MATERIALISM AND CONSCIOUSNESS
QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED IN MODULE 1
1. How does dualism contribute to the distinction between science and philosophy?
2. What three questions did philosophers need to answer before psychology could become a science?
3. How was the discovery of electricity related to the nature of the nervous system?
4 How is German philosophy different from British philosophy?
5. What resolution did Kant offer to the dilemma posed by Hume?
6. What is meant by apriori?
7. In what way did Herbart anticipate the psychology both of Fechner and of Freud?
8. What is meant by "apperceptive mass" and "assimilation?"
British empiricism, so much a part of both England and France, continued into the eighteenth century, furthering the materialistic and empiricistic point of view, and, thereby offering support to the gradually expanding field of science. Although the scientific advances during the eighteenth century were not as spectacular as the preceding century, there was a great sorting and sifting out of the vast amount of data, findings, and theories which had previously emerged. These advancements in science, both in research and theory, served to be interrelated. Developments in chemistry influenced physics which stimulated geology and in turn biology. No field existed in isolation of others. This was no less true when psychology emerged as a separate discipline, as we shall see in another unit. Since all sciences originated from philosophy, one must so look there for the background of each science. And, as we examined in the last unit, the major philosophical roots of psychology were British empiricism.
The second major background of psychology was physiology, which had earlier broken from mother philosophy. Descartes, as the father of modern philosophy, was also the father of modern physiology for his investigations of and theories about the material side of the human organism. As discoveries in chemistry and physics continually had implications for physiology, so in turn were new insights provided for understanding the human condition. The key to this understanding was the nature and functioning of the nervous system. The eighteenth century saw two opposing developments, fore-seen by Descartes -- neurology(or the material side) and idealism(or the spiritual side). Later they would meet.
MATERIALISM AND CONSCIOUSNESS
We have seen how both British empiricism and French materialism conceived of the mind in materialistic terms, meaning that the mind has material origins since coming from sense data. The paper by Edwin Seligman, entitled The Economic Interpretation of History , which is linked here, might prove fruitful reading at some time . Advances in physics and chemistry increasingly contributed to an understanding of the mind. Most of these contributions focused on the nervous system -- the central nervous system and the function of the brain and spinal cord as the basis for thought, coordination and memory, and the peripheral nervous system and its sense organs and end organs of muscles and exocrine glands. The details of these discoveries and accomplishments will not be discussed here; but one example, the relationship between electricity and the mind, will be reviewed.
We have seen how the British, believing the sense organs could transform the outside world into a mental content, clung to the notion of empiricism. From this point on, then, mind could take either of two directions -- outside or inside. And there were three questions about the mind, namely, 1) what in the outside world gets transformed; 2) what in the inside world is the result of the transformation; and 3) what is the agency, the means, or the mechanism by which the transformation takes place. Or, put another way, 1) what is reality (the outside world); 2) what is the mind (the consciousness which receives the reality); and 3) what is the nervous system or mechanism by which one becomes transformed into the other.
The alchemists had faced a similar problem when explaining how iron could be transformed into gold. Interest in such a process dates back to the Greeks and extends through the middle ages. One needed first to define the characteristics of iron, the characteristics of gold, and the mediating process. Unless some commonality existed between the two products, one could not get transformed into the elements of the other. More information was needed about the medium of fire or air which was used to facilitate the transformation.
These three questions, the ingredients or elements, the end product or synthesis, and the process of transformation, became the independent branches of natural philosophy, or what became known as science. Today, such fields are known as physics, physiology, and psychology -- a search for the nature of nature, the nature of the sensory and neural transmitting and transforming mechanisms, and the nature of the mind. Each field was influenced by others; developments in one depended upon developments in another. But the direction of influence was primarily unidimensional, proceeding from physics to physiology and eventually to psychology. Many developments in the physical sciences, therefore, answered questions in other fields.
The discovery of electricity is a good example of how developments in one field of science move hierarchically up through other fields and eventually influenced psychology. In this case, electricity influenced biology and neurology (Durant, 1965, p. 519-523) and eventually psychology. Matter got transformed into mind and then into movement of the organism.
