The Nature of Intelligence

Chapter 6. The Preconscious Phase of the Reflex Circuit

L.L. Thurstone

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

1. The Preconscious impulse
2. Ideational and conceptual resolution of the impulse
3. Temperamental attitudes toward intellectual work
4. Instinctive and rational conduct
5. Urgency and intelligence
6. The Pre focal impulse
7. Precognition
8. Summary


I shall now describe the reflex circuit with special reference to what happens to the motive before it becomes completely conscious and focal. The motive passes through a process of particularization or specification in its development toward overt expression. By this I mean that the motive or impulse takes on new attributes until it becomes sufficiently specified to register as the immediately present adjustment. Before considering what we might call the pre-focal elaboration of the motive let us consider the progress that is usually made when some undertaking is planned and started with an original objective which is stated only as a universal.


Suppose that we are generally dissatisfied with the large number of accidents in some industrial establishment. There is need for something to be done but nothing has as yet been proposed. We are dissatisfied and perhaps worried about things as they are, but no effective adjustment has as yet been proposed even in imaginal form. Let us suppose that a committee is formed for the purpose of seeing if something can be done about it. Particular accidents are investigated to ascertain how they came about. The first constructive suggestion on the part of one of the members of the committee may be perhaps to erect signs at those points where the accidents seem to be particularly prevalent. When this idea occurs the dissatisfaction has become focal in the form of an idea which is to be imaginally lived through in order to ascertain whether it is consistent with the motive to reduce the frequency of accidents. One of the members of the committee may imagine a foreigner in the plant walking right into the dangerous situation because of his inability to read English. When that idea occurs it is an imaginal particularization of the idea to have danger signs, and this imaginal experience is an anticipated failure. The failure might by overt trial and error have been discovered, but in this case the failure of the idea to have danger signs is anticipated by living it through in anticipated imaginal experience. The dissatisfaction may be thought of as a pressure of social obligation and duty which becomes focal again in a slightly different form in the suggestion to have conspicuous red disks erected at the dangerous points throughout the plant. These signs would be intelligible to anyone irrespective of native language. This idea is lived

Figures 7, 8, and 9

( 87) through by imagining how the place would look with these signs in appropriate places. If this imaginal particularization of the suggestion does not seem inconsistent it may be carried to completion in an overt adjustment, which would be the erection of the red disks.

Analyse this with reference to Fig. 7. I have indicated the motive or dissatisfaction at the extreme left of the diagram. This dissatisfaction is the driving force or motive power for the mental activities that are to express themselves in some suitable adjustment. There follows a time when the dissatisfaction is merely felt in terms of the cognitive evidence of the accidents. The first deliberations of the committee may consist merely in making clear what the dissatisfaction or need really is. The psychological interpretation of those deliberations would be that the dissatisfaction or problem is then being stated. To state a need in an intelligent manner is to strip from it the irrelevant details which may be inadvertently mixed with the dissatisfaction and which tend to obstruct an effective solution. If one of the members takes considerable time in the meetings of the committee to criticize the management in strong emotional terms, it would indicate that the need has perhaps not yet been closely defined unless his criticism is taken in the form of an analysis of the need itself. If another member recites the horrors of a particular accident without analysing its cause, he may be doing good service in stirring to action the feeling of social obligation on the part of other indifferent members of the committee. But such discussion may also have the detrimental effect of centering attention on the cognitive particulars about which the dissatisfaction is felt

(88) without aiding in the resolution of the problem and the task of the committee.

