B. Russell's The Analysis of Mind (1921) and purpose (Re: B. Russell's "Behaviour Cycle")

[From Matti Kolu (2013.08.08.1620 CET)]

(Mining the archives..)

Gary Cziko 960914.0315 GMT--

The following is an entry under "behaviour" in the Oxford English Dictionary.

   1921 B. Russell Anal. Mind iii. 65 - A `*behaviour-cycle' is a
   series of voluntary or reflex movements of an animal, tending to
   cause a certain result, and continuing until that result is caused,
   unless they are interrupted by death, accident, or some new

Anyone familiar with this article or what journal "Anal. Mind" refers to.
Could be interesting to see if old Betrand understand perceptual control
better than Herb Simon.

Avery Andrews 960914--

Perhaps `The Analysis of Mind'. My library catalog gives this as a 1949

book, but maybe there were several editions.

Bertrand Russell's "The Analysis of mind" (1921) is available on
Project Gutenberg here:

There is also a free PDF version, published by Pennsylvania State
University, to be found here:
(I'm not particularly fond of the formatting choices they've made.)

The entry quoted by Cziko is based on statements made by Russell in
the third lecture titled "Desire and Feeling". What follows is a
longer excerpt from that chapter. If you read through the complete
chapter it is clear that he didn't get perceptual control right, but
it looks like he did speak of purpose in a neutral way. I have a vague
recollection of reading Powers writing that discussions about purpose
were treated as suspicious even by some cyberneticists up until the
1960s (or perhaps even the 1970s?).

My recollection might be wrong.

Anyway, here's Russell with some extra line breaks.

Note: "..and if we knew more about animals, we might equally cease
to attribute desires to them, since we might find physical and
chemical reactions sufficient to account for their behaviour."


Bertrand Russell, The Analysis of Mind, 1921, excerpt from ch 3:

"We all think that, by watching the behaviour of animals,
we can discover more or less what they desire. If this is the
case�and I fully agree that it is�desire must be capable of
being exhibited in actions, for it is only the actions of animals
that we can observe. They /may/ have minds in which all sorts
of things take place, but we can know nothing about their
minds except by means of inferences from their actions; and
the more such inferences are examined, the more dubious
they appear.

It would seem, therefore, that actions alone must
be the test of the desires of animals. From this it is an easy
step to the conclusion that an animal�s desire is nothing but a
characteristic of a certain series of actions, namely, those which
would be commonly regarded as inspired by the desire in
question. And when it has been shown that this view affords
a satisfactory account of animal desires, it is not difficult to
see that the same explanation is applicable to the desires of
human beings.

We judge easily from the behaviour of an animal of a familiar
kind whether it is hungry or thirsty, or pleased or displeased,
or inquisitive or terrified. The verification of our judgment,
so far as verification is possible, must be derived from
the immediately succeeding actions of the animal. Most people
would say that they infer first something about the animal�s
state of mind�whether it is hungry or thirsty and so on�
and thence derive their expectations as to its subsequent conduct.

But this detour through the animal�s supposed mind is
wholly unnecessary. We can say simply: The animal�s behaviour
during the last minute has had those characteristics which distinguish
what is called �hunger,� and it is likely that its actions
during the next minute will be similar in this respect,
unless it finds food, or is interrupted by a stronger impulse,
such as fear.

An animal which is hungry is restless, it goes to
the places where food is often to be found, it sniffs with its
nose or peers with its eyes or otherwise increases the sensitiveness
of its sense-organs; as soon as it is near enough to food
for its sense-organs to be affected, it goes to it with all speed
and proceeds to eat; after which, if the quantity of food has
been sufficient, its whole demeanour changes it may very likely
lie down and go to sleep. These things and others like them are
observable phenomena distinguishing a hungry animal from
one which is not hungry.

The characteristic mark by which we
recognize a series of actions which display hunger is not the
animal�s mental state, which we cannot observe, but something
in its bodily behaviour; it is this observable trait in the bodily
behaviour that I am proposing to call �hunger,� not some possibly
mythical and certainly unknowable ingredient of the
animal�s mind.

