I. What is the Mind?

Psychology is the science of the mind - not of the brain as an organ, but the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the human being. It is often set apart from other sciences, as human thought and behavior has long been the demesne of religion and superstition, which described human behavior in fantastic and supernatural terms, but in recent years it has been the topic of less fanciful consideration.

(EN: There's a bit of defensiveness in the next few paragraphs, largely addressing the dismissal of psychology by "serious" scientists and drawing examples that show that it is just as valid - e.g., chemistry can only observe certain properties of matter but can only theorize the reason it should be so, and is incapable of answering the question of where matter came from in the first place. It gets a bit excessive, so I'm skipping much of it.)

Psychology seeks to understand the human mind through the observable evidence of human behavior. Because the brain cannot be observed while the mind is present, there is little opportunity to trace behavior back to its physical origins: we can know only what we see, and even verbal testimony as to thoughts, feelings, and emotions is suspect.

Atkinson is more of a pragmatist: he will consider the way in which the mind works without much speculation as to the reason that it works that way. Its "ultimate nature" seems for now unknowable and the various theories seem entirely academic rather than practical. In his view, "the mind is something to be used, not merely something about which to speculate and theorize" and therefore this exploration will be pragmatic.

And so, as suggested by the title, this book is about how to use one's mind. It is an owner's manual that does not care to explore how the mechanism works, merely how it can be put to its best use.

Mind Defined

The concept of "the mind" is itself difficult to clearly define - it is a collection of processes rather than a concrete thing. The brain is a concrete thing, and it is there that the mind resides - but that is like saying a factory where production resides. A factory is merely a space - and without considering the machines and men within it, we do not understand how a factory produces.

In the simplest terms, the mind is "that which thinks." But then we are faced with the problem of defining thought, which itself is a combination of perceiving, understanding, remembering, feeling, reasoning, and motivation. The mind is the sum total of all our mental processes. Psychology studies the activity of the mind, whereas neurology studies the organ in which it takes place - and neurology cannot provide us with enough information about the workings of the brain to explain the activity that goes on within it.

But to return to his pragmatism, Atkinson insists that "we shall leave the consideration of the question of the ultimate nature of mind to the metaphysicians" so this book will focus on its practical workings. There will be some consideration of the mechanisms of sensation and action, and some consideration of the nature of consciousness, but his main concern are the mental processes and faculties, of which he reckons there are but five:

  1. Sensation and Perception
  2. Memory and Imagination
  3. Feeling and Emotion
  4. Reason and Understanding
  5. Will and Volition