The Functional View of the Relation between the Psychical and the Physical [1]

H. Heath Bawden

IN order to get the problem clearly before us, it will be well briefly to summarize the various types of theory that have been held in explanation of the relation between the psychical and the physical. There are two general types of explanation : the ontological, and the teleological. The ontological theories are either causality theories, or theories of parallelism. According to the causality theories, mind and matter are either causally interactive, now the one, and now the other, being cause or effect (interactionism); or matter is the cause of mind (materialism), or mind is the cause of matter (spiritualism). According to theories of parallelism, mind and matter are either two independent orders of existence which stand side by side, parallel and concomitant without being causally related (a sort of pre-established harmony),or they are parallel and concomitant manifestations, sides, or aspects of one underlying reality which is unknown and unknown-able (agnosticism).

The teleological or functional theory approaches the matter from an entirely different point of view. It regards the psychical and physical as functional distinctions within the one concrete knowable reality of experience. In what follows, I shall endeavor to show that both the historical evolution of the distinction, and an analysis of the concrete process of experience, lend support to the functional interpretation.

The clear distinction between the psychical and the physical came relatively late in human development. The child makes no such distinction at first. Man in the beginning made no such distinction. And when he did begin to make it, it was made hesitatingly, confusedly, and inconsistently. In the beginning, mental states

( 475) were treated simply as so many more physical objects ; or, physical objects on certain occasions were sublimated into psychical abstractions.

To the savage, and even to the Greek sage, the symbol, instead of representing the object, seems to have contained its essence. This is the significance of Plato's hypostasization of ideas or concepts. The ancient idealist swept all reality into his conceptual forms, without feeling the ontological incompatibility of mind and matter. On the other hand, by the ancient materialist the soul was not conceived as a phosphorescence or epiphenomenon : he had no difficulty in conceiving both body and soul as material in their nature.

When mental states began to be described, it was in terms of physical objects and processes. No new language was invented, but old words were broadened to cover the new phenomena. Thus the mind came to be viewed as a substance or entity like matter, except that it was less palpable and visible, more ethereal, shadowy, and vaporous. The soul was represented as breath, as fire, as motion. t has been suggested that man's knowledge of his psychical self or soul, as distinguished from his body, may have first come from seeing his image in the water, or from a reification of his dream life, However that may be, we know that this shadowy dream-world in the course of time came to be given a separate existence, and even to take precedence, in thought, of the material world. The motive for this was doubtless a religious one. This spirit world was the abode of good and evil demons, the abode of deities and devils. It was also the place to which at death the spirits of men and animals were translated, Even in the Middle Ages, after the dawn of Christianity, the Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual world, was conceived as a supra-mundane sphere, for which this world was only a preparation and half-way house.

Modern pan-psychism, however, must not be confounded with primitive animism. The animism and hylozoism of primitive humanity represent simply the unreflective anthropomorphizing of non-human objects. Early fetishism, sorcery, zoölatry, and witchcraft represent no reflective distinction of a spiritual world,

( 476) since the shadows, ghosts, or spirits supposed to people Hades have largely the same characters as living men. It was only very slowly, out of this pre-reflective, undifferentiated matrix, that the realism and idealism of later thought developed. The souls of living things became more and more detached from organisms, and more and more used as abstract principles, until in the so-called idealism of a Plato we get the abstract universal idea hypostasized as the essential reality. But this idealism is not idealism in the modern sense : the ideal is not as yet identified with the psychical.

The evolution of the psychical in the psychological sense of the term is a comparatively modern achievement. According to the Greek, the real is the universal ; the particular is in so far forth the unreal. But in the evolution of the individual, as seen first in the undercurrent of revolt against authority in the Middle Ages, and later in the assertion of the intellectual and moral freedom of the individual in the Renaissance and Reformation, we find that what the Greeks regarded as the illusory and unreal is taken as the most certain basis and starting-point of philosophical thought. The consciousness of the individual in Greek life was not differentiated from that of the community life, t was only through Christianity, which brought the Semitic inwardness into contact with the Greek ideas of objectivity, and through the invasion of Græco-Roman civilization by the northern tribes of Europe, with their insistence on personal freedom, that the individual came to be set over against the institution as in himself embodying reality as truly, and, it came even to be asserted, more truly, than the State or Church. This is the philosophical significance of the Renaissance, of the Reformation, of the Protestant political revolutions, of the rise of the free cities, and the fall of feudalism, and, in reflective thought, of nominalism as over against the realism and conceptualism of the mediaeval period. Especially do we see the evolution of the individual in the political and industrial history of England, and there also, significantly, we get the greatest development of the empirical or psychological philosophy, which adopts essentially the standpoint of the individual consciousness, making fundamental. and thoroughgoing the principle that was only hinted at in Descartes's Cogito, ergo sum.