Early experiments on electricity, conducted during the last half of the eighteenth century intrigued the public and later became the basis for parlour games which amused the public. By mid-eighteenth century, a professor at the University of Leiden stored, for several hours, an electrical charge in a jar. He lined tinfoil on the inside and outside of a jar which he then filled with liquid. He then inserted a nail, connecting one end of a machine for making friction, and the resulting electric jolt was strong enough to kill animals.
This principle of static electricity had been known for many centuries. Thales of Greece in 600 B.C. had described a process whereby rubbing a piece of amber created a strong enough friction to attract a feather. Various materials were used in experiments. By the eighteenth century, this attraction phenomenon could be transferred from one material or from one space to another. A glass jar with a cork stopper, if properly rubbed produced an attraction phenomenon on both the jar and the cork which then passed the attraction along to other materials. When twine was then tied to the rod, the attraction passed along the twine, attracting a feather some distance from the original source of the friction or rubbing. The telegraph was the end result.
The discovery of the Leyden jar in 1794 led eventually to its practical solution of problems of communication.
Different kinds of materials created different kinds of electricity. Glass, precious stones, animal hair, and wool produced what was called vitreous electricity (later known as "positive"). Amber, opal, silk, thread, and many other materials produced another kind of electricity called resinous (later known as "negative"). Strangely enough, each kind of electricity tended to repel its like and attract its opposite. So positive electricity repelled other positive objects and attracted other negative objects. Similar materials could be moved apart by creating friction in each. This was the opposite of magnetism.
Electrical characteristics of humans.
This capacity of electricity to transmit influence from one place to another had important implications for biology. Near the end of the eighteenth century, Galvani (1791) discovered a kind of natural electricity in animals. He investigated what was long known, that a muscle of a dead frog or other animal would contract when electrical contacts were applied. Galvani, however, took one end of a frog's leg and connected it to the earth; he placed the other end close to a machine creating electric sparks. The leg contracted. Then he took long wires and tied one end to the free end of the leg and the other in a room susceptible to lightening. Again the muscles contracted. Another preparation, where one metal was placed on a nerve and the other on a muscle, produced a reaction.
Volta, another Italian and a colleague of Galvani, disagreed with his colleague Galvani that the critical variable of "natural electricity" was animal tissue. Volta claimed that some damp or moist matter mediated between two pieces of metal. He was able to create a sensation of taste by placing two pieces of metal in the mouth. A piece of tin was placed on the tip and a piece of silver at the back of the tongue. When the two were connected by wires, a strong sour taste resulted. When the same pieces of metal were placed one on the forehead and one on the palate, he created sensations of light. Further experiments by him led to the first electric battery. It was constructed by alternating moist pieces of wood or paper between piles of metals.
The electrical characteristics of the nervous system then contributed to an understanding of how sensation got recorded. The discovery of electricity quickly led to the discovery of the transmission of the neural impulse. Various coding devices in physics paralleled the way sense organs serve as receivers. The identification and analysis of the nature of physical characteristics (light waves, sound waves, chemical changes of both liquids and gases) and the application of mechanics each contributed to an understanding of the specialized receptors in the sense organs. These receptors were able to code for changes in nature. The decoding is known as vision, sound, taste, smell and kinesthesis.
An understanding of the mind was emerging as an interrelated part of various fields of science. Physics and chemistry were already experimental sciences. Physiology, during the first half of the nineteenth century, was fast becoming an experimental science. Psychology was moving in the same direction. Until the last decade of the eighteenth century, the primary explanations of the mind were animistic. Spirits were assumed to course through the entire body. After discovery of animal electricity by Galvani and others, the possibility of an electrical characteristic of the animal body, similar to eels and other fish, was raised (Singer, 1959, p. 355).
Galvani (1737-98) had demonstrated that an electrical charge applied to a muscle produced movement, and that muscle action in return produced electricity. The lower half of a frog was the preparation which he used. The spinal cord was placed in water at one end and the legs in a separate pan of water at the other end. A piece of wire completed the circuit and produced an electric charge, resulting in a twitch of the leg. In addition to movement, the sensation of taste could also be produced by electric currents. This phenomenon of animal electricity was dubbed "galvanism," and galvanism later led to an understanding of an electric cell. These events all evolved in the last decade of the eighteenth century (Sarton, 1931, p 124).
