Mind Self and Society

Section 17 The Relation of Mind to Response and Environment

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We have seen that mental processes have to do with the meanings of things, and that these meanings can be stated in terms of highly organized attitudes of the individual. These attitudes involve not only situations in which the elements are simultaneous, but also ones which involve other temporal relationships, i.e., the adjustment of the present response to later responses which are in some sense already initiated. Such an organization of attitudes with reference to what we term objects is what constitutes for us the meanings of things. These meanings in logical terminology are considered as universals) and this universality, we have seen attaches in a certain sense to a habitual response in contrast to the particular stimuli which elicit this response. The universality is reflected in behavioristic terms in the identity of the response, although the stimuli that call out this response are all different. We can throw this statement into a logical form and say that the response is universal while the stimuli are particulars which are brought under such a universal.

These relations of attitudes to each other throw light upon the relation of a "substance" to its attributes. We speak of a house as, in a certain sense, a substance to which the attribute of color may be applied. The color is an accident which inheres in a certain substance, as such. This relationship of the inherence of a certain character in a certain substance is a relationship of a specific response, such as that of ornamenting objects about us, to the group of actions involved in dwelling in a house. The house must protect us, it must provide for us when we are asleep and when we are awake, it must carry the requisites of

(126) a family life-these are essentials that stand for a set of responses in which one inevitably implies the other. There are other responses, however, that vary. We can satisfy not simply our taste, but also our whims in the ornaments we use. Those are not essential. There are certain responses that vary, whereas there is a certain body of more or less standardized responses that remain unchanged. The organized sets of responses answer to the meanings of things, answer to them in their universality, that is, in the habitual response that is called out by a great variety of stimuli. They answer to things in their logical relationships.

I have referred just now to the relationship of the substance as reflected in the body of habits, to the varied responses answering to the attributes. In the relationship of cause and effect there is the relation of the responses to each other in the sense of dependence, involving the adjustment of the steps to be taken with reference to the thing to be carried out. The arrangement which may appear at one time in terms of means and end appears at another time in terms of cause and effect. We have here a relationship of dependence of one response on another, a necessary relation that lies inside of a larger system.[1] It depends upon what we are going to do whether we select this means or another one, one causal series or another. Our habits are so adjusted that if we decide to take a journey, for instance, we have a body of related habits that begin to operate-packing our bags, getting our railroad tickets, drawing out money for use, selecting books to read on the journey, and so on. There are a whole set of organized responses which at once start to go off in their proper relationship to each other when a person makes up his mind that he will take a journey. There must be such an organization in our habits in order that man may have the sort of intelligence which he in fact has.

We have, then, in the behavioristic statement, a place for that which is supposed to be the peculiar content of mind, that

(127) is, the meanings of things. I have referred to these factors as attitudes. There is, of course, that in the world which answers to the group of attitudes. We are here avoiding logical and metaphysical problems, just as modern psychology does. What this psychology is seeking to do is to get Control; it is not seeking to settle metaphysical questions. Now, from the point of view of behavioristic psychology, we can state in terms of attitudes what we call the meanings of things; the organized attitude of the individual is that which the psychologist gets hold of in this situation. It is at least as legitimate for him to state meaning in terms of attitudes as it was for an earlier psychologist to state it in terms of a static concept that had its place in the mind.

What I have pointed out is that in the central nervous system one can find, or at least justifiably assume, just such complexities of responses, or the mechanism of just such complexities of response, as we have been discussing. If we speak of a person going through the steps to which I have referred, in preparing for a journey, we have to assume that not only are the nervous elements essential to the steps, but that the relation of those responses in the central nervous system is of a such sort that if the person carries out one response he is inevitably ready to find the stimulus which will set free another related response. There must be an organization in the central nervous system in the way of its elements, its neurons, for all the combinations which can possibly enter into a mind and for just such a relationship of responses which are interdependent upon each other. Some of these have been identified in the physiological study of the nervous system, while others have to be assumed on the basis of such study. As I have said before, it is not the specific physiological process which is going on inside of the neurons that as such is supposed to answer to meaning. Earlier physiological psychologists had spoken of a specific psychical process, but there is nothing in the mechanical, electrical, and physical activity that goes on in the nerve which answers to what we term an idea. What is going on in the nerve in a particular situation is the innervation of a certain response which means this, that, and the

(128) other thing, and here is where the specificity of a certain nervous organization is found. It is in the central nervous system that organization takes place. In a certain sense you can say that it is in the engineer's office that the organization of the concern is carried out. But what is found there in the blue-prints and body of statistics is not the actual production that is going on in the factory, even though that office does organize and coordinate those various branches of the concern. In the same way the central nervous system coordinates all the various processes that the body carries out. If there is anything in the organism as a purely physiological mechanism which answers to what we call experience, when that is ordinarily termed conscious, it is the total organic process for which these nervous elements stand. These processes are, as we have seen, attitudes of response, adjustments of the organism to a complex environment, attitudes which sensitize the form to the stimuli which will set the response free.

