Book VII of The Republic
The Allegory of the Cave
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[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]
And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened
or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a
underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their
childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the
chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners
there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in
front of them, over which they show the puppets.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts
of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood
and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the
shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the
opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose
that they were naming what was actually before
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the
other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the
passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it' the prisoners
are released and disabused of their error. At first, when
any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will
suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the
shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is
approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And
you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be
perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have
a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and
take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now
being shown to him?
True, he said.
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and
rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the
presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and
he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Not all in a moment, he said.
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world.
And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of
men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and
the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of
him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and
not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and
the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible
world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?
Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den
and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would
felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves
on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows
and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able
to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them?
Would he not say with Homer,
Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything,
rather than think as they do and live after their
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain
these false notions and live in this miserable
Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun
to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain
to have his eyes full of darkness?
To be sure, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the
shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the
den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this
new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he
came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up
to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
No question, he said.
This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the
previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight,
the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul
into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God
knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only
with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the
lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon
which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.
Selections from Meditations
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1. SEVERAL years have now elapsed since I first became aware that I
had accepted, even from my youth, many false opinions
for true, and that consequently what I afterward based on such principles was highly doubtful; and from that time I was convinced
of the necessity of undertaking once in my life to rid myself of all the opinions I had adopted, and of commencing anew the work of
building from the foundation, if I desired to establish a firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences. But as this enterprise
appeared to me to be one of great magnitude, I waited until I had attained an age so mature as to leave me no hope that at any
stage of life more advanced I should be better able to execute my design. On this account, I have delayed so long that I should
henceforth consider I was doing wrong were I still to consume in deliberation any of the time that now remains for action. To-day,
then, since I have opportunely freed my mind from all cares [and am happily disturbed by no passions], and since I am in the
secure possession of leisure in a peaceable retirement, I will at length apply myself earnestly and freely to the general overthrow of
all my former opinions. ....
4. But it may be said, perhaps, that, although the senses occasionally
mislead us respecting minute objects, and such as are so far
removed from us as to be beyond the reach of close observation, there are yet many other of their informations (presentations), of
the truth of which it is manifestly impossible to doubt; as for example, that I am in this place, seated by the fire, clothed in a winter
dressing gown, that I hold in my hands this piece of paper, with other intimations of the same nature. But how could I deny that I
possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so
disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors as to cause them pertinaciously to assert that they are monarchs when they are in
the greatest poverty; or clothed [in gold] and purple when destitute of any covering; or that their head is made of clay, their body of
glass, or that they are gourds? I should certainly be not less insane than they, were I to regulate my procedure according to
examples so extravagant.
5. Though this be true, I must nevertheless here consider that I am
a man, and that, consequently, I am in the habit of sleeping, and
representing to myself in dreams those same things, or even sometimes others less probable, which the insane think are presented
to them in their waking moments. How often have I dreamt that I was in these familiar circumstances, that I was dressed, and
occupied this place by the fire, when I was lying undressed in bed? At the present moment, however, I certainly look upon this
paper with eyes wide awake; the head which I now move is not asleep; I extend this hand consciously and with express purpose,
and I perceive it; the occurrences in sleep are not so distinct as all this. But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been
deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks
by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost
persuade myself that I am now dreaming. ....
12. I will suppose, then, not that Deity, who is sovereignly good and
the fountain of truth, but that some malignant demon, who is at
once exceedingly potent and deceitful, has employed all his artifice to deceive me; I will suppose that the sky, the air, the earth,
colors, figures, sounds, and all external things, are nothing better than the illusions of dreams, by means of which this being has laid
snares for my credulity; I will consider myself as without hands, eyes, flesh, blood, or any of the senses, and as falsely believing
that I am possessed of these; I will continue resolutely fixed in this belief, and if indeed by this means it be not in my power to
arrive at the knowledge of truth, I shall at least do what is in my power, viz, [ suspend my judgment ], and guard with settled
purpose against giving my assent to what is false, and being imposed upon by this deceiver, whatever be his power and artifice.
But this undertaking is arduous, and a certain indolence insensibly leads me back to my ordinary course of life; and just as the
captive, who, perchance, was enjoying in his dreams an imaginary liberty, when he begins to suspect that it is but a vision, dreads
awakening, and conspires with the agreeable illusions that the deception may be prolonged; so I, of my own accord, fall back into
the train of my former beliefs, and fear to arouse myself from my slumber, lest the time of laborious wakefulness that would
succeed this quiet rest, in place of bringing any light of day, should prove inadequate to dispel the darkness that will arise from the
difficulties that have now been raised.
1. The Meditation of yesterday has filled my mind with so many doubts,
that it is no longer in my power to forget them. Nor do I
see, meanwhile, any principle on which they can be resolved; and, just as if I had fallen all of a sudden into very deep water, I am
so greatly disconcerted as to be unable either to plant my feet firmly on the bottom or sustain myself by swimming on the surface. I
will, nevertheless, make an effort, and try anew the same path on which I had entered yesterday, that is, proceed by casting aside
all that admits of the slightest doubt, not less than if I had discovered it to be absolutely false; and I will continue always in this
track until I shall find something that is certain, or at least, if I can do nothing more, until I shall know with certainty that there is
nothing certain. Archimedes, that he might transport the entire globe from the place it occupied to another, demanded only a point
that was firm and immovable; so, also, I shall be entitled to entertain the highest expectations, if I am fortunate enough to discover
only one thing that is certain and indubitable.
2. I suppose, accordingly, that all the things which I see are false
(fictitious); I believe that none of those objects which my
fallacious memory represents ever existed; I suppose that I possess no senses; I believe that body, figure, extension, motion, and
place are merely fictions of my mind. What is there, then, that can be esteemed true ? Perhaps this only, that there is absolutely
3. But how do I know that there is not something different altogether
from the objects I have now enumerated, of which it is
impossible to entertain the slightest doubt? Is there not a God, or some being, by whatever name I may designate him, who causes
these thoughts to arise in my mind ? But why suppose such a being, for it may be I myself am capable of producing them? Am I,
then, at least not something? But I before denied that I possessed senses or a body; I hesitate, however, for what follows from
that? Am I so dependent on the body and the senses that without these I cannot exist? But I had the persuasion that there was
absolutely nothing in the world, that there was no sky and no earth, neither minds nor bodies; was I not, therefore, at the same time,
persuaded that I did not exist? Far from it; I assuredly existed, since I was persuaded. But there is I know not what being, who is
possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me.
Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so
long as I shall be conscious that I am something. So that it must, in fine, be maintained, all things being maturely and carefully
considered, that this proposition (pronunciatum ) I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time it is expressed by me, or conceived in
4. But I do not yet know with sufficient clearness what I am, though
assured that I am; and hence, in the next place, I must take
care, lest perchance I inconsiderately substitute some other object in room of what is properly myself, and thus wander from truth,
even in that knowledge ( cognition ) which I hold to be of all others the most certain and evident. For this reason, I will now
consider anew what I formerly believed myself to be, before I entered on the present train of thought; and of my previous opinion I
will retrench all that can in the least be invalidated by the grounds of doubt I have adduced, in order that there may at length remain
nothing but what is certain and indubitable. ....
6. But [as to myself, what can I now say that I am], since I suppose
there exists an extremely powerful, and, if I may so speak,
malignant being, whose whole endeavors are directed toward deceiving me ? Can I affirm that I possess any one of all those
attributes of which I have lately spoken as belonging to the nature of body ? After attentively considering them in my own mind, I
find none of them that can properly be said to belong to myself. To recount them were idle and tedious. Let us pass, then, to the
attributes of the soul. The first mentioned were the powers of nutrition and walking; but, if it be true that I have no body, it is true
likewise that I am capable neither of walking nor of being nourished. Perception is another attribute of the soul; but perception too
is impossible without the body; besides, I have frequently, during sleep, believed that I perceived objects which I afterward
observed I did not in reality perceive. Thinking is another attribute of the soul; and here I discover what properly belongs to myself.
This alone is inseparable from me. I am--I exist: this is certain; but how often? As often as I think; for perhaps it would even
happen, if I should wholly cease to think, that I should at the same time altogether cease to be. I now admit nothing that is not
necessarily true. I am therefore, precisely speaking, only a thinking thing, that is, a mind (mens sive animus), understanding, or
reason, terms whose signification was before unknown to me. I am, however, a real thing, and really existent; but what thing? The
answer was, a thinking thing. ....
8. But what, then, am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what
is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands,
[conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives.
9. Assuredly it is not little, if all these properties belong to my
nature. But why should they not belong to it ? Am I not that very
being who now doubts of almost everything; who, for all that, understands and conceives certain things; who affirms one alone as
true, and denies the others; who desires to know more of them, and does not wish to be deceived; who imagines many things,
sometimes even despite his will; and is likewise percipient of many, as if through the medium of the senses. Is there nothing of all
this as true as that I am, even although I should be always dreaming, and although he who gave me being employed all his ingenuity
to deceive me ? Is there also any one of these attributes that can be properly distinguished from my thought, or that can be said to
be separate from myself ? For it is of itself so evident that it is I who doubt, I who understand, and I who desire, that it is here
unnecessary to add anything by way of rendering it more clear. And I am as certainly the same being who imagines; for although it
may be (as I before supposed) that nothing I imagine is true, still the power of imagination does not cease really to exist in me and
to form part of my thought. In fine, I am the same being who perceives, that is, who apprehends certain objects as by the organs of
sense, since, in truth, I see light, hear a noise, and feel heat. But it will be said that these presentations are false, and that I am
dreaming. Let it be so. At all events it is certain that I seem to see light, hear a noise, and feel heat; this cannot be false, and this is
what in me is properly called perceiving (sentire), which is nothing else than thinking.
A Selection from The Descent of Man
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The main conclusion here arrived at, and now held by many naturalists
who are well competent to form a sound judgment, is that
man is descended from some less highly organised form. The grounds upon which this conclusion rests will never be shaken, for
the close similarity between man and the lower animals in embryonic development, as well as in innumerable points of structure
and constitution, both of high and of the most trifling importance, - the rudiments which he retains, and the abnormal revisions to
which he is occasionally liable, - are facts which cannot be disputed. They have long been known, but until recently they told us
nothing with respect to the origin of man. Now when viewed by the light of our knowledge of the whole organic world their
meaning is unmistakable. The great principle of evolution stands up clear and firm, when these groups of facts are considered in
connection with others, such as the mutual affinities of the members of the same group, their geographical distribution in past and
present times, and their geological succession. It is incredible that all these facts should speak falsely. He who is not content to
look, like a savage, at the phenomena of nature as disconnected, cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act
of creation. He will be forced to admit that the close resemblance of the embryo of man to that, for instance, of a dog - the
construction of his skull, limbs and whole frame on the same plan with that of other mammals, independently of the uses to which
the parts may be put - the occasional re-appearance of various structures, for instance of several muscles, which man does not
normally possess, but which are common to the Quadrumana - and a crowd of analogous facts - all point in the plainest manner to
the conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor.
We have seen that man incessantly presents individual differences in
all parts of his body and in his mental faculties. These
differences or variations seem to be induced by the same general causes, and to obey the same laws as with the lower animals. In
both cases similar laws of inheritance prevail. Man tends to increase at a greater rate than his means of subsistence; consequently
he is occasionally subjected to a severe struggle for existence, and natural selection will have effected whatever lies within its
scope. A succession of strongly-marked variations of a similar nature is by no means requisite; slight fluctuating differences in the
individual suffice for the work of natural selection; not that we have any reason to suppose that in the same species, all parts of the
organisation tend to vary to the same degree.
By considering the embryological structure of man, - the homologies
which he presents with the lower animals, - the rudiments
which he retains, - and the reversions to which he is liable, we can partly recall in imagination the former condition of our early
progenitors; and can approximately place them in their proper place in the zoological series. We thus learn that man is descended
from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World. This creature, if its whole
structure had been examined by a naturalist, would have been classed amongst the Quadrumana, as surely as the still more ancient
progenitor of the Old and New World monkeys. The Quadrumana and all the higher mammals are probably derived from an
ancient marsupial animal, and this through a long line of diversified forms, from some amphibian-like creature, and this again from
some fish-like animal. In the dim obscurity of the past we can see that the early progenitor of all the Vertebrata must have been an
aquatic animal, provided with branchiæ, with the two sexes united in the same individual, and with the most important organs of the
body (such as the brain and heart) imperfectly or not at all developed. This animal seems to have been more like the larvæ of the
existing marine Ascidians than any other known form.
The high standard of our intellectual powers and moral disposition is
the greatest difficulty which presents itself, after we have
been driven to this conclusion on the origin of man. But every one who admits the principle of evolution, must see that the mental
powers of the higher animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in degree, are capable of
The moral nature of man has reached its present standard, partly through
the advancement of his reasoning powers and
consequently of a just public opinion, but especially from his sympathies having been rendered more tender and widely diffused
through the effects of habit, example, instruction, and reflection. It is not improbable that after long practice virtuous tendencies
may be inherited. With the more civilised races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on
the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide though few escape this
influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme
judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and
these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.
The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest but
the most complete of all the distinctions between man and
the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the
other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal, and apparently follows from a considerable advance in
man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed
instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this iS a rash argument, as we
should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for
the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to
arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture....
