Further Studies in a Dying Culture. Christopher Caudwell 1949
Consciousness: A Study in Bourgeois Psychology
It is characteristic of bourgeois psychology that it is confused and inconclusive in its treatment of what would seem, to many people, the most important subject of psychological study, consciousness. Bourgeois psychology has a choice between six doctrines about consciousness, and it will throw light on the difficulties with which that psychology is faced if we detail them: –
(a) Consciousness contains the solo data of psychology (philosophical and faculty psychologies).
(b) Consciousness is an epiphenomenon accompanying neurological activity (neurological psychology and psychophysiology).
(c) Consciousness plays no causal part in behaviour, which can be completely described and determined without its use. Since behaviour is the only thing that can be observed in others, the existence of consciousness should on principles of epistemology be denied (behaviourism).
(d) The psyche consists of the products of one or a number of transformed instincts; some of these products are conscious, others are unconscious (Freudism and its derivatives; and ‘hormic’ psychology).
(e) Consciousness consists of the shuffling of forms of thought according to dynamical laws (association psychology and gestalt psychology).
(f) in so far as any or all of the above theories produce empirically-proven results, they are right (eclectic or academic psychology).
It sounds a hopeless muddle, and in fact it is a muddle without hope as long as psychologists move within the circle of bourgeois philosophy. Yet would anyone familiar with contemporary psychology accuse me of overstating the case? It is in fact usual to provide many more classifications: for example a gestalt psychologist would insist on being separated from the old-fashioned associationist and the Freudian from the adherent of McDougall, and the follower of Jung or Adler from both.
It is obvious that all these schools cannot be right. For example (a) and (c) also (d) and (e) are exclusive opposites. It is as near certain as anything can be that none of them is right. There is no more depressing spectacle in bourgeois culture to-day than this of a science so important and vital to human knowledge as psychology unable to secure agreement about the most elementary feature of its domain. But may not this be a necessary feature of psychology itself which perhaps, as some scientists have suggested, can never be a science; and is not this more likely than that the failure of its psychology should be a necessary characteristic of bourgeois culture?
The answer is, that not only is the anarchy of psychology a necessary feature of bourgeois culture, but that the very attitude of mind which supposes that psychology can never be a science, is itself an outcome of the same fundamental position. Bourgeois psychology grew out of biology through the influence of physiology on philosophy; but equally bourgeois physics affects it, for it determines on the one hand bourgeois philosophy and on the other hand bourgeois biology. Medicine, too, throws its contribution into psychology through physiology, and it is chiefly philosophical medicine, medicine formulated in terms of the current bourgeois philosophy.
Does this sound an inextricable tangle, accounting for the confusion of psychology, the latest of the empirically developed sciences? It does so only because the bourgeois sciences, as an outcome of the bourgeois position, cannot be conceived except as either confusing or dominating each other. Either the fundamental categories of ‘the sciences’ are hold to be exclusive, and nothing can result from their combination except a mish-mash, or, alternatively, one science excludes and suppresses the categories of the others, as in behaviourism, the categories of bourgeois biology are allowed to suppress those proper to psychology, and in mechanical materialism the categories of bourgeois physics are allowed to usurp those of all other spheres of science. Either the spheres of the positive sciences are distinct, or they are the same, that is the dilemma which bourgeois science has posed for itself, and it can never imagine that they are different and yet mutually determinative.
The bourgeois, by his fundamental position, is free ‘in himself’. He is free not because he is conscious of his causality, but because he is ignorant of the social causes that determine his being. He pictures himself therefore as standing in a dominating relation to his environment, just as in society he seems by his dominating relation to capital and his ownership of social labour power, to be determining society and not determined by it.
He is in fast deluded, for his ownership of capital does not enable him consciously to determine society even though his actions determine its face. The sum of bourgeois wills produces history, but it is not the history any one bourgeois willed. His efforts for one thing produce another thing – his attempts at profit produce loss, at plenty poverty, at peace war. As his culture collapses all his efforts to shore it up hasten that collapse. He finds himself unfree after all, although he is ‘in control’ of social forces.
Why then was he unfree? Where did he err? He erred because he did not see that his dominating relation to society was a determining relation, which determined him as much as he determined it. He was unconscious of this, and therefore unable to achieve freedom. His conception of freedom really arose as a special case of a group of illusions about domination which has been associated with all forms of society based on dominating classes. This group of illusions has for a common factor the belief that domination secures self-determination. But it follows from the material unity of the Universe that this is untrue. All the phenomena that constitute the Universe are mutually determined. If any group were completely self-determined it would constitute a closed world, and would not exist. All relations are determining. The earth appears to primitive man to dominate the cosmos – sun and stars appear to rotate round it. This is a pleasant illusion, but it does not make us astronomers, much less does it make us people round whom the cosmos revolves. As soon as we realise there is a determining relation, and become conscious of its nature and how it grips us, we are that much freer of cosmic phenomena, and can predict eclipses, construct sidereal time, navigate, and govern our actions according to the necessity of the Universe.
All previous cultures that were ideologically conscious at all have been based on a ruling class which consciously dominated and directed the utilisation of productive forces. As a result all such cultures were subject to an illusion distorting their ideologies. Slave-owning culture conceived freedom to consist in this, in the domination of the will of one man over the will of another, the other passively obeying this one’s will. This gives rise to the teleological explanation of the Universe, which reaches its subtlest form in Plato’s or Aristotle’s philosophies, in which all phenomena are determined by Ideas or Forms. These correspond to the plans formed in the mind of the slave-owner which his slave passively fulfils. This explanation applies equally to social and non-social phenomena, and therefore is consistent. The domination inherent in the slave-owning system is not repressed, as with the bourgeois, but is conscious, and the illusion consists, not in supposing that no domination exists, but that society is in fact really determined solely by the will of the master, and does not in turn determine his will. This will, which therefore appears as the first cause in society just because it is conscious, also appears the first cause in the Universe, as the Law of the Universe, as the doctrine of Ends, Final Causes, Perfect Ideas (willed by one or more supreme causes or Divine Masters) whose plans the Universe fulfils and thus develops.
Society is not in fact determined by the will of a slave-owning master, but by the productive forces at the service of such an economy. The master’s will is itself determined by the society in which he finds himself and, just because he is unconscious of these causes, the slave-owner is unfree. His world of ends is inadequate, not only as a basis for sociology, but also for physics, biology and psychology. It cannot exhibit true causal relations: only demons disguised as final causes. The slave-owning world, incapable of being deeply scientific or analytical, inevitably marches on to the Empire, whose fiction it is that the whole Empire’s activity is controlled by the will of one master, the Emperor. And this Empire as inevitably marches on to ruin, for the productive forces are not controlled by the will of the Emperor but instead, crippled by slave-owning productive relations, the Imperial economy decays for all his efforts, and it is a world whose income has steadily diminished, whose soil is impoverished and whose people is demoralised, that crumbles at any push from the barbarians so easily repelled at the height of the Empire’s power.
No less than the slave-owning, the feudal civilisation is in the grip of the illusion of dominion. The dominion is still conscious, as it is in slave-owning civilisation, and therefore necessarily gives rise to a physics and to a world-view in which all causes are final causes – conscious purposes in the mind of a dominating master. In this respect it simply takes over Aristotelianism, the most consistent expression of slave-owning philosophy. But now this domination is regarded as necessarily exercised according to a hierarchy of privilege; the day of unrestricted property in slaves is over. The dominating relation is exercised ‘according to law’, and this law itself is only the reflection of the Roman technical apparatus of learning, social organisation, and administrative skill taken over with the Church from the Empire by the barbarian overlords. This technical apparatus becomes symbolised as Christendom, as the monopoly of the Church, as benefit of clergy, as an instrument which must be used to sanction all acts of domination from kingship to knighthood. Aristotelianism must therefore be modified: and while final causes are still the explanatory mechanism these final causes are, in Scholasticism and Thomism, causes which are established by a law of God, which can only work themselves out according to a fiat given forth at the Creation. The world works according to God-sanctioned laws which have a purpose, and have had a purpose from the beginning of time. These laws are not self-driving, but require the continual impetus of deity. They can therefore be suspended at any time by the Divine Will, but such miracles are rare.
Science therefore in feudal civilisation is still in embryo but it is yet a stage nearer birth than in slave-owning society. A dominion which, in addition to the free will of the master, requires also the sanction of the impersonal law, is already well on the way to be determined, even if it is determined from above by another dominating will – God’s. A world ruled by law is well on the way to being a world ruled by causality.
In a sense this is an accident. Feudal law is only the Imperial law of slave-owning society preserved through the survival of Roman economy in the monastery-farm, example to the barbarian of agricultural efficiency and therefore the ancestor of the manor. But the fact of this survival changes it. In Roman society, law’s sanction is simply this, that it expresses the will of the Divine Emperor, who owns his people like a slave-owner. To medieval society, to the barbarian invader, law comes as something outside the will of the ruler, as an impersonal and pre-existing body of law, as Christendom, with which he must comply if the social production from which he draws tribute is to be carried on, for that production functions according to these laws, and otherwise collapses in anarchy. The law therefore appears, not as a fiat of any serf-owner’s will but as something determining in some measure the range of will of both serf and serf owner, a something existent from the beginning of time. Hence feudal society provides the necessary transition to the bourgeois position.
This transition is achieved within the limits of its own illusion by bourgeois culture. The scholastic world laws are stripped of their final causes and become self-driving, while the question of the reason for and time of their issue by the Creator is postponed or treated as outside the province of science. Science is thus conceived for the first time as the field of laws which connect phenomena in a mutually determining way, and are sufficiently explained by exhibiting the structure of that determinism. These laws do not require as their sanction a final cause nor a clearly expressed divine place in the cosmos and do not therefore explain nature as the vehicle of conscious wills exercising dominion.
