THE MIND IS A SOCIAL PHENOMENON
A Public Lecture ó 1953

As an introduction, I would like to mention a book, published by Harcourt: The Theory and Practise of Philosophy, by Edele. Dr. Edele discusses in this book the various common attitudes of philosophy -- reality, God, the scientific method, freedom, liberty, and so on. He points out that philosophy is the intent to find a comprehensive picture of the world. But -- he does not bring to the fore a very important and conclusive idea: the way and the method in which we approach man largely deals through his brain. For instance, it is said that mental phenomena are subjective, physical phenomena are objective, and the incorporation of man into nature threatens to eliminate the difference.

I maintain that manís mind, that mind which you have, which has just understood this last sentence, "It is said that...," that this mind, now interpreting the word "mind," is a social phenomenon. What do I mean by social? I mean that great semantic tree which has its roots in the MINE phenomenon, the NOT-MINE phenomenon, the YOURS phenomenon, and the OURS phenomenon.

The first semantic aspect of the child is the MINE phenomenon. To the infant and the little child, everything is mine. Mine, mine: Mamma is mine. Daddy is mine. My toy. My brain. My brother. My own everything. Gradually the child learns, through a series of mild traumas, that there are NOT-MINE phenomena in the world.

For instance, at this very moment as you listen, notice any distractions and then notice how you make these distractions NOT-MINE. What do you do to make these distractions NOT-MINE?

What are you doing to make this last sentence --- MINE?

For a child, MINE is not a possession, as such. It is not property. Rather, it is an inclusion and a recognition of boundaries. It is a domain of activity, in which the child may exhibit his faculties and his inheritance. The NOT-MINE domain (which, geometrically, if you want to put it that way, lies outside the MINE domain) is taboo.

In a marriage, for example, you may hear the husband screaming to the wife, "Donít blame me for that, I didnít do it." NOT-MINE. Not my child; not my fault. And the wife categorically denying: "It is too, it is YOURS." Of course, eventually they get to the point (we hope) that the marriage is OURS. Ours: to be shared. Not shared collectively, but shared individually. But that is getting ahead of the story.

This early semantic state, that of mine, will include all experiences of the child. This mine state is not aberrative, in the sense of psychotherapy; rather, it is inherited as a property of the race. For instance, turn to the person next to you and hand this person a coin, saying, as you do so, "This coin is mine." Then, "Now this coin is not mine." Notice as you do this how you struggle to retain possession of the property value of the coin.

Now, probably, at that particular point, some of you gave a little laugh, some of you were slightly embarrassed, some of you smiled, or frowned, or something like that. May I point out to you that, with respect to your identity at this point, a MINE function was not inherent in your individuality. It was inherent in the relationship as divulged by the giving away of the coin. If you were embarrassed as you gave away the coin, and if you were embarrassed as you made the coin NOT-MINE, then this is your identity. Your identity, known only to you as a mine phenomenon, is extant in the relationship of making things NOT-MINE.

Is that difficult? Weíll go over it again.

As an individual, you possess properties. Some of these properties include social function. For instance - again - the mind is a social phenomenon. Your properties may not be, or need not be, social phenomena. But in the giving of the coin, the only method in which you could make the coin not-mine was to be embarrassed as you did so.

This demarcates the domain of MINE/NOT-MINE. And it was taught to you. It was taught to you. You learned it. You learned that, in exhibiting embarrassment, you could make things NOT-MINE. You learned that, in exhibiting gratitude, you could make things MINE. You learned that, in exhibiting anger, you could make things MINE or NOT-MINE, as you choose.

Let us take the phenomenon, YOURS. This is largely a matter of admiration. The person possesses something which can be exhibited. But it is not shared: it is YOURS. For instance, "Isnít that a lovely dress she has!" "Isnít he a handsome man!" "This authorís book is excellent." And so on. These are types of statements which indicate YOURS. A thing to be admired, but not basically shared.

The OURS phenomenon is one which is only created, and which only exists through sharing. It is not possessed. It is not a possession. Rather, it is a thing shared individually. It exists only by virtue of the relationships involved. It may or may not include all of the emotions. It may or may not include properties, as such, but it itself is not a property. It is a thing created.

