Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/November 1892/The Problems of Comparative Psychology
|THE PROBLEMS OF COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY|
PROFESSOR OF EXPERIMENTAL AND COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN.
TO any one thoroughly impressed with the intimate relations of mind and body, it seems natural enough that the gradual development and perfection of the one should carry with it analogous stages in the growth of the other; but even the most profound student must at times give wondering expression to the marvelous extent, the endless variety, and the unexpected precision of the interrelations of the physical and the psychological. An extensive survey of the phenomena to be studied, and a discerning and comprehensive use of the comparative method in studying them, are as necessary and as promising in the mental as they have proved to be in the physical sciences. We must overcome the tendency to study too exclusively our own adult, civilized, conscious selves; to view the landscape by observing its reflection in a mirror, and thus seeing everywhere our own image. With full appreciation of the supreme interest we must always have in our own mental powers, it may be maintained that in proportion to our knowledge of the earlier, simpler, and lowlier manifestations of intelligence, will be our ability to appreciate and utilize the best and worthiest faculties in ourselves.
Comparative Psychology finds its origin and its material in the variety of animal life, in the series of changes of which an individual life consists, and in the evolution of more complex forms of life from one generation to another. The first of these—Animal Psychology—endeavors to arrange in orderly sequence the various forms of mentality from protozoon to man, to discover in what this advance consists, to establish orderly relations between mental powers and the nervous system, and the like. The study of the stages, and especially the earlier stages, of the growth of the human mind—Child Psychology—has only recently been pursued in a scientific spirit, so that systematic records of the essential and important points of child-growth are lamentably rare. But even this limited research has brought to light an interesting body of facts, and holds out the promise of more valuable results as the fruits of more extended investigation. The side of anthropology that deals with the stages of man's mental progress from rudest savagery to the highest civilization; tracing the variety and onward movements of customs, habits of thought, and beliefs; showing the effect of environment upon mental constitution, and in endless ways contributing to the natural history of human endeavor—all this abundant material has been ably canvassed, but needs to be rearranged upon a psychological basis to form the science of Anthropological Psychology.
It is so obviously impossible within the present limits to consider the facts and generalizations of these departments of science, that no justification is necessary for confining our attention to some consideration of the relations of these three paths of development to one another, and particularly to the psychological position of man. In so doing excursions into each of the fields will be made, and some glimpses be obtained of the several departments of Comparative Psychology.
To appreciate the comparison of infant with animal traits, one must bear in mind some important characteristics differentiating the young of the human kind from the young of other animals. The series of changes of which an individual life consists indicate that the individual enters life in a condition simpler than that which it eventually attains. These changes diminish in extent as we descend the scale of organisms, until in the lowest organisms the newly born and the adult are almost indistinguishable. Whether we consider the embryonic preparatory stage of life, or whether we regard as the beginning of existence the entrance to the environment of Nature, and speak of the preparatory stage as that which intervenes between birth and maturity, we shall find it measurably true that in proportion to the complexity of mental development to which the individual may eventually attain will this pre-adult period be lengthened. An aspect of this law, of special psychological interest, is the resulting difference in the powers present in the newly born of different species: the lower organism has a larger share of its powers ready at birth, has less to learn, less to be modified by and adapted to its environment than has the higher organism. Many of the marvelous instincts characteristic of the insect tribe seem to be at the service of the new-born individual. "With such creatures as the codfish, the turtle, or the fly-catcher, there is . . . nothing that can be called infancy" (Fiske). The most complete experiments bearing upon this point are those of Mr. Spalding. In the first minutes of life chickens follow "with their eyes the movements of crawling insects, turning their heads with the precision of an old fowl. In from two to fifteen minutes they pecked at some speck or insect, showing not merely an instinctive perception of distance, but an original ability to judge, to measure distance, with something like infallible accuracy." A chicken hooded as it emerged from the shell was unhooded when three days old; six minutes later "it followed with, its head and eyes the movements of a fly twelve inches distant; and about ten minutes later "made a vigorous dart at the fly, . . . seized and swallowed it at the first stroke." When placed within sight and call of a hen, "it started off toward the hen, displaying as keen a perception of the qualities of the outer world as it was ever likely to possess in after-life. . . . This, let it be remembered, was the first time it had ever walked by sight." The young of mammals, though not as independent as chicks, show quite a remarkable series of powers ready at birth. A pig in one of Mr. Spalding's experiments, blindfolded at birth, went about freely, though stumbling against things. When the blinder was removed the next day, it "went round and round as if it had had sight and suddenly lost it. In ten minutes it was scarcely distinguishable from one that had had sight all along." And Mr. Fiske tells us that "all mammals and most birds have thus a period of babyhood that is not very long, but is, on the whole, longest with the most intelligent creatures. It is especially long with the higher monkeys, and among the man-like apes it becomes so long as to be strikingly suggestive." Mr. Wallace observed an orang-outang three months old, perfectly helpless, unable to feed or walk without assistance, or to grasp objects well, and of these creatures Mr. Huxley says that they "remain unusually long under their mother's protection," and are probably not adult until ten or fifteen years old.
