conscious – the amazing power of being conscious

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conscious is approached with
similar objectivity, we must assume that consciousness itself,
or the physical mechanism used to produce it, constitutes a
definite, physical force, capable of registering its presence
and nature by causing changes in some observable material.
Further, this force, consciousness, if it exists anywhere, is
to be found in the more complex reactions of the normal,
adult, human being. In terms of the preliminary analysis of
causation arrived at in our last chapter, we are now called upon
to prove that a vitalistic-type cause called consciousness
actually exists in some part of the human organism and that
this supposedly complex form of energy exerts a measurable
influence upon simpler energy units, within the body itself,
capable of observation with the unaided senses or with
laboratory instruments.

momentous decisions

Most of the human family have observed, without the aid
o* a psychologist, that some human activities seem to the
subjects themselves to be more conscious than others. Habitual
responses, luch as walking, twirling a watch fob, or swinging
a stick, often do not seem to be accompanied by any consciousness

On the other hand, the making of momentous
decisions which may occupy many hours, days, or weeks,
exemplify the type of human action which seems to include
the greatest relative amount of consciousness. The question as
to whether or not habitual actions are, in truth, totally devoid
of consciousness may be regarded at the moment as t purely
academic. If our subjects unanimously report more of the
phenomenon called consciousness in one sort of behaviour
than in another, and if there are objectively observable effects
which seem to proceed paripassu with the increase in consciousness,
this constitutes scientifically acceptable proof that consciousness
is a material force acting upon our bodies as a
vitalistic-type cause.

In exactly the same way, the fluctuating
needle of the voltmeter is accepted as offering scientific proof
of the invisible presence of an electric current acting as emotions
of normal people


vitalistic-type cause over the materials of the instrument.
Should this causally effective force, conscious, be identified
later with nervous energy in some part of the brain, it would
still remain a vitalistic-type cause, that is, a more complex
form of energy than the materials moved. Moreover, when
psychology has properly performed its task, we shall hope to
find physical consciousness explicitly described in terms of
physical energy units.
Our first question, then, is : What changes in bodily
behavio.ur characteristically accompany this reported consciousness?

Proofs of Conscious

1. The more conscious a reaction is, the slower it is.
It has frequently been observed that the more conscious
an action is, the longer is the observable delay between
reception of environmental stimuli and appearance of overt
bodily responses. As already noted, habitual actions occur
very quickly after contact with the stimulus ; whereas, in the
making of momentous decisions, overt activity may be delayed
for days or weeks. Reflexes like the knee jerk, where no
accompanying consciousness can be detected by the subject
himself, manifest a still shorter reaction time than the habitual
responses ; while certain


activities, which may
persist over a period of many hours, and which are, recognized
as intensely conscious throughout the entire period, may never
manifest a detectable ultimate response. One observable
effect of consciousness upon bodily behaviour, then, would
seem to be a lengthening of the time interval between stimulus
and response.

2. The more consciousness accompanying a response, the
longer ic persists after the stimulus is removed.
Quite in contrast to the first-mentioned result of the influence
of conscious energy upon bodily behaviour is a second equally
common effect. Strictly reflex, or habitual actions, tend to
cease very quickly after the removal of the environmental
stimulation that brought them about. For instance, a machine
operator in a factory does not continue to press down the
stopping lever of his machine after the machine has stopped.
One does not continue to make watch-fob-twirling movements
when dressed in pyjamas, nor to swing the legs in a walking
movement after stretching oneself out in an easy chair. On
the other hand, if a greater amount of consciousness is attached
to a given action, the action is likely to persist for a much
longer period after complete removal of the effective stimulus.
Suppose a young man has responded to the stimulus of a
chance remark that he is

mentally abnormal ”
by deciding,
after some weeks of cogitation, to become a psychiatrist (an
actual case which cajrie to my attention in clinic). He begins
to act upon this remark within a few months by entering a
medical school, but long years of training must follow before
he can even begin to analyze his own personality. During
these years he may not once have encountered any repetition
of the suggestion that he is mentally unbalanced, but his
original reaction, which was initially accompanied by intense
and prolonged


