Human Nature and Conduct
Part 3: The Place of Intelligence:
VI. No Separate Instincts
IN discussing habit and impulse we have repeatedly met topics where reference to the work of thought was imperative. Explicit consideration of the place and office of intelligence in conduct can hardly begin otherwise than by gathering together these incidental references and reaffirming their significance. The stimulation of reflective imagination by impulse, its dependence upon established habits, and its effect in transforming habit and regulating impulse forms, accordingly, our first theme.
Habits are conditions of intellectual efficiency. They operate in two ways upon intellect. Obviously, they restrict its reach, they fix its boundaries. They are blinders that confine the eyes of mind to the road ahead. They prevent thought from straying away from its imminent occupation to a landscape more varied and picturesque but irrelevant to practice. Outside the scope of habits, thought works gropingly, fumbling in confused uncertainty; and yet habit made complete in routine shuts in thought so effectually that it is no longer needed or possible. The routineer's road is a
(173) ditch out of which he cannot get, whose sides enclose him, directing his course so thoroughly that he no longer thinks of his path or his destination. All habit-forming involves the beginning of all intellectual specialization which if unchecked ends in thoughtless action.
Significantly enough this full-blown result is called absentmindedness. Stimulus and response are mechanically linked together in an unbroken chain. Each successive act facilely evoked by its predecessor pushes us automatically into the next act of a predetermined series. Only a signal flag of distress recalls consciousness to the task of carrying on. Fortunately nature which beckons us to this path of least resistance also puts obstacles in the way of our complete acceptance of its invitation. Success in achieving a ruthless and dull efficiency of action is thwarted by untoward circumstance. The most skilful aptitude bumps at times into the unexpected, and so gets into trouble from which only observation and invention extricate it. Efficiency in following a beaten path has then to be converted into breaking a new road through strange lands.
Nevertheless what in effect is love of ease has masqueraded morally as love of perfection. A goal of finished accomplishment has been set lip which if it were attained would mean only mindless action. It has been called complete and free activity when in truth it is only a treadmill activity or marching in one place. The practical impossibility of reaching, in an all around way and all at once such a " perfection " has been rec-
(174) -ognized. But such a goal has nevertheless been conceived as the ideal, and progress has been defined as approximation to it. Under diverse intellectual skies the ideal has assumed diverse: forms and colors. But all of them have involved the conception of a completed activity, a static perfection. Desire and need have been treated as signs of deficiency, and endeavor as proof not of power but of incompletion.
In Aristotle this conception of an end which exhausts all realization and excludes all potentiality appears as a definition of the highest excellence. It of necessity excludes all want and struggle and all dependencies. It is neither practical nor social. Nothing is left but a self-revolving, self-sufficing thought engaged in contemplating its own sufficiency. Some forms of Oriental morals have united this logic with a profounder psychology, and have seen that the final terminus on this road is Nirvana, an obliteration of all thought and desire. In medieval science, the ideal reappeared as a definition of heavenly bliss accessible only to a redeemed immortal soul. Herbert Spencer is far enough away from Aristotle, medieval Christianity and Buddhism; but the idea re-emerges in his conception of a goal of evolution in which adaptation of organism to environment is complete and final. In popular thought, the conception lives in the vague thought of a remote state of attainment in which we shall be beyond "temptation," and in which virtue by its own inertia will persist as a triumphant consummation. Even Kant who begins with a complete scorn
(175) for happiness ends with an "ideal" of the eternal and undisturbed union of virtue and joy, though in his case nothing but a symbolic approximation is admitted to be feasible.
The fallacy in these versions of the same idea is perhaps the most pervasive of all fallacies in philosophy. So common is it that one questions whether it. might not be called the philosophical fallacy. It consists in the supposition that whatever is found true under certain conditions may forthwith be asserted universally or without limits and conditions. Because a thirsty man gets satisfaction in drinking water, bliss consists in being drowned. Because the success of any particular struggle is measured by reaching a point of frictionless action, therefore there is such a thing as an all-inclusive end of effortless smooth activity endlessly maintained. It is forgotten that success is success of a specific effort, and satisfaction the fulfilment of a specific demand, so that success and satisfaction become meaningless when severed from the wants and struggles whose consummations they are, or when taken universally. The philosophy of Nirvana comes the closest to admission of this fact, but even it holds Nirvana to be desirable.
Habit is however more than a restriction of thought. Habits become negative limits because they are first, positive agencies. The more numerous our habits the wider the field of possible observation and foretelling, The more flexible they are, the more refined is perception in its discrimination and the more delicate the pres-
(176) -entation evoked by imagination. The sailor is intellectually at home on the sea, the hunter in the forest, the painter in his studio, the man of science in his laboratory. These commonplaces are universally recognized in the concrete; but their significance is obscured and their truth denied in the current general theory of mind. For they mean nothing more or less than that habits formed in process of exercising biological aptitudes are the sole agents of observation, recollection, foresight and judgment: a mind or consciousness or soul in general which performs these operations is a myth.