What an impact these new discoveries must have had. Electricity in the nerves! Had the "animal spirits" finally been discovered? Were these animal spirits electrical? Were both sensation and thinking then really products of electricity? By mid-nineteenth century, much of physiology reduced to physical explanations. A few years later, in 1868, Jewell pointed out that psychology could be placed on a physical or physiological basis. But this was not new. Both Hartley and Condillac in the eighteenth century had proposed similar points of view. But the new discoveries, that neural impulses were electrical in nature, went beyond the earlier speculative thinking of British and French philosophers. New data yielded fresh ideas, that physical concepts (e.g., magnetism, force, energy, etc.) could explain psychological phenomenon. Psychology had become truly a science!
Much of the work on sensation and physiology was done at the advanced laboratories in the many German universities. Johannes Mueller, professor of physiology at the University of Berlin and internationally known as a leader in physiological research, attracted scholars from around the world who went to study with him. It was out of this work, along with the British empiricistic philosophy, that modern psychology emerged. If the mind was the product of experiences, then it was necessary to determine how the outside world got inside and coded.
Locke's primarily materialistic philosophy stated that one learns through sensation. Reality is out there, as primary qualities. Even the secondary qualities, dependent upon someone doing the sensing, were really carried by the primary qualities. This materialistic philosophy, further advanced by Hume's extreme skepticism, peaked in the eighteenth century.
As a result, the notion of consciousness as a legitimate area of inquiry returned again in the nineteenth century. This new interest in consciousness emerged primarily along four routes: 1) German idealism as represented by Kant's seventeenth century philosophy; 2) German transcendentalism; 3) American transcendentalism, especially through Coleridge; 4) Brentano's Austrian act psychology and Herbart's German philosophy.
Ironically, German philosophy did not follow this materialistic point of view, but rather followed in the tradition of Leibnitz and emphasized a dynamic mind with innate faculties. Underneath all of this increased interest in consciousness was the rejection, especially in Germany, of materialistic causality. Hume, before he threw everything out, had made cause and effect the basis for mental association. Although he discarded the notion of an absolute cause for an event, his explanation still involved antecedent and consequent conditions. It was Hume's skepticism that finally nudged Kant into action and to him we now turn.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
German philosophy continued along the lines originally established by Leibnitz and his popularizer, Wolff. The great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, had followed Leibnitz and the German point of view, with little modification. But after reading Hume's dictum, however, that one could be sure of nothing, Kant struck out in new directions. If Hume was correct, i.e., if you couldn't discover the cause behind the effect, then you can't know the matter behind the sensation nor the mind behind the idea. Nothing, therefore, could be known, and all was mere speculation; all was history. Only the past could be known; the problematical future could only be taken on faith.
Although Hume demolished religion and morals, critics blame Locke as the one who produced the resulting materialism, partly because Locke's philosophy was of a passive mind built upon sense impressions. In any event, the alternative solution is always the same -- innate ideas. Such ideas offered the human condition and religion a chance to be accommodating (Everett in Miller, 1950, p. 30).
There was no comfortable security in Hume's world. There were no certainties, and Kant feared that all of philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology would be discarded. He proceeded, therefore, to recreate a world of substance. Kant resolved Hume's solipsism by affirming a reality without and a mind within. In doing this, he reestablished the Cartesian dualism of body and mind which Hume had so bluntly discarded. Kant's dualism contained a substantive mind of inherited characteristics. Perception of the world was possible because of innate fixed structures. This nativism of Kant descended through Gestalt theory to contemporary psychology. German philosophers, it seems, have always held tenaciously to nativism.
How do we know what we know? What is the mind? Kant said that we must start with mind to explain ideas, not start with ideas to explain mind. Mind is always seeking some organization; that is, mind is synthesizing. As such, it brings to experience certain intuitions.