I am aware that the conclusions arrived at in this work will be denounced
by some as highly irreligious; but he who denounces
them is bound to shew why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinct species by descent from some lower form,
through the laws of variation and natural selection, than to explain the birth of the individual through the laws of ordinary
reproduction. The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our
minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance. The understanding revolts at such a conclusion, whether or not we are able to
believe that every slight variation of structure, - the union of each pair in marriage, - the dissemination of each seed, - and other
such events, have all been ordained for some special purpose.
Sexual selection has been treated at great length in this work, for,
as I have attempted to shew, it has played an important part in
the history of the organic world. I am aware that much remains doubtful, but I have endeavoured to give a fair view of the whole
case. In the lower divisions of the animal kingdom, sexual selection seems to have done nothing: such animals are often affixed for
life to the same spot, or have the sexes combined in the same individual, or what is still more important, their perceptive and
intellectual faculties are not sufficiently advanced to allow of the feelings of love and jealousy, or of the exertion of choice. When,
however, we come to the Arthropoda and Vertebrata, even to the lowest classes in these two great Sub-Kingdoms, sexual
selection has effected much....
Sexual selection depends on the success of certain individuals over
others of the same sex, in relation to the propagation of the
species; whilst natural selection depends on the success of both sexes, at all ages, in relation to the general conditions of life. The
sexual struggle is of two kinds; in the one it is between the individuals of the same sex, generally the males, in order to drive away
or kill their rivals, the females remaining passive; whilst in the other, the struggle is likewise between the individuals of the same
sex, in order to excite or charm those of the opposite sex, generally the females, which no longer remain passive, but select the
more agreeable partners....
The main conclusion arrived at in this work, namely that man is descended
from some lowly organised form, will, I regret to think,
be highly distasteful to many. But there can hardly be a doubt that we are descended from barbarians. The astonishment which I
felt on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore will never be forgotten by me,< for the reflection at once rushed
into my mind - such were our ancestors. These men were absolutely naked and bedaubed with paint, their long hair was tangled,
their mouths frothed with excitement, and their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful. They possessed hardly any arts, and
like wild animals lived on what they could catch; they had no government, and were merciless to every one not of their own small
tribe. He who has seen a savage in his native land will not feel much shame, if forced to acknowledge that the blood of some more
humble creature flows in his veins. For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his
dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper, or from that old baboon, who descending from the mountains, carried away
in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs - as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up
bloody sacrifices, practises infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the
Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not
through his own exertions, to the very summit of the
organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still
higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason
permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to
me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only
to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and
constitution of the solar system - with all these exalted powers - Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly
Return to text.
From Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to
Sex (New York: Appleton and Co., 1883), pp. 7,
609, 612-614, 618-619.
The Stream of Consciousness (1892)
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The first and foremost concrete fact which every one will affirm
to belong to his inner experience is the fact that consciousness
of some sort goes on. 'States of mind' succeed each other in him. If we could say in English 'it thinks,' as we say 'it rains' or 'it
blows,' we should be stating the fact most simply and with the minimum of assumption. As we cannot, we must simply say that
thought goes on.
....How does it go on? We notice immediately four important characters
in the process, of which it shall be the duty of the present
chapter to treat in a general way :
1) Every 'state' tends to be part of a personal consciousness.
2) Within each personal consciousness states are always changing.
3) Each personal consciousness is sensibly continuous. 4) It is interested in some parts of its object to the exclusion of others, and
welcomes or rejects -- chooses from among them, in a word -- all the while.
In considering these four points successively, we shall have to plunge
in medias res as regards our nomenclature and use
psychological terms which can only be adequately defined in later chapters of the book. But every one knows what the terms
mean in a rough way; and it is only in a rough way that we are now to take them. This chapter is like a painter's first charcoal
sketch upon his canvas, in which no niceties appear.
[Personal Nature of Consciousness]
When I say every 'state' or 'thought' is part of a personal consciousness,
'personal consciousness' is one of the terms in question.
Its meaning we know so long as no one asks us to define it, but to give an accurate account of it is the most difficult of
philosophic tasks. This task we must, confront in the next chapter; here a preliminary word will suffice.
In this room -- this lecture-room, say -- there are a multitude of thoughts,
yours and mine, some of which cohere mutually, and
some not. They are as little each-for-itself and reciprocally independent as they are all-belonging-together. They are neither: no
one of them is separate, but each belongs with certain others and with none beside. My thought belongs with my other thoughts,
and your thought with your other thoughts. Whether anywhere in the room there be a mere thought, which is nobody's thought,
we have no means of ascertaining, for we have no experience of its like. The only states of consciousness that we naturally deal
with are found in personal consciousness, minds, selves, concrete particular I's and you's.
Each of these minds keeps its own thoughts to itself. There is no giving
or bartering between them. No thought even comes into
direct sight of a thought in another personal consciousness than its own. Absolute insulation, irreducible pluralism, is the law. It
seems as if the elementary psychic fact were not thought or this thought or that thought, but my thought, every thought being
owned. Neither contemporaneity, nor proximity in space, nor similarity of quality and content are able to fuse thoughts together
which are sundered by this barrier of belonging to different personal minds. The breaches between such thoughts are the most
absolute breaches in nature. Every one will recognize this to be true, so long as the existence of something corresponding to the
term 'personal mind' is all that is insisted on, without any particular view of its nature being implied. On these terms the personal
self rather than the thought might be treated as the immediate datum in psychology. The universal conscious fact is not 'feelings
and thoughts exist,' but 'I think' and 'I feel.' No psychology, at any rate, can question the existence of personal selves. Thoughts
connected as we feel them to be connected are what we mean by personal selves. The worst a psychology can do is so to
interpret the nature of these selves as to rob them of their worth.
[Consciousness in Constant Change]
Consciousness is in constant change. I do not mean by this to say that
no one state of mind has any duration -- even if true, that
would be hard to establish. What I wish to lay stress on is this, that no state once gone can recur and be identical with what it
was before. Now we are seeing, now hearing; now reasoning, now willing; now recollecting, now expecting; now loving, now
hating; and in a hundred other ways we know our minds to be alternately engaged....
....The grass out of the window now looks to me of the same green
in the sun as in the shade, and yet a painter would have to
paint one part of it dark brown, another part bright yellow, to give its real sensational effect. We take no heed, as a rule, of the
different way in which the same things look and sound and smell at different distances and under different circumstances. The
sameness of the things is what we are concerned to ascertain; and any sensations that assure us of that will probably be
considered in a rough way to be the same with each other....
Such a difference as this could never have been sensibly learned; it
had to be inferred from a series of indirect considerations.
