The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology/Preface

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis

In this volume I made an attempt to formulate the fundamental assumptions and main principles that underlie normal and abnormal psychology. Every science, mathematical, physical or biological, has its postulates as the foundation of its structure. Psychology as a science has also its own assumptions which have to be clearly formulated. The object of the first part of this volume is the unravelling of the principal concepts and hypotheses which form the basis of the study of mental phenomena.

All through the domain of the sciences there is a vast movement for the search of fundamental concepts and for the close investigation of such concepts. Even such an exact science as mathematics has felt this spirit of examination of its fundamental assumptions, axioms, and postulates. Men like Lobatchevsky, Bolyai, Rieman and others have given the start and a number of mathematicians have recently followed in their footsteps, with the result of getting a wider horizon and of opening unknown regions. The same we find in the case of physical sciences, such as physics, mechanics and chemistry. Mach, Poincaré, Ostwald, Pearson and others have contributed to this spirit of investigation in the domain of physical sciences. This spirit of inquiry has become of late specially intensified by the revolutionary discoveries of radio-active bodies.

We are acquainted with the great movement which has swept all over biological, sociological, and economical sciences due to the influence of the theory of evolution. The spirit of free inquiry into fundamental concepts has seized on all sciences Throughout the whole domain of human thought there is felt this rejuvenating and invigorating breath of the new revolutionary spirit. Philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, history, law, economics all have been, awakened out of their long sleep of centuries. Every science has been shaken by this mighty movement to its very foundation. Even such a dry study as logic has felt the vital breeze of the inquiring spirit of modern times.

I make an attempt in this volume to examine in an elementary way the foundations of normal and abnormal psychology. This is all the more necessary as physiologists, biologists, biological chemists, and recently students of comparative psychology, a science which lies on the borderland of psychology and biology, have a tendency to make incursions into psychology proper, and favor mechanical or purely physiological concepts to the detriment and even total exclusion of mental processes.

This tendency towards elimination of psychic life by mechanical processes or by "The Unconscious" is also observed in the writings of some workers in the domain of psychopathology. They think it is in the interest of strict science to express wherever possible mental states in terms of physical changes. Finally a stage is reached in which all consciousness is completely dispensed with in favor of physiological processes or "The Unconscious". Psychology is thus made a branch of physiology and biology.

Again, philosophers and metaphysicians are apt to make intrusions into the domain of psychology, because the latter is regarded by them from time immemorial as legitimate prey, inasmuch as their own domain lies on the outskirts of mental life. In the interest of metaphysical systems philosophers attempt to subject psychology to their own speculative purposes.

The popular mind has a tendency of regarding psychology as something mystical and of identifying psychology with all kinds of faith cures, mind cures, spiritism, telepathy, telaesthesia, and table rapping. It is unfortunate that even medical men of note, on account of lack of acquaintance with psychological subjects and inquiries, are apt to look askance at psychology and identify it with religious beliefs, mental cures as well as with the more shady side of spiritistic manifestations. Still more complicated is the plight in which the psychologist finds himself in regard to the recent claims put forth by some psychologists in having achieved results of importance to law, industry, and to the reformation of social ills. The demand for practical results in psychology is due to the industrial spirit of our times, a spirit which requires immediate results that can be cashed or expressed in dollars and cents. The earnest psychologist should repudiate such industrial business psychology, for the simple reason that such a psychology is imaginary; in other words, such a psychology does not exist. An experienced salesman, an intelligent business man knows infinitely more about business and how to obtain the best results out of certain combinations than all the psychologists with their laboratory experiments, their artificial statistics, and puerile trivial experimental arrangements, giving results no less trivial and meaningless.