Space and Time. Kant maintained that there were two intuitions -- space and time. These were apriori judgments taken on faith, not fact. These include geometrical axioms such as the nature of time and space. All sensations are subjective to these mental structures. Time was a subjective phenomenon because it was entirely a function of a person's perceptions. Time is based on the time it takes to perform certain tasks -- walking, running, sleeping, eating, seeing, etc. Space, on the other hand, was objective -- it seemed always to be there; it was not ephemeral. You could close your eyes and things would be there, for someone else to see or,for you to see when you opened your eyes again. Space never changed. Other objects might be placed in the space, but the space itself appeared to remain constant and objective.
Kant held that there are inherited mental faculties of the mind which created ideas or concepts out of perceptions. These faculties or categories of understanding were a priori, were twelve in number and were assumed to be innate. They included such concepts as: unity, totality, reality, existence, necessity, reciprocity, cause and effect, etc. These categories permitted one to construct the world into meaningful patterns. The basis for forming concepts of both time and space were also believed to be innate.
Ideas, however, have only one dimension, time, which is personal. They do not come from outside somewhere as Locke and Hume would have us believe. They are formed from the inside; they are a product of our mind. Because they are a product of mind, they are therefore personal and subjective phenomena. Ideas are not objective. In this he set the stage, by his affirmation of the reality of ideas, for a further investigation of the nature of these ideas and their changing patterns. And because they were personal and subjective, then psychology began first to use subjective means to obtain information about this subjective mind.
Events happening in adjacent spaces are related together by the mind, and are given objective referent. When two events are related in time, however, the point of reference is subjective or psychological, because the events are related to a perceiver, a person, rather than to an independent event or space. Since ideas vary only in time, they vary only in their degree of subjectivity.
There may well be evidence that time has an innate characteristic, as indicated by recent studies by Czeisler and colleagues at a Harvard connected Boston hospital (Goode, 1999). A study of 24 subjects living for several weeks in a laboratory without external light cues, revealed that all subjects (whether male or female, young or old) followed a 24 hour sleep-wake cycle, following the solar system cycle. This was true regardless of whether light was used to change the number of sleep-wake hour days. Humans, thus, are more similar to animals than was previously assumed.
Kant's definition of psychology was limited. He declared that ideas exist in one dimension only, that of time. An experimental science, however, requires two or more dimensions. An experiment examines the relationship of how some factors cause other factors. Two or more variables are therefore required. In Kant's psychology, there is only one variable, time, which came from his division of intuition (Sahakian, 1968).
Kant's work was interrupted in part because he became famous. Fame in his time was not a friend. But Kant tolerated the situation as best he knew how. Near the end of his life, taunted by Frederick William III, a mystic, some of his publishing plans needed to be curtailed. He died near the end of the eighteenth century. The position which Kant vacated at Konesburg was never satisfactorily filled. One person who did assume his position and partially approached Kant's stature was Herbart.
Johann F. Herbart (1776-1841).
Herbart attempted to fashion psychology into a truly independent discipline, separate from philosophy on the one hand and from physiology on the other. Herbart went one step beyond Kant and claimed that psychology could be empirical. To this he added that it could also be metaphysical, mathematical, and mechanical. It could not, however, be experimental, descriptive, or physiological.
Herbart agreed with Kant that ideas vary in time. But ideas also vary in intensity or force, and this was the more crucial part of Herbart's system. Ideas have force because of two characteristics -- clarity and opposition. First, clearer ideas have greater intensity and are therefore more forceful. Second, ideas stand in opposition to other ideas; if one idea is opposite or contradictory to another idea, then they create mental activity and agitation. Both clarity and opposition are the two characteristics which produce forcefulness of ideas.
Ideas were dynamic and not static, and because ideas now had two dimensions, time and intensity, rather than just the one as suggested by Kant, psychology could then be a science. One could now examine the relationship between two variables; psychology could thus be both empirical and mathematical. It was then but one step further for psychology to become an experimental science. Fechner took that step in 1860 when he conceived how mental phenomena could be measured and variables controlled by asking subjects to make judgements of whether one perception was more or less intense than another perception. This discrimination between stimuli, identifying the minimal level of a conscious difference, was called a relative threshold or just noticeable difference (j.n.d.). That level of intensity, called the absolute threshold, which was just at the level of consciousness, was also measured. The development of this technique, however, we leave for a more detailed discussion in the next unit, which reviews limen (threshold) research.