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Realism and conceptualism both hypostasized the concept. Realism asserted that the concept was real objectively ; i. e., that besides this and that horse there was horse' in general. Conceptualism said that the concept was real, but only subjectively ; i. e., the conceptual horse was real as a mental state though not as a physical existence. Nominalism maintained in essence, though not consistently, that the conceptual is not a separate realm of reality, but simply reality as problematic, or doubted, or ideal, as over against reality as certain, or given, or actual. That is, for nominalism the conceptual horse has only a symbolic reality.

Now just as the Middle Ages hypostasized the abstract ideas or universals of the Greeks, or carried on the process which was begun by the Greeks, so modern thought has hypostasized the psychical individual as a separate self over and above the physical or bodily self, at the same time incorporating into this conception certain ideas from the Greek notion of the real ideal, as over against the illusory phenomenal world. The psychical, thus, at first, is conceived as immaterial, unextended, and simple, as contrasted with the complexity of the extended material world. Then, later, as the facts of localization of the psychic functions in the nervous system became developed, the psychical was conceived as a spiritual being, with certain faculties or powers corresponding to certain parts of the brain. In its latest phase, in pan-psychism, we get the psychical clearly hypostasized as a separate realm of being coextensive and equally complex with, though causally independent of, the whole physical world. More-over, under the influence of the doctrine of evolution, the animal soul and the rational spirit, which even Descartes carefully distinguished, come to be identified ; and man is viewed dichotomously (as body and mind, soul, or spirit) instead of trichotomously (as body, soul, and spirit). The transformation from the ancient point of view is complete. Instead of the world of ideas being a fixed and static world, it is viewed as in continual flux, as a stream of conscious states. And, just as the conception of inert matter has given place to the doctrine of energy on the physical side, so the conception of fixed ready-made faculties has

( 478) given place to the doctrine of psychic functions. It is but a step further to say that these functions are the functions of this energy, that the function is but the meaning of the structure, that the psychical is but the significance of the physical. Professor Münsterberg says the following things of the psychical : that it is observable by but one subject, that it is non-spatial and time-less, that it is merely qualitative or non-quantitative, and that it is without causal interconnection, each element being unique. Why not go the whole way and say that the psychical has no existence as such at all, but is simply an expression for the meaning of existence.

In the evolution of the distinction between the psychical and the physical we see, then, that what was at first a purely practical distinction was gradually transformed into an ontological distinction, the psychical being hypostasized in one form or another as a distinct order of existence. It is here suggested that the solution of the problem lies in getting back to the principle involved in the practical attitude, though now, of course, in a reflective, conscious way instead of the immediate, instinctive, primitive attitude.

Science has practically handed over the problem to philosophy as insoluble. This is shown in the postulate of parallelism which most scientists adopt, with the distinct consciousness that it is no solution but simply a formulation of the facts. For the philosopher, however, the parallelism of mind and body is no postulate. It is rather a problem, a subject for further reflection. A doctrine of absolute parallelism, with all that such a doctrine implies, would mean the abandonment of all metaphysics. It would be to give up the problem at the start. To say that the psychical and the physical are parallel in the sense of being absolutely disparate and independent is not only a self-contradictory use of the term 'parallel,' but it is to prejudge the whole controversy—as much so as to say with the materialists that the psychical is simply an epiphenomenal effect of the physical, or with the spiritualistic idealists that matter is but a lower manifestation of mind. The real problem lies within this word 'parallel? In what sense are the psychical and physical parallel ?

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The time has come when what professedly has been but a working hypothesis of science should be either established as a law, or rejected as a false formulation of the facts. Strenuous efforts have been made so to modify the hypothesis of parallelism as to make of it a solution, and not simply a restatement of the old problem of mind and matter. But these efforts have served only to point out the fultility of the hypothesis as a statement of the problem, and its absurdity as a solution. The difficulty of the problem of parallelism lies, not upon the surface, but in the underlying assumption that there are two orders of reality capable of being thus related. Parallelism, in other words, is an insoluble enigma, because, like all the great test problems in the history of philosophy, it presupposes a certain answer in the very form of statement of the question.

As a recent writer has said, if the question were properly stated, it might better be called non-intersecting perpendicularism than parallelism. Parallelism is not a solution at all. t is simply a restatement of the problem in an unsolvable form. In the very statement of the question, it has already committed itself to a theory of the relations involved. All the fantastic constructions of hylo-idealism, pan-psychism, the mind-stuff theory, the theory of conscious-automatism, the doctrine of psychical causality, the identity hypothesis, and the universal parallelism of the psychical and the physical as complementary aspects or sides of an unknowable tertium quid, grow out of the attempt to state a teleological distinction in ontological terms. They grow out of the attempt to state a relative, a fluid, or functional division of labor in terms of absolute, fixed, structural elements.