Having digested that, ask yourselves: within this particular group, is this talk, and this group, a part of the OURS phenomenon? In other words, are you sharing equally, OURS, in this talk, in this group? Any confusion felt at this point is a resistance to going to the OURS level. For instance, most of you, right now, are making this talk NOT-MINE. If so, later on, when asked to deliver a recall on this talk, you cannot recall it.

If you do make it MINE in the social sense, the taught sense, with embarrassment and so forth, you will distort it. You will report it inaccurately. Your interpretation will be a social thing, as you know it to be. For you, society is a continuum of emotional biases taught to you. Taught to you, and forced on to you, and then perpetuated by you.

The very way in which you address the problem of understanding this reality: MINE, NOT-MINE, YOURS, OURS -- will be the way in which you were taught to address an unknown. The very way in which you are not attempting to digest and assimilate, to understand, to comprehend: these are taught phenomena. Taught. Question: who taught you? Mother, father, uncle, aunt, sister, brother, group, school, teacher, dog, Santa Claus, fairy tales? If you feel an emotion at this particular point, ask yourself: what is this emotion?

What are you trying to do to this information?

Whatever you are trying to do is a social phenomenon and, as such, will be absorbed into the background of social phenomena. Do not do this. It is not necessary.

If the mind is a social phenomenon, and if the mind is a property of the nervous system, then perhaps, just perhaps, other properties are possible. And perhaps, in this realm of other properties there might lie newness, novelty, and a lack of social interpretation of this data. Now, letís try it. Do this:

Raise your hands. Carefully place the fingertips of each hand together, saying as you do so, out loud, "Contact." Now separate the hands, saying as you do so, out loud, "No contact."

Repeat. Touch the hands, say, "Contact." Separate the hands, say, "No contact." Contact, no contact. Contact, no contact. Continue to do this.

What you are doing is not what you think you are doing. It is an analogue of a physical expression. It is an analogue of reality. It is an analogue of understanding. It is an analogue of the phenomenon CONTACT/NO CONTACT, abstractly interpreted for all mechanisms extant in the real world.

Contact, no contact: you are demonstrating to yourself, and to others as you say these words -- contact and no contact -- you are demonstrating the abstract function of CONTACT/NO CONTACT, ACTION/NO ACTION, DISTANCE/NO DISTANCE. You are demonstrating and exhibiting abstract functions, analogues of all real world phenomena. As information carriers: contact/no contact. My words: the word itself, contact; the word, no contact.

Iíll pause at this point to allow you to adjust to a new situation. Keep touching your hands together. Contact. No contact.

Now, touch and release the hands, saying, "Mine, not-mine. Mine, not-mine." Now, touch the hands and say, "Here." Separate, and say, "Not here." Here, not here. Here, not here. Now touch the hands and say, "Contact." Separate, and say, "No contact."

Here, not here.

Contact, no contact.

Information, no information.

Understand, donít understand.

Know, donít know.

So far, we have been using your body to demonstrate to you a phenomenon. Largely, this phenomenon has been non-social. Some time has passed. Now, this phenomenon has become partially social. It has become social only if you use it against the backdrop of the MINE/NOT-MINE phenomenon as taught to you.

For instance, have you become embarrassed during this small session? Have you become emotional? Have you attempted to explain it to someone? Are you attempting to comprehend it? Are you attempting to indicate to anyone else that you understand it?

Contact, no contact. Why is it necessary for you to explain this to anyone? If your neighbor has gone through the same motions that you have, your neighbor knows it. He understands it. You need not explain it to him. If you have done so, why? What are you trying to do? Are you really trying to share OURS, or are you making MINE/NOT-MINE phenomena?

Now I am going to read to you from Defining a New Reality:

It is possible to teach people who are intelligent, open-minded, and willing to learn, a new kind of thought. Not a system of thought, or a philosophy, but a basically different kind of orientation.

In terms of thought processes, the delinquent or the psychopath or the genius are only distortions of normalcy. The same mechanisms which produce normal thought are the mechanisms which produce delinquency, psychopathy, and genius. Except that there is a distortion, a perversion. Both positively and negatively, over and under.

What is your attitude at this particular point? Are you poised to make this thing NOT-MINE? Are you poised to admire what I am saying? Or are you poised to make it OURS?

Are you allowing this particular information to be novel, to be spontaneous, to be continuous? What parts of it have you made NOT-MINE? What parts of it have you made MINE?

