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

© 1914




        We have described the moment-consciousness as being stimulated by activity, as emerging, as assimilating new material, as growing and developing, as passing through many stages in the history of its individual evolution and dissolution. All this tacitly implies another characteristic besides the ones found as belonging to the nature of the moment. The moment-consciousness has the function of reproduction. We have incidentally discussed reproduction of the moment-consciousness, but we have not studied this character more closely from the standpoint of the momentís general mature.

        A close inspection of the moment-consciousness reveals the fact that every moment-consciousness can be reproduced as long as it is not destroyed, as long as it is not dissolved into its constituent elements. For as long as the moment exists, each time when it is stimulated to activity the manifestation of its content, both sensory and motor, is ipso facto the momentís reproduction. What remains for us to investigate is the various modes and forms of reproduction, and also the conditions under which they occur.

        The simplest case we may suppose is a moment-consciousness set into activity by an appropriate stimulus. This activity runs a certain course and comes to an end; it ceases when the purpose of the moment is accomplished. A second stimulus will call forth a repetition of the activity, a recurrence of the phenomena; a third, a fourth, a fifth stimulus of the same kind will each time call to life the moment-consciousness; the moment will be produced again, will be reproduced. A repetition of the specific appropriate stimulus will be followed by a reproduction of the moment.

        The reappearance of the moment presents a series of moments situated at a distance of different time intervals. The members of this series are disconnected, inasmuch as each member does not contain the fact of its previous appearance. The present functioning activity is not felt in the moment by some modification effected in the content, it is not cognized as a reappearance. This is impossible from the very character of this form of reproduction, since the emerging moment is supposed to appear an unchanged content, while modifications, feeling, and cognition of previous appearances require something added to the moment which makes it different in content. The members in such a series are disconnected and do not enter into relation. Each moment presents a separate beat of consciousness. The previous appearances of the moment are not represented in its subsequent appearances; each on stands by itself. No modification is produced in the organization of the moment by the previous history of its life activity, no "trace" is left by and of former experience. On each occasion the same psychic content is reproduced.

        Since the form of consciousness, now under consideration, is of such a nature as to have no modification left by each separate beat of the moment, no connections are formed by the fact of functioning. Only that connection exists which is given in the organic constitution. In other words, we may say that a being with such a type of moment-consciousness does not profit by individual experience; it does not, and cannot get any acquired characters during its individual life existence. It lives only by what has been obtained by the process of natural selection, during the life history of the species.

        Primary sensory elements are certainly present, but secondary sensory elements may be absent as it depends entirely as to whether such connections requisite for secondary sensory elements have been established by variation and natural selection in the phylogenetic history of the moment. We may possibly say that while such connections are absent in the lower stage of the moment, they are present in a higher stage. Both stages, however, lack the formation of acquired characters during their individual history.

        Such states of the moment consciousness may be largely hypothetical, but they are probably present in the very lowest representatives in the scale of evolution. The throwing out of pseudopodia in the amoeba are as perfect in the daughter amoeba as in the mother before fusion has taken place. The young vorticella is just as efficient as its parent in its sudden spring-like reactions of contracture and expansion, both of its body and of its long attached thread-like fibre. What is present is in all probability some primitive primary psycho-biological element, a germ out of which the elements of the higher forms of psychic life have differentiated.

        The structure and functions of the higher forms of life have become differentiated out of the homogeneous activity of lower forms. The sensory nerve cell, the recipient of the stimulation, like the muscle cell, the reagent to stimuli, has evolved from the primitive cell by greater and greater differentiation, both of structure and function. In the crustaceans, invertebrates, and lower vertebrates where motor reactions to stimuli are more or less complex and varied, the sensory aspect of the moment is probably correspondingly complicated,―organic connections are present giving rise to secondary sensory elements, constituting the material of perceptual life.

        The soft-bodied hermit crab as soon as he hatches out from the egg looks for a shell to fit his body in, to protect it from danger, and does the fitting and measuring of the shell with as delicate a nicety and circumspection as his seemingly more experienced older relatives. As a matter of fact, experience does not count here,―a baby hermit crab is as learned as its parent. Not even organic modifications are acquired, the organization or mechanism is ready, and the first appropriate stimulus sets into activity reactions to external conditions in the most perfect way of which this organization is capable. The butterfly, the ant, the bee on emerging from their chrysalis are as perfect in their reactions as any of the adult individuals. Acquired characteristics count for nothing, inherited organization is everything.

        In the lower vertebrates such as fishes, acquired characters, modifications formed during the life time of the individual begin to appear, but this is only in its germ; here too inherited organization is everything. The mechanism is ready and perfect as soon as it comes into life, and enters into relation with the condition of the external environment with such a type of organization is perfect from the start and has reached its maturity at birth. The contents of the moment cannot be enriched, the internal relations cannot be improved,―no modifications can be brought about in its sensory response and motor reactions. External stimuli set the organization into activity with an unvaried psychic content, with an unalterable psycho-physiological structure and motor manifestations. The content of such a moment is fixed and unalterable. This low stage differs but little from reflex activity; in fact, such a type of psychosis my be termed reflex moment-consciousness.


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