This ought to be the death of animism. Animism is nothing but the attribution to nature, as the sufficient cause of all phenomena, of human wills, due to the primitive’s illusion that the will is a freely determining cause in itself, and not in the act of willing itself determined. In primitive communism, where there is no domination or division of labour, such wills seem present in every individual freely determining his behaviour as a cause, and therefore by analogy they are hold to play the same part in the beneficent or maleficent activities of trees, stones, and stars, which obey their own wills without overlords. But the slave-owner is well aware that though the slave may will as he please, the slave’s will is not the cause of the slave’s activities, which are caused by his master’s will. He therefore subtilises animism to this extent, that trees and stones have not wills of their own, but are passive subjects to a god’s will:
From haunted spring, and dale
Edg’d with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent,
With flowre-inwov’n tresses torn
The Nimphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
So early Greek animism, with the development of its economy, gives place to the teleology of Aristotle.
The slave-owner is at times visited with a nightmare. He finds that his free will, in spite of its freedom, is thwarted, not by a superior will but by things-in-themselves – by inferior wills, accidents, mistakes, and his own ignorance. Yet he is still unable to conceive his will except as being thwarted like that of his slave’s by another will, and since he the master is so thwarted, might not even the world’s master and his – God Himself – be thwarted in his volition by some grand over-riding will, by Will-in-Itself? This is the slaveowning conception of Moira, or Fate, a comparatively late development reaching its noblest expression in Greek tragedy. This Fate, in spite of its closeness to bourgeois determinism, betrays its slave-owning parentage by the fact that it is always visualised as a consciously forseeing Will, and always as thwarting, not determining human wills as well as events, but interfering with human wills by means of events.
Animism, slave-owning teleology and Fate, feudal teleology and Law, these then are the steps by which society in its development explains the world. It was the rôle of the bourgeois to carry a step forward, not only society’s productive development but also and necessarily also its explanation of the Universe.
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The bourgeois first finds himself as one of a class whose development is restricted by feudal privilege and the reign of law imposed by Christendom. He therefore revolts against it and, in the circumstances in which he finds himself, he necessarily formulates his case as follows:-
(i) The dominating relations of one man over another are evil, and must be eliminated, for they hold up productive forces (that is, the productive forces of my class).
(ii) Law is not something immutable existing from the beginning of time and imposed on men from without. Any such imposed law is wrong. A man’s law is in himself. What seems to him in the given circumstances best or proper to do, is right, and there should be no other law.
This means that the bourgeois turns Catholic dogma into personal Protestantism, and that all feudal laws, monopolies, or privileges which restrict his doing what seems best to himself, are abolished in the course of his revolution. Those restrictive laws are, however, all laws interfering with his right to acquire, alienate and own capital. He does not however regard this right as a ‘law’ but as something given in the nature of things, and in his own nature.
The bourgeois thus emerges to consciousness as a man whose views of the world are determined by social causes, just like the slave-owner or lord. Freedom consists in this, in each man’s doing what seems best to himself, consulting, not some good laid down by law like the service to his overlord by which the feudal landowner hold his land, but his own good. Out of this apparent confusion of personal competition will emerge (according to the bourgeois) a world-order that is the best possible, because it is the product of freedom. To this illusion the bourgeois is completely committed by his revolutionary programme.
But as I explained elsewhere, this society, in spite of its apparent individual freedom, is still based on a dominating relation. The bourgeois as the source of uncontrolled free activity in society, must necessarily be uncontrolled in his ownership of social capital. This apparently innocent dominating relation to a thing also involves, after all, dominion over men, just as in previous societies, but unlike the ruling class in previous societies the bourgeois cannot consciously assert dominion over other wills as a law of society; on the contrary he is committed to repress the knowledge or deny the existence of such a law. Moreover the very dominion thus exercised imposes a conflict in society between the haves and have-nots, which would become overt and suicidal to society if it were not forcibly repressed and kept harmless, not once and for all, but as long as the antagonising domination exists, which is as long as culture remains bourgeois.
Thus after a bourgeois revolution, the resultant strife is suppressed by a ‘strong man’ who forcibly imposes a coercive law on haves and have-nots alike, making possible unrestricted capitalism. In English history this strong man is, after the bourgeois Reformation, the Tudor monarch, and, after the Revolution, Cromwell. In France he is Napoleon. But this ‘strong man’, though necessary, is by bourgeois standards himself an anomaly, and as soon as he has called into being laws protecting bourgeois rights, he is eliminated in favour of a rubber stamp monarch (the Glorious Revolution of England) or a President (France) and the bourgeois task then becomes simply the preservation of this body of law in its main principles (the constitution, democracy, etc.) with the incorporation of such minor amendments as social development renders necessary (legislation). These laws are now hypostatised as the essence of liberty and justice (freedom and parliamentary democracy).
How is this change reflected in the world of science, with which we are concerned? The world of science follows the same course. The first attempt at a bourgeois world-view as homogeneous as that of Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas necessarily fails from the outset by reason of this split in the bourgeois position. Either classicism or feudalism can achieve a homogeneous world-view in a far more consistent anticipation of Schopenhauer’s philosophy: the ‘World as Will and Idea’ (or rather, as Will and Aim). And, unlike Schopenhauer’s, such a world-view expresses in a refined form the viewpoint of all thinking men in that culture. This the bourgeois never achieves.
He is divided between two contradictory points of view. In himself he is exempt from determinism, not because of the dominating relation of his class to society (as with classical society) but through the absence of any conscious relation to other men at all. Other men neither dominate him nor are dominated by him (he thinks), and the ideal society, to which all bourgeois strive, is one in which each unit is insulated, and the world of society and of values drives on in the best possible way as the result of the independent, self-motivated action of every free bourgeois.
At the same time he stands, as owner and master of social capital, in a dominating relation to ‘Nature’, his environment. Social capital is the crystallisation of men’s attempts to control nature through their empirical knowledge of its causality. He is in charge of this manipulation of nature, but this is not a relation of will like that of classical society, for the bourgeois by his position is committed to the belief that a dominating relation to a thing (private property) is not a dominating relation at all. It is therefore a relation in which will does not enter in the sense that to will a thing is to have the slave do it if it is do-able, and if not – well, slaves are not perfect and it is not for the master to do the slave’s business for him. It is a new kind of relation in which the bourgeois as it were ‘administers’ a thing, so as to draw out from its intrinsic qualities the maximum benefit to society, which, in bourgeois language, appears translated as ‘the maximum profit to himself’. Of course he is not really administering property, he is exploiting labour power.
Unlike the classic or feudal position, such a position is from the outset self-contradictory, and will never be able to generate a consistent world-view; dualism is implicit in it. For from the bourgeois point of view, in the world of society freedom seems to inhere in the individual will unconscious of any causality or outer necessity; but in the world of nature, freedom seems to inhere in the drawing-out by the will of the necessary qualities in Nature and, therefore, in consciousness of the necessity of Nature. The first view is completely fallacious; but the second is nearer reality than a teleological explanation, and therefore bourgeois culture is culture which gives birth for the first time to a science of the environment of nature, a thing almost unknown to previous cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental fallacy of this position means that increasing success in the second, or scientific, world-view will add to the inconsistency and anarchy of the first; and ultimately the second world-view will itself become affected, for both are only abstractions from the one reality.
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We have in other essays explored different aspects of the disintegration of bourgeois science; here we merely concentrate on the duel between physics and psychology. The bourgeois looked round on his social world and unconsciously projected it into the world of physics, into his environment. He therefore discovered new truths about his environment, for the world of society is a part of reality. But, coming back to society, he could not, because the projection was unconscious, see society as determined in the way the world of physics was determined, for to do so would be to make social necessity conscious. He stood in his own light. As a bourgeois he had been unconscious of any necessity determining his action, for the bourgeois law for social action is ‘Do as you will’. It forgets to state whether (a) you can do as you will; (b) you can will what you will.
Hence the world of physics, in which the ‘wills’ of the particles are determined at first by God but later by the relations of the particles themselves, would have been the basis of an accurate view of bourgeois society, but the bourgeois was unable to achieve it. He kept on getting near it, but always this fundamental conviction that his will and desires were the source of social motion prevented it. If on the one hand he saw society as a network of determining relations and, on the other hand, his own mind as determined by this, he would have seen that not only did society produce from its interaction ‘laws of supply and demand’, but that his conceptions of justice and right were also determined by society. But this last step he could never make, for to him his own self was the source of the free energy which, interacting with bourgeois society, gave rise to economic law.
This failure meant that he conceived his desires and notions of justice, morality and so forth, as not in any way determined, but as primary and therefore eternal. Necessarily, the type of society of which these were the outcome was the eternal type of society – any deviation was either discredited or was an accident.
This results in three different worlds which are of major importance in understanding the distortion of bourgeois thought.
(i) The world of physics. This world, modelled on bourgeois society unconsciously grasped in experience by the bourgeois, is a world of particles trading freely with each other and giving rise to law of supply and demand which dictate the behaviour of the world as a whole. Because nature is not a dominated slave, but an administered thing, it is non-living and non-mental: a-teleological therefore and stripped of all quality.
It is a closed world, which does not interact with the bourgeois, who surveys it to learn its laws and sue it like a machine – hence it is in absolute space and time, independent of the observing mind. In order that it should not be in determining relation with mind, it is by definition bare of all qualities found in mind (the so-called sensory or secondary qualities). But these ultimately are found to include all material qualities. Consequently the bourgeois closed world of physics, by definition restricted to matter, which matter is defined as ‘non-mind’, becomes barer and barer of real qualities until ‘nothing’ is left. But something must be left —there are the concepts that describe the ‘structure’ of this nothing. Thus mechanical materialism by its very premises is pushed on to become its apparent opposite, mentalism, which it reaches with Mach, Eddington, Jeans, and their followers.
