Boris Sidis Archives Menu Table of Contents Next Chapter
Boris Sidis, Ph.D.
Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND MULTIPLE PERSONALITY
BY BORIS SIDIS
THE MOMENT CONSCIOUSNESS
Moments of consciousness are not all of the same type. The moment consciousness of the infant differs from that of the adult, and the moment consciousness of the brute differs from that of man, and still they are all of the genus consciousness. Consciousness, therefore, must be assumed as not being uniform, as not representing one and the same type, but as having different stages, different types. Very frequently we find a confusion in psychology, a confusion which must by all means be avoided, in fact, it may even be termed the psychologist’s fallacy. Whenever consciousness is spoken of, it is tacitly assumed as being that of the fully developed, adult human mind; lower types of consciousness are left out of the account. Comparative psychology and the science of psychopathology have opened before us new regions of consciousness. We can no longer affirm with Descartes that consciousness is the privilege of human beings only and that all other animals are reflex machines, with no conscious accompaniment. We must also take into account our companions who stand lower in the stage of evolution; we must allow for the existence of animal consciousness, and once this is admitted, where is the boundary-line? The dog, the cat, the bird the serpent the fish, the worm, the bee, the ant—all have psychic life, all possess some form of consciousness, and where in the descending series of animal life can we possibly put a dividing line and say here consciousness ends? Mental life fades away in the animal series by slow degrees, and in the most humble living representative some elementary form of consciousness must be present. Psychiatry again shows us forms of abnormal mental life, forms of dissolving consciousness, such as idiocy, dementia, general paralysis, and other forms of insanity. In short, the normal adult human mind is certainly not the only form of mental life, and different types and stages of consciousness must be taken into consideration by the psychologist.
The fact that the different types and stages of consciousness are not clearly formulated and not always kept in view by the psychologist causes much confusion in psychological discussion. Thus, as we have just pointed out, whenever consciousness is spoken of, self-consciousness is always tacitly assumed. Whenever, therefore, this last form of psychic activity is absent, consciousness itself is said to be lacking, and if any act is the result, it is said to be a case of pure “automatism,” the effect of unconscious physiological processes with no conscious concomitant whatever. So great, in fact, is this confusion that a certain psychologist in discussing animal consciousness and its sleeping states, speaks of “the self-consciousness of the dove” Evidently the psychologist is under the impression that consciousness and self-consciousness are identical. But if, on the one hand, instead of mere consciousness, self-consciousness or consciousness of a personality is substituted, we meet, on the other hand, with an opposite fallacy due to the same confusion, namely, that whenever self-consciousness, or personality, id discussed, mere consciousness is substituted. The different types of consciousness are not recognized, and the whole field of psychological facts is, on account of it, in hopeless confusion. What would we say of the biologist who, in describing organic life in general, would substitute human life, and in describing the human organism, would give a description of ants and cockroaches?
We must try to realize clearer the precise meaning of the “moment consciousness,” as a clear comprehension of it is of the utmost importance to psychology in general and to psychopathology in particular. Psychic contents or states of consciousness are always found in connection with some individuality. That piece of bread lying yonder may awaken hundreds of mental states under different conditions and in various organizations. My friend sitting by my side sees it, so do I, and so does the child, so does the bird in the cage, so does the dog, and so possibly does the fly flitting around the table. The states awakened are no doubt different, but they are of a psychic character none the less. My friend and I may be conscious of the personal element along with it. We may think it in the form of ownership; “it is we who think, we who have the thought of the bread”; but this is only one of the many forms under which the perception or thought of the bread may appear. One thing, however, is essential to all the various states, different as they may be in their content, and that is the fact that they belong to some one individuality which under certain special conditions may also be of the nature of a personality. The individuality may be of a high or of a very low type, it may be that of a man or it may be that of a fly, but it must be some one consciousness that synthetizes the psychic state. It is this one synthetizing consciousness that constitutes the essence of what we term “moment consciousness.”
The moment consciousness is the subject, the psychobiological individuality, requisite in all psychic activity. The psychic individuality cannot be regarded as a series of independent physical events. For it may be asked, for whom does that series exist and to whom is it presented? A synthetizing moment consciousness, both subject and content, is a fundamental assumption of psychology, just as space is that of geometry, and matter and force that of physics and chemistry. This necessity of assuming a synthetizings necessity of assuming a synthetizing moment consciousness becomes clearly manifested in the highest form of psychic activity, such as self-consciousness. For if self-consciousness be reduced to a series it, may be pertinently asked with John Stuart Mill, “How can a series beware of itself as a series?”
Now a moment consciousness must not be considered as something apart from its content; it does not exist by itself; it exists wherever and whenever psychic states are synthetized; it is the synthetized psychic material; mere synthesis without material is meaningless. On the whole, we may say that the moment consciousness is like an organism, it forms a whole of many constituent parts.
In the moment consciousness we find psychic material round one inmost central event which in its turn may have a central point. It reminds one strongly of the cell: although it branches out in all directions, it has always its inmost central point, its nucleus, nucleolus and nucleolinus. While I am sitting here writing, I take in the many impressions coming to me: the sunshine pouring through the window, the table, the ticking of the clock, the chair, the bookcase, and many other things in the room; all of them are formed and synthetized into one, and as such they form a moment consciousness. They are not, however, indifferently grouped; their unity is an organized whole with a centre, with a vital point, so to say. At the heart of that synthetized whole there is a central point, the grouping around which constitutes the individuality of the particular moment consciousness. In my own case, the central interesting point is the paper on which I write the sentence just formulated, and the inmost point, the principal idea under discussion which forms the nucleolinus, so to say, of the whole moment consciousness. The most interesting or the most important experience forms the centre of the moment.
