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THE FOUNDATIONS OF NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

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

1914

PART II

CHAPTER VI

THE RELATION OF THE MOMENT TO THE ENVIRONMENT

         If we inspect closely the reproductive moment-consciousness, we can discover in it definite traits specially characteristic of it. From the very character of its organization the moment-consciousness is of such a nature as to be accessible to and at the same time affected by definite stimuli of the external environment. The moment-consciousness itself is formed through the influence of stimuli coming from its environment. The psychic states that go to make up the nucleus-content of the moment-consciousness are primarily sensory in character, due entirely to incoming stimulations proceeding from some external source. This is fundamentally true not only of the lowest and simplest, but also of the highest psychic moment. The infinite wealth of our experiences is of an incoming character derived entirely from stimulations coming from the periphery, or from the outside world. Even where the moment is ideal in character it is still originally derived from sensation.

        The nature and primary function of the moment is to be sensitive to stimuli. The origin of the moment takes its rise in sensory responsiveness, and its growth is due to the formation of successive layers of sensory elements. The sensory characteristic is still further brought out in the fact of adaptation and possibility of further modification of the moment. Psychic modification under the influence of external stimuli clearly demonstrates the important characteristics of sensitivity. We may say that sensitivity, meaning by it psychic processes aroused by stimuli, is a fundamental character of the moment-consciousness, however elementary.

        The moment-consciousness is not only sensory, but also motor in character. The whole purpose of the moment's being is adaptation to external conditions. These adaptations, however, are brought about not by the mere sensitivity, but by motor reactions. If the moment shows sensitivity towards the play of definite external stimuli, it shows itself still more ready to give vent to its activity in definite sets of motor reactions. In fact we may say that primarily sensitivity is readiness for reaction. The stimulus that irritates the naked protoplasm of the amoeba results in movement of its pseudopodium. The irritation of the nerve endings of the ascidian or of the medusa results in the contractions of the muscular coat. In the more highly organized animals the excitation of the peripheral sense-organ results in contraction and relaxation of muscles or secretions of glands.

         This is clearly manifested in the life-phenomena of invertebrates and lower vertebrates. The fly, the bee, the ant, the butterfly, the fish, the frog react immediately as soon as they are acted upon by influences of their external medium. In this respect they almost resemble highly complicated mechanisms that manifest definite sets of movements when acted on different parts of structure. Especially is this manifested in the lower centres. The fly, the ant, the bee, the butterfly, without their higher central ganglia are pure automata. Thus if the fly is deprived of its frontal ganglia, or head, it remains quiet as if dead, until it is stimulated, when a motor reaction immediately follows. If such a "headless" fly is turned on its back, it rights itself, or flies some distance, alighting on its legs, and again remaining in the same state until a new stimulus brings it out of its torpor. If the thorax is stimulated, the front legs pass through the wiping movement. If the delicate hair on the lower part of the abdomen are irritated, the hind legs react. If the side hair are stimulated, the side legs respond, and so on. In short, the stimulus is followed by immediate reaction of the stimulated organ.

        With the central ganglion present, the fly differs but little as a reactive being, only the reactions are more complicated, more co-ordinate, more adaptive; they do not occur in a uniform and automatic fashion in the directly stimulated organ, but in some other organs distant from the stimulus directly applied and in a series of co-ordinate movements, responding to the stimulus in a form advantageous to its needs, or preservative of its life.

         In the frog we meet once more with the same state of things. Without its brain the frog is an automaton responding to external stimuli immediately with some simple set of movements. With its brain present the response differs only in the fact that it is more complex and more adaptive. The same holds true in the case of the higher vertebrates, in the bird, in the rabbit, in the dog, in the monkey, and also in man. When deprived of the brain they are automata immediately responding to stimuli with simple movements of but little adaptation. With their brain in full and healthy function they are, biologically regarded, highly organized beings responding to external stimulations with complex movements of more or less perfect adaptation.

        Should we like further illustration and evidence we can find it not only in phylogenesis, but also in ontogenesis. Young animals react to any passing stimulus; their life is full of movement and activity. The movements are not adaptive to the special conditions of the environment; in fact these reactions may often be of such a nature as to hurt and even endanger the life of the young animal. External stimuli simply liberate pent-up energy in centres which are but little co-ordinated. In this respect of lack of co-ordination and adaptation young animals resemble vertebrates or invetebrates deprived of their frontal ganglia.

        The restlessness of children and of infants is notorious; in an infant under my observation, I have observed kicking of legs as many as 25-35 per minute, and this was kept up for a quarter of an hour, sometimes for half an hour at a time; each kick of the leg served as a stimulus for another one, until fatigue was induced. An external stimulus at once calls forth a reaction in the child or the infant. The reaction is usually not adaptive, purposeless, and frequently hurtful.

