IRWIN EDMAN, Ph.D.
INSTRUCTOR IN PHILOSOPHY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
THE RIVERSIDE PRESS CAMBRIDGE
This book was written, originally and primarily, for use in a course entitled "Introduction to Contemporary Civilization," required of all Freshmen in Columbia College. It is an attempt to give a bird's-eye view of the processes of human nature, from man's simple inborn impulses and needs to the most complete fulfillment of these in the deliberate activities of religion, art, science, and morals. It is hoped that the book may give to the student and general reader a knowledge of the fundamentals of human nature and a sense of the possibilities and limits these give to human enterprise.
Part I consists of an analysis of the types of behavior, a survey of individual traits and their significance in social life, a brief consideration of the nature and development of the self, individual differences, language and communication, racial and cultural continuity. Those fruits of psychological inquiry have been stressed which bear most strikingly on the relations of men in our present-day social and economic organization. In consequence, there has been a deliberate exclusion of purely technical or controversial material, however interesting. The psychological analysis is in general based upon the results of the objective inquiries into human behavior which have been so fruitfully conducted in the last twenty-five years by Thorndike and Woodworth. To the work of the first-mentioned, the author is particularly indebted.
Part II is a brief analysis, chiefly psychological in character, of the four great activities of the human mind and imagination—religion, art, science, and morals. These are discussed as normal though complex activities developed, through the process of reflection, in the fulfillment of man's inborn impulses and needs. Thus descriptively to treat these spiritual enterprises implies on the part of the author a naturalistic viewpoint whose main outlines have been fixed for this generation by James, Santayana, and Dewey. To the last-named the writer wishes to express the very special obligation that a pupil owes to a great teacher.
The book as a whole, so far as can be judged from the experience the author and others have had in using it during the past year as a text at Columbia, should fit well into any general course in social psychology. It has been increasingly realized that the student's understanding of contemporary problems of government and industry is immensely clarified by a knowledge of the human factors which they involve. This volume supplies a brief account of the essential facts of human behavior with especial emphasis on their social consequences. Part I may be independently used, as it has been with success, in a general course in social psychology. Part II, the "Career of Reason," presents material which many instructors find it highly desirable to use in introductory philosophy courses, but for which no elementary texts are available. The usual textbooks deal with the more metaphysical problems to the exclusion of religion, art, morals, and science, humanly the most interesting and significant of philosophical problems. Where, as in many colleges, the introductory philosophy course is preceded by a course in psychology, the arrangement of the volume should prove particularly well suited.
The illustrative material has been drawn, possibly to an unusual extent, from literature. The latter seems to give the student in the vivid reality of specific situations facts which the psychologist is condemned, from the necessities of scientific method, to discuss in the abstract.
The book follows more or less closely that part of the syllabus for the course in Contemporary Civilization, which is called "The World of Human Nature," which section of the outline was chiefly the joint product of collaboration by Professor John J. Coss and the author. To the former the author wishes to express his large indebtedness. Also to Miss Edith G. Taber, for her careful and valuable editing of the manuscript in preparation for the printer, he desires to convey his deep appreciation.
Columbia University, June 1920.
HUMAN TRAITS AND CIVILIZATION
PART I—SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
TYPES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR
The human animal—The number and variety of man's instincts—Learning in animals and men—The prolonged period of infancy—Consciousness of self and reaction to ideas—Human beings alone possess language—Man the only maker and user of tools.
TYPES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR AND THEIR SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE—INSTINCT, HABIT, AND EMOTION
Instinctive behavior—The necessity for the control of instinct—Habitual behavior—The mechanism of habit—The acquisition of new modes of response—Trial and error and deliberate learning—Some conditions of habit-formation—Drill versus attentive repetition in learning—Learning affected by age, fatigue, and health—Habit as a time-saver—Habit as a stabilizer of action—Disserviceable habits in the individual—Social inertia—The importance of the learning habit—The specificity of habits—The conscious transference of habits—Emotion.
Instinct and habit versus reflection—The origin and nature of reflection—Illustration of the reflective process—Reflection as the modifier of instinct—Reflective behavior modifies habit—The limits of reflection as a modifier of instinct and habit—How instincts and habits impair the processes of reflection—The value of reflection for life—The social importance of reflective behavior—Reflection removed from immediate application: science—The practical aspect of science—The creation of beautiful objects and the expression of ideas and feelings in beautiful form.
THE BASIC HUMAN ACTIVITIES
Food, shelter, and sex—Physical activity—Mental activity—Quiescence: fatigue—Nervous and mental fatigue.
THE SOCIAL NATURE OF MAN
Man as a social being—Gregariousness—Gregariousness important for social solidarity—Gregariousness may hinder the solidarity of large groups—Gregariousness in belief—Gregariousness in habits of action—The effect of gregariousness on innovation—Sympathy (a specialization of gregariousness)—Praise and blame—Praise and blame modify habit—Desire for praise may lead to the profession rather than the practice of virtue—The social effectiveness of praise and blame—Social estimates and standards of conduct—Importance of relating praise and blame to socially important conduct—Education as the agency of social control—Social activity and the social motive.
CRUCIAL TRAITS IN SOCIAL LIFE
The interpenetration of human traits—The fighting instinct—Pugnacity a menace when uncontrolled—Pugnacity as a beneficent social force—The "submissive instinct"—Men display qualities of leadership—Man pities and protects weak and suffering things—Fear—Love and hate—Love—Hate.
THE DEMAND FOR PRIVACY AND INDIVIDUALITY
Privacy and solitude—Satisfaction in personal possession: the acquisitive instinct—Individuality in opinion and belief—The social importance of individuality in opinion.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE "SELF"
Origin and development of a sense of personal selfhood—The social self—Character and will—The enhancement of the self—Egoism versus altruism—Self-satisfaction and dissatisfaction—The contrast between the self and others—Types of self—Self-display or boldness—Self-sufficient modesty—The positive and flexible self—Dogmatism and self-assertion—Enthusiasm—The negative self—Eccentrics—The active and the contemplative—Emotions aroused in the maintenance of the self—The individuality of groups.
The meaning of individual differences—Causes of individual differences—The influence of sex—The influence of race—The influence of immediate ancestry or family—The influence of the environment—Individual differences—Democracy and education.
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
Language as a social habit—Language and mental life—The instability of language—Changes in meaning—Uniformities in language—Standardization of language—Counter-tendencies toward differentiation—Language as emotional and logical—Language and logic.
RACIAL AND CULTURAL CONTINUITY
Restriction of population—Cultural continuity—Uncritical veneration of the past—Romantic idealization of the past—Change synonymous with evil—"Order" versus change—Personal or class opposition to change—Uncritical disparagement—Critical examination of the past—Limitations of the past—Education as the transmitter of the past.
PART II—THE CAREER OF REASON
RELIGION AND THE RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
The religious experience—"The reality of the unseen"—Experiences which frequently find religious expression—Need and impotence—Fear and awe—Regret, remorse: repentance and penance—Joy and enthusiasm: festivals and thanksgivings—Theology—The description of the divine—The divine as the human ideal—The religious experience, theology and science—Mechanistic science and theology—Religion and science—The church as a social institution—The social consequences of institutionalized religion—Intolerance and inquisition—Quietism and consolation: other-worldliness.
ART AND THE AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE
Art versus nature—The emergence of the fine arts—The aesthetic experience—Appreciation versus action—Sense satisfaction—Form—Expression—Art as vicarious experience—Art and aesthetic experience in the social order—Art as an industry—Art and morals.
SCIENCE AND SCIENTIFIC METHOD
What science is—Science as explanation—Science and a world view—The aesthetic value of science—The danger of "pure science"—Practical or applied science—Analysis of scientific procedure—Science and common sense—Curiosity and scientific inquiry—Thinking begins with a problem—The quality of thinking: suggestion—Classification—Experimental variation of conditions—Generalizations, their elaboration and testing—The quantitative basis of scientific procedure—Statistics and probability—Science as an instrument of human progress.
