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Höffding, H. (2004). The Conscious and the Unconscious: From Outlines of Psychology (1881). Am. Imago, 61(3):379-395.

(2004). American Imago, 61(3):379-395

The Conscious and the Unconscious: From Outlines of Psychology (1881)

Harald Höffding

Translated by:
Mary E. Lowndes

In the preceding account of mental life, stress has been laid on two chief distinguishing traits—on the occurrence of a change, through which new elements of consciousness emerge, and on the connection between all elements of consciousness. If this account is correct, then consciousness may cease from two causes: either because the individual elements do not possess strength enough to make themselves felt, or because the connection between them ceases.

So long as we adhere strictly to the principle that the mind is known only through the manifestations of consciousness, the province of mental life is not widely extended. Nerve-processes are not all of the kind which we have reason to think accompanied by consciousness, and even those with which this is the case may be carried on without consciousness, if their intensity is not sufficiently great.

Thus a physical stimulus may take effect on the nervous system without a sensation arising; the sensation arises only when the stimulus has reached a certain strength. The nerve-process, on the other hand, must begin at lower degrees of stimulation, and has thus already reached a certain strength when the sensation crosses the threshold of consciousness. Let x, for example, denote the degree of strength of a nerve-process, which is just strong enough for a scarcely perceptible sensation, which we will call y, to correspond to it. We then have a peculiar relation: while the degrees of strength on the physical side continuously decrease from x downwards, the psychical side remains empty, stops suddenly at y. This is how the relation presents itself, whatever fundamental conception as to the relation between the mental and material we start from.

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