Mind Self and Society
Section 15 Behaviorism and Psychological Parallelism
Behaviorism might seem to reach what could be called a parallelism in relation to the neuroses and psychoses, that is,
(110) in the relationship of what is taking place in the central nervous system to the experience that parallels this, or answers to it. It might be argued, for instance, that there is an excitement in the retina due to the disturbance taking place outside, and that only when such excitement reaches a certain point in the central nervous system does a sensation of color, or an experience of a colored object, appear. We believe that we see the object at the point at which this disturbance takes place outside. That is, we see, say, an electric light. But we are told that light represents physical changes that are going on at enormous rates, and that are in some fashion transferred by the light waves to the retina and then to the central nervous system, so that we see the light at the point at which we assume these vibrations take place. Of course, this transmission involves some time, and during the course of this action a physical change in the object may take place. There is not only that possibility of error in perception, but we may be mistaken even in the object which we see before us, since the light is temporally later than the disturbance which it seems to reveal. The light has a finite velocity, and the process that goes on between the retina and the point in the central nervous system is a much longer process than that of the light. The situation is stretched out for us conveniently by the illustration of the light of the stars. We see light that left the sun some eight minutes ago; the sun that we see is eight minutes old -and there are stars that are so far away from us that they consume many light-years in reaching us. Thus, our perceptions have conditions which we locate in the central nervous system at a certain moment; if anything interferes with the nervous process, then this particular experience does not arise. In some such way we get the statement of what lies back of the parallelistic account-, if we relate what takes place at that point as a neurosis to what takes place in our experience we have seemingly two entirely different things. The disturbance in the central nervous system is an electrical or chemical or mechanical process going on in the nervous elements, whereas that which we see is a colored light, and the most we can say is that
(111) the one is seemingly parallel to the other, since we cannot say that the two are identical.
Now behavioristic psychology, instead of setting up these events in the central nervous system as a causal series which is at least conditional to the sensory experience, takes the entire response to the environment as that which answers to the colored object we see, in this case the light. It does not locate the experience at any point in the nervous system; it does not put it, in the terms of Mr. Russell, inside of a head. Russell makes the experience the effect of what happens at that point where a causal process takes place in the head. He points out that, from his own point of view, the head inside of which you can place this experience exists empirically only in the heads of other people. The physiologist explains to you where this excitement is taking place. He sees the head he is demonstrating to you and he sees what is inside of the head in imagination, but, on this account, that which he sees must be inside of his own head. The way in which Russell gets out of this mess is by saying that the head which he is referring to is not the head we see, but the head which is implied in physiological analysis. Well, instead of assuming that the experienced world as such is inside of a head, located at that point at which certain nervous disturbances are going on, what the behaviorist does is to relate the world of experience to the whole act of the organism. It is true, as we have just said, that this experienced world does not appear except when the various excitements reach certain points in the central nervous system; it is also true that if you cut off any of those channels you wipe out so much of that world. What the behaviorist does, or ought to do, is to take the complete act, the whole process of conduct, as the unit in his account. In doing that he has to take into account not simply the nervous system but also the rest of the organism, for the nervous system is only a specialized part of the entire organism.
Consciousness as stuff, as experience, from the standpoint of behavioristic or dynamic psychology, is simply the environment of the human individual or social group in so far as con-
(112) -stituted by or dependent upon or existentially relative to that individual or social group. (Another signification of the term " consciousness" arises in connection with reflective intelligence, and still another in connection with the private or subjective aspects of experience as contrasted with the common or social aspects.)
Our whole experiential world-nature as we experience it-is basically related to the social process of behavior, a process in which acts are initiated by gestures that function as such because they in turn call forth adjustive responses from other organisms, as indicating or having reference to the completion or resultant of the acts they initiate. That is to say, the content of the objective world, as we experience it, is in large measure constituted through the relations of the social process to it, and particularly through the triadic relation of meaning, which is created within that process. The whole content of mind and of nature, in so far as it takes on the character of meaning, is dependent upon this triadic relation within the social process and among the component phases of the social act, which the existence of meaning presupposes.
Consciousness or experience as thus explained or accounted for in terms of the social process cannot, however, be located in the brain-not only because such location of it implies a spatial conception of mind (a conception which is at least unwarranted as an uncritically accepted assumption), but also because such location leads to Russell's physiological solipsism, and to the insuperable difficulties of interactionism. Consciousness is functional, not substantive; and in either of the main senses of the term it must be located in the objective world rather than in the brain-it belongs to, or is a characteristic of, the environment in which we find ourselves. What is located, what does take place, in the brain, however, is the physiological process whereby we lose and regain consciousness: a process which is somewhat analogous to that of pulling down and raising a window shade.
