14 November 2008

Little mind

Except for a trip to the medical lab today — having some tests done to see why this illness of mine is hanging on so long — i'm still mostly confined indoors. This is a bit like being enclosed within the consciously thinking part of the mind; not much space to roam about in!

That the conscious part of the mind is only a small part of the whole — the tip of the iceberg, as the cliché has it — is now widely acknowledged, but this is a relatively recent development among thinkers. C.S. Peirce was somewhat ahead of the game, as usual, when he wrote this around 1905:
Swarming facts positively leave no doubt that vivid consciousness, subject to attention and control, embraces at any one moment a mere scrap of our psychical activity. Without attempting accuracy of statement demanding long explanations, and irrelevant to present purposes, three propositions may be laid down. (1) The obscure part of the mind is the principal part. (2) It acts with far more unerring accuracy than the rest. (3) It is almost infinitely more delicate in its sensibilities. Man's fully-conscious inferences have no quantitative delicacy, except where they repose on arithmetic and measurement, which are mechanical processes; and they are almost as likely as not to be downright blunders. But unconscious or semi-conscious irreflective judgments of mother-wit, like instinctive inferences of brutes, answer questions of ‘how much’ with curious accuracy; and are seldom totally mistaken.
— (CP 6.569)

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