The Nature of Intelligence

Chapter 3. Mind as Unfinished Conduct

L.L. Thurstone

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1. Statement of the principle
2. The structural interpretation of mind
3. The functional interpretation of mind
4. The behaviouristic interpretation of mind
5. A motivistic interpretation of mind
6. Consciousness as a particularizing function


My main thesis is that consciousness is unfinished action This idea is by no means novel because all psychological discussion of thinking, emotion, and the will, assumes that there is a normal issue in conduct of mental processes. To reason is, of course, normally to reason about something and that something has its final verification in action. To be in an emotional state always implies action, or the inhibition of action, or the frustrating of intended action. Emotion can hardly be thought of as existing in the absence of implied action. Similarly with the volitional states which are by definition directly related to action, or its inhibition. Therefore, to say that consciousness is unfinished action is in harmony with all schools of psychology, but the blunt statement that every mental state is an unfinished act is, at least in this phrasing, rather uncommon.


Exception might be taken to the assertion that consciousness is, fundamentally, action that is in the process of being formed, by pointing to the sense-impressions and to free imagery. We can imagine a flight of colours and shapes without any very definite intention to carry the imagery into action. This is true, as far as definite intentions towards overt action are concerned, but, normally, imagery does not appear except as part of a conscious or sub-conscious want. Most of our thoughts during the course of a day are in definite relation to the things that we expect to do overtly in some form. I hope to show in the following chapters that every mental state is, fundamentally, unfinished action, even though we are not always fully aware of any definite intention to carry the mental state into an immediate act.[1]

Closely related to our proposition that mental states are unfinished acts is the psychological phenomenon known as ideo-motor action. By this term is meant the close connexion that is sometimes seen between an idea and its equivalent immediate fulfilment in overt form. Technically defined, ideo-motor action is the expression of an idea into muscular form without further conscious deliberation or hesitancy. Whenever there is a conflict between the idea, considered as an unfinished act, and another idea, there is delay or inhibition in the execution, and the sequence is not then termed ideo-motor action in the strict sense. The basic relation, when there is no conflict or deliberation, is that of an idea which issues forthwith into the action

(35) that corresponds with the idea. In his discussion of this subject James says : " Consciousness is in its very nature impulsive " (his own italics). Most of our habitual actions, tipping the hat, turning a familiar corner, grasping the telephone receiver, are carried out without conflict or conscious intent. The mere presence of the idea is enough, and the idea completes itself by becoming action. It is only when there is a conflict between two unfinished or proposed actions, two conflicting ideas, that the effect of ideo-motor action is withheld. We shall see that if we consider this ideo-motor tendency, not as a special psychological phenomenon, but as a universal tendency for all conscious life, the resulting interpretation of the several cognitive categories in psychology takes a form somewhat different from the conventional definitions.

In the preceding section I have declared that our minds are not primarily actuated by the stimuli of the environment, but that mind is better thought of as the intermediary between the instinct conditions and the behaviour by which the instinct conditions are neutralized. We have, then, a sequence of three phases, starting with the conditions of bodily and mental dissatisfactions, that we do not recognize introspectively at their source. These instinct conditions that constitute the prime movers of behaviour are partly physical, such as the maintenance of bodily comfort, freedom from hunger, and sex satisfaction, and partly mental, such as the maintenance. of social approval, and self-advancement. An instinct condition which is in a state of relative satisfaction figures correspondingly less in determining what the organism thinks and struggles for,

( 36) except for the situation in which one satisfied instinct condition is over-emphasized to compensate for another instinct condition which is failing of satisfaction.

The second phase of the circuit is conscious life proper, in which the wants and the aspirations that originate as instinct conditions have taken some tentative form of expected adjustment. To think is to expect to act. To think is also necessarily to entertain a conflict between two or more acts. Except for the conflict there would be no thought. The thought would forthwith become action. The third phase of the circuit is behaviour itself.

