Social Relations in the Stream of Consciousness
Dreams may take us to other worlds, but upon awakening we return to reality--or so it would seem from most social science models of cognition. Social science accounts typically postulate a waking individual who is steadily oriented to the external world. They picture a person busily "interpreting experience" (classifying external events) and "generating social behavior" (mentally selecting and activating appropriate behavioral plans). This is not an adequate representation of human consciousness.
Consider Anthony F. C. Wallace's article "Driving to Work". This study consists of an introspective attempt to formulate the cognitive processes characteristically employed by an individual driving from his home to his office. Wallace discusses the use of the "mental map" that allows the driver to follow the familiar route, and he describes the perceptual "monitoring" with which the individual scans variable features of his course.
I constantly check the road for vehicles ahead, vehicles behind, vehicles approaching on the other lane. . . . I check for bicyclists, for pedestrians, for animals, and for obstructions like slow-moving vehicles, excavations, accidents, and so on. . . . I monitor the state of the road with respect to its width, the conditions of the surface (dry, wet, snow, ice, leaves).1
Classifying these and many other perceptions, the driver activates a complex set of plans in order to appropriately maneuver the car.
Wallace's account is accurate, but only as far as it goes. He has described the cultural knowledge an American must learn, maintain, and use to drive a familiar route. But he has not described