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

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The characteristic feature of the reflex moment-consciousness is in its activity on single lines of sensori-motor reaction. This is well seen in the more differentiated form of this stage of psycho-physiological organization. In the ascidian, for instance, we meet with one sensory nerve cell connected with the muscular reacting apparatus. This is of the nature of reflex action found also in the higher representatives of the life series. In the higher forms of the fixed moment some connections are formed, several sensory ganglia are connected; the action may then become more varied. In the still higher stages of the same form many systems of the ganglia of several organs become connected, thus giving rise to a highly differentiated sensori-motor apparatus.

At this stage secondary sensory elements enter into the content synthetized by the moment consciousness. What, however, characterizes all these forms as belonging to the same type of moment-consciousness, is the fact of their being unmodifiable, fixed in their organization. The moment does not get modified by its recurrent manifestations. The organization does not get improved by repetition. Things are in status quo since the time of birth. The moment, not being modifiable by its previous occurrence, when stimulated, emerges each time with an unchangeable content. Each time the moment recurs, it shows not the slightest trace of its former life activity.

The various reproductions of this type of moment-consciousness presents a disconnected series. The moment at each time of its occurrence may, psychologically, be regarded as an entirely new moment, inasmuch as it bears no trace of its having been in activity once before. To an objective observer confronted for the first time with this type of moment, the latter appears, and rightly so, as if it were just come into the world. The moment is regarded as reproduced, not by a mark inherent in its constitution, due to the fact of its recurrence, but by modifications in the observer. In short, the moment in its recurrent manifestations presents a disconnected series.

If we look at consciousness from the standpoint of serial relationship, then the disconnected moments in the serial appear as separate, as isolated. The isolation of the members in the series is the chief characteristic of this type of moment-consciousness which may then be termed desultory consciousness.

The moment consciousness of the desultory type may also be represented in a more hypothetical form. There may be a type of consciousness in which the moment does not recur at all. Each moment appears and vanishes, never to come again, and is followed by another moment of a totally different content. The moments have no relation to one another. The antecedent moment is totally, and we may say absolutely disconnected from the subsequent moment. The series of moments appearing are unrelated and are also different in content. The moments appear like a series of successive bubbles, each bubble bursting, vanishing, giving place to a new bubble, and so on. There is no connection between the successive moments, neither in relation nor in matter. Such a moment is a purely desultory form of consciousness and may possibly be present in the completely unorganized, non-nucleated protoplasm.

The lack of a definite stable organization may result an in indefinite mass of sensory responses and motor reactions, hence with a changeable, indefinite psychic content. When life becomes more differentiated and organization appears, then the psychic content becomes organized in a recurrent desultory moment-consciousness, with a more or less definite content. Amorphous life has as its concomitant amorphous psychosis.

Reproduction probably begins with the more or less definite formation of the moment and its nuclear element. When the moment-consciousness appears to be definitely organized then reproduction is present. In other words, reproduction is a fundamental characteristic of the formed moment-consciousness. The reproduction of the moment, the type of which we have just analyzed, is fixed in its activity, unmodifiable in its function from the very start of its entering into relations with the external environment. This type of moment is of such a nature as not to admit of further growth after it has come into the world and has begun to function; it admits of no improvement, of no modification.

It is interesting to find that such a type of moment-consciousness it not altogether absent in the very highest forms of psychic life. Under certain conditions we meet in the higher mental types with a form of moment-consciousness closely resembling the fixed moments of the lower forms of psychic life. In the degenerative states of idiocy, we find the moment to be of the desultory type. The moment is fixed, admits of no further growth; the moment recurring at more or less regular intervals. Such are the rhythmical movements often observed in low types of idiots, movements that are closely allied to those of the vorticella type.

In the pathological states known as hypnoidic, found in many forms of amnesia, in somnambulistic states, in the so-called "psychic equivalents" of epilepsy and in the pure "psychic epilepsies," the moment possesses a definite content, highly organized, of course, considering the stage in which it occurs, but essentially fixed in its character, not capable, not admitting of any changes, of any improvements. The hypnoidic state resembles more the desultory reproductive movement of the second stage with a highly varied and differentiated content, but otherwise fixed in character. The hypnoidic state, whenever it appears, recurs with a content unchangeable, unmodified by the previous repetitions; it acquires no new, no modified characters in the course of its reproductions. Previous reproductions leave no trace behind. The hypnoidic state always appears fresh and new, as if coming into the world for the first time, not bearing the stamp of its life history.

An inspection of the hypnoidic state, when it occurs, does not in the least reveal the fact of its having had a past, of its having similarly appeared once before. The hypnoidic state is the past itself, and nothing more than the past. Like the moment-consciousness of the crustacean, or that of the invertebrate, it reacts to the stimuli of the external environment with a given moment-content, with a definite set of highly complicated sensori-motor reactions. From this standpoint the hypnoidic state may be regarded as a reversion to a primitive form of psychic life, it is a reversion to the fixed moment of the desultory type.