With reference to the solution of the problem or the attainment of the effective adjustment, this stage of the deliberations may be thought of as preceding the focal statement of an adjustment. The moment when the first constructive suggestion appears we have the resolution of the difficulty becoming focal. This constructive suggestion may be stated in the form of an idea which would be a concrete specification of the proposed adjustment. That would be the case if the suggestion were to erect a red sign at a particularly dangerous spot. The constructive suggestion by which the resolution becomes focal may appear on the other hand in conceptual form. That would be the case if the suggestion were to inaugurate some kind of instruction around the slogan " safety first ". That suggestion might not contain at its inception any details as to whether the instruction would be by pamphlets distributed in the pay envelope, or by lectures in different languages, or by moving pictures. None of these particulars may even have been thought of by the person who proposes a line of solution by education. Nevertheless, his suggestion would delimit to some extent the manner in which one might resolve the difficulty. The discussions preceding that suggestion might have been in the nature of a complete consideration of the difficulty in its various aspects, and a stripping of the problem of distracting particulars. The discussion which follows the constructive suggestion may be thought of as tentative adjustments stated in imaginal form and subject to mental trial-and-error choice.

( 89)

Let us suppose that the final adjustment which is actually to be carried out is the exhibition of a series of moving pictures to show how easily an unsuspecting person may become the victim of a serious accident. Let us also suppose that the suggestion in the committee appears first as a proposal to educate the workmen in the precautions that they themselves might take. With reference to the adjustment which is actually to be carried out we may consider as preconscious all the deliberations that preceded the effective suggestion. The deliberations which follow the presentation of the suggestion may be thought of as conscious particularizations of the idea of education. These conscious particularizations are in reality the imaginal living through of the education idea in various forms in order that the most effective detailed educational adjustment may be selected.


I have represented in Fig. 7 these stages in the reflex circuit and the point at which the motive or dissatisfaction becomes focal. By this I mean that the dissatisfaction is then stated in some imaginal form which is to be defined more closely by conscious delimitation. One may possibly object to this form of analysis by the statement that the preconscious stages of the motive are in reality conscious and are filled with cognitive terms which are perhaps even intensely focal. All that is granted. But with reference to the effective adjustment the deliberations preceding its focal statement are preconscious. They are the imaginal

(90) reinstatement perhaps of the dissatisfaction in all its various forms. They are in the nature of the expression, " Yes, all this is awful, we must do something about it. Jones was hurt yesterday— and then follows more detail— it is indeed an awful condition— what can we do about it ?— the management is indifferent— the men are careless—  the foremen do not care— etc." All these discussions have their own focal content, to be sure, but with reference to the solution of this particular difficulty they precede the focal statement of the first proposed resolution of the trouble.

Briefly stated, Fig. 7 represents several stages in the cycle. First we have a felt need. Then we deliberate about the trouble or dissatisfaction. This is preliminary to the stage at which the first constructive suggestion appears. I call this stage of the psychological act preconscious with reference, of course, to the particular act by which this difficulty is to be resolved. The point at which the constructive suggestion appears is the moment at which the motive becomes focal. The motive is then no longer only a felt need. When it becomes focal it is more closely defined, and it then looks toward a type of adjustment by which the motive may be satisfied. The suggestion is the psychological act, arrived at the point of focal statement. From then on, we have the possibility of conscious control in that we can live the suggestion imaginally to its completion. If the concrete experience, so imaginally anticipated, promises to neutralize the dissatisfaction, it is acted out in overt form. If it does not seem to promise the disappearance of the dissatisfaction, it is dropped for lack of motive power. We have then to consider in the analysis of the psychological act two main

( 91) phases of it. We have first that irritation and discontent of a dissatisfied motive which gives by more or less random behaviour objective evidence of its presence. We have a second Phase in which the motive has become focal and is attempting to express itself with sufficient delimitation. to render possible the guidance of conscious elimination and choice. The Point in the psychological act which separates those two main phases is the moment at which the motive becomes focal with reference to a Proposed particular adjustment

In Figs. 7 and 8 I have shown the difference between the resolution of a problem when the imaginal tentative adjustment appears in the form of a universal, and when it appears as a particularized suggestion. In the previous illustrations I described the two possible types of suggestion by using as examples the proposal to erect a conspicuous red sign at a particular place, and the suggestion to start some programme of education to show the advantages of being careful. The former is a particularized suggestion whereas the latter is stated more in the form of a universal. In the diagrams I have shown the more particularized suggestion in Fig. 7, and I have represented the suggested universal in Fig. 8, where the problem becomes focal at an earlier stage in the psychological act. It should be clear that if the psychological act becomes focal at an early stage, when the resolution is still very loosely defined, when the resolution is still in the form of a universal, the actor has a wide range of final adjustments among which to choose the particular expression of his desire. This makes for effectiveness in adjustment. By this capacity the actor has at his command many possible adjustments which do not even occur to the

