Sociology of the Mind

Schreber’s lives in his a world within his own mind. When he writes that he does not know if the streets of Leipzig are real or “miracles,” or that he receives light rays directly and has entered into contact with them he is practicing reification and reductionism. Miracles are something that have no justification or rationality, rarely are they said to happen. They have no cause or concrete evidence of them even being real. So when Schreber writes that he does not know in the streets of Leipzig are real or miracles, he is practicing reductionism: he is judging something that is very real in the biological and physical sense using an explanation (miracles) that is neither biological nor physical. Schreber practices reification when he gives the light rays the properties and abilities that allow them to speak directly to his nervous system. He is giving an inanimate object the qualities and attributes of a living creature.

The ascripitive approach to knowledge holds that knowledge is a polymorph. Knowledge is a symbol concept: it does not make you see things, but having it entitles you or justifies you to see certain things: sociologist often see things about people that others don’t. Knowledge is also a category bound activity: it tells who can know and see certain things, i.e. groups of people, such as women and children, have been told what they could or could not know. Knowledge is not something that you store “inside” your head. You can retain knowledge, but that is not to say that you possess it. You only have the capacity to do or say “X” under certain circumstances. Knowledge requires other concepts. If you know something, it has to be true or false; you can be mistaken about that knowledge; you can forget it or not remember it; or you can be certain about that knowledge. Schreber is confused in his use of knowledge. He writes that he does not “know” if the streets of Leipzig are real or if they are miracles. It is like saying that he knows he is in pain. A miracle, like the streets of Leipzig and pain are not something that you can be mistaken about or forget about. Something like the streets of Leipzig are a concrete physical thing which everyone around Schreber can see and define as real. Miracles, on the other hand, are not always so concrete and are not physical. A person could say that they do not know if something is a miracle because they can be mistaken or not be certain, and it can be true of false. You cannot say that you do not know if the street is real because you cannot forget about it or not be certain or mistaken, nor can it be false. The concepts that go along with knowledge cannot be applied to emotions or feelings.


The ascriptive approached to thinking also holds that thinking is a polymorph. It does not take place anywhere (like inside your head); it is a series of practices. Thinking has no location. It is not like running or walking, which have locations. By assuming that because “thinking” ends in “ing,” it is the same as other verbs ending with “ing” (running, walking), you place it in the same categories as these other behavioral biological functions and you look for a location, thus treating thought as a “thing.” Schreber does this when he writes: “I’m frightened to say a word in case everything goes fleeing from me so that there’s nothing in my mind…. My head’s full of thoughts, fears, hates, jealousies. My head can’t grip them; I can’t hold on to them. I’m behind the bridge of my nose.” He is treating his thoughts as actual objects that are behind his nose. Thinking is not an invariant process, nor is it a behavioral of mental process. It has to relate to something. You can say, “Think about something,” but not just say, “think.” When somebody asks you what do you think about “X,” or were you thinking about going to the store, they are not asking for the same thing. The first one is asking for you opinion and judgments, the second one is almost inquisitive. When you say, “I was thinking,” you could be daydreaming, remembering, or you could just not want to tell what you were doing. When someone asks what you are thinking, they don’t want to know what is going on inside your head, they want to know your opinions. You have to use the conventions of language to explain your thoughts, only when you go outside those conventions do we have a problem. Schreber does not use these conventions when he is explaining how he thinks hears, and sees. He explains that he “ receive[s] light and sound sensations which are projected direct on to my inner nervous system by the rays [of light].” He goes on to say that he does not need to see or hear them in order to experience them. Schreber goes against the rules that we use, which are not neuro standards, but social, to explain his thinking.

