The bifurcation of mind

The emergence of conscious thought as separate from the subconscious workings of the mind.

 4 minutes read in mind andMedium
Up until the eighteenth century, conscious and subconscious thought was intermingled, without one taking precedence over the other and without one being favoured over the other.
The bifurcation of mind

Descartes promulgated the doctrine of mindless motor acts in man and animals.

And as the clock composed of wheels and weights observes not less exactly all the laws of nature when it is ill-made and does not tell the hours as well as when it is entirely to the wish of the workman, so in like manner I regard the human body as a machine so built and put together of bone, nerve, muscle, vein, blood and skin, that still, although it has no mind, it would fail to move in all the same ways as at present, since it does not move by the direction of its will, not consequently by means of the mind, but only by the arrangement of the organs. Meditationes

When you differentiate yourself as “I” and “not I”, you identify with some parts of your being and reject others, those parts which you repudiate are projected and perceived as negative traits in those around you.

Of all mental states, intense concentration is perhaps the least suitable for elucidating…self-consciousness. Not only is the concentrating subject unaware of all but the most intense stimuli extraneous to those concentrated on, he may even be unaware of himself as a concentrating agent. The focus of attention is so narrowed that self consciousness itself is among the excluded facets of experience. The self is a construct. It is incorporated in experience only at those times when the focus of attention permits. Marcel Kinsbourne, Integrated Field Theory of Consciousness

We tend to assume that great achievements—that of a Beethoven, Newton, or Einstein—are possible only by a ‘conscious selection of an aim and the conscious attention to the means of accomplishing it. The history of ideas is only in a small degree a matter of conscious choice of aims and methods.’

In reality, there do not exist two contrasted mental processes but a ‘single realm of mental processes, continuous and mainly unconscious.’

Sharpness, novelty, surprise, challenge, pain, and pleasure may all promote awareness. Awareness wanders, is transitory and often interrupted. Awareness is heightened by the degree of novelty experienced or some perceived contrast. Our conscious attention is drawn particularly to any novel contrasts which challenge the established ordering of our lives or our thought.

Descartes was the first to assert a a sharp division of mind from matter. He postulated two realms, only one of which is characterised by awareness.

Although we have not determined the precise organic characteristics that facilitated the development of self-consciousness in man, we can assume that articulated speech was a prime driver of the outcropping.

Learn to know yourself by all means, when you feel it necessary, but then turn to something in which you can forget yourself.

The human tradition is a varying blend of habit, myth, ritual, religion, philosophy, and science.

In English, conscious as meaning “inwardly sensible or aware” appears first in 1620, consciousness or “the state of being conscious” in 1678 and self-consciousness or “consciousness of one’s own thoghts” in 1690. The etymological root of conscious is the Latin conscius which meant to “share knowledge with (someone)”.

Cogito, ergo sum said Descartes, and with this dictum placed man squarely at the centre of his thought processes. But even as Descartes made his pronouncement, there were those who “avoided the self-centered mistake of treating the awareness of the individual as primary in the realm of” Rather, mind was conceived as an autonomous realm of being, a thing that is governed by its own laws.

The word unconscious as an adjective appears in English in 1751, and more frequently after 1800, for example in the writings of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Freud believed that the subconscious mind mainly inhibited memories and was ruled by the pleasure principle. Jung believed that the unconscious mind was a primitive realm of collective myth and religious symbolism.

Men regard themselves as free, since they are aware of their will and their deaires, and do not even in dream think of the causes which determine their desiring and willing, as they do not know them. Spinoza

Our [mental] organs do not stand idle the moment we cease to employ them, but continue the motions we put into them after they have gone out of our sight, thereby working themselves to a glibness and smoothness and falling into a more regular and orderly posture that we could have placed them with all our skill and industry. A. Tucker

In a letter to W. van Humboldt, Goethe gave the clearest expression of his conviction that the conscious and unconscious are inextricably interlinked.

Every action, and so every talent, needs some inborn element which acts of itself, and unconsciously carries with it the necessary aptitudes, and which, therefore, works spontaneously in such a way that, though its law is implicit in it, its course in the end may be aimless and purposeless. The earlier man becomes aware that there exists a craft, an art that can help him toward a controlled heightening of his natural abilities, the happier he is. Geothe

The mechanism of thought

The more we examine the mechanism of thought, the more we shall see that the automatic, unconscious action of the mind enters largely into all it’s processes. Our definite ideas are stepping stones: how we get from one to the other, we do not know: something carries us; we do not take the step. A creating and informing spirit which is with us, and not of us, is recognised everywhere in real and in storied life. It is the Zeus that kindled the rage of Achilles: it is the Muse of Homer; it is the Daimon of Socretes; it is the inspiration of the seer; it is the mocking devil that whispers to Margret as she kneels at the altar; and the hobgoblin that cried, “Sell him, sell him” in the ear of John Bunyan; it shaped the forms that filled the soul of Michael Angelo when he saw the figure of the great Lawgiver in the yet unhewn marble, and the dome of the world’s yet unbuilt basilica against the blank horizon; it comes to the least of us, as a voice that will be heard; it tells us what we must believe; it frames our sentences; it leads a sudden gleam of sense or eloquence to the dullest of us all, so that, like Katterfelto with his hair on end, we wonder at ourselves, or rather not at ourselves, but at this divine visitor, who chooses our brain as his dwelling-place, and invests our naked thought with the purple of the Kings of speech or song. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mechanism in Thought and Morals

According to Patricia Churchland, the categories of ‘awareness’ and ‘consciousness’ are part of folk psychology.

Tagged: consciousnessscienceself.

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