These make us believe that our sensibility is altering all the time, so that the same object cannot easily give us the same sensation
over again. We feel things differently accordingly as we are sleepy or awake, hungry or full, fresh or tired; differently at night and
in the morning, differently in summer and in winter; and above all, differently in childhood, manhood, and old age. And yet we
never doubt that our feelings reveal the same world, with the same sensible qualities and the same sensible things occupying it.
The difference of the sensibility is shown best by the difference of our emotion about the things from one age to another, or when
we are in different organic moods, What was bright and exciting becomes weary, flat, and unprofitable. The bird's song is tedious,
the breeze is mournful, the sky is sad.
....From one year to another we see things in new lights. What
was unreal has grown real, and what was exciting is insipid. The
friends we used to care the world for are shrunken to shadows; the women once so divine, the stars, the woods, and the waters,
how now so dull and common! -- the young girls that brought an aura of infinity, at present hardly distinguishable existences; the
pictures so empty; and as for the books, what was there to find so mysteriously significant in Goethe, or in John Mill so full of
weight? Instead of all this, more zestful than ever is the work, the work; and fuller and deeper the import of common duties and
of common goods.
[The Continuity of Thought]
....No doubt it is often convenient to formulate the mental facts
in an atomistic sort of way, and to treat the higher states of
consciousness as if they were all built out of unchanging simple ideas which 'pass and turn again.' It is convenient often to treat
curves as if they were composed of small straight lines, and electricity and nerve-force as if they were fluids. But in the one case
as in the other we must never forget that we are talking symbolically, and that there is nothing in nature to answer to our words.
A permanently existing 'Idea' which makes its appearance before the footlights of consciousness at periodical intervals is as
mythological an entity as the Jack of Spades.
Within each personal consciousness, thought is sensibly continuous.
I can only define 'continuous' as that which is without breach,
crack, or division. The only breaches that can well be conceived to occur within the limits of a single mind would either be
interruptions, time-gaps during which the consciousness went out; or they would be breaks in the content of the thought, so abrupt
that what followed had no connection whatever with what went before. The proposition that consciousness feels continuous,
means two things:
a. That even where there is a time-gap the consciousness after it feels
as if it belonged together with the consciousness before it,
as another part of the same self;
b. That the changes from one moment to another in the quality of the consciousness are never absolutely abrupt.
The case of the time-gaps, as the simplest, shall be taken first.
....When Paul and Peter wake up in the same bed, and recognize that
they have been asleep, each one of them mentally reaches
back and makes connection with but one of the two streams of thought which were broken by the sleeping hours. As the current
of an electrode buried in the ground unerringly finds its way to its own similarly buried mate, across no matter how much
intervening earth; so Peter's present instantly finds out Peter's past, and never by mistake knits itself on to that of Paul. Paul's
thought in turn is as little liable to go astray. The past thought of Peter is appropriated by the present Peter alone. He may have a
knowledge, and a correct one too, of what Paul's last drowsy states of mind were as he sank into sleep, but it is an entirely
different sort of knowledge from that which he has of his own last states. He remembers his own states, whilst he only conceives
Paul's. Remembrance is like direct feeling; its object is suffused with a warmth and intimacy to which no object of mere
conception ever attains. This quality of warmth and intimacy and immediacy is what Peter's present thought also possesses for
itself. So sure as this present is me, is mine, it says, so sure is anything else that comes with the same warmth and intimacy and
immediacy, me and mine. What the qualities called warmth and intimacy may in themselves be will have to be matter for future
consideration. But whatever past states appear with those qualities must be admitted to receive the greeting of the present mental
state, to be owned by it, and accepted as belonging together with it in a common self. This community of self is what the time-gap
cannot break in twain, and is why a present thought, although not ignorant of the time-gap, can still regard itself as continuous
with certain chosen portions of the past.
Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such
words as 'chain' or 'train' do not describe it fitly as it
presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A 'river' or a 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most
naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life....
[Substantive and Transitive States of Mind]
....When we take a general view of the wonderful stream of our
consciousness, what strikes us first is the different pace of its
parts. Like a bird's life, it seems to be an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of language expresses this, where every
thought is expressed in a sentence, and every sentence closed by a period. The resting-places are usually occupied by sensorial
imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated
without changing; the places of flight are filled with thoughts of relations, static or dynamic, that for the most part obtain between
the matters contemplated in the periods of comparative rest.
Let us call the resting-places the 'substantive parts,' and the places
of flight the 'transitive parts,' of the stream of thought. It then
appears that our thinking tends at all times towards some other substantive part than the one from which it has just been
dislodged. And we may say that the main use of the transitive parts is to lead us from one substantive conclusion to another.
Now it is very difficult, introspectively, to see the transitive parts
for what they really are. If they are but flights to a conclusion,
stopping them to look at them before the conclusion is reached is really annihilating them. Whilst if we wait till the conclusion be
reached, it so exceeds them in vigor and stability that it quite eclipses and swallows them up in its glare. Let anyone try to cut a
thought across in the middle and get a look at its section, and he will see how difficult the introspective observation of the
transitive tracts is. The rush of the thought is so headlong that it almost always brings us up at the conclusion before we can rest
it. Or if our purpose is nimble enough and we do arrest it, it ceases forthwith to itself. As a snowflake crystal caught in the warm
hand is no longer a crystal but a drop, so, instead of catching the feeling of relation moving to its term, we find we have caught
some substantive thing, usually the last word we were pronouncing, statically taken, and with its function, tendency, and particular
meaning in the sentence quite evaporated. The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top
to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks....
We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but,
and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue
a feeling of cold. Yet we do not: so inveterate has our habit become of recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone,
that language almost refuses to lend itself to any other use....
[Fringes of Experience]
The object before the mind always has a 'Fringe.' There are other unnamed
modifications of consciousness just as important as
the transitive states, and just as cognitive as they. Examples will show what I mean....
Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name. The state of our consciousness
is peculiar. There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It
is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments
tingle with the sense of our closeness, and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term. If wrong names are proposed to
us, this singularly definite gap acts immediately so as to negate them. They do not fit into its mould. And the gap of one word does
not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps. When I vainly
try to recall the name of Spalding, my consciousness is far removed from what it is when I vainly try to recall the name of
Bowles. There are innumerable consciousnesses of want, no one of which taken in itself has a name, but all different from each
other. Such feeling of want is tota cÏlo other than a want of feeling: it is an intense feeling. The rhythm of a lost word may be
there without a sound to clothe it; or the evanescent sense of something which is the initial vowel or consonant may mock us
fitfully, without growing -more distinct. Every one must know the tantalizing effect of the blank rhythm of some forgotten verse,
restlessly dancing in one's mind, striving to be filled out with words.
