The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology/Part 2/VIII

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis
Abnormal Moments

The power of the moment's assimilation is well brought in the activity of abnormal moments. Distressing thoughts, gloomy ideas, painful sensations, and feelings of depression form a nucleus round which other mental states become firmly organized. A delusion arises which constitutes the moment-consciousness of the melancholiac. This moment assimilates all other cognate experiences. Everything that takes place is seized on by the moment and assimilated. The patient who believes that he has no intestines, or that he is made of glass and is transparent and hence hides himself from people, as his functions are open to the sight of outsiders, such a patient will make all experiences confirm and strengthen the delusion. The delusion constituting the predominant moment-consciousness in the patient's life absorbs and assimilates most, if not all of the material that gains access to the patient's psychic life. The moment like a cancerous growth expands, grows, and develops at the expense of other moments, starves them by cutting off their mental food supply. What cannot be used by the moment is rejected as waste material.

A similar state of affairs we meet with in paranoia as well as in many paranoidal states of a purely psychopathic character. A moment-consciousness is formed of high organizing and assimilating power. Any experience relevant and irrelevant entering consciousness is greedily absorbed and assimilated. Any flitting thought, any passing impression is worked in and organized into the moment. All other moments fall a prey to this dominant all-absorbing moment.

In some cases the assimilating capacity of the moment seems to be limitless. In fact, the more it assimilates, the greater grows its craving and capacity for getting more material. The most trivial facts, the slightest sense-impressions all are pressed into the service of the despotically ruling moment. The insignificant becomes significant and points to the central delusion.

In other cases the limit of the process of assimilation soon reaches its maximum point, more psychic material is rejected by the moment. Such conditions are to be found in various states of dissociation manifested in different forms of psychopathic diseases. The moment's capacity for assimilating new material is of limited range, soon reaches its utmost bounds and loses for the time being all capacity for further assimilation. Such states may be found in amnesia. The moment is then said to be dissociated from the main current of psychic life-activity. Specific stimuli under definite conditions are requisite to resuscitate the moment and arouse its power of assimilation.

It is certainly interesting and instructive to study the fluctuations of the moment's power of assimilation in abnormal mental states. In some forms of mental diseases and general psychic derangements the moment may be of ephemeral and unstable character; it may dissolve soon after its birth. Such conditions are to be found in various forms of maniacal states and in the initial stages of many cases of general paresis.

In psychomotor manifestations of a psychopathic character moments-consciousness are often formed and dissolved like soap-bubbles. The investigation of them is of the utmost interest and value. In hypnosis moments of such a nature may be experimentally induced and studied. The whole process can thus be followed through all the stages of evolution and dissolution.

A greater condition of stability is to be found in the various automatisms preceding or following epileptic seizures, or in the so-called "psychic equivalents of epilepsy." The pure "psychic epilepsies" are essentially hypnoidic states, moments of stable character. This can be demonstrated both by observation and experiment.

The principle of selection is fundamental in the life- history of the moment. The whole tendency of the moment is to select material conducive to the furtherance of its activity and to reject all material that thwarts its functions and growth. This process of selection is from a biological standpoint essential for the survival and development of the moment.

The development of the moment may become arrested on some one stage of ontogenesis, and then the moment, belonging to a higher type resembles in its psychic activity that of a lower type; although it has many vestiges of the higher type, it is greatly modified in nature and as such really differs from the healthy normal representative of the corresponding low type. Still we may affirm that the arrested high type has virtually become a moment of low type. The state of psychosis of the imbecile, or idiot, may be taken as a good illustration. The mental activity of the idiot resembles the lower types of animal psychosis. Although as we have already pointed out, the consciousness of the idiot and that of the animal are by no means identical, still both belong to a low type of moment, and as such, they may be put on the same level.

In pathological cases where mental degeneration sets in we also have a similar course. The moment of the higher type becomes degraded and falls to the level of lower and lowermost types, according to the advance of the process of degeneration. Such states are to be found in the degenerative psychosis characteristic of secondary dementia. When the pathological process is wide, intense, persistent, and lasting, then secondary dementia results in most cases of mental degeneration. Should, however, the process become arrested then the moment simply falls to the level of a relatively lower type.