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

© 1922



         In my work on Psychopathology I lay special stress on the fact that the psychopathic individual has a predisposition to dissociative states. Early experiences and training in childhood enter largely into the formation of such a predisposition. Still, there is no doubt that a sensitive nervous system is required―a brain susceptible to special stimuli of the external environment. This, of course, does not mean that the individual must suffer from stigmata of degeneration. On the contrary, it is quite possible, and in many patients we actually find it to be so, that the psychopathic individual may be even of a superior organization. It is the sensitivity and the delicacy of nervous organization that make the system susceptible to injurious stimulations, to which a lower form of organization could be subjected with impunity.

         An ordinary clock can be handled roughly without disturbance of its internal workings, but the delicate and complicated mechanism of a chronometer requires careful handling and special, favorable conditions for its normal functioning. Unfavorable conditions are more apt to affect a highly complex mechanism than a roughly made instrument. It is quite probable that it is the superior minds and more highly complex mental and nervous organizations that are subject to psychopathic states or states of dissociation. Of course, unstable minds are also subject to dissociative states, but we must never forget the fact that highly organized brains, on account of their very complexity, are apt to become unstable under unfavorable conditions. A predisposition to dissociation may occur either in degenerative minds or in minds superior to the average. Functional psychosis requires a long history of dissociated, subconscious shocks, suffered by a highly or lowly organized nervous system, a long history dating back to early childhood.

        As Mosso puts it: "The vivid impression of a strong emotion may produce the same effect as a blow on the head or some physical shock." We may, however, say that no functional psychosis, whether somatopsychosis or psychoneurosis, can ever be produced simply by physical shocks. In all functional psychoses there must be a mental background, and it is the mental background alone that produces the psychosis and determines the character of the psychopathic state.

         Fear is an important factor in the etiology of psychopathic affections which include somatopsychoses and psychoneuroses.

         To regard fear as "error," as do some sectarians, is absurd, and is certainly unscientific. Abnormal fear which is the basis of all functional nervous or psychopathic maladies, is essentially a pathological process affecting the organs in general and the nervous system in particular in as definite a way as the invasion and infection of the organism by various species of bacteria, bacilli, and other micro-organisms which attack the individual during his lifetime.

         Like infectious diseases, the deviations, abnormalities, and excesses of the fear instinct are acquired by the individual in the course of his relations with the external environment, and are as real and substantial as are syphilis, smallpox, diphtheria, cholera, and the bubonic plague. To regard them as imaginary or to relegate them to the action of Providence or to heredity is theoretically a misconception, and practically a great danger to humanity.

         There is nowadays a veritable craze for heredity and eugenics. Biology is misconceived, misinterpreted, and misapplied to social problems, and to individual needs and ailments. Everything is ascribed to heredity, from folly and crime to scratches and sneezes. The goddess Heredity is invoked at each flea-bite―in morsu publicis Deum invocare.

         Even war is supposed to be due to the omnipotent deity of Heredity. Superior races by their patriotism and loyalty destroy the weak and the helpless, and relentlessly exterminate all peaceful tribes. Such warlike stock comes of superior clay. The dominant races have some miraculous germ-plasm, special "unit characters," wonderful dominant "units" which, like a precious heritage, these races transmit unsullied and untarnished to their descendants.

         Wars, carnage, butcheries make for progress, culture, and evolution. Our boasted civilization with its "scientific" business thoroughness and its ideal of "efficiency" attempts to carry into effect this quasi-evolutionary doctrine―this apotheosis of brute force under the aegis of science. The eugenic belief is really a recrudescence of the ancient savage superstition of the magic virtues of noble blood and of divine king stock.

         All nervous, mental, neuropathic, and psychopathic maladies are supposed to be a matter of heredity. If people are poor, ignorant, superstitious, stupid, degraded, brutal, and sick, the eugenists unhesitatingly put it all down to poor stock.

         The eugenic remedy is as simple as it is believed to be efficacious: Introduce by legislation "efficient" laws favoring "eugenic" marriage, and teach the masses control of births. The select and chosen stock alone should multiply―the millennium is then bound to come. Such is the doctrine of our medico-biological sages.

        "Scientific" farmers and breeders of vegetables, fruits, and cattle are regarded as competent judges of human "breeders." Agriculturists and horticulturists set themselves up as advisers in "the business of raising good crops of efficient children." Bachelors, spinsters, and the childless generally, are specially versed in eugenic wisdom and pedagogics.

        All social ills and individual complaints are referred to one main source―heredity. With the introduction of eugenic legislation, with the sterilization of the socially unfit, among whom the greatest men and women may be included, with the breeding of good "orthodox, common stock," and with eugenic Malthusian control of births, all evil and diseases on earth will cease, while the Philistine "superman" will reign supreme forevermore.

        In the Middle Ages all diseases and epidemics, all wars, all social and private misfortunes were considered as visitations of Divine wrath. The fear instinct held sway, terrorizing poor, deluded humanity. In modern times our would-be eugenic science refers all ills of the flesh and woes of the mind to an outraged Heredity. The dark ages had resort to prayers, facts, and penitence, while our age childishly pins its faith to the miraculous virtues and rejuvenating, regenerative powers of legislative eugenic measures, and to the eugenic Malthusian control of births.