....The traditional psychology talks like one who should say a
river consists of nothing but pailsful, spoonsful, quartpotsful,
barrelsful, and other moulded forms of water. Even were the pails and the pots all actually standing in the stream, still between
them the free water would continue to flow. It is just this free water of consciousness that psychologists resolutely overlook.
Every definite image in the mind is steeped and dyed in the free water that flows round it. With it goes the sense of its relations,
near and remote, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning sense of whither it is to lead. The significance, the value,
of the image is all in this halo or penumbra that surrounds and escorts it, -- or rather that is fused into one with it and has become
bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh; leaving it, it is true, an image of the same thing it was before, but making it an image of that
thing newly taken and freshly understood.
Let us call the consciousness of this halo of relations around the image
by the name of 'psychic overtone' or 'fringe.''
....The last peculiarity to which attention is to be drawn in this first
rough description of thought's stream is that -- Consciousness is
always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks.
The phenomena of selective attention and of deliberative will are of
course patent examples of this choosing activity. But few of
us are aware how incessantly it is at work in operations not ordinarily called by these names. Accentuation and Emphasis are
present in every perception we have. We find it quite impossible to disperse our attention impartially over a number of
impressions. A monotonous succession of sonorous strokes is broken up into rhythms, now of one sort, now of another, by the
different accent which we place on different strokes. The simplest of these rhythms is the double one, tick-t—ck, tick-t—ck,
tick-t—ck. Dots dispersed on a surface are perceived in rows and groups. Lines separate into diverse figures. The ubiquity of the
distinctions, this and that, here and there, now and then, in our minds is the result of our laying the same selective emphasis on
parts of place and time
But we do far more than emphasize things, and unite some, and keep others
apart. We actually ignore most of the things before
us. Let me briefly show how this goes on.
....what is called our 'experience' is almost entirely determined by
our habits of attention. A thing may be present to a man a
hundred times, but if he persistently fails to notice it, it cannot be said to enter into his experience. We are all seeing flies, moths,
and beetles by the thousand, but to whom, save an entomologist, do they say anything distinct? On the other hand, a thing met
only once in a lifetime may leave an indelible experience in the memory. Let four men make a tour in Europe. One will bring
home only picturesque impressions -- costumes and colors, parks and views and works of architecture, pictures and statues. To
another all this will be non-existent; and distances and prices, populations and drainage-arrangements, door- and
window-fastenings, and other useful statistics will take their place. A third will give a rich account of the theatres, restaurants,
and public halls, and naught besides; whilst the fourth will perhaps have been so wrapped in his own subjective broodings as to be
able to tell little more than a few names of places through which he passed. Each has selected, out of the same mass of presented
objects, those which suited his private interest and has made his experience thereby....
If now we pass to the æsthetic department, our law is still more
obvious. The artist notoriously selects his items, rejecting all
colors, shapes, which do not harmonize with each other and with the main purpose of his work. That unity, harmony,
'convergence of characters,' as M. Taine calls it, which gives to works of art their superiority over works of nature, is wholly due
to elimination. Any natural subject will do, if the artist has wit enough to pounce upon some one feature of it as characteristic, and
suppress all merely accidental items which do not harmonize with this.
Ascending still higher, we reach the plane of Ethics, where choice reigns
notoriously supreme. An act has no ethical quality
whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.... When he debates, Shall I commit this crime? choose that
profession? accept that office, or marry this fortune? -- his choice really lies between one of several equally possible future
Characters.....The problem with the man is less what act he shall now resolve to do than what being he shall now choose to
[Me and not-me]
....One great splitting of the whole universe into two halves
is made by each of us; and for each of us almost all of the interest
attaches to one of the halves; but we all draw the line of division between them in a different place. When I say that we all call
the two halves by the same names, and that those names are 'me' and 'not-me' respectively, it will at once be seen what I mean.
The altogether unique kind of interest which each human mind feels in those parts of creation which it can call me or mine may
be a moral riddle, but it is a fundamental psychological fact. No mind can take the same interest in his neighbor's me as in his
own. The neighbor's me falls together with all the rest of things in one foreign mass against which his own me stands cut in
startling relief. Even the trodden worm, as Lotze somewhere says, contrasts his own suffering self with the whole remaining
universe, though he have no clear conception either of himself or of what the universe may be. He is for me a mere part of the
world; for him it is I who am the mere part. Each of us dichotomizes the Kosmos in a different place.
B. F. Skinner
link to web document
The quarters for children from one to I three consisted of several small
playrooms with Lilliputian furniture, a child's lavatory, and a
dressing and locker room. Several small sleeping rooms were operated on the same principle as the baby cubicles. The
temperature and the humidity were controlled so that clothes or bedclothing were not needed. The cots were double-decker
arrangements of the plastic mattresses we had seen in the cubicles. The children slept unclothed, except for diapers. There were
more beds than necessary, so that the children could be grouped according to developmental age or exposure to contagious
diseases or need for supervision, or for educational purposes.
We followed Mrs. Nash to a large screened porch on the south side of
the building, where several children were playing in
sandboxes and on swings and climbing apparatuses. A few wore "training pants"; the rest were naked. Beyond the porch was a
grassy play yard enclosed by closely trimmed hedges, where other children, similarly undressed, were at play. Some kind of
marching game was in progress.
As we returned, we met two women carrying food hampers. They spoke to
Mrs. Nash and followed her to the porch. In a
moment five or six children came running into the playrooms and were soon using the lavatory and dressing themselves. Mrs. Nash
explained that they were being taken on a picnic.
"What about the children who don't go?" said Castle. "What do you do about the green-eyed monster?"
Mrs. Nash was puzzled.
"Jealousy. Envy," Castle elaborated. "Don't the children who stay home ever feel unhappy about it?"
"I don't understand," said Mrs. Nash.
"And I hope you won't try," said Frazier with a smile. "I'm afraid we must be moving along."
We said good-bye, and I made an effort to thank Mrs. Nash, but she seemed
to be puzzled by that too, and Frazier frowned as if I
had committed some breach of good taste.
"I think Mrs. Nash's puzzlement?" said Frazier, as we left the building,
"is proof enough that our children are seldom envious or
jealous. Mrs. Nash was twelve years old when Walden Two was founded. It was a little late to undo her early training, but I think
we were successful. She's a good example of the Walden Two product. She could probably recall the experience of jealousy, but
it's not part of her present life."
"Surely that's going too far!" said Castle. "You can't be so godlike
as all that! You must be assailed by emotions just as much as the
rest of us!"
“We can discuss the question of godlikeness later, if you wish," replied
Frazier. "As to emotions—we aren't free of them all, nor
should we like to be. But the meaner and more annoying—the emotions which breed unhappiness--are almost unknown here, like
unhappiness itself. We don't need them any longer in our struggle for existence, and it's easier on our circulatory system, and
certainly pleasantry, to dispense with them.”
