The following classification of mental properties comes from lecture 17 of the Amsterdam lectures. It summarizes the results of the conceptual analyses published by UTP until 1973. After 1973 he didn’t change in a fundamental way his view of the conceptual relations between the psychological verbs and predicates that express mental properties or concepts. The classification is highly influenced by Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949).
The first question one might pose is what is it that has mental properties. In the introduction of lecture 17 UTP states that it is the person or human organism being a single spatio-temporally extended and located substance who both has mental and non-mental (i.e., physical or bodily) properties.
The classification makes a distinction between what we mentally do (mental activities), what we achieve when a mental activity leads to a new or changed mental disposition (mental acts), what we experience or passively undergo (experiences), what we know, belief or think, intend and want (specific mental states or dispositions), and the emotional states of mind we can be in. The blue arrows indicate causal relations: mental activities lead to experiences, which lead to mental acts being the causal events that lead to mental dispositions which have an effect on the emotional state of mind of a person. In the words of UTP (lecture 17): “… mental activities like paying attention, thinking and dreaming control the nature of the individual’s experience which in turn gives rise to the mental act or event of construing or interpreting one’s experience in a given way, thereby establishing a subsequent and consequent mental disposition whereby the individual comes to know or believe certain propositions to be true which in its turn has an effect on the individual’s emotional state of mind.”
One dimension of the classification is the distinction between active and passive mental properties. Here, I want to focus on mental activities and mental dispositions. They are active in different ways. Mental activities are things you as a person can do and over which you has a certain amount of control. It is meaningful to talk about starting and stopping a mental activity at will. (Starting and stopping a mental activity are mental acts; I do not know a satisfactory conceptual analysis of the two concepts starting and stopping and no real answer to the issue how they are related to the (free?) will.) Although we can use the active verb ‘to believe’ in the case of beliefs, but you don’t have the same active control over your beliefs (or expectations, wishes, needs) as you have over mental activities like listening, looking, thinking, calculating or paying attention. You can be engaged (involved, occupied) in an activity, but not in a mental disposition.
In the diagram there is a causal connection that flows from mental activities to mental dispositions (the blue arrows). But there is also a causal flow in the other direction. Mental dispositions manifest themselves in behaviour. They are therefore also called behavioural dispositions. I claim that everything that you can actively do can be a manifestation of a mental or behavioural disposition. I believe that my watch is in the living room, therefore I look for the watch in the living room. I like arithmetic, therefore I do calculations (in my head). Is there a real distinction between mental activities and the behavioural manifestations of mental dispositions? If so, what is this distinction?
In the behaviouristic tradition behaviour is external, overt and public. Originally the view of UTP was that mental activities were (mainly) internal, covert and private. From this you could draw the conclusion that mental activities are not behaviour, at least not in the behaviouristic sense. This is what UTP wrote in 1974 (Amsterdam lecture 18) about mental activities:
“in the case of verbs like ‘looking’, ‘watching’, ‘listening’, ‘savouring’ and ‘feeling’ (in the active sense) where what an individual is said to look at, watch, listen to, savour or feel is […] some object, occurrence or stuff in his immediate sensory environment, there is nevertheless an implicit reference, which is seldom made explicit except by philosophers and psychologists, to the having of visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile sensations or sensory experiences which it is the function of these mental activities to produce. In the light of these considerations it can be plausibly argued that all mental processes without exception involve both these two aspects, the active production and control of experience and the passive reception of it, with a difference only of degree between the cases where one aspect is stressed in the words and expressions we use and the cases where the other aspect is stressed.”
Because of this tight connection between mental activities and (passive) experiences, mental activities are in essence internal, covert and private (quoting again from lecture 18): “when we assert the occurrences of a mental process, whether it be a mental activity or an experience, we are asserting the occurrence of a process which takes place, in some sense, inside the person who performs the mental activity or has the experience in question in such a way that the occurrence of this process cannot ordinarily be detected by an external observer”. But: “there are some aspects of the mental activity whereby the private experiences of the individual are generated and controlled which consist in publicly observable movements made by the individual in question. Looking and watching for example usually involve movements of the head and eyes so as to bring the object of observation into focus and into line with the fovea. Similarly feeling, in the activity sense of that verb, involves either a deliberate movement of the fingers or some other sensitive part of the skin over the object of inspection or a movement of the object itself over a sensitive area of skin such as the cheek. Olfactory savouring likewise involves the publicly observable reaction of sniffing, just as gustatory savouring involves movements of the mouth and tongue aimed at maximising the stimulation of the taste buds by the stuff whose taste is being savoured. In such cases the function of the publicly observable movements is to maximise the effect on the individual’s sensory experience of stimulation which derive from substances and stuffs in the environment so that their nature and character can be determined and assessed. In other cases, as for example when a man reads or thinks out loud or by writing something on paper, the stimulation is provided entirely by the self-stimulating verbal behaviour of the individual concerned and has the function in the case of reading aloud of decoding a visually presented input into a more readily intelligible auditory form and in the case of thinking aloud or on paper of either of planning or guiding current or future activity or else of providing some kind of entertainment or emotional release. In none of these cases however, is the occurrence of these movements and reactions a necessary condition for the occurrence of the mental activity in question in all cases. Nor is the occurrence of these movements an infallible sign of the occurrence of the mental activity. If we don’t want someone to know that we are watching him, we can watch him ‘out of the corner of the eyes’ … ” UTP draws the following conclusions: “firstly that these publicly observable movements only constitute part of the person’s mental activity in so far as they affect and control the sensory experiences he receives and secondly that there are other ways of regulating, controlling and generating experiences which do not depend either on movements of the receptor organs or the part of the body in which they are located in relation to the environment or on auditory, visual or even kinaesthetic self-stimulation.”
