically predictable truths of physics, as physics, are exclusively mathematical and statistical. The rest of the science is conceptual, a supplementation by common sense and philosophy. The facts of physics constitute no proof of a material world as opposed to a mental one. Iron, sodium, electricity, yes; but matter, no; not in the conventional sense.
§ 18. MENTAL SCIENCE. Ask the psychologist what he means by mind. Again, the more naïve among them will give the dualistic answer. They, too, share the social heritage of a dualistic doctrine. Mind is the entity, consciousness. The notion of mind was likewise conceived in philosophy and not in science, and there is more ancient philosophy in psychology than most psychologists would like to admit. Others will assert that mind is only a logical tool by means of which to relate certain facts of self-observation, like the facts of sensation, with the facts of emotion and thinking. Still others will insist that the concept of mind is superfluous and that sensations, feelings, thoughts and ideals are no more evidence of mind than iron, wood and salt are evidence of matter. The former are evidence of something, to be sure, and so are the latter. Thoughts require a thinker, of course. Motion requires something moving; there is no doubt about it. Very likely, however, the physicist and the psychologist are nearly ready to agree that the thinker and the mover are one and the same; that is, they partake of the same order of reality, and in the individual human being are one and the same. What is that thing? For the present purpose, suppose it be called human nature.
It is probably something of a shock, still, to reflect that the physicist has never observed matter and that the psychologist has never observed mind. The search for mind by the psychologist has also turned out to be a wild goose chase. Pains, pleasures, love, anger, fear, imagery, thinking, judgment; yes. Mind? Not in the conventional sense of the term. But there is no cause for worry. Nothing has been explained away. The problem was a fictitious one. Electrons, water, trees, houses, people, feelings, reasoning, are not denied; they are considered as real as they ever were. Only the two sharply contrasted categories into which these phenomena have been classified are repudiated.
§ 19. PHYSICAL AND PSYCHICAL. There is another factual observation that may throw light upon the problem. Recall the argument that an idea must be different from a piece of wood because the former cannot be whittled. This type of reasoning neglects a most important fact. The wood burns, which, in terms of the argument, is a physical process. But the burning cannot be whittled. What can be done to it? It can be checked; so can an idea. It can be started; so can an idea. An idea has all of the properties of motion; it commences, goes on, and ends. It can be described; it can be measured, after a fashion, in space and in time. Why, then, is it not a physical process? It is, just as much as the burning of the wood. But what of it? “Physical” means nothing scientifically in either case. The burning process and the idea are functions, the one of wood, the other of nerve and muscle. Both are functions of a certain structure to which the word physical adds no meaning whatever, except under a dualistic doctrine.
Hold up your little finger and wiggle it. You can cut your finger, for the finger is structure. The movement cannot be cut, for the movement is function. Where is the movement? In the finger? Cut it open and see. No, the movement is not inside. The movement is not in the finger; nor is it outside of it; it is of the finger; it is something the finger does. Burning is not in the wood; it is something the wood does. Similarly, an idea is not in or outside of the brain. It is something the brain does. These ABC’s of dialectics are useful, in spite of the fact that they sound rather foolish; for they show how there are just as many phenomena of the so-called physical world that cannot be cut and burned as there are of the mental. These phenomena are processes, events. Science investigates events that have no claim to material versus mental substantiality.
But the story is not complete. Water, supposedly physical, can be boiled. But what is that? Hastening the activities of atoms. There is nothing unique about it as a physical process. A person can be stimulated and his thinking hastened too. A chemical compound can be broken down into its “elements”. So can a thought. Chemicals “interact”. So do ideas. Did you ever try to recall something and confuse two past experiences with each other? But, you say, thoughts cannot, theoretically, be reduced to electrons? Why not? Take salt. Reduce it to electrons and imagine yourself one of those electrons. You are inside the system and the form or pattern of the system that makes the substance salt is not visible to you. Where is the salt? It simply does not exist for you. In other words, scatter the electrons of salt, hypothetically, so that they cease to be in dynamic relation to each other, and salt no longer exists. Reduce an idea to the electrons of the brain and the same thing happens. Salt, a dynamic pattern of electrons, derives its property from the pattern. The properties of an idea are, similarly, properties of a pattern. To say that either one is a pattern of electrons is a matter of convenience that brands one neither as a materialist nor a spiritualist. One can be either or neither, just as he likes, provided he is willing to accept the logical consequences.
Finally that the chemist cannot take an idea as he can salt, and decompose it in a test-tube, is no argument for dualism. The type of wave-motion to which ideas can be reduced, supposedly, is the property of a living organism and cannot be taken out and put into a test-tube. Removing a piece of the brain in order to examine this wave-motion would result in failure because the wave is a function of the brain as a whole. It would be like taking sodium out of the salt and expecting, still, to have salt left. No part will suffice for the whole.
