Stream of consciousness (psychology)

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Stream of consciousness refers to the flow of thoughts in the conscious mind. The full range of thoughts of which one can be aware can form the content of this stream, not just verbal thoughts. Commonly used experimental techniques, including self-reporting, gives easier access to verbal thoughts than to thoughts more closely connected to senses other than hearing and activities other than speaking and writing.

William James

William James is given credit for the concept[1]. He was enormously skeptical about using introspection as a technique to understand the stream of consciousness. "The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks."

Other Thinkers

Bernard Baars has developed Global Workspace Theory[2] which bears some resemblance to stream of consciousness.

Contemporary Criticism

Susan Blackmore challenged the concept of stream of consciousness in several papers. "When I say that consciousness is an illusion I do not mean that consciousness does not exist. I mean that consciousness is not what it appears to be. If it seems to be a continuous stream of rich and detailed experiences, happening one after the other to a conscious person, this is the illusion".[3]

Literary Technique

In literature, stream of consciousness writing is a literary device which seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her sensory reactions to external occurrences. Stream-of-consciousness writing is strongly associated with the modernist movement. Its introduction in the literary context, transferred from psychology, is attributed to May Sinclair[4].


  1. James, William (1890), The Principles of Psychology. ed. George A. Miller, Harvard University Press, 1983, ISBN 0-674-70625-0
  2. Baars, Bernard (1997), In the Theater of Consciousness New York: Oxford University Press
  3. "There is no stream of consciousness". Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  4. Wilson, Leigh, 2001. May Sinclair The Literary Encyclopedia

See also

External links