The closed world of matter, restricted to non-mental qualities, is bound to collapse. ‘Pure’ physics is bound to reveal itself as an illusion. This it does by flying into two contradictory halves. On the one hand absolute space and time, independent of the observer, is saved by fusing them (space-time) and using the elaborate apparatus of the tensor to eliminate the determining effect of the observer and close the world by making it ‘invariant for all transformations’. On the other hand this is flatly contradicted by quantum mechanics, which is composed partly of matrices of observations alone, partly of waves in absolute time-space which are not however waves of matter but waves indicating the probability of matter being present. In both cases matter is supposed to lurk behind the numbers as an unknowable Ding-an-sich.
(ii) The closed world of sociology. Here, once again, the bourgeois surveys a world from outside, and since his mind is not determined by it, though he lives in it, the social concepts in his mind are eternal (the laws of appetite, supply and demand, justice, free trade, etc.). These concepts therefore function in the world of sociology as laws regulating the free clash of individuals, and not as products of certain stages of that clash. Consequently, as in the famous mercantile examples, if two men meet on a desert their transactions strangely enough always and inevitably produce bourgeois economics, and this is taken as a proof of the validity of the bourgeois concepts. It follows from this that although the bourgeois can give a fairly accurate picture of contemporary sociology, it is a static picture, and neglects the vital laws of motion. Pigou can seriously devote a book to ‘The Economics of a Stationary State’. Hence not only is all bourgeois economics false as a science, and therefore as a guide to prediction and action, but it cannot give a deterministic and causal picture of the development of society in all its varieties of culture. Thus the closed world of bourgeois sociology is far less accurate than the closed world of physics. Both are absolute, but whereas in the history of man the environment does not to any degree alter, society itself alters rapidly, and thus bourgeois culture precludes itself from writing a scientific history of any feature of its culture from economics to religion. Yet change manifestly occurs and therefore some force must be invoked from an outside world to produce these changes. On the one hand ludicrously simple causes from spheres anterior to the sociological will be brought in as sufficiently explanatory – climatic changes, racial differences, differential birthrate, dietetic deficiencies (Marett), or, on the other hand, causes from spheres posterior to the sociological will be used in explaining the change – great Ideas, the invention of steam, the concept of liberty (H.A. Fisher), a cycle of flourishing and decay (Spengler). Both forms of explanation are equally unscientific but are preferred by the bourgeois to admitting that he is unconsciously determined by social relations, and that the ‘fundamental’ categories he has carefully established for sociology, are simply the product of his own particular phase of social relations.
(iii) The closed world of psychology. It was inevitable that the bourgeois should excel himself when he came to establish the categories of his own mind. The closed world of psychology is as it were the antithesis of the closed world of physics. Now if we abstract from mind all ‘material’ qualities we travel the reverse road to bourgeois physics and we end up with something that contains no qualities at all. That is to say, consciousness is ‘nothing’. But mind exists and the brain exists, therefore mind is simply physical matter in its sensory aspects, the behaviour of the body. Thus whilst in physics the bourgeois recipe for matter, ‘not mind,’ was producing a matter so stripped of all material qualities as to evaporate into mind (cp. Eddington, Jeans and Russell), in psychology the bourgeois recipe for mind, ‘not-matter,’ was producing a mind so stripped of all mental qualities that it solidified into matter, and became behaviourism. These two doctrines, so apparently opposed, produce each other, and follow from the one bourgeois position.
Before this, however, the bourgeois standpoint had succeeded in generating all the other distortions of psychology we have listed at the beginning of this essay. The simplest bourgeois position is that, since mind is not determined and is therefore free, the laws of the mind can only be studied in its products. But to consciousness, mind’s products are all conscious products. Only the world of consciousness exists for psychology and, by this definition, psychology is the study not merely of non-material but of ‘non-unconscious’ qualities of the mind.
The first attempts at this form of bourgeois psychology are systematic. They are merely the classification of conscious phenomena (Faculty psychology). Since the psychological field is undetermined there is no reason why faculties should not be anything, and as a result they are merely subsumed according to the prejudices of the moment and the structure of language at the time.
But it is impossible by reason of the very nature of knowledge that any field can be depicted as indetermined within itself, for every positive statement must necessarily express some kind of determinism. The most the bourgeois position claims is that mental phenomena are, in their own sphere, self-determined. The next step from faculty psychology is therefore the study of the self-determination of psychological products. The bourgeois, freely wandering about the world he dominates, acquires images of it or ideas, and these interact and live their lives, and combine and move by virtue of causal laws, parallel to but different from those that rule the world of particles in the closed world of physics. This closed world of Ideas, foreshadowed in Locke, reaches its final development in the associationists, with whom everything is explained by the ‘association of ideas’. It still represents an important influence in all modern psychologies, for it appears to solve the problem of the closed worlds by creating two parallel worlds, quite in the manner of Descartes.
But unfortunately biology, itself a closed world, here erupts to shatter this dream of the parallel worlds, one of physics in which particles move according to physical laws, and the other of conscious ideas in which images of the real world move according to mental ‘laws’. Biology, in human physiology, discovers a connecting link breaking into both worlds. On the one hand the body is composed of particles subject to physical laws, on the other hand, as aphasia and cerebral injuries show, disturbance of particles of the body leads to a disturbance of ‘ideas’. The two absolute worlds must be joined.
This is the function of neurology. To neurology, however delicately its practisers may veil their position, the nerves (and particularly the cerebral neurones) are subject to electrical disturbances or waves of potential variation as the result of stimuli, and these waves are accompanied by ideas, just as the passage, of an electric current across two poles in the atmosphere is accompanied by a spark. Great success is achieved by neurology in its correlation of conscious with physiological phenomena.
In this way mind is forced into the closed world of physics. The particles still move about in absolute time and space (for few, if any, neurologists have advanced to Einstein’s absolute time-space) but now their movements are accompanied by a kind of iridescence or glow, which is mind.
The closed world of physics is a world dominated by the bourgeois, viewing it from outside and therefore able to foresee, by a Divine Calculation, the whole course of future movements of particles. This is bourgeois predeterminism, in which the whole future can be imagined as consciously known in its necessary future evolution, like the movements of a machine, just as in slave-owning fatalism the whole future can be imagined as consciously planned. In the former case the necessity arises from the causality of things; in the latter from the will of the planner; but in both cases the predestination consists in the conscious pre-knowledge of events.
But if consciousness itself is – as it evidently is – a late development of the Universe, such a conception falls to the ground. And if mind is also part of the network of determinism, each act of knowing involved in consciousness plays a determining as well as a determined rôle, and the mere fact of being all-knowing like Laplace’s divine calculator, would involve a new determining force not allowed for in the original act of knowledge.
To the bourgeois the world of physics has its lines laid down irrespective of mind; it exists absolutely. When facts force him to include mind in this already complete, self-driving world, it is therefore simply dragged round with the machinery. Mind becomes pointless and redundant. What the bourgeois thought was the ‘ennoblement’ of mind – its separation as a distinct thing from gross matter – is in fact its degradation, for now it becomes involved in the mindless causality of bourgeois physics, a causality abstracted of mental qualities, though consciously envisaged as a whole by impersonal Mind. Consciousness is to this abstract Mind an irrelevant phenomenon arising from the predetermined clash of particles.
Nothing could in fact be more repugnant to the bourgeois than this logical outcome of his contradictory position. Therefore bourgeois causality, or predeterminism (the only form of determinism he understands), is the bourgeois nightmare, and it induces him to lead an attack in full force on determinism or causality in physics (Jeans, Eddington, Weyl, Born, et al). It leads him at last to picture, by whatever immoral stratagem, the movements of the particles as indetermined; and the particles themselves as unknowable. This he supposes, at last secures his menaced free-will. But in fact free-will does not lie along this road at all.
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Thus the neurological approach is the most fruitful to-day in scientific results, yet it is also the most destructive to bourgeois psychology and bourgeois self-esteem. Mind is a material quality, and therefore all mental phenomena are necessarily phenomena displayed by material neurones. But by ‘matter’ the neurologist does not understand real sensuous matter, for he is a bourgeois physicist, and moreover in most cases a Newtonian bourgeois physicist. He only understands matter as it appears in the bourgeois closed world of physics, stripped of mental qualities, a completely self-determined world excluding mind as expressing a determining relation. Therefore neurological data, growing in certainty and precision, seem more and more to dissolve psychology into something non-mental and predetermined, until we are ready to believe consciousness is an unimportant illusion. This is necessarily so, for a method of approach that sees colour, for example, as an hallucination, the real thing being a wave length, must even more see consciousness as an illusion, the real thing being a moving wave of potential. Thus bourgeois consciousness, in all seriousness (with maudlin regret even) denies its own existence, or, alternatively, if this ‘daring’ view seems dangerous, as easily and from the same fundamental position, denies the existence of anything else but consciousness.
Neurology, like early faculty and associationist psychologies, at first sees the problem in its simplest terms consciousness or mind on the one hand, and on the other hand the physico-physiological world or matter. The categories of both are regarded as eternal.
Nonetheless, various considerations operate to make this simple dualism more complex. In the field of faculty or associationist psychology there is the problem of memory. Ideas vanish and then return (recollection) and return perhaps changed. But they must have been somewhere meanwhile. Where were they stowed? The answer is ‘In the Unconscious’. Needless to say, this is at present no answer. To answer the question ‘Where are Ideas when they are not-conscious?’ with ‘In the not-consciousness’ is childish. However, if new laws of the process governing not-consciousness are learned, the answer is the starting point of research, and in modern psychology the Unconscious does therefore mean something.
