If there is one thing that may be said, in the popular estimation, to characterize the mind, that one thing is “”consciousness.”” One says that one is “”conscious”” of what one sees and hears, of what one remembers, and of one’s thoughts and feelings. Most believe that tables and chairs are not “”conscious.””
From the standpoint of conventional psychology, the ways of being conscious are through perception, memory, and belief.
First, there is the way of perception. People “”perceive”” tables and chairs, horses and dogs, friends, traffic passing in the street – in short, anything which can be recognized through the senses. According to conventional psychology, people go beyond the sensation to the “”thing”” which it represents. When one hears a donkey bray, he or she not only hears a noise, but realizes that it comes from a donkey. When one sees a table, one not only sees a colored surface, but realizes that it is hard. The addition of these elements that go beyond crude sensation is said to constitute perception.
Second, there is memory. If one is to recall what has been previously said or done, that is a form of consciousness different from perception, since it is concerned with the past. There are various problems as to how one can be conscious now of what no longer exists.
From memory it is an easy step to what are called “”ideas””. One may be conscious of a friend either by seeing him or by “”thinking”” of him; and by “”thought”” you can be conscious of objects which cannot be seen, such as the human race, or physiology. “”Thought”” in the narrower sense is that form of consciousness which consists in “”ideas”” as opposed to mere memories.
Lastly, there is belief, a way of being conscious which may be either true or false. A man can be “”conscious of looking a fool,”” by which he believes he looks a fool, and is not mistaken in this belief. This is a different form of consciousness from any of the earlier ones. It is the form which gives “”knowledge”” in the strict sense, and also error. It is, at least apparently, more complex than the previous forms of consciousness; though it may be that they are not as separable from each other as they might appear to be.
One element in common with all the ways of being conscious is that they are all directed to objects. The consciousness is one thing, and that of which one is conscious of is another thing. This direction towards an object is commonly regarded as typical of every form of cognition, and sometimes of mental life altogether. Two different tendencies can be distinguished in traditional psychology. There are those who take mental phenomena naively, just as they would physical phenomena. This school of psychologists tends not to emphasize the object. On the other hand, there are those who are interested in the mind because of its relation to the world, because knowledge, if it is a fact, is a very mysterious one. Their interest in psychology is naturally centered in the relation of consciousness to its object, a problem which, properly, belongs rather to theory of knowledge.
Adapted from The Analysis of Mind by Bertrand Russell, 2010
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