        There are also purposeful reactions, reactions that are or a purely instinctive character, useful for the life and growth of the animal. These reactions, however, are, physiologically regarded, of a more complex reflex character. Given a definite stimulus and a certain set of conditions, a series of reactions immediately follows in a certain order and succession. Thus the aphis secretes its limpid drops of sweet juice, when its abdomen is tickled by the antennae of the ant only. No other delicate tickling stimulations can bring about the reaction of secretion. The ant on seeing the aphis runs at once up to it and begins to play with its antennae on the abdomen of the aphis, and the latter on feeling the particular stimulations reacts in lifting up its abdomen and secreting the viscid juice.

        The white butterfly lays her eggs as soon as it comes in contact with stimuli coming from cabbage leaves. As soon as the change of temperature occurs, the migration instinct of birds is awakened. Young pointers are sometimes known to point the first time they are taken out. Young chicks disperse and show fright as soon as they hear an intense sound. In an infant of two days old I have observed protective grasping movements; the infant when immersed in the bath tub for the first time got hold and clasped firmly with his little finger the hand of the person that bathed him. Furthermore, the whole body assumed strained and rounded positions, lifting itself out of the water with which it came in contact; the infant was clinging with all its little strength to the hand that bathed him.

         The character of instinctive reaction is perhaps more closely manifested in the following interesting experiment performed by me on a very young infant. The infant was not more than three hours old, he was put to the breast and the nipple put to the mouth. The stimulus of the nipple in the mouth at once excited the physiological arrangement for sucking movement, an arrangement which the infant brings with him in a more or less ready state, on his coming into the world. When the infant had enough, the sucking movements ceased. The nipple was then withdrawn, and then put again into his mouth, the sudden fresh stimulus once more awakened the mechanism to activity, and the sucking movements began only to stop soon. This was repeated a few times, every time as soon as the stimulus was supplied the sucking movement began. The experiment was then slightly modified, the baby after ceasing its sucking movements was left keeping the nipple in its mouth, anti instead of taking away the nipple and putting it back, thus enforcing the stimulus directly, some other stimuli were employed. The infant's legs were tickled, the skin of the body was rubbed, pricked in different places, and every time as the stimulus was applied the sucking movements were started.

        A few hours later when the baby became sensitive to sound, I tried the same experiments with sound stimuli, and obtained the same results. Sensory stimulations followed by motor reactions are the elements out of which moment-consciousness from the lowest to the highest is formed. If one aspect of the moment-consciousness is sensory, the other aspect is motor. The two aspects are inseparable, correlative.

        The sensori-motor relation is observed not only in the lowest forms of psychic life, but also in the highest. In the highest form of mental life we still meet with the same factor of motor reactions. Mental activity tends to pass into action. Psychic processes, motor and glandular reactions are interrelated. All along the course of mental activity reaction is present as its invariable concomitant. Some muscles are in a state of tension, others in a condition of relaxation. According to the flow and content of ideas, representation is now retarded, now accelerated. The functioning activity of the glands, of the vaso-motor system is influenced, the circulation of blood is affected, more blood rushing to the brain.

        This reaction aspect of mental life, and especially of affective, emotional life, can easily be demonstrated by appropriate instruments. By aid of the sphygmograph, the tomograph, the pneumograph, the plethysmograph, the automatograph, the galvanometer, and other instruments registering physiological results, it can clearly be shown that mental activity with its affective tone results in some end effect, muscular or glandular reaction. With a very delicate automatograph, or swinging pendulum, it can even be shown that the movements manifested often express the content of consciousness.     Sidis's Laboratory Instruments

         This is especially striking in case of different forms of automatisms―in people who are of the motor type. When the subject's hand is put on the automatograph, and the subject begins to think, the pen of the automatograph begins to move and write. When the person thinks of the left side of the room the movements swing to the left; when the subject thinks of a series of definite movements, movements of a similar order and character are followed out by the pen of the automatograph. Subjects who are of a pronounced motor type when their attention is distracted write with the automatographic pen the ideas of which they happen to think at that moment. The remarkable experiments made by Pavlow and his pupils are here to the point. The experiments clearly prove the close interrelation of mental activity and glandular function.

        The reaction character of mental life is still more distinctly manifested in the various forms of mental dissociation, such as are to be found in the psychopathic and neuropathic diseases and in the states of hypnosis, and in fact in all the phenomena belonging to the order known as the subconscious. Many of the most important methods in psychology and psychopathology are based on this reaction aspect of the moment-consciousness.

 

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