Neurology is not perplexed by the problem in this form. Ideas, being a chance glow, can come or go, no explanation is needed. The problem here arises in a somewhat different form.
(a) The cortex and (b) the thalamus, the cerebellum, and the spinal cord represent phylogenetically different stages of the growth of the nervous system, and seem to correspond to different kinds of nervous behaviour – (a) voluntary behaviour, or willed response, corresponding to a previously conscious idea; (b) reflex behaviour, or innate, automatic, unchanging response to stimuli. These two forms of behaviour are not separate, but all behaviour combines differing proportions of each, and the unit of behaviour seems rather the conditioned reflex, in which an innate pattern has been modified by experience. Voluntary behaviour, in which an ‘idea’ is at work, is in its purest form still like a conditioned reflex, since pre-existing muscular reflexes must be used in behaviour of any kind, and the ‘idea’ itself is a product of experience.
Thus neurology becomes the study of the integration or mutual interaction of the phylogenetically different systems of neurones, and of the modification of innate responses by experience. The ‘problem’ of consciousness is solved by supposing that consciousness is associated with cortical innervations for man is highly conscious and the cortex is phylogenetically the most recent development of the nervous system. The whole problem is in fact visualised as that of the human machine, quite in the manner of Frederick’s physician. The stimuli excite nervous activity, behaviour results, and at the end of the behaviour the machine is in a new position of equilibrium. This is an improvement on the closed world of physics in that it is more sensuous and therefore more material. Behaviour, attention, perception and appetite cannot be written in terms of Principles of Least Action or Lagrange’s equations. But man is still subject to predeterminism; he is still merely a part of the closed world of physics surveyed from without. However much neurologists may dislike to admit it, the philosophy of neurology is mechanical materialism even where (as for example with MacCurdy), an amateurish attempt is made to escape into a Platonic doctrine of ideas controlling formless matter (‘Patterns’).
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Meanwhile gestalt psychology has been making an attempt to reconcile the associationist position with the development, since Mill’s time, of neurology. The gestaltists are not, however, neurologists, they do not regard mind as the iridescence accompanying the movement of particles. Since mechanical materialism is not their method of approach the gestalt psychologists are forced into the only other bourgeois alternative – idealism. Gestalt psychology is Platonic idealism.
Needless to say it is not just Platonic idealism, but bourgeois Platonic idealism altered by all that has been learned since, and moreover applied, not to a world view but to a very limited field, chiefly so far that of perception. It starts out with an apparently materialistic programme – all mental phenomena to be explained on a purely physico-chemical basis. Now we are familiar with such programmes. Physics had one – ‘all matter non-mental’ – whose logical outcome, to the surprise of no one but the bourgeois, is that all matter proves to be – equations. In the same way, since physics and chemistry result in bourgeois science from similar restrictive programmes, a physico-chemical explanation of mental data must necessarily be dangerous. It turns out to be purely Hegelian. Gestalt psychology is objective idealism of a kind. The psychological phenomena dealt with are the result of the activation of forms or configurations (gestalten) which are pictured as fields patterned three or even four dimensionally by variations in potential. Stimuli serve both for the activation and modification of these potential-patterns. But a form or pattern is a concept. Is not a concept a late product of consciousness and if so, how can we explain mental phenomena as the result of the activation of more recent products of itself? We must therefore assume the existence of these concepts, or forms, objectively. Now this is Platonism if carried out half-heartedly, or Hegelianism if carried out thoroughly. It is characteristic of the anarchy of bourgeois science that every scientist, in his little province, feels himself at liberty to use for that field only categories which, if applied to the world at large, would seem to him false. The gestalt psychologist is not really a Hegelian. To bourgeois science the closed worlds of modern culture do not seem even a necessary evil; they seem to him part of the method of science, and he feels himself a scientific benefactor in building yet another of them on a small scale.
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Meanwhile, apart from neurology and gestalt psychology, another psychology has been growing which, while least scientific in its theory, has the largest empirical content. It is perhaps the most thoroughly bourgeois in spirit and is therefore the most powerful in its influence on contemporary thought. This is the varied field of instinct psychology, of which two schools may be taken as representative: Freud’s psycho-analysis and McDougall’s ‘hormic’ psychology. There are about half a dozen others, of which Jung’s, Adler’s, MacCurdy’s and Burrow’s are the most important.
Both see life as the theatre of an indwelling force or conation (McDougall) or instinct (Freud) which is the free source of life’s actions on the static environment. A sharp line is thus drawn between life and not-life, between agent and patient, in which life is always insurgent, creative and changeful, and dead matter always resigned, moulded and eternal.
The drama of the instincts then becomes a kind of bourgeois novel, in which the heroes are instincts; and their experiences, mutual struggles and transformations generate not only all psychical but also all cultural phenomena.
Such a view is a fairly accurate description of life as it sees itself in bourgeois consciousness. It is a biological psychology, and therefore makes the same mistake as physical psychology (neurology) and mental psychology (associationism). It dichotomises life and the environment, and defines the environment as all that which possesses no living qualities. The environment is stripped of all qualities common to dead matter and life, and therefore becomes something invariant, ghostly, and unimportant. Everything emerges from within life.
This is the closed world of biology. All change, development, and quality is cooped up within it. Outside is only the Sahara of bourgeois physics, quantitative, changeless, bare. All freedom, all self-determination and all motive force therefore comes within the world of life. Change is not a quality of matter but of life. It becomes a special case in the Universe, and therefore inexplicable. The biological dichotomy necessarily leads us, if we expand it, to an uncaused first cause, a Life-Force or vital spirit, which by its ingression in matter makes matter change and develop and therefore living, for change is regarded as a characteristic peculiar to life. Of course instinct psychology does not advance to such a world-view, or press its assumptions to their logical conclusion. It simply takes as a proven thing the closed world of bourgeois biology, and from it extracts the essence of living action, the instincts, which then become the postulates of psychology.
What in fact are these instincts? They are innate patterns of behaviour automatically elicited by stimuli. They are therefore inevitable recurrences amid the sea of change, like the seasons. They are determined in fact (predetermined) by past events. The absoluteness at once reveals them as quantitative abstractions, like energy or space in physics.
But this is not how the bourgeois sees them. He necessarily regards all behaviour that bursts ‘spontaneously’ forth from the individual ignorant of its causality, as above all free. Therefore the instincts are conceived as freely striving for unconscious goals, and psychology becomes the adventures of the free instincts in their struggles against the restraints of the environment (in Freud, of society) which impede and cripple their freedom. Out of this struggle cognitive and emotional consciousness is born.
Now the only objection to this bourgeois psychology is that it inverts the picture. The instincts are not free springs of connation towards a goal. They are, so far as they can be abstractly separated, unconscious necessities, as Kant realised. They are unfree. But in their realisation as behaviour, when these innate things-in-themselves become things-for-themselves and interact with their environment (which also changes, and is not the dead world of physics) they also change. Above all, they are changed in human culture. As a result of this change, these necessities become conscious, become emotion and thought; they exist for themselves and are altered thereby. The change is the emotion or thought, and now they are no longer the instincts, for they are conscious and consciousness is not an ethereal but a material determining relationship. The necessity that is conscious is not the necessity that is unconscious. The conscious goal is different from the blind ‘instinctive’ goal. It is freer.
But how can bourgeois instinct psychology grasp this? The magnificent story of human culture becomes in its view simply the tragedy of the crippling of the free instincts by the social restraints they have freely created. The creation of these social restraints is arbitrary, non-causal and pointless so that history remains thoroughly bourgeois and indetermined; and each psycho-analyst can give a different explanation of any sociological phenomenon. Experience, art and science are in this psychology the fetters of the instinctive energy; all experiences are the scars of the wounds to this freedom (inhibition and repression). Moreover the unconscious plays a strange rôle. Since experience is in this inversion of life’s story the prison house of the free instincts, consciousness (the most recent and least innate products of the psyche) acts the part of gaoler to the unconscious (the most archaic and least conditioned psychic products). Quite a little coercive State reigns in the psyche, complete even to the Censor. Abominable things are done to the instincts; screams (dreams and obsessions) issue from time to time from the dungeons where the noble bourgeois revolutionaries are being tortured by the authorities. It is a picture in the best anarchist style, with the instincts resorting even to terrorism when necessary, and this terrorism is very sympathetically treated by its historians.
And yet this is untrue. It is in the process of living, in experience, that the instincts, those blind patterns, are modified by reality and, becoming conscious of its necessity, change it and themselves, and so become more free. This embrace with reality is in man mediated by the social environment. That the environment does wrongs to man’s mind to-day none will deny. These wrongs are not done because consciousness imprisons the instincts with the fetters of necessity; but because bourgeois man is unconscious of the determinism of his culture. Because of this the instincts are losing such freedom as they attained, are becoming crippled, and less free. Unconsciousness and inexperience, not consciousness and experience, are the gaolers of modern bourgeois man.
Thus bourgeois culture cannot use even those good things which it produces. In the ideological sphere as wen as the economic, it has embarrassed because it cannot consume the empirical discoveries it has made. Freud, Jung, Adler, McDougall, Kohler, Koffka, Watson, Head, Sherrington, Parsons and MacCurdy have all made discoveries of vital importance for the understanding of mental phenomena, but their full value is lost in the welter of bourgeois culture.
The closed, unplanned worlds of bourgeois science must be broken down, if science is once again to be coherent and fruitful. That is the task of communist science, of dialectical materialism.