The three phases of the circuit, the instinct conditions that constitute the momentary self, the tentative formulations of the momentary self toward expected behaviour, and the behaviour itself, are all made of the same stuff. The circuit should not be thought of as made up of three compartments with definable separating walls. The instinct condition becomes with increased definition and specification the mental state, and this in turn becomes, by increased particulars, the overt conduct. The psychological act is just this sequence from the vague state of want through the approximate formulations of action which constitute mental life in the functional sense, to the completely formulated action which is the muscular activity itself.

The psychological act represents an energy translation from a state in which it is diffuse, not consciously localized, universal, toward a state in which it is closely specified as the " energy of movement. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the translation represented

( 37) by the three phases of the reflex circuit, and the translation with which we are familiar in the passage of energy through a machine. If we want to study a complicated machine, we start, logically, with the entry of energy into the machine, and we follow the energy through pulleys and gears until we arrive at the terminal, in a cutting edge perhaps. The localization of energy may be as definite at the power drive of the machine as it is at the cutting edge. It is different with the energy translation through the reflex circuit. We cannot profitably start at the energy-source with' our present limited knowledge in the biological sciences. We can, however, start at the terminal or behaviour end of the circuit, for this is definite and observable. We can trace the antecedents of the behaviour through at least some of its preceding forms as purposes and wants, and we can under certain circumstances see how mental states represent desired objective ends even when the actor himself is not aware of the aim that he is really trying to attain. Work in the abnormal field amply illustrates how mental life is determined in its course by ends which the actor or thinker is not himself aware of, but which must have a source in some unsatisfied instinct condition in the actor.

We can start, then, with a close description of behaviour or conduct, and it should be our aim to find the antecedents of behaviour in the mental life of the actor. Now, it so happens that the farther we go from overt behaviour through the mental antecedents toward the instinct sources of conduct, the more vague, unlocalized, tentative, and universal is the form of the psychological act. If we push

( 38) our inquiry far into the mental antecedents of behaviour we come, sooner or later, to those stages in the formulation of behaviour in which the expected conduct has not taken sufficiently definite shape to be recognizable as a particular form of behaviour. The act is in those early phases so loosely organized that it is impossible to equate it with certainty to any particular overt act through which it may finally express itself. The final behaviour by which instinct conditions are neutralized is the centre of reference about which psychological inquiry should radiate. It is the behaviour which successfully neutralizes instinctive wants that the organism thinks toward, and our interpretation of conscious life should be in terms of the expected successful behaviour for which mental processes are only tentative preparations. The main idea is that we are first of all living beings, and only in a secondary sense reactors to our environment. If our impulses to live are denied their satisfying expression by some limitation in the environment, we either hunt restlessly about until agreeable stimuli are found, or we identify ourselves with substitute stimuli that we would ignore in a more favourable environment.

If you have been walking in the country for hours without companionship, it is not at all unnatural to find yourself interested in the first stranger you meet. In your customary environment you may have limited your companionship to those of your own kind, ignoring those who differ from you markedly. To say that the stranger is a stimulus to whom you respond as a reactor is to lose the psychologically most important aspect of the

( 39) situation, namely, your impulse and readiness to be social.

The nature of the translation that takes place in the reflex circuit can be illustrated by the terms extension and intension. The instinct condition which originates conduct has a maximum of extension, a minimum of intension. By this is meant that the condition can find final expression in almost any number of different forms of behaviour which are not yet specified. It is a universal of the highest order. As the condition translates itself into the mentally expected adjustment it becomes slightly more specified, its extension is decreased, its intension is increased by the accretion of attributes. The final expression of the want into overt behaviour is a condition representing a minimum of extension because it now applies only to one particular muscular adjustment at the particular moment when it is made, and it is simultaneously represented by an increase in intension because its attributes are all specified. It is this fundamental characteristic of the translation through the stages of the reflex circuit that makes it difficult to start psychological inquiry at the beginning of the sequence. We are then dealing with universals, bodily or mental. It may, of course, ultimately, be possible to identify these psychological universals as specific bodily forms, but such a discovery would be a physiological rather than a psychological contribution.