MORALS AND MORAL VALUATION
The pre-conditions of morality: instinct, impulse, and desire—The conflict of interests between men and groups—The levels of moral action: custom; the establishment of "folkways"—Morality as conformity to the established—The values of customary morality—The defects of customary morality—Custom and progress—Origin and nature of reflective morality—Reflective reconstruction of moral standards—The values of reflective morality—Reflection transforms customs into principles—Reflective action genuinely moral—Reflection sets up ideal standards—The defects of reflective morality—The inadequacy of theory in moral life—The danger of intellectualism in morals—Types of moral theory—Absolutism—Relativistic or teleological morality—Utilitarianism—Moral knowledge—Intuitionalism—Empiricism—Ethics and life—Morality and human nature—Morals, law, and education.
HUMAN TRAITS AND CIVILIZATION. Throughout the long enterprise of civilization in which mankind have more or less consciously changed the world they found into one more in conformity with their desires, two factors have remained constant: (1) the physical order of the universe, which we commonly call Nature, and (2) the native biological equipment of man, commonly known as human nature. Both of these, we are almost unanimously assured by modern science, have remained essentially the same from the dawn of history to the present. They are the raw material out of which is built up the vast complex of government, industry, science, art—all that we call civilization. In a very genuine sense, there is nothing new under the sun. Matter and men remain the same.
But while this fundamental material is constant, it may be given various forms; and both Nature itself and the nature of man may, with increasing knowledge, be increasingly controlled in man's own interests. The railroad, the wireless, and the aeroplane are striking and familiar testimonies to the efficacy of man's informed mastery of the world into which he is born. In the field of physical science, man has, in the short period of three centuries since Francis Bacon sounded the trumpet call to the study of Nature and Newton discovered the laws of motion, magnificently attained and appreciated the power to know exactly what the facts of Nature are, what consequences follow from them, and how they may be applied to enlarge the boundaries of the "empire of man."
In his control of human nature, which is in its outlines as fixed and constant as the laws that govern the movements of the stars, man has been much less conscious and deliberate, and more frequently moved by passion and ignorance than by reason and knowledge. Nevertheless, custom and law, the court, the school, and the market have similarly been man's ways of utilizing the original equipment of impulse and desire which Nature has given him. It is hard to believe, but as certain as it is incredible, that the modern professional and businessman, moving freely amid the diverse contacts and complexities pictured in any casual newspaper, in a world of factories and parliaments and aeroplanes, is by nature no different from the superstitious savage hunting precarious food, living in caves, and finding every stranger an enemy. The difference between the civilization of an American city and that of the barbarian tribes of Western Europe thousands of years ago is an accurate index of the extent to which man has succeeded in redirecting and controlling that fundamental human nature which has in its essential structure remained the same through history.
Man's ways of association and cooeperation, for the most part, have not been deliberately developed, since men lived and had to live together long before a science of human relations could have been dreamed of. Only to-day are we beginning to have an inkling of the fundamental facts of human nature. But it has become increasingly plain that progress depends not merely on increasing our knowledge and application of the laws which govern man's physical environment. Machinery, factories, and automatic reapers are, after all, only instruments for man's welfare. If man is ever to attain the happiness and rationality of which philosophers and reformers have continually been dreaming, there must also be an understanding of the laws which govern man himself, laws quite as constant as those of physics and chemistry.
Education and political organization, the college and the legislature, however remote they may seem from the random impulses to cry and clutch at random objects with which a baby comes into the world, must start from just such materials as these. The same impulse which prompts a five-year-old to put blocks into a symmetrical arrangement is the stuff out of which architects or great executives are made. Patriotism and public spirit find their roots back in the same unlearned impulses which make a baby smile back when smiled at, and makes it, when a little older, cry if left too long alone or in a strange place. All the native biological impulses, which are almost literally our birthright, may, when understood, be modified through education, public opinion, and law, and directed in the interests of human ideals.
It is the aim of this book to indicate some of these more outstanding human traits, and the factors which must be taken into account if they are to be controlled in the interests of human welfare. It is too often forgotten that the problems which are to be dealt with in the world of politics, of business, of law, and education, are much complicated by the fact that human beings are so constituted that given certain situations, they will do certain things in certain inevitable ways. These problems are much clarified by knowing what these fundamental ways of men are.
HUMAN TRAITS AND THEIR SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE
TYPES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR
THE HUMAN ANIMAL. Any attempt to understand what the nature of man is, apart from its training and education during the life of the individual, must start with the realization that man is a human animal. As a human being he is strikingly set off by his upright posture and his large and flexible hand. But chiefly he is distinguished by his plastic brain, upon which depends his capacity to perform the complex mental activities—from administering a railroad to solving problems in calculus—which constitute man's outstanding and exclusive characteristic.
[Footnote 1: The thinking process is discussed in detail in chapters III and XIV.]
But in his structure and functions man bears, as is now well known, a marked resemblance to the lower animals. His respiratory and digestive organs, for example, may be duplicated as far down in the animal scale as birds and chickens. Man's whole physical apparatus and mode of life, save in complexity and refinement of operations, are the same as those of any of the higher mammals. But more important for the student of human behavior, man's mental life—that is, his way of responding to and dealing with his environment—is in large part identical with that of the lower animals, especially of the most highly developed vertebrates, such as the monkey. They have, up to a certain point, precisely the same equipment for adjusting themselves to the conditions of life. Apart from education, both man and animal are endowed with a set of more or less fixed tendencies to respond in specific ways to specific stimuli. These inborn or congenital tendencies are generally known as reflexes or instincts. These are unlearned ways, exhibited by both human and animal organisms, of responding promptly and precisely, and in a comparatively changeless manner to a given stimulus from the environment. These tendencies to act, while they may be, and most frequently are of advantage to the organism, are not conscious or acquired. They are irresistible impulses to do just such-and-such particular things in such-and-such particular ways when confronted with just such-and-such particular situations. In the well-known words of James:
[Footnote 2: With certain modifications accounted for in their historical "descent" with modification from a common ancestor. See Scott: Theory of Evolution.]
[Footnote 1: The difference between the two is largely one of complexity. By a reflex is meant a very simple and comparatively rigid response; by an instinct a series of reflexes such that when the first is set off, the remainder are set off in a regularly determinate succession.]
The cat runs after the mouse, runs or shows fight before the dog, avoids falling from walls and trees, shuns fire and water, etc., not because he has any notion either of life or death, or of self-preservation. He has probably attained to no one of these conceptions in such a way as to react definitely upon it. He acts in each case separately, and simply because he cannot help it; being so framed that when that particular running thing called a mouse appears in his field of vision he must pursue; that when that particular barking and obstreperous thing called a dog appears there he must retire, if at a distance, and scratch if close by; that he must withdraw his feet from water, and his face from flame.
[Footnote 2: James: Psychology, vol. II, p. 384.]
Similarly, the baby's reaching for random objects, and sucking them when seized, its turning its head aside, when it has had enough food, its crying when alone and hungry, are not, for the most part, deliberate methods invented by the infant to maintain its own welfare, but are almost as automatic as the number of sounds omitted by the cuckoo clock at midnight.
Why do men always lie down, when they can, on soft beds rather than on hard floors? Why do they sit round the stove on a cold day? ... Why does the maiden interest the youth so that everything about her seems more important and significant than anything else in the world? Nothing more can be said than that these are human ways, and that every creature likes its own ways, and takes to the following of them as a matter of course.... Not one man in a billion, when taking his dinner, thinks of utility. He eats because the food tastes good, and makes him want more. If you ask him why he should want to eat more of what tastes like that, instead of revering you as a philosopher, he will probably laugh at you for a fool.
[Footnote 1: James: Psychology, vol. II, p. 386.]
These inborn tendencies to act vary in complexity from the withdrawing of a hand from a hot stove or the jerking of the knee when touched in a particular spot to startlingly involved trains of action to be found in the behavior of certain of the lower animals. Bergson cites the case of a species of wasp which with a skill, unconscious though it be, resembling that of the expert surgeon, paralyzes a caterpillar without killing it, and carries it home for food for its young. There are again many cases of "insects which invariably lay their eggs in the only places where the grubs, when hatched, will find the food they need and can eat, or where the larvae will be able to attach themselves as parasites to some host in a way that is necessary to their survival." In many instances these complicated trains of action are performed by the animal in a situation absolutely strange to it, without its ever having seen the act performed before, having been born frequently after its parents had died, and itself destined to die long before its grubs will have hatched.
[Footnote 2: Bergson: Creative Evolution, p. 172.]
[Footnote 3: McDougall: Social Psychology, p. 24. (Except where otherwise noted, all references are to the fourth edition.)]
