Friday, June 15, 2007

How The Mind Is To Be Known

The Personal Character of Consciousness.

Mind can be observed and known. But each one can know directly only his own mind, and not another's. You and I may look into each other's face and there guess the meaning that lies back of the smile or frown or flash of the eye, and so read something of the mind's activity. But neither directly meets the other's mind. I may learn to recognize your features, know your voice, respond to the clasp of your hand, but the mind, the consciousness, which does your thinking and feels your joys and sorrows, I can never know completely. Indeed I can never know your mind at all except through your bodily acts and expressions. Nor is there any way in which you can reveal your mind, your spiritual self, to me except through these means.

It follows therefore that only you can ever know you and only I can ever know I in any first-hand and immediate way. Between your consciousness and mine there exists a wide gap that cannot be bridged. Each of us lives apart. We are like ships that pass and hail each other in passing but do not touch. We may work together, live together, come to love or hate each other, and yet our inmost selves forever stand alone. They must live their own lives, think their own thoughts, and arrive at their own destiny.

Introspection the Only Means of Discovering Nature of Consciousness.

What, then, is mind? What is the thing that we call consciousness? No mere definition can ever make it clearer than it is at this moment to each of us. The only way to know what mind is, is to look in upon our own consciousness and observe what is transpiring there. In the language of the psychologist, we must introspect. For one can never come to understand the nature of mind and its laws of working by listening to lectures or reading text books alone. There is no psychology in the text, but only in your living, flowing stream of thought and mine. True, the lecture and the book may tell us what to look for when we introspect, and how to understand what we find. But the statements3 and descriptions about our minds must be verified by our own observation and experience before they become vital truth to us.

How We Introspect.

Introspection is something of an art; it has to be learned. Some master it easily, some with more difficulty, and some, it is to be feared, never become skilled in its use. In order to introspect one must catch himself unawares, so to speak, in the very act of thinking, remembering, deciding, loving, hating, and all the rest. These fleeting phases of consciousness are ever on the wing; they never pause in their restless flight and we must catch them as they go. This is not so easy as it appears; for the moment we turn to look in upon the mind, that moment consciousness changes. The thing we meant to examine is gone, and something else has taken its place. All that is left us then is to view the mental object while it is still fresh in the memory, or to catch it again when it returns.

Studying Mental States of Others through Expression.

Although I can meet only my own mind face to face, I am, nevertheless, under the necessity of judging your mental states and knowing what is taking place in your consciousness. For in order to work successfully with you, in order to teach you, understand you, control you or obey you, be your friend or enemy, or associate with you in any other way, I must know you. But the real you that I must know is hidden behind the physical mask that we call the body. I must, therefore, be able to understand your states of consciousness as they are reflected in your bodily expressions. Your face, form, gesture, speech, the tone of voice, laughter and tears, the poise of attention, the droop of grief, the tenseness of anger and start of fear,—all these tell the story of the mental state that lies behind the senses.4 These various expressions are the pictures on the screen by which your mind reveals itself to others; they are the language by which the inner self speaks to the world without.

Learning to Interpret Expression.

If I would understand the workings of your mind I must therefore learn to read the language of physical expression. I must study human nature and learn to observe others. I must apply the information found in the texts to an interpretation of those about me. This study of others may be uncritical, as in the mere intelligent observation of those I meet; or it may be scientific, as when I conduct carefully planned psychological experiments. But in either case it consists in judging the inner states of consciousness by their physical manifestations.

The three methods by which mind may be studied are, then:

(1) text-book description and explanation;

(2) introspection of my own conscious processes; and

(3) observation of others, either uncritical or scientific.



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