1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Introduction to Psychology. Internal and External. Mental and Material.

(Part 1)

(A) The Standpoint of Psychology

Introduction to Psychology. Internal and External. Mental and Material.

In the several natural science the scope and subject-matter of each are so evident that little preliminary discussion on this score is called for. It is easy to distinguished the facts dealt with in a treatise on light from those that belong to one on sound; and even when the need arises to compare the results of two such sciences—as in the case, say, of light and electricity—there is still no difficult,—apart, of course, from any which the imperfect state of the science themselves may occasion. Theoretically, a standpoint is attainable from which this comparison can be made, in so far, say, as the facts of both science can be expressed in terms of matter and motion. But with psychology, however much it is freed from metaphysics, all this is different. It is indeed ordinarily assumed that its subject-matter can be at once defined : "It is what you can perceive by consciousness or reflexion or the internal sense," says one, " just as the subject-matter of optics is what you can perceive by sight." Or, "psychology is the science of the phenomena of mind," we are told again, "and is thus marked off from the physical sciences, which treat only of the phenomena of matter." But, whereas nothing is simpler than to distinguish between seeing ad hearing, or between the phenomena of heat and the phenomena of gravitation, a very little reflexion may convince us that we cannot in the same fashion distinguish internal from external sense, or make clear to ourselves what we mean by phenomena of matter.

Let us begin with the supposed differentia of internal and external ; and first of all what we to understand by an inner sense? To every sense there corresponds a sense-organ ; the several senses are distinct and independent, so that no one sense can add to or alter the materials of another; and each is sui generis no data as to the character of a possible sixth. Moreover, sense-impressions are passively received and occur in the first instance with out regard tot he feeling or volition of the recipient and without moment. Now such a description will apply but very partially to the so-called "internal sense." We can imagine consciousness without self-consciousness, still more without introspection, much as we can imagine sight without taste or smell. But this does not entitle us to speak of self-consciousness as a sense. For we do not by means of it passively receive impression of colour for one couched differ from all he experienced before: the new facts consist rather in the recognition of certain relations among pre-existing presentations, i.e., are due to our mental activity and not to a special mode of what has called our sensitivity. For when we taste we cannot hear that we taste, when we see we cannot smell that we see ; but when we taste we may be conscious that we taste, when we hear we may be conscious that we hear. In this way all the objects of the external senses are recognized as having new relations by the miscalled "internal sense." Moreover, the facts so ascertained are never independent of feeling and volition and of the contents of consciousness at the time, as true sensations are. Also if we consult the physiologist we learn that there is no evidence of any organ or "centre" that could be regarded as the "physical basis" of this inner sense ; and, if self-consciousness alone is temporarily in abeyance and a main merely "beside himself," such state of delirium has little analogy to the functional blindness or deafness that constitutes the temporary suspension of sight of hearing.

To the conception of an internal do not necessarily apply,—that is to say, this conception may be so defined that they need not. But then in proportion as we escape the change of assuming a special sense which furnishes the material for such perception or observation, in that same proportion are we compelled to seek for some other mode of distinguishingits subject-matter. For, so far as the mere mental activity of perceiving or observing is concerned, it is not easy to see any essential difference in the process whether what is observed be psychical or physical. It is quite true that the so-called psychological observation is more difficult, because the facts observed are often less definite and less persistent, and admit less of actual isolation than physical facts do ; but the process of recognizing similarities or differences, the dangers of mal-observation or non-observation, are not materially altered on that account. It may be further allowed that there is one difficulty peculiarly felt in psychological observation, the one most inaccurately expressed by saying that here the observer are one. But this difficulty is surely the first instance due to the very obvious fact that our powers of attention are limited, so that we cannot alter the distribution of attention at any moment without altering the contents of consciousness at that moment. Accordingly, where there are no other ways of surmounting this difficulty, the psychological observer must either trust to representations at a later time, or he must acquire the power of taking momentary glances at the psychological aspects of the phase of consciousness in question. And this one with any aptitude for such studies can do with so slight a diversion of attention as not to disturb very seriously either the given state or that which immediately succeeds it. But very similar difficulties have to be similarly met by physical observers in certain special cases, as, e.g., in observing and registering the phenomena of solar eclipse ; and similar aptitude in the distribution of attention have to be acquired, say, by extempore orators or skilful surgeons. Just as little, then, as there is anything that we can with propriety call an inner sense, just so little can we find in the process of inner perception any satisfactory characteristic of the subject-matter of psychology. The question still is: What is it that is perceived or observed? and the readiest answer of course is : Internal experience as distinguished from external, what takes place in the mind as distinct from what takes place without.

This answer, it must be at once allowed, is adequate for most purpose, and a great deal of excellent psychological work has been done without ever calling it in question. But the distinction between internal and external experience is not one that can be drawn from the standpoint of psychology, at least not at the outset. From this standpoint it appears to be either (1) inaccurate or (2) not extra-psychological. As to (1), the boundary between the internal and the external was, no doubt, originally the surface of the body, with which the subject or self was identified ; and in this course correctly used. For a thing may, in the same sense of the word, be in one space and therefore not in—i.e., out of—another ; but we express no intelligible relation if we speak of two things as being one in a given room and the other in last week. Any one is at liberty to say if he choose that a certain thing is "in his mind"; but if in this way to be intelligible this must imply one of two statements,—either that the something else is actually or possibly in some other mind, or, his own mind being alone considered, that at the time the something else does not exist at all. Yet, evident as it seems that the correlatives in and not-in must both apply to the same category, whether space, time, presentation (or non-presentation) to a given subject, and so forth, we still find psychologists more or less consiously confused between "internal," meaning "presented" in the psychological sense, and "external," meaning not "not-presented" but corporeal or oftener extra-corporeal. But (2), when used to distinguish between presentations (some or which, or some relations of which with respect to other, are called "internal," and other or other relations, "external"), these terms are at all events accurate ; only then they cease to mark off the psychological from the extra psychological, inasmuch as psychology has come about. But we have still to examine whether the distinction of phenomena of Matter and phenomena of Mind furnishes a better dividing line than the distinction of internal and external.

A phenomenon, as commonly understood, is what is manifest, sensible, evident, the implication being that there eyes to see, ears, to hear, and so forth—in other words, that there is presentation to a subject; and wherever there is presentation to a subject it will be allowed that we are in the domain of psychology. But in talking of physical phenomena we, in a way, abstract from this fact of presentation. Though consciousness should cease, the physicist would still be round, yellow, and fragrant as before. For the physicist—whether aware of it or not—has taken up a position which for the present may be described by saying that phenomenon with him means appearance or manifestation, or—as we had better say—object, not for a concrete individual, but rather for what Kant called Bewusstsein überhaupt, or, as some rather it, the objective consciousness, i.e., for an imaginary subject freed from all the limitations of actual subjects save that of depending on "sensibility" for the material of experience. However, this is not all, for, as we shall see presently, the psychologist also occupies this position; at least if he does not, his is not a true science. But further the physicist leaves out of sight all altogether the facts of attention, feeling, and so forth, all which actual presentation entails. From the psychological point of view, on the other hand, the removal of the subject removes not all such facts as attention and feeling, but all presentation or possibility of presentation whatever. Surely, then, to call a certain object, when we abstract from its presentation, a material phenomenon, and to call the actual presentation of this object a mental phenomenon, is a clumsy and confusing way of representing the difference between the two points of view. For the terms "material and "mental" seem to imply that the two so-called phenomena have nothing in common, whereas the same object is involved in both, while the term "phenomenon" implies that the point of view is in each case the same, when in truth what is emphazised by the one the other ignores.

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