Consciousness is a function of life, and we know it primarily as a function of the nervous system. Yet until we see that its relations are not intrinsically peculiar to the nervous system or even to the body as such, but contain elements common to all real matter, though these elements have been carefully rubbed out of the ‘matter’ of bourgeois physics, we can never escape from mentalism or mechanical materialism. The very nomenclature of modern psychology is mythological.
What is the organ of consciousness? It would be almost as reasonable to ask of the earth, what is the organ of liquidity. The answer ‘water’ would not be very helpful. And yet neurology has an answer of sorts.
The optic thalamus and its outgrowths lie buried in those cerebral hemispheres whose convoluted folds of grey matter, known as the cortex, are hypertrophied in man. The properties of the thalamus have been investigated at a more recent date than those of the cortex. It represents the more primitive portion of man’s brain, found well developed even in lower animals. The elaborate cortex is a rich outgrowth of this part of the brain. Naturally therefore the thalamus is regarded as the seat of man’s more primitive mental functions, and the cortex of his characteristically human mentation, notably ‘reason’, ‘intelligence’, and ‘consciousness’.
The thalamus appears to be the grand shunting station for cerebral messages. All sensory relations between brain and objects, save those for smell, are ‘projected’ in the thalamus and then sent up to be re-projected in the cortex. Smell, however, passes straight through to the cortex. Motor messages to nerve plates in muscles also pass from the motor area of the cortex, down through the thalamus, to be distributed via the spinal cord to the body.
The cortex consists of fold upon fold of only slightly-differentiated neurones. Its hypertrophy in man is generally correlated with the plasticity of man’s behaviour. He comes into the world a tabula rasa for habits. Unlike the fixed instinctive reactions of the insects, his behaviour is mainly acquired. It is assumed therefore that the staggeringly complex nerve mesh of the cortex, with its hundreds of millions of cells, is the blank page on which life writes its message.
This has been borne out by the study of cortical lesions. The motor habits of speech, the senses of sight and hearing, the habits of word recognition, writing, and of moving various parts of the body, have all been localised in parts of the cortex.
The primitive nature of the thalamus is suggested by comparison with animals. As one ascends in time the evolutionary tree the cortex grows in bulk, whilst the thalamus and its associations do not. Some claim that those have even diminished. It is a matter of terminology. The thalamus itself has perhaps dwindled slightly, but its associated non-cortical outgrowths, which may be assumed to share, thalamic functions, have somewhat increased. There is no dispute about the quite disproportionate increase in cortical volume.
However, the argument from morphology might be faulty. The thalamus might after all be like the cortex in function. The experiments of Head, Rivers, Sherrington, and Parsons, have discovered evidence which supports the morphological argument. Where for any reason connexions between the thalamus and cortex are severed, so that the cortex is out of action, activity seems to become more instinctive. Up to a point nothing happens, and then there is a sudden and violent reaction, accompanied by emotions of disproportionate strength. This kind of action has been taken to be characteristic of instinct – the ‘all or none’ reaction – and hence this is held to confirm the primitive character of the thalamus.
Head’s bold experiment of severing a nerve in his arm and noting the return of sensation as it healed, uncovered still more interesting phenomena. The experiment led him to differentiate between two forms of sensation, protopathic (or primitive) and epicritic (or advanced). As the nerve healed protopathic sensation first appeared; then epicritic developed, repressing the older form. One does not develop into the other: there is a dialectic ‘jump’.
Protopathic sensation was discovered to have a high threshold. It was difficult to locate. When, for example in the case of pressure, the high threshold was passed, quite suddenly there was a sensation of acute discomfort, but with very poor discrimination or localisation. This ‘hit and miss’ character of protopathic sensation, as of a man in a rage swiping blindly at some unknown danger, had already been found to be characteristic of thalamic function. Hence Head and his followers connect protopathic or primitive sensation with the thalamus, as representing a primitive form of sensation, repressed by the evolution of the epicritic system.
The epicritic system by contrast is more discriminating, has a low threshold and does not suddenly pass into acute discomfort. This is normal sensation as we experience it.
It is therefore assumed that the cortex is part of the epicritic system, and contrasts with the thalamus. It is discriminating; it does not act rashly, in gusts, but according to the situation. In Head’s view it is continually repressing the instinctive activities of the thalamus, by cortical ‘backstroke’, and we may equate this cortical control, it is suggested, with that rational consciousness we feel controlling our actions in actual life.
The epicritic sensations are primarily exteroceptive – as for example sight and hearing. The proprioceptive sensations may however be protopathic. As is well known, the internal organs, bones, etc., are not sensitive; we cannot feel our stomach or intestines move in peristalsis. Nonetheless when a certain threshold is passed internally, we experience a sudden agonising pain and a sensation of ‘structural discomfort’, dull, heavy, and alarming. This kind of sensation, as Head had already found, is characteristic of the protopathic system before the epicritic sensation has manifested itself. Presumably therefore internal sensation is still largely thalamic. Again, when we are ‘thrown off our balance’ by sudden gusts of rage, it is to be assumed that cortical control has vanished temporarily and our behaviour is thalamic.
This dualism was not accepted without opposition. It was for instance criticised by neurologists of the standing of Pizron. Nonetheless the general trend of research has if anything confirmed Head’s distinction between cortex and thalamus, although the sharpness of many of his definitions has been modified. As a result it is usual to schematise the neurological basis of consciousness as follows: All sensation comes via the nerve receptors to the thalamus, where it would provoke instinctive ‘all-or-none’ reaction were it not for cortical control. It then passes on to the cortex, where it emerges as conscious perception. Discriminative motor habits arising out of this perception are assumed to be lodged in the cortex, while the more instinctive motorisms are located in the thalamus. Thus the general view is that consciousness is primarily, if not solely, the activation of sensation or motor traces in the cortex, and that all delicate affective shades are similarly cortical. Thalamic activity, it is assumed, is associated with unconscious or subliminal perceptions and instinctive motorisms. All violent effective outbursts, particularly severe pains, are assumed to be thalamic. The thalamus is the rebel, the seat of the unconscious, the instinctive proletariat, which that well-educated and refined bureaucracy, the cortex, with its unemotional logical consciousness, keeps (not without difficulty) in order.
At a still lower level is the bulbo-spinal system, concerned with simple reflexes. This may be omitted from our discussion for the moment.
Certain psychologists, such as Marston, have suggested that consciousness is primarily a function of the synapses. This however will not affect the present argument. Since wherever there is a nerve connexion there is a synapse, and since no one suggested all synapses are simultaneously active, the synaptic theory leaves it open as to which parts of the nervous system are in fact concerned in consciousness. In any case there are more synapses in the cortex than elsewhere. Therefore it is fair to say that the view we have outlined represents the trend of opinion, as far as there can be such a thing, amongst modern neurologists. It will be seen that it is still influenced by bourgeois biology. The free instincts are controlled by the cortex. Experience throttles unconscious life. Freedom is the unconsciousness of the necessity of reality, learned in experience.
It would however be just as accurate to picture the thalamus as the organ of conscious instinct and the cortex as the organ of unconscious thought. In either case we are simply playing about with terms. Consciousness is not so simple as that.
Cortical consciousness is equated in current neurological theory with epicritic sensation. The essence of epicritic sensation is fine discrimination. Thalamic sensation – which is unconscious or (as Rivers visualises it) repressed by cortical control – is lacking in discrimination. Thus a light touch on the skin, easily detected by the epicritic system, has to be increased to a hard pressure before it is perceived by the protopathic system, which then explodes affectively.
How does this theory square with the facts of consciousness?
Few of the doctrines of psychology receive more general assent than that of subliminal impressions. Impressions have to reach a certain threshold value before they are consciously perceived. That such impressions, although not perceived consciously, have yet left memory traces, i.e. have been perceived unconsciously, is evidenced by the fact that they can be recovered in hypnotic trance, when what is loosely called ‘the unconscious’ is made accessible. The phenomena of hyperæsthesia, are explained in this way. Sounds, scents and cutaneous and visual discriminations not normally in the conscious field, are made accessible by the inclusion with the ego in hypnotic trance of a large part of what is normally unconscious sensation. In the same way slight impressions, separately unconscious, appear eventually by repetition to summate until they can rise above the threshold of consciousness, when the ego then becomes ‘aware’ of the previous repetitions.
Now this at once raises the query, damaging for the usual theory, why consciousness should show all the characteristics of protopathic sensation – restricted field and lack of fine discrimination – while unconsciousness proves itself endowed with epicritic discrimination and range of sensation. Head’s view, as we have said, is that epicritic sensation ‘repressed’ protopathic sensation, or made it unconscious. The facts concerning subliminal impressions, if valid, contradict it. They do not however prove the reverse, for Head’s own experiments show that protopathic sensation can also be conscious. The conclusion would appear to be that consciousness has nothing to do with either epicritic or protopathic sensation, nor repression with unconsciousness, but that we must think along other lines in order to understand what the relations are.
Let us consider such a simple question at the ordinary visual field, and its connexion with degrees of consciousness. It is well known that we do not regard the visual field as an undifferentiated whole, but that different parts of it have different values. This is expressed in the older theory of a faculty of ‘attention’ (which, like consciousness, has been located in the cortex) and in the gestalt or ‘field’ theory, which is really an elaborate attention psychology made objective. Thus motion of objects attracts the attention to them. We see interesting objects. A woman sees a bat; an artist’s attention is caught by features of light and shade unnoticed to others; a detective sees a criminal face. We all tend to see shapes in shadows, figures in clouds, to fill out and round off contrasts, according to the sehemes made clear by gestalt experiments. Attention is a name for the actual element in perception.
Now though we may say that all the visual field is ‘consciousness’, it is plain that different degrees of consciousness range over the visual field. Thus the sportsman, watching rabbits, sees a vague background with a very distinct brown animal moving over it. Perceptually the rabbit is more conscious to him than its surroundings, and more discrimination is made as to size, markings of coat, and movements in this rabbit. A botanist surveying the same scene might however see nothing clearly except a flower in the field.
