Blog post: James and Carter’s discussion of consciousness.

James and Carter’s ideas of consciousness bear a few similarities to each other at first. Both seem to agree that the brain ignores certain impulses in favor of others. They are also in apparent agreement about the continuity of the brain’s way of “merging the consciousness of one moment with that of the next” (Carter 18). However, when we get down to the most elemental aspects of consciousness, the similarities between the two seem to end.

For the most part, Carter’s explanation of consciousness is a good deal more modern than James’s, which is typical of the 19th century. James believes that all thoughts originate from a “personal consciousness” that is independent from all other objects. In other words, according to James, it is the self who determines what we percieve. additionally, James argues that our subconscious -in this case a “secondary personality” (James 227) which is subservient to the main personality and follows its precepts- is part of the same “self ” which has been pushed into a background role after the mind’s division into two personalities.

Furthermore, James argues that the mind is always “interested more in one part of its object than another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks” (284). James believes that the mind, on top of operating independently of any stimuli, picks and chooses what it pays attention to. This implies that the mind can percieve every detail of a scene, and choose to ignore all others once it has selected details to focus on. senses, James claims are “organs of selection” (284). According to consciousness has extremely wide parameters and human beings choose to narrow them for the sake of simplicity.

This conflicts with the views expressed in Carter’s “Stream of Illusion”. From her very first paragraph, Carter subverts James’s idea of consciousness. When she mentions not thinking about one’s own nose, our nose comes to the forefront of our consciousness because the cue is “immediate, personal and odd”. From this it becomes apparent that the parameters of our consciousness are much narrower than we think. We percieve things not by choice, but by how immediately they capture our attention based on a set of perceptions. our grasp of detail is ultimately proven to be quite weak, especially when it comes to our “blindness”. Carter’s examples of “Change blindness” and “inattentional blindness” demonstrate our lack of ability to percieve a wide range of visual information. Instead of noticing the most important aspect of an image, our minds are involuntarily drawn to a specific part because it triggers our immediate interest, leaving us blind to important details such as the missing engine or the gentleman in the gorilla suit. What this ultimately demonstrates is that it is not a personal consciousness, as James thought, that moves our thoughts, but our consciousness is affected by objects outside of itself and thoughts occur as responses to these stimuli, as Carter believes.

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2 Responses to Blog post: James and Carter’s discussion of consciousness.

  1. Dominique says:

    This is a careful and thorough analysis, Juan. I’m glad you chose to focus on the tension between these readings rather than resting in their similarities. You’ve teased of some of the more nuanced disagreements we were not able to cover in class.


  2. Donna Kidney says:

    Excellent article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our website. Keep up the good writing.

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