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Boris Sidis, M. A., Ph.D.,
THE SUBJECTIVE METHOD AND ITS DIFFICULTIES
IN the investigation of mental life-processes, the subject's or patient's cooperation is of the utmost importance; without it our steps are uncertain and the conclusions are dubious; in fact, nothing whatever can possibly be accomplished, since the very subject matter of investigation is lacking. It is clear then that under such conditions the only cases truly valuable for psychological and psychopathological research are those which have not travelled far on the road of mental dissolution, because they alone are in that stage where a subjective account is still possible. Those cases of mental dissolution that have advanced far on the way of disintegration can not be utilized, because they are unable to give directly an account of their experiences, and all we can know of them must simply be a matter of guess and inference. The cases presenting advanced stages of mental dissolution can only be understood in the light of the initiatory stages; advancing step by step through the transitional and intermediary stages of dissociation and disintegration. Functional psychosis alone complies with all such conditions and supplies ample material for scientific experimental research.
The subjective method of investigation, required by the very nature of psychic phenomena, makes it extremely uncongenial for those who are used to work objectively with the rule, the scale, the microtome, and the microscope, and Who trust to their senses alone, relying only on what is visible and tangible, taking as the measure of reality the extensive and the ponderous, all else being in their opinion so much "stuff and rubbish." The impartial scientist, however, will without hesitation agree that sensations, perceptions, images, ideas, thoughts, decisions of will, judgments, beliefs, sentiments, and emotions of normal and abnormal character are facts as real as are physical objects, and as such they fall into the domain of scientific research. If then we want to approach these facts from a strictly scientific standpoint, it would be high folly to study them by methods inappropriate to their nature. We may as well ask the geometrician to treat lines with staining fluids, look at arcs and secants through the microscope, cut sines and cosines with the microtome, measure conic sections with pints and gallons, weigh parabolas on the balance with ounces and grammes. Each subject matter must be treated in its own way and by methods specially appropriate to it. Psychological and psychopathological material being essentially of a subjective nature must be studied by subjective methods; subjective accounts, introspective analysis and interpretation are of the highest moment in the study of the relations and laws psychological and psychopathological phenomena. Not even the highest and strictest chemical analysis can reveal as much as the least insignificant constituent of a fixed idea, nor can the best of microscopes reveal the meanest factor of an illusion or hallucination. Introspection and introspective interpretation alone can lay hold of a psychic fact.
Because of this subjective side, essential in psychosis along with the introspective aspect requisite in all investigations of psychic phenomena, one has to be very careful and cautious in the acceptance of his facts. Only a close critical inspection from all sides possible can justify one in acceptance of the full truth of what is has been given to him as introspective statements of a subjective experience. The primary requirement is to convince oneself of the intelligence of the subject or of the patient so as to be sure that they are able to give a correct introspective account of their experiences. One should not relinquish continuous questioning and should always be on his guard. For the investigator must never forget that the psychic facts occurring in others, in subjects or patients, can not be gotten at in a direct way, but only in an indirect way. The nature of evidence in psychological research is essentially of a circumstantial character. And still the facts obtained are as much, if possibly not more, of a reality as any physical facts; for he who denies reality to psychic fact denies not only the possibility of all sciences, but of an thought, and not only contradicts himself in the very act of his denial, but puts himself in the condition of the insane suffering from the delusion of the unreality of his inner lifeactivity. The second requirement is to be well acquainted with the subject or patient and to be sure of the moral trustworthiness of his statements and description of his subjective experiences. The statements of the subject or patient should be carefully sifted and ceaselessly tested.
Psychic processes should be studied as organic functions are by the physiologist and biologist. Psychic, functions should be regarded as having at least equal rank with other functions and processes of the organism, such for instance as digestion, respiration, assimilation, blood circulation, and other innumerable physiological functions.
From a biological and physiological standpoint a psychic process should be regarded as a function of the organism, and possibly as one of its most important functions, since it is this function that brings about the adjustment and adaptation of the organism to its environment. The all-importance of this physiological function in man's life-history can hardly be too highly overrated, because it is on account of the high development of the psychic function that he has become the "lord of creation," the victor in the struggle for existence against other animals, even the creator of new organs in the shape of machinery, mechanical, chemical, and electrical, of ever greater complexity,―new organs which give him ever greater control over his environment. It is this psychic function that enables man to penetrate into the far past of bygone ages, into the history and development of this world―nay, of the whole universe beyond, into the chasms of eons to come. By the help of the psychic function, man measures the velocity of light, he weighs the distant stars in the balance, and analyzes their composition in a ray of light; he chains the titanic spirit of fire and works him as his drudge; he employs light as his engraver, orders the lightning as his messenger, and makes the very lips of dumb matter resound and reecho with human speech and emotions; it is by means of this function that man overcomes matter and force and breaks down the barriers of time and space. A function of such paramount importance in the biological history of man's existence should certainly not be neglected, and the utmost efforts should be put forth towards the gaining of a more or less precise understanding of the modus operandi of its constituent processes.
It is true that in order to approach psychic life we must go about it in an indirect way; we can aim at it, so to say, round the corner. We can not possibly directly examine the phenomena of psychosis, insofar as they occur externally to us, in others, in subjects, or in patients, but this is always the course of nature. The inner spring of natural manifestations is hidden, and especially is this the case in such complexities as are presented by organic life phenomena in general and by psychic processes in particular. The inner mechanism of natural events rarely lies on the surface, so that he who runs may read; it is always enshrouded in darkness and mystery. The human mind, however, in its ever-restless activity, has overcome many a difficulty, and by the powerful instruments of its scientific methods has penetrated into the most inaccessible regions of the world of phenomena, and by the intense light of its searching thought has dispelled the darkness surrounding many a deep recess in the infinite domain of nature. Science has wrenched many a mystery from nature and shall wrench many more. Psychosis is one of the many great mysteries of nature, but this stronghold too, inaccessible as it now seems, is bound to be taken by the patient siege of scientific research and bold assault of the daring investigator.
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