Generalizing what occurs in the case of hunger, we may say
that what we call a desire in an animal is always displayed in a
cycle of actions having certain fairly well marked characteristics.
There is first a state of activity, consisting, with qualifications
to be mentioned presently, of movements likely to have
a certain result; these movements, unless interrupted, continue
until the result is achieved, after which there is usually a
period of comparative quiescence.

A cycle of actions of this
sort has marks by which it is broadly distinguished from the
motions of dead matter. The most notable of these marks
(1) the appropriateness of the actions for the realization
of a certain result;
(2) the continuance of action until that result has been achieved.
Neither of these can be pressed beyond a point.

Either may be (a) to some extent present in dead matter, and
(b) to a considerable extent absent in animals, while vegetable are
intermediate, and display only a much fainter form of the behaviour
which leads us to attribute desire to animals.

(a) One might say rivers �desire� the sea water,
roughly speaking, remains in restless motion until it reaches
either the sea or a place from which it cannot issue without
going uphill, and therefore we might say that this is what it
wishes while it is flowing.

We do not say so, because we can
account for the behaviour of water by the laws of physics;
and if we knew more about animals, we might equally cease
to attribute desires to them, since we might find physical and
chemical reactions sufficient to account for their behaviour.

(b) Many of the movements of animals do not exhibit the
characteristics of the cycles which seem to embody desire.
There are first of all the movements which are �mechanical,�
such as slipping and falling, where ordinary physical forces
operate upon the animal�s body almost as if it were dead matter.

An animal which falls over a cliff may make a number of
desperate struggles while it is in the air, but its centre of gravity
will move exactly as it would if the animal were dead. In this
case, if the animal is killed at the end of the fall, we have, at first
sight, just the characteristics of a cycle of actions embodying
desire, namely, restless movement until the ground is reached,
and then quiescence.

Nevertheless, we feel no temptation to
say that the animal desired what occurred, partly because of the
obviously mechanical nature of the whole occurrence, partly
because, when an animal survives a fall, it tends not to repeat
the experience.

There may be other reasons also, but of them I do not wish
to speak yet. Besides mechanical movements, there are interrupted
movements, as when a bird, on its way to eat your
best peas, is frightened away by the boy whom you are employing
for that purpose. If interruptions are frequent and
completion of cycles rare, the characteristics by which cycles
are observed may become so blurred as to be almost unrecognizable.

The result of these various considerations is that the
differences between animals and dead matter, when we confine
ourselves to external unscientific observation of integral
behaviour, are a matter of degree and not very precise.

It is for
this reason that it has always been possible for fanciful people
to maintain that even stocks and stones have some vague kind
of soul. The evidence that animals have souls is so very shaky
that, if it is assumed to be conclusive, one might just as well
go a step further and extend the argument by analogy to all

Nevertheless, in spite of vagueness and doubtful cases,
the existence of cycles in the behaviour of animals is a broad
characteristic by which they are prima facie distinguished from
ordinary matter; and I think it is this characteristic which leads
us to attribute desires to animals, since it makes their behaviour
resemble what we do when (as we say) we are acting from

I shall adopt the following definitions for describing the
behaviour of animals:

A �behaviour-cycle� is a series of voluntary or reflex movements
of an animal, tending to cause a certain result, and
continuing until that result is caused, unless they are interrupted
by death, accident, or some new behaviour-cycle.
(Here �accident� may be defined as the intervention of purely
physical laws causing mechanical movements.)

The �purpose� of a behaviour-cycle is the result which brings
it to an end, normally by a condition of temporary quiescence-
provided there is no interruption.

An animal is said to �desire� the purpose of a behaviour
cycle while the behaviour-cycle is in progress.

I believe these definitions to be adequate also to human
purposes and desires, but for the present I am only occupied
with animals and with what can be learnt by external observation.
I am very anxious that no ideas should be attached to
the words �purpose� and �desire� beyond those involved in
the above definitions."