Τhe unconscious intelligence of William James Sidis

N. Lygeros

Translated from the Greek by Athena Kehagias




The issue that we are going to address here is an explanation of some psychological facts, based on reasonable methods. Specific actions, which have been observed, seem to demonstrate intelligence, but yet, are not expected to be phenomena of consciousness. In order to decide, regarding such claims (of which I ought to assume as correct the facts claimed by both sides), we ought to obtain a general idea of the methods we are about to use.
The first of these methods, is the method of isomorphism. This arises from the assumption, that if the consequences of the two cases are similar, then the two cases thereon, shall be regarded as identical for all the objects of the reasoning. In other words, it is superfluous to be proving arbitrary distinctions, where none really exist.
When we argue for a case, its consequences will be playing a role at every level of our argumentation, and, when these consequences are the same, the whole argument will be the same and therefore, no difference can in actual fact be proven.
Yet again, a choice between two theories, the consequences of which are and must be the same, must be necessarily just one, since no proof can be possibly obtained and therefore, it is not offered for discussion.
It's like the old question of man and monkey: "If a monkey is at a certain pole, continuously opposite a man who walks around the pole, then the man spins around the monkey?"
Now, we can proceed to the application of the theory of isomorphism.
There are two theories that explain certain physiological phenomena, which are called phenomena of the subconscious.
One of them states, that there is not just a single consciousness that fulfills all the actions of intelligence, which are called subconscious • The other theory states that, these actions are the results of an intelligence without consciousness, which consists purely of physiological processes
It appears from the later of the two prementioned theories that, there is no substantial difference between the properties of the unconscious intelligence with those of the conscious one. Some events of my personal experience indicate that, at least in my case, that this "unconscious intelligence" can simultaneously read and remember [...]
We see therefore, that such an "unconscious intelligence" does not differ in any way from a normal intelligence • except from the fact that I have no knowledge of it, but merely an occasional proof. However, the same thing can be said about the awareness of another person • only through an occasional proof, I obtain knowledge about it. Whether the nature of intelligence, which we are discussing, is either conscious or unconscious, the consequences are the same nevertheless, and therefore, such an "unconscious intelligence" is, according to the law of isomorphism, almost identical with a consciousness that does not require proof ,as per, the Supreme Court of psychology.
Each identity is, however, reversible. The advocates of the theory of the unconscious, can therefore reverse that identity and say that, a theory of active consciousness, for these specific phenomena, must be identical to their own theory. However, which is that identity?
Simply that, within the unconscious, all the present phenomena are simultaneous with the consciousness.
The points of dispute, as well as, the issue of whether these phenomena are called consciousness or not , must remain aside, like a game of words that's suitable for a dictionary designer, rather than a scientific researcher, in order to designate the use of a term such as consciousness.
The argument is currently limited to the question of the knowledge, of whether these phenomena, which are similar at every point, must be attributed to identical or different causes.
Namely, the phenomena of normal consciousness and the manifestations of the unconscious, do have, or not, the same prerequisites? In order to reach a conclusion at this point, we must mention to the axiom of the uniformity of nature, which is the basis of every Inductive reasoning, as every science.
This axiom is related to the factor, that the results which are substantially similar, must be attributed to the same cause. Without this proposal the experimental science wouldn't lead to any result, in the context of general laws • a collection, by Bacon, of vacant events, would be the only possible result and the entire science should be merely perigraphic.
We can mention Newton, who primarily expressed this principle in its final form in his Prencipia (Liber iii, Regulae Philosophandi, regula ii): << Ideoque effectuum naturalium eiusdem generis eaedem assignandae sunt causae, quatenus fieri potest. Uti respirationis in homine et in bestia; descendus lapidum in Europa et in America; Iucis in igne culinari et in sole; reflexionis lucis in terra et in planetis. >> *** (Book iii, The rules of philosophizing, article ii): «From the natural results, things of the same sort, must be of the same cause, as much as possible. The use of respiration in humans and animals • the stone falling in Europe and America • the light into the kitchen fire and the sun • the reflection of light on Earth and the planets. ***
We could consider the Cartesian hypothesis of the physiological processes as an interpretation of the subconscious.
Moreover, we can apply the principle of nature's uniformity, if the Cartesians are approaching this logical rule.
As the phenomena of consciousness are identical to those of the subconscious, we must interpret all the mental phenomena, whichever they are, with the same procedures• because the Cartesians are telling us, that such an interpretation is possible.Therefore, anyone who explains the phenomena of the subconscious through physiological processes, he must give a mechanistic explanation of all mental phenomena. Obviously, if a person hopes to look at the relationship between consciousness and the physiological phenomena, ie, as that, between the whistle and the steam engine, or as that, between the forest and the trees, he could do so perfectly.
However, if the assumptions were real, there would be no difference between the phenomena of consciousness and the subconscious. The physiological theory proves, therefore, our previous conclusion, i.e., apparently due to subconscious awareness, which is normally similar to normal consciousness.
