William James believed that there was no central entity or ego that embodied the "I" in "I feel" or "I think". That the continuous stream of thoughts and sensations generated the illusion of their being a central entity doing the thinking and perceiving, but that no such entity existed. I believe he continues that 'consciousness,' when once it has evaporated to this estate of pure diaphaneity, is on the point of disappearing altogether. It is the name of a nonentity, and has no right to a place among first principles.
Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint rumour left behind by the disappearing 'soul' upon the air of philosophy" p. It seems to me that the hour is ripe for it to be openly and universally discarded". This seems to me to be a variation on the bundle theory of the self, as proposed by Hume and the Buddha among others.
Yet William James also believed in freewill. But for there to be freewill, doesn't there have to be a central personal identity that is free to do the willing in the first place? James was not the first one to realize that central "I" or "consciousness" as an entity is not in any way helpful in explaining the will, or any other mental faculties.
It is just a homunculus in the head that moves all the problems along, with no explanatory power, and potential for infinite regress: what is the central "I" of the central "I"? The only theories that have a hope of explanation are the ones that dissociate the "I" into underlying processes, in particular decision making ones where the will is concerned, whether indeterministic "free" or not.
At this James made one of the major advances by introducing the two stage model of free will ,. Bundle theory, with "temporary captains" a la Dennet, does not appear clearly in James, but one can see the seeds of it in his descriptions of how alternatives are generated for the first stage:. When a particular movement, having once occurred in a random, reflex, or involuntary way, has left an image of itself in the memory, then the movement can be desired again, proposed as an end, and deliberately willed A supply of ideas of the various movements that are possible left in the memory by experiences of their involuntary performance is thus the first prerequisite of the voluntary life.
Stream of Thought Description of Teaching James’s “Stream of Thought”: A Work of Faction
By the way, Dennet, a clear bundle theorist, also subscribes to a two stage model. Of course, the model does not resolve all the riddles, a typical criticism is to say that the first stage is not willed, and the second stage is not free. But it does serve as a point of departure even for radical libertarians, like Kane. To put it crudely he doesn't rely on the notion of an immaterial soul, but as an empiricist only what he can observe by introspection; so on the whole, yes; it wouldn't surprise me if he had been directly or indirectly influenced by Hume.
It's thinking along these lines that prompted Kant to devise a philosophy that posited a unity of apperception ; that rescued the fragmentary subject. Schopenhauer reframed Kants philosophy of the noumenon and phenomenal worlds as will wille and representation vorstellung ; and this wille is not of something say God or Nature but a wille that is self-subsistent. Again Kant provided an answer to this in his first critique by making the subject central - his famous copernican revolution.
It seems to me that there is an extremely interesting question hidden behind this one, a question that is very difficult to formulate, but that I believe can be formulated - if enough context is added, so that it becomes expressible. It wouldn't be a question that begins with doubt, for a simple reason. The common problem with all these exercises of doubt, is that there has to be some kind of self to do the doubting - even if there is no need for a subject to do the "willing".
My reply to your second question is that if action or will to act required subjectivity, that would be a strong statement in favor of the conception of body and soul as distinguishable things. Not something to take lightly. On the other hand, if action or will does not require a subjective stance, what to make of responsibility my way of phrasing your third question? It can be argued that there is responsibility and thus a self that is not empty or inconsequent in how reality is reunited in concept "bundled", if you will , and interpreted. There may be responsibility in judging what happened, and then taking a stand.
Even if there wasn't anybody there at first, there will necessarily be someone right after the action took place, precisely as a partial result of the action that took place, able to contemplate where it came from, and own it. Some say that the ethics of psychoanalysis, according to Lacan, is derived from this assumption. What buddhists have to contribute to the problem of consciousness as illusion is a practice of abandonment. Not exactly a thesis, mostly a path. So that would be one important difference between these two approaches, in my view, and my indirect answer to your first question.
I would claim that as it has matured into the modern psychoanalytic and cognitive theories James' stream of consciousness allows for a definition of the self, but does not require it. Actions are perceived as having agents, but those agents are not necessarily individual conscious beings. There is a standard "social psychology" example of a crowd breaking into a riot based upon mutual observation of one another's growing emotionality, without any orchestration or purpose. Just grab 2 pieces of paper and a pen, then write down whatever comes to your mind until both pages are completely filled.
It should only take about 10 minutes, especially since you should be writing completely free-flow and stream-of-consciousness. But with over-thinkers, their thoughts often get trapped inside their heads and keep swirling around over and over again.
the endless stream of thoughts in the forever-searching mind — Zen Thinking
Sometimes there is no real meaning or purpose behind it, it just needs to be done to maintain psychological balance and homeostasis. What was unreal has grown real, and what was exciting is insipid. The friends we used to care the world for are shrunken to shadows; the women once so divine, the stars, the woods, and the waters, how now so dull and common!
Instead of all this, more zestful than ever is the work, the work; and fuller and deeper the import of common duties and of common goods. I am sure that this concrete and total manner of regarding the mind's changes is the only true manner, difficult as it may be to carry it out in detail.
