Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/153

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149
IS MAN AN AUTOMATION
IS MAN AN AUTOMATON?
By Professor GEORGE STUART FULLERTON
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

FEW things are more irritating to the average man, who does not pretend to be a philosopher or a scientist, but respects the opinions of such, than to be told, by those whose word seems to carry authority, that he must regard himself as an automaton.

He has been accustomed to consider his own mind and the minds of his neighbors as of no little significance in the system of things. He says that he rose early, because he knew he had a long day's work before him; he took his bath, because he knew it was good for his health; he went to the dining-room, because he wanted his breakfast; he ran for the train, because he did not care to lose five minutes waiting for another; he whistled, that the conductor might hear him and might be induced to delay a moment; he climbed the stairs to his office, because the elevator seemed to be intolerably long in coming.

So it went all through the day. He did things because he wanted to, or because he thought he had to. Other men about him did things for the same reasons. His whole day seems to have been full of thoughts and feelings, plans and decisions; nor can he bring himself to believe that, had these been different, his actions and those of other men would have been what they were. So unequivocally does his experience appear to testify to all this, that it does not even occur to him to raise a question, until some professional questioner suggests a doubt.

But he spends the evening of such a day in his library, and, as he turns over the pages of certain volumes of scientific essays, his eye is caught by Professor Huxley's statement that "our mental conditions are simply the symbols in consciousness of the changes which take place automatically in the organism." If he is startled by this, his mind is by no means quieted when he turns to Professor Clifford and reads: "Thus we are to regard the body as a physical machine which goes by itself according to a physical law, that is to say, is automatic. An automaton is a thing which goes by itself when it is wound up, and we go by ourselves when we have had food."

To be sure, each of these writers softens the blow somewhat. Huxley tells us that we are conscious automata; and Clifford says that the body is not merely a machine, because consciousness goes with it. Nevertheless, this does not seem to make good the previous wrong. If