on March 4, 2008
Formally this book doesn't contain groundbreaking insights, or better: it doesn't say anything that isn't already under your eyes. Its biggest accomplishment, however, is in the very act of showing how sometimes we don't see what's under our eyes for a sort of mental laziness.
Russell forces us to move away from this laziness and reconsider what we take for granted about ourselves, and does so with his enjoyable style. He seems to possess the rare skill of finding the minimum amount of words and concepts needed to explain (and solve) the problem clearly and accurately. He will never forget to define precisely all the terms needed in the discussion, or to question the limits of the premises in order to understand the scope of the conclusion.
In each chapter he considers a facet of what we call mind and explores it both from the point of introspection and of external analysis of observable behavior. Introspection gives use informations impossible to obtain with other methods, and it is what gives meaning to the problem of mind in the first place, but it has the intrinsic problem of an instrument trying to measure itself. So Russell keeps on correcting this "view from the inside" and the delusions it can create with the stick of behaviourism and objective observation.
On a less technical side, I highly appreciate the intellectual honesty of someone who can freely use the words "contrary to what I once stated".
The only minus I can think of is that after one has understood the method of analysis employed he can probably predict how it will be used by the author to investigate the remaining items of his enquiry. While I was reading the second half of the book I often found myself anticipating his reasoning, and thinking that those last chapters could have been thinner. However the author's highly readable prose makes this a very small problem, and I suggest this book to everyone interested in the subject (anyone should be!)
[A NOTE ABOUT BOOK READABILITY: Amazon merged on the same page the reviews for the paperback and the ebook, so please notice that the review below which warns you about the unreadable format of the book refers ONLY to the kindle version. If you are interested in the paperback edition you should disregard that warning. I don't remember finding any problem in readability in the book, but since the "Look inside!" feature is available you can check for yourself if the format is acceptable to you.)
on October 17, 2011
This set of fifteen lectures delivered in 1921 and available on line at the Pennsylvania State University, are important but have aged tremendously. Today we can follow in real time the activity of the brain and nervous system for any mental activity, or motor activity as for that. So a great number of pages discussing the difference between a sensation, purely at the level of the contact of some sensorial organ with an outside stimulus, and an image which is a mental representation of what the stimuli are bringing in, or of some mnemic, in other words remembered or recollected, representation in the mind can clearly be solved. Thinking of something or seeing something are very similar but different, just as doing something and seeing someone doing something are very similar but not exactly the same thanks to mirror neurons. And we can "see" the brain working today.
In the same way he spends a tremendous amount of time demonstrating the existence of the mind, of a specific mental level of brain activity. But today that is no longer something to be discussed in such length because thanks to the tremendous progress of medical imagery we know that the brain can work without any outside stimulus, on a stimulus that comes directly from inside, thought, recollection, imagination and so on. But Buddhism is more advanced on the subject than that because they consider that there are six senses in man: the five sensorial senses we know that receive the stimuli from outside and the mind that processes these stimulated sensations to analyze them, recognize them, classify them, identify them, etc, but also, because it is a meta-sense, the possibility to do the same with abstract notions that cannot be at the origin of a physical sensorial stimulus, and of course all other mental or brain element that activates the brain, because the brain can work on its own like an autonomous or semi-autonomous organ (dreams, abstract or artistic activities, etc.).
He thus would have been able to come to a clearer notion of knowledge, something that is acquired and accumulated by a subject within some conditions and a context, most of the time collective. But strangely enough Russell neglects, if not rejects, the subject as an essential entity. The learner, the speaker, the hearer, the individual that receives the stimuli through his/her senses and then processes them, the individual that acquires some knowledge through a threshold of the acquisition of knowledge that is his or her own with motivation(s), cognitive strategies and cognitive styles, with the desire to learn or the refusal to learn. These mental dimensions are all motivated by the context of the subject and his own experience, and his experiential history.
That's the word that is missing essentially: experience.
If we consider the individual in his experience of the world in which he has five physical senses and the mind, a meta-sense in the brain, that receives experiential stimuli all the time in a situation where he has to learn to become autonomous when a new born and independent when autonomous, if we take the individual in that context he is not an abstract subject but he is an experiencer. If we taker language he is a hearer or a speaker, eventually a writer but when Russell brings together hearing, speaking writing or reading, there is something wrong in his vision of language. Writing and reading are the results of a late invention in the phylogeny of language in humanity, and a late learning in children, and has little to do with oral language. We do not speak what we write first, but we speak first and we eventually write what we have spoken or what we are thinking with our mental voice.