The point I want to emphasize is the way that these attitudes determine the environment. There is an organized set of responses which first send off certain telegrams, then select the means of transportation, then send us to the bank to get money, and then see to it that we get something to read on the train. As we advance from one set of responses to another we find ourselves picking out the environment which answers to this next set of responses. To finish one response is to put ourselves in a position where we see other things. The appearance of the retinal elements has given the world color; the development of the organs in the ear has given the world sound. We pick out an organized environment in relationship to our response, so that these attitudes, as such, not only represent our organized responses but they also represent what exists for us in the world; the particular phase of reality that is there for us is picked out for us by our response. We can recognize that it is the sensitizing of the organism to the stimuli which will set free its responses that is responsible for one's living in this sort of an environment rather than in another. We see things in their tem-

(129) -poral relationship which answer to the temporal organization which is found in the central nervous system. We see things as distant from us not only spatially but temporally; when we do this we can do that. Our world is definitely mapped out for us by the responses which are going to take place.[2]

It is a difficult matter to state just what we mean by dividing up a certain situation between the organism and its environment. Certain objects come to exist for us because of the character of the organism. Take the case of food. If an animal that can digest grass, such as an ox, comes into the world, then grass becomes food. That object did not exist before, that is, grass as food. The advent of the ox brings in a new object. In that sense, organisms are responsible for the appearance of whole sets of objects that did not exist before.[3] The distribution of meaning to the organism and the environment has its expression in the organism as well as in the thing, and that expression is not a matter of psychical or mental conditions. There is an expression of the reaction of the organized response of the organism to the environment, and that reaction is not simply a determination of the organism by the environment, since the organism determines the environment as fully as the environment determines the organs. The organic reaction is responsible for the appearance of a whole set of objects which did not exist before.

There is a definite and necessary structure or gestalt of sensitivity within the organism, which determines selectively and relatively the character of the external object it perceives. What we term consciousness needs to be brought inside just this relation between an organism and its environment. Our constructive selection of an environment-colors, emotional values, and the like-in terms of our physiological sensitivities, is essentially what we mean by consciousness. This consciousness we have tended historically to locate in the mind or in the

(130) brain. The eye and related processes endow objects with color in exactly the same sense that an ox endows grass with the character of food, that is, not in the sense of projecting sensations into objects, but rather of putting itself into a relation with the object which makes the appearance and existence of the color possible, as a quality of the object. Colors inhere in objects only by virtue of their relations to given percipient organisms. The physiological or sensory structure of the percipient organism determines the experienced content of the object.

The organism, then, is in a sense responsible for its environment. And since organism and environment determine each other and are mutually dependent for their existence, it follows that the life-process, to be adequately understood, must be considered in terms of their interrelations.

The social environment is endowed with meanings in terms of the process of social activity; it is an organization of objective relations which arises in relation to a group of organisms engaged in such activity, in processes of social experience and behavior. Certain characters of the external world are possessed by it only with reference to or in relation to an interacting social group of individual organisms; just as other characters of it are possessed by it only with reference to or in relation to individual organisms themselves. The relation of the social process of behavior -- or the relation of the social organism-to the social environment is analogous to the relation of the processes of individual biological activity-or the relation of the individual organism-to the physical-biological environment.[4]

The parallelism I have been referring to is the parallelism of the set of the organism and the objects answering to it. In the ox there is hunger, and also the sight and odor which bring in the food. The whole process is not found simply in the stomach, but in all the activities of grazing, chewing the cud, and so on.

(131) This process is one which is intimately related to the so-called food which exists out there. The organism sets up a bacteriological laboratory, such as the ox carries around to take care of the grass which then becomes food. Within that parallelism what we term the meaning of the object is found, specifically, in the organized attitude of response on the part of the organism to the characters and the things. The meanings are there, and the mind is occupied with these meanings. The organized stimuli answer to the organized responses.

It is the organization of the different responses to each other in their relationship to the stimuli they are setting free that is the peculiar subject matter of psychology in dealing with what we term "mind." We generally confine the term "mental," and so "mind," to the human organism, because there we find that body of symbols that enables us to isolate these characters, these meanings. We try to distinguish the meaning of a house from the stone, the cement, the bricks that make it up as a physical object, and in doing so we are referring to the use of it. That is what makes the house a mental affair.[5] We are isolating, if you like, the building materials from the standpoint of the physicist and the architect. There are various standpoints from which one can look at a house. The burrow in which some animal lives is in one sense the house of the animal, but when the human being lives in a house it takes on what we term a mental character for him which it presumably has not for the mole that lives in the burrow. The human individual has the ability to pick out the elements in a house which answer to his responses so that he can control them. He reads the advertisement of a new