But is it true that there is an intimate relation between mental activities and mental experiences? Note that according to UTP only philosophers and psychologists are aware of the implicit reference by mental activities to experiences. So it can’t be part of folk psychology and it is probably also not the result of conceptual analysis – at least I can’t reproduce such an analysis. In his very first article, Place (1954), UTP states that “[i]n paying attention to something the individual is regulating the vividness of his consciousness of the object or sensation in question”. This is stated but not argued. What UTP does in this article is producing arguments against Ryle’s dispositional theory of attention and heed and thereby making it plausible that attention and heed are (mental) activities. But is the essence of these activities “regulating the vividness of […] consciousness”? In my opinion paying attention is getting more or better information about an object or a scene. The direction of attention is outwards to something external (the object or scene) and not inwards to something internal (the consciousness of the object or scene). But let’s try to look inwards. Close your eyes and push them with your fists (not too hard). In my case at least, I have wonderful experiences (I see stars!), but I don’t know how to regulate the vividness of them. The same for figural after-effects, I have them, I experience them, I can report them, but I don’t know how to pay attention to them in order to get more and/or better information. Well, this might just be me.
We saw that according to UTP the fact that we can watch out of the corners of the eyes shows that mental activity is possible without movements. But Gibson (1974) claims that children and animals cannot look at an object with the peripheral visual field. He makes a distinction between overt and covert attention and the former is for him primary. “The act of attention is primarily an act of orienting, exploring, adjusting, and optimizing … It depends on overt activity of the perceptual organs … Overt attention is the characteristic activity of a perceptual system, not a processing of data coming in over a channel of sense” Gibson (1974, p. 1). Watching out of the corners of the eyes is an example of the other form of attention: covert, “inner” or “mental” attention. I think that overt attention is what we normally mean with attention in ordinary language. Moreover I would claim it to be a form of behaviour, something that we do, something we are engaged in.
There is, however, one publication in which UTP also treats mental activities as behaviour and more in particularly as (in part) operants. Place (1985c) talks about “semi-covert behavior”. He distinguishes three varieties: 1. attending behavior, 2. emotional reactions and 3.self-directed verbal behavior or thinking. Emotional reactions are not relevant for our discussion of mental activities. because they are passive and in the terminology of Skinner they are respondents.. But we already have seen that both attending and thinking are classified by UTP as mental activities. They are semi-covert because although they are predominantly covert, they have also overt manifestations as we already saw in the quotes from the Amsterdam lectures. For Gibson it is the other way around: attention is predominantly overt, but paying attention without moving, that is covert attention, is sometimes possible.
If mental activities are behaviour then one can question whether they are part of consciousness And when they are not part of consciousness than the identity theory doesn’t apply to them. Place (1969b): “the term ‘consciousness’ which I wanted to identify with a process in the brain, was a generic term embracing those mental concepts, such as having a sensation or a mental image, looking, listening, paying attention, thinking without talking out loud or under one’s breath and dreaming.” But if we want to associate mental activities-as-behaviour with consciousness we could do this by introducing the notion of conscious behaviour: doing things consciously. I will not discuss this here. In a future blog post I might come back to this idea.
Recently Myin (2016) published a paper with the title “Perception as something we do”. According to UTP’s classification of mental properties (see the beginning of this post) perceiving is a mental act or in the terminology of Ryle it is an achievement verb. It is the successful end of a mental activity. But it is clear that Myin means with perception the mental activities of watching, looking for, listening, touching, etc. Myin uses a comparable terminology as I did above: “The things organisms do are the things organisms engage in; start and stop; continue and pause, consider, refrain from and so on. Eating, grasping with mouth, paw or hand, running, walking, tracking, chasing and talking, are amongst the things various organisms do. Many of those things involve movement, but not necessarily all of the time and in some cases not at all. Holding still is something we do, but obviously without moving—if we move, we stop or fail to hold still.” Interesting is the case of holding still as something we do. What we learn from this case is that doing something involves an effort. Holding still is an effort not to move. Without an effort it wouldn’t be holding still, but doing nothing. All the exemples of mental activities that are listed in the classification of mental properties involve effort. Even dreaming is according to me an activity that one can only do with effort. But I am not going to defend this here.
I don’t agree with Myin when he claims that being touched, having a pain or having a headache are also doings. He agrees that these are not typical human voluntary actions, but yet they are, according to Myin, bodily doings. An important dimension in the classification of mental properties is active versus passive properties. This applies both to processes and to states (dispositions). For UTP active mental processes are mental activities and passive mental processes are experiences. For me this is the distinction between what we actively do versus what we passively undergo. Even if in the latter it turns out that the body is active in realising the feelings of touch, the having of pain or the having of a headache. According to the identity theory these activities are brain processes or more general bodily processes. Critical is the starting and stopping of the activities. If a person or an organism can start and stop an activity it is a doing or I would say it is behaviour. But if a person or an organism can’t control the starting and stopping of an activity, then this is something that it undergoes. This seems to me to be an important distinction.
I think that if UTP would have treated mental activities as behaviour as I have suggested here, he could have presented an even stronger behaviouristic view of the mind than the behaviourism that he defended. To be continued.