Home Boris Sidis Archives Table of Contents Next Chapter
Boris Sidis, M. A., Ph.D.,
THE METHODS OF PSYCHOLOGY AND PSYCHOPATHOLOGY
THE investigator of mental life has two methods of procedure, one more of an external, the other more of an internal character. Without the least direct modification in the psychophysiological organization, one may study the effects consequent on the modification of certain conditions of the external environment, changing the external stimuli and their incoming impressions. This method is of an indirect character, inasmuch as it does not directly modify the material under investigation. In endeavoring to find the threshold of sensibility to touch or to sound stimuli, as when trying to discover the relation of appreciation of stimulations to their objective increase, we do not in the least change the sensitivity itself―in fact, a change in sensitivity would destroy the object of the inquiry. Sensitivity is left alone, unchanged; no anęsthesia, no hypoęsthesia, no hyperęsthesia is produced. The function of sensitivity remaining unchanged, we may find that within certain limits in the muscular sense, for instance, the increase of a weight stimulus is appreciated with the increase of 1/20 of its magnitude; that in strain sensibility such as the appreciation of lifted weights the increase required is 1/40; that in sound it is 1/30; that in vision it is 1/100, and finally we may arrive at Weber's law that the subjective appreciation of an increase in an external stimulus is brought about when that increase bears a constant proportion to the given objective stimulus; or one may generalize further with Fechner that sensation varies as the logarithm of the stimulus. If similarly we try to study memory, for instance, by the external method, we may try to find out the span of memory by memorizing in a given time a definite series of words, numbers, or so-called "nonsense" syllables; in a similar way we may study the elements of time in the lapses of memory-how much, for instance, of a given series can be repeated after a certain interval of time, and how long it takes to relearn it. The function of recall remaining unchanged, one may experimentally arrive with Ebbinghaus and Wolfe at the general law that the quotients of retention and forgetfulness are inversely proportional to the logarithms of the times passed since the first memorization. Here once more the modifications effected are not in the psychic function itself, since the function of remembering, of recall, is from the very nature of the experiment left unchanged,―no amnesia, no hypomnesia, no paramnesia, no hypermnesia is produced. In other words, the indirect external method leaves the psychic functions unaltered and modifies only the conditions of the external environment. The indirect method of external modification is adapted to the study of the normal psychic function.
In our researches into the nature and laws of psychic life, we may proceed by a different way,―we may leave the external conditions unaltered and have the modification produced in the psychic function itself. We may study directly the function of sensitivity in its various forms by producing or observing the various changes and modifications occurring in the very function under investigation. We may study how the same stimuli work on a sensibility whose threshold is greatly changed, lowered, raised, or altogether lost; in other words, we can study the function of sensibility in the various gradations of hypoęsthesia, hyperęsthesia, and paręsthesia. The changes in the function of sensibility give us an insight into the relations of sensations and the modes of their aggregations and combinations. The modifications or eliminations of definite elements of visceral sensibility give us an insight into the nature of emotions and moods, whether in normal or abnormal states, such as are found in the different forms of mental alienation,-mania, melancholia, periodical and circular insanity, paranoia, general paresis, etc. Modifications of the external senses, such as touch, vision, audition, kinęsthesis, etc., give us an insight into perception, normal or fallacious, such as the perception of spatial relationships, movement, extension, position, localization, distance, magnitude, translocation, etc., with their numerous illusions and hallucinations. Modifications in the function of presentation and representation by the observation and induction of illusions and hallucinations furnish an explanation to the mode of change and combination of their various constituent psychic elements and processes, and we may, for instance, arrive at the conclusion that hallucinations are of the nature of secondary sensations,―that hallucinations are really secondary percepts. These may in turn unravel the nature of the different forms of mental aberrations accompanied by illusions and hallucinations of the different senses. In the mental derangements as manifested in the different forms of sensory aphasia, apraxia, general and specific amnesia of an organic character, we discover the isolated factors that enter into the organic tissue of our psychic activity. In the delusions of the insane, in the psychomotor manifestations of' insistent and fixed ideas, of imperative impulses and uncontrollable emotional states, we find a mine of valuable modifications of mental functions the investigation of which gives a deep insight into the nature of mental processes. Finally, in the phenomena manifested by the infinite number of variations presented by functional psychic derangements, we find an inexhaustible wealth of material for the study of mental life, both in its normal and abnormal phases. Mental functions known under the collective names of memory, will, personality in its various aspects, and the vast domain of the subconscious with its multifarious manifestations, open an infinite vista to the pioneer investigator. We may, for instance, find the relation of suggestibility to the suggestion-stimulus; that normal suggestibility varies as indirect and abnormal suggestibility as direct suggestion. The phenomena of psychopathic anęsthesia, aboulia, amnesia, psychopathic fixed ideas, recurrent dissociated moments, multiple personality―all form an inexhaustible mine for the study of the laws and relations of mental processes and the various types of mental activity, and we may arrive at the important generalization that functional psychosis is a disaggregation of psychophysiological constellations, a dissociation of moments-consciousness accompanied by a corresponding dissociation, or possibly retraction, of neuron systems. It is in functional psychic manifestations that the principle of reduction is most fully exemplified, since they present the initial stages of psychic modifications, and hence they lend themselves best to the scientist for the gaining of an entrance into the regions of psychomotor life.
We must discriminate between two methods―that of observation and that of experimentation. All the cases presenting modifications of an organic character fall chiefly under the method of observation, since their production is not in our control; they are taken as given, the conditions of their origin and development being often obscure or entirely unknown. These cases are, however, subject to the indirect method of investigation of external stimulations, the altered mental functions remaining further unmodified, thus giving rise to a new norm of sensitivity. Modifications of an organic character are also subject to direct modification by means of physiological stimulations, such, for instance, as are brought about by some toxic stimuli, and they are, although to a very slight degree, directly modified by psychopathic methods of investigation. Psychic cases presenting organic degeneration are nature's own experiments and as such they are of extreme value, but they often present advanced stages of modification where the changes are too great and intense. The gap produced by organic degeneration is often too wide to be directly of full service to the investigator. In order, therefore, to have organic cases utilized to their full extent, the only way is to find cases presenting intermediary stages of modifications, thus filling up the impassable gaps in the series of the process of degeneration. It is in functional psychic derangements that one can find the proper material for investigation,―material that lends itself readily for control and manipulation. It is in functional psychic diseases that one finds the initial stages of psychomotor modifications, and it is here, in the functional psychopathic diseases, that the principle of reduction is fully manifested―phenomena appear on a small reduced scale manageable and controllable by the hand of the experimenter. That is why the investigation of functional psychopathic changes is so important in the unravelling of the relations and laws that obtain among the phenomena of mental life. This line of research is all the more valuable, because in the artificial subconscious states functional psychopathic phenomena can be reproduced experimentally and the conditions of their states can be closely studied. Functional psychosis is therefore of the highest moment in the study of psychomotor life phenomena.
Boris Menu Next