The extreme divergence between the state in which the individual enters the world and the powers attainable during life appears without question in the human species. A more complete condition of helplessness than appears in the human infant can scarcely be conceived: only such senses and movements as are immediately necessary to nutrition are present; although sensitiveness to light, and after some days to sound also, appear, accurate perception by these senses is impossible for several months. While the newly hatched chick sees a grain of corn and accurately seizes it, the human infant in the presence of a desired object, even after months of practice, performs a host of uncoordinated, useless movements, obtaining the object as much by accident as by design. On the other hand, we should not forget the marked educability of the higher animals. An old bird does and avoids much that is impossible to the young one; the kitten and cat, the pup and dog, show still greater differences. As a single illustration from the vast testimony on this point, Dr. Eimer's observations with a trap for catching sparrows may be cited. At the first setting he caught a dozen sparrows; at the second setting, nine were caught; but all these "were young birds, hatched the same spring, and therefore of little experience. Not a single old sparrow had entered the trap." The following spring "a curious spectacle was observed: apparently several sparrows had the desire and the intention to go into the trap, and these were obviously the young, inexperienced birds which had been hatched since the trap was last set"; but the older birds sounded the cry of warning, and kept the venturesome young sparrows away.
Let us next view the prolongation of human infancy in the light of the law of habit. This law declares that every reaction of an organism to a condition in its environment renders the repetition of that reaction quicker, easier, more certain, more uniform; and the existence of habits implies an environment sufficiently constant to repeatedly present to the organism the same or closely similar conditions. Mere existence in a world so full of regularities, of rhythm and law, of recurrences of the same needs, results in the performance of definite actions in definite ways; and it equally results that the earliest experiences will produce the strongest impressions and will gradually render more difficult the learning of other modes of reaction, even though these others, owing to a change of conditions, would be more useful. Accepting the power of adaptation to an extensive and variable environment as an if not the index of a high intelligence, it follows that prolongation of the period during which acquisition is possible and easy will greatly further intellectual progress. The supreme significance of education thus appears as an outcome of the long preparatory period of human life; the modifiability of the individual is what makes possible training, education, alike in animals and men, and modifiability involves immaturity. Man attains his high intellectual position by entering the world the most helpless of living kind; but, because less freighted with the ingrained habits of his ancestors, is he freer to develop habits of his own. "It is babyhood," says Mr. Fiske, "that has made man what he is."
Pursuing our thought in another direction, we find that organisms entering life more nearly mature will be more like one another, will present fewer individual differences than animals with extended periods of immaturity; and in turn one generation will be more like the preceding and the progress of the species be proportionately slow. The early independence of the young involves action upon inherited instincts, which naturally are closely the same for all members of the species; there thus results a fundamental similarity, leaving a relatively small margin for individual differences. A further result of a prolonged infancy is the group of emotions it arouses and perpetuates on the part of the parents. Motherly devotion and affection, fatherly interest and supervision extend over a larger and longer period as the species is more and more highly developed, until among the highest races of man it continues in a modified form throughout life, and in this modified form contributes to the development of the sentiments of kinship, family pride, altruism, and many social virtues. We thus have reason to connect education, family government, together with the rich emotional capabilities, the complex intellectual powers that follow in their train, with the apparently insignificant fact that the human infant enters life in a much less mature condition than the young of other species.