"If you've discovered how to do that. you are indeed a genius," said
Castle. He seemed almost stunned as Frazier nodded assent.
"We all know that emotions are useless and bad for our peace of mind and our blood pressure ' he went on. "But how arrange
“We arrange them otherwise here," said Frazier. He was showing a mildness
of manner which I was coming to recognize as a sign
"But emotions are—fun!" said Barbara. "Life wouldn't be worth living without them."
"Some of them, yes” said Frasier. “The productive and strengthening
emotions—joy and love. But sorrow and hate—and the
high-voltage excitements of anger, fear, and rage are out of proportion with the needs of modern life, and they're wasteful and
dangerous. Mr. Castle has mentioned jealousy, a minor form of anger, I think we may call it. Naturally we avoid it. It has served its
purpose in the evolution of man; we've no further use for it. If we allowed it to persist, it would only sap the life out of us. In a
cooperative society there's no jealousy because there's no need for jealousy.”
"That implies that you all get everything you want," said Castle. "But
what about social possessions? Last night you mentioned the
young man who chose a particular girl or profession. There's still a chance for jealousy there, isn't there?"
"It doesn't imply that we get everything we want," said Frazier. "Of
course we don't. But jealousy wouldn't help. In a competitive
world there's some point to it. It energizes one to attack a frustrating condition. The impulse and the added energy are an
advantage. Indeed, in a competitive world emotions work all too well. Look at the singular lack of success of the complacent man.
He enjoys a more serene life, but it's less likely to be a fruitful one. The world isn't ready for simple pacifism or Christian humility,
to cite two cases in point. Before you can safely turn out the destructive and wasteful emotions, you must make sure they're no
“How do you make sure that jealousy isn't needed in Walden Two?” I said.
"In Walden Two problems can't be solved by attacking others" said Frazier with marked finality.
"That's not the same as eliminating jealousy, though" I said.
"Of course it's not. But when a particular emotion is no longer a useful part of a behavioral repertoire, we proceed to eliminate it."
"Yes, but how?"
"It's simply a matter of behavioral engineering," said Frazier.
"You're baiting me, Burris. You know perfectly well what I mean. The
techniques have been available for centuries. We use them
in education and in the psychological management of the community. But you're forcing my hand" he added. "I was saving that for
this evening. But let's strike while the iron is hot."
We had stopped at the door of the large children's building. Frazier
shrugged his shoulders, walked to the shade of a large tree, and
threw himself on the ground. We arranged ourselves about him and waited.
Each of us," Frazier began, "is engaged in a pitched battle with the rest of mankind."
“A curious premise for a Utopia," said Castle. "Even a pessimist like myself takes a more hopeful view than that.”
"You do, you do," said Frazier. "But lets be realistic. Each of us has
interests which conflict with the interests of everybody else.
That's our original sin, and it can't be helped. Now, 'everybody else' we call 'society.' It's a powerful opponent, and it always wins.
Oh, here and there an individual prevails for a while and gets what he wants. Sometimes he storms the culture of a society and
changes it slightly to his own advantage. But society wins in the long run, for it has the advantage of numbers and of age. Many
prevail against one, and men against a baby. Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. It enslaves him almost before he
has tasted freedom. The 'ologies' will tell you how its done. Theology calls it building a conscience or developing a spirit of selfless.
Psychology calls it the growth of the super ego.
"Considering how long society has been at it, you'd expect a better
job. But the campaigns have been badly planned and the victory
has never been secure. The behavior of the individual has been shaped according to revelations of 'good conduct,' never as the
result of experimental study. But why not experiment? The questions are simple enough. What's the best behavior for the individual
so far as the group is concerned? And how can the individual be induced to behave in that way? Why not explore these questions
in a scientific spirit?
“We could do just that in Walden Two. We had already worked out a code
of conduct—subject, of course, to experimental
modification. The code would keep things running smoothly if everybody lived up to it. Our job was to see that everybody did.
Now, you can't get people to follow a useful code by making them into so many jack-in-the-boxes. You can't foresee all future
circumstances, and you can't specify adequate future conduct. You don't know what will be required. Instead you have to set up
certain behavioral processes which lead the individual to design his own 'good' conduct when the time comes. We call that sort of
thing 'self-control.' But don't be misled, the control always rests in the last analysis in the hands of society.
"One of our Planners, a young man named Simmons, worked with me. It
was the first time in history that the matter was
approached in an experimental way. Do you question that statement, Mr. Castle?"
“I'm not sure I know what you are talking about," said Castle.
“Then let me go on. Simmons and I began by studying the great works
on morals and ethics—Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, the New
Testament, the Puritan divines, Machiavelli, Chesterfield, Freud—there were scores of them. We were looking for any and every
method of shaping human behavior by imparting techniques of self-control. Some techniques were obvious enough, for they had
marked turning points in human history. 'Love your enemies' is an example--a psychological invention for easing the lot of an
oppressed people. The severest trial of oppression is the constant rage which one suffers at the thought of the oppressor. What
Jesus discovered was how to avoid these inner devastations. His technique was to practice the opposite emotion. If a man can
succeed in loving his enemies and 'taking no thought for the morrow,' he will no longer be assailed by hatred of the oppressor or
rage at the loss of his freedom or possessions. He may not get his freedom or possessions back, but he's less miserable. It's a
difficult lesson. It comes late in our program."
"I thought you were opposed to modifying emotions and instinct until
the world was ready for it," said Castle. "According to you,
the principle of love your enemies' should have been suicidal."
"It would have been suicidal, except for an entirely unforeseen consequence.
Jesus must have been quite astonished at the effect
of his discovery. We are only just beginning to understand the power of love because we are just beginning to understand the
weakness of force and aggression. But the science of behavior is clear about all that now. Recent discoveries in the analysis of
punishment—but I am falling into one digression after another. Let me save my explanation of why the Christian virtues—and I
mean merely the Christian techniques of self-control—have not disappeared from the face of the earth, with due recognition of the
fact that they suffered a narrow squeak within recent memory.
"When Simmons and I had collected our techniques of control, we had
to discover how to teach them. That was more difficult.
Current educational practices were of little value, and religious practices scarcely any better. Promising paradise or threatening
hell-fire is, we assumed, generally admitted to be unproductive. It is based upon a fundamental fraud which, when discovered, turns
the individual against society and nourishes the very thing it tries to stamp out. What Jesus offered in return for loving one's
enemies was heaven on earth, better known as peace of mind.
