From Trotsky’s Notebooks (On Psychology)

From Trotsky’s Notebooks (On Psychology)

These quotes on consciousness and psychology are taken directly from Trotsky’s Notebooks.

Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism.(Translated, Annotated and with Introductory Essays by Philip Pomper, 175 pp)New York, Columbia University Press, 1986.

“Consciousness is a quite original part of nature, possessing peculiarities and regularities that are completely absent in the remaining part of nature. Subjective dialectics must by virtue of this be a distinctive part of objective dialectics – with its own special forms and regularities” [p102]

“The brain is the material substrate of consciousness. Does this mean that consciousness is simply a form of ‘manifestation’ of the physiological processes in the brain? If this were the state of affairs, then one would have to ask: What is the need for consciousness? If consciousness has no independent function, which rises above physiological processes in the brain and nerves, then it is unnecessary, useless; it is harmful because it is a superfluous complication – and what a complication!” [p104]

“The presence of consciousness and its crowning by logical thought can be biologically and socially “justified” only in the event that it yields positive vital results beyond those which are achieved by the system of unconscious reflexes. This presupposes not only the autonomy of consciousness (within certain limits) from automatic processes in the brain and nerves, but the ability of consciousness to influence the action and functions of the body as well. What kind of switches serving consciousness are there for achieving these goals? These switches clearly cannot possess a material character, or else they would be included in the chain of anatomic-physiological processes of the organism and could not play an independent role consisting of their prescribed functions. Thought operates by its own laws, which we can call the laws of logic; with their help achieving certain practical outcomes, it switches on the last (with more or less success) in the chain of our life activities”. [p104, 106]

“It is well known that there is an entire school of psychiatry (“psychoanalysis.” Freud) which in practice completely removes itself from physiology, basing itself upon the inner determinism of psychic phenomena, such as they are. Some critics therefore accuse the school of Freud of idealism. That psychoanalysts are frequently inclined toward dualism, idealism, and mystification.” [p106]

“But by itself the method of psychoanalysis, taking as its point of departure “the autonomy” of psychological phenomena, in no way contradicts materialism. Quite the contrary, it is precisely dialectical materialism that prompts us to the idea that the psyche could not even be formed unless it played an autonomous, that is, within certain limits, an independent role in the life of the individual and the species.” [p106]

“All the same, we approach here some sort of critical point, a break in all the gradualness, a transition from quantity to quality: the psyche, arising from matter, is “freed” from the determinism of matter, so that it can independently—by its own laws—influence matter.” [p106]

Shaun May

August 2018