( 92) man whose suggestion is a particularized concrete experience imaginally represented. We may state as a principle with reference to intelligent conduct that the earlier in the psychological act the motive becomes focal, the wider will be the range of choice of possible Particular adjustments, and the more intelligent and effective will be the neutralization of the desire.

This principle may be seen in the typical conversation of people of different degrees of intelligence. The person whose intelligence is restricted limits his interests and conversation to particular experience, to what so-and-so said on a particular occasion ; he limits himself largely to the particular concerns of food and clothing and other more immediate considerations in his daily life. To him a conversation in terms of universals has no appeal. To him an example of a principle represents the example only. He does not take a particular as the promise of a universal. His attempts to talk the language of universals are ineffective because his attempted universals do not represent the focal statement of a normally felt need. Since the psychological act is in his mind seldom focal at the stage of universals, he cannot be expected to be very keenly aware of his limitations except as he may judge of them by the shortcomings in the consequences of his thinking. He is therefore not especially useful as an agent to resolve difficulties that have a wide range of ramifications. It is only natural that he should attain peace of mind and self-respect by claiming preference for concrete-mindedness. He is " practical ".

( 93)


There is a general impression about the opposite type of mind that has considerable psychological interest in connexion with the characteristics of the reflex circuit. I am referring to the not infrequent description of profound thinkers as inactive physically, as sedentary in habits, and as lacking in the aggressiveness which is characteristic of the man of action. Not all profound thinkers are physically superior and aggressive. When such men are found, they become very soon recognized as superior men, and acknowledged as such by being given social responsibility of various kinds. The psychological reasonableness of this general observation may be seen if we consider it in relation to the strength of the motives and the ideo-motor tendency by which the motives tend to express themselves in action. Assume that the motives are of superior strength to correspond with the superior physical vitality of the man. These strong motives may be compared to high pressure in a hydraulic or an electrical analogy. When they are released to express themselves, they will exert more pressure toward the overt terminal end of the circuit than if they were relatively weak at the source. The ideo-motor tendency is the tendency of every motive to express itself in overt adjustment. This expression is, as I have previously described, a process of particularizing the Motive. No«, if the ideo-motor tendency of a motive is strong, it is reasonable to expect that the motive will appear more readily towards

(94) the particularized end of the circuit than in its earlier and universal stages. If the ideo-motor tendency of a motive is relatively weak it is more apt to become focal at its loosely defined and universal stage of completion. Hence it is, in one sense, easier for a person of relatively weak impulses to be profound than for the person whose life-impulses are strong.

I have shown in a previous section that the capacity to think in terms of universals, in what we know as higher forms, implies the inhibition of the motive at its unfinished, universal, and loosely specified stage. To think with superior intelligence is to render focal our purposes when they have acquired only the few attributes which aye sufficient to Point towards types o f adjustment rather than specified adjustments. This inhibition of the motive at the universal stages of the reflex circuit is, of course, more readily attained if the motive is progressing under low pressure. If the motive drives towards expression under high pressure, it is not so likely to become focal while it is still universal. It will then become focal when it is almost specified and needs only immediate perceptual guidance for its final overt completion. This should make it psychologically consistent that those men who have strong motives are frequently found to be lacking in their willingness or their ability to do analytical thinking. When the motives are relatively weak at the source they can be more readily inhibited at their early and universal stage for conceptual thinking. The general impression about profound thinkers is perhaps not so far wrong in that they are frequently men with relatively weak instinctive drives, who can for this reason render focal these drives as universals

( 95) more readily than men whose instinctive drives are powerful and tend strongly towards overt expression.