§ 20. INFLUENCE OF DUALISM ON PSYCHOLOGY: ASSOCIATION PSYCHOLOGY. The source of the popular distinction between mind and matter has now been traced, and the difficulties it must encounter have been examined. But the history of the problem and its influence on psychology have been traced only to Descartes. About this time a very important movement commenced in Great Britain, a movement generally known as Association Psychology. Not only was the mind-body dualism to make itself felt in this development but so was another philosophical issue, namely, empiricism versus rationalism. This issue dealt primarily with the origin of knowledge in the individual, but since the origin of knowledge and the beginnings of mind in the individual are aspects of the same problem, epistemology was bound to influence psychology. Its influence was far reaching. Empiricism held that the mind was a blank at birth and that knowledge came through having experiences. This meant, for psychology, that knowledge came through the senses; that is, it depended upon the stimulation of the sense organs by outside forces—the eye by light, the ear by sound, the organs of the skin by temperature and contact. Regarded as elements or units of mind, these experiences were called sense-impressions, or presentations. Thinking was a matter of reproducing these sensations in the form of images or ideas. Thus a person recalls a vacation trip by visualising the country through which he passed; he adds, mentally, six plus four, by visualising the numbers or by saying them to himself. In the latter case he is employing imagery of the sounds and movements of articulation, known as verbal imagery. Accordingly, there could be nothing in the mind that had not previously been sensed.
By assumption mental life is built up piecemeal. Each sense-impression enters the mind, so to speak, independently of any other. At the outset the impressions are not related and not organised. The beginnings of mental life are a chaos, a “big, booming, buzzing confusion” of unarticulated elements. How are law and order derived from chaos? How are unity and continuity obtained from a mass of discrete and separate mind-particles? This was an extremely serious problem. The solution seemed evident in the apparent observation that after two different sense impressions had been experienced together, especially several times, they became related and functioned together, subsequently, in the form of ideas. One item suggested the other; the two had become associated; a bond had formed between them. This was the essence of the famous law of association by contiguity, and became the basis of many subsidiary laws of association. Indeed, the same principle was applied not only to the association of ideas, but to the acquisition of muscular skill. Two movements, occurring together, often enough, were said to become associated together; learning was facilitated by associating pleasure with a particular idea or with a particular movement and was inhibited by displeasure in a similar manner. The dependence of learning upon rewards and punishments, success and failure, stressed to such an extent by modern pedagogy, is a doctrine that grew out of association psychology.
In short, this psychology promulgated the assumption that association brought order and unity out of chaos. It was basically an assumption that the whole is built from parts; the complex must be explained in terms of the simple; the higher in terms of the lower. It was a mental chemistry implying that mind grew by means of a uniting and synthesising of mental elements. It was an atomistic and mechanistic psychology.
§ 21. METAPHYSICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS. A metaphysical theory of mind and matter, and an epistemological issue, empiricism, forged association psychology and led to the working principle that mind must be explained by laws that do not and could not operate elsewhere in Nature. Dualism forced the psychologist to seek the dynamic aspect of mind in a unique kind of mental force, association, a bonding of elements together in some mysterious fashion after they had accidentally (in itself impossible) come into contact with one another, and after they had been juxtaposed several times. But forces do not act that way anywhere else in Nature; there is no possibility of deriving order from chaos. Indeed, there is no chaos; there is order in the beginning; and forces in Nature do not depend upon repetition for their effectiveness. Moreover, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
§ 22. BEHAVIOURISM. The assertion is often made that association psychology reached its climax with David Hartley, following the distinctive contributions of Locke, Berkeley and Hume; that it declined, gradually, in the psychologies of Brown, Hamilton and the Mills, and died with Bain, Spencer and Lewes. On the contrary, association psychology is still very much alive, especially in educational and behaviouristic circles in the United States, and in the conditioned reflex psychology of the Russian school. When it became evident to many psychologists that association was an inadequate principle, an adherence to dualism still made it necessary to seek the dynamic aspect of mental life in extra-“physical” forms of energy like the subconscious mind, conation, a psychic striving process, libido and hormé. Were this book primarily a history of psychology it would be possible to mention many outstanding and lasting contributions made by the Associationists, bur the present purpose is to trace the influence of the mind-body problem on psychological thought.