Here is made plain the nature of the contradiction between epicritic and protopathic sensations and consciousness. Consciousness is at its highest point in the rabbit region of the visual field to the sportsman. Even the beast’s whiskers are clear to his eye. Here sensation is epicritic.
At the same time, in the rest of the visual field nothing is consciously noted but a green blur. Here then sensation is protopathic. But in both cases sensation is conscious. The weaker conscious sensation is protopathic, the stronger epicritic. If, however, the sportsman were to be hypnotised, our knowledge of subliminal perception compels us to believe that we could recover, out of that green blur, details of perception which the sportsman had not consciously experienced. Thus here sensation, unconscious sensation, is epicritic. Experiments with eidetic imagery seem to confirm this view.
This compels us to suppose that consciousness, in its vividness or degree or even actual existence, cannot be correlated with either epicritic or protopathic sensation. It can however be correlated with what has come to be called interest or ‘attention’. Interest is an affective phenomenon. Consciousness therefore is affective tone.
To return to another feature of the cortex – the richness and plasticity of its reactions. Man’s thought is almost certainly more rich and plastic than that of any animal. His range of memories, the subtlety of his discrimination among them and his faculty of language with all the richness of content it involves, are outcomes of this. Consequently we rightly regard the hypertrophied human cortex as the seat of this peculiarly human richness of association and mental structure.
But when we come to consciousness, we find in it a feature which is peculiarly uncortical – its thinness and linear character. Consciousness is a one-track activity. Man can normally only follow one train of thought at a time, and this train consists, even in the richest thinkers, of a succession of single images in the spotlight of consciousness, surrounded by a dim, half-conscious fuzz. None of the richness characteristic of human thought in the universal, is characteristic of consciousness in the particular. Everyone knows we can only concentrate an one thing at a time. Moreover the intimacy of the connexion is shown by the kind of inverse law it follows. The more conscious and vivid the mental product, the more linear and sparse its real content. It does not seem poor to us, because of its vividness. The height of its consciousness seems to atone for its simplicity; but still it is simple. The thing that ‘worries’ us and demands all our attention, obliterates all other associations. The sight of one we love makes us ‘forget everything else’. The approach of a mad bull blots out the rest of the visual field.
But this is very uncortical, for the cortex is by hypothesis the seat of immensely complex motor kinæsthetic and sensory co-ordinations. Consciousness appears unable to use more than a few of these at a time; and the richer it is, the fewer they are. If we regard the human cortex, in a well-educated person, as consisting of n potentialities, consciousness at any moment can only be concerned with a minute fraction of n. The rest are unconscious. Therefore the cortex is primarily an unconscious rather than a conscious organ. It is like a library of knowledge with only one owner. Despite its immense resources, the owner at any one instant can only scan one word in one line in one book, though given time and opportunity he can read what he likes and find what he likes in the realm of human knowledge.
Therefore, cortical consciousness is really chiefly cortical unconsciousness. The cortex is the great unopened dictionary, the grand reservoir of the temporarily forgotten. Consciousness in the cortex is the glowing of a few neurones out of hundreds of millions – an exception, a tiny localisation. Unless we think the unconscious of no importance, we would do better to regard the cortex as the seat of unconsciousness. This would give man a larger unconscious than the beasts, but is not this just what we would expect – is not the beast’s knowledge more at its instant command, less influenced by memory and association and therefore by the temporarily forgotten but recallable? True, though forgotten is recallable, but no one would restrict the name ‘unconscious’ to the completely unavailable, for, if it is completely unavailable, by no means can it be proved to exist. We make therefore the suggestion that unconsciousness and not consciousness, is the distinctive feature of man’s cortical outgrowth; and that this shows the weakness of current distinctions between consciousness and unconsciousness.
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These considerations suggest others. What governs the tiny localisation of conscious light in the vast Arctic night of the cortex? The feature of the cortex, histologically, is its lack of differentiation. Each part is like any other part. The localisations of speech and similar functions seem arbitrary. How much more arbitrary seems the local play of consciousness.
What this suggests can be shown by analogy. In a network of electrified wires we see, constant at one point, a glowing ‘hot spot’. We might suppose either that this was due to a blowpipe flame from outside, applied to that spot, or to a kind of local short due to the connexions of the wires.
If, however, we saw that the hot spot moved continually about from wire to wire, we should infer, on the normal principle of induction, that there was some mobile outside cause. Either the blowpipe flame was being moved, or there was some switching apparatus continually changing the direction of the current. In either case, though the hot spot was in the wire system, we should regard it as external.
In the same way, considering the moving spotlight of consciousness in the cortical library, it seems that we must regard its movement as due to some other cause, some external switchboard. We have already correlated consciousness, both in existence and vividness, with affective tone. Assuming that the thalamus is primarily concerned in affective activity, the switching organ, directing consciousness into the local cortical channel, must be thalamic. If therefore anything has the right to be called the organ of consciousness, it would be the thalamus. But this again shows the inadequate conception of consciousness current in psychology. A conscious thought is the affective ‘heating’ of a cortical trace. The greater the heat, the greater the consciousness. The cortical trace is not the consciousness, because the cortex is, by assumption, an enormous mass of traces, all undifferentiated and all unconscious. The consciousness, if we must make a mere quality substantive, is the affective heat, for that and that alone produces consciousness. But actually to separate affect and idea is Aristotelean; it is like separating form and matter.
Our theory has certain analogies with the kinetic theory of heat. The molecules correspond to the cortex. The vibration of the molecules is the consciousness. The perpetually boiling organ, selectively communicating its vibrations is the thalamus. Its boiling is a reflection of the whole relation between body and environment.
Since the organism is a unity, consciousness must be unitary in nature, and the more intense the vividness, the greater the limitation of consciousness. It is wrong, however, to equate this with a constant supply of conscious energy, which must therefore be either deep and thin or wide and shallow.
The reason for the limitations of content when vividness is present must be sought elsewhere. Attention to externals i.e. to objects in the visual or stimulus field, is characteristic of all animals. It is simply that activity which is regarded a characteristic of life. Sensibility is a readiness to respond to certain stimuli, which in itself implies activity towards such stimuli. Simple organisms respond to food particles in the tactile field; higher animals to prey or mates or traces suggestive of them in the visual field. Men notice a wider rang of ‘things’ and discriminate more subtly, but always the vivid conscious part of the visual field is something that can awake their instincts, which in turn are defined as the entities which are awakened by those particular stimuli.
Thus consciousness is simply a specific feature of sensibility, a form of behaviour. Sensibility involves on the one hand an innate response to certain things and, on the other hand, certain things in the environment to be interested in. For example, in a unicellular organism, sensibility involves the tendency to be irritated by contact with small round objects (potential food) and also the small round objects at any given moment in contact with the organism.
This stimulus elicits the response, and there is no gulf, only a matter of degree, between this simple manifestation of irritability, and the sportsman with a tendency to be irritated by the rabbit and the presence of the rabbit in his visual field, both making up the consciousness of the rabbit in all its vividness.
True he is also conscious of the green blur which is the rest of the visual field. But if an organism is to be highly irritated by all small round objects that are food, like the amoba, it must be slightly irritated, as the amoba is, by all small round objects tactually presented. In the same way, if the animal or the sportsman is to be irritated by the presence of prey in the visual field, if he is to ‘notice’ them, he must be slightly irritated by the visual field as a whole and always must be slightly conscious of it. In other words, before we can become conscious of a thing, we must first become unconscious of it. We must have awareness over a wide general field.
It might be thought that the visual field, in all its inclusiveness, cannot be compared with an amoba in tactile contact with a hard object. But in fact, the visual field is an empirical and exclusive construction. It neglects most of the possible wave-lengths of radiation, ignores distant features, and does not observe any molecular or atomic phenomena or real movements above and below a certain speed. It is in fact as much a concentration of interest as a protozoan’s exclusive concern with small round objects. The protozoan’s whole world is small round objects. Our visual field is similarly limited to phenomena which, as we evolved, have proved of interest to us, such as the common light octave (in colour).
An instinct is an innate response of a certain nature to external or somatic stimuli, or both. We should not consider an animal as possessing instincts but only potential instincts, just as the cortex as a whole is not conscious but only potentially conscious. We should regard instinct only as it appears in behaviour, as a response to some situation. It is true that we should thus never get a pure instinct, for the situation is always slightly different and therefore even in insects the behaviour is always slightly different. This is all to the good.
This would simplify the theory of mentation. Living response or sensibility, including conscious mentation, consists of potential instinct, which is the whole sum of inborn responses to somatic stimuli or environmental stimuli. This is a purely fictive conception, but methodologically useful, like the ‘genotype’ in heredity. Actually nothing is ever known, either in behaviour or in consciousness, except potential instinct reacting to its somatic or environmental stimuli and being changed thereby. Where we part company with the behaviourist, who does not recognise consciousness, is that we recognise consciousness and include it as a form of behaviour. Thus we regard the visual field as instinctive behaviour modified by experience. It is the instinctive response of the cortical and thalamic projective areas to stimuli. The stimuli are to us so complex in the normal visual field that we naively regard them as ‘all reality’, instead of just a selection from it. This brings conscious perception within the field of causality. It determines and is determined, and this we already know from quantum physics. Observation is an active process – a return to Cartesian theories of vision on a higher plane.
Instincts are modified in experience. Some, like those of the insects, are only slightly modifiable. Others, like the dog’s food response or man’s various responses to stimuli, are capable of far more conditioning. This can be regarded as an enriching or complicating of them. Thus the instinctive visual field of the baby is modified, and made richer and more discriminating, in the grown man. Innate behaviour becomes in experience complex behaviour. This is a simple dialectic law of development.
