… “the process of judgment itself was never conscious”

A simple experiment, so simple as to seem trivial, will bring us directly to the heart of the matter. Take any two unequal objects, such as a pen and pencil or two unequally filled glasses of water, and place them on the desk in front of you. Then, partly closing your eyes to increase your attention to the task, pick up each one with the thumb and forefinger and judge which is heavier. Now introspect on everything you are doing. You will find yourself conscious of the feel of the objects against the skin of your fingers, conscious of the slight downward pressure as you feel the weight of each, conscious of any protuberances on the sides of the objects, and so forth. And now the actual judging of which is heavier. Where is that? Lo! the very act of judgment that one object is heavier than the other is not conscious. It is somehow just given to you by your nervous system. If we call that process of judgment thinking, we are finding that such thinking is not conscious at all. A simple experiment, yes, but extremely important. It demolishes at once the entire tradition that such thought processes are the structure of the conscious mind.

This type of experiment came to be studied extensively back at the beginning of this century in what came to be known as the Wurzburg School. It all began with a study by Karl Marbe in 1901, which was very similar to the above, except that small weights were used. The subject was asked to lift two weights in front of him, and place the one that was heavier in front of the experimenter, who was facing him. And it came as a startling discovery both to the experimenter himself and to his highly trained subjects, all of them introspective psychologists, that the process of judgment itself was never conscious.

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind 

George Lakoff and Christopher Lydon discuss the embodied mind on The Connection

TheConnection

Brain Science, George Lakoff says, is overturning twenty-five centuries of Western Philosophy. The most basic philosophical ideas, ideas about truth and beauty, events and causes, mind and self, justice, morality, and what it means to be human, all are under siege today. Cognitive Science, according to Lakoff, is discovering that thought is mostly unconscious, abstract concepts mostly metaphorical, and that the mind is not just in the body, it is of the body; not separate from it, as in the old image of the ghost in the machine.

What all this means to Berkeley’s George Lakoff is that Plato, Descartes, and Kant were fooling themselves into thinking that they had constructed Great Philosophical Theories with something like pure reason. Their ideas, says Lakoff, are no more than elaborations of metaphors deeply rooted in our humanity that are probably oversold as universal truth. George Lakoff’s Philosophy in the Flesh is this hour on The Connection.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)

Guests:

George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of “Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being” and “Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought.”

Check it out at The Connection Archives