I used the words, "intelligent," "open-minded," "willing to learn," "a new kind of thought." All these words are analogues. They are not what they say. They are not what they say. They are analogues.

As you hear this socially, you are trying to absorb this and adapt to it. Donít. Allow it to be. If you get into difficulty, go back to contact, no contact. This is basic. At this point I will sign off for several minutes in order for you to discuss what has been going on.

[INTERMISSION]

I am going to read to you now from the book [mentioned earlier] by Dr. Edele, about freedom:

The concept of freedom may readily be transformed from the negative idea of the absence of strength and choice to the presence of traits of character which issue in and encourage desirable lines of choice. The concept of freedom, then, is social in origin and reference. The ideals of character which it embodies will differ with what a given society or group takes to be the desirable line of choice.

There have been many types of free men proposed as ideals. There is the self-reliant type whose freedom means independence and action. There is also Russellís free man, who scorns power and, in a hostile flux of nature, remains loyal to his ideals: truth, beauty, and goodness. His freedom clearly consists of not being drawn by ordinary desires and attractions.

There is also the disinterested man praised by Krich, whose freedom consists of taking himself, taking the impending powers of his own values, seriously, and sufficiently aloof to watch himself as an actor, without a spectatorís sense of unreality.

Then there is the anarchic ideal - the man who can follow every impulse, free from regret. There is the dutiful man, who tramples every passion underfoot, who is true to a reason that is free from the world of bondage. There is the man who is not bound by the routines of habit who, in Paterís words, burns with a hard and gemlike flame.

The integrated man. One type of ideal, in a different frame of generality, is the conception of the integrated man, dear to the hearts of both the philosophers and the psychologists. He is the type in which there is a minimum of repression of impulse, not because he has subdued and successfully enslaved part of his nature, but because he has achieved a harmonious development. He suffers no conflict of desire and reason because his desires have become stabilized according to the system that is reason.

Similarly, there are no conflicts of principles and practice, because his principles are his guide to practice, and his habits of thought are not idle fancy, but standing points of contact. He is sensitive to differences, there is a variety in his aims, yet his life isnít merely a succession of goals. He knows himself, and the direction of his aims, and he can estimate clearly the situations under which they can be effectively realized.

He is critical without being destructive, and he has initiative without being merely volitional. The aims of others are constituent elements of the pattern of his values. In short, his integration is not merely within himself but with his physical and social environment. The details of such a picture of the free man vary considerably....

Such a man is in the fullest sense free. He is self-reliant, independent in spirit, most able to control the instrumentalities of living. His character is attuned to the more general features of the human problem and so it is not limited to the habit of one set of commissions. He shows a greater adaptability to change. In a simpler society his freedom may mean an individual independence, but in a complex society it need not mean uncooperativeness....[and the author concludes] ...such freedom, a social product. In all these senses positive freedom is not something given to man, with which he is natively endowed, but is product of careful nurture in a well-ordered society.

Precisely! Now, ask yourselves: what do you believe about society? What is your attitude toward society? What is your motive towards perpetuation of society?

Notice that society, for you, is a collection of MINES, NOT-MINES, YOURS, and OURS. Possibly, in a few instances, there were non-social phenomena exhibited. Incidentally, for those who cannot discriminate, non-social does not mean anti-social. It does not mean un-social. It does not mean a-social. It means non-social. For instance, you might ask yourself, is non-social equivalent to non-pig?

The concept of the free man, as put forth by Professor Edele, will exhibit (if he does exist at all) properties of society. This man is attuned to society. He can adapt to it. He can adopt it. He can contribute to it. He is good for it. Frankly, I ask you: considering society as you know it, is it worth it? If it is, then so be it. If it is not, then letís change the "so be it" aspect. Apparently our society, at this time, is in trouble.

Question yourselves. What, in the order of MINE, NOT-MINE, YOURS, and OURS, can you do to contribute? A partial contribution would be for you to understand the anatomy of society. Insofar as you are concerned right now, much of this anatomy will be a relationship you have with society. A relationship determined on the MINE, NOT-MINE, YOURS, and OURS basis.

Politically, the OURS basis refutes collectivism.

Economically, it refutes socialism.
Psychologically, it refutes statism.