These observations should not lead us to the conclusion that men of superior intellect are necessarily weaklings. We should, however, be able to admit as reasonable that the person whose life-impulses are weak finds it easier to engage in profound, analytical, abstruse reasoning than one whose life-impulses are overpoweringly strong. The factors of mental capacity and interest must not, of course, be overlooked. The effective man for society is no doubt the one who combines strong life-impulses with sufficient mental capacity for abstruse mental work. He will find, however, that to him analytical work is more irksome, and it requires of him more self-control than is the case with his less vigorous brother.

The comparison that I have drawn is between two types of men who differ supposedly in the strength of their native instinctive drives. The same kind of comparison can be made for the different strengths of two motives in the same man, or the different strengths of the same motive on different occasions. Consider the motive to protect our physical selves. If we know that a physical danger is to be met twelve months from now, we can render our motive of self-protection focal as a universal and consider the relative advantages of different types of adjustment in relation to the danger. Thinking in terms of universals can then be indulged in quite readily because there is the necessary time available and the motive is not under intense pressures Consider the same situation when we are suddenly confronted with the danger to our physical selves. If the situation at

( 96) this moment is one of life and death, the pressure of the motive to express itself is intensely high, and there is no time available to debate about the relative advantages of different types of adjustment. Thinking, if there is any, is of the concrete and specific sort. Our motives are then under such intense pressure that they cannot possibly be inhibited at their universal stage of formation. They issue in the line of least resistance at the moment and in some particular form. Mental activity in such cases is of the closely specified and perceptual kind, or at most of a low order of imaginal thinking which is close to the motorium.


There is a continuum from instinctive conduct to rational conduct. The behaviour that we know as instinctive is typically that which becomes focal at the perceptual stage of formulation. In Fig. 4 we have a diagrammatic representation of that behaviour which we know as instinctive. It is represented by an impulse that defines itself quite suddenly and without becoming focal at its universal stages of formation. An instinctive act appears in focal consciousness in perceptual form, or in ideational form which is close to the perceptual level of definition. The instinctive act is differentiated from the ordinary perceptual or ideational impulse in that the instinctive act is more urgent ; the impulse is stronger and demands an immediate expression. It is the strength of the impulse that makes it particularize itself to the perceptual level, or the closely defined ideational level, before becoming focal. Its strength is a hindrance to

(97) free trial-and-error choice or anticipation of consequences. In the diagram, the instinctive act is represented as being retarded at the perceptual level to indicate that trial-and-error choice is, in typically instinctive behaviour, ordinarily limited to the perceptual details. Every instinctive act is conscious. If an act is not conscious it is automatic, and it is not then strictly speaking instinctive.

Rational behaviour differs from instinctive behaviour mainly in that rational behaviour is subject to more deliberate trial-and-error choice by anticipating the consequences of overt fulfilment of the impulse. Both rational and instinctive behaviour are instinctively driven, but that conduct is said to be rational which was, before its overt expression, subject to anticipation and selection. An example will make clear the distinction. If a man has been offended by an opponent, his impulse is to dispose of the opponent. The act is instinctively driven as far as its source is concerned. The act of retaliation against the opponent may, however, be rational, or instinctive, or both. If he yields to the impulse of the moment to strike or otherwise to injure the opponent, without anticipation of consequences, or without anticipation of the expected effectiveness of the blow, his conduct is strongly instinctive. The impulse might be so strong that no counter motive of self-respect, or of social approval, would stop the impulsive expression. If, on the other hand, he stops to consider that, instead of striking his opponent impulsively at the present instant, he can effect injury in some other indirect way with more security to himself, he is to that extent rational about it. The actions that we think of as instinctive aye typically those in which the

( 98) impulse is so strong that it rushes through the reflex circuit and out into overt expression with the barest perceptual guidance. Every act that is instinctive, either within man or within animals, is conscious at the perceptual stage of formation. The instinctive act is said to be rational to the extent that it is the subject of anticipation before precipitating in overt form.