I have said that conscious life is intermediate between our impulses to live and our conduct, and that the process is essentially irreversible. The function that consciousness serves is to make our life-impulses profitable in a biological

( 40) sense. It is probable that consciousness would never have appeared except for the fact that it has survival value. Such value it can have only in so far as it prepares action. The forward-looking function of consciousness is its reason for existence. Retrospection, memory, cannot have any value whatever except as an aid to the more fundamental forward-looking function of conscious life. Conscious life is in fact expected adjustment in the process of being formed. It is in this sense that we can say that the process is an irreversible one, beginning with the impulses that constitute life, consisting in the second phase of the tentative formulations of these impulses that constitute mental life, and completing itself in the expressions of these same impulses that constitute conduct.

If we declare an identity to exist throughout this irreversible sequence it is of course interesting to inquire as to the basis for differentiating its successive phases. The most fundamental basis on which to differentiate the early and the late phases of the psychological act is in the degree of definition and completeness that it has at any moment attained.

The different cognitive categories can best be recognized on this basis. A percept is a psychological act that is almost complete. It is almost an overt act, whereas a concept is a psychological act that is still vague and loosely formed.

If I perceive a puddle on the sidewalk in front of me the percept is a psychological act which is nearly defined. It is still subject to some further definition, because I may turn to the right, step out on the curb, jump over the puddle, or step into it. If there were no further definition

(41) possible the act would not become conscious even at its perceptual stage of completion. Consciousness, functionally considered, is the state of hesitancy at which further particulars must be supplied in order to complete the psychological act into overt form. A psychological act that is almost ready to precipitate into action is a percept.

Imagination is a psychological act which is still less defined than the percept. If you are telling me that a certain restaurant is better than the one at which we have been eating, the imaginal terms in which I participate in the conversation constitute a psychological act which is, at its imaginal stage, less defined than if I were standing across the street, looking at that restaurant. If you are telling me how to construct the supports for some shelves, my imagination is unfinished action. You may tell me to cut a notch here— on a drawing. When I understand you, I am imagining that notch, but I have not defined at this imaginal stage of the act just how I shall cut the notch, how I shall hold the boards with my hands, or the tools I shall use. These are further specifications of the act which are not necessarily present at the imaginal stage. There is no sharp line of demarcation between the perceptual and imaginal stages of the psychological act beyond the criterion of perceptual presence of some of the data. The meaning of a percept is imaginal, and in this way the two categories are continuous.

The concept is a psychological act which is very-loosely defined. My concept " typewriter " is a psychological act, so incomplete that all I know is that my adjustment will be concerned somehow with a typewriter. The

(42) concept stage of the act does not even specify whether it is my typewriter that we are talking about, whether it is to be moved to another desk, whether I shall write on it, or you borrow it, or something else. The concept does not contain enough to specify any of these. Normally, however, the concept implies a readiness to do something about a typewriter. The imaginal and perceptual stages of the act define it more closely until the act is completely specified in overt form.

The customary textbook treatment of the concept gives the student the impression that the concept is a retrospective affair— a something that is common to many of his past experiences. One must have seen several dogs in order to have a concept " dog ". This is true. The concept "dog " is that which is common to all the dogs that we have met in our past experience. This is also true. This tells us how the concept is formed, but it does not tell us what the concept is when it actually appears in our daily thinking. When the concept appears normally in our daily life it is an unfinished act which Points toward a type of adjustment, an adjustment which has not yet been closely defined. The retrospective derivation of the concept is an interesting but secondary matter.[2]

The different cognitive categories represent primarily different degrees of completion of the psychological act. The lower perceptual categories are acts which are almost ready to precipitate in overt form. The higher cognitive categories such as ideation and conception are unfinished

The structure of the psychological act

( 43) acts which are as yet only loosely formed and which need further definition before they can issue in overt form.

A desire is an act in its early stage of definition. As it defines itself through conceptual thinking toward perceptual and overt form, it increases its intension and decreases its extension. When it issues in overt expression, it has all its characteristics defined and has therefore its maximum intension. At this stage it has also reduced its extension attributes since it applies only to one particular occasion. The concept is a psychological act which has a minimum of intension and correspondingly a maximum of extension, because it may issue into any one of many particular forms. The higher the concept, the fewer will be the attributes it contains and the greater will be the number of situations into which it may define itself.


