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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.

© 1904




WE have pointed out that recognition is specially characteristic of representative elements as against cognition of sensory elements. Let us inspect the matter somewhat more closely. What does recognition imply? When we meet a friend of ours whom we have not seen for years, and it takes us time to recognize him; when we meet an acquaintance to whom we have been but recently introduced, and we have a hard struggle to identify him; when we hear a fairy story and recognize the old scenes of fairy-land we had wandered through in the dusk of the evening; when we read a book hastily glanced through before and have a faint recognition of the content as the argument now clearly unfolds before our view, do we not under all these circumstances recall something that has gone by? Does not re-cognition really mean recall, re-membrance? Recognition then implies memory. Representation involves recollection, revival, recall, and all along with vividness and functional relationship constitute the main characteristics of representative elements.

            What happens now when the process of degeneration sets into the domain of representative life? The functional side of relationship is affected. It means some form of functional dissociation. Vividness and recognition or recall are equally involved, both become weakened and vague in proportion to the extent and depth of the process of degeneration. Ordinarily all the three aspects are equally affected, and along with functional dissociation. Vividness and recall are greatly reduced. There are, however, cases which seem to show that vividness may be affected along with functional relationship of the representative elements, but that recognition or recall may remain clear and distinct. This peculiar affection of representative life will give rise to the formation of double or multiple personality, although memory may be fully present and fade away gradually. Under such conditions the patient feels that the portions of his life thus affected are strange to him; they appear as if they belong to another man’s life, notwithstanding the testimony of memory to the contrary. The patient regards these dissociated tracts of his being as one does anaesthetic portions of his body. One may sec them as belonging to one's body, but does not directly feel them as his own. Such dissociated fields of consciousness, not brightened by the vivid light of mental activity, are really outside the range of one’s own personality and appear to belong to the life-existence of another person. The following account sent to me may serve as a good illustration:

            "Now that a year and a half has passed, I may tell you my experience. Then, it was such a very personal matter that I kept it to myself.

            "I woke to find that eighteen months had passed since I fell asleep. That year and a half was blank. I could vividly remember my life from very infancy, but the experiences of those eighteen months were not a part of it.

            "I could remember what I had done during this period in somewhat the way we remember the daily doings of an acquaintance, though far less vividly, and it seemed it was not me, though I know full well it was. This was sufficient to enable me to keep my engagements, and so my acquaintances, though noticing a change in me, did not know what had happened.

            "Really my mental life in the two phases of personality is as different as day and night, but the habits, being well organized, persist through both, and the habits are the most noticed characteristics of those we know except in the case of some few intimate friends.

            "The change or waking occurred not quickly, but gradually. I was sitting by my window reading—as it happened-something of Herbert Spencer’s. Something there touched a chord that had ceased to vibrate over a year before. One point in the chain of my past experience found, all was quickly regained.

            "Looking out of the window things seemed real—as I compared the view out of the window with what it was a minute before. It was a real living view to be seen with the eyes where there was a flat, faded, uninteresting picture.

            "The great, great world opened up before me, not to the ocular vision tone, but to the mental eye. Again I felt the thrill of living awaken those chords of sympathy that bind each thing that is with all that is, has been, or is to be.

            "During that day and the next, I made a great many observations, comparing the two phases of personality—the strong and the weak, as I will call them.

            "Alas! I woke to fall asleep again. I hope, I pray, there is a waking, for one day of life is worth more than a year of sleep.

            "It was only a few days later, I don't know exactly how long, when going back into precisely the same environment, routine habit in its favor, the weaker proved the stronger, and pulled me, dragged me back.

            "For a few months the personality was very unstable, changing phase slightly from day to day. It finally settled down, but is a very weak personality. I go on without much interest in the world, able to make a living, but having few joys and few sorrows, a dull, dull life. The past forgotten, almost as fast as passed, little thought of the future, and little of the great world about me. I know it is a great world, because I once could see, but that now to me is less than another’s testimony.

            "As a boy I went to school very little, but read much; I read because there was something in books I wanted to get at. I took especial delight in scientific study. Except the writing of a few scientific thinkers I never read a book through from cover to cover, but searched through it for the particular mental food I was in need of. What I read I sifted into two parts: the bulkiest, useless to me, I slung away; the substance of the other was bound up in my mental growth, and became a part of me, never to be lost or forgotten. Oh, where now? My books were my companions.