"We found a few suggestions worth following in the practices of the
clinical psychologist. We undertook to build a tolerance for
annoying experiences. The sun shine of midday is extremely painful if you come from a dark room, but take it in easy stages and
you can avoid pain altogether. The analogy can be misleading, but in much the same way it's possible to build a tolerance to painful
or distasteful stimuli, or to frustration, or to situations which arouse fear, anger or rage. Society and nature throw these annoyances
at the individual with no regard for the development of tolerances. Some achieve tolerances, most fail. Where would the science of
immunization be if it followed a schedule of accidental dosages?
“Take the principle of 'Get thee behind me, Satan,' for example," Frazier
continued. "It's a special case of self-control by altering
the environment. Subclass A 3, I believe. We give each child a lollipop which has been dipped in powdered sugar so that a single
touch of the tongue can be detected. We tell him he may eat the lollipop later in the day, provided it hasn't already been licked.
Since the child is only three or four, it is a fairly diff---- "
"Three or four!" Castle exclaimed.
"All our ethical training is completed by the age of six," said Frazier
quietly. "A simple principle like putting temptation out of sight
would be acquired before four. But at such an early age the problem of not licking the lollipop isn't easy. Now, what would you do,
Mr. Castle, in a similar situation?"
"Put the lollipop out of sight as quickly as possible."
"Exactly. I can see you've been well trained. Or perhaps you discovered
the principle for yourself. We're in favor of original
inquiry wherever possible, but in this case we have a more important goal and we don't
hesitate to give verbal help. First of all, the children are urged to examine their own behavior while looking at the lollipops. This
helps them to recognize the need for self-control. Then the lollipops are concealed, and the children are asked to notice any gain in
happiness or any reduction in tension. Then a strong distraction is arranged—say, an interesting game. Later the children are
reminded of the candy and encouraged to examine their reaction. The value of the distraction is generally obvious. Well, need I go
on? When the experiment is repeated a day or so later, the children all run with the lollipops to their lockers and do exactly what
Mr. Castle would do—a sufficient indication of the success of our training."
"I wish to report an objective observation of my reaction to your story,"
said Castle, controlling his voice with great precision. "I
find myself revolted by this display of sadistic tyranny."
"I don't wish to deny you the exercise of an emotion which you seem
to find enjoyable," said Frazier. "So let me go on. Concealing
a tempting but forbidden object is a crude solution. For one thing, it's not always feasible. We want a sort of psychological
concealment—covering up the candy by paying no attention. In a later experiment the children wear their lollipops like crucifixes
for a few hours."
" 'Instead of the cross, the lollipop,
About my neck was hung,' "
"I wish somebody had taught me that, though," said Rodge, with a glance at Barbara.
"Don't we all?" said Frazier. "Some of us learn control, more or less
by accident. The rest of us go all our lives not even
understanding how it is possible, and blaming our failure on being born the wrong way."
"How do you build up a tolerance to an annoying situation?" I said.
"Oh, for example, by having the children 'take' a more and more painful
shock, or drink cocoa with less and less sugar in it until a
bitter concoction can be savored without a bitter face."
"But jealousy or envy—you can't administer them in graded doses," I said.
"And why not? Remember, we control the social environment, too, at this
age. That's why we get our ethical training in early. Take
this case. A group of children arrive home after a long walk tired and hungry. They're expecting supper; they find, instead, that it's
time for a lesson in self-control: they must stand for five minutes in front of steaming bowls of soup.
"The assignment is accepted like a problem in arithmetic. Any groaning
or complaining is a wrong answer. Instead, the children
begin at once to work upon themselves to avoid any unhappiness during the delay. One of them may make a joke of it. We
encourage a sense of humor as a good way of not taking an annoyance seriously. The joke won't be much, according to adult
standards—perhaps the child will simply pretend to empty the bowl of soup into his upturned mouth. Another may start a song with
many verses. The rest join in at once, for they've learned that it's a good way to make time pass."
Frazier glanced uneasily at Castle, who was not to be appeased.
“That also strikes you as a form of torture, Mr. Castle?" he asked.
"I'd rather be put on the rack," said Castle.
"Then you have by no means had the thorough training I supposed. You
can’t imagine how lightly the children take such an
experience. It's a rather severe biological frustration, for the children are tired and hungry and they must stand and look at food;
but it's passed off as lightly as a five-minute delay at curtain time. We regard it as a fairly elementary test. Much more difficult
"I suspected as much," muttered Castle.
"In a later stage we forbid all social devices. No songs, no jokes—merely
silence. Each child is forced back upon his own
resources—a very important step."
"I should think so," I said. "And how do you know it's successful? You
might produce a lot of silently resentful chidren. It's
certainly a dangerous stage."
"It is, and we follow each child carefully. If he hasn't picked up the
necessary techniques, we start back a little. A still more
advanced stage"—Frazier glanced again at Castle, who stirred uneasily—"brings me to my point. When it's time to sit down to the
soup, the children count off—heads and tails. Then a coin is tossed and if it comes up heads, the 'heads' sit down and eat. The
'tails' remain standing for another five minutes."
"And you call that envy?" I asked.
"Perhaps not exactly," said Frazier. "At least there's seldom any aggression
against the lucky ones. The emotion, if any, is directed
against Lady Luck herself, against the toss of the coin. That, in itself, is a lesson worth learning, for it's the only direction in which
emotion has a surviving chance to be useful. And resentment toward things in general, while perhaps just as silly as personal
aggression, is more easily controlled. Its expression is not socially objectionable."
Frazier looked nervously from one of us to the other. He seemed to be
trying to discover whether we shared Castle's prejudice. I
began to realize, also, that he had not really wanted to tell this story. He was vulnerable. He was treading on sanctified ground, and
I was pretty sure he had not established the value of most of these practices in an experimental fashion. He could scarcely have
done so in the short space of ten years. He was working on faith, and it bothered him.
I tried to bolster his confidence by reminding him that he had a professional
colleague among his listeners. "May you not
inadvertently teach your children some of the very emotions you're trying to eliminate?" I said. "What's the effect, for example, of
finding the anticipation of a warm supper suddenly thwarted? Doesn't that eventually lead to feelings of uncertainty, or even
"It might. We had to discover how often our lessons could be safely
administered. But all our schedules are worked out
experimentally. We watch for undesired consequences just as any scientist watches for disrupting factors in his experiments.
"After all, it's a simple and sensible program," he went on in a tone
of appeasement. "We set up a system of gradually increasing
annoyances and frustrations against a background of complete serenity. An easy environment is made more and more difficult as
the children acquire the capacity to adjust."
"But why?" said Castle. "Why these deliberate unpleasantnesses—to put
it mildly? I must say I think you and your friend Simmons
are really very subtle sadists."
“You've reversed your position, Mr. Castle," said Frazier in a sudden
flash of anger with which I rather sympathized. Castle was
calling names, and he was also being unaccountably and perhaps intentionally obtuse. "A while ago you accused me of breeding a
race of softies," Frazier continued. "Now you object to toughening them up. But what you don't understand is that these potentially
unhappy situations are never very annoying. Our schedules make sure of that. You wouldn't understand, however, because you're
not so far advanced as our children."
