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

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis
The Synthetic Moment and its Reproduction

In our last analysis we have examined the trait of reproduction in the lowest types of psychic life, such as the different forms of desultory moment-consciousness. We may now turn to the higher types of moments and show that in them, too, the same fundamental character is present, only of course, becoming more complicated and more differentiated with the progress of psychic life. The moment which we have thus far studied is one in which growth is impossible as the reproduction of the moment does not embody the previous manifestations of the moment. In other words, the type examined is of such a character as only to synthetize content within the occurring moment, but it lacks synthesis of moments themselves. The reproduction is of inherited content, it is phylogenetic in nature. We turn now to higher types of moments in which content and moments are synthetized alike. Such a type of psychic activity may be termed synthetic consciousness, and its moment the synthetic moment-consciousness.

The reproduction of the synthetic moment-consciousness is not isolated, it stands in relation to the antecedent and subsequent moments. Each reproduction modified the next one to a certain degree, however, slight that may be. The moment is essentially modifiable and capable of improvement up to a certain point of which its internal organization permits. The reproduction of the synthetic type bears in its organization the stamp of its previous life history. We may say that just as the moment of the desultory type is an epitome of phylogenetic evolution, so is the moment of the synthetic type an epitome of ontogenetic development.

In its lowest form the synthetic moment undergoes modification by the fact of previous functioning activity. The synthetic moment in its reproduction may be represented in a series of moments, each reproduced moment is modified by the preceding moment and in its turn modifies the succeeding moment. The series is interrelated and interconnected. Each link in the series includes the previous link, and is in its turn included by the succeeding link. Each member in the series possesses itself of the wealth and being of its predecessor, and is itself inherited by its successor. The whole series is really a history of the continued growth and development of the one moment-consciousness passing through various stages in the way of reaching maturity, both in structure and function.

It is true that once the synthetic moment has reached its maturity it may go on reproducing in the same way as the desultory moment, but the element of modification is still present, although it cannot be so clearly seen by a superficial examination. To detect this element of modifying influence of one reproduction on the succeeding one, we must watch the moment closely and, if possible, experiment on it. As long as the content of the moment remains relatively unchanged, no change is observed in its reproductions after having reached the acme of development. Should, however, some change be introduced during the functioning of the moment, at once this modification reappears on the reproduction of the moment.

A change may be introduced in the moment in a somewhat different way, namely, by letting it rest for a time longer than requisite for its restitution by arresting its activity. This introduces a change in the internal constitution of the moment, weakening the intensity of its activity, or loosening the co-ordination of its internal relationship. The co-ordination and activity of the psychic elements synthetized in the moment became shaken; the stability of the moment is interfered with; its equilibrium gained in growth and development by the successive series of modifications is partially overthrown; the moment becomes unstable, its structure and function regress and fall back a few steps lower in the course of its adaptation to the conditions of the external environment, adaptations acquired during the life history of its individual development. The mere arrest of the moment's function for a shorter or longer period at once tells on the subsequent reproduction of the moment. The function of the moment succeeding the period of arrest is less perfect; the moment is less adapted in its reactions to external stimuli. These facts, it seems, clearly indicate that in reaching maturity the moment has not lost its capacity for adaptability and modification.

Furthermore, the fact of arrest with subsequent modification and degradation of function shows that the adaptation reached by the moment in its mature state is really kept in stable equilibrium by its more or less continued reproduction. Each reproduction of the moment is indispensable to the existence of the next one, and manifests its influence by maintaining the succeeding moment in the stage of maturity reached by the long series of modifications.

The moment of the synthetic type profits by experience, the moment of the desultory type does not. We realize now the difference between the moment of the desultory type and the moment of the synthetic type. The desultory reproductive moment is highly stable in its organization, formed by variations and the iron hand of natural selection; it is crystalized in character, function does not effect its organization. The reproductive moment of the synthetic type, however, while having on the one hand as its basis a functioning apparatus, formed in the course of phylogenesis, has on the other hand a large capacity for modification, and is mainly built up by function; it is profoundly modified by its own functioning activity. In other words, while the moment of the desultory type is entirely organic in its nature, the moment of the synthetic type is mainly of a functional character. The contrast between the two types of moment may be summarized in the one phrase: "function vs. structure." The aphorism "function maketh structure" holds good only of the synthetic moment.

In speaking of the fact that the synthetic moment profits by its experience, while the desultory moment does not, we must be guarded against the term 'experience.' For it implies a psychic state belonging to a higher type of moment-consciousness, and it is misleading, unless the term be qualified, when used for a lower type of psychic life. Experience would imply that the moment under consideration has an idea of its state and remembering it takes on another occasion advantage of its acquired knowledge. Nothing of the kind occurs in the synthetic type. The synthetic moment has no knowledge of what is taking place in its psychic activity, it is not conscious of the states it is living through. The only knowledge the synthetic moment possesses is the one characteristic of sensory life in general,―it is somewhat like what some writers term knowledge of acquaintance. The content of the synthetic moment only approaches to this form of knowledge, which is really different in nature, inasmuch as "knowledge of acquaintance" is only a lower stage of mental activity characteristic of a higher type of moment than the one under investigation. Knowledge of acquaintance implies a sensation also the free image and free idea of that sensation. The synthetic type on the contrary has only the sensation, the free image and idea are totally wanting.

The psychic life of the infant is probably the nearest that comes up to the nature of knowledge or experience characteristic of the synthetic moment. I say that the infant's psychic life comes nearest to that of the synthetic moment, but still the two are not exactly the same. In the infant's consciousness, however young, free images and ideas are potential and on the way to germinate, while the synthetic moment lacks this potentiality, inasmuch as the synthetic moment reaches its full development without giving rise to free psychic elements. The consciousness of the infant is a low stage of a high type of moment-consciousness; while the synthetic consciousness is a high stage of a low type of moment-consciousness. The high stage of a low type and the low stage of a high type may be respectively illustrated by the algebraic formulae: (a+b)n and (a+b+c+d+e+f+ . . . .) where a, b, c, d . . . . are the functions of the moment and n the degree of development of the moment.

The consciousness of the young infant as closely resembles the synthetic moment as the fish stage of the human embryo resembles the fish itself. Still the analogy is useful as it gives a closer insight into the constitution and relations of the two types of moment-consciousness. The infant in its psychic growth no doubt passes through the inferior types of moment-consciousness, but in a most general and sketchy form. The ontogenesis of psychic life is probably as much an epitome of its phylogenesis as the ontogenesis of biosis is an epitome of its phylogenesis. Both give a most generalized epitome modified by adaptations and by the specific type of organization in which the onto genetic evolution is taking place.