Boris Sidis Archives Menu     Table of Contents      Next Chapter



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





        Facts of consciousness, we pointed out, are the subject matter of psychology. The question arises as to the sources of the facts. The botanist, when he wishes to carry out a series of experiments, goes into the herbarium or into the field to gather the material for his study. The entomologist collects his specimens on the street, field, and forest. The same holds true in the case of all other sciences. The external world is infinitely rich, it is an inexhaustible mine from which physical science draws its facts. Now what are the sources of the psychologist? The psychologist cannot possibly go out into the forest, catch his specimens, dry them, and pin them for his observation and study.

        This question as to the sources of psychology comes to us with greater force, when we realize that psychological facts are not of the same order with those of the rest of natural physical sciences. It is, of course, evident that we must draw our material from consciousness, but where shall we turn to find the facts? Where are the particular localities from which we can work out and bring to light mental facts? Such is the difficult question that arises before the mind of the scientist, who has been trained in the school of concrete natural science. He finds himself helpless. The neurologist to whom a psychological training is truly invaluable, finds himself ill at ease when in his investigations he strikes a problem which has to be studied mainly from a psychological point of view. A piece of tissue, a lump of protoplasm, a nerve cell with its dendrons and axons can be stained, mounted, observed, and experimented upon, but who can get hold of a fact of consciousness, of an elementary psychic state, of a sensation, of a feeling, of an idea, stain them, put them under the microscope for scientific investigation? The facts of consciousness are so peculiar, so different in kind from those which form the subject matter of other sciences that they who are trained exclusively in concrete natural sciences are at a loss where to look for "real" psychological facts.

        Some even go so far as to doubt whether facts of consciousness are "real" facts at all. Frequently I have heard from people with a good medical education, people who were far from being unintelligent, that they doubted the reality of psychic facts: "they are not anything! nothing substantial!" Comical as this last assertion may appear, one can understand its reason; one can understand the consternation and bewilderment of him who for the first time puts his foot on the threshold of psychology. What they meant to express was the strange experience of having been confronted with facts of a nature totally different from the ones with which they usually dealt. The facts with which they are conversant are of a tangible nature, but the facts of consciousness are not tangible, they cannot be seen, nor tasted, nor smelled, nor weighed by pounds and ounces, nor measured by rulers and compasses. In short, psychological facts cannot be reached by any of the sense organs; that is why they are such a puzzle, that is why some arrive at the conclusion that facts of consciousness can hardly be considered as facts, that they are not anything substantial. Still on further reflection any of these sceptics will admit that the phenomena of consciousness exist, and as such they must be facts. In fact, if one wants to be a thorough sceptic, he may doubt the reality of the external material world. All that might be nothing but a dream, nothing but an illusion, a hallucination. We have no sure criterion of the truth of the external material reality, but one thing remains perfectly clear In all this destructive scepticism and that is the reality of the doubting thought, the existence of the sceptic consciousness. That is why Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, beginning with profound scepticism as to the reality of things finally found his criterion of the truth of real existence in his very doubting thought, and he expressed it in his famous "Cogito ergo sum." Thought, therefore, is even more real than the objects of the material world, we know of the latter only through thought, through consciousness. In short, consciousness is a stern reality, and the phenomena of consciousness are real facts.

        We may refer here to the behavior hypothesis recently advanced by Watson. The psychological knowledge of animals can only be obtained from the observation of their action, of their behavior, or of their adaptations to their environment. The same holds true in the case of human psychology. Man does not differ from other animals and should be studied in the same way. This, if I understand Watson aright, is essentially his position. Watson goes to the extent of denying the very existence of "centrally initiated processes," he reduces all psychology to peripherally induced processes, sensory and motor. He contests the presence or the very existence of images and denies the presence of any affective elements. Perhaps it may be best to quote Watson's own words:

        "Having thus summarily dismissed the image and the affective elements, I crave permission to restate the essential contention of the behaviorist. It is this: the world of the physicist, the biologist, and the psychologist is the same, a world consisting of objects―their interests center around different objects, to be sure, but the method of observation of these objects is not essentially different in the three branches of science. Given increased accuracy and scope of technique, and the behaviorist will be able to give a complete account of a subject's behavior both as regards immediate response to stimulation, which is effected through the larger muscles; delayed response, which is effected through the same muscles (so-called action after deliberation)―these two forms comprising what I have called explicit behavior ; and the more elusive types, such as the movements of the larynx, which go on in cases where action upon stimulation is delayed (so-called thought processes). This latter form of behavior, which manifests itself chiefly in movements of the larynx, but which may go on in (to the eye) imperceptible form, in the fingers, hands, and body as a whole, I should call implicit behavior. For years to come, possibly always, we shall have to content ourselves with experimental observation and control of explicit behavior. I have a very decided conviction, though, that not many years will pass before implicit behavior will likewise yield to experimental treatment.

        "Possibly the most immediate result of the acceptance of the behaviorist's view will be the elimination of self-observation and of the introspective reports resulting from such a method." The view taken by Watson is physico-biological. While one can sympathise with his views in making psychology more of a biological study, still one cannot help realizing the fact that he takes an extreme view when he wishes to reduce all mental processes to behavior. His view of affection as being essentially sense processes seems to be sound. He should not, however, involve his view of affection with the more narrow sectarian view of sex analysis forced gratuitously on clinical facts, Affection and emotion are no doubt peripherally induced and are probably due to the action of the central nervous system and glandular secretions of internal organs. In this respect one, may fully agree with the behavior hypothesis. There is no need of invoking sex to that effect as Watson himself states it: "It is not essential to my contention that the above vague suggestion should be true. It is essential to our position to have affection reducible to sense processes. It is even more probable that the mechanism is glandular; that very slight increase in the secretion products gives us the one group; checking or decreasing the secretion, probably the other."

        What, however, one cannot accept is the extreme view of the denial of introspection. Introspection will ever remain the fundamental method in normal and abnormal psychology. The very problem of sensations, ideas, images, thoughts, affects, emotions, has no meaning without introspection. We must know the psychic states or mental processes from our own experiences. Pain, pleasure, feelings, anger, fear, love, acquire their meaning only from the introspective attitude of the observer.


Boris  Menu      Contents      Next