THE NUMBER AND VARIETY OF MAN'S INSTINCTS. Various attempts have been made, notably by such men as James, McDougall, and Thorndike, to enumerate and classify the tendencies with which man is at birth endowed, or which, like the sex instinct, make their appearance at a certain stage in biological growth, regardless of the particular training to which the individual has been subjected. Earlier classifications were inclined to speak of instincts as very general and as half consciously purposeful in character. Thus it is still popularly customary to speak of the "instinct of self-preservation," the "instinct of hunger," and the "parental instinct." The tendency of present-day psychology is to note just what responses take place in given specific situations. As a result of such observation, particularly by such biologists as Watson and Jennings, instincts have come to be regarded not as general and purposive but as specific and automatic. Thus it is no instinct of self-preservation that drives the child to blink its eyes at a blinding flash of light; it is solely and simply the very direct and immediate tendency to blink its eyes in just that way whenever such a phenomenon occurs. It is no deliberate intent to inhale the oxygen necessary to the sustenance of life that causes us to breathe. No more is it a conscious plan to provide the organism with nourishment that prompts us to eat our breakfast in the morning; it is simply the immediate and irresistible enticement of food after a night's fast. Not a deliberate motive of maternity prompts the mother to caress and care for her baby, but an inevitable and almost invincible tendency to "cuddle it when it cries, smile when it smiles, fondle it and coo to it in turn."
[Footnote 1: Watson: Behavior. H. S. Jennings: Behavior of the Lower Organisms.]
In the last few years, as a result of the observation of animals under laboratory conditions, there has been increasing evidence of a large number of specific tendencies to act in specific ways, in response to specific given stimuli. As no stimuli are ever quite alike, and no animal organism is ever in exactly the same physico-chemical condition at two different times, there are slight but negligible differences in response. Allowing for these, animals may be said to be equipped with a wide variety of tendencies to do precisely the same things under recurrent identical circumstances. The aim of the experimental psychologist is to discover just what actions occur when an animal is placed in any given circumstances, precisely as the chemist notes what reaction occurs when two chemicals are combined.
While experiments with the human infant are more difficult and rare (and while it is among infants alone among humans that original tendencies can be observed free from the modifications to which they are so soon subjected by training and environment) careful observers find in the human animal also a great number of these specific ways of acting. Just which of the large number of observed universal modes of behavior are original and unlearned, is a matter still in controversy among psychologists. There is practically complete agreement among them, however, with respect to such comparatively simple acts as grasping, reaching, putting things in the mouth, creeping, standing and walking, and the making of sounds more or less articulate. Most psychologists recognize even such highly complicated tendencies as man's restlessness in the absence of other people, his tendency to attract their attention when present, to be at once pitying and pugnacious, greedy and sympathetic, to take and to follow a lead.
In general, it may be said that man possesses not fewer instincts than animals, but more. His superiority consists in the fact that he has at once more tendencies to respond, and that in him these tendencies are more flexible and more susceptible of modification than those of animals. A chicken has at the start the advantage over the human; it can at first do more things and do them better. But it is the human baby who, though it cannot find food for itself at the start, can eventually be taught to distinguish between the nutritive values of food, secure food from remote sources, and make palatable food from materials which when raw are inedible.
An inventory and classification of man's original tendencies is made more difficult precisely because these are so easily modifiable and are, even in earliest childhood, seldom seen in their original and simple form.
At any given time a human being is being acted upon by a wide variety of competing and contemporaneous stimuli. In walking down a street with a friend, for example, one may be attracted by the array of bright colors, of flowers, jewelry and clothing in the shop windows, blink one's eyes in the glare of the sun, feel a satisfaction in the presence of other people and a loneliness for a particular friend, dodge before a passing automobile, be envious of its occupant, and smile benevolently at a passing child. It would be difficult in so complex and so characteristically familiar a situation to pick out completely and precisely the original human tendencies at work, and trace out all the modifications to which they have been subjected in the course of individual experience. For even single responses in the adult are not the same in quality or scope as they were to start with. Even the simplest stimuli of taste and of sound are different to the adult from what they are to the child. What for the adult is a printed page full of significance is for the baby a blur, or at most chaotic black marks on white paper.
But while it is difficult to disentangle out of even a simple, everyday occurrence the original unlearned human impulses at work, experimentation on both humans and animals seems clearly to establish that "in the same organism the same situation will always produce the same response." It also seems clear that in man these native unlearned responses to given stimuli are unusually numerous and unusually controllable. Upon the possibility of the ready modification of these original elements in man's behavior his whole education and social life depend.
LEARNING IN ANIMALS AND MEN. Men and animals are alike not only in that they have in common a large number of tendencies to respond in definite ways to definite stimuli, but that these responses may be modified, some strengthened through use, and others weakened or altogether discarded through disuse. In both also the survival and strengthening of some native tendencies, the weakening and even the complete elimination of others, depends primarily upon the satisfaction which flows from their practice.
It must be remembered that any situation, while it calls forth on the part of the organism a characteristic response, may also call out others, especially if the first response made fails to secure satisfaction, or if it places the animal in a positively annoying situation. There are certain situations—being fed when hungry, resting when weary, etc.—which are immediate and original satisfiers; there are others such as bitter tastes, being looked at with scorn by others, etc., which are natural annoyers. The first type the animal will try various means of attaining; the second, various means of avoiding. Through "trial and error," through going through every response it can make to a given situation, the animal or human hits upon some response which will secure for it satisfaction or rid it of a positive annoyance. Once this successful response is hit upon, it tends to be retained and becomes habitual in that situation, while other random responses are eliminated.
As will be pointed out in the following, man has developed in the process of reflection a much more effective and subtle mode of attaining desirable results, but a large part of human acquisition of skill, whether at the typewriter, the piano, the tennis court, or in dealing with other people, is still a matter of making every random response that the situation provokes until the appropriate and effective one is hit upon, and making this latter response more immediately upon repeated experiences in the same situation. Once this effective response becomes habitual it is just as automatic in character as if it had been made immediately the first time, and it is almost impossible without knowledge of the animal's or the human's earlier modes of response to detect the difference between an acquired response and one that is inborn.
This process of trial and error is perhaps best illustrated in the behavior of the lower animals where careful experiments have been conducted for the purpose of tracing the process of learning. In the classic cases reported by Thorndike and Watson, when chickens, rats, and cats were placed in situations where the first response failed to bring satisfaction, their behavior was in each case marked by the following features. At the first trial the animals in every case performed a wide variety of acts useless to secure the satisfaction they were instinctively seeking, whether it was food in a box, or freedom from confinement in a cage. Upon repeated trials the act appropriate to securing satisfaction was performed with increasing elimination of useless acts, and consequent decrease of the time required to perform the act requisite to secure food, or freedom, or both, as the case might be. One of Thorndike's famous cat experiments is best told in his own report:
If we take a box twenty by fifteen by twelve inches, replace its cover and front side by bars an inch apart, and make in this front side a door arranged so as to fall open when a wooden button inside is turned from a vertical to a horizontal position, we shall have means to observe such [learning by trial and error]. A kitten, three to six months old, if put in this box when hungry, a bit of fish being left outside, reacts as follows: It tries to squeeze through between the bars, claws at the bars, and at loose things in and out of the box, stretches its paws out between the bars, and bites at its confining walls. Some one of all these promiscuous clawings, squeezings, and bitings turns round the wooden button, and the kitten gains freedom and food. By repeating the experience again and again the animal gradually comes to omit all the useless clawings, and the like, and to manifest only the particular impulse (e.g., to claw hard at the top of the button with the paw or to push against one side of it with the nose) which has resulted successfully. It turns the button around without delay whenever put in the box. It has formed an association between the situation confined in a box with a certain appearance and the response of clawing at a certain part of that box in a certain definite way. Popularly speaking, it has learned to open a door by pressing a button. To the uninitiated observer the behavior of the six kittens that thus freed themselves from such a box would seem wonderful and quite unlike their ordinary accomplishments of finding their way to their food or beds.... A certain situation arouses, by virtue of accident or more often instinctive equipment, certain responses. One of these happens to be an act appropriate to secure freedom. It is stamped in in connection with that situation.
[Footnote 1: Thorndike: Educational Psychology, Briefer Course. p. 129.]
