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  1. Key Insights into Basic Mechanisms of Mental Activity
  2. Key Insights into Basic Mechanisms of Mental Activity | Otto Buxbaum | Springer
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Average rating: 0 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews Write a review. Otto Buxbaum. Tell us if something is incorrect. Out of stock. Get In-Stock Alert. Delivery not available. Pickup not available. About This Item We aim to show you accurate product information. Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it. Cartesianism was counterbalanced by the theory of unconscious mental activity Leibnitz. The French materialists of the 18th century particularly Le Mettrie and Cabanis based themselves on progress in physiology and medicine and founded the proposition that conscience was a particular function of the brain, distinguished from its other functions by the fact that it enabled man to acquire knowledge of nature and himself.

A new era in interpretation of the origin and structure of consciousness was opened up by German classical idealism, which revealed different levels of the organisation of consciousness, its activity, historicity, the dialectics of the sensuous and the logical, the individual and the social.

In their critique of introspective psychology they showed the dependence of the individual's emotions, perceptions and the content of his consciousness on forms and structures of cognition that did not depend on him Kant's theory of transcendental apperception. Hegel surmised the socio-historical nature of consciousness and asserted the principle of historicity in the understanding of consciousness. He proceeded on the assumption that the consciousness of the individual the subjective spirit , being necessarily connected with the object, was determined by the historical forms of social life; these, however, he interpreted idealistically, as embodiment of the objective spirit.

Positive knowledge of consciousness was substantially enriched by advances in neurophysiology specifically, the theories of I. Sechenov and his followers on the reflectory activity of the brain and by experimental psychology. Dialectical materialism showed that consciousness arises, functions and develops in the process of people's interaction with reality, on the basis of their sensuously objective activity, their socio-historical practice.

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Since it reflects the objective world in its content, consciousness is determined by natural and social reality. Objects, their properties and relations, exist in consciousness ideally, in the form of images. For centuries the idealist and materialist schools have been at war over the essence of consciousness, as the most complex phenomenon in what we know about existence.

Idealists interpret consciousness as something rooted in the mysterious depths of the human soul, understood substantially.

Key Insights into Basic Mechanisms of Mental Activity | Otto Buxbaum | Springer

They take consciousness out of the natural relations of the real world and regard it as the independent and all-creating essence of existence, as something primordial. Not only is it inexplicable by any phenomena of reality; it is in itself the explanation of all that happens in nature, in the history of society, and the behaviour of every individual. While idealism creates a gulf between reason and the world, materialism tries to discover the unity between the two by inferring the spiritual from the material. In materialism, the interpretation of consciousness is based on its recognition as a function of the human brain, the essence of which lies in the reflection and constructive-creative transformation of the world.

Historical-materialist theory maintains that it is impossible to analyse consciousness in isolation from other phenomena of social life. From the very beginning consciousness has been a social product and it will remain so as long as human beings exist. The human brain embraces the potentials evolved by human history, the inherited abilities that are realised through training and education and the whole assembly of social influences, and through exposure to world culture. The brain becomes the organ of consciousness only when a person is drawn into social life and assimilates historically evolved forms of culture.

The essential purpose of consciousness is to give people a true orientation in the world, the ability to know and transform it by means of reason. When we say that a person is conscious of something, we mean that he understands the meaning of what he has perceived or remembered and takes into consideration the possible consequences of his actions and can be held responsible for them to society and himself.

Human consciousness is a form of mental activity, the highest form.

Key Insights into Basic Mechanisms of Mental Activity

By mental activity we mean all mental processes, conscious and unconscious, all mental states and qualities of the individual. These are mainly processes of cognition, internal states of the organism, and such attributes of personality as character, temperament, and so on. Mental activity is an attribute of the whole animal world. Consciousness, on the other hand, as the highest form of mental activity, is inherent only in human beings, and even then not at all times or at all levels.

It does not exist in the newborn child, in certain categories of the mentally ill, in people who are asleep or in a coma. And even in the developed, healthy and waking individual not all mental activity forms a part of his consciousness; a great portion of it proceeds outside the bounds of consciousness and belongs to the unconscious phenomena of the mind. The content of the activity of consciousness is recorded in artifacts including language and other sign systems , thus acquiring the form of ideal existence, existence as knowledge, as historical memory.

Consciousness also includes an axiological, that is to say, evaluative aspect, which expresses the selectivity of consciousness, its orientation on values evolved by society and accepted by the individual—philosophical, scientific, political, moral, aesthetic, religious, etc. It includes the individual's relation both to these values and to himself, thus becoming a form of self-consciousness, which is also social in origin.


A person's knowledge of himself becomes possible thanks to his ability to relate his principles and orientation to the stand points of other people, his ability to consider these stand points in the process of communication. The very term "consciousness", that is to say, knowledge acquired together with others, points to the dialogical nature of consciousness.