of both emotional and
intellectual varieties, has persisted without abatement throughout
a period of years after the disappearance of the environmental
stimulus. Probably most physiological authorities
would agree that such a tremendously extended response represents
not a single reaction, but a long series of reactions.
Since most of these responses are centrally initiated, and all
are unified to accomplish a single purpose, the original stimulus
must have evoked a large volume of energy somewhere in the
central nervous system which continued to control behaviour
for a long period of years. In conformance with this idea,
R. S. Woexlworth 1 in his theory of

tendencies to action

and ”
preparatory reactions

holds that
” damned up
” may exist in the central nervous system for periods
of months and years, escaping in tiny rivulets as the dam is
punctured by appropriate environmental stimuli.

3. The more conscious a response is, the less its rhythm
corresponds with the rhythm of the stimulus.
Habitual or reflex actions show a much closer correspondence
between the rhythm of end effect and the rhythm in which
the stimulus is received than do more conscious responses.
In the swinging of a cane or regulation of a semi-automatic
machine, the rhythms of bodily response are adjusted automatically
to the rhythms of stimulation. This type of adjust-ment is still more marked in such highly reflex activities as
skilled chorus dancing, playing the piano, or using a typewriter.
On the other hand, the more conscious the action
becomes, the more the automatic correspondence between
rhythm of stimulus and rhythm of response tends to be broken
up. Let the dancer become suddenly aware of her steps, the
typist of the keys, the pianist of his notes, and the established
rhythm is shattered. Grace dissolves into jerky awkwardness,
speedful accuracy into hesitant blundering and rhythmic
harmony to lagging dissonance.


persons, or.
those customarily given to expressing a great deal of “selfconsciousness

while reacting to a stimulus, are notoriously
awkward in games or physical exercises requiring close
approximation of the rhythm of bodily responses to the rhythm
of an environmental stimulus. Their physical actions are
jerky, and indiscriminately slower or quicker than the rhythm
of the physical stimulus to which they are attempting to adapt
their own rhythms of action. The increased consciousness
seems to interfere with the correspondence between rhythm
of stimulation and rhythm of response.

4. The more conscious a response is, the less its intensity
corresponds with the intensity of the stimulus.
Within limits, the intensity of simple reactions, involving
little consciousness, corresponds rather closely with the
intensity of the physical stimulation. A vocalist unconsciously
sings louder if the volume of the piano accompaniment
is increased. Small adjustments in the reactions of walking
are made ”

in response to differences in intensity
of pressure stimulation presented by the path along
which one is walking. A slight up grade which increases the
intensity of the pressure upon the feet and also increases the
intensity of muscular pressure upon the proprioceptive sense
organs, is


followed by corresponding increase in the intensity of muscular exertion. But in responses
which are reported as involving a great deal of consciousness,
there may be little or no correspondence between
the intensity of the stimulus and the intensity of reaction
to the stimulus. In the case of the young psychiatric student
just considered, the chance remark concerning his possible
abnormality constituted a stimulus of slight intensity indeed.
On the other hand, where the activity is more highly conscious,
it is impossible to name a fixed intensity of stimulus
which will invariably set off a given reaction.

Consider, for
example, responses which necessitate a great deal of consciousness
such as a decision to play tennis or to take a two
hundred mile automobile ride. Upon one occasion a normal
subject may assent immediately to a casual suggestion that
the tennis be played or that the trip be undertaken. Next
day, perhaps, no amount of persuasion or even moderate
financial inducement would evoke the reaction bf playing
tennis or driving the car.

Should these very reactions become
habitual, as a part of the subject’s professional duties or
principal life activity, his consciousness concerning the actions
would be tremendously reduced, also the margin of variability
of the intensity of stimulus to which he responded.
Again, it is necessary to call attention to the fact that we are
not considering at the moment the psycho-neural mechanisms
by which these differences are brought about.

The significant
point seems to be that when a large amount of consciousness
attends a given response it may be evoked at one time
by a stimulus of very low intensity and at another
time it may require an exceedingly intense stimulus ; while
if an action is habitual or


it is brought
about upon all occasions by stimuli of nearly equal intensity,.

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