Thursday, February 25, 2010

Western bias toward consciousness?

Quotation from



Arthur S. Reber
Brooklyn College and the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York


Implicit Learning and Consciousness: An Empirical, Philosophical, and Computational Consensus in the Making.
Contributors: Robert M. French - editor, Axel Cleeremans - editor.
Publisher: Psychology Press. Place of Publication: New York.
Publication Year: 2002.

From his long-standing interest in the history of psychology, Reber is convinced that "our discipline is nothing more (or less) than the bastard offspring of the union of philosophy and physiology." (xii). While physiology made psychology experimental and laboratory based, philosophy produced difficulties. One of the reasons was that modern Western philosophy was more or less divided into the Continental and the British and these two traditions disagreed on so much. However, Reber says:

But there was one common theme: in both, consciousness and cognition were seen as coterminous. If some mental act were to be seen as cognitive, if some process or mechanism or the products of that process or mechanism could be viewed as part of the “higher mental processes”, then you could be certain that it was available to consciousness and to introspection. The abstract and the symbolic were confined to the privileged realm of consciousness. The unconscious, the implicit, the procedural elements of human conduct were primitive, unthinking, elemental, and reflexive. The indubitable, in Descartes' famous stab at scepticism, was the conscious mind. And, as Daniel Dennett (1987) put it, to a Lockean the notion of unconscious thought was “incoherent, self-contradictory nonsense”. From this point of view the notion that any interesting mental event could be opaque to consciousness was near heresy.

In a similar vein, it is my read on history that the criticism and abuse that was heaped upon Sigmund Freud's early work was not because of his infusing of sex and sexuality into every psychic corner, but was caused by his truly astonishing argument that the mind was not rational, that we were driven by base motives over which we had little control and which functioned very much outside the reach of normal consciousness. We have our history and it follows us.(French & Cleeremans, 2002, pp. xii-xiii)

When we work on the issue of consciousness and learning in Japan (or in the Orient), are we being stupid intellectuals who struggle with a non-problem in their own tradition? Or, after the processes of modern history, are we not just "the Japanese" or "the Oriental"?


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