Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 21: Immediate Reality

Hugo Münsterberg

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The Two Psychologies.—We have described and explained the world of mental processes. We began with the simplest elements which self-observation discovers in the individual mind and traced their combinations in consciousness. Each elementary content of consciousness was accepted as an accompaniment of simple brain processes, and their interplay explained the structure and function of the whole personality. Finally we studied the combinations of these individuals in social groups and saw that these psychophysical groups are themselves again elements of the widest psychophysical system, the totality of human civilization. There may still be much dispute about the explanation of details; different theories may connect the facts in different ways; and above all, countless facts still demand faithful study before the explanation of the mental material can reach the level which the explanations of the physicist and chemist have reached today.

Yet however incomplete may be the picture which the causal psychologist can outline at present, he knows at least that no human mental function can exist which goes on outside of the causally explainable processes. It would be absurd for him to imagine that while most mental processes are explainable, some are of a different kind, demanding therefore a fundamentally different treatment,

( 286) for instance an interpretation and inner understanding. In popular psychology we are readily inclined to admit such a discrimination and to divide the mental phenomena into those which have causes and others which have a meaning. That is the easiest way; it seems only natural to stick to the principles of explanation when we deal with memory or with mental disturbances and to replace them with a kind of inner meaning when we turn to the feelings or the judgment, the will or the personality. The scientific student cannot be satisfied with such a see-saw psychology. The possibility of explaining mental processes is not a discovery, but a postulate. A mental process which cannot yet be inclosed in the causal system offers us an unsolved problem, and we know only that it can never be solved, if we give up the principle of explanation.

The physicist would never be satisfied with the fancy that certain molecules are not included in the physical universe which is governed by the physical laws. If he aims toward scientific knowledge of nature, he takes it for granted beforehand that every part of nature is controlled by physical causality. This by no means interferes with his right to see the whole universe from an entirely different point of view. From the depths of religious emotion, he may see it as the unfolding of a divine will. Then the world is full of miracles and symbolic actions; and this religious image of reality may be no less consistent and no less complete than that of physical science. How these two standpoints can be harmonized in the unity of a life philosophy is not our problem here. But a mixture of the two would be neither science nor religion. It would spoil physics by mysticism and would destroy spiritual religion by materialism.

We demanded at the threshold of our work that the psychologist be equally consistent. If he explains mental life, he simply presupposes from the start that mental life is explainable and that there is no corner of the mind

( 287) which his searchlight cannot reach. We had a right to propose a psychophysical explanation for will and emotion, for personality and social struggle and harmony. No fragment of mental life is left over. When the causal psychologist, has made his inventory, nothing remains which is unsuited for explanation. Every human mental state from the first vague sensations of the infant to the highest cultural processes of the nations must have its place in the picture which we have outlined.

If nevertheless we are not at the end of psychology, it is evident that the study which lies before us does not refer to other mental experiences which lie outside of the realm of causal psychology, but to the same inner life, seen from a, different standpoint. We characterized this doubleness of attitude before we began our causal analysis. We separated the aim to explain mental life from the fundamentally different aim to understand its meaning. These two ways of approach, however, are not related like those of the physicist and the theologian to nature. The religious view of the physical universe lies entirely outside of physics. It is not a physics of a different kind, but an act of faith, which has nothing to do with natural science. hi physics itself only one standpoint is possible. But for our inner life two different standpoints must be acknowledged as justified in the midst of psychology itself, since both allow a purely theoretical and systematic understanding of the whole experience, and since both thus have the right to the term psychology. Purposive psychology is not controlled by faith or imagination or intuition, but depends upon a thorough study and analysis of actual facts.

We also emphasized from the first that the two pictures of mental life are combined in our daily intercourse. We may try to understand the neighbor who talks with us; and yet in the next moment, we may notice that he is losing the thread of the conversation, and we begin to think about the causes which produced that effect in his mind.