Since ideas were active and could never be destroyed, Herbart had to explain what happened to ideas which were not currently conscious. He suggested that they existed below the level of consciousness. This smacked a bit of the Leibnitzian psychology of centers of force, states of flux, indestructible, petites perceptions, or subliminal consciousness.
Herbart's psychology, the basis for a whole generation of pedagogues, stimulated the work of both European and American educators. Ideas could be accommodated into an existing mental schema,the "apperceptive mass," only if they had the right "fit." And the ability of an idea to "fit" depended upon whether it could surface to consciousness. Ideas consistent with an existing schema became conscious; those competing with the existing structure were suppressed. The "apperceptive mass" formed the current content of the mind. Assimilation, as used today by Piaget, is not far different from Herbart's notion of ideas fitting into the "apperceptive mass." Herbart was immediately popular as a theorist whose ideas were immediately applicable to education.
Another major educational theorist, Pestalozzi, during the 1860's, was popular for his ideas of faculty psychology and for training the varied faculties of the mind by inductive procedures whereby children began with experiences of concrete phenomena and then moved to generalizations. Herbart, however, stressed the unity of the mind. The apperceptive mass was a "whole."
NOW TEST YOURSELF WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE READING.
Circle those answers which are correct (one or more) or fill in the blank spaces.
1. During the _________ century, there was a need to sort out and apply the scientific findings which emerged in the preceding century.
2. Those characteristics of the universe which were supposed to be dependent upon man's subjective impressions were called by Locke __________________ qualities.
3. The three questions about mind were:
4. Kant believed that psychology was limited because:
a. it could only be an experimental science
b. ideas exist in only one dimension, time
c. an experiment can be based on only one dimension
d. psychology can never be experimental
5. Apriori means:
a. before anything else b. after the facts
c. the result of something
6. Herbart agreed with Kant but added that ideas vary also in:
7. The term "limen" means:
d. apperceptive mass
8. German philosophy (as distinct from l9th century German psychology), was sympathetic to:
c. British empiricism
d. Leibnitzian idealism
9. Kant believed that:
a. everything was subjective
b. all was relative
c. we possess categories of thinking which help us organize ideas.
d. all mental equipment is a product of our experiences
ANSWER KEY ON PAGE 40.
6 or more correct, GO TO MODULE 2.
LESS THAN 6 - complete exercises on next page.
1. In the continuing debate on the relationship between man and nature, there has always been a question of what is reality (or ontology). Secondly, what is the nature of the mind or consciousness, and third, how are we aware of reality (the question of epistemology)? None of these questions have ever been adequately answered but constitute a continual investigation on the part of three major sciences, which are: 1) the analysis of the outside world, a study of ______________; 2) the study of the inside world, the field of ______________; 3) the study of the transformation between the two, the study of _____________________.
2. The use of animal spirits as an explanation of the coordination of the organism was substituted in the nineteenth century by an explanation of _______________.
3. Locke made the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities were those that inhered in the objects themselves and were mere characteristics of substance which existed separately from any human sensations. Secondary qualities were those that were transmitted by primary qualities but existed only as a subjective sensation, such as color, smell, taste, etc. These could not be observed or touched or felt or assumed to have independent existence in physical objects. Physics then, was concerned with the study of ___________________ qualities, while psychology became the field concerned with ________________ qualities.
4. Kant, like Leibnitz, believed that the mind was a(n):
a. passive receiver of the environment
b. product of experience
c. active organizer of what is perceived
d. combination of various sensations
5. Scientific experiments require the discovery of relationship between two or more variables. For example, the amount of food which a rat eats varies with the number of hours since last fed, up to a point, and therefore with performance on a learning task. In his analysis of the mind, however, Kant believed that ideas existed only in one dimension, that of time. According to Kant, psychology could never be an experimental science because there is only one dimension to ideas, that of ___________________.
6. The current contents of the mind was called by Herbart _____________________.
3. primary, secondary
6. apperceptive mass
1. physics, physiology, psychology
NOW TAKE PROGRESS CHECK 2
ANSWER KEY ON PAGE 3
6 or more correct, go to Module 2.
Less than 6, Instructor conference
UNIT 4 Table of Contents
October 13, 1999