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

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis
The Accumulative Character of the Synthetic Moment

The experience of the synthetic moment means not conscious of the presented content, but simply modification of psychic function. The experience of the functioning moment influences the content on its next reproduction. If A is the original functioning synthetic moment and b1, b2, b3, b4 its modifications due to the functioning activity, then the successive reproductions of the moment may be represented by the following formula: A, A1b1, A2b2, A3b3, A4b4, A5b5 until it reaches its maturity or state of stable equilibrium, say Anbn. The whole series may be represented by the formula: A, A1b1, A2b2, A3b3――Anbn. Each member of the series reproduces in an epitomized form all the members that preceded it and the last one that, the mature moment in its state of equilibrium, representing an epitome of the whole series. The series in its successive stages represents the life history of the growth and development of the synthetic moment.

Concrete examples may also help to make the matter clearer. The fish in making repeated attack on another fish contained in the same tank and meeting repeatedly with failures will finally desist from its attempts. The fish that has been snapped at many times and has escaped will keep away from the dangerous place. This does not mean that the fish remembers its experiences, that it is conscious of its failures, of the futility of its attacks, or that it knows that yonder is a dangerous place which is to be avoided. The whole matter is far simpler. Each repeated failure modifies the moment-consciousness so that the content slightly changes, the unsuccessful motor reactions diminish and finally disappear, while in their place others are substituted. Thus the fish on perceiving its prey may either avoid it and swim away, or it may keep quiet simply following the prey with its eye.

The chick on emerging from the egg may peck at its excrements a few times, but each time the disgust experienced modifies the moment. The reaction of the next moment, when confronted with the same stimulus, become less vigorous and finally with the reproductions of the moment, the adaptation becomes so perfect that the mere sight of a disagreeable object suffices to repel the chick and mike it turn aside. Here once more it is not that the chick remembers the disgust, and as soon as it is confronted with excrements, its straightway remembers the disgust it has experienced. This is to ascribe a high form of consciousness to moment of a low type. The process that has taken place is simpler. The disgust experienced has so modified the sensory motor reactions of the moment that finally different reactions result in response to definite stimulations under definite conditions.

The same holds true of the cat, and the dog. The first weeks of their life kittens or puppies are unable to walk well, they seem to pick their way continuously; gradually they learn to walk and run; the dog soon begins to race and the cat becomes graceful and nimble in its movements. It will certainly be agreed that young puppies or young kittens do not actually remember the steps of their experiences. What happens is that the activity of the organs, along with the growth of the corresponding motor cells, so modifies the function that the walking becomes more and more perfect until it reaches perfect adaptation.

The same thing occurs in the training of brutes. It is not that the brute remembers the steps of the process, and knows how improvement has taken place by a given way of action. In the process of training modifications are brought about by each successive reproduction of the moments in response to the action of external stimuli. Modifications due to successful chance action, being more satisfactory to the brute, are stronger and modify the moment in their own direction, while unsuccessful reactions tend to drop out and thus adaptation, improvement is brought about. The cat in scratching for the door to open it scratches at first aimlessly and does not open,―the actions are unsuccessful. Should the cat happen to scratch the handle and open the door, which certainly is probable, considering the activity of the cat’s paw, the result is satisfactory. The repetitions of such chance actions will gradually so modify the cat’s scratching that it will become more and more definite. The successful actions alone will be repeated, the unsuccessful will drop out. Finally the adaptation will become so perfect that the sight of the closed door will at once result in the reaction of scratching the handle and opening the door.

The young bird is brought into the world in a rather helpless condition as to movement of co-ordination, especially flying movements. The apparatus for flying is undeveloped, but it soon reaches its perfect adaptation through activity, exercise, practice, that modify both structure and function. The bird does not remember the steps of its acquisitions and profits by its failures as to make consciously better and more adaptive movements. The process that takes place is far more simple: Each act of functioning produces and reproduces modifications, both in structure and function, until the apparatus and its activity reach perfect adaptation. The total moment is modified on each reproduction until a point is reached where further growth and development ceases and maturity of function is established.

The same holds true in the case of the child. The child on learning to sit is doing it in a very clumsy fashion, tumbles over every time; it must be supported by pillows to keep it in the same position and also to keep it from being hurt. The structure works imperfectly. The exercise of the apparatus, along with its further growth, brings about a more perfect adaptation, and the child finally learns to maintain its equilibrium when in sitting posture. The standing upright passes through a similar history. When the co-ordinating apparatus for walking begins to appear, it works at first in a very awkward manner. The child first walks by holding on to some objects, such as chairs, or the wall, or the hand of his parent and nurse. When he makes a step all by himself, he is almost frightened, and when left alone often cries.

Practice and growth of the walking apparatus becomes more and more perfect. The child makes two or three steps hesitatingly, stops, asks for help and support. Gradually his movements become more certain, and more steps are taken until finally the child learns to walk, still imperfectly, in the waddling fashion characteristic of young age. The walking apparatus grows and keeps functioning. The function reacts on the further growth making the movements more and more perfect. Each attempt makes the next one easier. Adaptations develop not only by the mere growth of the apparatus, but also by function. In fact function largely determines the growth of the apparatus.

It must, however, be pointed out that the example taken from baby life may be used only as an illustration of the way the synthetic moment grows by function or reproduction. The child’s growth does not exactly follow the same lines as those of the synthetic moment, since the psychic life of man develops on a higher level belonging to a higher type of moment. In the efforts of the baby to walk some germs of deliberation and reflection may be observed, but it is hardly probably that these elements are present in the first attempts of the cat to walk or the bird to fly. The moment of the synthetic type grows by simple modifications of its function brought about by its repeated reproductions.

The modifications, however, of the moment’s function are not mere chance modifications. The function, is modified on a definite line in the direction of more perfect adaptation.

Reactions to stimuli coming from external environment become more defined until a definite set of reactions is established. This involves the selective activity of the moment. Certain fit reactions are selected and assimilated by the moment, while others, unfit are rejected. This, however, is a trait which is characteristic not only of the synthetic moment, but of the moment-consciousness in general.