I shall refer to the diagrammatic representation in Fig. 4. The horizontal lines in this diagram represent the stream of consciousness. Time is indicated by the arrow pointing to the right. Any vertical line or plane across the horizontal lines will therefore represent a moment of time. Any other vertical line drawn further to the right will indicate a later moment of time. The instinctive sources of action are indicated at the upper part of the diagram, and overt expression is indicated at the lower part of the diagram. The arrows pointing downward represent the fact that the instincts tend to express themselves in action. The fact that these arrows cross the

(44) stream of consciousness represents the fact that consciousness is an intermediary between the instinctive sources and overt adjustment. If an arrow be drawn on this diagram so as to point down with a steep angle, we should be representing an instinct which expresses itself suddenly without much conscious participation and within a short space of time. If another line be drawn pointing downward with a more gentle slope we should be representing an instinct which expresses itself with more conscious participation and with delayed expression into overt form.

The structural point of view in psychology is represented by the vertical line which is so labelled. By this I want to show that the structuralist is primarily interested in the momentary psychosis.[3] He attempts to catch each moment as it flies and describes it afterwards as best he can. He becomes very expert at doing this. He wants to know what is contained in the momentary mental state. He finds elements in it which he classifies and names. His system is a method of describing and classifying as completely as possible the momentary cross-section of the stream of consciousness. He is not especially interested in the fact that there is a stream, that there is action with time. Of course he does not deny it, but his main interest is to discover the elements in the momentary mental states. He puts them together and arranges a system very much as a chemist might arrange and classify elements. One of his main jobs is to describe from memory as completely as possible everything that was in his mind at any one moment of time.

( 45)


Having gone far in the description and classification of various psychoses it was only natural that one should turn one's attention to the question as to how the mind works. This point of view in psychology is called functional. The emphasis here is on the stream of consciousness, its shifts from one psychosis to another— the resolution of the psychosis. Having described the elements of a momentary psychosis with the structural interest, we turn to ask what becomes of them, thus changing to a functional interest. This slightly different attitude necessitates the modification of some fundamental definitions. Instead of describing the momentary psychoses as such, we describe them with more reference to what they tend to become. This point of view appeals to the student more readily than the structural point of view because it has more dynamic interest. It is of more human interest to inquire how a thing works than to possess a complete description and classification of that thing at rest.

The functional point of view is represented in the diagram as a section of the stream of consciousness between two vertical lines that are fairly close together. I have placed several small arrows within this range to show that the functional point of view recognizes that consciousness is dynamic.[4] The functionalist in psychology is interested in the character of the processes that go on in consciousness, but he confines himself to these with a very limited range in time.



The general plan of the diagram is intended to show that the biological purpose of consciousness is to mediate action. Consciousness owes its existence to the fact that it has made our adjustments more effective. It is interesting to note that if the three points of view which are represented in the diagram are arranged in the historical order in which they appeared, we have an increasing emphasis on the dynamic significance of consciousness. The structuralist is interested primarily in discovering what the momentary mental state really is. The functionalist is more interested in discovering how the momentary mental state shifts and resolves. The behaviourist is primarily interested in behaviour itself. In fact, he is so interested in overt behaviour that he forgets its conscious antecedents altogether.

In the diagram I have represented the behaviouristic point of view as limited to the behaviour into which mental life normally issues. One objects to the behaviouristic emphasis on overt behaviour to the exclusion of the antecedent mental states. To follow such a point of view would mean the exclusion of mental life from the content of psychology, and that we should hardly be willing to allow. But there is something fundamentally sound in the behaviouristic interest in overt adjustment. Consciousness. exists in order to Derv a overt adjustment. We should therefore study mental life with overt behaviour as our central explanatory base.


My point of view is in a sense a cross between functionalism and behaviourism. I am interested in the stream of consciousness, but my interpretation of it is entirely guided by the overt adjustments into which it issues. I shall be inclined to classify together those mental elements which serve the same type of overt adjustment, or the same type of biological purpose, even if the several mental elements are seemingly disparate. Such a procedure should be fruitful because we shall then be guided by the functions which the mental elements serve rather than by their appearance in the momentary state. Studies in behaviourism are of value to psychology only in so far as they throw light on the conscious antecedents. The study of behaviourism is in psychology only a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Behaviouristic data should be collected primarily for the purpose of analysing the functions of mental life. Every momentary mental state should then be interpreted as an unfinished act with the overt completion of the act as a basis of interpretation.


