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THE FOUNDATIONS OF NORMAL AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY
Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.
MENTAL CONTINUITY AND THE PSYCHIC GAP
The activity of the moment-consciousness is continuous, without break and interruption. Should the activity become arrested and the break be seemingly absolute, continuity is still present with the resumption of activity. The thread is taken up where it was dropped, the moment appears as a whole without any break.
There is no lesion in the moment consciousness, at least as far as the moment itself is
concerned. In going to sleep and waking up again we may be indirectly conscious of the interruption, but the activity of the moment is still continuous, the moment begins its activity at the point where it has left off. In fainting, in coma, in hypnosis, or somnambulism the periods of unconsciousness are immediately bridged over by the awakening activity of the moment.
Objectively considered, we have the moment's activity, then break, or absence of that activity, and then the resumption; subjectively, however, the moment's activity is felt as one and continuous without a break and gap. In consciousness the psychic content and activity preceding the break along with present cognizance of the break are synthetized into a unified continuity; the present consciousness of the break is taken into the synthesis, the very gap thus forming the bridge for unity.
The cognizance of the break may, however, be completely absent, and the edges of the mental wound may become closed, healed, and united with the functioning activity of the moment, the moment, without even the least consciousness of the intervening gap, resuming its line of work precisely at the place where it had been arrested. From the moment's own standpoint, the gap is as if non-existent, there is no break in the moment's psychic life-activity.
The break formed by the interruption of the moment's functioning activity, objectively regarded, may present an actual gap in which, for all intents and purposes, it may be supposed that no mental activity is taking place. Such cases are found in the state of deep sleep, undisturbed by dreams, or in the states of unconsciousness produced by toxic and narcotic agencies, in states of deep coma, in the attacks of typical epilepsy, petit or grand mal, in status epilepticus, in the states of unconsciousness produced by intense mechanical stimuli, such as a blow, or a fall, or a strong electrical current. In all such cases we often find a state that may, for all intents and purposes, be characterized as unconsciousness. No other moment comes to the surface, even temporarily, to fill the mental gap caused by the interruption of the moment's functional activity. The gap presents a mental blank.
To the important question: "How, then are we to explain amnesia where consciousness is indicated ?" Ribot answers "By the extreme weakness of the conscious state." This explanation is inadequate. For first of all, what is the meaning of a weak state of consciousness? Is it a state felt as being weak? If so, the explanation is obviously wrong. We may far better retain in memory the whisper of a dear friend than the striking of the tower clock or the explosion of a gun. Does he mean by a weak state of consciousness a confused indistinct state? Once more he is wrong. A confused and indistinct state of mind is often clearly remembered. I am dizzy, everything is confused and indistinct, I am unable to tell in detail what I have seen and heard, but I can clearly and distinctly remember the state of dizziness and confusion, and very often far better than any other less confused mental state. This, however, is not the case in the states of amnesia under discussion.
In amnesia there is no memory at all of the experienced mental states and what the subject or the patient remembers is the last link of the state preceding the amnesia. The state preceding the amnesia and the one succeeding it are joined together, the intermediary is left out, as if it had never been in existence. Evidently the theory is that the state of consciousness is so weak that it leaves no "trace," no memory behind. But if this be the case, then the explanation is a tautology. The problem is, why is there no memory in certain states of consciousness? To this the reply is that the states of consciousness leave no memory behind. It is obvious that this explanation is vague and when one tries to give to it a definite meaning, it is either wrong or turns out to be a reasoning in a circle.