(132) form of a boiler and can then have more warmth, have a more comfortable dressing-room than before. Man is able to control the process from the standpoint of his own responses. He gets meanings and so controls his responses. -His ability to pick those out is what makes the house a mental affair. The mole, too, has to find his food, meet his enemies, and avoid them, but we do not assume that the mole is able to indicate to himself the peculiar advantages of his burrow over against another one. His house has no mental characteristics. Mentality resides in the ability of the organism to indicate that in the environment which answers to his responses, so that he can control those responses in various ways. That, from the point of view of behavioristic psychology, is what mentality consists in. There are in the mole and other animals complex elements of behavior related to the environment, but the human animal is able to indicate to itself and to others what the characters are in the environment which call out these complex, highly organized responses, and by such indication is able to control the responses. The human animal has the ability over and above the adjustment which belongs to the lower animal to pick out and isolate the stimulus. The biologist recognizes that food has certain values, and while the human animal responds to these values as other animals do, it can also indicate certain characters in the food which mean certain things in his digestive responses to these foods. Mentality consists in indicating these values to others and to one's self so that one can control one's responses.

Mentality on our approach simply comes in when the organism is able to point out meanings to others and to himself. This is the point at which mind appears, or if you like, emerges. What we need to recognize is that we are dealing with the relationship of the organism to the environment selected by its own sensitivity. The psychologist is interested in the mechanism which the human species has evolved to get control over these relationships. The relationships have been there before the indications are made, but the organism has not in its own conduct controlled that relationship. It originally has no mechanism by

(133) means of which it can control it. The human animal, however, has worked out a mechanism of language communication by means of which it can get this control. Now, it is evident that much of that mechanism does not lie in the central nervous system, but in the relation of things to the organism. The ability to pick these meanings out and to indicate them to others and to the organism is an ability which gives peculiar power to the human individual. The control has been made possible by language. It is that mechanism of control over meaning in this sense which has, I say, constituted what we term "mind." The mental processes do not, however, lie in words any more than the intelligence of the organism lies in the elements of the central nervous system. Both are part of a process that is going on between organism and environment. The symbols serve their part in this process, and it is that which makes communication so important. Out of language emerges the field of mind.

It is absurd to look at the mind simply from the standpoint of the individual human organism; for, although it has its focus there, it is essentially a social phenomenon; even its biological functions are primarily social. The subjective experience of the individual must be brought into relation with the natural, sociobiological activities of the brain in order to render an acceptable account of mind possible at all; and this can be done only if the social nature of mind is recognized. The meagerness of individual experience in isolation from the processes of social experience --in isolation from its social environment-should, moreover, be apparent. We must regard mind, then, as arising and developing within the social process, within the empirical matrix of social interactions. We must, that is, get an inner individual experience from the standpoint of social acts which include the experiences of separate individuals in a social context wherein those individuals interact. The processes of experience which the human brain makes possible are made possible only for a group of interacting individuals: only for individual organisms which are members of a society; not for the individual organism in isolation from other individual organisms.


Mind arises in the social process only when that process as a whole enters into, or is present in, the experience of any one of the given individuals involved in that process. When this occurs the individual becomes self-conscious and has a mind; he becomes aware of his relations to that process as a whole, and to the other individuals participating in it with him; he becomes aware of that process as modified by the reactions and interactions of the individuals-including himself-who are carrying it on. The evolutionary appearance of mind or intelligence takes place when the whole social process of experience and behavior is brought within the experience of any one of the separate individuals implicated therein, and when the individual's adjustment to the process is modified and refined by the awareness or consciousness which he thus has of it. It is by means of reflexiveness-the turning-back of the experience of the individual upon himself-that the whole social process is thus brought into the experience of the individuals involved in it; it is by such means, which enable the individual to take the attitude of the other toward himself, that the individual is able consciously to adjust himself to that process, and to modify the resultant of that process in any given social act in terms of his adjustment to it. Reflexiveness, then, is the essential condition, within the social process, for the development of mind.


  1. Representation involves relation of earlier to later acts. This relation of responses gives implication (1924).
  2. The structure of the environment is a mapping out of organic responses to nature; any environment, whether social or individual, is a mapping out of the logical structure of the act to which it answers, an act seeking overt expression.
  3. It is objectionable to speak of the food-process in the animal as constituting the food-object. They are certainly relative to each other (MS).
  4. A social organism-that is, a social group of individual organisms -- constitutes or creates its own special environment of objects just as, and in the same sense as, an individual organism constitutes or creates its own special environment of objects (which, however, is much more rudimentary than the environment constructed by a social organism).
  5. Nature-the external world-is objectively there, in opposition to our experience of it, or in opposition to the individual thinker himself. Although external objects are there independent of the experiencing individual, nevertheless they possess certain characteristics by virtue of their relations to his experiencing or to his mind, which they would not possess otherwise or apart from those relations. These characteristics are their meanings for him, or in general, for us. The distinction between physical objects or physical reality and the mental or self-conscious experience of those objects or that reality-the distinction between external and internal experience-lies in the fact that the latter is concerned with or constituted by meanings. Experienced objects have definite meanings for the individuals thinking about them.

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