As contrasted with all the ontological theories, the functional view would hold that all our reflective distinctions arise within the life of action. We begin with immediate experience, and within this emerges the distinction between means and ends. That part of our experience which is already under control, in the form of available habits, becomes means. That part of the experience which is in process of being brought under control or is still beyond definite control, our ideas and ideals, presents un-realized values or ends. This is a distinction which any person

( 480) can understand, since every person constantly makes it in some form or other in his everyday life, in spite of our metaphysical prejudices or religious beliefs, which may seem to favor other distinctions, this is the distinction to which we always come back in our practical life, in our activity experience. Is it too much to affirm that this is also the essence of the distinction between the physical and the psychical, that, after all, the difference between the physical and the psychical is not one of existence, but one simply of use or function in experience ?

According to this view, the physical would represent the given means, or that part of the experience which is taken as given. The psychical, on the other hand, would represent the ends or values which are to be realized, or which are in process of realization in and through the means, it is a purely instrumental or teleological distinction ; instrumental, if you view it from the standpoint of the means ; teleological, viewed from the standpoint of the ends ; functional, viewed in relation to the process of experience as an interaction of means and ends.

Reality or experience is physical or psychical only in and through our manipulation of it. It is physical as a tool or means. It is psychical as a value or end. As Edward Caird says: " The advance of scientific thought, which teaches men to distinguish one form of reality from another, is apt to make them lose hold of a truth which was contained in their primitive anthropomorphic view of the world. For, in that view, every thing and being was taken as at once material and spiritual, at once as an object in space and time, and as a being gifted with life and will,"[2] The distinction of psychical and physical is purely instrumental in thought, and when the universe is regarded thus as organic throughout, the dualism in the ontological sense passes away. The dualism is not absolute, but relative in the sense of functional.

We say of a visionary that his schemes are mere ideas : they are only hypothetical or problematic. They are ideal rather than actual. They are real, but they are real only as ideas, not as actual existences in space and time. A house while it is

( 480) simply a plan in the architect's head is ideal or psychical only. When it is realized in brick and stone and mortar we call it an actual house, the house as a physical reality. It is the same house and it is a real house all the time, when it is in the architect's mind, on the architect's paper, or physically realized in brick and stone. But in the first case it is only ideally or psychically real, while in the second and third cases it is actually or physically real as well.

The direct experience of the child or animal, or even of the human adult when he is not thinking, is made up of a series of states or acts which present no conscious distinction between subject and object, between psychical and physical. But if some uncertainty or doubt or difficulty arises, this experience is broken up so that a duality appears within it—a duality of function which serves to dichotomize the experience into a part which is regarded as uncertain and problematic, and another part which is taken as certain or given.

For example, my experience of the temperature in this room up to the present moment has been neither physical nor psychical, neither objective nor subjective. All at once I become conscious, let us suppose, of the fact that it has been growing colder and colder. I feel a draft. But I see no open window, no open door. What can be the cause of it? Here is a polarizing, a bifurcation, in my experience. There is something which is uncertain-the cause of this chilling atmosphere. This occupies the foreground in consciousness : it is the salient, the absorbing content of this experience. And in addition there is the general background of things in the environment, which, being irrelevant in this situation, are simply taken for granted, the chairs, the desk, the blackboard, etc. The door, the windows, the draft, are in the focus of consciousness : they are psychical. My overcoat hanging on the hat-rack is on the border-line : it is in a fair way to become psychical if it grows cold enough, and I am not able to discover the cause of the draft. That is, the overcoat, in such a case, passes into the foreground—and this is what we mean by the functionally psychical aspect of the experience. The draft, the door, the windows, and the overcoat will, then, remain the

( 481) psychical aspect of this experience until I locate and remove the cause of the discomfort. Then the experience will lapse back again to the former level of direct stimulus and response, at least so far as temperature is concerned.

In another instance, instead of being the temperature which is brought into the psychical focus of experience, it may be the light. Dusk may come on gradually while I am reading, so that finally I am unable longer to pursue my work. Then the whole situation of insufficient illumination comes to consciousness, i. e.,becomes psychical, and remains so while I seek around for a light. But when I strike a match and light the gas and resume my reading, the light situation retreats from the focus of consciousness just as did the temperature situation. Thus what is psychical or focal in consciousness at one time or in one situation may be taken for granted as irrelevant, as physical in another situation. And when we say that the physical is irrelevant, we mean simply that it is taken, in that situation, as given. t is irrelevant simply because it is so thoroughly taken for granted, so completely assumed as there : it is not the particular phase of the experience which is undergoing reconstruction.

