Consciousness and Psychology

B. H. Bode

IF it is true that misery loves company, those persons who feel despondent over the present situation in philosophy may console themselves with the reflection that things are not so bad as they might be. Our friends, the psychologists, are afflicted even as we are. The disagreements of experts as to both the subject-matter and the method of psychology are as fundamental as anything that philosophy can show. A spirit of revolt is abroad in the land, and psychology is once more on trial. The compact which provided that psychology should be admitted to the rank of a natural science, on condition that it surrender its pretension to be the science of the soul and confine itself to the study of consciousness, is no longer considered binding. The suspicion is growing that consciousness is nothing more nor less than an attenuated form of the soul that it pretends to displace. Consequently the psychology without a soul to which we have just become accustomed is now attacked on behalf of a psychology without a consciousness, on the ground that this latter standpoint alone can give assurance against entangling alliances between psychology and metaphysics.

From the side of philosophy this situation is interesting, not only to such as may crave the comfort that springs from the spectacle of distress, but also to those

( 229) who take a more hopeful view of present-day tendencies. The question that is at issue is fundamentally the question of the nature of consciousness, which is quite as important to philosophy as to psychology. On the one hand it is maintained that psychology has to do with consciousness and that its distinctive method is the method of introspection. On the other hand it is urged that psychology is nothing more nor less than a study of behavior, that it is not a science at all, unless the existence of consciousness is denied or at least ignored, and that the method of introspection is a delusion and a snare. The two standpoints are not always clearly formulated, nor can we say that every system of psychology is "true to type. It is, in fact, the lack of clearness in the fundamental concepts that makes the status of psychology a matter of so much uncertainty.

The situation presents an apparent anomaly. Both parties profess to deal with facts of observation, yet the claim of the introspectionist that he observes facts of consciousness is met by the assertion of his rival that there is no consciousness to be observed. How can this be, unless we assume that introspection presupposes an esoteric principle, like the principle of grace in religion? It seems evident that we have to do here with some deep-seated misconception regarding the facts that are' supposed to constitute the subject-matter for observation and description.

A common procedure on the part of introspectionism is to assert the existence of consciousness as something which is indeed indefinable, but which admits of obser-

( 230) -vation and description. But this procedure is no longer justified. In the first place, the assertion that consciousness exists is not the statement of a fact but the designation of a problem. What is the nature of the fact that we call consciousness? If the common-sense individual, who assents so readily to the proposition that we all know consciousness, be asked to differentiate between consciousness and the objects of consciousness, he is dazed and helpless. And, secondly, the assertion of indefinability involves us in a difficulty. The indefinability of consciousness has sometimes been likened to that of space, but in this latter case we find no such confusion between space and the objects in space. It is clear, however, that if consciousness is not something distinguishable from objects, there is no need to discuss consciousness, and if it is distinguishable, it must be distinguished before we are entitled to proceed with observation and description. Definition is indispensable, at least to the extent of circumscribing the facts that are to be investigated. Moreover, if consciousness cannot be defined, neither can it be described. What is definition, after all, but a form of description? To assert, in effect, that consciousness is indefinable because it is indescribable, and that for this reason we must be content with description, is both a flagrant disregard of consistency and an unwarranted abuse of our good nature.

This difficulty leads on to another, for doubts, like lies, have a singular propensity to breed more of their kind. If consciousness is something that everybody knows, why should it be necessary to look to the psy-

( 231) chologist for a description of it? If the study of consciousness brings to light any new fact, that fact by definition is not a conscious fact at all, and consequently is not the kind of thing that we set out to describe. Consciousness, in short, cannot be analyzed; it cannot be resolved into elements or constituents. It is precisely what it is and not some product of our afterthought that we are pleased to substitute for it.

These familiar considerations do not, indeed, decide the issue between the rival theories of psychology, but they serve to suggest that our introspective psychology has been too easily satisfied in the conception of its specific problem or subjectmatter. As a matter of fact, the work that has been done in the name of psychology has been peculiarly barren of results, so far as a consciousness an sich is concerned, although it has led to a wealth of material pertaining to adaptive behavior. Its solid achievements lie in the domain, not of consciousness, but of instinctive, habitual, and intelligent adaptation. It teaches us little that has to do unequivocally with consciousness as distinct from things, but it teaches us much concerning stimulus and response, attention and habit, conflict and adjustment. The doctrine that psychology is a science of behavior is justified at least to the extent that it emphasizes a factor, the importance of which introspectionism has consistently refused to recognize. Whatever conclusion we may ultimately reach regarding the nature of consciousness, the whole drift of psychological and biological investigation seems to indicate that an ade

( 232) quate conception of consciousness and of the distinctive problem of psychology can be attained only on the basis of a painstaking reflection on the facts of behavior.


It is evident that the attempt to ascertain the nature of consciousness and of psychology from the stand-point of behavior is committed to the assumption that the behavior in question is of a distinctive kind. The justification of this assumption will enable us to formulate the definitions which we seek. Discussions of conscious behavior ordinarily emphasize the similarity between conscious and reflex behavior rather than the difference. An attitude of expectancy, for example, is usually conceived as a sort of temporary reflex. Certain nervous connections are organized for the occasion, so that, when a given stimulus arrives, it will induce its appropriate response. This situation is best exemplified, perhaps, in simple reaction-experiments, in which the subject makes a certain predetermined response upon presentation of the stimulus. The process is supposed to be of the reflex type throughout, the only difference being that ordinary reflexes are relatively permanent and unvarying, whereas a pre-arranged response to a stimulus has to do with a reflex that is made to order so as to meet the exigencies of the moment.

For certain purposes such a description of conscious behavior is no doubt sufficiently accurate. Our present concern, however, is with the differences between these

( 233) temporary organizations and ordinary reflexes. In order to bring out these differences, let us introduce a slight complication into our reaction-experiment and suppose that the subject is to make one of two alternative responses, according to the nature of the stimulus. His state of expectancy is accompanied by a certain bodily " set " or preparedness for the coming event, although the precise nature of the event is a matter of uncertainty. His nervous system is in readiness to respond this way or that, or rather, it has already started to act in both of the alternative ways. If the subject is to respond with the right hand to one stimulus and with the left hand to the other, both hands are in a state of activity before the stimulus appears. The organization of the temporary reflex through the agency of the cerebral cortex could not be achieved were it not for the fact that all the movements entering into the organization are nascently aroused before the spring is touched which permits the act to unroll itself in orderly sequence.

The various successive movements, then, which make up our temporary reflex achieve their relationship to one another from the fact that they are started simultaneously, and this peculiarity constitutes a distinctive feature. Apparently this feature is absent from true reflexes. An act of swallowing, performed unconsciously, may start the complicated processes of digestion, but it is merely the first act of a series. There is no evidence that the movements of the stomach and of the other organs concerned in digestion must be presupposed before the act of swallowing can take place.

( 234) The swallowing may start the other processes, but we cannot say that these other processes react back upon the first act and make it one of swallowing rather than something else. Yet this " back stroke " is precisely what is necessary in our reaction-experiment, for it is by virtue of this fact that the organization of the temporary reflex becomes a possibility. The first response cannot take place until the last is provided for. Thus the immediate act of looking has embodied in it the activity that is to follow later. The looking is not simply with the eye, but with the hands that are to .complete the response. The optical response is a response which, in the language of Bergson, prefigures or sketches out the act of a later moment. The nervous system is enabled to act as a unit, because the movements that are to occur at a later time are represented in the first stage of the complete act. The first stage, accordingly, does not occur independently, but as a preliminary. to the second. With an imperfect organization of the entire response, it may happen that the subsequent movements are not suppressed until their proper moment arrives, but appear in advance of their scheduled time. In writing, for example, we frequently omit words or add to a word the final letter of some word that belongs to a subsequent part of the sentence. An error of this sort could hardly occur so readily in the course of an act that belongs to the type of the true reflex.