The visual field is a conditioned, instinctive response to stimuli. There is a slight response to a large number of stimuli, which we may call simply vision. This slight sensory response guarantees the visual, aural or tactile field as a whole. Under the influence of some more specialised innate response – to prey, mates or danger – we notice more eagerly, more consciously and more vividly some one object in that visual, aural, or tactile field. We behave towards it in a different way. The greater specificity of the response makes us consider a unit instinct is at work, but this is only a name for a consistent difference in behaviour towards a class of objects. It is thus determined also by the environment.
The linear nature of consciousness, limited in proportion to its vividness, is therefore necessary. Instinct is action. The efficiency of the body and its very survival can only be secured by the fact that it acts integrally. The higher the organism, the more true we find this integration of response, a unity in diverse. Since consciousness is part of the complete response, it must be all of a piece with the rest of the response, including the body’s overt action. This means we must only see or think of those things most immediately relevant to the instinctive action as a whole. Thus the tendency of the organism to flee from danger ensures that, when danger appears in the visual field, the organism is not conscious of its tailor’s unpaid bill, what it ate for dinner last week, or the infinity of the Universe, but only of the mad bull, and the nearest exit from the field, while at the same time the body’s response is limited to visceral vaso-motor constriction, emission of adrenalin into the blood from the suprarenal glands, and rapid running movement with the legs.
Plainly the ego, insofar as we regard it as the stream of consciousness, is our name for this fact. The integrity of the organism creates the ego, not the ego the organism.
The association of affects or emotions with the instincts has always been puzzling. The ‘instincts’ seem to give rise to affects, and yet instinctive activity can appear without them. Restricting ourself to the case of conscious perception of a dangerous object in the visual field, we see that there are two elements in the response – intra-somatic behaviour (adrenalic secretion and so forth) – and extra-somatic (running). The first assists the second. Vision is only involved as a part of action, and is stripped of all but its bare essentials for the purpose. Therefore the simpler the extra-somatic response, the more ‘one-to-one’ its correspondence with innate reflexes, the less the need for the activation of the cortical traces of experience. Both affect and consciousness are therefore functions of the complexity of the potentially stimulating field, and its relation to the modified reflexes of the organism.
Certain animals, for example the insects, in spite of elaborate instinctive activity, are closely geared to an unvarying chain. The sphex will sting only one species of wasp, and only in a certain way. There is therefore in spite of the complexity of the overt behaviour, a poverty of alternative objects and a poverty of alternative behaviour. The correspondence is virtually one-to-one. We should expect such creatures to experience no affects and no consciousness. Stimuli and reflexes match perfectly and weave an almost unvarying fabric.
Nonetheless we must regard consciousness as a matter of degree. Just as heat and cold are simply varying rates of molecular motion, which we divide subjectively into ‘hotter than ours,’ and ‘colder than ours’, consciousness and unconsciousness simply represent degrees of affective vividness. Many states subliminal for us might well be binding consciousness for fishes. Even in insects there cannot be anything like perfect one-to-one correspondence of innate instinct to stimulus. There is no absolute degree of consciousness. It is the ego that is conscious but the ego in turn is composed of a series of experiences selected above a certain indistinct threshold. Naturally, to this ego anything below the threshold seems unconscious, but this is merely because it is the ego which is doing the description.
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The conception of a switchboard is often used for neural operations. It seems less objectionable than most analogies, for the neurone undoubtedly has junctions, and transmits impulses along its length by means of waves of potential difference. But it differs from a switchboard in having no operator, a fact which causes psychologists to invent instincts, consciousness, and egos which operate the switches. Perhaps the automatic telephone may eliminate these mythical deities. The brain is an extremely elaborate automatic telephone system, in which the stimuli are the subscribers dialling, in which the apparatus is modified by experience, and in which the body is part of the system – flesh, blood and all.
In all switchboard schematisations of the neural system, the cortex is pictured as the seat of a highly competent Postmaster-General, directing all the other chains of relays, down to the humble reflexes in the basement. This P.M.G. is usually equated with consciousness. Our hypothesis has no use for this overworked official.
If we must personify, let us personify the thalamus, and let us imagine it, at a primitive level, faced with the task of making more epicritic its sensations, and its action more discriminating. It will do so by manufacturing an intricate system through which sensations and motor activities can be relayed, sorted out, stored and recombined, and where the increased complexity of the possible combinations will make more epicritic the actions. In other words, the cortex (if we must personify) is the servant of the thalamus rather than the master. (But either picture is inaccurate.)
Any engineer faced with the task of increasing the possible combinations of a given circuit – e.g. the number of telephone numbers diallable – would at once see that some ‘hierarchy’ must be called for. A must control B and C; in turn B will control D and E and C will control G and F, and so on. Only in this way can unity of action as well as discrimination, be secured. Yet it is just unity which is the feature of consciousness, represented in the ego and its linear form of thought. Hence for the arbiter or controller of cortical activity, we must look to some concentrated organ holding all the cortical threads in its hands. This would be, for sheer mechanical reasons, the optic thalamus.
Consciousness streams on with different contents, yet we feel there is an unchanging basis for it, sharing all experiences alike. This unchanging basis, this ego, is something that has access to vast stores of experience, but itself maintains its general pattern. This would correspond to the thalamus, through which all active ingoing and outgoing impulses pass, but which has itself little mnemic grey matter. The cortex on the other hand is highly mnemic.
Let it be understood that we do not regard consciousness as exclusively thalamic, or the ego as seated in the thalamus and its outgrowths. This is to make the mistake of the mythologists. The thalamus, because of its strategic position, is the spear-point of consciousness. Consciousness is a behaviour of the whole nervous system. It is one out of a number of conditioned responses to stimuli.
Inhibition is a feature of consciousness but is not peculiar to it. The amoba performs, in response to a given stimulus, one out of several possible actions. The others therefore are inhibited. The organism which runs in response to danger inhibits other possible actions. The organism which thinks is innervating certain neurone groups, corresponding to older motor and sensory groupings, and this constitutes a thought or wish or feeling, one out of many possible, the others being inhibited or unconscious.
Consider a definite situation: There is a bull in the field of vision. This stimulus, as a result of thalamic switching, activates adrenal and visceral innervations, and produces a general somatic readiness to make the fear-response. Owing to the nature of the situation – the choice of flight or fighting, and the different paths available for both – there is a good deal of thalamic sparking among different possible muscular reactions, and these thalamic sparkings correspond to fear-consciousness. Some of the energy as a result of more thalamic switching flows into the cortex, where it innervates nerve groups corresponding to thoughts of danger, possible paths, and vague remorse at having taken the wrong shortcut – all glowing with the fear affect. No fear affect, no consciousness of these thoughts.
Thus the conscious field consists of protopathic visceral circuits, a mediating thalamic circuit, and an epicritic cortical circuit. We cannot say that consciousness is located exclusively in any one of these circuits. True, no one is conscious without a cortex, but neither are they conscious without a thalamus. All are concerned; all are integrated in the one response to the stimulus; all combine to produce the one common conscious field.
In this pressing danger, we might examine the bull more closely. We then draw on the traces in the cortical retinal area, to discriminate more closely the features of the bull. Could it be pacified? 1s it a large one? Could we side-step its charge? This more discriminating perception, in which memory enters, is the thalamus drawing on the cortex for information, or if we like it is affectivity piling up and leaking into other cortical areas.
We may visualise the bulbo-spinal area as the home of innate reflexes which experience will not greatly change. The cortex on the other hand ii the place where all motor and sensory experiences leave traces, which because of their elaborate wiring, will be more discriminating, more easily split up and more plastic and learnable than elsewhere. Moreover since their knowledge will be required when instinct has not a one-to-one correlation between stimulus and response, it is precisely the cortical cells which will receive the affective glow of a ‘puzzled’ thalamus sparking and trying various alternative lines. This emotion will therefore be always associated with cortical contents, except in severe pains or thalamic protopathic explosions. Hence our mistaken belief that it is a matter of cortical ‘control’.
Rather is it a matter of cortical advice. The thalamus might plead that it is only ‘human’ and cannot remember everything, and neurologists would admit that its deficiency in grey matter would explain its poor memory. Nevertheless, as a result of æons of experience, with comparatively little differentiation, it is a magnate of strong will and simple notions. It has the main policy of the firm at its finger tips. Such persons are normally put at the helm of power. At its service, however, it has a staff of experts, and in any ordinary circumstance it consults them (thought). Naturally, in view of their experience, it acts on their advice. The body of experts might therefore claim that they control their chief. Nonetheless the reality of thalamic power is shown in all emergencies calling for instantaneous motor response of a nature so simple that the thalamus has known it for centuries. The cortex is ignored. Again, if a complex situation recurs, even the thalamic memory is sufficient to deal with the situation. This is habit.
Consciousness might be regarded as an affective light, which plays upon cortical, thalamic, visceral and sensory neurones. They ‘clump’ together and separate out. Hence our elaborate classifications of conscious affects, feelings, thoughts, memories and percepts – all purely bogus, if we regard them as describing separate entities. Naturally a cortical neurone, under affective activity, ‘feels’ different to a visceral or sensory neurone, because it has a different chronaxy, composition, architecture and mnemic past, but its feeling is pooled in the common structure.
If Marston is right, and consciousness is a synaptic phenomenon, this would account for the variation of affectivity. A simple reflex would not be conscious, because the synapses are firmly ‘closed’. When however they are open there is a sparking, which is an affect and goes to compose consciousness. In protopathic systems a heavy stimulus would be needed to open the somewhat ‘rusty’ synapses, but the spark would be correspondingly intense and explosive. The smooth ‘frictionless’ synapses of the cortex and epicritic sensory system open and close quietly. The cortex appears to control and modify response as a whole, because it forms a part of most circuits. It corresponds to a capacitance effect in radio. There is no ‘seat’ of integration in an organism. Integration, precisely because it is integration, is the function of the entire organism.