The doctrine of a single, simple and indissoluble soul was the cause and the effect of failure to recognize that concrete habits are the means of knowledge and thought. Many who think themselves scientifically emancipated and who freely advertise the soul for a superstition, perpetuate a false notion of what knows, that is, of a separate knower. Nowadays they usually fix upon consciousness in general, as a stream or process or entity; or else, more specifically upon sensations and images as the tools of intellect. Or sometimes they think they have scaled the last heights of realism by adverting grandiosely to a formal knower in general who serves as one term in the knowing relation; by dismissing psychology as irrelevant to knowledge and logic, they think to conceal the psychological monster they have conjured up.
Now it is dogmatically stated that no such conceptions of the seat, agent or vehicle will go psychologic-
(177) -ally at the present time. Concrete habits do all the perceiving, recognizing, imagining, recalling, judging, conceiving and reasoning that is done. " Consciousness," whether as a stream or as special sensations and images, expresses functions of habits, phenomena of their formation, operation, their interruption and reorganization.
Yet habit does not, of itself, know, for it does not of itself stop to think, observe or remember. Neither does impulse of itself engage in reflection or contemplation. It just lets go. Habits by themselves are too organized, too insistent and determinate to need to indulge in inquiry or imagination. And impulses are too chaotic, tumultuous and confused to be able to know even if they wanted to. Habit as such is too definitely adapted to an environment to survey or analyze it, and impulse is too indeterminately related to the environment to be capable of reporting anything about it. Habit incorporates, enacts or overrides objects, but it doesn't know them. Impulse scatters and obliterates them with its restless stir. A certain delicate combination of habit and impulse is requisite fox observation, memory and judgment. Knowledge which is not projected against the black unknown lives in the muscles, not in consciousness.
We may, indeed, be said to know how by means of our habits. And a sensible intimation of the practical function of knowledge has led men to identify all acquired practical skill, or even the instinct of animals, with knowledge. We walk and read aloud, we get off and
(178) on street cars, we dress and undress, and do a thousand useful acts without thinking of them. We know something, namely, how to do them. Bergson's philosophy of intuition is hardly more than an elaborately documented commentary on the popular conception that by instinct a bird knows how to build a nest and a spider to weave a web. But after all, this practical work done by habit and instinct in securing prompt and exact adjustment to the environment is not knowledge, except by courtesy. Or, if we choose to call it knowledge — and no one has the right to issue an ukase to the contrary— then other things also called knowledge, knowledge of and about things, knowledge that things are thus and so, knowledge that involves reflection and conscious appreciation, remains of a different sort, unaccounted for and undescribed.
For it is a commonplace that the more suavely efficient a habit the more unconsciously it operates. Only a hitch in its workings occasions emotion and provokes thought. Carlyle and Rousseau, hostile in temperament and outlook, yet agree in looking at consciousness as a kind of disease, since we have no consciousness of bodily or mental organs as long as they work at case in perfect health. The idea of disease is, however, aside from the pint, unless we are pessimistic enough to regard every slip in total adjustment of a person to its surroundings as something abnormal— a point of view which once more would identify well-being with perfect automatism. The truth is that in every waking moment, the complete balance of the organism and its
(179) environment is constantly interfered with and as constantly restored. Hence the " stream of consciousness " in general, and in particular that phase of it celebrated by William James as alternation of flights and perchings. Life is interruptions and recoveries. Continuous interruption is not possible in the activities of an individual. Absence of perfect equilibrium is not equivalent to a complete crushing of organized activity. When the disturbance amounts to such a pitch as that, the self goes to pieces. It is like shell-shock. Normally, the environment remains sufficiently in harmony with the body of organized activities to sustain most of them in active function. But a novel factor in the surroundings releases some impulse which tends to initiate a different and incompatible activity, to bring about a redistribution of the elements of organized activity between those have been respectively central and subsidiary. Thus the hand guided by the eye moves toward a surface. Visual quality is the dominant element. The hand comes in contact with an object. The eye does not cease to operate but some unexpected quality of touch, a voluptuous smoothness or annoying heat, compels a readjustment in which the touching, handling activity strives to dominate the action. Now at these moments of a shifting in activity conscious feeling and thought arise and are accentuated. The disturbed adjustment of organism and environment is reflected in a temporary strife which concludes in a coming to terms of the old habit and the new impulse.
In this period of redistribution impulse determines the direction of movement. It furnishes the focus about which reorganization swirls. Our attention in short is always directed forward to bring to notice something which is imminent but which as yet escapes us. Impulse defines the peering, the search, the inquiry. It is, in logical language, the movement into the unknown, not into the immense inane of the unknown at large, but into that special unknown which when it is hit upon restores an ordered, unified action. During this search, old habit supplies content, filling, definite, recognizable, subject-matter. It begins as vague presentiment of what we are going towards. As organized habits are definitely deployed and focused, the confused situation takes on form, it is " cleared up "— the essential function of intelligence. Processes become objects. Without habit there is only irritation and confused hesitation. With habit alone there is a machine-like repetition, a duplicating recurrence of old acts. With conflict of habits and release of impulse there is conscious search.