Lest the reader suspect that this is a priori physiology, I may quote the following from a prominent neurologist : " No simple sensory impulse can, under

( 235) ordinary circumstances, reach the cerebral cortex without first being influenced by subcortical association centers, within which complex reflex combinations maybe effected and various automatisms set off in accordance with their preformed structure. These subcortical systems are to some extent modifiable by racial and individual experience, but their reactions are chiefly of the determinate or stereotyped character, with a relatively limited range of possible reaction types for any given stimulus complex.

" It is shown by the lower vertebrates, which lack the cerebral cortex, that these subcortical mechanisms are adequate for all of the ordinary simple processes of life, including some degree of associative memory. But here, when emergencies arise which involve situations too complex to be resolved by these mechanisms, the animal will pay the inevitable penalty of failure—perhaps the loss of his dinner, or even of his life.

" In the higher mammals with well-developed cortex the automatisms and simple associations are likewise performed mainly by the subcortical apparatus, but the inadequacy of this apparatus in any particular situation presents not the certainty of failure, but rather a dilemma. The rapid preformed automatisms fail to give relief, or perhaps the situation presents so many complex sensory excitations as to cause mutual interference and inhibition of all reaction. There is a stasis in the subcortical centers. Meanwhile the higher neural resistance of the cortical pathways has been overcome by summation of stimuli and the cortex is excited to

( 236) function. Here is a mechanism adapted, not for a limited number of predetermined and immediate responses, but for a much greater range of combination of the afferent impressions with each other and with memory vestiges of previous reactions and a much larger range of possible modes of response to any given set of afferent impressions. By a process of trial and error, perhaps, the elements necessary to effect the adaptive response may be assembled and the problem solved.

" It is evident here that the physiological factors in the dilemma or problem as this is presented to the cortex are by no means simple sensory impressions, but definitely organized systems of neural discharge, each of which is a physiological resultant of the reflexes, automatisms, impulses, and inhibitions characteristic of its appropriate subcortical centers. The precise form which these subcortical combinations will assume in response to any particular excitation is in large measure determined by the structural connections inter se. . . .

" From the standpoint of the cerebral cortex considered as an essential part of the mechanism of higher conscious acts, every afferent stimulus, as we have seen, is to some extent affected by its passage through various subcortical association centers (i.e., it carries a quale of central origin). But this same afferent impulse in its passage through the spinal cord and brain stem may, before reaching the cortex, discharge collateral impulses into the lower centers of reflex coördination, from which incipient (or even actually consum-

( 237) -mated) motor responses are discharged previous to the cortical reaction. These motor discharges may, through the `back stroke' action, in turn exert an influence upon the slower cortical reaction. Thus the lower reflex response may in a literal physiological sense act into the cortical stimulus complex and become an integral part of it."[1]

It seems clear, then, that conscious behavior involves a certain process of organization which constitutes a differential. The units entering into this process are " definitely organized systems of neural discharge," the antecedent organization of these several systems being due either to the inherited or to the acquired structure of the nervous system. Given a certain amount of plasticity, the nervous system builds up specific forms of response for certain objects or situations, and these forms of response subsequently become the material from which new organizations or new modes of response are constructed. The achievements of the past, accordingly, become steppingstones to new achievement. The new organization, moreover, is not determined by a mechanism antecedently provided, but has a peculiar flexibility, so as to meet the demands of a new situation. That is, a new mode of procedure is adopted. Instead of being a purely mechanical reaction, the response that results from the situation is tentative or experimental in character, and " by a process of trial and error, perhaps, the elements neces-

( 238) -sary to effect the adaptive response may be assembled and the problem solved."

We may add at once that the reorganization which is required to constitute conscious behavior varies a great deal in extent. In an act that is more or less habitual, a comparatively slight modification of the corresponding organized system of neural discharge will suffice to harmonize the conflicting elements, whereas on other occasions a more extensive modification is required. But in any case it appears that there is a certain impropriety in describing conscious behavior in terms of a temporary reflex, since the study of this behavior is concerned with the organization of the discordant elements, not as a result, but primarily as a process. In a reflex act we may suppose that the stimulus which evokes the first stage in the response is like the first in a row of upstanding bricks, which in falling knocks down another. That is, the reflex arc is built up by agencies that are quite independent of the subsequent act. The arc is all set up and ready for use by the time the reflex act appears upon the scene. In the case of conscious activity, on the other hand, we find a very different state of affairs. The arc is not first constructed and then used, but is constructed as the act proceeds ; and this progressive organization is, in the end, what is meant by conscious behavior. If the course of a reflex act may be compared with traveling in a railroad train, the progress of a conscious act is more like that of a band of explorers, who hew their path and build their bridges as they go along. The

(239) direction of the act is not determined from without but from within; the end is internal to the process.

This process of organization and purposive direction is exemplified in every act of attention. Is that noise, for example, a horse in the street, or is it the rain on the roof? 'What we find in such a situation is not a paralysis of activity, but a redirection. The incompatibility of responses is purely relative. There is indeed a mutual inhibition of the responses for hoof-beats and rain respectively, in the sense that neither has undisputed possession of the field; but this very inhibition sets free the process of attention, in which the various responses participate and cooperate. There is no static balancing of forces, but rather a process in which the conflict is simply a condition for an activity of a different kind. If I am near a window facing the street, my eye turns thither for a clue ; if the appeal to vision be eliminated, the eye becomes unseeing and cooperates with the ear by excluding all that is irrelevant to the matter in hand. In this process the nervous system functions as a unit, with reference to the task of determining the source and character of the sound. This task or problem dominates the situation. A voice in an adjoining room may break in, but only as something to be ignored and shut out ; whereas a voice in the street may become all-absorbing as possibly indicating the driver of the hypothetical horse. That is, the reason why the conflict of responses does not end in a deadlock, but in a redirection, is that a certain selectiveness of response comes into play. Out of the mass of more or less inchoate activi-

( 240) -ties a certain response is selected as a rallying-point for the rest, and this selection is of a purposive character. The selection is determined by reference to the task in hand, which is to restore a certain harmony of response. Accordingly, that response is selected which gives promise of forwarding the business of the moment. By virtue of this selective character, one of the constituents of the total activity becomes exalted among its fellows and is entrusted with the function of determining further behavior.

The purpose of the discussion, up to this point, is to put forward this selective or teleological character as the fundamental and differentiating trait of conscious behavior; and our task, accordingly, is to give an account of the nature and modus operandi of this purposive control. This control, it is evident, consists in giving direction to behavior with reference to results that are still in the future. The basis for this anticipation of the future is furnished by the nascent responses which foreshadow further activity, even while they are still under the thraldom of the inhibitions which hold them back. These suppressed activities furnish a sort of diagram or sketch of further possible behavior, and the problem of consciousness is the problem of making the result or outcome of these incipient responses effective in the control of behavior. Future results or consequences must be converted into present stimuli ; and the accomplishment of this conversion is the miracle of consciousness. To be conscious is to have a future possible result of present behavior embodied as a present existence functioning as a stimulus to further behavior.

( 241) Thus the qualities of a perceptual experience may be interpreted, without exception, as anticipations of the results of activities which are as yet in an embryonic stage. The results of the activity that is as yet partly suppressed are already expressed or anticipated in the perception. The present experience may, as James says, " shoot its perspective far before it, irradiating in advance the regions in which lie the thoughts as yet unborn."[2] A baseball player, for example, who is all " set " to field a ball as a preliminary to a further play, sees the ball, not simply as an approaching object, but as ball-to-be-caught-and-then-thrown-to-first-base. Moreover, the ball, while still on the way, is a ball-that-may-bound-to-the-right-or-to-the-left. The corresponding movements of the player to the right or left, and the act of throwing, although present only as inhibited or incipient acts, are nevertheless embodied in the visual experience. Similarly my couch looks soft and inviting, because the optical stimulation suggests or prompts, not only the act of lying down, but also the kind of relaxation that is made possible by a comfortable bed. So likewise the tiger's jaws and claws look cruel and horrible, because in that perception are reflected the incipient movements of defense and recoil which are going on in the body of the observer. Perception, like our air-castles, or like dreams in the Freudian theory, presents what is at best but a suggestion or program in the guise of accomplished fact.