The existence of several planes of consciousness has made it a target of research by many sciences and all art. For philosophy the main question is the relationship of consciousness to being. As a property of highly organised matter the brain , consciousness is consciously perceived existence, that is to say, a subjective image of the objective world or subjective reality, and on the epistemological plane, as the ideal in contrast to the material and as a unity of the two.

From the sociological standpoint consciousness may be regarded primarily as social consciousness, the reflection of the existence, interests and ideas of various social groups, classes, nations, society, and history as a whole in people's intellectual life. As the reflection of being it takes various relatively independent forms. In psychology consciousness is interpreted as the highest level of mental organisation of the individual, when he separates himself from his environment and reflects this reality in the form of mental images, which serve as regulators of goal-oriented activity.

Consciousness is a highly complicated system consisting of diverse and constantly interacting elements and existing at different levels. This system has as its nucleus the processes of cognition, from elementary sensations and perceptions to the highest manifestations of reason, emotional refinement and the power of the human will. Sensations and perceptions are the immediate, sensuous forms of consciousness. These are the foundation blocks, as it were, for the edifice of more complex intellectual formations and representations, imagination, intuition, logical and artistic thinking.

Consciousness could not have arisen and could not function without the mechanisms of memory, that is to say, the ability to record, preserve and reproduce sensuous and conceptual images. Consciousness not only reproduces reality in ideal forms, it also regulates the individual's inner mental and practical activities, expressed in attention and efforts of will.

Attention and will are also facts of consciousness essential to the setting of goals. Before undertaking anything in reality, a person "does" it ideally, in his imagination. Human emotions and feelings are a fundamental "layer" of the world of consciousness. In reflecting the world a person experiences its influence and his own relation to it, to things, to other people and himself. Nothing happens in our consciousness without the participation of feelings, which in people with a rich inner world acquire amazing degrees of subtlety, colour and fullness.

Conscious and unconscious phenomena of the mind. The colourful fabric of mental processes is woven out of various "threads", ranging from the supreme clarity of consciousness at moments of creative inspiration, through the dimness of the half-sleeping mind, to the complete darkness of the unconscious, which accounts for a large part of man's mental life.

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  6. For example, we hardly realise all the consequences of our actions. Not all external impressions are focussed by our consciousness. Many of our actions are automatic or habitual. However, despite the exceptional significance and place of unconscious forms of mental activity, the human being is primarily a conscious being. Awareness, understood as the evaluative aspect of consciousness, is the highest level of regulation of human activity on the basis of accepted values, moral and other social standards.

    It presupposes that these standards have become an integral component of the individual's life. Having become part of the system of his beliefs, they are realised with a clear and distinct understanding of ultimate aims and the possible consequences of action. Awareness also presupposes a person's ability to analyse the motives of his own behaviour and choose the most rational means of achieving his aims in accordance with the moral standards accepted in society.

    As a complex systemic formation consciousness has various levels of relative distinctness or clarity. As a rule these levels are diagnosed in the healthy person by his own accounts and by the degree of his orientation in the environment—in space, time, the logic of events, the people around him and also in relation to himself, his thoughts, feelings and volitional orientation.

    When consciousness is at a low level, we observe unmotivated swings of concentration from certain objects of thought and actions that are sufficiently known, to unexpected mental targets, unmotivated reorientation of action, and, in various mental disorders, to loss of the "thread" of thought. One may also observe various degrees of clarity of consciousness, from the so-called dawning, half-awake, torpid or simply ordinary perception of things to states of mind achieving brilliant vision, amazingly keen intuitive insight into the essence of things.

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    At the highest peaks of consciousness we have the "superconscious" level of spiritual activity achieved in processes of exceptionally inspired and productive creativity, when a new, original and sometimes huge-scale idea is focussed in the consciousness with astonishing clarity. Consciousness has a complex relationship with various forms of unconscious mental phenomena. They have their own structure, whose elements are connected with each other and also with consciousness and actions, which influence them and in their turn experience their influence on them selves.

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    We are sensibly aware of everything that influences us, but by no means all sensations are a fact of our consciousness. The majority of them are peripheral or even beyond its borders. Many of our actions, when originally formed, were consciously controlled, but later became mechanical. Conscious activity is possible only when the maximum number of elements of activity are performed automatically. As the child develops, many of his functions gradually become automatic. Consciousness is relieved of the duty of worrying about them. Thanks to this adaptation the unconscious takes care of the body's life-activity, and irritants that would interfere with rational behaviour do not as a rule intrude on the healthy person's consciousness.

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    On the other hand, faced with violent intrusions by the unconscious, the consciousness sometimes fights a desperate and losing battle with these streams of "unbidden guests". This happens in cases of various mental disorders—obsessive or maniacal ideas, states of alarm, of inconquerable, unmotivated fear, etc. Habit, as something mechanical, extends to all forms of activity, including thought, on the principle of "I didn't mean to think of it, it just occurred to me".