He would have then enriched his vision with that set of concepts he does not use. Matter the way it is defined by physics is a construct but that does not in anyway permit anyone to say that matter is a mental imaginary entity. Matter is what is outside us and it does not need to be seen, heard, touched or whatever to exist. We can only experience this material world through our senses in a situation of extreme need and feebleness for several years. There is no escaping that. And it is this extreme inferiority that forces humanity as a whole and each child to communicate, hence to learn a language, hence to learn a lot of things and increase their mental powers. Then the rest is social and no longer individual. If the new-born was to be an absolutely individual being it would not survive twelve hours. That social dimension of the mind is not taken into account properly, neither phylogenetically for the human species with the emergence of modern man and homo sapiens, not psychogenetically for each new-born.
"All psychic phenomena are built up out of sensations and images alone." That's a good conclusion but tremendously short of the real situation. The very first experience of a new-born and even of a foetus over 24 weeks are going to be engraved in the brain and mind of that new-born and will build all his attitudes, motivations or de-motivations, learning experiences or learning refusals during his whole life. Then sensations and the mental representations a person may have in his mind going back to the first three to five years of his/her life are a lot more than just plain sensations, mnemic sensations, images, mnemic images, or whatever. They are most of the time unconscious and embedded in the brain at a very physical level, even in the architectures of the dendrites of the neurons that have grown along with this experience.
I will not comment on what he says on language. He had not read de Saussure, that's obvious but today we are far beyond his very naïve definition of the word as if Semitic languages, isolating languages and agglutinative, synthetic or syntactically analytical languages could have the same definition of a word, which are in fact roots in Semitic languages, frozen categorized parts of speech (very badly called like that) in isolating languages, and fully syntactic words in all other languages with different levels of realization of the syntax on the word (agglutinative) or around the word (the others). Paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimensions are essential for the various basic elements of our articulated languages, an other word, articulation, that is never used. Our languages have three articulations and we cannot economize on these facts.
An important set of lectures though more for the historical approach of the :mind in out western society. We must also keep in mind that many languages do not have a word equivalent to "mind" in Europe and the West because "mind" is typically English and other languages have given some Christian or religious values to the words they may use to designate the physical and psychological dimension of the brain's functioning.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
on March 26, 2013
Granted, this is my first reading of one of Bertrand Russell's works, and "The Analysis of Mind" is an interesting reading, regardless of the impression of it being outdated (1921). However, at the time of the publication, I'd say that it's quite insightful. Now, from reading, he is, quite right, saying that we take things for granted and focus on being more conscious than lulling ourselves into laziness, generally speaking.
The book is broken into fifteen "lectures" (rather than "chapters") with each can be a slightly dry read, but with care and patience, one can grasp what the author's saying. It'll force one to think and ponder on the author's thoughts. Personally, I found a lecture on "Truth and Falsehood" to be quite fascinating.
While the Kindle version can be an unreadable in several area, it's still a good read as one gets used to it (at least, to me anyway).
Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970) was an influential British philosopher, logician, mathematician, and political activist. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in recognition of his many books such as A History of Western Philosophy,The Problems of Philosophy,Mysticism and Logic,Why I am Not a Christian,Religion and Science,The Philosophy of Logical Atomism,Our Knowledge of the External World,Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, etc. [NOTE: page numbers below refer to the 1956 310-page hardcover edition.]