        Our scientists in eugenics gather hosts of facts, showing by elaborate statistical figures that the family history of neurotics reveals stigmata of degeneration in the various members of the family. The eugenic inquirers do not stop for a moment to think over the fact that the same sort of evidence can be easily brought in the case of most people. In fact, the eugenists themselves, when inquiring into the pedigree of talent and genius, invariably find somewhere in the family some form of disease or degeneration. This sort of "scientific" evidence leads some eugenic speculators, without their noticing the reductio ad absurdum, to the curious conclusion or generalization that degeneration is present in the family history of the best and the worst representatives of the human race.

        The so-called scientific method of the eugenists is faulty, in spite of the rich display of colored plates, stained tablets, glittering biological speculations, brilliant mathematical formulę, and complicated statistical calculations. The eugenists pile Ossa on Pelion of facts by the simple method of enumeration which Bacon and the thinkers coming after him have long ago condemned as puerile and futile. From the savage's belief in sympathetic, imitative magic with its consequent superstitions, omens, and taboos down to the articles of faith and dogmas of the eugenists, we find the same faulty, primitive thought, guided by the puerile, imbecile method of simple enumeration, and controlled by the wisdom of the logical post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

        What would we say of the medical man who should claim that measles, mumps, cholera, typhoid fever, yellow fever, malaria, tetanus, and various other infectious diseases are hereditary by quoting learnedly long tables of statistics to the effect that for several generations members of the same family suffered from the same infectious diseases? What would We say of the medical advice forbidding marriage to individuals whose family history reveals the presence of exanthemata? We stamp out epidemics not by eugenic measures, but by the cleansing of infectious filth, and by the extermination of pathogenic micro-organisms.

        Every human being has a predisposition to smallpox, cholera, tetanus, bubonic plague, typhus fever, malaria, and to like infectious diseases, but there is no inherent necessity for everyone to fall a victim to the action of pathogenic organisms, if the preventive and sanitary conditions are good and proper. No one is immune against the action of bullets, cannon balls, shells, and torpedoes, or to the action of various poisons, organic and inorganic, but one is not doomed by fate to be killed by them, if one does not expose himself to their deadly action.

        Every living organism is, by the very nature of its cellular tissues, predisposed to wounding by sharp instruments, or to the burning action of fire, but this does not mean an inherent organic weakness to which the organism must necessarily submit and perish. We are all of us predisposed to get injured and possibly killed, when we fall down from a high place, or when we are run over by an automobile or by a locomotive, but there is no fatalistic necessity about such accidents, if care is taken that they should not occur.

        We may be predisposed to neurosis by the very nature of complexity, delicacy, and sensitivity inherent in the structure of a highly organized nervous system, and still we may remain healthy and strong all our life long, provided we know how to keep away from noxious agencies. The creed of the inevitable fatality of neurosis is as much of a superstition as the Oriental belief in the fatalism of infectious diseases, plagues, and accidents of all kinds. Such fatalistic superstitions are dangerous, fatal, because they distract the attention from the actual cause and from the requisite prophylactic measures.

        We go far afield in search for the remote source of our troubles, when the cause is close at hand. We need only open our eyes to see the filth of our towns, the foul, loathsome slums of our cities, the miserable training, the wretched education given to our children, in order to realize at a glance the source of our ills and ailments. We should lay the guilt at the door of our social order. We starve our young. We starve our children physically and mentally. We piously sacrifice our tender children and the flower of our youth to the greedy, industrial Moloch of a military, despotic, rapacious plutocracy.

        Witness semi-civilized Europe with its lauded culture brutally shedding the blood of its youth and manhood on the altar of commercial patriotism! It is not heredity, it is the vicious conditions of life that stunt the physical, nervous, and mental growth of our young generation. When we are confronted with the miserable, degraded, crippled forms of our life, we fall back cheerfully on some remote grandparent, and credulously take refuge in the magic panacea of eugenics.

        The practical aspect is clear. Psychopathic neurosis in its two varieties, somatopsychosis and psychoneurosis, is not hereditary, but acquired. We should not shift the blame on former generations and have resort to eugenics, but we must look to the improvement of mental hygienic conditions of early childhood, and to the proper education of the individual.

        It is easy to put the blame on grandparents,―they are dead and cannot defend themselves. Could they arise from their graves, they could tell some bitter truths to their descendants who are ready to shift responsibility to other people's shoulders. It is about time to face the truth fairly and squarely, a truth which is brought out by recent investigations in psychopathology, that no matter where the fons et origo of neurosis be, whether in self-preservation and its accompanying fear instinct, the condition of life primordial, or in the other forms of self-preservation, the formation of psychopathic neurosis with all its characteristic protean symptoms is not hereditary, but acquired. Neurosis arises within the life cycle of the individual; it is due to faulty training and harmful experience of early child life.

        Future medicine will be largely prophylactic, preventive, sanitary, hygienic, dietetic. What holds true of medicine in general holds true of that particular branch of it that deals with neurosis. The treatment will become largely prophylactic, preventive, educational, or pedagogic. It is time that the medical and teaching profession should realize that functional neurosis is not congenital, not inborn, not hereditary, but is the result of a defective, fear-inspiring education in early child life.

        The psychopathic diathesis can be overcome by dispelling the darkness of ignorance and credulity with their false fears and deceptive hopes, above all, by fortifying the critical, controlling, guiding consciousness. Let sun and air into the obscure cobwebbed regions of the child and man. The gloom and the ghosts of the fear instinct are dispersed by the light of reason.

         As the great Roman poet, Lucretius, well puts it:

"Hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
Non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
Discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque."


1. "Darkness and terror of the soul are not dispelled by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of the day, but by the rational aspect of nature."


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