We have thus far been occupied in comparing stages of animal with stages of human development; we shall now test the validity of the same train of thought in the comparison of different stages of human progress. It would appear that among less civilized peoples there is a shortening of the pre-adult period, a precocity of development, an earlier abandonment by the parent, an earlier independence of the young. Mr. Spencer tells us that in equatorial Africa the children are described as "absurdly precocious," that among the west Africans the youth are "remarkably sharp when under puberty—that epoch, as among the Hindus, seeming to addle their brains." An interesting result of this difference is the early wane of the powers of receiving new ideas, and the consequent limitations of the mental horizon. The civilized mind at first lags behind the uncivilized, but the latter soon comes nearly to a standstill, and is then immeasurably outstripped by the continued growth of the former. Thus—still drawing upon Mr. Spencer's facts—of the Australians it is said that "after twenty their mental vigor seems to decline, and at the age of forty seems nearly extinct"; of the Sandwich-Islanders, "that in all the early parts of their education they are exceedingly quick, but not in the higher branches; that they have excellent memories, and learn by rote with wonderful rapidity, but will not exercise their thinking faculties"; of New-Zealanders, that "at ten years of age [they] are more intelligent than English boys, but as a rule few New-Zealanders could be taught to equal Englishmen in their highest faculties." Sir Samuel Baker says of the negro in Africa, that in childhood he is in advance in intellectual quickness of the white child of the same age, "but the mind does not expand—it promises fruit, but does not ripen"; and the educators of the negro in this country have encountered similar difficulties—great aptitude at beginnings, but inability to go on to original thinking.
The comparison regarding the uniformity of minds whose period of development is relatively brief will apply to widely differing human races. There can be little doubt that primitive people are more like one another than are individuals belonging to a higher mental type, and in the different classes of a civilized community there is greater individuality among the educated than among the uneducated, and this can hardly be unrelated to the postponement of independence, the longer education, which the former enjoy. This similarity of individuals in relatively low stages of development is accompanied by a lack of mental pliability, a rigidity of custom, thought, and habit, that in turn leads to the perpetuation of meaningless customs, to an unyielding conservatism, an uncertain and fitful advance. And we may add that the development of the parental feelings and virtues seems clearly richer in highly developed races than in undeveloped ones. We may epitomize our thought in Mr. Spencer's words: "The animal kingdom at large yields us reasons for associating an inferior and more rapidly completed mental type with a relatively automatic nature. Lowly organized creatures guided almost entirely by reflex actions, are in but small degrees changeable by individual experiences. . . . Inferior and superior races are contrasted in this respect. Many travelers comment on the unchangeable habits of savages. The semi-civilized nations of the East, past and present, were or are characterized by a greater rigidity of custom than characterizes the more civilized nations of the West. . . . And if we contrast classes or individuals around us, we see that the most developed in mind are the most plastic."
I have dwelt long upon this argument because it illustrates so well the closely analogous developments of these three paths of mental unfoldment, inferences traceable from facts gathered along one of the lines finding corroboration along the others, and all contributing to the significance of the dictum that the child repeats in parvo the history of the descent of man, and of the growth of the human race.