Granted, however, that a weak state of consciousness is something definite, that by it is meant to indicate confusion, indistinctness of consciousness, and granted furthermore, that such a state leaves no memory behind, how then shall we explain amnesia of mental states when consciousness was intense, clear and distinct, as in the case of hypnosis or of artificial somnambulism? In these states the senses are almost hyperaesthetic, the sense of discrimination is extremely acute and memory is in a state of exaltation, Why is it then that amnesia can be enforced in the case of almost any experience immediately after the trance is over, or even during the very state of hypnosis? The state of consciousness is intense and still there is amnesia
How is it in cases of double consciousness or of multiple personality? Surely the explanation of "weakness" of the states of consciousness cannot be advanced by anyone who has a personal knowledge of these phenomena. How is it in psychopathic cases where the amnesia is brought about by an intense painful state of consciousness, such as fright, fear or great grief? On the theory of weakness of consciousness all these phenomena are mysterious, incomprehensible. On our theory of moment-consciousness, however, the phenomena presented could not possibly be otherwise, in fact, we should expect them a priori, if our theory be correct.
A psychic blank, however, is not the only possible consequence of the moment's lapse of function. The moment's activity is interrupted, but only, what is more often the case, to give rise to activity of another moment, The break produced in the moment's life is not a real gap; for the gap is filled in with the functioning activity of another moment which is usually of a lower, though sometimes it may even be of a higher type. From the standpoint of the arrested moment, however, there is a distinct gap, not that the moment itself is cognizant of the gap, but it is so for the external observer that takes that moment for his standpoint. The gap exists in the moment, though not for the moment.
Such states may be found in hypnosis especially in that stage of it known as somnambulism. When the subject falls into a deep hypnotic state, it is possible to make him pass through a series of complicated actions, changes of personalities without the least awareness on awakening. The whole series of his waking consciousness it is as non-existent, in short, it is a gap.
This gap however, is far from being a mere mental blank. On the contrary there may have been intense psychic activity, but only that of another moment which in the waking state has become submerged. This submerged moment may be brought up in the waking state by suggestions or by means of hypnoidization and be synthetized in the upper consciousness. Sometimes glimpses of the submerged moment may come up in dreams, in reveries, in sudden flashes during the waking state, or in spontaneous hypnoidal states, the subject doubting whether they refer to something actual or are simply mere whims and fancies.
In the cases of the so-called "psychic epilepsy" which are really amnesia of a psychopathic character, one meets with psychic states in which the gap is not absolute, but relative, being filled with the activity of another moment. Thus, M. carried on conversations, arguments, and discussions while in the abnormal subconscious state and could not remember anything of it when emerging from it and returning to the normal condition. Similarly F. in his subconscious state travelled a distance, sold horses and returned, but knew nothing of what had taken place from the beginning to the end of his journey.
In the H. case the gaps formed in the secondary state by the manifestations of the primary state were as if non existent for this secondary consciousness. The same held good of the primary consciousness: the two were working independently of each other, each synthetizing its own experience, each beginning at the place where it had left off. Neither of them knew of and felt subjectively the gap. There was a gap, only it was filled in by another moment consciousness of which the present functioning moment was not aware.
In cases of typical epilepsy subconscious states are sometimes found, states that constitute gaps in the activity of the normally working moment-consciousness. Thus in some cases of idiopathic epilepsy under my observation, the patients in the stuporous states succeeding the epileptic attack answer questions, but do not recognize me, nor do they know the nurse who takes care of them, although they can remember and recognize other names mentioned to them. In their normal state, however, they neither know of their attacks nor do they remember anything of the conversations and experimentations during the stuporous post-epileptic state. In other severe cases of epilepsy with frequent attacks of grand mal and petit mal, the patients during the periods of their stuporous post-epileptic states answer questions often mistaking persons and environment, referring to events and incidents of their early childhood. On emerging from their abnormal states, the patients are completely unaware of what had taken place, the epileptic attack with stuporous post-epileptic state forming a gap in the functional activity of his principal or upper moment-consciousness.
If we look at the moment from its subjective standpoint there may be consciousness of the gap bridging over the edges of the mental lesion, or such consciousness may be altogether lacking, the psychic edges of the mental lesion being closely unified in the synthetic activity of the temporarily arrested, but now once more functioning moment-consciousness. If we look at the objective side of the gap, we find that there may be total absence of all mental activity, no other moment coming up to fill the place of the one that has ceased functioning, or another moment may take the place of the one arrested in function, seemingly fill up the mental gap, and become submerged with the restitution of the arrested moment's activity. Not that the gap is really filled up objectively or subjectively; it is like the close successive manifestations of different individualities. The close observer can easily detect the arrest, the gap, the filling up of the gap with another moment's activity, and finally the restitution of the original temporarily arrested moment-consciousness. What is presented to cursory observation is apparent continuity of mental activity.