( 288) We may sympathize with his grief; and in the next instant consider by what mental intrusions we can effect a distraction of his mind. We may be impressed by his character; and yet at the same time theorize as to the inheritance elements in the makeup of his personality. The explanation of the loss of memory, the production of the distracting factors and the study of the inherited elements, belong entirely to the causal aspect. But the interest in the conversation, the sympathy with the emotion, the admiration for the character belong to our purposive treatment of the other man's mind. Our" method was consistently to separate the two views and to begin with that which is usually treated as the view of scientific psychology, namely the causal. In doing so, we simply began with the mental life as an objective content of consciousness, which everyone finds in his selfobservation and which must be described and explained.

Causal Psychology and Reality.—As we now come to the purposive view, it seems essential to examine more fully the relation of the two views to the reality of our life. In order to have a foundation for the work in causal psychology we are satisfied with the colorless statement that we find perceptions and memories and feelings and volitions in ourselves, that they are contents of our consciousness and that the subject of consciousness is simply aware of them. That is indeed the situation which the causal psychologist faces and to which all his comparative and experimental, descriptive and physiological efforts refer. But is it really a situation which the immediate experience of life presents to us? Is not life essentially remolded when we speak of these perceptions and volitions as contents in ourselves? We came into the neighborhood of this problem repeatedly. We can no longer delay to examine it. But if we test these presuppositions of causal psychology, we must distinguish between the perceptions and ideas on the one side and the

( 289) feelings and inner activities on the other. The two cases are fundamentally different.

I perceive this room in which I am writing, and through the window the landscape before me. But have I really a right to say that I find all this as ideas in myself? Through the open window the song of a bird comes to me; I hear It. Is that song in me? Do I hear it in myself? Do I not, hear it outside in the branches of the tree? And even if I remember the mountain I saw last vacation, what I have before me now is the beautiful mountain itself. I do not know it as something housed in myself at present. I feel that I enjoy at present its noble shape, but I do not find it as a memory idea closeted in myself. The things which make up our experience, the trees and stars, the tones and noises, and everything which we find in the world around us, in the world of the present and in the world of the past, have evidently been taken into ourselves by the theories of the psychologist and have been made into a bundle of our personal perceptions and memories. This is a tremendous transformation of reality, and nothing is more surprising than that it no longer surprises us. As causal psychologists we are indeed accustomed to sit at a table and to hold a book in our hand, and yet to describe both the book and the table as contents in our mind, as perceptions in ourselves.

But the other change is hardly less revolutionary. We claim as causal psychologists that we find the feelings and volitions and all the other attitudes and actions in our mind as something which we can observe. Yet this is certainly not a natural account of our immediate personal experience. We feel ourselves acting in those impulses and in those feelings of liking and disliking, but we do not find them like objects which we watch as spectators. We live through them as expressions and deeds of ourselves, and we do not become aware of them with the indifference of an onlooker. The same contrast forces itself on us, when

( 290) we speak of the inner life of other persons. We treat their will in causal psychology as if it were an object for their selfobservation, but in real life we surely have a much more immediate grasp of another man's will, if we understand it by entering into its meaning and purpose. If we agree with his decision or if we disapprove of his attitude, it would be entirely foreign to our instincts to think of those will acts as objects in his consciousness. We take another man's will as an immediate subjective expression as much as our own will. We feel that he wills his will, not that he finds it in himself as an observable content. We might call this knowledge of the will in another mind an acknowledgment. We acknowledge our neighbor as the subject of his acts; and again we have left the immediate reality far behind us, if we treat his attitudes as such objective material for his introspection. Moreover, we have handled his perceptions and memories as we did our own. We never find the newspaper which he is reading as a physical thing in his hand, and at the same time as a perceptive idea in his mind. We acknowledge only his reading of that paper before him and transform our experience of him by projecting a copy of the thing which he uses into his personality.