Perhaps the most significant factor to be noted in this, and in similar cases, is that the successful response to a baffling situation is acquired, and that this acquisition remains a more or less permanent possession of the human or animal organism. Particularly important for the problem and practice of education is the mechanism by which these learned modes of behavior are acquired. For, to attain skill, knowledge, intellect, character, is to attain certain determinate habits of action, certain recurrent and stable ways of responding to a situation. The reason why the cat in the box ceased to perform the hundred and one random acts of clawing and biting, and after a number of trials got down to the immediately necessary business of turning the button was because it had learned that one thing only, out of the multitude of things it could do, would enable it to get out of the box and get its food. To say that it learned this is not to say that it consciously realized it; it means simply that when placed in such a situation again after having been placed in it a sufficient number of times, it will be set off to the turning of the button which gets it food, instead of biting bars and clawing at random—actions which merely serve further to frustrate its hunger. The animal has not consciously learned, but its nervous system has been mechanically directed.
A large part of the education of humans as well as of animals consists precisely in the modification of our original responses to situations by a trial-and-error discovery of ways of attaining satisfactory and avoiding annoying situations. Both animals and humans, when they have several times performed a certain act that brings satisfaction, tend, on the recurrence of a similar situation, to repeat that action immediately and to eliminate with successive repetitions almost all the other responses which are possible, but which are ineffective in the attainment of some specific satisfaction. The whole training imposed by civilization on the individual is based ultimately on this fundamental fact that human beings can be taught to modify their behavior, to change their original response to a situation in the light of the consequences that follow it. This means that while man's nature remains on the whole constant, its operations may be indefinitely varied by the results which follow the operation of any given instinct. The child has its original tendency to reach toward bright objects checked by the experience of putting its hand in the flame. Later his tendency to take all the food within reach may be checked by the looks of scorn which follow that manifestation of man's original greed, or the punishment and privation which are correlated with it. Through experience with punishment and reward, humans may be taught to do precisely the opposite of what would have been their original impulse in any given situation, just as the monkey reported by one experimenter may be taught to go to the top of his cage whenever a banana has been placed at the bottom.
THE PROLONGED PERIOD OF INFANCY. Probably the most significant and unique fact of human behavior is the period of "prolonged infancy" which is characteristic of human beings alone. Fiske and Butler in particular have stressed the importance of this human trait. In the lower animals the period of infancy—that is, the period during which the young are dependent upon their parents for food, care, and training—is very short, extending even in the highest form of ape to not more than three months. This would appear, at first blush, to be a great advantage possessed by the lower animals. They come into the world equipped with a variety of tendencies to act which, within a week, or, as in the case of chickens, almost immediately after birth, are perfectly adapted to secure for them food, shelter, and protection. They are mechanisms from the beginning perfectly adjusted to their environment.
The human infant, while it is born with a greater number of instinctive activities than other animals, is able to make little use of them just as they stand. For years after birth it is helplessly dependent on others to supply its most elementary needs. It must be fed, carried, and sheltered; it cannot by itself even reach for an object, and it cannot for nearly two years after birth specifically communicate its wants to other people. But this comparatively long helplessness of the human infant is perhaps the chief source of human progress.
The human baby, because it can do so little at the start, because it has so many tendencies to act and has them all so plastic, undeveloped, and modifiable, has to a unique degree the capacity to learn. This means that it can profit by the experience of others and adjust itself to a great variety and complexity of situations. The chicken or the bird can do a limited number of things perfectly, but it is as if it had a number of special keys opening special locks. The power of modifying these instinctive adjustments, the capacity of learning, is like being put in possession of a pass-key. As Professor Dewey puts it, "An original specialized power of adjustment secures immediate efficiency, but, like a railway ticket, it is good for one route only. A being who, in order to use his eyes, ears, hands, and legs, has to experiment in making varied combinations of their reactions, achieves a control that is flexible and varied."
[Footnote 1: Dewey; Democracy and Education, p. 53.]
The more complex the environment is in which the individual must live, the longer is the period of infancy needed in which the necessary habits and capacities may be acquired. In the human being the period of infancy extends in a literal sense through the first five years of the individual's life. But in civilized societies it extends factually much longer. By the end of the first five years the child's physical infancy is over. It can take care of itself so far as actually feeding itself, moving about, and communicating with others is concerned. But so complex are the habits to which it must become accustomed in our civilization that it is dependent for a much longer period. The whole duration of the child's education is a prolongation of the period of infancy. In most civilized countries, until at least the age of twelve, the child is literally dependent on its parents. And with every advance in civilization has come a lengthening in the period of education, or learning.
Intellectually, the period of infancy might be said not really to be over before the age of twenty-five, by which time habits of mind have become fairly well fixed. The brain and the nervous system remain fairly plastic up to that time, and if inquiry and learning have themselves become habitual, plasticity may last even longer. In the cases of the greatest intellects, of a Darwin, or a Newton, one might almost say the period of infancy lasts to old age. To be still learning at sixty is to be still a child in the best sense of the word. It is still to be open rather than rigid, still to be profiting by experience.
The great social advantages of the prolonged period of infancy lie in the fact that there is a unique opportunity both for the acquisition by individuals and for the imposition on the part of society of a large number of habits of great social value. The human being, born into a world where there are many things to be learned both of natural law and human relations, is, as it were, fortunately born ignorant. He has instincts which are pliable enough to be modified into habits, and in consequence socially useful habits can be deliberately inculcated in the immature members of a society by their elders. The whole process of education is a utilization of man's prolonged period of infancy, for the deliberate acquisition of habits. This is all the more important since only by such habit formation during the long period of human infancy can the achievements of civilization be handed down from generation to generation. Art, science, industrial methods, social customs, these are not inherited by the individual as are the instincts of sex, pugnacity, etc. They are preserved only because they can be taught as habits to those beings who come into the world with a plastic equipment of instincts which lend themselves for a long time to modification.
CONSCIOUSNESS OF SELF AND REACTION TO IDEAS. A significant difference between the actions of human beings and those of animals is that human beings are conscious of themselves as agents. They may be said not only to be the only creatures who know what they are doing, but the only ones who realize their individuality in doing it. Dogs and cats are not, so far as we can draw inferences from extended observation of even their most complex actions, conscious of themselves. It is not very long, however, before the human animal begins to set itself off against the remainder of the universe, to discover that it is something different from the chairs, tables, and surrounding people and faces that at first constitute for it only a "blooming, buzzing confusion." A human being performs actions with a feeling of awareness; he is conscious of himself. This consciousness of self (see chapters VII and VIII) becomes more acute as the individual grows older. It has consequences of the gravest character in social, political, and economic life. It is a large factor at once in such different qualities of character as ambition, friendship, humility, and self-sacrifice, and is responsible in large measure for whatever truth there is in the familiarly spoken-of conflict between "the individual and society."
Human beings are, furthermore, susceptible to a unique stimulation to action, namely, ideas. Animals respond to things only, that is, to things in gross:
It may be questioned whether a dog sees a rainbow any more than he apprehends the political constitution of the country in which he lives. The same principle applies to the kennel in which he sleeps and the meat that he eats. When he is sleepy, he goes to the kennel; when he is hungry, he is excited by the smell and color of meat; beyond this, in what sense does he see an object? Certainly he does not see a house—i.e., a thing with all the properties and relations of a permanent residence, unless he is capable of making what is present a uniform sign of what is absent—unless he is capable of thought.
[Footnote 1: Dewey: How We Think, p. 17.]
Human beings can respond to objects as signs of other things, and, what is perhaps more important, can abstract from those gross total objects certain qualities, features, elements, which are universally associated with certain consequences. They can respond to the meaning or bearing of an object; they can respond to ideas.
To respond to ideas means to respond to significant similarities in objects and also to significant differences. It means to note certain qualities that objects have in common, and to classify these common qualities and their consequences in the behavior of objects. To note similarities and differences in the behavior of objects is to enable individuals to act in the light of the future. The printing on this page would be to a dog or to a baby merely a blur. To the reader the black imprints are signs or symbols. To the animal a red lantern is a haze of light; to a locomotive engineer it is a sign to halt. To respond to ideas is thus to act in the light of a future. It makes possible acting in the light of the consequences that can be foreseen. Present objects or features of objects are responded to as signs of future or absent opportunities or dangers. Every time we read a letter, or act in response to something somebody has told us, we are responding not to physical stimuli as such, but to those stimuli as signs of other things.
