An Address Delivered at the Opening of the Section of Psychology: At the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association at Montreal, September, 1897

R. M. Bucke
1897 BMJ (Clinical Research Edition)  
ABOUT siXty years ago now, in the time of the Millerite -excitement, a man who believed that the world was about to -end expressed his fears to Emerson, who replied that it was really a matter of little consequence, "for," said he, "we -can do very well without it." There are wise men who teach that each man creates the world he lives in, and as he gives -it its substance so also does he give it its quality, insomuch that it is good or bad as he is good or bad. Be this as it may, 'it is certain
more » ... that each one of us is of more consequence to himself than is all the outside world, be it shadowy or be it -solid; be it created by each inhabitant or be it independent and self-existent. Not only so, but the essential part of each unan is what we call his mind, in comparison to which the body is an insignificant factor. THE STUDY OF PSYCHorLOGY. This being granted, it would seem to follow that psychology -ought to be the most interesting of all the sciences, and as a matter of fact it undoubtedly is so, though it has been greatly -discredited by the imperfection of the method by which it has until very lately been studied. That imperfection is so great that it would hardly be an exaggeration to assert that nearly all the study and thought expended upon it down to ,the beginning of our own age has been fruitless and as good :as wasted, except inasmuch as it has at last made clear the eimpassability of the route men have sought to follow, the 'route, namely, of introspection. For we might as well study the human body alone without reference to that of any other -creature, and attempt in that way to decipher its genesis, development, and meaning as to attempt to comprehend a single human mind without including in our examination not only other human minds in all stages of evolution, but -equally all other minds to which our own is related-that is to say, all minds other than human belonging to our kinsfolk -the animals, minds which stand to-day like mile posts along the almost infinite length of the path which our mind has fol-'owed in its upward march across the immensities and eternities from its remote infancy to the present hour; minds which in a thousand faculties represent to us everywhere, in infinite *sameness and variety, replicas of our own or of parts of our own, showing us, as the poet says, tokens of ourselves which -we "negligently dropped as passed that way huge times ago." COMPARATIVE PSYCHOLOGY. As man's bodily life rests upon and grows from that of -countless prehuman ancestors; as man includes in his struc-'ture the beart of the reptile, the gills of the fish, as well as the forms in outline of innumerable still lower races, so is Uiis so-called human mind rooted in the senses and instincts -of all his ancestral species; and not only so, but these senses and instincts still live in him, making up, indeed, far the larger part of his current every-day life; while his higher psychical life is merely the outgrowth and flower of them. As truly as the plant is an embodiment of inorganic matter vivified by the transmuted forces which in the non-vital world about us we call light and heat, so truly is man's mind 'the outcome of-the expansion and culmination of-the imjperfect sensatio-n of the worm, the rudimentary sight, hearing, -and taste of the fish and reptile; and the simple consciousness which, springing from these, passed to us after almost ,infinite ages of slow evolution and amelioration through tens -of thousands of generations of placental mammals our immeidiate progenitors. In the growth of mind, whether that of the race or of an individual, we recognise two distinct processes: First, the very gradual evolution to, or toward, perfection of faculties that have already come into existence; and, secondly, the springing into existence (as new branches start from a growing tree) of faculties which had previously no existence. For it is clear to the least thoughtful student that no faculty (as no organ) came into mature and perfect life at once. Hearing and sight, we are told, developed by slow degrees from the sense of touch; and in the region of the intellect conceptual life wasbornfrom ages of receptual, and that from millenniums of perceptual. MENTAL GROWTH IN THE INDIVIDUAL AND IN THE RACE. Let us now suppose mind growing for millions of years in the way set forth. It begins, we will say, as mere excitability; to that after a long time is added what may be called discrimination, or choice and rejection of, for instance, different kinds of food. After another long interval of almost infinitely slow advance sensation appears, and with it the capacity of pleasure and of pain; then, later still, memory; by and by recognition of offspring; and successively thereafter arise reason, recognition of individuals, and communication of ideas. Concurrently with these intellectual facu'ties certain moral functions such as fear, surprise, jealousy, anger, affection, play, sympathy, emulation, pride, resentment, grief, hate, revenge, shame, remorse, and a sense of the ludicrous have also arisen in the nascent mind. We have reached now the mental plain of the higher animals, which is equally that of the human being at about 2 years of age. Then occurs in the child the mental expansion which separates man from the higher mammals-for something like a year the child mind steadily grows from the status of the latter to the status of the human mind. This year in the individual, during which it walks erect but possesses a receptual intelligence only, not having yet the power of forming either concepts or true words, represents in the race the age of the alalus homo, the period of perhaps a hundred thousand years, during which our ancestors walked erect, but not having self-consciousness had no true language. At the average age of 3 years in the individual self-consciousness is born, and the infant, from the point of view of psychology, has become a human being. But we all know that after the attainment of the distinctively human faculty, self-consciousness, the child has still much to acquire both in the way of the expansion of already possessed faculties, and in the acquisition of new ones before it is mentally a mature man. Of the numerous faculties which it still has to acquire I shall only mention here the colour sense, the sense of fragrance, the human moral nature, and the musical sense. A consideration of these four and of self-consciousness will occupy the short time allotted me to-day. And first a word as to that basic and master human faculty, self-consciousness. It occurs, as said, at about the average age of 3 years, but when it first made its appearance in the race it must have done so at full maturity; perhaps at the age of 20, both life and childhood being shorter at that time than they are to-day. You will see at once why I say self-consciousness must have occurred at first at maturity. Its acquisition at a given epoch supposed a higher mental life than had hitherto existed-such higher life on the part of the race could not have come to the individual before his maturity. To suppose that it would be (if you will think of it) a contradiction in terms. The human mind attains its high water mark at maturity (that is what the word means), and one generation could not reach before maturity what the preceding generation had not reached at all. Well, but selfconsciousness occurs to-day at 3 years of age, and we only reach full mental maturity (on the average) at the age of 35. The advance then made by the individual from the age of 3 to that of 35 represents the advance of the race between the date of the appearance of self-consciousness and to-day, the mental status of the 3-year-old child to-day being the mental status of the adult when self-consciousness first appeared. How long has it taken the human mind to grow from mere self-consciousness to its present stature ? Not less certainly than several hundred thousand years. Whatever the time required is the time during which man has inhabited the earth. Of all the mental faculties below self-consciousness each one has its own time for appearing in the human infant-as, for instance, memory and simple consciousness appear within Tmz BRMIN 643 [K]gDlCkL JOURICkI SF-P. I1,7 I897.
doi:10.1136/bmj.2.1915.643 fatcat:h5nkba65lvdnbfveuyq5zbgcii