Directed thinking is an affective river in the cortex. All thinking has a strong affective component, otherwise it would not be conscious. Why (to take apparently the least affective instance) do we turn over one of thousands of possible mathematical problems? Because that one interests us. Interest is nothing but affect.
The affective association of conscious ideas, rediscovered by Freud and Janet, is not therefore odd, but the only possible law of conscious thought considered subjectively Affects are the stuff of ideas. Association by contiguity is meaningless neurologically. It explains association of ideas by another idea, that of contiguity. Needless to say ideas whose original stimuli are spatio-temporally contiguous, are likely to share the same affective tone, and as such are likely to revive together. Given in every experience is a subject and object. Association by contiguity is objective association of experiences.
Whether it is the cat springing precisely on its prey, or the mathematician solving a problem, the behaviour is the same in principle. First there is the tendency called forth by the stimulus – the desire to solve the problem. Then the conformity of the behaviour with reality, that is the flowing of the affective current of interest, by elaborate and tortuous synaptic paths, among just those cortical cells which experience has shown to be necessary. The animal stalking its prey, fatigued and stung by the brushwood, and the mathematician, with wrinkled brow, solving the thorny problem are both exhibiting the same behaviour, except that the animal’s is overt, the mathematician’s intra-somatic. The exultant pounce of the animal, fatigue forgotten, and the joyful ‘Eureka!’ of the mathematician, his frown changing to a smile, are evidences of similar terminations to the transaction.
Sleep frees us from attention to present reality. It inhibits by closing the sensory roads (a patient with anæthesia of the skin is liable to fall asleep at any moment). Since the cortex is the great storehouse of memory, i.e. of recent reality, it is asleep. We never smell in dreams, and smell alone of the senses goes to the cortex without thalamic intervention. In sleep, the instinct, or ‘innate tendency’ to conform to reality, which is simply the connexion of the cortex to the nervous circuit, is cut off. Our learning is forgotten. We mould our thoughts like a child. The thalamus reveals that, without his advisers, he is in spite of his energy a savage. The strongly visual character of dreams is presumably due to the large retinal projection on the thalamus. The fact that most dream contents can be referred to the previous day, might be attributed to the unmnemic character of the thalamus. There may be some cortical activity in dream, but the primitive protopathic character of dream sensations, the indistinct faces, the condensation of images – which would be characteristic of a non-discriminating organ – all seem thalamic. Since we have not equated consciousness with the cortex, the vividness and reality of dreams present no difficulty. Dreams are the opposite to ‘déjà vue’ phenomena, in which real percepts seem memories. In dream, memories seem real percepts. The former some psychiatrists attribute to thalamic inactivity; the latter therefore we attribute to thalamic activity. By active and inactive, we mean active and inactive relatively to the cortex.
Now all this is very well as far as it goes. We have tried to join the two ends of mental and biological psychology. But we reach a certain point with neurology, and then are up against the difficulty that neurology is a branch of biology, that outside stands the closed world of bourgeois physics, and, arbitrarily planted on top of the closed world of neurology, is the closed world of mentalism, or bourgeois faculty psychology. By the very definitions of bourgeois psychology, we are forced to regard innervations and thoughts, nerves and consciousness, matter and mind as distinct classes of entities, mutually exclusive. Until dialectical materialism has broken down this exclusiveness, not only in psychology but in physics, biology, philosophy and sociology, how can we begin to formulate a theory of consciousness that will not be dualistic and strained?
But we can perhaps indicate the road, starting from the foundations. We must sweep away the concept of the bourgeois in opposition to and separate from the environment.
In this Newtonian schematisation, the bourgeois and the environment obey entirely different laws; the bourgeois stops at his skin. The consciousness is ‘something’ that sits inside, while outside ‘reality’ raps on the nerve-endings in code, which code is ‘interpreted’ inside the skin. This is precisely how Eddington formulates the situation, evidently believing it to be the ‘scientific’ view.
But in fact the bourgeois is only an organised whirlpool of matter in his environment, constantly changing, constantly being renewed. The consciousness is the organisation of a part of it, but the organisation is not separate from the matter, like a concept or universal. The matter is organised. The organisation is a quality of matter.
The Universe becomes. Not merely man becomes, but change, motion and development are the law of the Universe. The Universe does not change and become in Time. Relativity and quantum physics clearly show the time is the change, and the becoming. All phenomena A, B, and C, etc. are connected so that A is included in B, B in C, C in D, and so on. This inclusion in difference is Becoming development, and reality. This involves a substratum of likeness in the Universe, that which changes, that which is the same in all change. This we abstract as space, as the aspects of matter expressed in the conservation laws (mass, energy, interval, action). This we regard as the stuff of the Universe. This is what mathematic is concerned with, what quantity is, what the basis is of all predictive laws of science.
But equally it involves a superstructure of unlikeness in the Universe – the change as change, the difference in all events. This we abstract as Time, as the qualities in matter not obeying conservation laws (colour, consciousness, beauty). This we regard as the aspect of the Universe, precisely because it is the difference that interests us. This is quality, the basis of all art and sensuous culture.
But any absolute dichotomy into reality and appearance, space and time, matter and motion, primary and secondary qualities or object and subject, is erroneous and denies the reality either of change or of existence. Both are intimately blended in becoming. It is not separate things that become entirely in themselves, but the Universe is one, there are determining relations between all phenomena. These determining relations are the becoming. If any group were self-determined, it would be unknowable and unknowing in its relations to the rest, and would not therefore exist. The Universe is a material unity.
This is true, not merely of life but of all that is, from consciousness to physics, and this guarantees that these worlds cannot in fact be closed nor their laws remain unchanged. And change, the increase in organisation, is newness; it is what consciousness is. But we can never set something aside, and say: This is entirely new, it has no old in it – for that would be to separate something from the Universe, to deny change and dichotomise becoming.
The like, that which remains, is, in the biological sphere, instinct and habit and heredity. The unlike, that which is new, is experience, knowledge and acquired characters. Each generates the other in dialectic movement. In the evolution of consciousness, instinct is experience, gives rise to memory and affect, and is now no longer the old instinct. We may lodge experience in the cortex and instinct in the bulbo-spinal system, but both can only be separated in abstraction. There is only bodily behaviour, that is, material becoming in which body and environment are involved.
Body and environment are in constant determining relations. Perception is not the decoding of tappings on the skin. It is a determining relation between neural and environmental electrons. Every part of the body not only affects the other parts but is also in determining relations with the rest of reality. It is determined by it and determines it, this interchange producing development – the constantly changing series of interlocking events, A, C, C… Of this multitude of relations, spatio-temporal, perceptual and mnemic, we distinguish a certain group, changing as the world changes, not with it or separately from it but in mutually determining interaction with it. This selection, rich, highly organised and recent, we call the consciousness, or our ego. We do not select it out. In the process of development it separates out, as life separated out, as suns and planets, and the elements separated out from the process of becoming. Separated out, and still changing, it is consciousness, it is us in so far as we regard ourselves as conscious egos. But in separating out, it does not completely separate out, any more than any element did. It remains, like them in determining relation with the rest of the Universe, and the study of the organisation of this developed structure, of its inner relations and the relations of the system with all other systems in the Universe, is psychology – not bourgeois psychology, but the psychology of dialectical materialism.
We can say that such a psychology will only purge itself of the dualisms and anarchy of present-day psychology by realising that it is the science of the minds of men living in concrete society. These men are material bodies entering into social relations with each other and the rest of the material universe. This means the abandonment of the mythical categories of bourgeois psychology, which has proved itself unable to advance beyond the conception of the abstract individual psyche, the self-consciousness of the individual in civil society – in a society where the individual, because society has not yet found itself, has lost himself.
1. V. ‘Pacifism and Violence’ in Studies in a Dying Culture.
2. Motor impulses do not actually pass through the thalamus as this passage might imply. The main motor tract passes between the thalamus and the basal ganglia. The thalamus however has connexions with other, more primitive, motor nuclei. – B.H.K.
3. There is no evidence to support the view that an habitual response to a complex situation is dependent on ‘thalamic memory’. Rather would the work of Pavlov’s school and recent experience of head injuries suggest that an intact cortex is essential for this type of response. By contrast with the emergency situation described above however such a familiar situation will evoke a response with a minimum of affect and consciousness – i.e. be another example of the role of the cortex as the organ of unconsciousness. – B.H.K.
4. Cortical, thalamic, visceral and sensory neurones. The meaning of the passage is obscured by this classification, since sensory neurones are both thalamic and cortical, and visceral are mainly thalamic. What is clearly intended however is a contrast between the cells of the cortex and those of the evolutionarily older parts of the brain, including the thalamus. – B.H.K.
5. Smell in dreams. This statement is controversial but if incorrect does not vitiate the main argument, since the rhinopallium, or part of the cortex which deals with smell, is much more akin to the thalamus than other parts of the cortex.
6. Thalamus and vision. The thalamus was at one time known as the optic thalamus, a misnomer since the fibres of the optic tract do not relay in the thalamus. There are however other relay stations in the optic apparatus which may play a similar rôle in regard to visual stimuli. It is obvious that dreams are not wholly explicable on the basis of thalamic activity and that a cortical element must be assumed. The general argument, that in the dream state the rôle of the thalamus is dominant, can however be supported. – B.H.K.
7. This position is fully stated in the essay Reality, see below.
Accessed 5th November, 2020