Now, as we noticed earlier, if we want to control the process of experience or consciousness we may go back to the various
(113) processes in the body, especially the central nervous system. When we are setting up a parallelism what we are trying to do is to state those elements in the world which enable us to control the processes of experience. Parallelism lies between the point at which conduct takes place and the experiential reaction, and we must determine those elements which will enable us to control the reaction itself. As a rule, we control this reaction by means of objects outside of the organism rather than by directing attention to the organism itself. If we want better light we put in a higher powered bulb. Our control, as a rule, consists in a reaction on the objects themselves, and from that point of view the parallelism is between the object and the percept, between the electric light and visibility. That is the sort of parallelism that the ordinary individual establishes; by setting up a parallelism between the things about him and his experience, he picks out those characters of the thing which will enable him to control the experience. His experience is that of keeping himself seeing things which help him, and consequently he picks out in the objects those characters which will express themselves in that sort of experience; but if the trouble he has is due to some disturbance in his central nervous system, then he will have to go back to it. In this case the parallelism will be between his experience and the excitements in the central nervous system. If he finds that he is not seeing well he may discover some trouble with the optic nerve, and the parallelism is then between his vision and the functioning of the optic nerve. If he is interested in certain mental images he has, he goes back to experiences which have affected the central nervous system in the past. Certain of the effects on the central nervous system of such experiences are still present, so that if he is setting up a parallelism he will find that it lies between that past event and the present condition of his central nervous system. Such a relationship becomes a matter of great importance in our whole perception. The traces of past experience are continually playing in upon our perceived world. Now, to get hold of that in the organism which answers to this stage of our conduct, to our re-
(114) -membering, to our intelligently responding to the present in terms of the past, we set up a parallelism between what is going on in the central nervous system and immediate experience. Our memory is dependent upon the condition of certain tracts in our head, and these conditions have to be picked out to get control of processes of that sort.
This type of correlation is increasingly noticeable when we go from the images as such over to the thinking process. The intelligence that is involved in perception is elaborated enormously in what we call "thought." One perceives an object in terms of his response to it. If you notice your conduct you find frequently that you are turning your head to one side to see something because of light rays which have reached the periphery of the retina. You turn your head to see what it was. You come to use the term "aware of something there." We may have the impression that someone is looking at us out of a crowd and find ourselves turning our head to see who is looking at us, and our tendency to turn reveals to us the fact that there are rays from other people's eyes. It is true of all of our experience that it is the response that interprets to us what comes to us in the stimulus, and it is such attention which makes the percept out of what we call "sensation." The interpretation of the response is what gives the content to it. Our thinking is simply an elaboration of that interpretation in terms of our own response. The sound is something that leads to a jumping-away; the light is something we are to look at. When the danger is something that is perhaps a long way off, the danger of loss of funds through a bad investment, the danger to some of our organs on account of injury, the interpretation is one which involves a very elaborate process of thinking. Instead of simply jumping aside, we can change our diet, take more exercise, or change our investments. This process of thinking, which is the elaboration of our responses to the stimulus, is a process which also necessarily goes on in the organism. Yet it is a mistake to assume that all that we call thought can be located in the organism or can be put inside of the head. The goodness or badness of the
(115) investment is in the investment, and the valuable or dangerous character of food is in the food, not in our heads. The relationship between these and the organism depends upon the sort of response we are going to make, and that is a relationship which is mapped out in the central nervous system. The way in which we are going to respond is found there, and in the possible connections there must be connections of past experiences with present responses in order that there may be thought. We connect up a whole set of things outside, especially those which are past, with our present condition in order that we may intelligently meet some distant danger. In the case of an investment or organic trouble the danger is a long way off, but still we have to react to it in the way of avoiding the danger. And the process is one which involves an elaborate connection which has to be found in the central nervous system, especially in so far as it represents the past. So, then, we set up what is taking place in the central nervous system as that which is parallel to what lies in experience. If called upon to make any change in the central nervous system, so far as that could be effected under present knowledge, we might assist what goes on in the processes of the central nervous system. We should have to apply our supposed remedies to the central nervous system itself, while in the previous cases we should have been changing our objects which affect the central nervous system. There is very little we can do directly at the present time, but we can conceive of such a response as would enable us to affect our memory and to affect our thought. We do, of course, try to select the time of the day and conditions when our heads are clear if we have a difficult piece of work to do. That is an indirect way of attempting to get favorable cooperation of the nervous elements in the brain to do a certain amount of thinking. It is the same sort of parallelism which lies between the lighting systems in our houses and the experience we have of visibility. In one case we have to attend to conditions outside and in the other to conditions inside the central nervous system in order to control our responses. There is no parallelism in general between the world and the
(116) brain. What a behavioristic psychology is trying to do is to find that in the responses, in our whole group of responses, which answers to those conditions in the world which we want to change, to improve, in order that our conduct may be successful.
The past that is in our present experience is there because of the central nervous system in relation to the rest of the organism. If one has acquired a certain facility in playing the violin, that past experience is registered in the nerves and muscles themselves, but mainly in connections found in the central nervous system, in the whole set of paths there which are kept open so that when the stimulus comes in there is released a complex set of elaborate responses. Our past stays with us in terms of those changes which have resulted from our experience and which are in some sense registered there. The peculiar intelligence of the human form lies in this elaborate control gained through the past. The human animal's past is constantly present in the facility with which he acts, but to say that that past is simply located in the central nervous system is not a correct statement. It is true such a mechanism must be present in order that the past may appear in our experience, but this is part of the conditions, not the only condition. If you recognize somebody it must be through the fact that you have seen that individual in the past, and when you see him again there are those tendencies to react as you have in the past, but the individual must be there, or somebody like him, in order that this may take place. The past must be found in the present world. From the standpoint of behavioristic psychology we pick out the central nervous system only because it is that which is the immediate mechanism through which our organism operates in bringing the past to bear on the present. If we want to understand the way in which an organism responds to a certain situation which has a past, we have to get into the effects of the past actions on that organism which have been left in the central nervous system. There is no question about that fact. These effects ac
(117) -cordingly become peculiarly important, but the "parallelism" is no different for a behavioristic psychology from the parallelism that lies between the warmth in the house and the heating apparatus installed there.