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

© 1914




         A further examination of the synthetic moment reveals two stages, a lower and a higher. The moment may consist of a nucleus having only one kind of sensory elements and of a net-work of subsidiary relations belonging to the domain of the same sensory elements. The animal may trace its food or its prey by the sense of smell alone. This act becomes more perfect with further function. The modifications accumulate in the domain of the same sense-element and the adaptations occur in a relatively simple one-sided sensori-motor apparatus. Modifications of such a character occur phylogenetically in the sensory apparatus of the lower invertebrates, such as crustacea, arthropodes, and possibly also in the lower forms of vertebrates. Such a phylogenetic accumulation in these low types of moments is formed only by variation and natural selection, while in the case of the synthetic moment the accumulation is formed during the life history of the particular individual. The one is racial acquisition, the other is individual experience. Both, however, may agree in the general character of the modification effected. The modifications are in one sensory organ, and the psychic moment-content consists of similar sense-elements. Such a stage of psychic activity may be termed simple accumulative synthetic moment-consciousness.

         If A represents the first occurrence of the moment, the first functioning of the simple sensori-motor apparatus as given by phylogenesis, and if a be the modification effected, then the accumulative process may be represented by the powers of a; thus the first will be A, the next is A1a1, the following is A2a2, then A3a3 and so on. The total process to the point of maturity may be represented by the following formula: A, A1a1, A2a2,  A3a3, A4a4. . . . Anan. Anan represents the highest stage of perfection reached by the simple accumulative synthetic moment.

        The synthetic moment may also have a higher stage where many different sensori-motor elements are synthetized, the accumulative modifications occur along different lines of sensory responses and motor reactions. The moment reaches here the highest form of consciousness as mere perceptual in character. The fish perceives its prey not only by smell, but also by sight along with muscular and touch sensations; all of them go to form the percept of the prey yonder, as far as perception of fish space is concerned.

        The American flounder of the Atlantic coast may be taken as an illustration. Although the flounder is perfectly quiet, almost lying motionless at the bottom of the tank, only occasionally moving his small protruding eye, no sooner is some small fly thrown into the tank, than the flounder at once darts in that direction, and attacks its prey with a snap. I wanted to find out how far visual perception is concerned in the tracing of the prey, and how far sense of smell and touch are important in this particular fish at least. The flounder was deprived of its organs of sight, and after having been given about twenty-four hours time to recover from the effects of the operation, it was thrown into a tank teeming with little fishes on which it feeds.

        The flounder settled to the bottom, but in about a few minutes raised itself in the attitude of attack, so highly characteristic of this species, either smelling the little ones or feeling the vibrations made in the water by the swimming movements of the little fish; it made a dart in the direction of a whole mass of them, but missed. This has been repeated many times over, the flounder failing every time and only snapping water or air bubbles. The little folk soon became emboldened and avoiding his front they came from behind pecking at his blind eye. The flounder could not reach these little fellows.

        Moreover, the bottom of the tank where the blind flounder was lying was full of small sea-robins which like to walk on the bottom with their highly sensitive leg-feelers. The blind flounder did not attack them, although with his eyes in good order, he would have instantly attacked the sea-robins. It appears then that the flounder tracks its prey by the sense of sight mainly, while the other senses are indefinite guides. Still the other senses seem to take an active part in tracing the prey, as the blind flounder was most of the time in an attitude of attack. Evidently he was smelling the prey or feeling its movements all the time and was aware of its presence, though the senses without sight could not give him the definite direction in which the prey was to be found. In other words, the other senses awaken only the sensations of presence of the food, but do not give its direction and location.

        It is highly probable, then, as far as we can infer from: this experiment as to the psychic state of the fish, that the flounder does not get a definite percept, unless many different sensory elements are combined in a synthesis giving rise to a well defined motor reaction of more or less perfect adaptation. The synthetic moment, then, in this particular species at least, seems to be of a highly complex character, inasmuch as many different sense-elements go to make up its content.

        Similarly it is affirmed of the sea-robin that, if its delicate leg-feelers are cut off, the fish is unable to feed. If that be true, then the touch sensation is important here and enters as a determining element in the moment along with other elements coming from other sense-organs. In the dog smell is mainly the determining factor, but the functioning of other senses are requisite to form secondary sensory elements; here too the: moment is made up of many series of various sense-elements. In the bird, in the ape, in the man, sight is the chief element in perception, but the percept arises not from visual elements alone, but from a synthesis of a multitude of elements coming from other sense-organs the visual elements often taking the lead.

        From a purely biological standpoint we can understand the importance of the leading part played by the visual elements in the psychic life of the higher vertebrates and especially of that of man. It is of the greatest advantage in the struggle for existence to develop a sense organ that admits of the most delicate objective discrimination. No other senses, not even that of hearing, are so free from the general organic sensation as the sense of sight. Hence the sensory elements coming from the sense organs other than sight are confused and lack the objective clearness characteristic of the sense of sight. The visual sense further is of the highest sensitivity to extremely low and distant stimulations such as are produced by ether waves. An animal therefore that will by natural selection have its moment consciousness organized round a nucleus of highest sensitivity such as that of visual sense elements will have better chances to survive and succeed in the struggle for existence, Still, even in man the elements coming from other sense organs may become predominating in the nucleus and give rise to various mental types, such as audiles, motiles, and so on. This holds specially true of the higher representative elements, A moment-consciousness that has a varied content of many different sensory-elements synthetized in one compound, accompanied on the motor side with a complex of motor reactions may be termed compound synthetic moment-consciousness.

