Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/23

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13
THE GROWTH OF THE WILL.

clearly that a vast space of time is required to bring any acquisition up to the point of being transmitted to a perceptible amount. So that the time obstacle still recurs; and Professor Spence's difficulty of permutations and combinations recurs with it. Indeed, if his computations were good as against my view of the will, it would be little less crushing against the start of voluntary power in the race: we should need to substitute, in order to the development of humanity, for millions of years, millions of millions. It is evident, to me at least, that there must be a shorter road, in both cases, than his calculations would suppose.

6. I am quite ready to grant that our voluntary acquisitions repose upon certain established tendencies — call them instinctive or hereditary — and that the Professor is perfectly correct in describing the mature will as a mixture of organic maturation with proper acquisition. But I should not quite concur in his mode of expressing the proportions of the two. I think I could show that the brain of man, while it must contain at birth many preëstablished groupings or connections, is distinguished for its flexibility, adaptation, or educability; and that, if we were to sum up the contents of any of our leading acquisitions, say speech, the primordial part — the supposed capacity of articulation — which the Professor thinks would need millions of tentatives, is the base for a superstructure of enormous extent, needing nothing to account for it but the power of retentiveness operating upon these few articulate modes. Consider the power of speaking seven languages, and how little of this can be by any possibility transmitted, and we must admit that, somehow or other, a vast number of connections can be established in the lifetime of an individual; every reasonable allowance being made for hereditary tendencies.

7. In order to prove that we possess by hereditary transmission a countless number of organized muscular arrangements, upon which our acquisitions are based, Professor Spence adduces the instances of abnormal exaltation of capacity, under trance, mesmerism, somnambulism, and other extraordinary conditions. For my own part, I doubt whether these phenomena have been sufficiently investigated to be turned to this use. We may readily suppose that the hereditary tendencies may be inflamed by mental excitement to the ancestral level; in other words, that I can be made to do, without the full measure of training, all that my forefathers may have attained to. This is like the case of forgotten memories revived in fever. But that I should by being mesmerized, or by being thrown into a trance, perform feats that no one of my ancestors had ever been educated to perform — as, for example, ballet-dancing or rope-walking — is not within the legitimate application of the law of heredity. It would be like water rising above its source. I am not disputing the phenomena themselves; but I think they need some other principles for their explanation, and, if quoted as proving the extent of our hereditary organization, they have the defect of proving too much.