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THE FOUNDATIONS OF NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

1914

PART II

CHAPTER IV

MENTAL ORGANIZATION

        Moments of the same type form aggregations in an ascending series of complexity, groups, systems, communities, clusters, constellations. Isolated moments are organized into groups, groups into systems, systems into communities and communities into constellations. Groups are the simplest, while constellations are the highest and most complex of the aggregates. The firmness, the stability of organization stands in direct, relation to complexity, the more complex an aggregation the less stable it is.

         The order of complexity also represents the order of development, so that the more complex is also the latest to appear in the course of evolution. Evolution and stability stand thus in inverse relation. What appears early in the course of development is less firmly organized than what appears later on. The whole tendency of evolution is from stability to instability. The order of growth and instability is in the ascending scale from groups, through systems, communities, to clusters, and constellations. The simpler sensori-motor reactions are, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, the first to appear in the course of evolution and they are also more stable than the more complex sensori-motor reactions. We can possibly best realize the relation of instability to complexity of structure, if we regard life, including both physiological and psychic processes, as an ascending organization of sensori-motor reactions to the influences of the external environment.

        The sensori-motor reactions represent a hierarchy of organized aggregations beginning in the lowest reflexes and culminating in the highest activity.

        An illustration of the lower reflexes may be taken, such as the knee-jerk, the action of the bladder, persistaltic movements of the intestines, respiratory movements, heart-beats, and other organic activities. Association among these various reflexes may be taken as higher aggregates. The complex coordination of orientation and space adjustment, such as the maintenance of equilibrium, walking, running, jumping, flying, swimming, etc., represent more complex activity. A still higher aggregate is to be found in the association of groups and systems of sensori-motor reactions within the sphere of a sense-organ with the complex coordination of motor adjustment of the whole body. The highest aggregates are to be found in the association of all the motor reactions organized within the different spheres of sense-organs with the complex motor coordination of body-adjustments.

         Simple sensori-motor reflexes, complex reflexes, sensori-motor coordinations, instinctive adaptations and intelligent adjustments, statically regarded, correspond to the classification of psycho-motor aggregates into groups, systems, communities, clusters, and constellations. In other words, the study of the sensori-motor constitution of the higher organized beings in their adult stages, reveals the presence and interrelation of moments. We find that the history of the use and growth of aggregates is in the order of their complexity. In ontogenesis we find that the simple reflexes appear first, then the association, the more complex sensori-motor coordination, later on the so-called instinctive adaptations begin to appear, while the intelligent adaptations appear late in the course of development.

        The child at its birth is a purely reflex being; the different reflexes are not even associated, it is the medulla and the spinal cord that are principally active; the pupils react to light, the legs and hands react to more or less intense sensory stimuli, such as tickling, and sensori-motor reflexes to taste-stimuli are present. All of those reactions are isolated, incoordinated; they are so many simple groups of sensori-motor reflexes, even the sucking activity of the infant is largely of the sensori-motor reflex type; the child at its birth is a spinal being, and its moment consciousness is desultory, consisting of the desultory activities of isolated functioning sensori-motor groups.

        Later on the reflex activity such as of the hands, legs, eyes become associated through the development of sight and kinaesthetic sensations; the eyes can follow an object, the hands become adapted to the seizing movements. Movements and body- coordination then begin to appear, such as turning the body to right or left, then sitting up, then creeping, standing, then walking, then talking, all involving more and more coordination of muscles and kinaesthetic sensations, aided by the association of sensations and sensori-motor reactions from different sense-organs. It is late in its history of development that the child begins to gain full control of its actions and adjustment to the stimuli coming from the external environment.

        The history of phylogenesis runs a parallel course. The lower organisms are purely reflex in their sensori- motor reactions, and as such, they belong to the type of the desultory moment-consciousness, such for instance as may be found in the lower form of the Mollusca as the class Tunicata. In the higher forms of Mollusca association of sensori-motor reflexes begins to appear. These associations become more and more complex with the rise and growth of differentiation of sense-organs in the higher forms of Mollusca and the lower Arthropodes, giving rise to groups, systems, communities, reaching the cluster-stage, in the higher Arthropodes and the lower Mammalia, finally culminating in the complex functions characteristic of the constellation-stage, such as found in the sensori-motor reactions of man in his adaptation to physical and social surroundings.

        Each highly organized moment represents a hierarchy of many moments, but of lower types. The highest constellation has at its command lower types of psychic aggregates, and had it not been for these lower moments, the higher type would have lacked matter and activity for carrying on its own work.

        The lower forms of moments, however, are subordinate to the higher type which constitutes the centre, the nucleus of the total psychosis. The other constituent moments, from the simplest to the most complex, are in the service of the highest type of moments, though the former lie outside the central focus of the principal controlling moment-consciousness. These lower forms are by no means to be ignored, since they form the main factors that determine indirectly the moment's activity; they constitute the storehouse from which the central moment draws its material. Without the lower moments the principal, controlling moment could not have received stimulations from the external environment, nor would it have been enabled to make proper motor responses. In fact we may say that without the lower forms of moments, the moment-nucleus would have lost its vitality and even its meaning.

         The perception of an object and the proper adjustments to it depend not so much on what is directly present in the focus of consciousness, but on the wealth of accumulated material lying outside the moment focus. In reading a book, for instance, the handling of it, the motor adjustments in keeping it, the perception of the letters, of the words, of the phrases lie outside the focus of consciousness, and still it is this mass of perceptions that forms the matter of the controlling moment. The inventor in working on his particular invention has a mass of accumulated material and experience indispensable for the development of the invention, subconscious material lying in the background of his consciousness. Similarly the mathematician in solving his problem which forms the focus of his consciousness possesses a body of knowledge or a mass of material which, though it lies on the margin of his consciousness, forms the main stay of his particular investigation.

        There is more in consciousness than is actually directly present in the focus of the moment. While I am writing these last phrases my consciousness is occupied with them alone, but they are supported by a body of subconscious thought. All our perception is largely determined by the results of our previous experience which falls outside the central point of consciousness. Many perceptual illusions find their explanation in habit. An otherwise novel experience surrounds itself with famil- iar experience which disguises the novelty and transforms the percept by substituting what is otherwise familiar and habitual.

        This mass of familiar experience is not present in the focus of the moment-consciousness, it lies outside the centre and is often submerged in regard to the direct introspective scrutiny; it has, however, a powerful influence on the activity of the moment. The submerged moments, though lying outside the direct group of the main focus, still exercise a great influence on the course of the moment's growth and development. The conscious controls the material supplied by the subconscious, while the subconscious by the quantity and quality of the mass of its material, in its turn modifies and determines the course of conscious activity.

 

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