The claims made by psychologists as to industrial efficiency which psychology can give is ludicrous in the extreme. We may well expect the astronomer to claim that astronomy can give points how to conduct successfully a political campaign. As a matter of fact the psychologist has nothing to say on the subject of advertisements, industry, and business, but commonplace trivialities expressed with all the pomposity of scholastic authority. Industrial efficiency does not belong to the domain of psychology. We may as well expect the comparative psychologist to offer practical points on the efficiency of cows to give milk or on the efficiency of hens to lay eggs. The success of advertisement is a matter of experienced business men and not of academic psychologists who have to offer nothing but the merest platitudes.

We must once for all enter a protest against those psychologists who claim that they have some great psychological truths to reveal to businessmen, manufacturers and workingmen. I trust that both the businessman and the workingman will have enough common sense to take such psychological truths for what they are actually worth. The ordinary psychologist understands little of business life, knows almost nothing of the life of the laborer, and is woefully ignorant of the economical questions of the times. Psychological business claims are illusory. The sooner the practical business man learns this fact the better for him, and also for the earnest psychological investigator.

Psychology is just emerging from its metaphysical and theological stages as Auguste Comte would put it. Psychology is just entering the circle of her sister sciences. At present it is in a state similar to the physics of the sixteenth century. The psychologist should declare frankly and openly that he can no more assist the businessman and the manufacturer than the mathematician with his non-Euclidean geometry or the logician with his algebra of logic can help the solution of the great problems of capital and labor.

We can obtain some help from abnormal psychology in its application to the medical treatment of nervous and mental maladies. This is quite natural as abnormal psychology is essentially based on clinical and experimental studies of mental diseases. The claim, however, that psychology can give directions for vocations of life or for business and industry is entirely unfounded.

The same holds true of the practical pseudo-psychology that has invaded the school, the court, the prison and the immigration bureau. The intelligence tests are silly, pedantic, absurd, and grossly misleading.

I have not discussed in this volume the practical aspect of recent quasi-business psychology for the reason that such claims are nothing but a snare and delusion. Of course I do not expect that this warning of mine as to the misleading character of applied psychology will be taken graciously. There is at present an epidemic of practical or applied psychology. People however will wake up from their psychological dreams and will realize that applied psychology is nothing but a nightmare. I am fully aware of the fact that my present protest will draw on me the ire and severe attacks of many a psychologist, but I sincerely hope that some of the more earnest psychologists will sustain me in my present contention.

So much for the practical limitations of psychology. In discussing the theoretical aspects of psychology and attempting to point out its limitations I have had to touch on problems ultra-psychological, but this was unavoidable. It had to be done in order to clear the path and see the lay of the land. I have no doubt that there will be found a great number of shortcomings in the foundations as well as vagueness in the delineation of the main postulates and psychological principles. I shall be fully satisfied, if this volume will stimulate others to better work in the same direction.

The second part of this work deals with my theory of "moment-consciousness." This theory was advanced by me some sixteen years ago in my "Psychology of Suggestion." It was further touched upon in my "Multiple Personality," but I had not stated the theory as distinctly as I did in this volume. I may add that when James read the theory in "The Psychology of Suggestion" he told me he found it valuable, and urged me to develop it more in detail.

The theory of moment-consciousness presents a general view of the nature and development of consciousness, from reflex consciousness to compound reflex and instinctive consciousness reaching the highest form of consciousness, that of self-consciousness. Consciousness and the adaptation of the psychic individuality or of the organism to the external environment is looked at not only from a psychological, but also from a biological standpoint. Consciousness in the course of its development is presented in a series of stages and types, each lower stage leading to the next higher and more complicated stage and type. This does not mean that the higher type is included in the lower We must assume spontaneous mental variations, or psychic mutations, so that while the stages and types are arranged in a progressive series of their development and complication, they at the same time differ qualitatively in type of mental life.

I may add that most of the ideas developed in this volume have been formulated by me some fourteen years ago, and then retouched from time to time. A few of the chapters with some modifications have been published by me in various psychological and medical journals.

Boris Sidis

Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute
New Hampshire,
January, 1914