Scientific Reconstruction.—There can be no doubt that we have the right to proceed by such a method and to remold our inner life and that of all other individuals in our theories if it serves a valuable end of thought. The scientist is not a mere photographer. The physicist who considers outer nature as a combination of atoms speaks of elements which no one can see; and yet he has a right to reshape the experience of the outer world by such thoughts; because they are necessary for the fulfillment of his purpose, for understanding the universe as a system of causes and effects. We believe in the value of this end of thought and therefore we accept as truth those thought transformations of the world of experience which the

( 291) physicist needs in the service of his aim. The psychologist surely has the same right to go beyond the mere immediate experience of inner life, if important ends of thought can be served by it. We have seen what ends the causal psychologist strives to fulfill. He wants to understand the inner life too as a system of causes and effects and to recognize every experience as the necessary result of foregoing conditions, in order to foresee what will happen in the mind and to influence it. If this is the purpose, any reconstruction of the inner life which helps toward this goal must be welcomed as psychological truth; but it must not be forgotten that it is indeed a reconstruction and not original life reality.

The steps which the causal psychologist had to take before he could claim that mental life is made up of ideas and volitions which are contents of consciousness, material for objective introspection, can easily be retraced. If his purpose is to foresee how the individual will behave, to what he will attend, how he will feel about a new situation, what he will select, then he must, first of all, know what objects are within the reach of the particular individual. Hence from the world of possible things he cuts out those to which the particular person takes an attitude, which he notices or attends to or remembers or expects, and the psychologist treats them as if they were all inclosed in the personality itself. In the midst of psychological work we speak as if we had the room which we see as a content in our mind. But there are not two rooms, one containing us and the other contained in us. What we really mean is that we have an interest to consider this room only with reference to the fact that it is given to us and that we notice it, while we abstract from the fact that it also exists for every other man. We might say that we split the real perceived or remembered or expected thing into two artificial objects. The one which we think as being without in its original place keeps all which has no special relation to the individual and which is common to all: we call it, the physical thing. The other part is the same thing in so far as it belongs in the sphere of our personal experience. It is

( 292) drawn into our personality itself. What things really are within his reach everyone can find out only for himself, and that is what we call selfobservation.

These real things which the causal psychologist splits into the physical and the psychical are the objects of our life interest, of our liking and disliking, of our preferring and rejecting. But if we consider the objects with reference to cause and effect only, the neutral attitude of a mere passive spectator is needed. As selfobserving, causal psychologists we have to stop our liking and disliking and have to eliminate our will toward the objects. We must simply take the psychical contents as objects of awareness. Then only can we study their connections in order to determine what will result from their interplay. The psychologist looks on the contents of the mind with a neutrality equal to that of the astronomer. As soon as the outer world is to us no longer the object, but is replaced by mere perceptions and memories of the world, an indifferent selfobservation takes the place of the original actions of will. The psychical objects are nothing but material of which we become aware.

But the causal psychologist certainly cannot leave the feelings and volitions out of play. The next necessary step in order to be loyal to his purpose must be to consider these inner activities also as contents of consciousness. This is easily taken, and every true selfobserver instinctively goes over to this scheme. What he really does is to substitute the inner perception of the organism for the feeling of the self. In our immediate reality of pulsating life, we know ourselves as the subjects of our will, which expresses itself through the actions of our organism. But if we give an introspective account of ourselves as objects, we must take this organism as our real self and the perception of its activities as the consciousness of the personal reactions. In our description and explanation of the emotions, volitions, and ideas of personality we have gone along this same way step by step. We did it there as if we found in those combinations of bodily sensations the real emotions and feelings themselves. Looking backward from a higher point of view we must recognize that all those introspective observations were ultimately remolded constructions. They were needed, because they alone allowed us to treat the functions of the self as describable objects and to

( 293) link them in the chain of causal events. The results, accordingly, were psychological truth, but they certainly led us far away from the immediate reality of inner life. It is this reality which must be analyzed and systematized by the purposive psychologist.