He wrote in the Preface to this 1921 book, "This book has grown out of an attempt to harmonize two different tendencies, one in psychology, the other in physics, with both of which I find myself in sympathy, although at first sight they might seem inconsistent... The view that seems to me to reconcile the materialistic tendency of psychology with the anti-materialistic tendency of physics is the view of William James and the American new realists, according to which the `stuff' of the world is neither mental nor material, but a `neutral stuff,' out of which both are constructed. I have endeavoured in this work to develop this view in some detail as regards the phenomena with which psychology is concerned." (Pg. 5-6)
He notes, "While we are talking or reading, we may eat in complete unconsciousness; but we perform the actions of eating just as we should if we were conscious, and they cease when our hunger is appeased. What we call `consciousness' seems to be a mere spectator of the process; even when it issues orders, they are usually... just such as would have been obeyed even if they had not been given. This view may seem at first exaggerated, but the more our so-called volitions and their causes are examined, the more it is forced on us. The part played by words in all this is complicated, and a potent source of confusions..." (Pg. 67)
He points out, "everything constituting a memory-belief is happening NOW, not in that past time to which the belief is said to refer. It is not logically necessary to the existence of a memory-belief that the event remembered should have occurred, or even that the past should have existed at all. There is no logical impossibility in the hypothesis that the world sprang into being five minutes ago, exactly as it then was, with a population that `remembered' a wholly unreal past... therefore nothing that is happening now ... can disprove the hypothesis that the world began five minutes ago... I am not suggesting that the non-existence of the past should be entertained as a serious hypothesis... All that I am doing is to use its logical tenability as a help in the analysis of what occurs when we remember." (Pg. 159-160)
He observes, "The thing we have to consider to-day is this: seeing that there certainly are words of which the meaning is abstract, and seeing that we can use these words intelligibly, what must be assumed or inferred, or what can be discovered by observation, in the way of mental content to account for the intelligent use of abstract words? Taken as a problem in logic, the answer is, of course, that absolutely nothing in the way of abstract mental content is inferable from the mere fact that we can us intelligibly worlds of which the meaning is abstract." (Pg. 213)
He suggests, "consciousness, as we have seen, is a complex notion, involving beliefs, as well as mnemic phenomena such as are required for perception and memory. It follows that no datum is theoretically indubitable, since no belief is infallible; it follows also that every datum has a greater or less degree of vagueness, since there is always some vagueness in memory and the meaning of images." (Pg. 298) He concludes, "Physics and psychology are not distinguished by their material Mind and matter alike are logical constructions... The two most essential characteristics of the causal laws which would naturally be called psychological are SUBJECTIVITY and MNEMIC CAUSATION... Habit, memory and thought are all developments of mnemic causation. It is probable... that mnemic causation is derivative from ordinary physical causation in nervous (and other) tissue... Consciousness is a complex and far from universal characteristic of mental phenomena... Mind is a matter of degree, chiefly exemplified in number and complexity of habits... All our data, both in physics and psychology, are subject to psychological causal laws; but physical causal laws... can only be stated in terms of matter, which is both inferred and constructed, never a datum. In this respect psychology is nearer to what actually exists." (Pg. 307-308)
This book has somewhat "dropped off the radar screen" of Russell's works, which is unfortunate; it is actually one of his most interesting philosophical works.
on October 20, 2013
I found this book to be, by my judgment, the best of Russell's books that I've yet read. It was a challenging read; however, I felt compelled to challenge some of Russell's conclusions with my own views that fail to cohere with his.
I will quote brief segments from this book, because that can help clarify where and how I disagree with Russell. At the very beginning of the book, on page 4, Russell says "There is one element which SEEMS [Russell had the word in italics] obviously in common among different ways of being conscious, and that is, they are all directed to OBJECTS [Russell's emphasis]. We are conscious 'of' something". Although I will not claim to be dogmatic on this issue, I am inclined to disagree with Russell on that account. I refer to what I have personally experienced as being in deep meditative states, where I had a powerful sense of being conscious (somehow AWARE), and yet the consciousness was NOT DIRECTED at any object -- it was pure, undirected awareness (even if, in a sense, a "mystical" awareness). Maybe Russell would have denied that such a state is consciousness, but I can see no justification for such a denial.
In Lecture III, "Desire and Feeling", Russell advocates a behaviorist worldview in regard to human feelings and desires. Of course, behaviorism was sort of flourishing when Russell wrote his book, but now in the 21st century, behaviorism seems to be largely dismissed as unacceptably simplistic by most psychologists and philosophers of mind. On page 33 Russell says the following: "The whole tendency of psycho-analysis is to trust the outside observer rather than the testimony of introspection. I believe this tendency to be entirely right,but to demand a re-statement of what constitutes desire, exhibiting it as a causal law of our actions, not as something actually existing in our minds". Here is a case where I disagree again with Russell. Admittedly, this gets to the crux of the perennially vexed mind-body problem, and the question forces itself upon us: Is the mind exclusively brain activity (something exclusively physical), or is there some mental property or power that transcends what physics can reckon with? Russell leans toward the viewpoint that it all devolves on physics, but I conclude that mind is a power in its own right. Nevertheless, I credit Russell with being fairly evenhanded and reasonable in his worldview.