Resuming at this point our comparison of animal with infant traits, we have learned to expect mental similarity only in such animals as in their adult condition surpass at least in certain respects the capabilities of the human infant at birth. Within this range we find abundant points of community of various degrees of value and familiarity. The playfulness that is characteristic of children is no less so of kittens, nor is their imitativeness more typical than that from which the word "to ape" has been derived. Curiosity, inventiveness, dislike of ridicule, love of being fondled, craving for attention, with the resulting jealousy and anger when such attention is refused, are types of more complex emotions common to intelligent animals and children. Indeed, the terms of familiarity so often found and so easily established between children and their pets can not but be based, in part at least, upon a deep sympathy and community of emotional life. On the intellectual side correspondences are no less frequent and significant, but are difficult to describe and analyze. M. Perez, a discerning student of children, has carefully recorded the life histories and early trials of two pet kittens, and found constant occasion to draw analogies between the kittens and the infants. Both show at parallel stages of development the appearance of the same faculties, often in strikingly similar forms. Just as infants learn to distinguish between men and women, between persons differently dressed, between old and young, kindred and stranger, so an intelligent dog learns to distinguish between visitors and beggars, between strangers and friends of the family, between those who will fondle him and those who will not. A single illustration is all we can stop to recount. A child was accustomed to hear prayers read by the head of the household, who while thus engaged often rested his head on his hand. When asked to say prayers, the child assumed this at first inexplicable attitude and mumbled something under its breath. The real process was incomprehensible, the outward form had been mimicked and some insignificant detail seized upon as the essential. Precisely the same is true of the behavior of the monkey described by Dr. Romanes. This pet animal was given the key of a trunk in which nuts were kept, and "every time he put the key into the lock and failed to open the trunk he passed the key round and round the outside of the lock several times. The explanation of this is that my mother's sight being bad, she often misses the lock when putting in the key, and then feels round and round the lock with the key; the monkey therefore evidently seems to think that this feeling round and round the lock with the key is in some way necessary to the success of unlocking the lock, so that, although he could see perfectly well how to put in the key straight himself, he went through the useless operation first." Not alone can this general parallelism between infant and animal traits be maintained, but to a considerable extent can it be shown that the powers and traits appearing earliest in the child are those already present in the lower groups of animals; and Dr. Romanes has drawn up a table exhibiting the first appearance of various emotions and intellectual powers in the animal scale and in the life history of human individuals, in which he makes the order very largely the same for both.
We may now proceed to illustrate the relation between child psychology and anthropological psychology, to trace points of community between the infancy of the race and the infancy of the individual. At the stage at which, owing largely to the development of language, the analogies between infant and animal traits become weak and scanty, the comparison between the child and the savage increases in extent and importance. Difficult as it is to select typical instances of this varied and suggestive similarity, both in emotional and intellectual traits, yet the attempt must be made. In the emotional sphere we would instance instability of character, impulsiveness, an easy and quick transition from one series of emotions to their opposites, violent passion upon slight provocation, with, an equally intense pleasure in trifles, a great joy in brilliant and startling sense-impressions, a narrow range of susceptibilities, with the self-centering emotions—especially fear, anger, jealousy, vanity—the more prominent. The instability of the child's character hardly needs illustration; it depends largely on the limited range of memory and rational expectation. A child in pain is appeased by a sugar-plum; its anger forgotten in a new picture-book. The entire attention is given to one object; this fills the mental horizon, much as the hypnotized subject attends solely to the suggestion of the operator. Passionateness is a typically childish trait; at two months the characteristic pushing away of distasteful objects, screaming, growing red in the face, appear and continue with increasing vehemence until a wise surrounding gradually substitutes for them a more rational procedure. Of childlike traits in savages there are abundant illustrations. The Snake Indian is termed" a mere child, irritated by and pleased with a trifle." Of the tribes of the Malayan Peninsula it is said that "like children their actions seem to be rarely guided by reflection, and they almost always act impulsively." The tears of the South Sea islanders, "like those of children, were always ready to express any passion that was strongly excited, and like those of children they also appeared to be forgotten as soon as shed." Accompanying this there is "a childish mirthfulness—merriment not sobered by thought of what is coming." Mr. Spencer thus comments upon these facts: "The saying that a savage has the mind of a child with the passions of a man (or, as it would be more correctly put, has adult passions which act in a childish manner) thus possesses a deeper meaning than appears. There is a genetic relationship between the two natures, such that, allowing for differences of kind and degree in their emotions, we may regard the co-ordination of them in the child as fairly representing the co-ordination in the primitive mind."
Similarities in intellectual traits lie close at hand; the study of language offers a number of pertinent illustrations. The prominence of gesture, pantomime, facial and other expressions in the primitive speech has been conclusively established, and is equally typical of the child's language at certain stages of its development. In both, speech partakes less of symbolism and has a natural directness of meaning. When we are told that the Bojesmans can not converse at night without a fire, because their language is dependent upon explanatory gestures; that the language of a Ceylon tribe is composed largely of signs, grimaces, and guttural sounds; or that the Tasmanians observe no settled order or arrangement of words in their sentences, we are at once reminded of like characteristics in a child's babbling. Similarities in linguistic details may also be observed. Primitive languages abound in reduplicative words, as is shown in many words that we have adopted from them, such as cocoa, anana, agar-agar, pow-wow; and Sir John Lubbock has found from twenty to eighty times as many such reduplications in savage as in European tongues. Children are constantly using reduplications, some of which we have adopted from their baby talk; such as papa, mamma, the German amme, pupe, the French bêbê. The imitative faculty, a marked characteristic of savages and children, appears in language in the many words founded upon direct imitation or sound analogy. The child speaks of the mu-mu, the bow-wow, the tick-tack, the shu-shu, the ting-a-ling; and the large proportion of onomatopoetic words in savage tongues is well recognized. Difficulty in pronouncing certain sounds, inaccuracy of articulation, a mention of only the prominent words without definite order and connection, a mere skeletonizing of the sentence—these and the like are found both in the infancy of language and in the infant's language.