The last few paragraphs can be summarized in the principle that the ideo-motor tendency drives and particularizes the dissatisfaction toward the overt terminal end of the circuit. When this particularizing tendency is strong, the motive slides through the choice of universals by entering one of them at random. The motive appears as focal when it is almost completely defined and when it needs only final perceptual guidance. When the particularizing tendency is strong and urgent, the necessary inhibition for higher thinking, for choice among universals, is correspondingly more difficult. It is probable that this principle can be applied with profitable results not only to the differences between men, but also to the differences in the same motive as it appears in different degrees of urgency on different occasions in the same man.

The two contrasting situations that I have been describing can be thought of as graphically represented in Figs. 7 and 8. In Fig. 7 we have the motive or instinctive drive becoming focal as a relatively particularized suggestion or idea. In Fig. 8 we have a schematic representation of the motive becoming focal at a less closely defined stage, in the form of a universal. It is then a suggested policy or type of adjustment rather than a closely specified one.

( 99)


There are two principal factors which determine whether the motive will on any particular occasion become focal as a universal or as a particularized imaginal experience or idea. These two factors are the intelligence of the actor and the urgency or degree of dissatisfaction of the motive. These two factors work in opposite directions. The more intelligent the actor, the earlier will the dissatisfaction tend to become focal. He will tend to discuss the situation in the large with its social, scientific, financial, and other types of consequences. It is the preferred way in which his mental machinery assists him in getting out of trouble. This very capacity makes him able in many situations to adapt himself to a trouble before that trouble becomes imminent. The other factor of urgency tends to force the motive toward expression under such pressure that it does not have a chance to elaborate with conscious selection among universals. It issues suddenly under pressure at random into something definite that can be done in the emergency even though it might not be the absolutely best possible adaptive adjustment. The ideo-motor pressure can itself be analysed as dependent not only on the perceptual evidence of dissatisfaction but also on the native and normal strength of the motive which is to be expressed. Given the wine situation equally perceptible to two men, such as a given case of distress, and they will act with different degrees of pressure depending on the relative strengths of their gregarious or other motives.


The two factors of urgency and intelligence as applicable to behaviour are more or less opposed. If an impulse is strong, if the demands of a situation are extremely urgent, such as the situation of getting out of a burning building, the impulse will reach overt expression without much noticeable anticipation or rational guidance. If the impulse is relatively weak, as it always is when a spatially and temporally remote benefit is being considered, the exercise of intelligence is thereby actually facilitated. This leads us to the peculiar but undoubtedly correct conclusion that if the urgency of a situation is reduced to a minimum, we can readily show our best intelligence about it. If the urgency is really very serious, we are relatively less able to use intelligence in meeting it. If these two propositions should be pushed to their logical extremes, we should have it that the condition favouring maximum intelligence is the complete absence of desire (or death) and that the conditions most urgent for life are just those in which intelligence is naturally absent. The biological function of intelligence is, of course, to be seen in its survival value for these benefits which are more or less remote in future time, either in fractional parts of a second, or in decades, as the case may be.

This interesting antithesis between urgency and intelligence can be seen in our everyday conduct and conversation. If we have nothing personally at stake in 2. dispute between people who are strangers to us, we are remarkably intelligent about weighing the evidence and in reaching a rational conclusion. We can be convinced in favour of either of the fighting parties on the basis of

(101) good evidence. But let the fight be our own, or let our own friends, relatives, fraternity brothers, be parties to the fight, and we lose our ability to see any other side of the issue than our own. How many of us could calmly give credit, during the war, to Germany's side of the case ? And yet we found no difficulty in listening intelligently to the pros and cons in the Russo-Japanese war. The more urgent the impulse, or the closer it comes to the maintenance of our own selves, the more difficult it becomes to be rational and intelligent. If your machine collides with another, your mind is immediately filled with all the traffic rules that favour your side of the case, and you are equally oblivious of the particular rules that favour the other man's case. Intelligence is momentarily in abeyance because the impulse of self-maintenance is at that moment too strong to be intelligent. If it were possible for a human being to be of perfect intelligence, it would be impossible for him ever to move. He would die of intelligence because he would be so deliberative that no decision could ever be made about anything.