Castle grew black.
"But what do your children get out of it?" he insisted, apparently trying to press some vague advantage in Frazier's anger.
"What do they get out of it!" exclaimed Frazier, his eyes flashing with
a sort of helpless contempt. His lips curled and he dropped
his head to look at his fingers, which were crushing a few blades of grass.
"They must get happiness and freedom and strength," I said, putting myself in a ridiculous position in attempting to make peace.
"They don't sound happy or free to me, standing in front of bowls of
Forbidden Soup," said Castle, answering me parenthetically
while continuing to stare at Frazier.
"If I must spell it out," Frazier began with a deep sigh, "what they
get is escape from the petty emotions which eat the heart out of
the unprepared. They get the satisfaction of pleasant and profitable social relations on a scale almost undreamed of in the world at
large. They get immeasurably increased efficiency, because they can stick to a job without suffering the aches and pains which
soon beset most of us. They get new horizons, for they are spared the emotions characteristic of frustration and failure. They
get—"His eyes searched the branches of the trees. "Is that enough?,” he said at last.
"And the community must gain their loyalty," I said, "when they discover
the fears and jealousies and diffidences in the world at
"I'm glad you put it that way," said Frazier. “You might have said that
they must feel superior to the miserable products of our
public schools. But we're at pains to keep any feeling of superiority or contempt under control, too. Having suffered most acutely
from it myself, I put the subject first on our agenda. We carefully avoid any joy in a personal triumph which means the personal
failure of somebody else. We take no pleasure in the sophistical, the disputative, the dialectical." He threw a vicious glance at
Castle. "We don't use the motive of domination, because we are always thinking of the whole group. We could motivate a few
geniuses that way—it was certainly my own motivation—but we'd sacrifice some of the happiness of everyone else. Triumph over
nature and over oneself, yes. But over others, never."
"You've taken the mainspring out of the watch," said Castle flatly.
"That's an experimental question, Mr. Castle, and you have the wrong answer."
Frazier was making no effort to conceal his feeling. If he had been
riding Castle, he was now using his spurs. Perhaps he sensed
that the rest of us had come round and that he could change his tactics with a single holdout. But it was more than strategy, it was
genuine feeling. Castle's undeviating skepticism was a growing frustration.
"Are your techniques really so very new?" I said hurriedly. "What about
the primitive practice of submitting a boy to various
tortures before granting him a place among adults? What about the disciplinary techniques of Puritanism? Or of the modern school,
for that matter?"
"In one sense you're right," said Frazier. "And I think you've nicely
answered Mr. Castle's tender concern for our little ones. The
unhappinesses we deliberately impose are far milder than the normal unhappinesses from which we offer protection. Even at the
height of our ethical training, the unhappiness is ridiculously trivial—to the well-trained child.
"But there's a world of difference in the way we use these annoyances,"
he continued. "For one thing, we don't punish. We never
administer an unpleasantness in the hope of repressing or eliminating undesirable behavior. But there's another difference. In most
cultures the child meets up with annoyances and reverses of uncontrolled magnitude. Some are imposed in the name of discipline
by persons in authority. Some, like hazings, are condoned though not authorized. Others are merely accidental. No one cares to, or
is able to, prevent them.
"We all know what happens. A few hardy children emerge, particularly
those who have got their unhappiness in doses that could
be swallowed. They become brave men. Others become sadists or masochists of varying degrees of pathology. Not having
conquered a painful environment, they become preoccupied with pain and make a devious art of it. Others submit—and hope to
inherit the earth. The rest—the cravens, the cowards—live in fear for the rest of their lives. And that's only a single field—the
reaction to pain. I could cite a dozen parallel cases. The optimist and the pessimist, the contented and the disgruntled, the loved and
the unloved, the ambitious and the discouraged— these are only the extreme products of a miserable system.
"Traditional practices are admittedly better than nothing," Frazier
went on. "Spartan or Puritan—no one can question the occasional
happy result. But the whole system rests upon the wasteful principle of selection. The English public school of the nineteenth
century produced brave men—by setting up almost insurmountable barriers and making the most of the few who came over. But
selection isn't education. Its crops of brave men will always be small, and the waste enormous. Like all primitive principles,
selection serves in place of education only through a profligate use of material. Multiply extravagantly and select with rigor. Its the
philosophy of the 'big litter' as an alternative to good child hygiene.
"In Walden two we have a different objective. We make every man a brave
man. They all come over the barriers. Some require
more preparation than others, but they all come over. The traditional use of adversity is to select the strong. We control adversity
to build strength. And we do it deliberately, no matter how sadistic Mr. Castle may think us, in order to prepare for adversities
which are beyond control. Our children eventually experience the 'heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.'
It would be the cruelest possible practice to protect them as long as possible, especially when we could protect them so well."
Frazier held out his hands in an exaggerated gesture of appeal.
"What alternative had we?" he said, as if he were in pain. "What else
could we do? For four or five years we could provide a life in
which no important need would go unsatisfied, a life practically free of anxiety or frustration or annoyance. What would you do?
Would you let the child enjoy this paradise with no thought for the future—like an idolatrous and pampering mother? Or would you
relax control of the environment and let the child meet accidental frustrations? But what is the virtue of accident? No, there was
only one course open to us. We had to design a series of adversities, so that the child would develop the greatest possible
self-control. Call it deliberate, if you like, and accuse us of sadism; there was no other course." Frazier turned to Castle, but he was
scarcely challenging him. He seemed to be waiting, anxiously, for his capitulation. But Castle merely shifted his ground.
"I find it difficult to classify these practices," he said. Frazier
emitted a disgruntled "Ha!" and sat back. “Your system seems to
have usurped the place as well as the techniques of religion."
"Of religion and family culture," said Frazier wearily. "But I don't
call it usurpation. Ethical training belongs to the community. As
for techniques, we took every suggestion we could find without prejudice as to the source. But not on faith. We disregarded all
claims of revealed truth and put every principle to an experimental test. And by the way, I've very much misrepresented the whole
system if you suppose that any of the practices I've described are fixed. We try out many different techniques. Gradually we work
toward the best possible set. And we don't pay much attention to the apparent success of a principle in the course of history.
History is honored in Walden Two only as entertainment. It isn't taken seriously as food for thought. Which reminds me, very
rudely, of our original plan for the morning. Have you had enough of emotion? Shall we turn to intellect?"
Frazier addressed these questions to Castle in a very friendly way and
I was glad to see that Castle responded in kind. It was
perfectly clear, however, that neither of them had ever worn a lollipop about the neck or faced a bowl of Forbidden Soup.