The physiological theory proves therefore, our previous conclusion, that is to say, the phenomena of the subconscious are due to consciousness, which is physiologically similar to the normal consciousness
Moreover, as the phenomena of the subconscious are of exactly the same nature with those of the ordinary consciousness, we certainly can not insist on the fact, in a consistent way, that some are almost unconscious and the others conscious.
The existence of consciousness is not invalidated by the lack of direct evidence.
I have no direct evidence of the consciousness of the persons with whom I talk with• but nevertheless, they act just as if they were syneidotes and therefore I am led to conclude that, that's how they are.Similarly, if I see actions within my own body, with which I didn't occupy my self (at least ostensibly), but which are exactly the kind of actions that generate consciousness, I must conclude that, there is a consciousness in addition, which exists within me.
To name one of them consciousness, while we disclaim this quality in the other, it means, to introduce a difference where there isn't one• and to disclaim the consciousness, where there is no precise evidence, it simply means that we structure a kind of solipsism.
I ought to conclude therefore, with the observation that a theory such as the one of the "unconscious intelligence" can not be reasonably accepted.
One of the supporters of the "unconscious intelligence" has put forward an argument that is a supposed proof of the existence of an unconscious intelligence.
The argument, as I understand it, is the following: a number of subconscious acts were observed and were considered as declaratory of all the properties normally found in consciousness. By the same token, there were found on mindless dogs, all actions commonly called intelligent. Here, subsequently, we have examples of unconscious actions which bear all the qualities of intelligence.
They ought to definitely be called intelligent, because to actually make a difference here it's simply a "pragmatistic question" and it would not be reasonable to name a certain action, one of conscious intelligence and another similar action, unintelligent. Whereby, those unconscious actions being ingenious, the unconscious intelligence must exist.
Firstly, what is the opposite theory? The subconscious was interpreted in two ways • according to one of them, the phenomena of the subconscious are manifestations of a consciousness that withholds all the characteristics of intelligence and other adjustments, which are held by the conscience as a whole, whereas, according to another theory, behind these phenomena there is an "unconscious intelligence", which has all the qualities of intelligence, but which, however, is not conscious.
Having in mind these two opposing theories, we can proceed to consider the argument.
Both theories agree, that the phenomena of the subconscious are intelligent and have all the characteristics commonly attributed to intelligence. The theories are opposed on the fact that these processes, which produce these phenomena are conscious.Consequently, a reasoning that seeks to establish the theory of the "unconscious intelligence" proving that these phenomena are intelligent, simply consists in proving of what we already have accepted • this can be entirely correct, but it's not what the goal is • it's an irrelevant conclusion .
Moreover, the reasoning states that: we have demonstrated that the observed phenomena, which are unconscious, are intelligent • therefore, unconscious processes can be intelligent.
Expressed in the form of this reasoning, it concludes: all of the processes those experiences are intelligent • all of the processes of those experiences are unconscious • therefore, some unconscious processes are intelligent.
This may seem a perfectly logical reasoning and could actually be such, if the initial elements were both acceptable.But let's examine the second initial element.
To state that, all processes that were observed in mental experiences are unconscious, means, that we assume specifically the initial point of the question, with which we simply proved, what we just assumed.
To the point that it concerns, the specific aspect of a conscious action in this case, the promoted argument contains not only an irrelevant conclusion, but also a circular proof. The argument is guilty, at least for his double sophistry .
Besides, when the argument is set to its logical conclusion, it negates its own results • and we can take this argument as an excellent negation of the theory attempted to be prAoved by it.
Our own advocate of "unconscious intelligence" states that, the conscious processes are not in any way different from the unconscious processes or the actions of unintelligent dogs.
Therefore, he concludes that, this is a "pragmatistic question" as to whether we should call one of these systems intelligent and the other non-intelligent, as there is no real difference between these two actions.
Let us now replace throughout the argument, the term 'intelligent' by the term 'conscious'. Then it is a simple "pragmatistic question" of whether we can call one of these systems conscious and the other unconscious, as there is no real difference between these two type of actions.
If the argument regarding intelligence is valid, then the argument regarding conscience should be valid as well.
Therefore, supporting this argument to its logical conclusion, it appears that not only the form of actions which are called subconscious, but also the actions of unintelligent dogs are conscious actions. We can not insist anymore, that the subconscious processes or the unintelligent dogs are unconscious, according to the logical result promoted by the defender of "unconscious intelligence» •
on the contrary, we must infer that there is one consciousness present in all subconscious actions and that the consciousness of dogs does not depend on the presence of the cortex. The first of the conclusions of the argument that we have approached, is the only one that's important for our objectives: the subconscious processes are conscious.







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