§ 23. ATTENTION PSYCHOLOGY. On the continent another important movement was developing, likewise under the influence of dualism and epistemology. Rationalism exerted as profound an influence upon the psychology of the Continent as empiricism exerted in Great Britain. Rationalism, with its emphasis upon the primacy of reasoning, insisted that the mind is not a blank at birth; it possesses innate ideas that, by implication, are at first subconscious. These ideas do not depend upon experience. Who, for example, ever saw an abstract triangle? Yet such a triangle can be thought. Who ever sensed time? Yet all persons have a concept of time. No one, however, was ever conscious of an abstract triangle before he saw a concrete one. Therefore, prior to the becoming aware of an abstract triangle, the idea of one must have been subconscious. In fact, it is impossible to experience any sense-impression consciously without first experiencing it subconsciously. How can you be aware of a pain until you have one to be aware of? You must have it first, of course; but what is its status before you are aware of it? Becoming aware of anything, according to the rationalistic doctrine, is to be explained as the transition of an idea from the subconscious to the conscious.
This doctrine of conscious levels passed through several stages. The subconscious was later defined as an “apperceptive mass” into which new sense impressions and ideas must be assimilated before they are apprehended. Becoming aware of anything was explained as an unconscious “apperceptive mass” acting upon the new impression. Finally, “apperceptive mass” became “margin of consciousness”, and what had previously been defined as consciousness became “focus”. Now the process of becoming aware of anything was explained as a margin acting upon the focus, a transition of a mental process from an unclear to a clear state. The name “attention” was given to this process. Attention psychology was thus born in the substitution of margin for the subconscious and focus for the conscious; but changing the terms did not change the Ionic of the system. Attending to anything is an act of mind whereby an idea is shifted from the subconscious, or the margin of consciousness, into the conscious, or the focus of consciousness, whichever one chooses. Thus apperception, or attention, was a process of ordering and unifying the vast details of mental life, and was to Continental psychology what association was to British psychology during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The outstanding names in the Continental movement were Descartes, Leibniz, Herbart and Wundt. The latter two borrowed much from association psychology before they completed their systems. In fact focus and margin were of British origin.
Attention, like association psychology, made its contributions. It is not to its discredit that it proved inadequate in the face of advancing knowledge; but it is necessary to understand why it proved to be inadequate. It was epistemology, not science. Grant, for the sake of the argument, that there exists a focus and margin of consciousness. How does one know anything about the margin? Obviously only by attending to it, that is, by bringing some part of it into the focus. But then it is no longer margin. To observe the margin one must change its status, which is another way of saying that the margin is unobservable and a fiction, just like an unconscious consciousness. Look at a picture on the wall. The attention psychologist would say the picture is clear while other objects about the room are unclear; they are in the margin of consciousness. The visual analogy, however, is misleading. There is a good reason why objects, out of visual focus, are not clear; physical and physiological optics afford the explanation. It is not a question of focus and margin of attention. A person can “fixate” the picture and attend to something he sees out of the corner of his eye, for example, a chair. Once more, suppose there is a background of consciousness and that whatever he is attending to stands out upon it. The background is just as clear as the object he attends to, in every other than a visual sense, for its very vagueness is clear; he is quite sure of the vagueness; the unclearness of the background is just as clear in terms of awareness as the clearness of the focus. Clearness is merely the simple fact of being aware of something, and a person is either aware of it or he is not. Awareness does not exhibit degrees; it is a constant, from a psychological standpoint. These facts are likely to be confused with the definiteness or vagueness with which one apprehends or understands a meaning. Here is to be found the real problem of clearness, a problem that is explained in terms of the degree of differentiation of mental processes. It is a question of amount and organization of detail, not a question of clearness of detail. Whether there is detail or not, there is clearness, that is, awareness. The problem of awareness as such is an epistemological one.
In the attention movement, once more the psychologist was obliged by his presuppositions to seek forces in mind that could not possibly obey any known laws of dynamics, because the laws of dynamics depend upon observation and measurement. By definition the subconscious and the margin are neither observable nor measurable. Why hypothecate a process like attention and thereby attempt to make man do something that would be utterly unintelligible as a process occurring anywhere else in Nature? At this juncture, perhaps, one hears the protest that mind is, after all, something unique and reveals processes that are quite different from anything else in the world. Granted, but what does that mean? Nothing. Water is unique; there is nothing else like it in the world. Light is unique; man is unique; any particular type of thing is unique or it would not be a particular type of thing. Uniqueness of phenomenological properties does not mean uniqueness of law.
§ 24. LACK OF PRINCIPLES. Psychology thus saw the arrival of the twentieth century with no satisfactory set of principles. Efforts to find these principles have been persistent, almost feverish, since then. With little or nothing to guide him it has been each man for himself, and each has contributed. Out of the wide divergence of standpoints and a general discussion of their relative merits it is becoming evident just what twentieth century psychology has been trying to accomplish. It is too early yet to prophesy exactly what the outcome of present movements will be; nevertheless, coming events cast their shadows before.
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