HUMAN BEINGS ALONE POSSESS LANGUAGE. The value of the period of infancy in the acquisition of habits and the unique ability of human beings to respond to ideas is inseparably connected with the fact that man alone possesses a language, both oral and written. That is to say, men alone have an instrument whereby to communicate to each other feelings, attitudes, ideas, information. To a very limited degree, of course, animals have vocal and gesture habits; specific cries of hunger, of sex desire, or distress. But they cannot, with their limited number of vocal mechanisms, possibly develop language habits, develop a system of sounds associated with definite actions and capable of controlling actions. Only human beings can produce even the simplest system of written symbols, by which visual stimuli become symbols of actions, objects, emotions, or ideas. Biologists—in particular the experimentalist, Watson—find, in the capacity for language, man's most important distinction from the brute.
Language may be said, in fact, to be the most indispensable instrument of civilization. It is the means whereby the whole life of the past has been handed to us in the present. It is the means whereby we in turn record, preserve, and transmit our science, our industrial methods, our laws, our customs. If human relations were possible at all without a language, they would have to begin anew, without any cultural inheritance, in each generation. Education, the transmitter of the achievements of the mature generation to the one maturing, is dependent on this unique human capacity to make seen marks and heard sounds stand for other things. The extent to which civilization may advance is contingent upon the development of adequate language habits. And human beings have perfected a language sufficiently complicated to communicate in precise and permanent form their discoveries of the complex relations between things and between men.
MAN THE ONLY MAKER AND USER OF TOOLS. One of the most important ways in which man is distinguished from the lower animals is in his manufacture and use of tools. So far as we know the ability to manufacture and understand the use of tools is possessed by man alone. "Monkeys may be taught a few simple operations with tools, such as cracking nuts with a stone, but usually they merely mimic a man." Man's uniqueness as the exclusive maker and user of tools is made possible by two things. The first is his hand, which with its four fingers and a thumb, as contrasted with the monkey's five fingers, enables him to pick up objects. The second is his capacity for reflection, presently to be discussed, which enables him to foresee the consequences of the things he does.
[Footnote 1: Mills: The Realities of Modern Science, p. 1.]
The use of tools of increasing refinement and complexity is the chief method by which man has progressed from the life of the cave man to the complicated industrial civilization of to-day. Bergson writes in this connection:
As regards human intelligence, it has not been sufficiently noted that mechanical invention has been from the first its essential feature, that even to-day our social life gravitates around the manufacture and use of artificial instruments, that the inventions which strew the road of progress have also traced its direction. This we hardly realize, because it takes us longer to change ourselves than to change our tools. Our individual and even social habits survive a good while the circumstances for which they were made, so that the ultimate effects of an invention are not observed until its novelty is already out of sight. A century has elapsed since the invention of the steam engine, and we are only just beginning to feel the depths of the shock it gave us. But the revolution it has effected in industry has nevertheless upset human relations altogether. New ideas are arising, new feelings are on the way to flower. In thousands of years, when, seen from the distance, only the broad lines of the present age will still be visible, our wars and our revolutions will count for little, even supposing they are remembered at all; but the steam engine and the procession of inventions that accompanied it, will perhaps be spoken of as we speak of the bronze or of the chipped stone of prehistoric times: it will serve to define an age. If we could rid ourselves of all pride, if, to define our species, we kept strictly to what the historic and the prehistoric periods show us to be the constant characteristic of man and of intelligence, we should not say Homo sapiens, but Homo faber.
[Footnote 1: Bergson: Creative Evolution, pp. 138-39.]
Man's intelligence, it has so often been said, enables him to control Nature, but his intelligence in the control of natural resources is dependent for effectiveness on adequate material instruments. One may subscribe, though with qualification, to Bergson's further statement, that "intelligence, considered in what seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of manufacturing artificial objects, especially tools to make tools, and of indefinitely varying the manufacture."
Anthropologists distinguish the prehistoric epochs, by such terms as the Stone, Copper or Bronze, and Iron Ages, meaning thereby to indicate what progress man had made in the utilization of the natural resources about him. We date the remote periods of mankind chiefly by the mementos we have of the kinds of tools they used and the methods they had developed in the control of their environment. The knowledge of how to start and maintain a fire has been set down as the practical beginning of civilization. Certainly next in importance was the invention of the simplest tools. There came in succession, though aeons apart, the use of chipped stone implements, bronze or copper instruments, and instruments made of iron. In the ancient world we find the invention of such simple machines as the pulley, the use of rope, and the inclined plane.
Without tracing the history of invention, it will suffice for our purpose to point out that agriculture and industry, men's modes of exploiting Nature, are dependent intimately on the effectiveness of the tools at their disposal. It is a far cry from the flint hatchet to the McCormick reaper and the modern steel works, but these are two ends of the same process, that process which distinguishes man from all other animals, and makes human civilization possible: that is, the use and the manufacture of tools.
TYPES OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR AND THEIR SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE—INSTINCT, HABIT, AND EMOTION
INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOR. We have already noted the fact that both men and animals are equipped with a wide variety of unlearned responses to given stimuli. In the case of human beings, this original equipment varies from such a specific reaction as pulling away the hand when it is pinched or burned, to such general innate tendencies as those of herding or playing with other people. In a later stage of this discussion we shall examine the more important of these primary modes of behavior. At this point our chief concern is with certain general considerations that apply to them all.
The equipment of instincts with which a human being is at birth endowed must be considered in two ways. It consists, in the first place, of definite and unlearned mechanisms of behavior, fixed original responses to given stimuli. These are, at the same time, the original driving forces of action. An instinct is at once an unlearned mechanism for making a response and an unlearned tendency to make it. That is, given certain situations, human beings do not simply utilize inborn reactions, but exhibit inborn drives or desires to make those reactions. There is thus an identity in man's native endowment between what he can do and what he wants to do. Instincts must thus be regarded as both native capacities and native desires.
Instincts define, therefore, not only what men can do, but what they want to do. They are at once the primary instruments and the primary provocatives to action. As we shall presently see in some detail, human beings may acquire mechanisms of behavior with which they are not at birth endowed. These acquired mechanisms of response are called habits. And with the acquisition of new responses, new motives or tendencies to action are established. Having learned how to do a certain thing, individuals at the same time learn to want to do it. But just as all acquired mechanisms of behavior are modifications of some original instinctive response, so all desires, interests, and ideals are derivatives of such original impulses as fear, curiosity, self-assertion, and sex. All human motives can be traced back to these primary inborn impulses to make these primary inborn responses.
[Footnote 1: The clearest statement of the status of instincts as both mechanisms of action and "drives" to action has been made by Professor Woodworth in his Dynamic Psychology. No one else, to the best of the author's knowledge, has made the distinction with the same clarity and emphasis, though it has been suggested in the work of Thorndike and McDougall. In McDougall's definition of an instinct he recognizes both the responsive self and the tendency to make the response. An instinct is, for him, an inherited disposition which determines its possessor, in respect to any object, "to act in regard to it in a particular manner, or at least to experience an impulse to such action."]
THE NECESSITY FOR THE CONTROL OF INSTINCT. The human being's original equipment of impulses and needs constitutes at once an opportunity and a problem. Instincts are the natural resources of human behavior, the raw materials of action, feeling, and thought. All behavior, whether it be the "making of mud pies or of metaphysical systems," is an expression, however complicated and indirect, of some of the elements of the native endowments of human beings. Instinctive tendencies are, as we have seen, the primary motives and the indispensable instruments of action. Without them there could be no such thing as human purpose or preference; without their utilization in some form no human purpose or preference could be fulfilled. But like other natural resources, men's original tendencies must be controlled and redirected, if they are to be fruitfully utilized in the interests of human welfare.
There are a number of conditions that make imperative the control of native tendencies. The first of these is intrinsic to the organization of instincts themselves. Human beings are born with a plurality of desires, and happiness consists in an equilibrium of satisfactions. But impulses are stimulated at random and collide with one another. Often one impulse, be it that of curiosity or pugnacity or sex, can be indulged only at the expense or frustration of many others just as natural, normal, and inevitable. There is a certain school of philosophical radicals who call us back to Nature, to a life of unconsidered impulse. They paint the rapturous and passionate moments in which strong human impulses receive satisfaction without exhibiting the disease and disorganization of which these indulgences are so often the direct antecedents. A life is a long-time enterprise and it contains a diversity of desires. If all of these are to receive any measure of fulfillment there must be compromise and adjustment between them; they must all be subjected to some measure of control.
