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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.
Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.
EVOLUTIONARY STAGES OF PSYCHIC ELEMENTS
A PSYCHOLOGICAL analysis reveals to us the fact that psychic elements constituting the sensory compounds are of such a stable character in the nature of their combinations that dissociation is well nigh impossible. The union of sensory elements with other sensory presentative groups and compounds is not free in its character. The psychic elements in these elementary psychic compounds are indissolubly bound. Sensory presentative elements enter into what may be figuratively termed chemical union, the elements being so intimately interrelated and interconnected as to give rise to a psychic tissue in which they are structurally integrated, forming a continuous organic unity. The psychic elements of the sensory presentative compound are, so to say, grown into one organic whole, and no dissociation can possibly be effected without injuring the constituent ingredients of the organic psychic compound. A sensation of red, of sweet, or of pain, is in reality a compound of many psychic elements, but their combination is so stable, firm, and indissoluble that the elements cannot be freed from their union, and their joint organic activity becomes revealed in the moment-consciousness as one continuous unanalyzable unity. It is only by inference that the elements of the sensory compound can be separated; they can be postulated, but are not given directly in experience. Sensory compounds cannot be decomposed. As soon as a sensory element is brought into activity at all, it must work in a group of which it is an organic constituent. The isolation of sensory elements from their compound groups is impossible, because it is death of the element itself. The life-being of the sensory element is in its groups; apart from the group the element cannot exist. In other words, it is always definite groups of sensory elements which act as whole, never isolated elements. The sensory elements are so organically connected, so firmly integrated that they admit of no variation in their interrelations; no transpositions, no shiftings of the elements are possible. The elements of the sensory presentative compound have definite relations which admit of no change. The group of inter-related sensory presentative elements is given fixed an ready-made.
In passing to presentative and secondary presentative combinations or peceptual systems in which the sensory compounds enter as constituents, we find that the elementary secondary compounds, though otherwise firmly integrated, still admit of variation. The integration of the groups, and especially of the secondary presentative group is not of that unmodifiable organic character. Around a nucleus formed by a group or combination of groups of primary elements, groups of secondary sense-elements come aggregated, and the total aggregate gives rise to a consolidated and unified system of groups, resulting in percept. In perceiving the chair yonder only the visual sensations constitute the true sensory groups that form the nucleus of the percept. The other psychic groups that are crystallized round the percept, such as the weight, resistance, the volume, the size, shape, and distance, a really visuo-tacto-muscular groups; they are largely tact muscular groups tinged by the sensory quality of the nucleus; they are tacto-motor groups, sensorially visualized seen indirectly. Though these secondary sensory groups are firmly integrated, still their integration is not of such a character as not to become disintegrated and rearranged into new systems of groups. Such a disintegration is no doubt effected with difficulty, but it is by no means impossible. The perceptual compounds, unlike the sensory ones, admit of decomposition into elementary primary and secondary sensory groups. The component elementary sensory groups can be experienced separately under different conditions and circumstances. We can close our eyes and walk up to the object of perception, say the chair, and thus experience the free muscular sensations of distance, or we may push our hand against the chair and experience the sensations of resistance, or take the chair in the hand and experience the muscular sensations of weight and shape. The primary and secondary sensory groups, in short, going to make up the percept can be isolated by withdrawing the organizing nuclear group of primary sensations, thus bringing about a disintegration of the particular aggregate.
If we inspect more closely this process of isolation, we find that the constituent secondary sensory groups are not really isolated, so as to stand out all by themselves. What actually happens in this seeming process of isolation is simply the formation of a series of new perceptual aggregates, in which the particular sensory groups that are isolated and specially brought out become the nuclei, the foci. For in the perceptual aggregate it is always the character of the nucleus that is specially brought out, and it is the nuclear sensory aggregate that tinges with its sensory color all the other aggregates. To revert to our previous example, to the percept chair. In passing the finger over the chair, the touch may form the nucleus of the moment, and may stand out, on that account, more clearly in consciousness, but around this primary nuclear sensory group other secondary sensory groups, such as thermal and muscular sensory elements, become organized to form the synthesis of the perceptual moment. If we try to find out the shape of the chair by a series of touches we really form a series of percepts, the sensory nuclei of which are not visual, but tacto-muscular in their nature. A sensory group, then, cannot in reality appear in a purely isolated form. It can only appear as a nucleus around which other sensory groups are organized.