        The compound synthetic moment-consciousness is characterized in its series of accumulations in the same way as is the simple synthetic moment, the only difference being the complexity of the lines of accumulations. The accumulated sensori-elements of the same kind or of the same sense-organ form primary compounds among themselves and secondary or double and treble compounds with other compounded series of sensory elements. If V represents the original primary visual sensory element, T tactual, A auditory, O olfactory, and M muscular sensory elements, then the series for the development of the highly adapted A aspect of the moment may be represented by the formula already given, in our analysis, namely: A, A1a1, A2a2,  A3a3, A4a4. . . . Anan.  The V aspect of the moment similarly gives V, V1v1, V2v2, V3v3, V4v4. . . . VnVn.

        The T, O, and M series will give respectively the following formulę:

T1     T1t1, T2t2, T3t3, T4t4. . . . . TnTn.

O1      O1o1, O2o2, O3o3, O4o4. . . . . Onon.

M1      M1m1, M2m2, M3m3, M4m4. . . . . Mnmn.

        The process of composition begins not at the first members of the series, but rather further on. Some accumulations must be made first in each series separately before combinations of the different series can take place. For simplicity sake we may postulate that the process of composition of all lines begins in each alike, although this may not be the case; let us assume that such a process begins in the tenth stage of the series. Before that, say in the third stage compositions may be found only on two or three lines, such as V5v5T5t5 or still further V5v5T5t5M5m5, or V6v6T6t6O6o6M6m6. The V precedes in the formula indicating its primary importance in the case of the moment where the visual sensory elements are mainly the guide for sensori-motor reactions, the visual sensations constituting the leading and central elements of the compound. In a moment of the same type but with a differently related content O or A may be the main elements of the compound, an element round which other sense-elements become grouped. The formula may then be O5o5T5t5M5m5, or in the case where A is predominant A5a5T5t5M5m5, etc. The synthetic moment will from its starting point, say  V10v10T10t10O10o10A10a10M10m10  proceed onward, reaching its height of development and adaptation in the compound VnvnTntnOnonAnanMnmn. This last stage of the moment has at its disposal the accumulations of all the previous synthetic moments both simple and compound. The compound synthetic moment is the heir of all previous acquisitions and accumulations, and, as such, may be characterized as the compound, accumulative, synthetic moment.

        Although the simple synthetic moment and the compound moment differ in character and complexity of content, they still agree in one general trait characteristic of the synthetic moment, namely, fixed synthesis. The series of sensory elements, both primary and secondary, that enter into the content of the moment are firmly combined. The elements of such compounds cannot get disengaged and do not therefore exist in a free state, they form stable compounds.

        The form of reproduction common to all the moments thus far examined is that of reinstatement. The sensori-motor elements of the moment are reinstated in all their reality. The moment in its successive stages of reproduction is brought to life by impressions coming from external stimuli. Primary and secondary sense-elements enter into the moment's constitution whenever it reappears. In both forms of the synthetic type, the moment with the recurrence of the reproductions, becomes enriched in sensory elements, primary and secondary; but these elements must be present, and, from the very nature of the types of moments under consideration, no other elements can possibly be present. The series in which the successive steps of the moment, desultory or synthetic, manifests itself is composed entirely of sensory elements, most or all of which vary but little from one beat of the moment to the other.

        The fact of the simple reinstatement is especially clear in the case of the desultory moment. Each reinstated moment induced by external stimuli is an exact copy of its predecessor. In the synthetic moment the content of two adjoining stages is a little varied, still the sensory elements constituting the content of the preceding moment is reinstated in the succeeding one. It is true that even the desultory moment is not absolutely smooth in its course of repetitions or reinstatements. Interruptions of functions due to unfavorable stimuli often occur within the series, interruptions, which may be brought about by artificial conditions and in which different psycho-motor responses are interpolated, but these responses do not enter into the content of the moment when the favorable conditions are restored,―the responses do not become habitual. Thus the rhythmical pulsations of the vorticella may be temporarily arrested by the evaporation of the liquid in which it is contained, but no number of evaporations will change the series of rhythmical pulsations by having stages of arrests interpolated into the series. Similarly it is highly questionable whether a fly, beetle, or cockroach could contract any habits.

        Some eminent psychologists go to the length of affirming that even the lowest representative animal life, the protozoa (possibly bacteria, bacilli), possess ideational and volitional processes, that the lower stages of mental life manifest association, reproduction, memory, cognition, and recognition. Other psychologists are more moderate, they regard the acquisition of knowledge as adaptation through habit, characteristic of the lowest representative of animal life. Thus one psychologist propounds the question, "How is it that we or the brute learn to do anything?" Does the amoeba learn at all? What belongs to our type of consciousness is assumed as being true of all types―the old psychological fallacy. "Learning," habits are biological variations characteristic of the higher types of consciousness and are not present In the lower forms of mental activity.

        It is highly questionable whether the formation of habits is possible even in the highest representatives of the invertebrata, such as the bee and the ant. The ant is probably largely guided by the sense of smell, while the bee is prompted in its activity both by smell and sight. The activities of these animals, though highly complex, are still fixed in their character becoming manifested with the recurrence of definite sensory stimulations. The individual acquires nothing by experience and forms no habits; everything is formed by the species. Spontaneous variation and natural selection are the only agencies of the relatively high organization and complex psycho-motor life-activity of the higher types of the synthetic moment.

        Habit is a character that does not belong to the desultory moment, it comes only with the birth of the synthetic moment. The fixed character of the desultory moment admitting of no modifications precludes the formation of any habits; the moment's reproduction therefore is reinstatement par excellence,―each reproduced moment being an exact copy of its original. The individual presents only the history of the species. The reproductions of the synthetic moment begin to show the history of the modifications which have appeared in the course of the moment's life activity. Each recurrent reproduction of the synthetic moment is an epitome of its individual life-history, an epitome of its ontogenetic psychogenesis.


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