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Like most modern writers, Professor Thorndike finds the basis of man's original nature in the connections formed before birth among his 11,000 millions of neurones. In behavior these connections manifest themselves as reflexes, instincts, and inborn capacities - terms which indicate merely progressive differences in the complexity of the situations which provoke action, in the complexity of the responses made to the situations, and in the plasticity of the bonds between situations and responses.
What distinguishes Mr. Thorndike's view is that he conceives the number of these preformed connections and consequently the number of man's unlearned tendencies to be very great. Darwin held that man has fewer instincts than any other animal. William James, on the contrary, believed that man has all the instinctive impulses that animals have and a great many more besides. Thorndike, in turn, goes far beyond James in multiplying innate propensities. As he multiplies them, of course, he makes these propensities more limited in scope and more definite in character.
An illustration will give the best idea of Mr. Thorndike's method and results. James treated imitation as one of the most important instincts. On it Tarde, Le Bon, and Ross based their "psychology of the crowd." Later writers like McDougall and Parmelee have denied that it is an instinct on the ground that it does not involve any specific reflexes or mode of behavior, but have admitted" a general innate tendency" to imitate." Now comes Thorndike with his detailed scrutiny of the evidence leading up to this conclusion:
The most probable cases for the production, by behavior witnessed, of similar behavior in the witness, are smiling when smiled at,
1 Principles of Psychology, ii, 393, 441. 2 Ibid., p. 408.
'W. McDougall, Social Psychology, pp. 102-107; M. Parmelee, Science of Human Behavior, pp. 241, 246, 247.
laughing when others laugh, yelling when others yell, looking at what others observe, listening when others listen, running with or after people who are running in the same direction, running from the focus from which others scatter, jabbering when others jabber, and becoming silent as they become silent, crouching when others crouch, chasing, attacking and rending what others hunt, and seizing whatever object another seizes.
In my opinion these probabilities are all, or nearly all, real, and are the chief, or even the only components of the imitative tendency which shows itself in large masses of men, and produces panics, and orgies, and frenzies of violence, and which only the rarest individuals can actively withstand.1
In other words: "Man has a few specialized original tendencies whose responses are for him to do what the man forming the situation does. His other tendencies to imitate are habits learned nowise differently from other habits." "
This process of resolving the commonly recognized instincts into their constituent elements is carried out in much detail. The aim is to define each situation, each response, and each connection with such precision that every unlearned tendency may be identified with complete assurance by different investigators. Gradually enough material may be collected to make sure just what forms of behavior are original and just what forms are acquired. Mr. Thorndike's own work is professedly only a beginning in this line of endeavor: it does not give a complete inventory of unlearned tendencies, but it does give an illuminating conception of the character of these tendencies and of the scientific method of studying them.
To economists what Mr. Thorndike has to say about the relations between innate capacities and intelligence is even more important than what he has to say about these capacities themselves. The ultimate source of all values he finds in "the original satisfyingness of some states of affairs and annoyingness of others."
1 The Original Nature of Man, pp. 120, 121.
Ibid., p. 122.
points out that "To satisfy is not the same as to give sensory pleasure and to annoy is not the same as to give pain." His generalizations concerning original tendencies to be satisfied or annoyed, concerning instinctive likes or dislikes, are summed up in "three laws of readiness and unreadiness." Briefly put, these laws are that" conduction by units in readiness is satisfying, while conduction by units in unreadiness, and readiness without conduction are annoying." One group of satisfiers and annoyers is given special prominence by Mr. Thorndike and deserves special consideration by economists. Man has an innate tendency " to general mental activity and to general physical activity (tho they are not as a matter of fact absolutely general)." The exercise of these tendencies satisfies, the denial of exercise annoys (pp. 122-133).
Now the original tendencies with which man is born have certain original tendencies of their own. One such tendency is to produce what we call consciousness. A second is to increase the strength of connections between situations and responses by use and to diminish this strength by disuse -the "Law of Exercise." A third is to increase the strength of connections when the response is accompanied or followed by a satisfying state of affairs and to diminish the strength of connections in the opposite case the "Law of Effect " (pp. 170-172). 1 "These tendencies for connections to grow strong by exercise and satisfying consequences, and to grow weak by disuse and annoying consequences are "the features of man's original equipment whereby all the rest of that equipment is modified for use in a complex civilized world": "the effective original forces in what has variously been called nur
1 Mr. Thorndike insists that this law of effect is primary, and not reducible to the law of exercise (p. 192).
ture, training, learning by experience, or intelligence (p. 173).
Intelligence and instinct, then, are "of the same flesh and blood" (p. 310). For when man's unlearned capacities play out their game under favorable conditions they lead to reflection and to self-judgment, just as truly as they lead to the begetting and nursing of children. Acquired nature is generated from original nature" and combines back with it to form new hybrids" (p. 198). Our passionate religions, our industrial arts, and our pure sciences are all evolved from our innate propensities as much as is our habit of walking.
On this view human nature is highly plastic. Not plastic, as James Mill would have explained, because the mind is "under the governance of two sovereign masters" and may have the most diverse pleasure-pain associations established within it by appropriate training; but plastic because of the great number of its original propensities and of the vastly greater number of combinations among these propensities which may be formed by experience (p. 305). Practically every activity of mature life is directed not by any single instinct (Mr. Thorndike's unlearned tendencies are resolved into elements too specific for that); but by some combination among several or many original capacities, modified little or modified greatly by experience. As early as "the first half-year or less, original nature and nurture coöperate almost inextricably" (p. 40). Among adults, "Much, perhaps nine-tenths of what commonly passes for distinctively human nature is . . . not in man originally, but is put there by institutions or grows there by the interaction of the world of natural forces and the capacity to learn" (p. 199).
This view of human nature affords a firm psychological basis for optimism concerning the possibilities of social progress. Man has, indeed, no innate "moral sense to lead him upward, no unlearned difference of response to right and wrong, no religious instinct (p. 202). Nor is man's original equipment adapted to the higher life; on the contrary it is " archaic, adapting the human animal for the life that might be led by a family group of wild men in the woods" (p. 280). Nor is this original equipment improving. It might be bettered, indeed, within certain limits by careful breeding (p. 244); but "original nature springs from original nature" (p. 235), and as matters stand, we have small warrant for thinking that human advance is due to growth of our unlearned capacities (pp. 240-243). What can be changed is nurture. Nurture cannot indeed eradicate unlearned capacities, it cannot supply them; but it can select certain among them for development and others for repression; it can make the most various combinations among them as well as modify their forms. The more numerous, the more diverse, the more specific research makes these original elements in human nature, the more powerful is the role it ascribes to the nurture, which selects, combines, and modifies them. Most important of all, the influence of nurture may be cumulative. Every increase of social wisdom may be applied in bettering the nurture given to the generation that follows, so that this generation in turn may give its successor training better than it received.