In Fig. 4. I have represented in schematic form an interpretation of mental life as unfinished action. The sequence from the sources of the dynamic living self to its expression in conduct is represented by the vertical downward direction of the diagram. Time is represented by the dimension from left to right. Let us assume that the natural state of living is activity, the expression of the life-energy of the organism into action, random or purposive action,

(48) useful or useless action. The fundamental problem of psychology is to study this sequence from as near to the source as we can explore to the seen conduct by which we live and by which we are judged. Since we know very little about the sources or mainsprings of conduct we must necessarily be vague about their exact nature. We may call them instincts or motives or impulses to live. In the diagram I have labelled them as instincts.

The impulse is not subject to conscious control or even conscious recognition in its entire course toward expression. It is only in the latter part of the expression of an impulse that it is subject to conscious participation. The first phase of the impulse is probably what we know as the subconscious. According to this interpretation the subconscious is in a sense preconscious or precognitive in that the impulse has not taken on sufficient definiteness to become conscious content. At this stage the impulse has as its sole attributes affective characteristics which are too diffuse and unlocalized to be even introspectively identified. The course of the impulse through this early phase of its expression is not subject to the control of willed guidance and choice; it is not conscious in any focal sense, and it cannot be controlled by rational judgment. It is only when the impulse has defined itself considerably into the form of an idea, a concept, a proposed general line of conduct, that it is subject to further definition by means of rational guidance. Rational control is, however, limited even here to the acceptance and rejection of the ideas that occur to us. Ideas are never produced and formed by rational control.

As the impulse emerges from the preconscious phase of its

(49) history with a minimum of attributes, it constitutes a concept or higher thought process. It is higher in the sense that it is loosely organized, vague, incomplete with reference to the action that it may lead to. It contains very little to identify it. It points only to a type of action to which it may lead. It is in this sense that we can say that the higher thought processes are closer to the subconscious or pre-conscious than the perceptual processes. Of course it is not necessary for an impulse to emerge from the subconscious phase of its history at the conceptual stage. It may not emerge in focal consciousness until it has been almost completely formed into a percept, an act that is almost ready to be completed. What we know as consciousness is the presence of impulses that have been more or less defined and which conflict with each other, and thus arrest their own expression. The conflicts of impulses that are rather well specified constitute consciousness in a functional sense. Impulses clash no doubt in their earlier, less particularized phase when they are little more than affective trends, when they have not been defined sufficiently to be the subject of conscious inspection and reflection. Such conflicts give rise to feeling states of a temporary or a permanent kind which in aggravated forms constitute the mystery of the neuroses.

An act which is entirely automatic is the expression of an impulse which in its course of particularization meets no conflicting impulse and therefore dues not become conscious. It issues straight into action. An instinctive act is the expression of an impulse, usually strong, which does not meet with any interference until it reaches the perceptual

( 50) stage of completion. It differs from a reflex mainly in that conscious participation in the instinctive act appears at the perceptual stage of completion. It is less predictable as to its final details than the reflex. It is subject to conscious and rational guidance at its perceptual stage of formation. An impulse which is arrested by conflicts while it is still loosely formed constitutes imagery and thinking in a higher sense. Higher and lower forms of mental life differ, then, mainly in that the higher mental processes involve the conflict of impulses that are as yet only loosely formed, whereas simpler or lower forms of mental life consist in the conflicts of impulses that are fairly well specified. In the animal mind we have the capacity for conflict of impulses and conscious guidance at the perceptual stage when the impulses contain the perceptual specifications of the immediate present. Mental power and intelligence consist in the capacity for allowing the rough, vague, loose, almost intangible impulses to clash before they have become particularized into percepts or definitely specified ideas. In the diagram this would be represented by continuing the parallel lines of the conscious stream farther up toward the sources of activity. But not even the genius can push his control of ideas, of partially formulated impulses, clear up to the source. He must wait for them to appear already partly specified. That phase of formulation through which the idea passes before it emerges for conscious verification and evaluation is the subconscious or preconscious. That moment of transition when the impulse or idea is confidently known to be there but at which we cannot see it, know it, or say it— when it is only experienced as feeling, but not yet within our control, that