If anything seems obscure about it, it will grow clearer as we advance. Meanwhile, if it be true, it is certainly also true that no two 'ideas' are ever exactly the same, which is the proposition we started to prove. The proposition is more important theoretically than it at first sight seems. For it makes it already impossible for us to follow obediently in the footprints of either the Lockian or the Herbartian school, schools which have had almost unlimited influence in Germany among ourselves. No doubt it is often convenient to formulate the mental facts in an atomistic sort of way, and to treat the higher states of consciousness as if they were all built out of unchanging simple ideas which 'pass and turn again.
But in the one case as in the other we must never forget that we are talking symbolically, and that there is nothing in nature to answer to our words. A permanently existing 'Idea' which makes its appearance before the footlights of consciousness at periodical intervals is as mythological an entity as the Jack of Spades. Within each personal consciousness, thought is sensibly continuous. I can only define 'continuous' as that which is without breach, crack, or division. The only breaches that can well be conceived to occur within the limits of a single mind would either be interruptions, time-gaps during which the consciousness went out; or they would be breaks in the content of the thought, so abrupt that what followed had no connection whatever with what went before.
The proposition that consciousness feels continuous, means two things:.
That even where there is a time-gap the consciousness after it feels as if it belonged together with the consciousness before it, as another part of the same self;. That the changes from one moment to another in the quality of the consciousness are never absolutely abrupt. When Paul and Peter wake up in the same bed, and recognize that they have been asleep, each one of them mentally reaches back and makes connection with but one of the two streams of thought which were broken by the sleeping hours.
As the current of an electrode buried in the ground unerringly finds its way to its own similarly buried mate, across no matter how much intervening earth; so Peter's present instantly finds out Peter's past, and never by mistake knits itself on to that of Paul. Paul's thought in turn is as little liable to go astray. The past thought of Peter is appropriated by the present Peter alone.
He may have a knowledge , and a correct one too, of what Paul's last drowsy states of mind were as he sank into sleep, but it is an entirely different sort of knowledge from that which he has of his own last states. He remembers his own states, whilst he only conceives Paul's. Remembrance is like direct feeling; its object is suffused with a warmth and intimacy to which no object of mere conception ever attains. This quality of warmth and intimacy and immediacy is what Peter's present thought also possesses for itself. So sure as this present is me, is mine, it says, so sure is anything else that comes with the same warmth and intimacy and immediacy, me and mine.
What the qualities called warmth and intimacy may in themselves be will have to be matter for future consideration. But whatever past states appear with those qualities must be admitted to receive the greeting of the present mental state, to be owned by it, and accepted as belonging together with it in a common self.
This community of self is what the time-gap cannot break in twain, and is why a present thought, although not ignorant of the time-gap, can still regard itself as continuous with certain chosen portions of the past. Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as 'chain' or 'train' do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A 'river' or a 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described.
In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life. But now there appears, even within the limits of the same self, and between thoughts all of which alike have this same sense of belonging together, a kind of jointing and separateness among the parts, of which this statement seems to take no account.
I refer to the breaks that are produced by sudden contrasts in the quality of the successive segments of the stream of thought. If the words 'chain' and 'train' had no natural fitness in them, how came such words to be used at all? Does not a loud explosion rend the consciousness upon which it abruptly breaks, in twain? No; for even into our awareness of the thunder the awareness of the previous silence creeps and continues; for what we hear when the thunder crashes is not thunder pure, but thunder-breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with-it.
Our feeling of the same objective thunder, coming in this way, is quite different from what it would be were the thunder a continuation of previous thunder. The thunder itself we believe to abolish and exclude the silence; but the feeling of the thunder is also a feeling of the silence as just gone; and it would be difficult to find in the actual concrete consciousness or man a feeling so limited to the present as not to have an inkling of anything that went before.
Like a bird's life, it seems to be an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of language expresses this, where every thought is expressed in a sentence, and every sentence closed by a period. The resting-places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated without changing; the places of flight are filled with thoughts of relations, static or dynamic, that for the most part obtain between the matters contemplated in the periods of comparative rest.
Let us call the resting-places the 'substantive parts,' and the places of flight the 'transitive parts,' of the stream of thought. It then appears that our thinking tends at all times towards some other substantive part than the one from which it has just been dislodged. And we may say that the main use of the transitive parts is to lead us from one substantive conclusion to another. Now it is very difficult, introspectively, to see the transitive parts for what they really are.
If they are but flights to a conclusion, stopping them to look at them before the conclusion is reached is really annihilating them. Whilst if we wait till the conclusion be reached, it so exceeds them in vigor and stability that it quite eclipses and swallows them up in its glare. Let anyone try to cut a thought across in the middle and get a look at its section, and he will see how difficult the introspective observation of the transitive tracts is.
The rush of the thought is so headlong that it almost always brings us up at the conclusion before we can rest it. Or if our purpose is nimble enough and we do arrest it, it ceases forthwith to itself. As a snowflake crystal caught in the warm hand is no longer a crystal but a drop, so, instead of catching the feeling of relation moving to its term, we find we have caught some substantive thing, usually the last word we were pronouncing, statically taken, and with its function, tendency, and particular meaning in the sentence quite evaporated.
