The Analysis of Mind (1921) Informative Summary


“The Analysis of Mind” presents Bertrand Russell’s attempt to harmonize the materialistic leanings of psychology with the anti-materialistic tendencies of modern physics. He criticizes the conventional notion of “consciousness” as an entity, advocating instead a view where both mind and matter are constructed from a “neutral stuff” – neither mental nor material in isolation. This “stuff” is arranged into different patterns, some of which we call mental, others physical.

Russell argues that mental phenomena like desire and belief are ultimately reducible to sensations and images, challenging the traditional view of introspection as a separate source of knowledge. He emphasizes the role of instinct and habit in both animal and human behavior, suggesting that these are not “mental” states but rather causal laws governing our actions. He also explores the influence of past experience on present behavior, proposing the concept of “mnemic phenomena” to explain how memory and learned responses shape our actions.

Key Findings:

  • Consciousness as a Non-Entity: Russell rejects the notion of consciousness as a separate entity, arguing instead that it is a product of the way we experience the world.
  • Neutral Stuff: The world is composed of a “neutral stuff” that can be organized into both mental and physical phenomena.
  • Images as Mental Building Blocks: Russell believes that the mental is built from sensations and images, with images serving as “copies” of past sensations.
  • The Importance of Instinct and Habit: He highlights the significance of instinct and habit in shaping behavior, arguing that they are not mental states but rather causal laws.
  • Mnemic Phenomena: Russell introduces the concept of “mnemic phenomena” to explain how past experiences influence present behavior, even when no observable traces of those experiences remain in the brain.
  • The Limitations of Introspection: Russell criticizes the traditional view of introspection as a reliable source of knowledge, arguing that its data are subject to the same fallibility as our knowledge of the external world.


  • Animals exhibit behavior analogous to knowledge and desire: Russell uses animal behavior to illustrate the concept of desire as a causal law, rather than a mental state.
  • Instinct is not infallible or inherently wise: While instinct often leads to advantageous behavior, it can be easily misled by unusual circumstances, demonstrating its fallibility.
  • “Unconscious” desires are not a separate entity but rather tendencies to behave in certain ways: Russell challenges the Freudian view of the unconscious as a hidden part of the mind, arguing that unconscious desires are simply causal laws that govern behavior.
  • The brain plays an essential role in memory: Brain lesions can disrupt or destroy memory, indicating its dependence on physical structures.
  • Our understanding of a word is not a constant mental content: It is only aroused when we hear the word or think of it, suggesting that it is a “disposition” rather than an active mental state.
  • Images are not “real” in the sense that sensations are: Images lack the correlations with the physical world that characterize sensations, but this doesn’t mean they are not part of the actual world.
  • Dreams and hallucinations are subject to laws but not the laws of physics: This difference underscores the need to distinguish the world of dreams from the physical world.


  • Light travels at a speed of approximately 300,000 kilometers per second: This is a fundamental fact used to illustrate the concept of a “perspective” and the concept of a “thing” in physics.
  • The speed of light is used to illustrate the difference between regular and irregular appearances of an object: Regular appearances are part of the system that defines the object itself, while irregular appearances are affected by the intervening medium.


  • Consciousness: A state of awareness, often considered the defining characteristic of mental life. Russell rejects the view of consciousness as an entity, arguing that it is a product of experience.
  • Introspection: The examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Russell criticizes the traditional view of introspection as a separate source of knowledge, arguing that it is fallible and its data can be explained by sensations and images.
  • Neutral Stuff: A concept introduced by the American new realists to describe the basic stuff of the world, which is neither mental nor material in isolation.
  • Instinct: A complex, unlearned behavior pattern characteristic of a species. Russell emphasizes the importance of instinct in shaping behavior and promoting learning.
  • Habit: A learned behavior pattern that becomes automatic through repeated performance.
  • Mnemic Phenomena: Phenomena in which the past history of an organism influences its present behavior, even when no observable traces of those experiences remain.
  • Engram: A hypothetical trace left in the brain by a stimulus, representing the neurological basis of memory.
  • Image: A mental representation of a sensory experience, often less vivid than a sensation. Russell argues that images are essential for memory and thought.
  • Sensation: A basic sensory experience, often considered the raw data of perception. Russell believes that sensations form the foundation of the mental world.


  • The burnt child fears the fire: This common saying illustrates the principle of mnemic phenomena, where past experience shapes future behavior.
  • The moth flying into a lamp: An example of instinctive behavior that is not always advantageous.
  • The Lomechusa beetle larva: This example shows how instinct can be “misled” and that even apparently beneficial instincts can have harmful consequences.
  • A cat learning to open a cage: This experiment illustrates the process of habit formation and the acquisition of learned behaviors.
  • Dreaming: Dreams are an example of mental events that obey laws different from the laws of physics, further illustrating the distinction between the mental and physical worlds.
  • The feeling of familiarity: This feeling plays a crucial role in memory, helping us to distinguish accurate from inaccurate memory images.
  • The visual image of a friend sitting in a chair: This example demonstrates how images can contradict physical reality, highlighting their distinct nature from sensations.
  • The sensation of seeing a star: This is used to explain the concept of a “regular appearance” as part of the object itself, in contrast to “irregular appearances” caused by the intervening medium.
  • The sensation of hearing a foreign language: This illustrates how habitual interpretations and expectations shape our perception of sensory information.
  • The experience of seeing a newspaper: This shows that sensations form the starting point of all our subsequent interpretations and inferences.

Learn more

What is the best quiz for you business?

Quizzes are super effective for lead generation and selling products. Find the best quiz for your business by answering a few questions.

Take the quiz