(51) moment marks the stage at which the impulse or idea is taking on sufficient attributes to become cognitively known. We have no guarantee that the idea, when it does appear, will be a cognitive universal, a concept. It may appear with a rush, well formulated into the imaginal or perceptual stage of completion. In that case it may be recognized as a clever idea, but it will not be a higher thought process unless it appears with only just enough attributes to constitute a line of conduct, a universal which needs much further particularization before it can issue into conduct.

My main idea is that mental life can be thought of as action in the process of being formulated. Any particular mental state can be thought of as an act that is unfinished, an impulse which in its course of particularization is in conflict with some other impulse. The higher thought processes would be impulses toward action that are as yet only loosely defined with a minimum of intension and a maximum of extension. The several cognitive categories can be interpreted as differing mainly and in a functional sense in the degree of completion of the act. Higher and abstract mental life is loosely organized and anticipates a type of conduct rather than the specific act. The definition attained by an impulse or motive before it becomes conscious constitutes the subconscious or preconscious. If this interpretation is correct, the subconscious is continuous with consciousness, an impulse being preconscious before it becomes conscious. Mental life. would be interpreted in the light of the action into which it completes itself. It would not merely represent action. Mental life would actually be action in unfinished form.



In the previous sections I have insisted that every mental state is unfinished action. Mental life must of course become finished action if it is to be biologically justifiable. I shall postulate a universal tendency of every mental state to particularize itself. By this I mean that every psychological object tends automatically to take on additional attributes, to specify itself more concretely, and thereby to become motorially more complete. To think is to add new attributes to that which we aye thinking about. This means an increase of intension and a decrease of extension of the psychological object. This also means that the psychological object naturally and without conscious effort tends to specify itself toward the motorium.

Stop now and notice what really constitutes your concept " house ". If you dwell on that concept you will discover that, unless you specially guard against it, you will be imagining a particular house; you are perhaps directly in front of it, or you are in it right now. You even " see " the furniture and rugs— in this that was a concept when you started. I grant that this particularized imagery may serve as a concept, as a carrier of the fewer attributes that characterize the universal. But the fact remains that this minutely specified imagery is not itself a concept. The concept is a very unstable entity, and it is biologically well that it Should be. The concept is a sign with a few hints on it, and it points in some other direction than the one in which we are looking. If its few attributes fit the purpose of the moment, we look farther in its direction

(53) so as to see more of its attributes— until we see all of them. When we do that we foresee where that concept leads to, and we express it in action by following, by rejecting, by continuing in the line of least resistance, or by waiting for another sign to appear.

The concept " house " does not normally appear unless we have some want which tends to become satisfied by an adjustment concerning a house. In Fig. 4 the concept would be represented by one of the upper parallel lines which are labelled " higher thought processes ". The impulse is in its early and incomplete stage of expression. The undulating line which is marked " particularization " represents the course of an impulse toward final expression in adjustment. At several stages, the impulse becomes conscious successively in conceptual terms, in ideational terms, and in perceptual terms. The expression of the impulse is in one sense an accretion of attributes. The higher cognitive forms of the impulse are incompletely specified, while its lower cognitive forms are more definitely specified. Progress toward the right on the chart means time and delay in neutralizing the impulse. Progress downward on the chart means the universal ideo-motor tendency.

Let us consider the particularizing effect in perception. You have a club sandwich before you. The percept of that sandwich is the unfinished act of eating it, or otherwise disposing of it. The percept tends to take on new attributes if it is mentally at all sustained. The first glance at the sandwich does not contain in it the attributes of eating with the fingers or with knife and fork. The percept, even when so defined, does not contain in it the attributes

( 54) specifying which half of the sandwich is to be eaten first; the normal function of perception is to add new attributes until the percept is so completely specified that it becomes an overt adjustment. In Fig. q. we should represent the perceptual stages of the psychological act at the lower parallel lines which are close to the motorium.