Mental gaps may be classified as follows:
|Subjective Standpoint||with consciousness of mental gap|
|without consciousness of mental gap|
|Objective Standpoint||Absence of moment|
|Presence of moment||Higher|
When the principal moment becomes arrested in its activity and a new dominating moment takes its place in the formed gap, the type of the new moment is usually of a lower grade. The conditions that bring about an aggregation of moments are of such a nature as to allow of the activity of a high type of moment. Not appearing in the mental synthesis of the organization of moments characteristic of consciousness in the normal state, the moment is poor in content and simple in nature. Falling as it does outside the complex normal aggregate of moments, the moment lacks the harmony and balance in its psychomotor and psycho-physiological reactions, since the counteracting balancing and hence regulative psychomotor tendencies of other systems of moments are wanting.
A moment that enters into a highly complex aggregation of moments, when stimulated to activity, sets also other moments into functioning, moments that are closely associated with it and often of different and even contrary psychomotor and psycho-physiological reactions. Strengthening other systems against the lines of its own activity the moment is thus controlled, inhibited, and regulated in the very act of awakening to functioning activity. For it must be clearly understood that there is no special controlling agency somewhere in the mind sending out orders, mandates, inhibitions, like a despotically ruling autocrat, like a psycho-analytic censor, or like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, invisible deity. The regulative, inhibiting control to which a moment is subject is in the mutual interrelation, balance, and harmony of the systems and constellations of moments, entering into an aggregate, and forming the organized activity of a highly complex moment-consciousness.
When a moment becomes dissociated and isolated from other systems of moments, it loses its balance and being freed from control, manifests its psychomotor reactions in the full force of its original powers. The lack of control and the moment's energy of manifestations are just in proportion to the depth and extent of dissociation or of disaggregation of moments. Dissociation and over-action are co-related.
The intimate relation of dissociation and over-action is clearly seen in cases of so-called "psychic epilepsy." The dissociated subconscious states manifest themselves with an overpowering activity, with an energy that can neither be resisted nor controlled, they come like irresistible, uncontrollable, imperative impulses, which are closely related to them in nature. If, however, these states are brought out from the hidden subconscious depth from which they make invasions; if they are brought to light before the court of the upper consciousness one by one in hypnoidal states, and are forced to become associated with and synthetized into the principal moment-consciousness, the impetuosity and energy of their manifestations are gone. All my cases of dissociation give experimental confirmation of this law of dynamagenesis of dissociation.
The dissociated cluster, although inaccessible through the ordinary channels of intercommunications, on account of the disaggregation of the aggregate into which it enters as a constituent part, may still be reached through other channels, coming from other moment-aggregates. For a moment, or a combination of them forms a constituent part not only of one aggregate, but of many other aggregates. Loss of communication through a certain channel does not necessarily exclude loss of all communications. If the lost channel is habitual, the activity of the seemingly lost moments may be awakened through unhabitual channels.
If the moment cannot be set into activity by the organization of constellations constituting the conscious personality, on account of disaggregating processes, the moment may still be set into functioning activity through aggregates falling outside the focus of personality, but which work with that focus in close co-operation, namely the subconscious. In other words, in the process of disaggregation, conscious, or rather self-conscious experiences fall into the region of subconscious life; what is absent in personal thought may be present in impersonal, subconscious states. All psychopathic functional disturbances consist just in such an interrelation of mental aggregates; in the process of disaggregation of the self-conscious personality aggregates of moments drop out and fall into the domain of the subconscious. What disappears from attentive consciousness may fall into subconsciousness. The disaggregated moment, ceasing to enter into relations with the upper personal consciousness of the highly complex constellation, may still form a component of the lower aggregates of the subconscious.
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