There is another interesting difference in the situations arising from the early and the late focus in the reflex circuit. I have previously called attention to the fact that to think in terms of universals requires time and this is not available in the situations where the ideo-motor pressure is intense. This external circumstance is, however, only a reflection of a more fundamental distinction between the thinking which is in terms of particulars and that which is in terms of universals. When a man thinks in terms of universals he is usually planning not only for a future event for which

( 102) he has now the leisure to plan, but he is also planning for a remote benefit, a future advantage, an advantage which is itself, more often than not, stated in terms of universals. We might put this in another way by noting that the motive which becomes focal in terms of its universals is realized as a generalized motive, a temporally remote advantage to a self which is usually more idealized than the immediate physical one. If two men are engaged in a discussion about the Federal Reserve system, they are choosing among universals, among large future types of adjustment. The self which is to gain by their possible conclusions is a more idealized self than that which usually figures in a discussion about the choices which are now before us in this perceptually defined environment. To think in terms of universals, in terms of types of adjustment, in terms of actions which are as yet only loosely organized, is to choose for a relatively remote future completion, to gain something for a universal or idealized aspect of the self.


The previous discussion in this section may in a sense be considered as a preliminary statement for the description of what I consider to be a fundamental aspect of the preconscious part of the reflex circuit. I have divided the circuit into two main phases, namely the preconscious and the conscious. In the development of the motive toward overt expression it passes first through the elaboration of the preconscious and becomes focal in more or less

(103) specified form for final conscious guidance. The point that I shall now make clear is that the preconscious phase of the circuit does involve some particularization of the motive over which we do not have any control. When we find ourselves in a dilemma of some kind we are at first keenly conscious of the dissatisfaction in its cognitive terms. But we do not in that initial attitude have anything to suggest by which to resolve the difficulty. This is the preconscious stage of the future act by which we shall ultimately resolve the difficulty. The common expression that one is " stumped " refers to this preconscious stage of the particular adjustment which is to prove successful. But that adjustment is not yet focal even in universal form. The attitude is characteristically one of waiting. It is not infrequently accompanied by random overt expressions which are ineffective, but which nevertheless show that a strong motive is seeking expression and neutralization by some overt adjustment which has not vet been found.

When the motive does become focal it is hailed by the exclamation that " we have an idea ". When the idea occurs, it is the motive which has become partly particularized without any conscious guidance on our part We should not make the mistake of assuming that the motive is simply housed, as it were, under the cover of the preconscious and that it suddenly springs into sight, unaltered. The idea should not be divorced from the motive. The idea is not simply an associative affair; it should be thought of as identical with the motive. In fact, the idea can be thought of as the motive which now

( 104) has more clothes on, in the form of additional attributes and specifications. Stated in a crude way, we might represent the idea as equal to the motive plus attributes, sufficient to indicate the general way in which the motive proposes to express itself. Suppose that you find yourself in a somewhat strained relation with a friend. You realize the strained relation and you wish to re-establish friendly relations. This is the preconscious stage in the definition of that which you are going to do about it. You get an idea, the idea to invite him for dinner on some suitable provocation. That idea contains your purpose as its most important ingredient. Your purpose to re-establish friendly relations has now been particularized to the stage of the reflex circuit in which the motive has sufficient attributes to become focal. The motive is on its way to express itself in action. Do not think that the idea is merely associated with your purpose. The idea actually is your purpose which has now become more definite.

