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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

© 1914




         Driven out of the psychological fortress, some psychologists of the philosophical type (Münsterberg) still take refuge in the metaphysical citadel. It is claimed that, psychologically, mental life is analyzed into consciousness and its content. Now, it is further assumed that all mental modifications occur in mental contents, but not in consciousness. Consciousness, itself, is supposed to be a passive, immutable looker-on, a sort of psychic deity. We thus have a mental content which is not conscious and a consciousness, the blessed Buddha in his blissful state of Nirvana. Consciousness is regarded in the light of a substance which contains the mental content somewhat after the fashion of a material substance underlying physical qualities. This view of an underlying, immutable substance, with a changing qualitative content, was long ago criticized by Hume, both in the case of mind and body. The assumption of an entity underlying observed phenomena, whether physical or mental, has since become so weakened that it is no longer regarded as a living hypothesis among thinking men of science.

         We can see at a glance that the substance-consciousness with its changing qualitative content is but a piece of metaphysical speculation, it is a revival of the old soul-hypothesis, long ago buried by modern psychologists. The soul-consciousness hypothesis must be rejected, for the simple reason that it complicates matters, and explains nothing. In fact, the hypothesis of an imperturbable soul-consciousness from the very nature of its hypothetical being, itself requires an explanation, while it does not in the least explain the mental content, which is the material of the psychologist. Such a passive, changeless soul-consciousness is a sort of box in which the content of soul-consciousness resides and has its being. This soul-consciousness is but a survival from a past metaphysical period.

        In the case of double and multiple personalities it is claimed that while the personalities are different, their consciousness is not different, but one and the same. In the different personalities found in the case of multiple personality, there is among them but one consciousness, somewhat like the Greek myth of the three old women with one eye among them. By a parity of reasoning we may say that the minds of different individuals, such as John's and Peter's, are really identical. John and Peter are different personalities with different contents, but with the same consciousness. In fact, we may generalize further and say that the whole human race and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air share in one and the same indivisible, passive, immutable consciousness, a sort of world-soul, This may be a grand metaphysical speculation, but it is neither psychological nor scientific.

         There is another objection to the subconscious, an objection based on an artificial fast and hard line drawn between the purpose of science on the one hand, and that of will on the other. Science, it is claimed, deals with artificial concepts, while personal will is concerned with the real values of life. It is claimed that the concept of the subconscious is illegitimate, because it involves a confusion of this metaphysical double book-keeping.

         The world of description and the world of appreciation were brought out and contrasted by Professor Royce in his early works, and afterwards elaborated by a few psychologists of the Schopenhauerian tinge. The division is not new, and dates back to the Middle Ages, with its split of science and philosophy on the one hand, and religion on the other. It is the doctrine of the two-fold truth (Die Lehre von der zweifachen Wahrheit). According to mediaeval thought, there are two realms, the realm of knowledge and the realm of faith; the realm of intellect and the realm of will. What is true in the one may not be true in the other. From Maimonides, Ibn Gabirol, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus and Occam the same doctrine of the two-fold truth and the two realms prevailed. The scholastic could say anything he wished provided he was cautious to claim that what was true secundum rationem was not true secundum fidem.

         This double view still survives in some philosophical quarters. Instead of finding fault with the subconscious for ignoring this time-honored double truth, it should rather be regarded as a special merit. As a matter of fact, the subconscious, unless interpreted in metaphysical terms of a cosmic self, has nothing to do with the heirloom of metaphysical mediaeval thought. The subconscious is based on experience and facts to which philosophical and metaphysical distinctions should adapt themselves.

         We thus find that the objections to the subconscious are based on insufficient grounds. We also find that the abandonment of the subconscious leads to a tangle of difficulties and to the quagmire of mediaeval metaphysics. If the metaphysical interpretation of the subconscious in the sense of a cosmic self lands one in the misty regions of religious mysticism, the opposite view of the total negation of the subconscious, apparently in the interests of science, lands one in regions no less shadowy, regions of naturalistic mysticism.

         So fundamental, however, is the concept of the subconscious that even its opponents have to admit it under different names. They admit the fact of dissociation, of dissociated mental systems, and of dissociated personalities. But they put forth the hypothetical claim that it is one and the same consciousness present in all the different forms of dissociation. Now, if we omit that speculative metaphysical consciousness which, being inactive and unchangeable, is of no use in scientific work, we are really left with the mutations and permutations of mental systems which, from their very nature, must be conscious. The psychopathologist must postulate the subconscious just as the geometrician postulates space and position, or as the physicist postulates matter and force.


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