The same object which seemingly gives the same experience assumes different meanings and is therefore really quite a different experience, according to the moment consciousness in which the perception or knowledge of that object is synthetized. These presently experienced states, synthetized within the moment, form the matter, or what we may term the content of the moment consciousness. The moment of consciousness will change with the changes of the synthetizedf content. As an official, I am now in my office doing my work, and the different experiences form one whole, an association of experiences, systematized and synthetized into an organic unity. As a family man, I am at home enjoying the company of wife, children and friends, and once more the experiences are organized into the unity of a moment consciousness. Now I am climbing mountains and stand on the slippery edge of a precipice, now I enjoy a conversation with the maiden I love, now I take part in the excitement of the political arena, now I sit on the bench of the jury listening gravely to the cross-examination of witnesses in a murder case; all these form nuclei for the formation of different moments consciousness. All of these depend on the different central experiences that form the kernel for the moment consciousness. The central experience, round which all other experiences are grouped and synthetized, forms, so to say, the very essence of the given moment consciousness, and as long as this central experience remains unchanged in its central position, the new experiences are assimilated within the same moment consciousness. The moment consciousness, therefore, does not vary with the change of the content, if only the assimilating nucleus remains invariable. Should, however, the content vary so that the central experience is transposed and some other one occupies its place, then the moment consciousness itself is changed. In fact, we may have the content of the moment consciousness entirely unchanged; but if the central experience alone is displaced from its position, then the moment consciousness itself becomes changed in its nature. Thus, if as a traveller I climb the mountains chiefly for the sake of pleasure and keep the scientific and aesthetic aspects in the background, the moment consciousness will be entirely different from the one where the scientific or aesthetic aspects are in the foreground, and all other considerations in the background. The moment consciousness, we may say, is entirely determined by the leading central experience.
The content of the moment consciousness, however, is not confined to the presently experienced psychic states only; it also embraces the past, it includes memory, that is, it synthetizes outlived moments. In my present capacity of physician and working in the office, I may also include the experiences as traveler, as juror, as teacher, as companion and as lover, but still the tone of this particular moment consciousness is given by the official duties of my present occupation. The most vivid, interesting and leading experiences form in this synthesis the nucleus round which all other experiences are crystallized and synthetized into one organic whole. We have here a series of moments, all of them being co-ordinated and contained in one synthesis of one moment consciousness. The members of this synthetized series are not of equal value nor are they qualitatively the same. The leading experiences that constitutes the assimilating element of the given moment has reality, interest and value, while others are only so much food, support for the principal central experiences. This central experience differs also from the other experiences synthetized in the moment consciousness by the fact that it alone, that is, the nucleus only, has the most vivid psychic states, sensational and perceptional elements, while the others may totally lack them. Other subsidiary synthetized moments are rather of an ideational character; they are what is called “reproductions,” ideal representatives of formerly experienced outlived moments.
The moment consciousness may contain moments that happened to emerge by the dynamic processes of association, such as contiguity, similarity or contrast. Each moment consciousness may become content for the next. Each successive moment consciousness may synthetize the preceding ones, contain them in an abridges ideational form and may moreover recognize and claim them as belonging to itself, and as being one with them. There may, in short, be various forms of mental unification, but one thing stands out clear and that is the nature of the moment consciousness. The essence of the moment consciousness is mental synthesis.
If we take a cross-section of the moment consciousness and try to fixate it with our mental eye, we find a central psychic element round which other psychic elements are crystallized. This central psychic element is prominent, vivid, it forms, so to say, the vital point of all the states, and gives the tone to the rest, forming a whole, one organized experience. The psychic matter that surround the luminous central point does not stand in a free, more or less disconnected relation to the latter; it is intimately related to the centre, and cannot be separated without destroying the moment as a whole and even life existence of each particular constituent. The whole moment seems to form an organic network in which the other elements take their place, according to a plan. The structure of the moment may in this respect be compared to that of the cell. In the cell we discriminate the nucleus round which the protoplasm is grouped. The protoplasm is connected with the nucleus by a network, a cyto-reticulum. The destruction of the nucleus affects the protoplasm and the destruction of the protoplasm affects the nucleus. The two are intimately, organically interrelated by the moment consciousness, the general plan of their organization.
A concrete example will perhaps best answer our purpose. Suppose the moment is perceptual and consists only of one percept. Now in the percept we find a central sensory element surrounded by other elements. This central element stands out prominently in the given psychic state, while the other elements are subordinate. Not that those elements are unimportant for the precept; on the contrary, they are of the highest consequence; they only lie outside the focus of the total psychic state. Along with the focus these elements form one organized whole. The intensity of the psychic state proceeds from the periphery to the centre. The elements can as little be separated from the central element as the area of the circle from its centre. By removing the centre the circle will be destroyed and the centre will cease to be what it is. All the elements of the percept form one vital texture having the central sensory element as its nucleus.
Integrated as all those elements are, they are not, however, of equal value and importance for the life existence of the whole. The central sensory element is of the utmost consequence; it is the vital point of the whole experience. While the change or destruction of one or of some of the subordinate elements may still leave the total percept unchanged, or but slightly modified, a change of the central sensory element, of the nucleus, will profoundly modify all the other elements and their interrelation; a destruction of the nucleus will destroy the percept, the total moment.
Boris Menu Contents Next