A second cause for the control of instinct lies in the fact that people live and have to live together. The close association which is so characteristic of human life is, as we shall see, partly attributable to a specific gregarious instinct, partly to the increasing need for cooeperation which marks the increasing complexity of civilization. But whatever be its causes, group association makes it necessary that men regulate their impulses and actions with reference to one another. Endowed as human beings are with more or less identical sets of original native desires, the desires of one cannot be freely fulfilled without frequently coming into conflict with the similar desires of others. Compromise and adjustment must be brought about by some intelligent modification both of action and desire. The child's curiosity, the acquisitiveness or sex desire or self-assertiveness of the adult must be checked and modified in the interests of the group among which the individual lives. One may take a simple illustration from the everyday life of a large city. There is, for most individuals, an intrinsic satisfaction in fast and free movement. But that desire, exhibited in an automobile on a crowded thoroughfare, will interfere with just as normal, natural, and inevitable desires on the part of other motorists and pedestrians.
Still another imperative reason for the control of our instinctive equipment lies in the fact that instincts as such are inadequate to adjust either the individual or the group to contemporary conditions. They were developed in the process of evolution as useful methods for enabling the human animal to cope with a radically different and incomparably simpler environment. While the problems and processes of his life and environment have grown more complex, man's inborn equipment for controlling the world he lives in has, through the long history of civilization, remained practically unchanged. But as his equipment of mechanisms for reacting to situations is the same as that of his prehistoric ancestors, so are his basic desires. And the satisfaction of man's primary impulses is less and less attainable through the simple, unmodified operation of the mechanisms of response with which they are associated. In the satisfaction of the desire for food, for example, which remains the same as it was under primitive forest conditions, much more complex trains of behavior are required than are provided by man's native equipment. To satisfy the hunger of the contemporary citizens of New York or London requires the transformation of capricious instinctive responses into systematic and controlled processes of habit and thought. The elaborate systems of agriculture, transportation, and exchange which are necessary in the satisfaction of the simplest wants of men in civilization could never be initiated or carried on if we depended on the instincts with which we are born.
There are thus seen to be at least three distinct reasons why our native endowment of capacities and desires needs control and direction. In the life of the individual, instinctive desires must be adjusted to one another in order that their harmonious fulfillment may be made possible. The desires and native reactions of individuals must be checked and modified if individuals are to live successfully and amiably in group association, in which they must, in any case, live. And, finally, so vastly complicated have become the physical and the social machinery of civilized life that it is literally impossible to depend on instincts to adjust us to an environment far different from that to which they were in the process of evolution adapted. In the light of these conditions men have found that if they are to live happily and fruitfully together, certain original tendencies must be stimulated and developed, others weakened, redirected, and modified, and still others, within limits possibly, altogether repressed. Individuals display at once curiosity and fear, pity and pugnacity, acquisitiveness and sympathy. Some of these it has been found useful to allow free play; others, even if moderately indulged, may bring injury to the individual and the group in which his own life is involved. Education, public opinion, and law are more or less deliberate methods society has provided for the stimulation and repression of specific instinctive tendencies. Curiosity and sympathy are valued and encouraged because they contribute, respectively, to science and to cooeperation; pugnacity and acquisitiveness must be kept in check if people are not simply to live, but to live together happily.
But the substitution of control for caprice in the living-out of our native possibilities is as difficult as it is imperative. As already noted, instincts are imperious driving forces as well as mechanisms. While we can modify and redirect our native tendencies of fear, curiosity, pugnacity, and the like, they remain as strong currents of human behavior. They can be turned into new channels; they cannot simply be blocked. Indeed, in some cases, it is clearly the social environment that needs to be modified rather than human behavior. Though it be juvenile delinquency for a boy to play baseball on a crowded street, it is not because there is intrinsically anything unwholesome or harmful in play. What is clearly demanded is not a crushing of the play instinct, but better facilities for its expression. A boy's native sociability and gift for leadership may make him, for want of a better opportunity, a gangster. But to cut off those impulses altogether would be to cut off the sources of good citizenship. The settlement clubs or the Boy Scout organizations in our large cities are instances of what may be accomplished in the way of providing a social environment in which native desires can be freely and fruitfully fulfilled.
Social conditions can thus be modified so as to give satisfaction to a larger proportion of natural desires. On the other hand, civilization in the twentieth century remains so divergent from the mode of life to which man's inborn nature adapts him that the thwarting of instincts becomes inevitable. Impulses, in the first place, arise capriciously, and one of the conditions of our highly organized life is regularity and canalization of action. Our businesses and professions cannot be conducted on the spontaneous promptings of instinct. The engineer, the factory worker, the business man, cannot allow themselves to follow out whatever casual desire occurs to them whenever it occurs. Stability and regularity of procedure, demanded in most professions, are incompatible with random impulsive behavior. To facilitate the effectiveness of certain industries, for example, it may be necessary to check impulses that commonly receive adequate satisfaction. Thus it may be essential to enforce silence, as in the case of telephone operators or motormen, simply because of the demands of the industry, not because there is anything intrinsically deserving of repression in the impulse to talk.
Again, the mere fact that a man lives in a group subjects him to a thousand restraints and restrictions of public opinion and law. A child may come to restrain his curiosity when he finds it condemned as inquisitiveness. We cannot, when we will, vent our pugnacity on those who have provoked it; we cannot be ruthlessly self-assertive in a group; or gratify our native acquisitiveness by appropriating anything and everything within our reach.
But because there are all these social forces making for the repression of instincts, it does not mean that these latter therefore disappear. If any one of them is unduly repressed, it does not simply vanish as a driving force in human behavior. It will make its enduring presence felt in roundabout ways, or in sudden extreme and violent outbursts. Or, if it cannot find even such sporadic or fruitive fulfillments, "a balked disposition" will leave the individual with an uneasiness and irritation that may range from mere pique to serious forms of morbidity and hysteria. A man may for eight or ten hours be kept repeating the same operation at a machine in a factory. He may thereby repress those native desires for companionship and for variety of reaction which constitute his biological inheritance. But too often postponed satisfaction takes the violent form of lurid, over-exciting amusements and dissipation. The suppression of the sex instinct not infrequently results in a morbid pruriency in matters of sex, a distortion of all other interests and activities by a preoccupation with the frustrated sex motive. Assaults and lynchings, and the whole calendar of crimes of violence with which our criminal courts are crowded, are frequent evidence of the incompleteness with which man's strong primary instincts have been suppressed by the niceties of civilization. The phenomenal outburst of collective vivacity and exuberance which marked the reported signing of the armistice at the close of the Great War was a striking instance of those immense primitive energies which the control and discipline of civilization cannot altogether repress.
There has been, furthermore, a great deal of evidence adduced in recent years by students of abnormal psychology concerning the results of the frustration of native desires. When the individual is "balked" in respect to particular impulses or desires, these may take furtive and obscure fulfillments; they may play serious though obscure and unnoticed havoc with a man's whole mental life. Unfulfilled desires may give rise to various forms of "complex," distortions of thought, action, and emotion of which the individual himself may be unaware. They may make a man unduly sensitive, or fearful, or pugnacious. He may, for example, cover up a sense of mortification at failure by an unwarranted degree of bluster and brag. A particular baffling of desire may be compensated by a bitterness against the whole universe or by a melancholy of whose origin the victim may be quite unconscious. These maladjustments between an individual's desires and his satisfactions are certainly responsible for a considerable degree of that irritation and neurasthenia which are so frequently observable in normal individuals.
[Footnote 1: While the evidence in this field has been taken largely from extremely pathological cases, the distortions and perversions of mental behavior, noticeable in such cases, are simply extreme forms of the type of distortion that takes place in the case of normal individuals whose desires are seriously frustrated. See the very clear statement on the subject of "repressions" and "conflicts" in R. B. Hart's Psychology of Insanity.]