 To summarize: the mind is a social phenomenon. By this I mean the entire collection of functions attributed to social intercourse as taught, perpetuated, and endured by society. For you, as an individual, society will consists of your relationships within and about that society. Most of these relationships are determined on a property basis.

It is possible to determine relationships on a non-social, non-property basis. To understand this possibility, to investigate non-social aspects of the nervous system, one must deal with analogues. Since we are attempting, through society, to understand non-social phenomena, we must use analogues.

The simplest analogue will be the contact/no contact experiment, where you touch your fingers and withdraw your fingers. One may state various terms at this time: contact, which means MINE; no contact, which means NOT-MINE, the property basis of the term being related to the MINE/NOT-MINE phenomenon.

As one goes up the scale, one goes through the OURS/YOURS, and above that, of course, is the IN USE, the FUNCTIONAL, and the true NON-SOCIAL. Recent experiments have indicated startling changes taking places when one employs, consistently, the MINE, NOT-MINE, YOURS, OUR, IN USE, NON-VERBAL, and FUNCTIONAL aspects of understanding.

Certain individuals, when exposed to this type of phenomena, are unable to endure the sharp distinction. They cannot allow the NOT-MINE aspects to exist and, as such, will either withdraw or attempt to annihilate the NOT-MINE aspect. Against their background of social phenomena, they will attempt to absorb that which they are taught, but in order to do so they will retreat, usually spouting annihilation as they go.

Other people will go through a period of confusion. Still others will arise to a certain point and be confused. Still others go beyond this point and then, and this is literally true, observe phenomena taking place about them which have not occurred before.

I am not being mystical. I am not being mysterious. I am not being secretive when I make that last statement. Things are occurring.

Some people report a spontaneous communication with friends on a level heretofore denied. Others report neighbors suddenly, without reason, being more friendly. Others find understanding, comprehension, enlarging rather remarkably. Others report certain recalls. Others special phenomena they cannot discuss. Others strange inhibitions and reticence - strange in the sense that they have not had them before, consciously. Again, these are collective functions of the brain being exposed to non-social phenomena.

Once more, let me reiterate: this is not mysterious, it is not unreal, it is not secretive, it is not screwball. It is actually occurring. When the brain is led from the usual social phenomena of social intercourse to the non-social status, it automatically becomes novel and spontaneous and, in doing so, overreaches and overrides social phenomena.

For those of you who are already desiring to be supermen, back down. This is strictly a social phenomenon. But for you who are only interested in producing non-social phenomena, this is the way to do it. It will work. The simple experiment, exhibited here, if continued and made congruent with social phenomena, will lead you into a new era and a new area of thinking. And - again - I use the word thinking as an analogue. It is not thinking as we know it. Nor will this new type of thinking be continuous. It will be discontinuous, since you will not have eradicated social phenomena by any means, but will only have discovered a modicum of non-social phenomena.

For those of you who have not been able to understand what I have said, investigate NOT-MINE: what are you doing to make it NOT-MINE?

For those of you who are certain you understand it, investigate MINE.

For those of you who know you understand it, investigate NOT-MINE, YOURS, and OURS.

But for those of you who begin to achieve some of the non-social phenomena, which do not fall against a formal background, and which will not be interpretable in terms of society, so be it. There is no collective formulation, and no collective syntax. You will not be able to interpret the phenomena in terms of society. To do so is a perversion.

For instance: a quiet, large, beautiful piece of granite is a fear-destroying thing. In such a relationship, this block of granite is a non-social phenomenon. A creation of your brain, called comprehension non-socially may (or may not) produce the same effect. Just as, perhaps, in school the world was interpreted for you in a different orientation. You thought differently: so now, go one step higher. You are looking through a door - a door to non-social phenomena. A door which does not threaten society, but which will contain and complement society as we know it.

Shakespeare said, "Life is a stage." Now, life is not a stage, but life can contain a stage. It can contain the actors who strut, it can contain usual phenomena, it can contain antagonism, hostility, anger, fear, and hate. (And incidentally, when you strip a person of his social phenomena, without giving him tools to work with, he will only hate you for it.) Life is not these things, but rather it contains these things.

The brain is not a product of society; it is a creation of nature, or God, or so be it. Whatever it is, it can functionally produce social phenomena. It can functionally produce non-social phenomena. For yourself, and only for yourself, discover this phenomenon. When you have done so, you will know how to proceed.


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