The characteristics of language are often indicative of the mental traits of those who use it. The child's word sphere is at first concrete and specific, acquiring but very gradually a use of ideas and words that are generic and abstract. These are equally the limitations of the savage mind; the absence of generic and abstract words in savage tongues has been noted by various travelers. Some Brazilian tribes have "separate names for the different parts of the body, and for all the different animals and plants with which they were acquainted, but were entirely deficient in such terms as 'color,' 'tone,' 'sex,' 'genus,' 'spirit,' " etc. The language of the Veddahs (Ceylon) is said to be so primitive "that the most ordinary objects and actions of life are described by quaint paraphrases." Some of the Indian tongues have words for red oak, white oak, etc., but not for oak or for tree. Other evidence of the mental poverty is easily supplied. "The mind of the savage," says Sir John Lubbock, "like that of the child, is easily fatigued, and will then give random answers to spare himself the trouble of thought." Mr. Galton says of the Damaras that they never generalize, and "a Damara who knew the road perfectly from A to B, and again from B to C, would have no idea of a straight cut from A to C; he has no map of the country in his mind, but an infinity of local details."
The savage and childish conceptions of quantity, number, time, and space show striking similarities of limitation and perfect. There seems to be considerable evidence that very primitive peoples do not count above four or five, all quantity above that being simply an indefinite many. Mr. Galton has given so striking and graphic an account of a Damara's conflict with matters mathematical, that one can not forbear citing it in detail: "In practice, whatever they may possess in their language, they certainly use no numeral greater than three. When they wish to express four, they take to their fingers, which are to them as formidable instruments of calculation as a sliding rule is to an English school-boy. They puzzle very much after five, because no spare hand remains to grasp and secure the fingers that are required for units. Yet they seldom lose oxen; the way in which they discover the loss of one is not by the number of the herd being diminished, but by the absence of a face they know. When bartering is going on each sheep must be paid for separately. Thus, suppose two sticks of tobacco to be the rate of exchange for one sheep, it would sorely puzzle a Damara to take two sheep and give him four sticks. I have done so, and seen a man put two of the sticks apart, and take a sight over them at one of the sheep he was about to sell. Having satisfied himself that one was honestly paid for, and finding to his surprise that exactly two sticks remained in hand to settle the account for the other sheep, he would be afflicted with doubts; the transaction seemed to come out too 'pat' to be correct, and he would refer back to the first couple of sticks; and then his mind got hazy and confused, and wandered from one sheep to the other, and he broke off the transaction until two sticks were put into his hand and one sheep driven away, and then the other two sticks given him, and the second sheep driven away. . . .
"Once while I watched a Damara floundering hopelessly in a calculation on one side of me, I observed Dinah, my spaniel, equally embarrassed on the other. She was overlooking half a dozen of her new-born puppies which had been removed two or three times from her, and her anxiety was excessive as she tried to find out if they were all present, or if any were still missing. She kept puzzling and running her eyes over them backward and forward, but could not satisfy herself. She evidently had a vague notion of counting, but the figure was too large for her brain. Taking the two as they stood, dog and Damara, the comparison reflected no great honor on the man."
Of corresponding difficulties in children it would doubtless be possible to collect considerable evidence. Prof. Preyer, in his painstaking study of his infant son, found that the child would miss one of his set of nine-pins when ten months old, but so late as the twenty-seventh month he failed to teach the child the difference between numbers from one to five: and two months later three matches were not distinguished from, four matches, and "too much" and "too little" were confounded in the same way as "five and two." Children's notions of time are equally defective. M. Perez mentions a child describing a year as "many, many, many to-morrows," which expression is doubtless as exact as the underlying idea. The same child could not be taught the difference between "yesterday" and "the day before yesterday." In a statistical research it was found that, of children ready to begin their school life, eight per cent did not comprehend the meaning of three, seventeen per cent of four, and twenty-eight per cent of five.