Take one more illustration, which I adapt from Professor Dewey (though he does not use it to illustrate this point). Suppose I am threading a needle. There is little doubt of what in psychological terms I mean by 'threading.' It involves the coördination of the eye and hand, or of the functions represented by these organs. But what is the 'needle' psycho-logically? It may be all of the following things in relation to the attempt to do the act represented in threading the needle

(0) The needle is a part of the sense factor or stimulus; (2) it defines the end of the activity ; (3) it locates the problem to be solved ; (4) consequently it is in the focus of attention ; (5) it may be one of the means for the solution of the problem ; (6) it may suggest the mode of the activity to be employed in solving the problem.

If I already have the needle sufficiently well in hand to be able to thread it without any trouble, the needle-threading situation soon comes to a conclusion. But if the eye of the needle is

( 482) very small, or my eyesight poor, or the room too dark, them the needle, or to be more accurate, the eye of the needle, is kept in the focus of consciousness until I secure the means of getting the thread through the hole. Perchance I take the needle to the window where I can see more plainly, Another person, it is true, might keep his eyes on the tip of the thread and only incidentally on the eye of the needle, but the principle involved would be the same. The eye of the needle or the tip of the thread is psychical, if and in so far as it is in the focus of the attention. It is not that I, or my act of seeing, or my act of threading, is psychical, and the needle is physical or material. If I am out of the focus of the situation, I am just as physical as that bit of steel that I call the needle. What constitutes the psychical quality is not some ontological distinction of substance -theneedle being material and these other things mental. The difference is a functional one only, a teleological or instrumental distinction. Reality and experience are one organic whole. There are no ontological chasms in reality.

All experience, just because it is a living reality, is capable of growth or transformation. It is not an externally fixed entity, but a changing, expanding life with a developmental history. This experience is psychical when and where it is growing, just as a plant is green and tender at its growing-points-at its root lets which push their way into the soil, and in its buds which seek the light and air. Experience is psychical where it is undergoing reconstruction. Experience is not psychical all the time and everywhere, but only at these nodal or critical points, at the points of transition and adaptation in the process of growth. It is a purely methodological distinction, in which we return, in a sense, though in a new sense, to the primitive and common-sense view, not of a material body and an immaterial soul, but rather of an acting, feeling, thinking body--a psychophysical organism.

I think I am safe in saying that most of the discussions of the subject of the relation of the psychical to the physical proceed upon the assumption, implicit if not expressed, that there are two kinds of existence, two orders of reality, though this assumption is often obscured by the use of the ambiguous terms 'sides' or

( 483) ‘ aspects.' In some cases, the physical and psychical are spoken of as different forms or modes of energy. Oftener, the psychical is vaguely treated as a mode or aspect of reality without any clear definition of its nature, except that it is very different from, if not quite independent of; the physical.

Without here going into the reasons for thinking so, two things seem clear in these discussions : first, that the law of the conservation of energy, upon which the parallelist bases his argument, cannot be overthrown - the various arguments advanced by its opponents serving only to define it more adequately, rather than to refute it or limit its application ; and yet, secondly, that there is a truth, nevertheless, for which the interactionist stands, which may be summed up in what has here been called the functional theory-the truth, namely, that the relation between the psychical and the physical is an intimate one, the relation of fact to the significance of the fact, the relation of existence to meaning.

The apparently even balance of arguments presented by the interactionists and the parallelists would suggest, if nothing else did so, that the truth in some form or other lies between the two extremes.

In conclusion, I would suggest that this is what Huxley and Hodgson really have in mind in their theory of conscious automatism, and it is what I have interpreted Professor Dewey to mean when he says in the PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW : "The distinction between the 'physical' and 'spiritual' . . . is one of interpretation, of function, rather than of kind of existence [3] ; and in another article where he says : "The fundamental distinction between physical facts and psychical facts is not that the former exist in space, the latter in time, or any other specific distinction or mode of appearance. It is that physical facts as such are facts of existence ; psychical facts are facts of meaning. Physical facts have meaning, but they have it as psychical, in relation to intelligence; psychical facts have existence, but the existence does not constitute their express value in human experience."[4]



  1. Read at the first annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association, March 31, 1902.
  2. The Critical Philosophy of Kant, Vol, II, p. 369.
  3. Vol. VI, p. 44.
  4. Mind, Vol. XII, p. 384.

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