Suppose that you have been aroused to a fit of violent temper against another man. Your behaviour would be said to be instinctive. Your motive is to injure him and if the instinctive pressure is strong your motive will be particularized to the perceptual stage without conscious guidance. The instinctive act of striking him has defined itself through the conceptual and ideational stages automatically. The motive appears in focal consciousness first when it has reached the perceptual stage. The instinctive act of striking is keenly conscious in that it is perceptually guided. This is represented diagrammatically by the line which is labelled "instinctive action ". Note that this motive does not become conscious at the early and higher cognitive stages. It becomes conscious first when it needs perceptual aid in order to be effective. The perceptual guidance of the striking act limits the act to one of immediate conscious purpose.

Let us return to the situation of being stuck on a country road with an engine that refuses to work. Up until this moment your motive in its more immediate sense was to go, and since it was being satisfied you lent only the slight perceptual guidance required to stay on the road and to move on. That motive is frustrated. The motive " to go " now becomes keenly conscious, and it tries to find

(55) satisfaction by defining itself in different tentative imaginal ways. It is at this stage that the stimulus appears. The stimuli such as the sound and appearance of the engine and the kinesthetic stimuli, all share in determining which of various concepts and ideas are to appear in the mind of the driver. Certain combinations of stimuli would cause the motive to express itself as the concept " ignition ". When this concept appears it is an incomplete act of starting to go again. The concept has no sooner appeared than it particularizes itself by adding such new attributes as " ignition plus spark plug ", and then appears, perhaps, " ignition plus spark plugs plus third cylinder plus dirty, etc." This process requires often only a fractional part of a second. The particularization continues until some inconsistency arises when it is no longer identified with our purposes.

The driver then waits for another idea to appear. Perhaps the next concept to appear is " gas supply ". This normally defines itself by additional attributes such as " gas supply plus empty tank plus so far to the next farmhouse plus walking plus looking to see if this is so". The concept has defined itself to the perceptual stage. At this stage the motive in its ideational form drives one to look for the stimulus by which to complete the idea in action. Suppose that this line of thought is found inconsistent by the presence of gasolene in the tank. It is now possible to let the concept " gas supply " reappear in order to define itself along some other route, as, for example, " gas supply plus carburetor plus clogged carburetor." When the concept defines itself toward action it loses its characteristics as a concept by becoming particularized. In all of these

(56) cases the concepts appear as tentative outlets for the motive " to go again ".

Every mental state is biologically to be considered as unfinished action. The interpretation of our mental life is most profitably made on the basis of the adjustments which it mediates. We are already familiar with the generally accepted principle that mental states tend to express themselves in action sooner or later. But this principle has not been given the necessary emphasis. We are in the habit of accepting it as an interesting fact but not as a fundamental guide for the interpretation of conscious life. What I am proposing is, therefore, again only a shift of emphasis.

Another generally accepted principle in psychology is that of ideo-motor action. By this we usually understand the automatic and impulsive transition of an idea or percept into action. I should suggest the use of this term for the universal tendency of every mental state to define itself by additional attributes until it precipitates in action. What we ordinarily understand by ideo-motor action would then be a special case of a principle that is universal for all conscious life.

I should propose the term particularization to refer to the effect of the ideo-motor tendency on the psychological object. The ideo-motor tendency would then be the tendency of mental states to express themselves in action. Particularization would describe the changes in the psychological object, brought about by the ideo-motor tendency. Of course the ideo-motor tendency does not in any sense explain itself. The term only brings to our attention the fact that the tendency is universal.


  1. See Chapter IX for a discussion of the sense-qualities in relation to this principle.
  2. Thurstone, L. L., " The anticipatory aspect of consciousness " : Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Method, vol. xvi, No. 21, 9th October, 1919.
  3. A psychosis is any mental state, any moment of consciousness.
  4. The fact that functionalism is diagrammatically to the right of structuralism is only a matter of graphical convenience and is not intended to have any interpretation.

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