The similarities between the mental processes of child and savage are far from being exhausted by this sketchy enumeration; it may indeed be maintained that the most interesting and characteristic have not yet been mentioned—those that depend upon similarities of imagination and general mental development. Both savage and child are ignorant of the laws of Nature, and the part that is taken by science and knowledge among the civilized and adult is in them filled by a vivid imagination, substituting faint and fanciful analogies for logic, and flourishing upon a naïve credulity. Consider what a large part chance and luck, which have been aptly termed the measure of our ignorance, play in the lives of savages and children. To the savage an appeal to chance takes place upon every occasion, and the issue is regarded as the expression of a powerful force; the same grade of concepts have a most tenacious hold upon children. What boy has not carried an odd stone, or an old penny, or a pet marble, for "luck"? To what boy would not the reasoning of the Indian who prefers "a hook that has caught a big fish to a handful that have never been tried," not seem natural and valid; although he might not go so far as the Bushmen, "who despise an arrow that has once failed of its mark," and so rather make new ones than collect those that have missed? How many childish superstitions are based upon a tracing of cause and effect with no stronger evidence than that of the people whose chief died after breaking off the anchor of a stranded vessel, and who accordingly bowed to the anchor, trying to appease its revenge! When a boy tosses a second penny after one that is lost in order to find it, perhaps repeating a formula in so doing, or when he takes care not to step on the cracks between paving-stones in going to school for fear of failing in his lessons, he is actuated by a train of thought easily paralleled among almost any primitive people. When the Malays eat tiger, "to acquire the sagacity as well as the cunning of that animal," or the Dyaks refuse to eat deer for fear of becoming faint-hearted, or the Caribs eschew pigs and tortoises for fear of having their eyes grow small, "the idea may seem absurd to us," says Sir John Lubbock, "but not so to children. I have myself heard a little girl say to her brother, 'If you eat so much goose you will be quite silly,' and there are perhaps few children to whom the induction would not seem perfectly legitimate."
Consider furthermore the world of fable and fairies, in which children live and move, in which no laws are adhered to or transgressed, in which nothing is impossible and nothing expected, and we are in quite the same atmosphere as that in which savage myth and belief flourish and multiply. Many such myths are doubtless earnest attempts at explaining natural phenomena, and we can not but be struck with the fact that the childish attention is spontaneously directed to the same kind of problems, and often gives them very similar answers. The same mental tendency invests inanimate objects with mysterious powers and creates the belief in fetiches, in some occult connection between a force, power, or demon, and something that is regarded as its representative. The savage mind requires some concrete object upon which to hang the epithets and work the spells; no matter by what far-fetched analogy the two are regarded as connected, the fetich serves as a substitute of a more abstract notion, too vague for the savage's weak mind to retain. The name, the image, the shadow, the picture, a part of the person or dress thus acquire a peculiar relation to the person or object in question, and we meet with names that are tabooed, sorcery with a man's shadow or lock of hair, the dread of having one's picture taken, and the like. Analogies to these procedures among children could doubtless be traced had we a pertinent collection of their spontaneous sayings and doings. In the absence of such I must refer to the childish habit of talking to animals and obtaining answers from them, to their unquestioning faith in the personifications of fable, to the fact that of forty-eight children questioned by Dr. Stanley Hall "twenty believed sun, moon, and stars to live, fifteen thought a doll and sixteen thought flowers would suffer pain if burned"; or again, to the early and marked development of the dramatic instinct, that transforms everything and everybody into something else, and invests prosaic objects with an endless variety of qualities and histories. This is the function of toys; they form the lay figures upon which the child's imagination can weave and drape its fancies; and the doll, whether as some believe a direct descendant of the old-time fetich or not, is certainly related to it psychologically. The real and the ideal, the world of fact and the world of fiction, are divided in the mind of savage and of child by no definite boundaries, and are constantly confused.
