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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 19 September 6, 1938

Anatomy of Mind

page 3

Anatomy of Mind

Everyone reading these words was once an embryo. Knowing nothing of the complex, headlong universe outside. Since then, many matches have been struck, many meals digested. The conveyor belt has turned through many automatic days.

Look around you. Those others are different from yourself. The minds of each are separate and distinct. For each has known different days and ways. As you have known them.

And each is unique. Like a finger-print.

In the teeming head of every human being is an intricate structure of ideas. And all of them, every single one, has been acquired. Somehow or other. Many may be new permutations, new inductions, but even they, at root, were socially acquired.

In brief—the human mind is essentially a social product.

Reasons for Reason.

More connectedly. If you subtract from the human mind all that has been communicated to it by the spoken and the written word, by example and by the influences of its social surroundings from birth onwards, all you have left is an uncogitating animal mind, actuated by purely animal urges and emotions, and not differing in any noticeable respect front man's closest biological allies.

This much is undeniable.


"All I've got to say it that you're a product of your environment."

Now let us analyse how the involved mentality of the civilised adult is built up. Step by step.

  • Step 1.—The power of speech—spoken and written—is imparted by the social environment. This is the only way it can be developed.
  • Step 2.—All formulated conceptual thought depends on language of some kind.
  • Step 3.—The nature of emotions and sentiments depends on acquired systems of thought and training.
  • Step 4.—And therefore the aims and desires which determine behaviour are the resultants of mentalities derived from the material and social environments.

The terrifying extent of this social conditioning is hard to realise. Simply because we ourselves are part of the process.

Double Dutch.

Here is an authentic transcription from the language of a certain tribe of New Hebridean natives:—

"Is um ucce naiheuc vai iji pece asega o Atua is abrai Inhal o un is eti ache aien, va eri eti emesmas a ilpu atimi; asgeig iran asega, jam leh nital umoh iran ineig inyi ti lep ti."

Even if it is a slight exaggeration. I am going to suppose that for the most, this extract is meaningless.

Meaningless—for the obvious reason that you were not "brought up" in this particular New Hebridean culture. And remember that it is not only their language which would seem so unearthly. The whole elaborate paraphernalia of their religion and their moral code, would equally disturb you. But if, "come what may." you had been marooned there in your swaddling clothes, and grown up amongst them, everything would be as obvious and understandable as a syllogism.

And just in case you think the "marooning" a trifle hypothetical. In spite of British Israelism, these things have happened. Case after case. Children reared from birth in a social culture not their own by race. You can look them up in any library. Even our own. It you want to.

It would seem, perhaps, that the foot-sore gambit of conservative politicians—that "you can't change human nature" is about due for overhaul.


In the meantime. Let us apply this "social interpretation of the mind" to our own society.

The beliefs, the prejudices of all adults have all been socially inculcated. In most cases they were acquired during childhood and adolescence—when the mind was ductile. Since they have ossified. And through the years they will become encrusted.

Looked at squarely, education (and not merely in schools) consists of little else than the inculcation of traditional prejudices. Just as the language of a people sinks into its members—so do its traditions. And few worry themselves with the business of verifying them.

Most of the absurd, irrational traditions of a culture are emptied into a child's mind during his first unremembered seven years. Imposed upon him on their own authority. Emptied into his head like concrete from a mixer—and left to set.


Young children hold their prejudices with an almost fanatical fierceness. Even more than do adults.

Here are one or two typical extracts from an inquiry into the social attitudes of young children, carried out in a Wellington school:—
  • Jack—Age 6 years 1 month:
    • (when asked if he knew who Germans were): "Yes. They wear stupid old rags and hunt for crumbs."
  • Jack—Age 6 years 3 months:
    • (when asked if he had heard of Jews said) : "Some Jews roll and some kill and shoot people."
  • Victor—Age 7:
    • (when asked what would happen if someone pulled down the flag, said) "He'd get killed by the police."

Multiply these Instances till you wear out the adding machine. Consider their ramifications. The impact or home, school, Sunday school, newspapers, talking, street hoardings, books, movies. Week in: week out. All leaving their mark—often their scar.

Multiply it to the nth power. Then you have some idea of how manifold and incisive the process is.

Thus we grow up. Thus we are conditioned.

Evolution is the Dance.

No objection can be raised against the process itself. Social tradition is the only thing which separates us from the cave man. Through it, the wisdom, the accumulated knowledge or mankind is handed on.

But this power of tradition to enlarge and increase intelligence is conditional upon this provision—that what it transmutes shall not be accepted on the authority of tradition. That is, every particle of knowledge, every article of faith must be subjected to the most painstaking, the most thorough-going verification. Nothing can be considered too sacred. Nothing too holy. Every opinion, being anthropomorphic, none is entitled in itself to more respect than the other.

Every person wanting a modern, a rational mind, must requisition a thorough stock-taking of every shelf and every cranny of his head. A scientific stock-taking. And where ever he encounters the period furniture of unverified tradition let him cast it out for the junk that it is.

A thorough stock-taking of the mind—and conservatism will be outlived overnight.