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‘Stream of consciousness’ and ‘ownership of thought’ in indigenous people in Central Australia

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Fifteen Central Australian Aboriginal adults (8 patients, 7 colleagues) were presented with a culturally modified version of Flavell's ‘stream of consciousness’ experiment (pictures of persons with empty or ‘busy’ thought-bubbles, and an invitation to assign a picture to the mental state of a second experimenter seen reading or sitting quietly). Only 4 people assigned the empty thought bubble to the quiet experimenter. This result was at least as good as that of a sample of Stanford College students tested by Flavell. The experiment provoked detailed comments from the informants about subjectivity, suggesting great subtlety of phenomenological awareness in Central Australian Aboriginal people, and attributing a kind of subjectivity to non-human entities, including inanimate elements. We learnt that the Western Deserts dialect term watiya was reserved for the subjectivity attributed to trees and rocks. The ownership of all thought was attributed to the tjukurpa (the Aboriginal dreaming). These Aboriginal cultural attributions were compared and contrasted with reflections developed by Jung and the post-Jungian David Holt on the nature of subjectivity, and religious notions of the redemption of matter.

Keywords: Aboriginal; Australian; David Holt; Flavell; Jung; Western Deserts dialect; ownership of thought; redemption of matter; stream of consciousness; subjectivity; theory of mind; tjukurpa; watiya

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2000


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