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Consciousness Is Complex

The one fact we want at this stage of our inquiry is simply this: that
consciousness, awaking at birth, very soon becomes complex. However
single and simple in content immediate consciousness may be, it is so
intimately linked with all preceding experience that a pure sensation is
probably never known after the first second of life. As the sensation is
registered it becomes a basis for comparison. That first sensation,
perhaps, was just a feeling of something. The next is a feeling of
something that is the same, or is not the same, as the first. So
immediately perception is established. The baby consciousness recognizes
that the vague feeling is, or is not, that same thing. And from
perception to a complex consciousness of perceptions, of ideas, of
memories and relations, and judgments, is so short a step that we cannot
use our measuring rods to span it.

Thus through the various stages of life, from infancy to maturity, the
conscious is passing into the unconscious, only to help form later a new
conscious thought. Hence the conscious thought is determined by the
great mass of the unconscious, plus the external world.

But every thought, relegated to the unconscious, through its association
there--for it is plastic by nature--comes back to consciousness never
quite the same, and meets never quite the same stimulus. And as a result
a repeated mental experience is never twice exactly the same. So the
conscious becomes the unconscious and the unconscious the conscious, and
neither can be without the other.

Our problem is to understand the workings of the mind as it exists
today, and to try to find some of its most constructive uses; and on
that we shall focus attention. To that end we must first examine the
various ways in which consciousness expresses itself.

We have recognized two distinct mental states--the conscious and the
unconscious--and have found them constantly pressing each on the other's
domain. Our study of consciousness reveals the normal in the aspects of
sleeping and waking, also various abnormal states. Consciousness may
become excited, depressed, confused, delirious, or insane. We shall
consider later some of the mental workings that account for these
abnormal expressions. At present let us examine the mind's activities in
sleep and in delirium.

Next: Consciousness In Sleep

Previous: The Unconscious

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