Blog # 3: James and Carter and the ‘Stream of Consciousness’

March 7th, 2011

In both Rita Carter’s discussion of consciousness in 2002 and William James’ in 1890, the thought process is highly examined and they both explain the various levels of consciousness. Interestingly, they also both discuss the process of perception and how thoughts “melt into each other like dissolving views” (279), as explained by James in his book Psychology. James explains that our consciousness chooses what it is interested in perceiving when we are consciously looking at something. James uses his “’the-pack-of-cards-is-on-the-table’” (278) example as such an instance. James uses the phrase “time-parts” to explain the continuous stream of thinking that occurs when an object is being perceived, and how that continuous stream is broken up into individual sections. He accompanies this theory with a diagram where thoughts are continuous yet broken down into seconds, and then goes on to explain “Immediately, after 0 [seconds], even before we have opened our mouths to speak, the entire thought is present to our mind in the form of an intention to utter that sentence” (280). Carter also touches upon this continuous “stream” of consciousnesses when she explains in “Exploring Consciousness”: “Just as we enjoy an illusion of spatial completeness of visual consciousness, so we also feel as though experiences in continuous in time. This is reflected in the words ‘flow’ and ‘stream’ that we commonly use to describe it. Yet even this smooth progression turns out to be illusionary” (23). She explains that as we reading words on a page they seem to be continuously flowing thought are mind and consciousness, but they are really broken down into groups for “a series of ballistic jumps called saccades each of which traverses the space of three or four words” (23-24). Carter then goes on to explain that this process of reading, which “are present in our perception of everything” (24) can be scientifically proven by using a “computer controlled tracking device” which can track your eye movements when reading.
Although James and Carter explain this break in consciousness or perception differently, they both are arriving at the same point that we unconsciously are merging individual thoughts or words together to construct one seemingly continuous thought. I wrote “interestingly” earlier when introducing this idea because James brings up a theory in his “time- parts” explanation in 1890 which are discussed and scientifically proven in 2002, as explain in Carter’s piece.
In terms of visual perception and the role it plays in consciousness, I found Carter’s explanation of the rare condition known as “Anton’s delusion” (18) very interesting. Carter explains this is a condition where a person who is suddenly blinded continues to believe that they can see. This person can act as a fully sighted person, continuing to believe they can see, until of course they bump into something or can recognize that they are not actually seeing what everyone else is. Carter explains that “The difference, then, between the person with Anton’s delusion and one with normal vision shows only in their interaction with the world. The former will trip over things rather more often than the latter on account of their sigh being wholly illusionary rather than mainly so. But their visual experience will be similar” (19). This phenomenon is extremely interesting because what Carter is implying is that most of our visual perception is illusionary. Which reminds me of what our class has been discussing since the beginning of the semester- is what we perceive reality?

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2 Responses to “Blog # 3: James and Carter and the ‘Stream of Consciousness’”

  1. Dominique Zino on March 17, 2011 12:38 am

    Excellent work here, Cassie! I hope you’ll speak up about your interpretation of James in class (even if he’s not part of the assigned reading for a particular day, it’s all part of one conversation).
    Also, is there another way to rephrase your final question without using an unstable term like “reality”? Keep thinking about this.


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    Blog # 3: James and Carter and the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ at Cassie’s Senior Seminar Blog

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