Randy’s violation of the societal norm of minimal consistency is apparent when one looks at how his behaviors contradict his statements. Minimal consistency holds that in the absence of perceivably defeating circumstances, what a person claims about such things as thinking about, remembering, pondering etc. have to suffice. Provided that a person’s conduct and the circumstances, including any prior knowledge about that person, do not contradict the claim then the claim has to be “true.” Randy goes against this standard when he asserts his beliefs that homosexuals are “degenerate scum.” The fact that Rand, himself, not only has homosexual tendencies, but also can neither control nor openly admit them, allows for holes to be poked in his claim, leading to its defeat. After a period of time, Randy extended his hatred to include liberals, Communists, feminists, and Jews. By having the prior knowledge that Randy did not always feel hatred towards these people, one could defeat his claims. Randy did not feel that way when he was happy or before he started reading Neo-nazis books, so why is it true now? Strategically relevant contextualization (SRC) and economy convention go together. SRC holds that what someone is saying has to be relevant to the context to be seen as rational. Coulter uses the example of the mental welfare officer asking how the patient is doing. The patient responds that he is not dong well today, but yesterday he was “Atlas.” The mental welfare officer has to put forward a lot of effort to put the patients response into context. But saying that he was “Atlas,” the mental patient meant that he was on top of the world. The more work that you have to do to rationalize what someone says, the less rational it is. The actual work done is the economy convention: “the expectable effort to be expended by the hearer in strategically contextualizing someone’s assertions.” Randy violates these norms when he asserts that because he and Hitler have many parallels in their lives that he will, like Hitler, be able to rise above his “natural inferiors” and become a great historical figure. A hearer has to do a great deal of work to rationalize Randy’s statements. Going from a 36 year-old dishwasher to great historical leader is a great leap. The fact that Randy really believes that by his iron will alone he can overcome impossible odds, just as he believes Hitler did, is not rational with the context of his circumstances. It would take a great deal of work to strategically contextualize Randy’s assertions. First one would have to see and believe that the parallels in Randy’s life and Hitler’s are actually true and legitimate comparisons. Then one would have to believe that Randy could actually somehow overcome his position as a dishwasher, acquire a mass political following based on his ideas of hatred, and then rise above and possibly overthrow the government all on the sheer power of his will alone.

The realist model of personality holds that a personality is a pattern of thinking, behavior and feelings that make you unique. These are in turn made up of heredity and environment. Personalities are characteristics and traits in your mind that make you do what you do in each and every occasion, they are generalizable and invariant. A realist approach would say that because you have and “X” personality you do “x” things, or because you do “x” things, you have and “X” personality. This logic never gets to what personality actually is. Doing this personality work confuses ascriptions and descriptions with explanations. It assumes that there are coexisting particulars (X causes Y) that make something what it is, that force you to do what you do and see what you see. You cannot generalize across concepts; nothing is invariant. There may be a lot of concepts (a classroom, students etc.), but there is no one concept that holds across the board (not every classroom is the same, nor are all students the same). The ascription view of the concept of personality holds that personality is not a label for on object, it is set of practices that constitute personality work. Personality traits can only be applied in certain contexts. Personality traits are member relevant concepts that one brings to the situation (social activities). What we call your personality is a feature of the social context; it is not in you, but in different contexts. I could call you a strong person if you lifted a 300-pound desk, but I would not call you a strong person if you lifted a coffee cup. Just as the concept of “mind” is a gloss for thinking, knowing, remembering, or any series of practices constituted through language, the concept of personality is a disparity-reducing device as well. Personality is used to reduce a range of things: if I say that you are a smart person, it excludes you from being dumb and all the things that go along with it. Personality work involves the use of reactive assessment to defeat personality ascription, whether or not you want to defeat the ascriptions depends on how you view then. Coulter uses the example of the research done in spousal –abuse clinics. A personality attribution of one spouse is matched by an attribution that counter acts and potentially defeats the other spouse’s assertion. One spouse characterizes the other spouse as “a poor listener,” while the other says their spouse is a “persistent nag.” Some attributes you may not want to defeat. If some one says that you are a courageous person, depending on how you feel about this, you may decide to say nothing to defeat this assertion. Once a personality attribution is established in one case, it can be very enduring, even when someone has given much evidence of counter attribution, the person can still be characterized as the original attribute, i.e. a “reformed hypochondriac,” or a former schizophrenic.” Personality work also involves ascribing attributes to normal social situations. For certain attributes (aggression, conformity) it would be considered odd to apply to people in normally excepted social situations. You would not say that someone is a conformist for showing up to work on time everyday. Applying these kinds of attributes usually indicates a violation of norms. It is not something inside of you; it is something that you are doing that goes against the norms of context.
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