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THE FOUNDATIONS OF NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

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

1914

PART II

CHAPTER V

THE GROWTH AND FUNCTION OF THE MOMENT

         We may turn now to the study of the moment's functions. This can be best investigated in following up its history, in watching the growth and development of the most elementary moment-consciousness. In its perceptual stage the moment-consciousness may become modified in its subordinate psychic elements only, indirectly reacting on the nuclear sensory elements, giving a further determination of the total moment without changing its fundamental character. The moment may express then only more distinctly the final aim to which it is striving. The changes brought about in the moment are of such a nature that the latter in its whole tendency becomes adapted for reaction to the external environment, a reaction for which it primarily maintains itself in being.

        The moment as percept may have at first an inadequate content which brings about a reaction inadequate for the purpose of the given psychic moment. The reaction brings more content, both primary and secondary. The new content enriches the moment and gives rise to a modification resulting in a reaction which in its turn further enriches the content, until a reaction results fully adequate to the purpose of the moment. The moment reaches for the time being its full maturity. To give a concrete example. A small puff-fish is thrown into a tank containing a hungry tautog. The tautog perceives the puff-fish and comes up to seize it; the puff-fish begins to swell. The sudden swelling of the little fish frightens the tautog away. The tautog's reaction has proved unsuccessful. Some modification is being produced in the tautog's state relating to the puff-fish yonder. Another reaction may then follow, a sudden pounce and bite, the puff-fish swelling in the tautog's mouth. The tautog's reaction is once more a failure, the puff fish is dropped, but considerably hurt. A series of similar reactions with a series of similar modifications finally result in a totally different reaction. The fish by a series of sudden pounces and bites succeeds in debilitating the puff-fish, paralyzing its power of swelling and finally devouring it. A series of such repetitions of experiences determine the general procedure of the tautog to the puff-fish. The tendency to a series of sensori-motor reactions may thus become organized.

        The chick emerging from the egg sees an object, say a caterpillar, and attacking the caterpillar misses it at first. This procedure enriches the chick's psycho-motor life and modifies its next reactions in relation to the caterpillar, until the whole moment of pecking at edible objects when presented to the eye consists of successful reactions, as the result of their repetition, finally ending in perfect organization. The infant in seeing an object makes at first fruitless attempts at seizing it. These futile attempts further determine his activity and finally he reaches a state when the adaptation is complete. The psycho-motor reaction becomes adequate to the stimulus.

        In all these cases there is no need that the growth and improvement of adaptation should be brought by explicit processes of judgments and associations of free ideas. The fish, the chick, the infant have no distinct consciousness of what sort of psychic process is going on, nor do they deliberately after weighing the pros and cons of their actions, finally decide on one which is consciously to be rejected on trial and to on, at length hitting on the right solution of the problem. Such is not the state of their mind. To ascribe to them conscious thought, cunning, knowledge, is to ascribe modes and forms of adult human consciousness to a lower stage where all this is absent. Their psychic processes are far simpler. The growth of the moment-consciousness in the stage under consideration is altogether different in nature from that of the adult stage.

        In the moment-consciousness under consideration each sensory response to a given stimulus along with its resulting motor reaction brings about a modification of the total moment. Each new modification brings the moment nearer in its sensory and motor elements, to a more perfect adaptation to the specific conditions of the external environment; this modification is reproduced on the recurrence of the moment.

        Let a be the moment and b, b1, b2, b3, the successive modifications, then the modified moment at each stage of its growth may be represented as follows: a, ab, abb1, abb1b2, abb1b2b3, etc. The reproduced successive modifications do not emerge singly. The reactions of the moment do not occur in repetition of the order in which they have primarily followed each other. In other words, the reactions are not gone through in the order in which they have taken place. The series is not literally repeated. Each subsequent modification is super-imposed on the previous ones and modifying them becomes synthetized in a single complex reaction. The last successful reaction is the only one that emerges in the occurrence of the particular stimulus under a given set of conditions.

        All the intermediate, unsuccessful reactions, although they have gone to determine the last state of the moment with its particular reactions and are implicitly contained in it, gradually drop out, and only the last forms of reaction occur. The last moment-consciousness at each birth generated by a given stimulus under appropriate conditions possesses in a vague outline the history of its previous stages. Most of the stages seem to drop out, only the ones that are indispensable remain.

         The moment-consciousness in its growth and development expands into a series of moments, each subsequent moment being an expansion of the preceding one. In this expanded series each succeeding moment is richer in content than the one that has passed away, and is more adapted to the original end for which the moment as a whole subsists and maintains itself in the struggle for life. The last moment is an epitome of the preceding series, an epitome in which by adaptive selection many links have dropped out, and in which the ones that survive appear not in their bare isolation, but in a synthesis of organic unity.

        In respect to synthesis the moment may be compared to the percept in which the moment-elements are not in a free state and cannot be separately reinstated. In the moment as in the percept the elements are firmly bound together, and in this bondage they are reproduced. In the psychic moment itself the previous stages are not discriminated, since the whole moment emerges as one compound in which the elements are firmly held together in a form of "mental-chemistry" by a process of cumulation, a process which, as we have pointed out, is essentially different from the process of association of ideas in which the ideal elements are free.

        A moment-consciousness lacking free elements in its constituents cannot know its own history; in other words, it cannot recognize the identity or similarity of its elements with the ones that have been present in a previous state. The recognitive element is entirely wanting in such a type of moment-consciousness. A moment-consciousness of such a nature may be termed reproductive. A reproductive moment-consciousness reproduces its contents, but lacks the element of recognition.

 

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