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

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis
The Desultory Type in Pathological States

A form of reproduction analogous to the ones present in the desultory moment is to be found in various psychopathological states. The nature of reproductions of the hypnoidic states comes very near to the simple form of reinstatement characteristic of the desultory moment. The main feature of this pathological state is its recurrent sensory character isolated from the rest of the individual’s psychic life. Experiences emerging in this state are actually lived over again. The hypnoidic state is desultory, it forms no connected relations in its various reproductions, it does not become modified by its many occurrences, and in the first stage is as rich in psychic content as the last stage. The hypnoidic state is relatively fixed. Of course, between the desultory moment and the hypnoidic state there is only an analogy in the nature of functioning, otherwise the states are actually different, inasmuch as they belong to altogether different types of moments.

The nature of reinstatement characteristic of the reproductions of the synthetic moment is clearly revealed in the way modifications are effected and non-adaptive reactions are eliminated. Sensory responses and motor reactions that have met with failure and evil consequences are modified by degrees, in portions so to say. The law that regulates the succession of the modifications effected is the order of the degree of harm consequent on the reactions to which the sensory responses lead. If then most harmful reactions belong to the middle of the series of motor reactions constituting the motor aspect of the moment, these are modified by being gradually dropped out and others substituted. The rest, the more or less indifferent reactions of the series are gone through, although they bear no longer any relation to the sensori-motor reactions that have immediately preceded them. To an external observer such reactions are ridiculous and unintelligible, since they cannot be understood with reference to their immediate antecedents; their nature can only be made clear from the history of the moment.

Such traces in the organization of the synthetic moment are vestiges of previous useful functions, of a series of adaptive reactions; they are like rudimentary organs in the economy of the organism. Thus a chick may peck repeatedly at his waste products or at a burning match and repeatedly wipe his bill; finally a marked modification is brought about in its sensory responses and reactions. When the chick is confronted with those objects, it comes up to them, looks at them, does not peck, but wipes its bill. To an external observer to whom the history of the chick’s experience is unknown, the wiping of the bill would have been entirely unintelligible.

Reinstatement can be similarly observed in cases where conditions have changed, but the modification has not yet been fully effected within the content of the moment. Thus the story of the actions of the hen that brought her brood of chicks to the river and urged them to swim would have appeared strange, possibly mysterious, if not for our knowledge of the hen’s former experience with a brood of ducklings. The mode of reproduction of the synthetic moment is a series of successive phases of more and more modified reinstatements which can only become intelligible on following up more or less closely to the history of the moment’s development.

The forms of reinstatement characteristic of the synthetic and desultory moments are to be found in higher types of moments. When undergoing the process of dissolution, secondary dementia, the terminus of chronic insanity offers a wealth of facts at our disposal. The mental states of secondary dementia are like the ruins of great castles, like fossils of former growth of vegetation of animal life. The active living moments are disintegrated, decomposed and only some of the constituents are left to function. These constituents, remnants of former life-activity, are simply reinstated. One who has not known the history of the case will hardly comprehend the actions of the patient. Thus one dement may keep on covering himself with a blanket, or hiding himself into corners. He who is ignorant of the history of the case would regard the action as capricious and meaningless, he would hardly guess from the patient’s actions that the latter when in a state of chronic melancholia labored under the delusions that he was made of glass, and that people could see the actions of his guts. The synthetized and systematized delusion itself was swept away in the general ruin and decomposition, only some remnants were left, a few sensori-motor elements remained. These elements are now being reinstated in the same fashion as the simple types of the synthetic and desultory moments. Similarly it would be hard to guess from the frequent mumbling of the words ‘Alexander,’ that the dement in his early stages of mental alienation was under the delusion that he was the deceased Russian czar come to life. The word ‘Alexander’ is simply a chip of a former highly systematized moment, the chip now reproducing itself after the simple fashion of the desultory moment.

The phenomena of imperative concepts, insistent or fixed ideas, uncontrollable impulses, all grow and develop along the general lines of the synthetic moment. They are reinstatements of portions of dissociated moments buried in the subconscious and growing by the process of modification with each recurrent reinstatement.

Hypnoidal states described by me bear evidence to the same truth of reinstatement of psychic elements. In the Hypnoidal states fractions of dissociated moments presents present in the subconscious come up like bubbles to the surface of the patient’s consciousness, burst, disappear, and vanish never to come again. The fragments are reinstated chips of highly organized moments, now in a state of disaggregation. The hypnoidal chips sometimes manifest themselves in their reproduction after the mode of simple or elementary desultory consciousness, mental states appear and disappear, leaving no traces behind them.

In the phenomena of automatic writing, crystal gazing, shell-hearing and so on, reinstatement of moments in different degrees and stages of organization takes place. Finally in the phenomena of hypnosis we meet with similar conditions, the states are induced artificially in the otherwise healthy and normally functioning individuality. Such are the phenomena of personality metamorphosis and of post-hypnotic or hypnonergic states. In the states moments are artificially formed in the dissociated subconscious moments which rise to the surface of consciousness with all the energy supplied to them by the subconscious. They reproduce and perpetuate themselves after the mode of the synthetic moment until their end is achieved, when they gradually fade away, or, what is still more often the case, vanish in the same sudden and abrupt way as they come.

The artificially induced post-hypnotic or hypnonergic states studied from the standpoint of moment-consciousness are found to be analogous to many psychopathic conditions. The main character of these states is their dissociation and reproduction, or rather reinstatement on the basis of the lower types of moment-consciousness.

In psychopathic functional states not only does disintegration of content occur, but there is also present functional degradation of the type of the moment. The function of the moment reverts to lower types of psychic activity, while the content consists of constituents formed on higher lines of psychic life. Hence the lack of adaptation, the conflict in psychopathic states between function and content. It is like the formation of a barbaric society out of the remnants of a ruined civilization.

We may then affirm that the characteristic mode of reproduction, both of the desultory and synthetic moment, is reinstatement. The difference between the two moments being that while the moment of the desultory type reproduces by reinstatement only, that of the synthetic type reproduces by both reinstatement and modification.