This projection, however, of our submerged activities into our perceptions requires a more precise state-

( 242) -ment. According to the foregoing contention, the appearance, for example, of a razor's edge as sharp is the sensory correlate of an incipient response which, if it were to attain full-blown perfection, would be the reaction to a cut. By hypothesis, however, the response is inhibited, and it is this inhibition which calls forth the perception of the object. If the response encountered no obstruction, adaptation would be complete and perception would not occur. Since there is a blocking of the response, nature resorts to a special device in order to overcome the difficulty, and this device consists in furnishing the organism with a new type of stimulus. The razor as perceived does not actually cut just now, but it bodies forth the quality `will cut,' i.e., the perceived attribute derives its character from what the object will, or may, do at a future time. That is, a perceived object is a stimulus which controls or directs the organism by results which have not yet occurred, but which will, or may, occur in the future. The uniqueness of such a stimulus lies in the fact that a contingent result somehow becomes operative as a present fact; the future is transferred into the present so as to become effective in the guidance of behavior.

This control by a future that is made present is what constitutes consciousness. A living body may respond to an actual cut by a knife on purely mechanical or .reflex principles; but to respond to a cut by anticipation, i.e., to behave with reference to a merely possible or future injury, is manifestly an exhibition of intelligence. Not that there need be any conscious reference to the future as future in the act. Merely to see the

( 243) object as " sharp " is sufficient to give direction to conduct. But " sharp " is equivalent to " will cut "; the quality of sharpness is a translation of future possibility into terms of present fact, and as thus translated the future possibility becomes a factor in the control of behavior. Perception, therefore, is a point where present and future coincide. What the object will do is, in itself, just a contingency, an abstract possibility, but in perception this possibility clothes itself in the garments of present, concrete fact and thus provides the organism with a different environment. The environment provides a new stimulus by undergoing a certain kind of change, i.e., by exercising a peculiar function of control. This control is seeing, and the whole mystery of consciousness is just this rendering of future stimulations or results into terms of present existence. Consciousness, accordingly, is a name for a certain change that takes place in the stimulus; or, more specifically, it is a name for the control of conduct by future results or consequences.

To acquire such a stimulus and to become conscious are one and the same thing. As was indicated previously, the conscious stimulus is correlated with the various inherited and acquired motor tendencies which have been set off and which are struggling for expression, and the uniqueness of the stimulus lies in the fact that the adaptive value of these nascent motor tendencies becomes operative as the determining principle in the organization of the response. The response, for example, to " sharp " or " will cut " is reminiscent of an earlier reaction in which the organism engaged in cer-

( 244) -tain defensive movements as the result of an actual injury. That is, the response to " sharp " is a nascent or incipient form of a response which at the time of its first occurrence was the expression of a maladaptation. The response that is induced when an object is seen as sharp would be biologically bad, if it were completed, and the, fact that the object is seen as sharp means that this result is foreshadowed and operates as a stimulus to prevent such maladaptation. Similarly the couch which meets my weary eye becomes a stimulus to repose because the nascent activity which is aroused would be biologically good if completed. In any case the character of the stimulus is determined by the adaptive value which the incipient activity would have if it were carried out. Consciousness, accordingly, is just a future adaptation that has been set to work so as to bring about its own realization. The future thus becomes operative in the present, in much the same way as the prospects for next year's crop may be converted by the farmer into ready money with which to secure the tools for its production.

To justify this conclusion by a detailed and extensive application of this interpretation to every form of quality and relation would carry us beyond the limits of the present undertaking. It is a view, however, which offers possibilities that have not as yet been properly recognized. Certain considerations, besides those already discussed, may be mentioned as giving it an antecedent plausibility. As regards simple sense-qualities, there is abundant reason for believing that Locke's doctrine of " simple ideas " is a violent perversion of the

( 245) facts. To assume that the last results of analysis are the first things in experience is to give a fatal twist to psychology and to commit us to the fruitless agonies of epistemology. The original " blooming, buzzing confusion " with which experience starts becomes differentiated into specific qualities only to the extent that certain typical and organized forms of response are built up within the body. Sense-qualities, in other words, are functionally not simple but extremely complex; they owe their distinctiveness or individuality to the fact that each of them embodies a specific set of cues or anticipations, with reference to further experiences. The difference between a quality like " sharpness " and a quality like " red " lies in the fact that the former is a translation of a relatively simple possibility, viz., " will cut," whereas the latter embodies a greater variety of anticipations. The perception of red, being the outcome of many comparisons and associations, presupposes a complex physical response which contains multitudinous tendencies to reinstate former responses; and the combined effect of these suppressed tendencies is the perception of a color which offers possibilities of control over behavior in such directions as reminiscences, idle associations, or perhaps scrutiny and investigation. A similar explanation evidently applies to abstract ideas, which neither admit of reduction to " revived sensations " nor compel the adoption of a peculiarly " spiritual " or " psychic " existence in the form of unanalyzable meanings. Here again a complex mode of response must be assumed, having as its correlate an experience describable only

( 246) in terms of its functioning, which is such as to enable the organism to act intelligently, i.e., with reference to future results, which are sufficiently embodied in the experience to secure appropriate behavior. Again, this point of view offers a satisfactory solution for the time-worn puzzle of relativity. If perception is just the translation of future possible stimulations into present fact, there is assuredly no justification for the notion that perception distorts the facts or that discrepancies among different perceptions prove their " subjectivity" There remains but one test by which the correctness or validity of perception may be judged, viz., whether the perceived object proves to be the kind of stimulus which is reported or anticipated in the present experience.

So far our discussion has emphasized the anticipatory character of the conscious stimulus. Future consequences come into the present as conditions for further behavior. These anticipations are based, indeed, upon previous happenings, but they enter into the present situation as conditions that must be taken into account. But to take them into account} means that the conscious situation is essentially incomplete and in process of transformation or reconstruction. This peculiar incompleteness or contingency stands out prominently when the situation rises to the level of uncertainty and perplexity. To borrow the classical illustration of the child and the candle, the child is in a state of uncertainty because the neural activity of the moment comprises two incompatible systems of discharge, the one being a grasping and

( 247) holding, the other a withdrawal and such further movements as may be induced by contact with fire. Hence the candle has the seductiveness of a prize, but at the same time carries the suggestion of burning the fingers. That is, the perceived object has a unique character of uncertainty, which inheres in it as a present positive quality. We are here confronted with genuine contingency, such as is encountered nowhere else. Other modes of behavior may be uncertain in the sense that the incoming stimulation finds no fixed line of discharge laid down for itself within the organism. In seeking to convert itself into response it may either sweep away the obstructions in its path or work itself out along lines of less resistance, in ways that no man can foretell. There may be moments of equilibrium, moments when it remains to be seen where the dam will break and the current rush through. Such uncertainty, however, is the uncertainty of the bystander who attempts to forecast what will happen next. It is not the uncertainty that figures as an integral part of conscious behavior.

This inherent uncertainty means that conscious behavior, as contrasted with the mechanical character of the reflexes, is essentially experimental. The uncertainty exists precisely because an effort is under way to clear up the uncertainty. The resort to eye or ear or to reflective thinking is suggested by the corresponding nascent responses and is an endeavor to secure something which is still to seek, but which, when found, will meet the requirements of the situation. Translating this process into terms of stimulus and

( 248) response, we may say that the conscious stimulus of the moment induces the investigation or scrutiny which presently results in the arrival of a stimulus that is adequate to the situation. The stimulus, in other words, provides for its own successor; or we may say that the process as a whole is a self-directing, self-determining activity. Stimulus and response are not successive stages or moments, but rather simultaneous functions or phases of the total process. Within this process the given situation is the stimulus because it is that aspect or function which guides the subsequent course of the activity, while the bodily movements are the response because they already embody the activity that is to follow. The significant circumstance here is that stimulus and response resist the temporal separation that we find in a purely reflex act; stimulus and response are bound together as correlated functions in a unitary, self-directing process, so that these twain are one flesh.