On the last few pages of the book, in Lecture XV, Russell concedes that science cannot (yet, although he hopes it will become able to do so) solve the awesome conundrum of WHAT MIND REALLY IS. On pages 183-184, Russell says: "This is the question upon which our attitude must torn towards what may be called materialism. One sense of materialism is the view that all mental phenomena are causally dependent upon physical phenomena in the above-defined sense of causal dependence. Whether this is the case or not, I do not profess to know. The question seems to me the same as the question whether mnemic causation is ultimate, which we considered without deciding in Lecture IV. But I think the bulk of the evidence points to the materialistic answer as more probable". If it is the case that the materialistic answer fails, then the world is far more wondrous and glorious than the materialist is inclined to believe.
Russell continues this line of thinking on page 185: "The question whether it is possible to obtain precise causal laws in which the causes are psychological, not material, is one of detailed investigation. I have done what I could to make clear the nature of the question, but I do not believe that it is possible as yet to answer it with any confidence. It seems to be by no means an insoluble question, and we may hope that science will be able to produce sufficient grounds for regarding one answer as much more probable than the other. But for the moment I do not see how we can come to a decision".
So, in the early 20th century, one of the most famous and influential of Western philosophers conceded that science had, at that juncture, failed to resolve the issues surrounding what mind really is, how it relates to matter, and how it is that matter either generates mind, or at the least, mind and matter interrelate continuously in higher species of creatures -- this being a mystery that even in the early 21st century, science has made no credible headway toward resolving. Oh, I know very well about PET scans, brain structures that pertain to certain actions and thoughts, and how biochemistry of the brain is intimately tied to mental functions. Yet, science really has made no headway toward answering the question of HOW neurons firing generate feelings, desires, thoughts, insights, etc. It is still one grand mystery -- probably one that physical sciences will never be able to answer. After all, by my worldview, Spirit is the ULTIMATE REALITY, and trying to put Spirit under the analytical "microscope" of science will engender little but frustration and failure.
To sum up, I give Russell's wonderful little book 4 stars for carefully, rather objectively, and reasonably fairly analyzing the greatest mystery confronting humanity, namely what the nature is of that apart from which we would know nothing, feel nothing, and care about nothing -- our minds, our consciousnesses. I deduct one star from a possible 5, because Russell was almost obsessed with finding a materialist-physicalist-behaviorist set of explanations for what ultimately will turn out to transcend the physical world -- mind and spirit. Even in his discussions of meaning in language, he stubbornly sidestepped the obvious fact that meaning cannot possibly exist except in a conscious entity, and this so skews his analysis of language that it is unworthy of the brilliance of such a great philosopher. All in all, Russell's book is a real service to thinkers and philosophers who are willing to analyze and critique their own worldviews. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read the book.
on January 1, 2016
Wow. The mind is so complex. One book cannot deliver this. However, this book is a great start. It allows me to have a start into this complex subject. It is more than an overview, but cannot cover everything. It is a good solid read that I found interesting. It's not super entertaining, but it is highly educational.
on May 22, 2014
A bit dry at times but full of deep thoughts on the workings of he mind. Favorite quote on evolving every day was "Any of us confronted by a forgotten letter written some years ago will be astonished to find how much more foolish our opinions were than we had remembered them as being".
on February 25, 2015
Based on the "particular system ", Russell gives a systematic analysis of sensation, image , memory, beliefs, will and so on. he concludes that there is no special things "mind" which distinguishes animals from physical matters.
on October 20, 2015
This is an edition that features a text that is obviously the result of a word-recognition scan and contains many mistakes.
on March 6, 2011
Why is it that page numbers are so often left off when a book is converted to electronic format? Page numbers help people to have conversations about books-you know the old dictum "Are we on the same page?". If one intends to use a book like this for academic purposes, it is impossible without page numbers.
As far as the other formatting errors suggested below, none appear when reading via the Kindle software for Mac.