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THE FOUNDATIONS OF NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY
Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.
PSYCHIC STATES AS OBJECTS
The attacks may now be renewed from quite a different direction. We asserted that psychology deals with facts of objective, natural existence, the subject matter of science in general. How does it rhyme, it may be asked, with the conclusion just arrived at, namely, that the facts of psychology are different from those with which other natural sciences deal? To this may be answered that facts may agree in being objective, and still differ widely as to kind, a square and a man, a pound and a mile, are all objective, and still their difference is certainly a fundamental one.
An objection may be raised that may to some appear as a very grave one. Is psychology a science at all? Does it actually deal with objective natural existence? Physics, chemistry and other concrete sciences treat of objects, of facts, in the external world. Any one can go and verify those phenomena and their relations. This, however, is not the case with facts of consciousness, they are essentially subjective. Psychology, therefore, properly speaking, is not a science in the same sense as other sciences are. This objection may be easily obviated by the very simple consideration that the facts of any individual consciousness are as much objective to other people, as the chair, the table, the molecule, the atom. My individual consciousness is considered by others as external, as objective, as existing outside of their consciousness, and, in fact, were it not so, there would have been no individuality.
After this lengthy discussion we at last arrive at the conclusion, that although the facts which psychology treats of are not of a material, physical nature, they are none the less objective in character. Objective however, as the facts are, they are not independent of consciousness in the same way as the objects of the external world are regarded, they are essentially facts of consciousness.
"What is the relation," it may be asked, "of psychology to the physical and biological sciences?" The physical and biological sciences constitute a system of knowledge of the material world. Psychology investigates the genesis of this knowledge. Mechanics, for example, treats of motion and space. Psychology investigates not what motion and space are in themselves, but what the elementary acts of consciousness are out of which the space and time perceptions are developed.
The different objects which other sciences treat of may be regarded psychologically, and studied from the standpoint of their rise and development in consciousness. For objects to be known at all must first be perceived or conceived by consciousness. Psychology implies knowledge of the physical world as the content of consciousness. In order to know how perception and conception of objects originate, those objects must first of all be given. A thing that is not yet in existence cannot possibly be analyzed. It is only when knowledge of objects is already formed that one can begin to think about knowledge itself, how it originated and how it came to be in the shape possessed by the knowing mind. Physical sciences are in that relation independent of psychology, the former can be carried on to a high degree of perfection without any knowledge of psychology, while psychology without knowledge of the physical world would simply lack subject matter.
Apart, however, from the fact that psychology has as its subject matter the objects of physical sciences as perceived by and developed in consciousness, it also studies the forms, the character, the way of working of consciousness, it formulates the laws of how consciousness works, and analyzes into simplest elements and their combinations, the rich material that goes to make up the mental life of individual existence, or what is known as mind.
The postulated objective reality acts upon the given individual consciousness and gives rise to mental states which along with the objective representation of that reality has also its own coloring, its own subjective side.
The represented object floats so to say in a stream of consciousness. The subject matter which the psychologist investigates is not the objective reality itself, but objective states of consciousness.
We may represent the relation of the psychologist to his object of study by the following series:
The Objective reality
The Represented Object
The Subjective Stream
The Objective State of Consciousness
We must be on our guard and not confuse objective thought, the thought of the object, and the object of thought. The three differ fundamentally, and the standpoints from which the matter is regarded must be constantly kept in view. The thought contemplates and holds the object by the function of knowledge it possesses, but the knowledge constituting the thought and the object of that thought are totally different in their nature. The object in the external world may undergo change, but the thought that got hold of the object may still persist, or on the other hand, the thought may change and the object still remain the same; or again, the thoughts and the object may both change. As I am writing these lines a red book lying on my table strongly attracts my attention, and for the time being constitutes the object of my thought. I can close my eyes and continue to represent to myself the red book, its color, its size, its content, in short all about the red book, the red book constituting so to say the "focal-object" of my thought constantly renewing itself by the fresh material if which it draws from the surrounding marginal stream. Meanwhile the book may be changed, the cover may be torn, the pages may be mutilated, the book may be burnt or substituted by another body or by a totally different object, say an ink-stand; or on the other hand, the book may remain lying on my desk undisturbed, but my thought may change. I may begin to think of something else, say of the coming election or the Spanish war; or both the book and thoughts may change, the book may be taken away and I at the same time may think of something else, say of the watch and its mechanism. The cognizant thought that possesses the object and the object of that thought are from a purely scientific psychological standpoint, independent variables.
Thought itself with its object may in its turn become an object of thought, and here once more the same relations obtain. The contemplations or psychological analysis of a thought must be discriminated from the thought as the material or object of that analysis. From the confusion of these different aspects many a fallacy results. Thus the schematic incessant change in the flow of objective time is confused with the state of consciousness having time as its object, and the attributes of one are fallaciously ascribed as undergoing continuous change. Another fallacy often committed by the so-called "new psychology" is the substitution of the attributes of the object for those of the functioning thought.
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