The facts enumerated above should make it clear why it is difficult to modify, much less completely to overcome, these strong original drives to action. They serve to emphasize the fact that by control of instinctive responses is not meant their suppression. For just as instinctive tendencies are our basic instruments of action, so instinctive desires are our basic ingredients of happiness. Just as all we can do is limited by the mechanisms with which we are endowed, so what we want is ultimately determined by the native desires with which we are born. The control of action and of desire is justified in so far as such control will the more surely promote a harmonious satisfaction of all our desires. A society whose arrangements are such that instincts are, on the whole, being repressed rather than stimulated and satisfied, is frustrating happiness rather than promoting it. At the very least, a life whose natural impulses are not being fulfilled is a life of boredom. The ennui which is so often and so conspicuously associated with the routine and desolate "gayeties" of society, the listlessness of those bored with their work or their play, or both, are symptoms of social conditions where the native endowments of man are handicaps rather than assets, dead weights rather than motive forces. It means that society is working against rather than with the grain. Discontent, ranging from mere pique and irritability to overt violence, is the penalty that is likely to be paid by a society the majority of whose members are chronically prevented from satisfying their normal human desires. No one who has seen whole lives immeasurably brightened by the satisfaction of a suitable employment, or melancholy and irritability removed by companionship and stimulating surroundings, can fail to realize how important it is to happiness that human instincts be given generous opportunity for fulfillment.
One may say, indeed, that the evils of too complete repression of individual impulses are more than that they produce nervous strain, dissatisfaction, and, not infrequently, crime. Happiness, as Aristotle long ago pointed out, is a complete living-out of all a man's possibilities. It is most in evidence when people are, as we say, doing what they like to do. And people like to do that which they are prompted to do by the nature which is their inheritance. Freshness, originality, and spontaneity are perhaps particularly valued in our own civilization because of the multiple restraints of business and professional occupations. Even under the most perfect social arrangements there will always exist among men conflicts of desire. Their control over their environment will, of necessity, be imperfect, as will their mastery of their own passions and their clear adjustment to one another. That complete agreement between man's desires and the environment in which alone they can find their satisfaction remains at best an ideal. But it is an ideal which indicates clearly the function of control. This is obviously not to crush native desires, but to organize their harmonious fulfillment. Where men have an opportunity to utilize their native gifts they will be satisfied and interested; where native capacities and desires are continually balked, men will be discontented though well-regimented machines.
HABITUAL BEHAVIOR. Except for purposes of analysis, life on the purely instinctive level may be said scarcely to exist in contemporary society, or for that matter, since the beginnings of recorded history. As has been already pointed out, while men are born with an even wider variety of tendencies to act than animals, these are much more plastic and modifiable, more susceptible of training, and much more in need of it than those of the sub-human forms. Even among animals under conditions of domestication, instinct tends largely to be replaced by habitual or acquired modes of behavior. The human being, born with a nervous system and a brain in extremely unformed and plastic condition, is so susceptible to every influence current in his environment that most of his actions within a few years after birth are, when they are not the result of deliberate reflection, secondary or habitual rather than genuinely instinctive. That is, few of the simplest actions of human beings are not in some degree modified by experience. They may appear just as automatic and immediate as if they were instinctive, and indeed they are, but they are learned ways rather than the unlearned ways man has as his possession at birth.
THE MECHANISM OF HABIT. The implications of habitual behavior can better be understood after a brief analysis of the mechanism of such action. An instinct has been defined as a tendency to act in a given way in response to a given stimulus. What happens when a stimulus prompts the organism to respond in a given way, is that some sensory nerve, whether of taste or touch or sound, sight, smell, or muscular sensitivity, receives a stimulus which passes through the spinal cord to a motor nerve through which some muscle is "innervated" and a response made. In the simplest type of reflex action, such as the winking of an eye in a blinding light, or the withdrawing of a hand from flame, such is the physiology of the process. But where an immediate adjustment cannot be made by an instinctive response, where satisfaction is not secured by the passage of a sensory stimulus to an immediate motor response, the nervous impulse is, as it were, deflected to the brain area, auditory, visual, or whatever it may be, which is associated with that particular type of sensation. The path to the brain area is far from simple; the nervous impulse, which might be compared to an electric current, must pass through many nerve junctions known as "synapses," at which points there is some not completely understood chemical resistance offered to the passage of the nerve current. On passing through the network of nerves in the brain area, the current passes back again through a complicated maze of connections to a motor nerve which insures a muscular response. The first time a stimulus passes through this network the resistance offered at the nerve junction or synapse is very high; at succeeding repetitions of the stimulus the resistance is reduced, the nerve current passes more rapidly and fluently over the paths it has already traveled, and the action resulting becomes as direct and automatic as if it were an original reflex action.
[Footnote 1: See McDougall: Physiological Psychology.]
THE ACQUISITION OF NEW MODES OF RESPONSE. Expressed in less technical language this means simply that human beings can learn by experience, and that they tend to repeat actions they have once learned. Where an animal is perfectly adjusted to its environment, all stimuli issue in immediate and nicely adjusted responses. This happens only where the environment is very simple and stable, and where in consequence no complexity of structure or action is necessary. In the clam and the oyster, and in some of the lower vertebrates, perhaps, instinctive activity is almost exclusively present. But in the case of man, so complicated are the situations to which he is exposed that random instinctive responses will not solve his problems. He must, as with his highly modifiable nervous system he can, acquire new modes of response which will, in the complexity of new situations serve as effectively as his original tendencies to act would serve him in a simpler and stabler environment. A human being in a modern city cannot live by instinct alone; he must acquire an enormous number of habits to meet the variety of complex situations he meets in daily life. A monkey exists with fairly fixed native tendencies to act. But civilization could never have developed if in man new ways could not be acquired to meet new situations, and if these new ways could not be retained and made habitual in the individual and the race.
TRIAL AND ERROR AND DELIBERATE LEARNING. Whenever, as happens a large number of times daily in the life of the average man, old ways of response, inborn or formerly acquired, are inadequate to meet a new situation, there are two methods of acquiring a new and more adequate response. One is the method of trial and error, already discussed, whereby animals and humans try every possible instinctive response to a situation until one brings satisfaction and is retained as a habitual reaction when that situation recurs. The other is a delay in response, during which delay reflection, a consideration of possible alternatives, and a conscious decision, take place. The technique of this latter process will be discussed more specifically in the next chapter.
Whether acquired by trial and error, or through reflection, learned acts are, the first time they are performed, frequently imperfect, only partly effective, and performed with some difficulty. With successive repetitions their performance becomes more rapid, more immediate, and more adjusted to the specific situation to be met. And as they become more familiar responses to familiar stimuli they cease to be conscious at all. They are performed with almost as little difficulty or attention as normal breathing.
SOME CONDITIONS OF HABIT-FORMATION. The acquisition of habits is so important in the education of human beings that the conditions under which they can be acquired and made permanently effective have been closely studied. From experiments certain fundamental conclusions stand out. A habit is acquired by repetition, and the "curves of learning" show certain recurrent features. In the first few repetitions of an acquired activity, there is progress in the rapidity, effectiveness, and accuracy with which the response is made. There is, up to a certain point, an almost vertical rise in the learning curve. After varying numbers of repetitions, depending somewhat on the particular individual, there occur what are known as "plateaux," during which no progress in speed or accuracy of response is to be observed. In experiments with the learning of typewriting, for example, it has been found that the beginner makes rapid progress up to the point, say, where he can write fifty words a minute without error; there is a long interval not infrequently before he can raise his efficiency to the point of writing seventy words a minute correctly. Analogous conditions have been observed in the speed with which the sending and receiving of telegraphic messages is learned. These "plateaux" of learning are sometimes to be accounted for by muscular fatigue. Frequently there is actual progress in learning during these apparent intervals of marking time. Some of the less observable features of skill in performance which only later become overt in speed and accuracy are being attained during these seemingly profitless and discouraging intervals. Not infrequently in the acquisition of skill in the playing of tennis or the piano, or in the solution of mathematical problems, a decided gain in skill and speed comes after what seems to be not only lack of progress but decided backsliding. It is this which led William James to quote with approval the aphorism that one learns to skate in summer and swim in winter.
DRILL VERSUS ATTENTIVE REPETITION IN LEARNING. The rapidity with which habits may be acquired and the permanency with which they may be retained depend on other factors than simply that of repetition. Mere mechanical drill is effective in the acquisition of simple mechanical habits. The most attentive appreciation of the proper things to be done in playing tennis or the piano will not by itself make one an expert in those activities. The effective responses must actually be performed in order that the appropriate connections within the nervous system may be made, and may become habitual. A habit is physiologically nothing but a certain set or direction given to paths in the nervous system. These paths become fixed, embedded, and ingrained only when nerve currents pass over them time and time again.