We may linger a moment longer in our comparison of the childhood of the race and of the individual, to notice the possibility of tracing similarities between the spontaneous attempts of children to imitate the social conditions under which their elders live, and the actual history of social and political institutions. Two striking illustrations of this have been recorded. Dr. Stanley Hall has described the evolution of a sand-pile into a farming community, under the promptings of the organizing play instinct of some New England boys. Farms, roads, houses, barns, men, women, cattle, tools, and so on, were fashioned, and in their growth we find mimicked the evolution of human industry, the problems of social life, the distribution of wealth, the invention of money, the fluctuation of prices, the tendencies that make the monopolist and the socialist. And yet it is distinctly play; the wooden farmers of the community being not unlike dolls, though possessing a personality with curiously real relations to the boys themselves. A more valuable illustration, because less of play and more of reality, is shown by the governmental and social regulations of the boys of the McDonough School near Baltimore, the description of which we owe to Mr. John Johnson. These boys roamed over eight hundred acres of land full of objects arousing a boy's desires and curiosity, such as birds' eggs and nests, rabbits, and nuts of all kinds. From an original common ownership in the land a few boys, by extra exertion and improvements, gained privileges over certain portions of it; and step by step as the number of boys increased, and the desirability of various bits of land was more clearly recognized, unwritten laws grew up, judicial procedure was inaugurated, testamentary power granted; money, which took the form of "butter" and school credits, introduced; and the intricacies of speculation, fluctuation of values, attempts at the redistribution of the soil, conservatism and liberalism gradually appeared as problems, and were solved in some satisfactory way. These and other phases of social and political movements had as intense a reality as in actual life, and in them Mr. Johnson finds many and striking analogies to the history of social and political institutions.
One further aspect of our train of thought deserves a moment's consideration, and this is the analogy between primitive mental traits and those appearing in the decay of mind, in arrested mental development, in hypnotism, and in other somewhat unusual and morbid psychic conditions. In the waning of mental powers we observe a remarkable law, by which the latest, least firm acquisitions are first lost, and the older, more deeply impressed, more primitive manifestations are longest retained. We thus possess an additional method of corroborating the various deductions above drawn, and in a sense truer than at first appears we have a "second childhood" the inverse of the first. To give a single instance where a detailed study would alone do justice, many of the stages in the growth of language can be again studied in inverse order in diseases of language. In such disease the syntactical language is lost first, the more primitive gesture language is retained to the last; and Prof. Preyer has shown in full detail the striking similarity between the various defects and impairments of language, and the stages of its acquisition in children. In the arrested development of idiots we may observe a slow and gradual growth of faculties which in their normal rapid growth are so perplexingly interwoven as to make accurate analysis an exceedingly difficult task. Again, we have continued in idiots traits appearing in certain stages of child growth, but later outgrown; as, for example, a tenacious but mechanical memory, a delight in striking sense-impressions, an accurate mimicking of surrounding noises, a love of teasing and torturing animals, and the like. Finally, in hypnotism, in which condition we have a withdrawal of control by higher centers, a reduction to a more primitive grade of mentality, we see analogies to childish traits; the vivid imagination, the complete absorption of the mind of the subject in the one suggested act or object, his ready suggestibility, his keen perception and accurate mimicry, may perhaps indicate the line of thought here pertinent. Any and all such analogies may be easily carried too far, but essential and significant points of community may be traced without falling into this error.
I have thus attempted to lead the way through some of the fields in which modern psychologists have reaped a valuable harvest, and from which they expect a still richer fruitage as the result of a more thorough cultivation. To such of my readers as may feel that they have been hurried over the ground and allowed glimpses when protracted study would alone suffice, I can only offer the excuse of the professional guide, that there was much to show in a limited time. Those who may feel that they have been asked to consider things quite trivial and familiar, must take comfort in Mr. Bagehot's words that "small things are the miniatures of greater," and that my purpose has been accomplished if I have succeeded in freshening "their minds by object-lessons from what they know."
- Abstract of a lecture delivered before the Chicago Institute of Arts, Science, Letters, and Religion.
- The study of the natural language of the deaf-mutes yields important corroborations of many points. This has been ably studied by Mr. Tylor in his essays on Gesture Language, in Early History of Mankind; see especially page 54.