            "Having saved a little money for the purpose, I quit work three years ago and entered high school. Decided to study Latin, and found it difficult. Not being accustomed to give up what I had undertaken, I determined to conquer it. As it became more difficult, my determination became one fixed idea to which everything else was sacrificed.

            "The studies I loved and all of my pleasures were given up.

            "In eighteen months I had exhausted myself mentally. As I had felt my powers failing, life had been one living torment. Happy for me, each day was forgotten as it passed.

            "From sheer exhaustion I gave up the fight. From that moment a load was off my mind. I felt stronger.

            "It was a few days after this, a Friday or a Saturday, I think, I had the experience I have related. It was going back into the same school-room that brought me back.

            "During the remaining two months of school I read other things during study time, and studied none of my lessons, but found I could recite and stand my exams far better than before. One exception, I spent three hours a week at Latin with my teacher.

            "During these two months everyone thought me very original, but the fact is, every original thought I expressed during those two months had its birth and growth to maturity in those two days previous, and the thought, being put into word form was carried over the gulf that separates the two periods.

            "I could not remember in itself that period of the strong personality, I could not call to mind its feelings and aspirations, but I could remember its thoughts, because they seemed to have been stereotyped into word (language) form. Language seemed to be the intermediate link that connected the two phases. Throughout the two months the thought of those two days seemed to have made a far deeper impression on memory than anything else, and, except as counted by days and hours, those two days were a longer period of time than the previous eighteen months.

            "A few days or weeks, I don't remember now, though I can look it up, after my experience of the strong personality, feeling that it was fast fading from memory, I wrote an account of it, some sixty pages, taking great care to make it accurate. Unfortunately, that record has been destroyed. I have no direct memory of the period of strong personality now, and all I may say about it is based on my memory of that record.

            "It was written between midnight and three o'clock, and I got up from bed to write it. I had previously come to the conclusion it must be consigned to writing for fear of my death, as I believed it might be of value to someone.

            "When I found it fast fading from memory, and realized that when it was forgotten I should cease to endeavor to let the prisoner out and he should lie unconscious in his prison till its threescore and ten were out, and then cease to exist without having known of his own existence, except for the period of his first score of years. It was this thought that took me out of bed at midnight to record the experience, for 1 thought even if it were forgotten, if I had it recorded in my own handwriting, I should know something of the prisoner, and though having no personal interest in him, should do something to set him free.

            "At the end of the school-year I graduated, Latin not excepted, and then began work at a trade, and in that change of environment have almost forgotten my two years of school-life, which shows what a weak personality I have now. However, I have done better than I once expected, for I have made a living, and am giving satisfaction to my employers, have been advanced, and have good promise of further advancement.

            "In the weak phase it is characteristic that thought and language are inseparable. It is impossible to think faster than speak (or speak mentally). In the strong, vigorous thought is so independent of words or verbal representation that I can think ten or even twenty times as fast as I can speak. In the weak, I think in images of words; in the strong, I think in images of things.

            "In both phases of personality life is made up of seeing and doing, and what I do is adapted and directed by what I see, but there is this vast difference: in the one, the connective link is only habit, in the other it is a vast network of thought and feeling that constitutes mental life.

            "In the weak I may speak of ‘what I believe’ just as I do in the strong, forgetting that it is of no importance what I believe about most things, as it has no part in directing my conduct, that being really (however I may deceive myself) controlled by habit. In the strong, previous to every act throughout the day, is a long but quick train of thought which determined it, and this train of thought is controlled by my beliefs.”

            Ordinarily, however, both vividness and memory are affected, and this is especially true in severe cases of dissociation. Since loss of memory is the most obvious and striking pathological manifestation, it is natural that the latter alone should become the index of the severity of the extent and depth of the mental lesion. The breaks and gaps in the continuity of personal consciousness are gauged by loss of memory. Mental systems not bridged over by memory are so many independent individualities, and if started on their career with a good supply of mental material, they form so many independent personalities. For, after all, where memory is gone the dissociation is complete. This dissociation can be traced to functional as against structural interrelationship of psychophysiological elements and systems.


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