Situations of uncertainty and expectancy, as exemplified by the familiar child-candle incident, are of interest because they emphasize both the anticipatory character of experience and the peculiar reconstruction of the stimulus. These situations, however, differ merely in degree, not in kind, from other experiences ; their merit is that in them the distinctive character of conscious life is writ large. To say that they are conscious situations is to say that they are so constituted that the possibilities of a subsequent moment are embodied in them as a positive quality. In them the present moment embodies a future that is contingent.

(249) And similarly the response has neither the predetermined organization of the reflex nor the aimless character of a response that issues in a set of random movements. It is, so to speak, of a generalized character, like the paleontological specimens that foreshadow in their structure the advent of both fish and reptile. This form of organization, however, while exemplified most strikingly in situations of uncertainty, pertains to all conscious behavior. In uttering a sentence, for example, we know in advance what we are going to say, yet the sentence shapes itself into definite form only as we proceed ; or perhaps we get " stuck," and by hemming and hawing bear witness that a struggle for a certain kind of organization is going on. The same word in different contexts is a different word in each instance, by virtue of the coloring that it takes on from what is to follow after. And this is equally true of our most casual experiences. The auditory or visual object that we happen to notice and immediately afterwards ignore is apprehended with reference to the possibility of warranting further attention, or else it presents itself as an intruder that is to be excluded in order that we may go on with the concern of the moment. All experience is a kind of intelligence, a control of present behavior with reference to future adjustment. To be in experience at all is to have the future operate in the present.

This reference to the future may be in the nature of an end or goal that controls a series of activities or it may be of a momentary and casual kind. In any case the character of the stimulus changes with the progress

( 250) of the act. The book on the table must become successively book-to-be-reached-for, book-to-be-picked-up, and book-to-be-opened, unless the process is to drop back to the type of reflex. This development of the stimulus gives genuine continuity, since every moment in the process comes as a fulfilment of its predecessor and as a transition-point to its successor. In a purely mechanical act response follows stimulus like the successive strokes of a clock. It is a touch-and-go affair; the stimulus presses the button and then subsides, while the neural organization does the rest. In conscious behavior, on the other hand, stimulus and response keep step with each other. A mere succession of stimuli would reduce conscious behavior to a series of explosive jerks, on the principle of the gasoline engine. To be conscious at all is to duplicate in principle the agility of the tight-rope per former, who continuously establishes new co-ordinations according to the exigencies of the moment and with constant reference to the controlling consideration of keeping right side up. The sensory stimulus provides continuously for its own rehabilitation or appropriate transformation, and in a similar way the neural organization is never a finished thing, but is in constant process of readjustment to meet the demands of an adaptation that still lies in the future.

It is this relationship of present response to the response of the next moment that constitutes the distinctive trait of conscious behavior. The relatively unorganized responses of the present moment, in becoming reflected in the experienced object, reveal their outcome

( 251) or meaning before they have become overt, and thus provide the conditions of intelligent action. In other words, future consequences become transformed into a stimulus for further behavior. We are confronted here with a distinctive mode of operation, which must be properly recognized, if we are to give a consistent and intelligent account of conscious behavior. On the other hand, if we refuse to recognize the advent here of a new category, intelligence becomes an anomaly and mystery deepens into contradiction. Since intelligence or consciousness must be provided for somehow, we are forced, back upon either interactionism or else. epiphenomenalism, more or less disguised under a euphonious name, such as psycho-physical parallelism or the double-aspect theory. That is, the relation of stimulus and response is either reduced to plain cause and effect or else is rejected altogether and supplanted by a bare concomitance of the physical and mental series. In either case conscious behavior is reduced to the type of reflex action, the only issue between the two doctrines being the question whether or not it is necessary or permissible to interpolate mental links in the causal chain.

According to the doctrine of parallelism, conscious behavior is nothing more than a complicated form of reflex, which goes on without any interference on the part of mind or intelligence. Intelligence adds nothing to the situation except itself ; it carries no implications or new significance with regard to conduct. The psychic correlate is permitted to tag along, but the explanations of response remain the same in kind as they were before they reached the level of consciousness.

( 252)

" Mere complexity should not becloud the issue. Every brain process, like every reflex activity, is presumably the result of physico-chemical processes. The assumption of a mysterious intuition or `psychic force' adds nothing to the mechanistic explanation, even when the latter is most fragmentary. The interactionists go out of their way unnecessarily in assuming a special activity of consciousness to account for the dislocation of reactions from sensations. The nervous organization suffices to explain it. Distant-stimuli and central stimuli co-operate to bring about anticipatory reactions; foresight is but the conscious side of this process. The phenomenon is both physical and mental." [3]

The passage just quoted is fairly typical. Since the mental is an aspect or concomitant of the physical it is clearly entitled to an occasional honorable mention, but the fact remains that the explanation of behavior is to be given wholly in terms of neural organization. The mental is quite literally an " also ran." To say that a physico-chemical process is also mental is of no particular significance as long as it is implied that the end or goal of the process plays no part in shaping the course of events. The mental simply gives dignity to the occasion, like the sedan chair with no bottom, in which the Irishman's admirers, according to James's story, ran him along to the place of banquet and which prompted the hero to remark : " Faith, if it wasn't for the honor of the thing, I might as well have come on foot."

It is this empty show of respect which the interac-

( 253) -tionists seek to avoid when they make the mental a distinct link in the causal sequence. The physical first causes the mental, and the mental in turn brings about a change in the physical. In this way a certain importance is indeed secured to mental facts, but it appears that, so far as purposive action is concerned, we are no better off than we were before. The mental is simply another kind of cause ; it has as little option regarding its physical effect as the physical cause has with regard to its mental effect. Non-mechanical behavior is again ruled out, or else a vain attempt is made to secure a place for it through the introduction of an independent psychic agency.

It is true, indeed, that we are under no antecedent obligation to maintain the existence of an activity that is not entirely reducible to the type of everyday cause and effect. But neither does scientific zeal and incorruptibility require us to do violence to the facts in order to secure this uniformity of type. Not to speak at all of the difficulties inherent in this dualism, it seems undeniable that some facts persistently refuse to conform to the type of mechanism, unless they are previously clubbed into submission. Foresight and the sense of obligation, for example, must learn to regard themselves as nothing more than an interesting indication of the way in which the neural machinery is operating before they will fit into the scheme. And similarly the progress of an argument is no way controlled or directed by the end in view, or by considerations of logical coherence, but by the impact of causation. Ideas lose their power to guide conduct by prevision of the fu-

( 254) -ture, and truth and error consequently lose their significance, save perhaps as manifestations of cerebral operations. Since reasoning involves association, it must be reducible to bare association; the sequence of the process is just sequence and nothing more. A description of this kind is on a par with the celebrated opinion that violin music is just a case of scraping horse-hair on catgut. Everything that is distinctive in the facts is left out of account, and we are forced to the conclusion that no conclusion has any logical significance or value.

In the end these difficulties, and in fact most of our philosophic ills, may be traced back to the prejudice that experience or knowing is a process in which the objects concerned do not participate and have no share. This assumption commits us at once to various corollaries and thus breeds a set of abstractions that pass themselves off as entities and add themselves to the world of our experience as demonstrable facts. In philosophy, as in the financial world, there is a constant temptation to do business on a basis of fictitious capitalization. Our abstract physico-chemical processes, with their correlates, such as passive, independent objects, souls, minds, or absolutes, do not represent actual working capital, but watered stock, and their inevitable tendency is to convert the legitimate business of philosophy into a campaign of exploitation, which is none the less exploitation because it is frequently done in the interests of what are supposed to be the spiritual values of man. A careful inventory of our assets brings to light no such entities as those which have been placed to our

( 255) credit. We do not find body and object and consciousness, but only body and object. We do not find objects that remain indifferent to the experiential process, but rather objects that exhibit a flexibility and mobility which defy all description. We do not find a self-sufficient environment or absolute to which intelligence must needs adjust itself, but an environment that is at odds with itself and struggling in the throes of a reconstruction. The process of intelligence is something that goes on, not in our minds, but in things ; it is not photographic, but creative. From the simplest perception to the most ideal aspiration or the wildest hallucination, our human experience is reality engaged in the guidance or control of behavior. Things undergo a change in becoming experienced, but the change consists in a doing, in the assumption of a certain task or duty. The experiential object hence varies with the response; the situation and the motor activity fit together like the sections of a broken bowl.

The bearing of this standpoint on the interpretation of psychology is readily apparent. If it be granted that consciousness is just a name for behavior that is guided by the results of acts not yet performed but reflected beforehand in the objects of experience, it follows that this behavior is the peculiar subject-matter of psychology. It is only by reference to behavior that a distinctive field can be marked off for psychological enterprise. When we say that the flame is hot, the stone hard, and the ice cold and slippery, we are describing objects and nothing more. These qualities are, indeed, anticipations of future pos-

( 256) -sibilities, but this means simply that the objects are described in terms of their properties or capacities as stimuli of the organism. Such an account leaves out of consideration certain changes which things undergo when they exercise the function of controlling or directing changes in the adjustment of the body. A quality, such as " sharp " or " hot," is not mental or constituted by consciousness, but the function of the quality in giving direction to behavior through certain changes which it undergoes is consciousness. The changes that take place in things as a result of association, attention, or memory, are changes that have no significance, save with regard to their function as stimuli to new adjustments. Psychology, therefore, is properly a study of the conditions which determine the change or development of stimuli; more specifically it is a study of the conditions which govern such processes as those by which problems are solved, lessons are memorized, habits and attitudes are built up, and decisions are reached. To call such study " applied " psychology is to misunderstand the proper scope and purpose of the subject. Psychology frequently has occasion to draw extensively upon physics and physiology, but it has its own problem and its own method of procedure.

That this view of conscious. behavior should involve an extensive reinterpretation of familiar facts is altogether natural and inevitable. If consciousness is a form of control, the question, for example, what is " in " consciousness and what is not must be interpreted with reference to this function of control. In a

( 257) sense we perceive many things to which we are not paying attention, such as the light in the room or the familiar chairs and bookcases. These are perceived " marginally," as we say, in the sense that the presence of these objects affects the total adjustment of the moment in such a way that the experience would become a clue to these objects if they were withdrawn. And similarly we may speak of marginal sensations of strain or movement, to indicate possible clues to certain bodily activities which are factors in the process. These marginal perceptions or images are not actual existences, but are symbols and nothing more. The significance of these symbols is that they point to certain conditions by which the experiences in question are determined. Thus the question whether a given experience involves certain " sensations " is just a question whether certain bodily or extra-bodily conditions are involved in the experience. If this reference to conditions is ignored and experience is explained in terms of sensory material that blends and fuses and otherwise disposes itself, the explanation is no longer science but sleight-of-hand. Psychology has no proper concern with such mythical constituents of consciousness; its business is with things as related to conduct, which is to say that psychology is a science of behavior.


According to the standpoint set forth in the pre-ceding discussion, the key to a consistent and fruitful interpretation of consciousness and psychology lies in

( 258) behavior. If we turn now to the psychology of introspection, which has been dominant so many years, we find a standpoint and mode of procedure which, on the surface at least, is of a radically different kind. It behooves us, therefore, to consider this standpoint in some detail in order to justify the attempt to reinterpret and " evaluate " it in the light of our own doctrine.

The point of departure for introspective psychology is to be found, so it seems, not in the facts of behavior, but in the distinction between focal and marginal experience. It is on this distinction that the introspective psychologist bases the attempt to give a psychological analysis and description of the contents of experience. To analyze and describe the facts of consciousness is to bring the marginal constituents of experience into the white light of attention. Analysis and description are possible just because experience is so largely a welter of elements that disguise their identity and character. In some way these unrecognized and unidentified elements are constituents of the total experience. To borrow the language of a writer quoted by James, " However deeply we may suppose the attention to be engaged by any thought, any considerable alteration of the surrounding phenomena would still be perceived; the most abstruse demonstration in this room would not prevent a listener, however absorbed, from noticing the sudden extinction of the lights."[4] Or, as James remarks : " It is just like the overtones in music. Different instruments give the

( 259) same note,' namely, various upper harmonics of it which differ from one instrument to another. They are not separately heard by the ear; they blend with the fundamental note and suffuse it, and alter it."[5] Let the attention be directed to these overtones, however, and they at once detach themselves from their surroundings and step forth into the light of day. Even so the ticking of the clock may pass unnoticed in the sense that it is an undiscriminated element in the background of our consciousness ; but if the ticking comes to a sudden stop, the feeling of a void in our consciousness proclaims the fact that something has gone out from it.

The observation and description of the facts of consciousness, then, is based directly on the fact that experience, as the psychologist deals with it, possesses a focus and margin. Nature as conceived by the physical sciences presents no such distinction. The facts are what they are, and their character as focal or marginal, as clear or obscure, depends altogether upon their relation to an intelligence. Or we may say that if the facts of experience were always focal and never marginal, it would never occur to us to speak of consciousness as we do at present. \ As long as we confine ourselves to a given color, shape or temperature, as experienced focally, we are not dealing with consciousness, but with objects. An analysis of such facts that does not bring in the marginal is not an analysis of consciousness, but an analysis of physical reality. Even if we consider non-physical objects, such as mathematical or economic concepts, we find that our analysis

( 260) is not psychological as long as the marginal is left out. The consideration of the margin, however, brings us into the presence of facts which are of a distinctive kind and which warrant a new science. Let the margin be eliminated and psychology disappears at the same time.

The psychological doctrine of focus and margin, then, is a matter of fundamental importance. On the interpretation of this doctrine depend our systems of psychology and of philosophy. What, then, is meant by focus and margin? If we turn to our psychologies, we seem to be confronted once more with something that everybody knows and nobody can define. But since we have to do with a distinction, the obligation to differentiate cannot be wholly ignored. Consciousness is sometimes likened to a visual field and sometimes to the waves of the sea. Like the visual field it has a foreground and a background, a near and a remote, a center and a margin or periphery. The contents of consciousness are vivid or clear in the center of this field and fade away into vagueness or obscureness in proportion to their approach to the periphery. Or, to take the other comparison, the focus may -be represented by the crest of a wave and the margin by what we may call its base. This illustration has the advantage that it indicates the difference between higher and lower degrees of concentration. As concentration increases, the crest of the wave rises higher and its width decreases, while the reverse is true where the concentration of attention is less intense. All consciousness possesses the distinction of focus and margin in some

( 261) degree ; however much we may be absorbed in an object or topic, there is always an indirect mental vision that informs us of other facts, which for the time being are in the background of our consciousness.

For purposes of description à metaphor is at best a clumsy device. It has a tendency to substitute itself for the thing to be described and thus to conceal its limitations and inaccuracies. The present case is no exception. I am forced to think that the visual field in particular is a thoroughly vicious metaphor when employed to body forth the distinction of focus and margin. Whatever this distinction may in the end turn out to be, it is not such as this comparison would lead one to suppose. Objects seen in indirect vision appear obscure and blurred precisely because they are in the focus of consciousness. We get pretty much the same sort of obscureness or blur on a printed page when we look at it in indirect vision as we do when we look at it from a distance that is just too great to make out the words or characters. What the illustration shows is that things look different according as the circumstances under which we see them are different, but what bearing this has on marginal consciousness is not at all obvious to an unsophisticated intelligence.

When we speak of a focus and margin in consciousness, we are presumably dealing with conscious fact. Now this illustration of the visual field does not represent conscious fact. Ordinary perception carries with it no sense of obscureness at all, and when it does we have exactly the same kind of situation as when an object is too distant or in some other way inaccessible

( 262) to satisfactory perception. That is, the object perceived is in the ` focus' and not in the margin. The obscureness of objects when seen with the margin of the retina has no more to do with the margin of consciousness than the obscureness caused by an attack of dizziness or by a morning fog.

It will be said, perhaps, that consciousness may be unclear even though there be no sense of unclearness, that there is such a thing as intrinsic clearness, quite apart from obstacles and problems. In other words, the same sensation is capable of realizing various degrees of clearness. It is not at all obvious, however, why the different experiences that are concerned in such a comparison should be called the same sensation. As long as we abstract from objective reference, each sensation is just what it is and there is no opportunity to make comparisons on the basis of clearness. A sensation as such—if we are bound to speak of sensations —can by no possibility be an obscure sensation, for the trait that we call obscureness or vagueness constitutes the intrinsic being of that sensation. If we permit ourselves to speak of clearness at all, we should rather say that it possesses a maximum of clearness, since it has managed to express or present its whole nature with not one trait or feature lacking. What more could be demanded, in the way of clearness, of any conscious fact than that it should body forth every detail that it possesses?

If sensations or states ,of consciousness possess degrees of clearness, it seems to follow that we may scrutinize them for the purpose of discovering char

( 263) acteristics that were present though scarcely perceived, in much the same way that the polishing of old furniture brings out the grain in the wood. But such a parallel, I submit, is plain nonsense. The supposition that consciousness is something that in due time and with good fortune may attain consciousness is too absurd for discussion, even though it is a supposition that plays a considerable rôle in presentday psychology.

The purpose of the discussion, up to this point, has not been to deny the validity of the distinction between focus and margin, but to insist upon the necessity of reconsidering the meaning of this distinction, if we are to attain to a workable definition of consciousness and a fruitful or even intelligible conception of the problem of psychology. I have endeavored to show, in the first place, that the doctrine of focus and margin involves the raison d'être of psychology. Apart from this doctrine we have no task or problem that psychology can claim as its distinctive possession. The analysis of what is in the focus of consciousness is adequately provided for in the other sciences ; it is only with the introduction of what is called the margin that an enterprise of a different kind becomes necessary. But, secondly, this distinction of focus and margin can-not be drawn on the basis of the experienced contrast between clearness and obscureness. The very fact that anything is experienced as obscure means that it is an object of attention, or, in other words, that it is in the focus of consciousness and not in the margin. The comparison of focus and margin with direct and indirect vision is misleading, because it suggests that ex

(264) -periences are marginal in proportion as they are felt as obscure. And, thirdly, if we undertake to distinguish between focus and margin on the basis of a difference in clearness or vividness of which no note is taken at the time, we encounter the difficulty that experience or consciousness, taken abstractly, does not admit of such variations in degree, and so this criterion likewise goes by the board.

The situation is indeed peculiar. That there is a realm of psychological fact is universally conceded. As a consequence of this conviction a great body of fact and of doctrine has been built up. It would be folly to deny either the distinctiveness or the significance of this achievement. And yet James's description of psychology as " a string of raw facts ; a little gossip and wrangle about opinions ; a little classification and generalization on the mere descriptive level; a strong prejudice that we have states of mind and that our brain conditions them,"[6] is not wholly untrue even today. It is even possible for a present-day critic to outdo James and maintain that the legitimacy of psychology as a separate inquiry is a matter of faith rather than of sight. The `raw facts' of which James speaks resolve themselves into physical and physiological material on the one hand and metaphysical dogmas on the other; the gossip and wrangle are largely over fictitious problems ; the classifications and generalizations as a rule involve trespassing on other fields; the prejudice that we have states of mind has less standing-ground today than it had twenty years ago. In other words, there

( 265) is still plausible ground for James's pessimistic comment: "This is no science, it is only the hope of a science." A situation such as this carries with it the insistent suggestion that the trouble lies, not primarily in the nature of the subject-matter, but in our conception of the problem. " The matter of a science," as James says, " is with us." And if the distinction of focus and margin constitutes the starting-point and justification for a science of psychology, a better understanding of this distinction will mean a more adequate appreciation of the problem with which psychology has to deal.

As a starting-point for a reconsideration of focus and margin, we may take those experiences in which the distinction of clearness and obscureness is presented as an experienced fact. Let us then turn once more to the familiar illustration of the visual field. " When we look at a printed page, there is always some one portion of it, perhaps a word, which we see more clearly than we do the rest; and out beyond the margin of the page we are still conscious of objects which we see only in a very imperfect way."[7] That is, we appreciate the distinction between what lies in the center. of our visual field and what is more remote, just because in this experiment we are trying to see what lies beyond the center without turning our eyes in that direction. We set ourselves the task of seeing what is on the page, and at the same time we interpose an artificial obstacle. Hence the sense of effort, and the contrast between what is clear and what is obscure. The present experi-

( 266) -ence is obscure, not inherently, but only with reference to a certain problem or question. It is inadequate as an anticipation of further experience. The contrast between clear and obscure is created by our attempt to overcome the difficulty, and is therefore absent from ordinary, unobstructed visual perception.

The situation described in the following familiar quotation from James is an illustration of the same thing: " Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name. The state of our consciousness is peculiar. There is a gap therein ; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness, and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term."[8]

` I met this man, on the train, and later at the reception; but what is his name?' The struggle rends our consciousness in twain. The occasions of our meeting, his appearance, his conversation, are solid fact, yet all suffused with the pervasive, evanscent " wraith " that tantalizes us with glimpses which half reveal and half conceal the name we seek to grasp.

To account for such experiences simply in terms of half-submerged " sensations " and " images " is to do violence to all the requirements for clear thinking. If we rule out explanations of this kind, we are evidently forced to the conclusion that these experiences are obscure, not in themselves or in the abstract, but with reference to the function of putting us in possession of the name to which they are inadequate clues. It is

( 267) the subsequent, satisfactory experience of the name which furnishes our standard for clearness; in other words, the implications of obscureness are of a functional, and not of a static or structural, kind. The marginal character of an experience is simply a reference to its function as a clue or cue to some further experience, i.e., a reference to its character as a changing stimulus. Or we may say that the distinction between focus and margin is just another aspect of the distinction between the conditions for further activity and the incompleteness which leads to further adjustment. The transfer of the future into the present gives us a fact, here and now, and in this respect the experience is entirely focal in character, and as such it is subject-matter for the various sciences. Whatever the nature of the experience, it is just what it is, and not something else. With respect to the further experience, however, which it conditions or for which it prepares the way, the present experience is entirely marginal, i.e., in its character as a changing stimulus it is subject-matter for psychology. The distinction of focus and margin, then, is based ultimately upon the function of experience in the control of behavior. The given situation is a present fact and is in functional change; or, in terms of our present discussion, it has both a focus and a margin. As present fact it is a reality which requires recognition in the form of adjustment; as in functional change it provides opportunity for bringing the adjustment to fruition. That is, the experience both sets a task or makes a demand and it points the way. The distinction is a distinction of

( 268) function, not of static existence, and it is this distinction which is represented by the contrast of focus and margin.

If we compare this interpretation of focus and margin with that of traditional psychology, we find that the latter construes the relation of the present to the future experience wholly in static terms, the functional relation being left out of account. The later experience is read back into its predecessor in the form of dim or marginal images, which need but show themselves more completely to make the two identical. If these sensations were intended only as symbols of a functional relationship, it would perhaps be scarcely worth while to enter a protest against them. But when the functional relationship is quite overlooked, the explanation that is given becomes exceedingly dubious. The ticking of the clock, for example, that is present, though unnoticed, the overtones of the note that suffuse the whole without diverting attention to their individual qualities,—in what precise way are facts of this kind concerned in the description of the experience which they modify? A study of the clock or of the overtones can hardly pass. as an analysis of consciousness; it is too obviously an affair of physics. Such a study becomes merely an excuse for repeating the analyses of physics and reading them off in terms of sensations and images. Moreover, the transfer of all this material to consciousness looks suspiciously like a transaction in mental chemistry. Where, then, is psychology to gain a foothold? What is the meaning of these uncanny sensations and images, which nobody experi-

( 269) -ences, unless it be their character as symbols of adjustment? They have no legitimate status, and psychology, by consequence, has no legitimate problem, except in so far as they represent those possible acts of adaptation which are the sole and proper concern of psychology.

It remains to point out briefly the bearing of these results on what is called " the method of introspection." We are sometimes assured that introspection has discarded the belief in a separate mental stuff or subject-matter, but there is ground for the suspicion that such protestations are made in the same spirit that we affirm our belief in the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule, with no thought of being taken seriously. At all events, without a literal " looking within " it seems to become exceedingly difficulty to differentiate introspection from ordinary observation as practised in the other sciences. The reason for this difficulty is that there is nothing left in introspection by which it can be differentiated. The term introspection properly designates, not a method but a problem ; the problem, namely, of interpreting given facts with reference to their function in the control of behavior. If psychology is to justify its claim to the status of a science, it is in duty bound to secure for itself both an objective criterion for the adjudication of disputes which otherwise are of necessity interminable, and a subject-matter that is not simply a heritage of metaphysical prejudice, but a realm of fact that is attested by everyday observation and experience.

( 270)


Within recent years the doctrine that psychology is a science of behavior has acquired a certain prominence. It is presupposed, of course, that the behavior with which psychology is concerned is of a distinctive sort; but the differentia is unfortunately the very thing that the " behaviorist " has hitherto left out of account. In his revolt against introspectionism, which has been accustomed to give to its subject-matter a subjectivistic and "psychic " interpretation, he goes to the other extreme and relies on behavior pure and simple. Being without a serviceable differentia, he is unable to mark off the field of psychology from contiguous territory. The selection of certain problems within the general range of behavior, with no recognition of any distinctive trait to guide and justify the selection, is hardly enough to warrant a new science. Even an arbitrary principle of selection is better than none, and it would, therefore, be quite as reasonable to subdivide the field of botany in the interests of a new science, and group together for separate botanical study those flowers which have enabled poets to give symbolic expression to the beauty of women.

That the principle of selection is, in the end, the ability to modify behavior through the anticipation of possible consequences, appears from the fact that the category of stimulus and response is otherwise found to be unworkable. It is true that in the simpler forms of behavior stimulus and response may be correlated without practical difficulty. But when we deal with what has been called " delayed overt response," the

( 271) matter becomes more complicated and the theoretical difficulty becomes more prominent. The behaviorist would not seriously undertake to record everything that happens between stimulus and response. He proceeds selectively, taking the relation of stimulus and response as his clue. He is properly interested in the movements which result from the application of the stimulus only in so far as they constitute response. Otherwise his study is not a study of behavior, but a study of movements. But when does a movement constitute a response? Do we label as stimulus the spoken word which results in overt action a week later, or the visual perception which sets a complicated and long-drawn-out problem, for no other reason than that it appears somewhere as an antecedent in the causal chain of events? If so, there is no obvious reason why the event which occurred just before or immediately after the soi-disant stimulus should not be regarded as the true stimulus. Unless a satisfactory reason is forthcoming, it would seem better to substitute cause and effect for stimulus and response and to drop the term behavior from our vocabulary. Psychology then becomes a study of certain causal relationships, but is still without a principle for the selection of those causal events which are supposed to constitute its peculiar subject-matter.

Even if we manage to become reconciled to this situation, however, our troubles are not yet at an end. There still remains the difficulty in certain cases of showing that the event which is selected as stimulus or cause bears any significant relationship to the event

( 272) which figures in our scheme as the response. The stimulus is supposed to have a causal connection with the response, but how are we to know that this is the fact? How are we to know that the engineer who solves a problem for me at my request might not have done so anyway? No behaviorist can possibly show that the air waves set in motion by my vocalization were an indispensable stimulus. We doubtless believe that the spoken word was in fact the spark which lit the fuse and finally exploded the mine, but this belief involves a complication of causes which it is wholly beyond our power to control or to verify.

It is true, of course, that we are able, as a matter of fact, to correlate stimulus and response. I know that it was the spoken word which caused the commission to be executed, for the expert reminds me of the fact and presents a bill. But neither of us makes any pretense that his belief is derived from a scrutiny of the causal sequence. Memory furnishes us with a shortcut to the result. 'While our present acts are doubtless connected with the past through causation, we do not regard them as simply the effects of antecedent causes. They are rather responses to present stimuli. The expert presents his bill, being moved thereto by a stimulus which may be indicated by saying that it is the spoken-word-constituting-a-commission-now-completed-and-entitling-me-to-compensation. That is, the stimulus cannot be pushed back and anchored at a fixed point in the past, but is a present factor at the moment of response and is operative by virtue of its anticipation of future events.

( 273)

If, then, psychology is to be regarded as a study of behavior, it is plainly necessary to reinterpret the category of behavior. For example, a purely mechanical response to a light-stimulus may properly be viewed as response to the ether-vibration or wave-length upon which it follows in temporal sequence. But if this stimulation results in what is commonly called consciousness, a different kind of response ensues. The light-stimulus becomes a cause or occasion for the act of looking. But why look, unless it be to secure a new stimulus for further response? We stop to look, precisely because the first stimulus does not run smoothly off the reel. The response will not go forward, but is halted and expends itself in the effort to secure a further stimulus. This is the moment of attention, in which the stimulus undergoes a process of transformation, concomitantly with the process of reorganization in the motor responses, and in the direction of ends or results that are foreshadowed in it. This change in the stimulus takes place under certain specifiable conditions, and the study of these conditions is a study of such processes as perceiving, attending, remembering, and deliberating, which are distinctively psychological in their nature. Processes of this kind, if taken as changes in stimuli, find an objective criterion in the adaptive behavior for the sake of which they occur, and they provide psychology with a distinctive task and subject-matter.

As against the introspectionist, then, the behaviorist is justified in his contention that psychological procedure must be objective and experimental in character.

( 274) The danger to which he has exposed himself is the failure to differentiate his problem from that of physiology and physics. It is only by a proper recognition of both the objective and the distinctive character of conscious behavior that psychology can free itself of the reproach which is heaped upon it by members of its own household and take the place that rightfully belongs to it in the community of the sciences.


According to the preceding exposition, the current psychological doctrine of focus and margin is an attempt to reduce the changes in the stimulus to terms of static entities denominated sensations and images. By abstracting from change we convert the new stimulus that is already on the way into inert sensory material, which lends itself to purely analytic treatment. In this way the suggested hardness of the rock becomes a " centrally aroused sensation " of a stubbed toe, the heat of the candle becomes an image of a burn, etc. As was said before, the sensations are not existences, but representatives or symbols of our nascent activities ; they are the static equivalents of this foreshadowing or reference to the future. The explanation of experience that we find in James and Bergson approximates this view so closely in one respect and departs from it so widely in another as to warrant a brief discussion.

A prominent characteristic of the doctrine advocated by James and Bergson is the emphasis given to the foreshadowings or anticipations of the future. Ex-

( 275) -periences of conflict, such as the struggle to recall a name, take on their peculiar coloring, so these writers contend, from their relationship to a beyond, to something which is yet to be. If we are to understand experience as it really is, we must guard against the besetting temptation to translate everything into spatial equivalents. This forward reference is usually read off as a distinction and contrast between simultaneously existing components. Some constituent is first set apart as the nucleus or focus and is then enveloped with an elusive, intangible wraith of meaning, which is called the margin. We have been taught to think of the focus as made up of sensory material of some sort and silhouetted against a background lit up by the fitful, inconsequential heat-lightning of meaning. But this is a perversion of the facts. When we are engaged in a problem it is precisely these unformed meanings that are of interest and importance. They are in the focus of consciousness, in so far as we can speak of a focus at all. They absorb our attention and direct our energies. They inform us of a margin, not by refusing to compete for our attention with more important or more interesting facts, but by bodying forth the unfinished character of the situation. Hence this beckoning, this tingling with the sense of closeness, this sinking back when our efforts meet with defeat. Focus and margin, in short, have to do with movement, with transition, and not with a static field. These situations are felt as inherently unstable and in process of reconstruction. There is a peculiar sense of activity, of " something doing," of a future knock-

( 276) -ing on the door of the present. What is thus on its way to the present we can designate only in terms of the object as it is after it has arrived. To call it marginal is to immerse the object in this temporal flux, which embodies perfectly the characteristics of Bergsonian duration.

But this is only a first step. If we turn now to those experiences from which this inner diremption of fact and meaning is absent, we find a process that is essentially the same in kind. They likewise constitute a temporal flow, even though there be no sense of duration or of change as such. The different moments of these experiences are not mechanically juxtaposed, but blend together in much the same way as when the process is experienced as a process. In principle we have the same transition, the same becoming, the same growth from less to more, the same activity of continuous reconstruction. Conscious life, we find, is a continuous adjustment ; each of its moments is a " transitive state." The more evenly flowing experiences are likewise endowed with a focus and margin, not in the form of static elements, but as a dynamic relationship of what is with what is to be.

Such an interpretation of experience, moreover, opens the way for a proper valuation of the psychologist's procedure. The concept of sensation is methodology pure and simple. Granted that focus and margin are such as was indicated a moment ago, how are they to be described, unless we resort to some Hilfsbegriff such as sensations? James's description of the effort to recall a forgotten name is not descrip-

( 277) -tion at all in a scientific sense, since the " wraith of the name " that we are trying to recover is of too unearthly a fabric to be weighed and measured by accepted scientific standards. It makes us " tingle," it lets us " sink back," but such portrayal is literature rather than science. Our first step must be to resolve our material into components. These components we identify with genuine elements if we can, with pious fictions if we must; but until this is done there can be no exact description. There can be no precision in our statement of the facts and no formulation of the laws that govern their changes.

This view undeniably has a certain plausibility. As long as the results are attained which the psychologist sets out to reach, we need not be hypersensitive on the score of methods. In the field of natural science, at all events, this Jesuitical principle is not incompatible with respectability. If it be true, however, that sensation is but a tool or artifact, a means to an end, what is the end that is to be attained by this device? It is at this point that we come to the parting of the ways. According to the view previously elaborated, the anticipations of the future have to do with the results of our possible acts, and sensations are simply symbols for the various elements in our complex motor responses. In the case of Bergson and James, however, the clue that is furnished by response is discarded. The reference to the future, being dissociated from behavior, is taken as evidence of an abstract or metaphysical duration, so that experience is somehow other than it seems ; and sensation is regarded as the trans-

( 278) -lation of duration into the language of space. Associationism is justified in its belief that reality is different from its appearance in our experience, but is criticized for attempting to interpret the real in terms of space rather than time. In both cases the lead of the subject-matter is abandoned in favor of an explanation that is derived from a fourth-dimensional plane of existence.

The suspicion that these two positions have a deep-seated affinity is strengthened if we call to mind that the concept of sensation was originated, not in the interests of methodology, but as the expression of a historic preconception that mistook fiction for fact. The fundamental error back of it was the preposterous notion that consciousness consists of subconscious or unconscious constituents, which by their mechanical or chemical combinations make our experience what it is. The question which it raises and which has afflicted us even to the present day is not primarily the question of fact, but the question of intelligibility, as the controversy over mind-stuff abundantly attests. Whether we regard experience as made up of sensory material, however, or as constituted in a Bergsonian fashion, is a matter of detail; the primary question is whether a distinction between consciousness as it appears and as it " really " is has any meaning. In so far as this distinction is maintained, we are beating the thin air of mythology, despite our reinterpretations and justifications. True conversion does not consist in a renaming of old gods, but demands a humble and a contrite heart. To call sensation an artifact, a methodological

( 279) device, without a surrender of the metaphysical assumption that lies back of Associationism is not to correct the evil, but is more likely to be treated as an indulgence for sins that are yet to be committed.

This fundamental identity is presumably the reason for certain other similarities, which would perhaps not be readily anticipated. Both doctrines undertake to tell us what is going on behind the scenes, what consciousness or experience " really " is. The descriptions present an astonishing difference of vocabulary, but if we take care not to be misled by superficial differences, we find an equally astonishing agreement as to content. From the one side consciousness is explained as a juxtaposition of elements; from the other as an interpenetration of elements so complete that the parts can be neither isolated nor distinguished from the whole. On the one hand we find a multiplicity without unity, on the other a unity without multiplicity. In the one account the temporal unit is a sensation devoid of internal temporal diversity; in the other duration as such is a unity in which past, present, and future blend into an undifferentiated whole. The one position gathers its facts by a mystifying process called introspection; the other obtains its results from a mystical faculty of intuition. The difference in language remains, but both accounts lead us away into a twilight region where words substitute themselves for facts.

As was suggested a moment ago, the contrast between ordinary experience and something else of which it is the appearance is the result of the failure to give proper recognition to the facts of behavior. If we

( 280) connect the forward reference of experience with the operations of our nascent activities, we have no need of a pure duration or of bridging the gulf between reality and its appearances. In the same way, if we construe sensations as just symbols of our responses, we rid ourselves of problems that are insoluble because they are unintelligible. Such problems constitute metaphysics in the bad sense of the word, whether they show themselves in the domain of science or of philosophy. To describe experience by reference to such a real is to explain what we know in terms of what we do not know. The question what is real is absolutely sterile. Our descriptions and explanations must remain on the same plane as the experiences with which they deal, and not seek after a real of a different order. If we are to have an explanation of consciousness at all, the explanation must not take us back to hypothetical sensations that are almost but not quite experienced, nor to a duration in which all distinctions are swallowed up, but must be rendered in terms of other facts that dwell in the light of common day.

By way of conclusion I venture to urge once more that a proper consideration of the facts of behavior will furnish us with a key that will unlock many a door. The conception of stimulus and response gives us a differentia for experience and also enables us to distinguish within experience between consciousness and object. If, however, we disregard behavior, we are bound to lose our way. The distinction between the experienced and the unexperienced is either wiped out

(281) or else is permitted to convert itself into a distinction between appearance and reality that leads nowhere and explains nothing. The significance of truth as the successful guidance of behavior, in accordance with the program laid down in the organization of stimulus and response, is lost to sight and recourse is had to a fourth-dimensional truth or reality for the miracle of breathing life into the dead bones of our philosophic abstractions. The study of behavior constitutes a mode of approach that holds out the hope of deliverance from questions that should never have been asked. We are on a different and, let us hope, a higher level when we cease to ask how consciousness can lay hold of passive objects, or how knowledge überhaupt is possible, and concern ourselves rather with the wondrous activity whereby this plastic dance of circumstance that we call the universe transcends the domain of mechanism and embodies itself in the values of conscious life.


  1. C.. Judson Herrick, " Some Reflections on the Origin and Significance of the Cerebral Cortex," Journal of Animal Behavior, Vol. III, pp. 228-233.
  2. Psychology, Vol. I, p. 256.
  3. H. C. Warren, Psychological Review, Vol. XXI, Page 93.
  4. Principles of Psychology, I, p. 241, note.
  5. Ibid., p. 258.
  6. Psychology. Briefer Course. P. 468.
  7. Angell, Psychology, p. 65.
  8. Psychology, Vol. I, p. 251.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2