To the highly developed type of moment-consciousness1 a sensory group always appears embedded in a more or less plastic material of secondary sensory groups. A sensory group tends to become a nucleus of a perceptual aggregate. A prick is localized on a definite point of the skin, and is felt as coming from a hard, resistant, sharpened object. Sensory groups come in aggregates. Dissolved out from union in one aggregate, the sensory group becomes liberated, but only immediately to enter into combination with another aggregate. If we designate primary sensory groups by capitals and secondary sensory groups by small letters, then a B c d may represent a percept in which B is the nucleus; a1 b1 C d1 another percept where C is most prominent, a2 b2 c2 D another percept in which D is most prominent, and constitutes the nuclear sensory group. With the formation of each new percept the particular sensory group which has become the focus or the nucleus stands out most clearly, and hence may be regarded as isolated. In reality, however, not only is isolation absent, but the emphasized sensory group itself becomes changed in character. The sensory group appears as a nucleus, as component of a new psychic aggregate, and from being secondary sensory group it becomes a primary sensory group. One thing, however, is clear, that the sensory groups appear in different compounds, and though never entirely free, may still be regarded as capable of relative isolation by forming constituents of different compounds. The liberation of the sensory group from the perceptual aggregate can be effected in an indirect way. The primary and secondary groups may be shifted, but shifted with great difficulty. The groups of the percept are bound in the total aggregate, but, unlike the elements in the sensory group, they are not fixed in an indissoluble union.
At the same time we must point out the important fact that the secondary sensory elements, the chief characteristic of the percept, differ from primary sensory elements in being more intimately associated with elements representative in character. This fact is excellently well brought out in illusions. When one is in fear on a dark night, in the depths of a forest, he is apt to take every tree for a robber. When one’s mind is full with the thought of a certain object, he is apt to mistake things for it; he is apt to see that object in things that have not the least similitude to it; one may take floating sea-weed for a sea-serpent, and the outline of a post for the figure of a man, and even of a special well-known friend whom one has expected for some time. In lines so drawn as to admit of different systemic combinations, such, for instance, as Helmholtz’s figures, one can see whichever arrangement he wants, according to his previous representations. In looking at the outlines of clouds, or at the irregular configuration of ink-blots one can see different figures of objects, according to the representations and images that freely and accidentally rise before the mind. In a certain sense we may say that perception is sensory representation. Perception may be regarded as the intermediate stage between sensation and representation. The perceptive process is on the way to become representative, and the percept may be partly regarded as unloosened sensation, but still bound representation. Fusion is specially characteristic of the interrelation of groups of percepts.
Turning now to representation, we find that the constituent elements are free in their interrelations. The connection among the representative elements is no longer one of compound, characteristic of primary sensory elements, or of fusion, characteristic of secondary sensory elements. The relation is of such a nature as to be highly unstable and easily dissociated as soon as association is formed. The constituent representative elements do not lose their individuality in the aggregate into which they enter, as primary sensory elements do in sensation, or both primary and the secondary do in perception. In representation the constituent elements, though forming an association, still stand out clear and distinct as independent elements.
Representative elements can be shifted with ease, giving rise to all forms of combinations, combinations of which neither primary nor secondary elements or groups can possibly permit. In experiencing a sensation of red of a particular shade of saturation and intensity, the sensory elements present are fixed and given in definite relations; in perceptions the experience of a percept, say of a table, is also definitely given; the particular individual percept experienced has definite fixed elements and relations as soon as it is perceived at all. The horse in perception has definite relations, the table, the chair, the lamp, the house, present in perception, have definite, more or less fixed relations which admit of change. We cannot see a horse with its tail on its forehead and ears on its back, the chair has no wings to with, nor has the table a tongue for speech. The elements and relations in perception are fixed. Not so is it in presentation. In representation the horse may have mane on the back and tail in front, the ass may preach or prophesy, the chair and table may have tongues carry on conversations. What cannot be done in representation? The very foundation of the universe may be removed and another world with new relations may be created.
In representation, in imagination, impossible forms of metamorphoses may be effected; the most marvelous deeds may be accomplished, miracles may be enacted, the life of Arabian Nights may be passed through, and we may be transported into wonderland with the greatest ease. In representation, time, space, and conditions are annihilated, and the impossible becomes a reality. In other words, representative elements, unlike sensory elements, do not form fixed unalterable relations; they possess a high plasticity in their relationships; they are independent, and enter into free associations in which the relations as well as the elements can shift and change with the utmost ease and facility. While the sensory elements are firmly held in compounds and the perceptual elements are in a state of fusion, the representative elements attain their independence and freedom.
We are here confronted by the same law characteristic of evolution in general. The course of psychic evolution runs parallel to that of organic evolution, such as we have found in the growth and development of neuron systems or of social states and products and even of ethical relations—namely, the substitution of functional relations for structural relations. The tendency of psychic evolution, as it is of evolution in general, is from structure to function, from bondage to freedom of the individual elements.
1 See Sidis, Psychology of Suggestion. This will be developed in Principles of Psychology and Psychopathology.
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