The interesting point is that when the motive becomes focal, it has acquired attributes, the selection of which is not subject to conscious choice. This is the most outstanding difference between the Preconscious and the conscious elaboration of the motive. The later conscious particularization is subject to conscious elimination if the particulars are inconsistent with the motive. But the appearance of that which is to be particularized is almost entirely beyond our control. Genius is the name that zee dive to the type of mind that more or less readily produces the idea that the rest of us can fast and verify to successful overt issue. In this sense the distinguishing mark of genius is not so much

( 105) in what he consciously does as in that which he unwittingly produces out of the uncontrolled and preconscious elaboration of his purposes. The clever idea is a partly particularized dissatisfaction. When the dissatisfaction becomes completely particularized, it is an overt adjustment which is expected to neutralize the dissatisfaction. There are indirect ways in which we may attempt more or less successfully to favour the appearance of clever ideas. To worry about the problem for a time is a favourable condition for the production of clever ideas by which to solve it. To become familiar with many of the particularized expressions of related problems favours the appearance of the clever idea in that attributes are then available which might be of service. However, it is probable that great concentration on habitual expressions of the problem reduces the chances of being presented with a novel idea. Even in science there is to a certain extent a psychological antithesis between high scholarship and production. When the idea does appear it is already clothed with some attributes which were not given in the problem as it was felt. Does it not seem important that psychology should study the conditions of the preconscious elaboration of our motives and not centre all of its efforts on the later conscious verification of them ?

The last two points regarding the reflex circuit can be summarized as follows :— (1) The Preconscious part of the circuit actually accomplishes some degree of particularization of the motive, and (2) the Preconscious particularization of the motive is beyond our control and must be patiently waited for.

( 106)


I have spoken of the two phases of the reflex circuit as though they were divided by a sharp line of separation at the moment when the motive becomes focal. This is frequently a true description of what really seems to take place when the transition from the preconscious elaboration to the conscious verification is a sudden one. There are relatively frequent attitudes which can be described as transition stages between the preconscious and the conscious definition of the motive. I shall call these attitudes precognitive with reference to the future adjustment to which they lead. The precognitive stage of the reflex circuit is the transition stage between the preconscious and the conscious phases of it. When I say that the psychological act is precognitive at one of its stages, the reader may perhaps get the impression that I am considering as possible a moment of consciousness without cognitive elements, but that is not implied in the designation precognitive. The present moment of our conscious stream may be precognitive with reference to an adjustment that we shall make, and about which we are now concerned, but which has not yet appeared as a suggested solution or as a hopeful and possible idea. The transition stage that I am calling precognition is marked essentially by its affective aspects. It is marked by noticeable likes and dislikes for groups of cognitive terms.

Let us consider these likes and dislikes for groups of cognitive terms in the light of the particularization that takes place in the formation of the psychological act. Let,

(107) us consider the state of irritation or dissatisfaction as the relatively unlocalized early part of the psychological act. The act is to become particularized, delimited to some specific adjustment, by which the irritation is to be removed and satisfaction regained. When the bright idea appears we begin to feel relieved because the need is then being specified in terms of the expected successful adjustment. But before that bright idea occurs to us, we may be having a state of delimitation of the possible courses of action. This delimitation may be a process of rough elimination of undesirable types of adjustment and a liking for certain types of adjustment. We do not yet have any definite idea as to what to do about the trouble that is now making us think. But we may have a state of mind in which we are keenly interested in certain topics of conversation, certain groups of cognitive terms, certain kinds of action, while at the same time we may have strong aversion or disgust for certain other topics of conversation or kinds of conduct. At this stage we are in reality beginning to delimit our adjustment by favouring certain things and avoiding certain other things. We may not actually be aware of the need that is causing these strong likes and dislikes. Nevertheless this attitude of mind is a significant part of the process of particularization that goes on in the formation of the psychological act. When we get the bright idea that begins to give us relief it is usually one of these favoured topics that we have defined somewhat more closely, and which is then functioning as a particularized form of the irritation in its course toward overt expression and total relief.


The stage of particularization that I have just described is what I call precognition, because it is marked by affective states of appetition and aversion for groups of cognitive terms without having reached the point at which any of these cognitive forms represents definitely a proposed resolution of the dissatisfaction. Consciousness is of course focal in the sense that there is focal content Present. But none of the focal content in the precognitive stage of the act is taken as representative of the thing that we Propose to do. The term " precognition " refers, not to that which happens to to be focal at the moment, but specifically to that which we shall eventually do in order to relieve the present state of unrest. The groups of cognitive terms which are marked by our feeling of appetition or aversion constitute what we know as complexes in the broadest interpretation of that term. The complex is in this liberal interpretation a group of cognitive terms for which we have a strong preference or avoidance. The term " complex " is used by some writers to mean special cases of this broader definition.