Purposive Understanding.—The contrast between the purposive interpretation and the causal description, of the personal and interpersonal life is complete at every point. If we pursue the purposive routine of the day, our objects are not in us, but spread over the world, and our personality is not perceived, but acting. Another man is not his object of awareness but of acknowledgment. There is nothing whatever to be described, everything to be understood. And, above all, nothing is to be explained, because everything must be understood in relation to its purposes. The various activities are connected not by an underlying brain process, but by their internal relation. One idea means another idea, one will points to another will. But where there is no reason to ask for causes, we have freedom. In the world of causality, cause and effect can be expressed by equations; in the world of freedom and meaning, an inexhaustible creation, an unlimited heightening of realities is possible. In the world of cause and effect, nothing is good and nothing is bad, because everything is simply happening, and consciousness is a passive spectator: nature is always indifferent. In the world of freedom, the meaning and the will point to purposes which can be valued and every action can be measured by the standards of ideal purposes. The ideas and volition gain logical, esthetic and ethical value.

On the surface it appears as if these two presentations of inner life contradict each other and as if the contrast could be overcome only by acknowledging the one as true and the other as untrue. But the experiences in the routine of daily life ought to warn us against such rash-

( 294) -ness. We actually rely on both in every practical situation, and wherever we recognize the one at the expense of the other, we neglect certain life interests. The teacher may look on the pupil in the schoolroom as a free responsible individual and may understand him as a center of meaning. But if this were all, he would neglect the mechanism of that young mind; he might fatigue its will power, overburden its memory mechanism, neglect the hygienic conditions of its working and interfere with the processes of assimilation. On the other hand, the teacher schooled by causal psychology may look on the child only as a mental mechanism, where every change must be understood as an effect of the psychophysical causes and every thought and feeling be regarded as a content of consciousness. But if this were all, the best meaning of instruction would be lost. A naked calculation of causes and effects would intrude where personal sympathy and personal tact ought to control the intercourse. The ideal value of the instruction would be lost. The child would be to the teacher nothing but a case of psychophysical activity instead of being a free individual with growing responsibility worthy of personal interest.

This relation between two or among millions repeats itself in every significant phase of social life ; it is ultimately not different in our own intercourse with ourselves. We feel our self as a purposive personality, responsible for every thought and mood and intention and judgment, and yet we may take our minds as mechanisms in which the inherited dispositions and the influences of life have made us the necessary products of causes and have aroused the particular ideas and moods by association in our consciousness. We are free and we are bound, but we are not free in some parts of our mind and bound in others; we are free throughout and bound throughout, in accordance with the attitude which we take toward ourselves. If we live our life, the world is to us an object of our free activity,

( 295) is means and purpose, but the act starts with our inner deed and everything is related to our aims. If we explain our life, our mind is throughout the effect of causes, and every will act is determined by preceding processes. Whether we take the one attitude or the other depends upon the purpose of our thought.

If these tendencies of practical life are carried to their extreme systematic form, they lead to the two developed systems of psychology, the causal and the purposive. But as soon as their character is recognized, the illusion that they are interfering with each other or that the truth of the one is proof of the untruth of the other must disappear. Both are valuable and significant and both fulfill I he meaning of truth. They offer different aspects of the same life, and they agree with each other as well as the physicist's and the chemist's and the mathematician's accounts of the same physical object harmonize.

Yet if we come to the last word, we must finally recognize that while the two psychological systems are equally true, they are not coördinated. One treats man as an object, the other as a subject. Popular thinking is first attracted by the objects which can be touched and handled, and is therefore inclined to take the world of objects as I he true world upon which all the subjects depend. The philosophically trained mind emancipates itself from such superficiality, and must insist on the opposite answer to I he problem. We do not first find our inner life as an object, but we know it immediately as our purposive deed. We see it stretched out before us as a series of objects only if we purposively seek to understand its causes and effects. The objective appearance is therefore entirely dependent upon our subjective act. It is not the structure of mental objects which is the cause of our purpose, but it is our purpose which transforms our purposive life into a causal structure. The deed of the subject is the first,

( 296) the causal interplay of the objects the dependent reality. Our mental life is free, and through an act of freedom we decide to consider it as a mental mechanism in which nothing is free.


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