The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks. And the challenge to produce these transitive states of consciousness, which is sure to be thrown by doubting psychologists at anyone who contends for their existence, is as unfair as Zeno's treatment of the advocates of motion, when, asking them to point out in what place an arrow is when it moves, he argues the falsity of their thesis from their inability to make to so preposterous a question an immediate reply.
The results of this introspective difficulty are baleful. If to hold fast and observe the transitive parts of thought's stream be so hard, then the great blunder to which all schools are liable must be the failure to register them, and the undue emphasizing of the more substantive parts of the stream. Now the blunder has historically worked in two ways. One set of thinkers have been led by it to Sensationalism.
Unable to lay their hands on any substantive feelings corresponding to the innumerable relations and forms of connection between the sensible things of the world, finding no named mental states mirroring such relations, they have for the most part denied that any such states exist; and many of them, like Hume, have gone on to deny the reality of most relations out of the mind as well as in it. Simple substantive 'ideas,' sensations and their copies, juxtaposed like dominoes in a game, but really separate, everything else verbal illusion, -- such is the upshot of this view.
The Intellectualists, on the other hand, unable to give up the reality of relations extra mentem, but equally unable to point to any distinct substantive feelings in which they were known, have made the same admission that such feelings do not exist. But they have drawn an opposite conclusion. The relations must be known, they say, in something that is no feeling, no mental 'state,' continuous and consubstantial with the subjective tissue out of which sensations and other substantive conditions of consciousness are made.
They must be known by something that lies on an entirely different plane, by an actus purus of Thought, Intellect, or Reason, all written with capitals and considered to mean something unutterably superior to any passing perishing fact of sensibility whatever. But from our point of view both Intellectualists and Sensationalists are wrong. There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought.
If we speak objectively, it is the real relations that appear revealed; if we speak subjectively, it is the stream of consciousness that matches each of them by an inward coloring of its own. In either case the relations are numberless, and no existing language is capable of doing justice to all their shades. We ought to say a feeling of and , a feeling of if , a feeling of but , and a feeling of by , quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold.
Yet we do not: so inveterate has our habit become of recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone, that language almost refuses to lend itself to any other use. Consider once again the analogy of the brain. We believe the brain to be an organ whose internal equilibrium is always in a state of change -- the change affecting every part.
The pulses of change are doubtless more violent in one place than in another, their rhythm more rapid at this time than at that.
the reason behind our endless stream of thoughts is our forever-searching mind.
As in a kaleidoscope revolving at a uniform rate, although the figures are always rearranging themselves, there are instants during which the transformation seems minute and interstitial and almost absent, followed by others when it shoots with magical rapidity, relatively stable forms thus alternating with forms we should not distinguish if seen again; so in the brain the perpetual rearrangement must result in some forms of tension lingering relatively long, whilst others simply come and pass.
But if consciousness corresponds to the fact of rearrangement itself, why, if the rearrangement stop not, should the consciousness ever cease? And if a lingering rearrangement brings with it one kind of consciousness, why should not a swift rearrangement bring another kind of consciousness as peculiar as the rearrangement itself?
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The object before the mind always has a 'Fringe. Examples will show what I mean. Suppose three successive persons say to us: 'Wait! Probably no one will deny here the existence of a real conscious affection, a sense of the direction from which an impression is about to come, although no positive impression is yet there. Meanwhile we have no names for the psychoses in question but the names hark, look, and wait. Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name. The state of our consciousness is peculiar.
There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness, and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term. If wrong names are proposed to us, this singularly definite gap acts immediately so as to negate them. They do not fit into its mould. And the gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps.
When I vainly try to recall the name of Spalding, my consciousness is far removed from what it is when I vainly try to recall the name of Bowles. There are innumerable consciousnesses of want , no one of which taken in itself has a name, but all different from each other.
The rhythm of a lost word may be there without a sound to clothe it; or the evanescent sense of something which is the initial vowel or consonant may mock us fitfully, without growing -more distinct. Every one must know the tantalizing effect of the blank rhythm of some forgotten verse, restlessly dancing in one's mind, striving to be filled out with words.
What is that first instantaneous glimpse of some one's meaning which we have, when in vulgar phrase we say we 'twig' it? Surely an altogether specific affection of our mind. And has the reader never asked himself what kind of a mental fact is his intention of saying a thing before he has said it? It is an entirely definite intention, distinct from all other intentions, an absolutely distinct state of consciousness, therefore; and yet how much of it consists of definite sensorial images, either of words or of things?
Hardly anything! Linger, and the words and things come into the mind; the anticipatory intention, the divination is there no more. But as the words that replace it arrive, it welcomes them successively and calls them right if they agree with it, it rejects them and calls them wrong if they do not. The intention to-say-so-and-so is the only name it can receive. One may admit that a good third of our psychic life consists in these rapid premonitory perspective views of schemes of thought not yet articulate.
How comes it about that a man reading something aloud for the first time is able immediately to emphasize all his words aright, unless from the very first he have a sense of at least the form of the sentence yet to come, which sense is fused with his consciousness of the present word, and modifies its emphasis in his mind so as to make him give it the proper accent as he utters it?