A very common illustration of the effect that I am here discussing is the search for a word. At the time when we are searching for the word we feel that we know what we want, but that knowledge can only be expressed at the present stage by a like or a dislike for the words that may be suggested. Certain words are felt distinctly to be closer to what we want than certain other words, and yet the right word has not yet come. This attitude of mind is precognitive with reference to the particular word that is finally to be decided upon. This illustration is a relatively trivial case of the likes and dislikes which in much stronger

(109) form, and with fundamental life motives involved, constitute what we know as complexes in the liberal interpretation of that term. The more restricted interpretation of the term would limit the complexes to the phenomena of the abnormal mind. The psychological nature of the category is the same in either case. The latter interpretation specifies the term to a more restricted range of phenomena.

Let us now shift our attention from the particularizing process as such to these groups of cognitive terms through which the particularization takes place or through which particularization is avoided. We have then several fundamental characteristics of these cognitive groups that may serve as bases for important psychological categories. In the first place the preferences and prejudices maybe permanent characteristics of the personality of the actor; they may be temporary for a few days owing to local temporary circumstances, or they may be only momentary as in the search of a trivial motive for suitable expression in the course of an ordinary conversation. The groups of cognitive terms may be marked by the fact that we prefer them or avoid them. The former might be called positive complexes, and the latter might be called negative complexes, if we allow the term " complex " for both of these categories. Another line of distinction is with reference to the nature of the motive that makes its presence noticeable by these likes and dislikes. Is it a native and instinctive motive which reveals itself, or is it derived, secondary and acquired motive ? The secondary drives are probably all derived originally from the native sources, but the

( 110) acquired drives seem to live a relatively independent existence when they have once been established as habitual forms of conduct. It is probable that the energy for them is in all cases tapped from the truly native instinctive sources. The distinction between native and acquired complexes is of considerable practical importance. Thus it is a native complex to show a certain kind of interest in the opposite sex while it is an acquired complex to be afraid of closed places. I shall venture the guess that the native complexes are usually positive, whereas the acquired complexes are more frequently negative, especially when they are of the abnormal sort. It is not unlikely that the sentiments may be defined in terms of the characteristics of precognition that I have here described. A prejudice would be a complex of the negative kind that has been acquired, but which is not severe enough to throw the individual socially out of balance. A typical complex of the abnormal mind would be of the negative type, driven usually by one of the main life motives directly from its source.


I shall summarize this section with special reference to Fig. g. I have divided the reflex circuit into two main phases, the preconscious and the conscious. The preconscious phase of the circuit has to do with the feeling of the problem. The conscious phase of the circuit has to do with the resolution of the problem. As a division between

(111) these two phases of the circuit we have the moment of time when the suggested solution occurs. This moment I have referred to as the focus of the circuit. It is the moment when the resolution of the problem becomes focal. The further progress of the idea toward execution is in the nature of a particularization of the suggested idea. One must not forget that there is a process of particularization previous to the focus. The idea that occurs as a suggested resolution of a difficulty is partly particularized when it appears in the focus of consciousness. That particularization was accomplished in the preconscious phase of the circuit. These two phases differ in one fundamental respect in that we have conscious control in elimination and selection of means to an end ire the conscious Part of the circuit, but we do not have any control whatever over the particularization s that take Place before the suggested solution becomes focal. Not infrequently we observe a gradual transition from the preconscious to the conscious phase of the circuit. I have called this transition phase precognition. Precognition is the crisis of the reflex circuit. This stage is mainly characterized by the fact that we are then in a state of preference and avoidance for large groups of cognitive terms without being able to settle on any definite term as a proposed solution of the difficulty. This stage represents a process of delimitation or particularization which is marked primarily by its affective elements although the affective elements do not at that stage exist without cognitive core.


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2