Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Unintended Thoughts and
Images

Frank Tallis
Charter Nightingale Hospital, London, UK


THE STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS

…the mysterious stream of consciousness. Immortal phrase of the immortal James!
Oh stream of hell… (D. H. Lawrence, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious,
1921).

Until the mid-1970s, information processing models of mental functioning shared a number of assumptions regarding the nature of thinking. Perhaps the most cherished of these was that the individual could exercise intentional control over the flow of thought and, subsequently, decision making (see review by Lachman, Lachman & Butterfield, 1979); however, as the decade progressed, a number of doubts were raised as to the accuracy of this view (Posner & Snyder, 1975; Langer, 1978). Although the intentional control of thought was a salient property of the processing system, it was becoming increasingly apparent that this same control was far from absolute. Although the 1970s marked something of a sea change in the understanding of the role of intentionality in mental life (Bargh & Uleman, 1989), the foundations of a more accurate framework were laid many years earlier.

In his Principles of Psychology (1890), James employed the term “stream of consciousness” to describe the fluid contents of awareness—the continuous flow of thoughts and images that constitutes mental life. Although it is possible to divert the course of thinking in the service of certain goals, for example as in

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