[Footnote 1: See Ladd and Woodworth: Physiological Psychology, pp. 542-92.]
Mere repetition, on the other hand, will not suffice in the acquisition of complex habits of action. The learning of these requires a deliberate noting and appreciation of the significant factors in the performance of an activity, and the consciously chosen repetition of these in succeeding instances until the habit is well fixed. One reason why animals cannot be taught so wide a variety of complex habits as can the human being is that they cannot keep their attention fixed on successive repetitions, and that in learning they literally do not know what they are doing. They cannot, as can humans, break up the activity which they are in process of learning into its significant factors, and attend to these in successive repetitions. The superiority of deliberate learning over the brute method of trial and error consists precisely in that the deliberate and attentive learner can pick out the important steps of any process, and learn rapidly to eliminate random and useless features of his early performances without waiting to have the right way "knocked into him" by experience. He will short-circuit the process of learning by choosing appropriate responses in advance, noting how they may be made more effective and discovering methods for making them so, and for eliminating useless, random, and ineffective acts. What we call the "capacity to learn" is evident in marked degree where there is alert attention to the steps of the process in successive repetitions. The truth in the assertion that an intelligent man will shortly outclass the merely automatically skillful in any occupation or profession requiring training, lies not in any mysterious faculty, but in the peculiarly valuable habit of attending with discriminating interest to any process, and learning it thereby with vastly more economical rapidity. Genius may be more than what one writer described it, "a painstaking attention to detail"; but a painstaking attention to the meaning and bearing of details it most decidedly is.
LEARNING AFFECTED BY AGE, FATIGUE, AND HEALTH. There are certain conditions not altogether within the control of the individual which affect the rapidity with which habits are acquired. One of the most important of these is fatigue. Connections among the fibers that go to make up the nervous system cannot be made with ease and rapidity when the organism is fatigued. At such times there seems to be an unusually high resistance at the synapses or nerve junctions (where there is a lowering of resistance to the passage of a nerve current when habits are easily formed). After a certain point of fatigue, whether in the acquisition of motor habits or the memorizing of information, in which the process is much the same, the rate of learning is much slower and the degree of accuracy much less. The length of time through which habits are retained when acquired during a state of fatigue is also much less than under a more healthy and resilient condition of the organism.
The point of fatigue varies among different individuals and in consequence the conditions of habit-formation vary. But some conditions remain constant. For instance, in experiments with memory tests (memory being a form of habit in the nervous system), material memorized in the morning seems to be most rapidly acquired and most permanently retained.
The age and health of the individual also are important factors in the capacity to learn, or habit-formation. Conditions during disease are similar to those obtaining during fatigue, only to a more acute degree. The toxins and poisons in the nervous system at such times operate to prevent the formation of new habits and the breaking of old ones. For while the synapses (nerve junctions) may offer high resistance to the passage of a new stimulus, they will lend themselves more and more readily to the passage of stimuli by which they have already been traversed.
That the age of the individual should make a vast difference in the capacity to acquire new habits and to modify old ones is obvious from the physiology of habit already described. When the brain and nervous system are both young, there are few neural connections established, and the organism is plastic to all stimuli. As the individual grows older, connections once made tend to be repeated and to be, as it were, unconsciously preferred by the nervous system. The capacity to form habits is most pronounced in the young child in whose nervous structure no one action rather than another has yet had a chance to be ingrained. The more connections that are made, the more habits that are acquired, the less, in a sense, can be made. For the organism will tend to repeat those actions to which it has previously been stimulated, and the more frequently it repeats them the more frequently it will tend to. So that, as William James pointed out, by twenty-five we are almost literally bundles of habits. When the majority of acts of life have become routine and fixed, it is almost impossible to acquire new ways of acting, since the acquisition of new habits seriously interferes with the old, and old habits physiologically stay put.
HABIT AS A TIME-SAVER. This fact, that habits can be acquired most easily early in life, and that those early acquired become so fixed that they are almost inescapable, is of supreme importance to the individual and society. It is in one sense a great advantage; it is an enormous saver of time. In the famous words of James:
The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we would guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation. Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all. If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.
[Footnote 1: James: Psychology, vol. I, p. 122.]
The ideal of efficiency is the ideal of having the effective thing habitually done with as little effort and difficulty as possible. This in the case of human beings is, as James points out, attained when good habits are early acquired and when as large a proportion as possible of purely routine activity is made effortless and below the level of consciousness. To do as many things as possible without thinking is to free thinking for new situations. Our experiences would be very restricted indeed if we could not reduce a large portion of the things we do to the mechanics of habit. Walking, eating, these, though partly instinctive, were once problems requiring thought, effort, and attention. If we had to spend all our lives learning to dress and undress, to find our way about our own house or city, to spell and to pronounce correctly, it is clear how little variety and diversity we should ever attain in our lives. By the time we are twenty these fundamental habits are so firmly fixed in us that, for better or for worse, they are ours for life, and we are free to give our attention to other things. Again in the words of James:
We all of us have a definite routine manner of performing certain daily offices connected with the toilet, with the opening and shutting of familiar cupboards, and the like. Our lower centers know the order of these movements, and show their knowledge by their "surprise" if the objects are altered so as to oblige the movement to be made in a different way. But our higher thought centers know hardly anything about the matter. Few men can tell off-hand which sock, shoe, or trousers-leg they put on first. They must first mentally rehearse the act; and even that is often insufficient—the act must be performed. So of the questions, Which valve of my double door opens first? Which way does my door swing? etc. I cannot tell the answer; yet my hand never makes a mistake. No one can describe the order in which he brushes his hair or teeth; yet it is likely that the order is a pretty fixed one in all of us.
[Footnote 1: James: loc. cit., vol. I, p. 115.]
HABIT AS A STABILIZER OF ACTION. Habit not only thus saves time, but stabilizes action, and where the habits acquired are effective ones, this is invaluable. Habits of prompt performance of certain daily duties on the part of the individual are a distinct benefit both to him and to others, as certain customary efficient office practices, when they are really habitual, immensely facilitate the operation of a business. On a larger scale habit is "society's most precious conservative agent." Individuals not only develop personal habits of dress, speech, etc., but become habituated to social institutions, to certain occupations, to the prestige attaching to some types of action and the punishment correlated with others. Education in the broadest sense is simply the acquisition of those habits which adapt an individual to his social environment. It is the instrument society uses to hand down the habits of thinking, feeling, and action which characterize a civilization. Society is protected from murder, theft, and pillage by law and the police, but it is even better protected by the fact that living together peacefully and cooeperatively is for most adults habitual. In a positive sense the multifarious occupations and professions of a great modern city are carried on from day to day in all their accustomed detail, not because the lawyers, the business men, the teachers, who practice them continuously reason them out, nor from continuous instinctive promptings. They are striking testimony to the influence of habit. As a recent English writer puts it:
The population of London would be starved in a week if the flywheel of habit were removed, if no signalman or clerk or policeman ever did anything which was not suggested by a first-hand impulse, or if no one were more honest or punctual or industrious than he was led to be by his conscious love, on that particular day, for his master or for his work, or by his religion, or by a conviction of danger from the criminal law.
[Footnote 1: Graham Wallas: Great Society, p. 74.]
From etiquette and social distinction, from formalities of conversation and correspondence, of greeting and farewell, of condolence and congratulation to the most important "customs of the country," with respect to marriage, property, and the like, ways of acting are maintained by the mechanism of habit rather than by arbitrary law or equally arbitrary instinctive caprice.
DISSERVICEABLE HABITS IN THE INDIVIDUAL. Habitual behavior which can become so completely controlling in the lives of so many people is not without its dangers. The nervous system is originally neutral, and can be involved on the side either of good or evil. A human born with a plastic brain and nervous system must acquire habits, but that he will acquire good habits (that is, habits serviceable to his own happiness and to that of his fellows) is not guaranteed by nature. Habits are indeed more notorious than famous, and examples are more frequently chosen from evil ones than from good. Promptness in the performance of one's professional or domestic duties, care in speech, in dress and in demeanor, are, once they are acquired, permanent assets. But if these fail to be developed, dishonesty or superficiality, slovenliness in dress and speech, and surliness in manner, may and do become equally habitual. The significance of this has been eloquently stated at the close of James's famous discussion: