The Freudian Wish and its Place in Ethics

Chapter 2: The Physiology of Wishes; 
and Their Integration

Edwin B. Holt

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THE foregoing pages will have sufficiently illustrated, I trust, what Freud means by his very comprehensive term ‘wish.' I have dwelt on it at great length, because it is this ‘wish' which transforms the principal doctrines of psychology and recasts the science ; much as the 'atomic theory,' and later the ‘ionic theory,' have reshaped earlier conceptions of chemistry. This so-called ‘wish' becomes the unit of psychology, replacing the older unit commonly called 'sensation'; which latter, it is to be noted, was a content of consciousness unit, whereas the ‘wish' is a more dynamic affair. In attempting to expound the change in psychology which is effected by this concept of the ‘ wish,' I shall have to go somewhat beyond anything which Freud himself has said or written, for he has mainly devoted himself to reshaping the science of psychiatry, abnormal psychology; and has not discussed

( 48) at anything like so great length the general field of normal mind. But I shall try to limit myself to the necessary implications of his discoveries, in the field of normal psychology. And in doing this I am quite aware that the rank and file of psychologists to-day neither understand nor accept, if indeed they have ever dreamt of, these essential and, as I think, very illuminating implications. It shall be for the reader to judge whether the picture which emerges bears the stamp of truth.

Unquestionably the mind is somehow ‘embodied' in the body. But how? Well, if the unit of mind and character is a ‘wish,' it is easy enough to perceive how it is incorporated. It is, this 'wish,' something which the body as a piece of mechanism can do: a course of action with regard to the environment which the machinery of the body is capable of carrying out.[1] This capacity resides, clearly, in the parts of which the body consists

( 49) and in the way in which these are put together ; not so much in the matter of which the body is composed, as in the forms which this matter assumes when organized. If, now, the wishes are the soul, then we can understand in all literalness Aristotle's dictum, that the soul "is the form of a natural body endowed with the capacity of life "; soul is indeed the entelechy. Just as the spirit of any piece of machinery lies in what it can do, and this specific capacity lies in its plan and structure rather than in the brute matter through which this plan is tangibly realized, so precisely it is with the human spirit and the human body. The spirit and the matte: of the body are two things : and in the case of machinery and engineering enterprises we can plan, alter, revise, estimate, purchase, and patent the spirit, before this is ever materially incorporated. Yet on the other hand, the spirit needs to be realized in a tangible body before it can effectively operate. In living human beings, certainly, the spirit is embodied.

In order to look at this more closely we must go a bit down the evolutionary series to the fields of biology and physiology. Here we find much talk of nerves and muscles, sense-organs, reflex

( 50) arcs, stimulation, and muscular response, and we feel that somehow these things do not reach the core of the matter, and that they never can: that spirit is not nerve or muscle, and that intelligent conduct, to say nothing of conscious thought, can never be reduced to reflex arcs and the like; just as a printing-press is not merely wheels and rollers, and still less is it chunks of iron. If, then, we insist on there being a soul which nevertheless the biologist says that he cannot discover anywhere in the living tissues of the animal he studies, we are quite right. And the biologist has only himself to thank if he has overlooked a thing which lay directly under his nose. He has overlooked the form of organization of these his reflex arcs, has left out of account that step which assembles wheels and rollers into a printing-press, and that which organizes reflex arcs, as we shall presently see, into an intelligent conscious creature. Evolution took this important little step of organization ages ago, and thereby produced the rudimentary ‘ wish.'

It was a novelty. Yet so complete is the continuity of evolution, and when we watch it closely so little critical are the ‘critical points' in any process, that we may overlook the advent of a genu-

( 51) -ine novelty howsoever important. Thus in geometry the step is infinitesimal between two parallel lines and two lines which meet in infinity, [2] yet the geometrical properties of the system are astoundingly different in the two cases. Now in the reflex arc a sense-organ is stimulated and the energy of stimulation is transformed into nervous energy, which then passes along an afferent nerve to the central nervous system, passes through this and out by an efferent or motor nerve to a muscle, where the energy is again transformed and the muscle contracts. Stimulation at one point of the animal organism produces contraction at another. The principles of irritability and of motility are involved, but all further study of this process will lead us only to the physics and chemistry of the energy transformations: will lead us, that is, in the direction of analysis. If, however, we inquire in what way such reflexes are combined or ' integrated' into more complicated processes, we shall be led in exactly the opposite direction, that of synthesis, and here we soon come, as is not sur-

( 52) -prising, to a synthetic novelty. This is specific response or behavior. And the advent of specific response is a sufficiently critical point to merit detailed examination, since it is the birth of awareness and therewith of psychology itself.

In the single reflex something is done to a sense-organ and the process within the organ is comparable to the process in any unstable substance when foreign energy strikes it; it is strictly a chemical process; and so for the conducting nerve; likewise for the contracting muscle. It happens, as a physiological fact, that in this process stored energy is released, so that a reflex contraction is literally comparable to the firing of a pistol. But the reflex arc is not ‘ aware' of anything, and indeed there is nothing more to say about the process unless we should begin to analyze it. But even two such processes going on together in one organism are a very different matter. Two such processes require two sense-organs, two conduction paths, and two muscles : and since we are considering the result of the two in combination, the relative anatomical location of these six members is of importance. For simplicity I will take a hypothetical, but strictly possible, case. A small water-animal has

( 53) an eye-spot located on each side of its anterior end; each spot is connected by a nerve with a vibratory silium or fin on the opposite side of the posterior end ; the thrust exerted by each fin is toward the rear. If, now, light strikes one eye, say the right, the left fin is set in motion and the animal's body is set rotating toward the right like a rowboat with one oar. This is all that one such reflex arc could do for the animal. Since, however, there are now two, when the animal comes to be turned far enough toward the right so that some of the light strikes the second eye-spot (as will happen when the animal comes around facing the light), the second fin, on the right side, is set in motion, and the two together propel the animal forward in a straight line. The direction of this line will be that in which the animal lies when its two eyes receive equal amounts of light. In other words, by the combined operation of two reflexes the animal swims toward the light, while either reflex alone would only have set it spinning like a top. It now responds specifically in the direction of the light, whereas before it merely spun when lashed.

As thus described, this first dawn of behavior seems to present nothing so very novel ; it is not

( 54) more novel than the infinitesimal touch that makes two parallel lines meet somewhere off in infinity. The animal, it is true, is still merely ‘lashed' into swimming toward the light. Suppose, now, that it possesses a third reflex arc—a 'heat-spot ' so connected with the same or other fins that when stimulated by a certain intensity of heat it initiates a nervous impulse which stops the forward propulsion. The animal is still ‘lashed,' but nevertheless no light can force it to swim " blindly to its death " by scalding. It has the rudiments of 'intelligence.' But so it had before. For as soon as two reflex arcs capacitate it mechanically to swim toward light, it was no longer exactly like a pinwheel: it could respond specifically toward at least one thing in its environment.

It is this objective reference of a process of release that is significant. The mere reflex does not refer to anything beyond itself: if it drives an organism in a certain direction, it is only as a rocket ignited at random shoots off in some direction, depending on how it happened to lie. But specific response is not merely in some random direction, it is toward an object, and if this object is moved, the responding organism changes its

( 55) direction and still moves after it. And the objective reference is that the organism is moving with reference to some object or fact of the environment. In the pistol or the skyrocket the process released depends wholly on factors internal to the mechanism released; in the behaving organism the process depends partly on factors external to the mechanism. This is a difference of prime significance, for in the first case, if you wish to understand all about what the rocket is doing, you have only to look inside the rocket, at the powder exploding there, the size and shape of the compartment in which it is exploding, etc. ; whereas, in order to understand what the organism is doing, you will just miss the essential point if you look inside the organism. For the organism, while a very interesting mechanism in itself, is one whose movements turn on objects outside of itself, much as the orbit of the earth turns upon the sun; and these external, and sometimes very distant, objects are as much constituents of the behavior process as is the organism which does the turning. It is this pivotal outer object, the object of specific response, which seems to me to have been over-neglected.

( 56)

The case cited, in which merely two reflex arcs enable an organism to respond specifically to the direction of a luminous object, is of course an extremely simple one. We have seen how much the addition of even a third reflex arc can contribute to the security of the animal as it navigates its environment, and to the apparent intelligence and purposiveness ' of its movements. It is not surprising, then, that in animals as highly organized reflexly as are many of the invertebrates, even though they should possess no other principle of action than that of specific response, the various life-activities should present an appearance of considerable intelligence. And I believe that in fact this intelligence is solely the product of accumulated specific responses.[3] Our present point is that the specific response and the ‘wish,' as Freud uses the term, are one and the same thing.

This thing, in its essential definition, is a course o f action which the living body executes or is prepared to execute with regard to some object or

( 57) some fact of its environment. From this form of statement it becomes clear, I think, that not only is this the very thing which we are generally most interested to discover about the lower animals—what they are doing or what they are going to do—but also that it is the most significant thing about human beings, ourselves not excepted. " Ye shall know them by their fruits," and not infrequently it is by one's own fruits that one comes to know oneself. It is true that the term ‘wish' is rather calculated to emphasize the distinction between a course of action actually carried out and one that is only entertained ‘ in thought.' But this distinction is really secondary. The essential thing for both animal behavior and Freud's psychology is the course o f action, the purpose with regard to environment, whether or not the action is overtly carried out.

In this whole matter the introspective tradition, which has led psychology into so many unfruitful by-paths, is prepared to mislead us. We must go cautiously. In the first place, let us bear quite clearly in mind that in any living organism, human or animal, we have a very complicated mechanism in which the property of irritability is so united with

( 58) the power of motion that in a purely mechanical way the organism becomes, on proper stimulation, an engine that behaves in a certain way with reference to a specific feature of its environment.[3] This is what we can safely conclude from merely watching the doings of any living creature. And we behold invariably that every living thing is in every waking moment doing something or other to some feature or other of its environment. It is going toward or away from something, it is digging or climbing, it is hunting or eating; more developed organisms are working or playing, reading, writing, or talking, are making money or spending it, are constructing or destroying something; and at a still higher stage of development we find them curing disease, alleviating poverty, comforting the oppressed, and promoting one or another sort of orderliness. All these cases are alike in this, that the individual is doing something definite to some part or other of its environment. In exact language its activity is a "constant function " of some feature of this environment, in just the same sense (although by a different mechan

( 59) -ism) as the orbit of our earth is a constant function of the position of the sun around which it swings. This constant function, involving always the two things—living organism and environment —is that which constitutes behavior and is also precisely that which Freud has called, with a none too happy choice of term, the 'wish': as a glance at the illustrations given in Chapter I will show. And we must not forget that ‘ purpose,' in any sense you may choose howsoever intellectual or indeed moral, is precisely the same thing.

Now, in an organism which is about to perform overtly a course of action with regard to its environment, the internal mechanism is more or less completely set for this performance beforehand. The purpose about to be carried out is already embodied in what we call the ' motor attitude ' of the neuro-muscular apparatus; very much as a musical composition is embodied in a phonographic record. And this is why it is in some respects irrelevant whether the individual actually carries out its wish, or not. Something may intervene so that the mechanism is not finally touched off, the stimulus may not be quite strong enough on this occasion, etc. ; but that the individual ever developed such a

( 60) set of its mechanism is the important point. It will be touched off some day, and even if it is not, its presence cannot fail to react on other mechanisms, other motor attitudes. We blame a man who is prepared to tell a lie, nearly if not quite as much as one who actually tells one.

There is indeed excellent ground for believing that the one difference between thought and will is the difference between a motor attitude prepared and one that is touched off. In other words, the essential physiological condition for thought (whatever view one may otherwise hold as to the nature and place of consciousness) is the lambent interplay of motor attitudes, in which some one finally gains the ascendency, and goes over into overt conduct. This is no new doctrine, since it is just this which Spinoza had in mind when he declared that " The will and the intellect are one and the same.[4] Herbert Spencer gives us a somewhat closer view of this fact, [5] and modern psychology as a whole has begun to recognize it, as the remarkable tendency of otherwise divergent schools toward

( 61) some form of ‘motor theory of consciousness' shows. Thus, too, William James writes : " Beliefs, in short, are rules for action ; and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of active habits.[6] And all this is undoubtedly why it is true that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. For Freud these motor attitudes of the body, whether they emerge in overt behavior or not, are the will of the individual. And the development of character, in fact the whole drama of life, hinges on the development and reciprocal modification of motor settings, that is of purposes and wishes incorporated in the body. The manner of this interaction is our main theme, for it has a practical bearing on ethics.

Remarkably enough this reduces to an extremely simple principle which will be found to underlie anything which can be called behavior or conduct, from the silent bending of the sensitive tip of a plant's rootlet to the most subtly motivated act of man. Darwin describes, in his book on " The Power of Movement in Plants," [7] how the growing

( 62) tip of a radicle is sensitive to gravity, moisture, and light, and when subject to one of these influences it transmits an impulse to an adjoining upper part of the rootlet which then bends in such a way that the tip is turned toward the center of the earth, or toward moisture or (in the third case) away from light. If all three forces are present at once, the tip is bent in that direction which provides the most moisture compatible with the greatest depth and the least light. Here we have a very simple case in which three reflexes combine to produce one movement which is a plain mechanical resultant of the movements which the three reflexes would have produced if each had acted alone. They combine because the three reflexes converge on the same motile tissue that bends the rootlet, and this contractile tissue obeys as well as it can the simultaneous commands of all three irritable centers. It is significant that Darwin concludes the volume with these words (p. 573) : " It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed, and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals ; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body,

( 63) receiving impressions from the sense-organs, and directing the several movements."

In the lower forms of animal life we find likewise that reflexes combine to diminish (interference) or to augment each other in the response. H. S. Jennings writes of infusorians,[7] that " under the simultaneous action of the two stimuli the infusorian may either react to the more effective of the two, whichever it is, without regard to the other, or its behavior may be a sort of compromise between the usual results of both." Of course in the former case the less effective stimulus is not without its effect, although this effect may be largely masked by the greater strength of the other factor. " If specimens showing the contact reaction [of settling down on solid objects] are heated, it is found that they do not react to the heat until a higher temperature has been reached than that necessary to cause a definite reaction in free swimming specimens. . . . On the other hand, both heat and cold interfere with this contact reaction. . . . Specimens in contact with a solid react less readily to chemicals than do free specimens, so that a

( 64) higher concentration is required to induce the avoiding reaction." In these ways the planarians are found to respond to specific temperatures, degrees of chemical concentration, and to specific amounts o f change in the vital conditions which surround them. Always, stimuli which if given separately would produce the same response, augment each other when they are given simultaneously ; while stimuli which separately would produce opposed responses, interfere with or cancel each other when given together.

In the case of such wonderful little creatures as bees we see the same principle extended. As we all know, one prominent part of the behavior of the worker bee is that it fares forth every warm morning, visits the flowers, and returns laden with honey to its hive ; to its own hive and no other. It does this throughout the day. This is no simple mode of behavior, and we know that it rests on elaborate neuro-muscular mechanisms. The bee is guided by the characteristic odor of its hive, and of the flowers, by the visible appearance of its own hive and of the surroundings, and by that of the flowers which it selects to visit, by a sense of the sun's warmth, of the state of the atmosphere, of the

( 65) downward pull of gravity (as it flies), perhaps by some not yet fully understood ' sense of direction,' and by many other sense-data. All these sensory impulses converging on the motor apparatus of the bee's legs, wings, and proboscis guide and impel it moment by moment through its daily rounds. There is no reason to believe, as so careful an observer as Bethe assures us, that any more mysterious (as, say, ‘ psychic ') factors than such plain sensori-motor reflexes are at any moment of the process involved. The fact is that just as in the case of our hypothetical little creature (p. 52), which by two reflex arcs was enabled to swim toward light and by a third was made to avoid too high a temperature (a very 'purposive' response), so in the case of the bee several thousand reflex paths cooperating produce a behavior which both looks and is startlingly 'purposive.' The question arises at once, Is this purposiveness really the result of a merely mechanical interplay of reflex arcs, or has an invisible little 'soul' already crept into the bee's 'pineal gland ' to direct operations? This we shall have to answer in no uncertain tone : the bee is a purely reflex creature. We have seen purposiveness arise from the mere presence in one

( 66) organism of three reflex arcs, which cause an organism to seek light and to avoid being scalded; these are already two purposes.[8] In fact, as C. S. Sherrington has said, " In light of the Darwinian theory every reflex must be purposive." [9] And a combination of reflexes is even more markedly so. We have then no reason to doubt that Bethe is correct in saying of so complicated an organism as the bee, that all its (so highly purposive) activities are the work of integrated reflexes.

I have stated that the mechanical interaction of reflexes on one another reduces to a very simple principle, and before we consider reflex integration in vertebrates, it will be well to have this principle definitely in mind. The reciprocal influence of reflexes can be exerted, of course, only where they come together, and that is where they converge on a common motor-organ, or on a common efferent nerve leading out to the motor-organ. Now, as the physiologist Sherrington says,[10] " each receptor [sense-organ] stands in connection not

( 67) with one efferent only but with many—perhaps with all, though as to some of these only, through synapses [nerve junctions] of high resistance." It is " approximately true " that " each final common path is in connection with practically each one of all the receptors of the body." This generalization is made of vertebrates, but it is fairly certain that a similar state of things holds throughout the animal and plant kingdoms (for plants, also, have sense-organs, nerves, and muscles). Now nature has not found it convenient to equip us with rotary means of locomotion, like the propeller of a ship; but has provided that every motion shall be made by the to-and-fro play of a member—fin, arm, or leg. Therefore the muscles exist in pairs, in each one of which one muscle moves the limb in a direction opposite to that in which the other muscle moves it; that is, the two muscles of a pair are antagonists. While the nervous impulse generated by any stimulus goes (or under certain circumstances can go) to any muscle of the body, the nervous paths are of different degrees of resistance, so that the main force of the impulse goes in certain few directions rather than in all. And one stimulus will effect somewhere a muscular contraction : some member of

(68) the body is moved. But many outer forces are simultaneously playing on the many sense-organs of the body, and they prompt the muscles to many different motions. Wherever these impulses converge to contract the same muscle, that muscle contracts with all the more force, and the limb moves. But when the sensory impulses run equally to the antagonistic muscles of a pair, the limb is naturally unable to move in opposite directions at the same time. If the two impulses are equal in amount the limb will not move at all. Such impulses cancel each other, and do not contribute to behavior. If we call the sum of all sense impulses at any moment the ‘sensory pattern,' we shall practically always find that some portions of this pattern cancel themselves out by interference, in the way described, while the remaining portions augment one another and produce the individual's overt behavior and conduct. The impulses of the sensory pattern may be so weak as to produce no gross muscular contractions, but they will then cause varying degrees of muscular tonus; and this is that play of motor attitude which I have previously mentioned. It is thought. It differs from overt behavior only in the small degree of muscular

( 69) action which it involves. The one fundamental principle is that no member can move in opposed directions at once, and impulses that impel to this efface each other. This is very simple : the complications to which it gives rise, both physiologically and behavioristically, are far from simple.

An interesting problem of a partially conflicting sensory pattern is ‘ the Meynert scheme' of the child and the candle-flame, which has become generally familiar owing to its having been quoted by James.[11] Meynert aims to show by a diagram how a child learns not to put his finger into a candle-flame. Two original reflexes are assumed one in which the visual image of the candle causes the child's finger to go out to touch the flame ; the other in which the painful heat on the finger causes the child's arm to be withdrawn. A fanciful series of nerve-paths, fabricated in the interests of the association theory,' purports to show why after once burning himself the child will in future put out his hand, on seeing a candle, but draw it back again before he burns himself. The explanation is beautifully accomplished by begging the whole

( 70) question ; that is, by resting the ‘ explanation ' on certain time (and strength) relations between the two reflexes of extension and retraction—relations which neither diagram nor text accounts for. In fact, apart from the passage in which the whole question is begged, both diagram and text show that on every subsequent occasion the child will infallibly put out his hand, burn it, and then withdraw it, just as he had done the first time; for the reflex path for extending the hand is the shorter and the better established of the two, and it remains entirely vague as to how the impulse to withdraw shall arrive in time to save the hand.

But Meynert's explanation is not only unsuccessful, it is wrong in its intent. If achieved, it would show that a child once burned will on merely seeing a candle, and before it feels the candle's heat, drawback its hand. And this, Meynert thinks, is the process of learning. Whereas in fact a child that shrinks on merely seeing a candle has not learned anything; it has acquired a morbid fear. So far from being a step in learning, such a reaction will gravely impede the child in acquiring the use of this innocent utensil. It is true that one severe ex-

( 71) -perience of being burned can establish the morbid cringing at the mere sight of fire, but every teacher knows how disastrous this is to a child's progress; and the mechanism of such a response will not be found in any such figment of the imagination as that which Meynert adduces.[12] I know of nothing in this ' Meynert scheme ' that tallies with fact, and, as James well says, it is " a mere scheme " and " anything but clear in detail." Nothing but the authority of the association theory ever loaned it plausibility.

The normal process of learning to deal with a candle is the process of establishing a response to an object which is both luminous and hot, if we consider only the two properties so far brought in question. The successful response will be one which is controlled directly by the actual properties of the candle, for this alone means precision and nicety in handling it. The normal child learns the properties of objects, without acquiring a fear of these properties ; for fear is not ‘wholesome.' The case in hand is simple. The child has in fact the

( 72) two original tendencies, to put out its hand to touch any pretty, bright object, and to draw back its hand when the nerves of pain are stimulated. But these are at first not coordinated; and coordination (learning) is the establishment of a just balance between the openness of the two paths; where ‘just' means proportioned to the actual properties of the candle. On first seeing a candle the child puts out its hand; the second reaction (of withdrawal) is touched off by stimulation of the heat-pain nerves in the hand,[13] and the moment at which this shall happen depends on the sensitiveness of the heat-pain end-organs, and the openness of the path connecting them with the muscles that retract the arm; of which probably the openness of path is the modifiable factor. The warmth of the candle begins to stimulate this retraction reflex, and stimulates it more, and at an increasing rate of increase, as the hand approaches the candle. All that is needed to save the child from burning its hand, and this is what Meynert's scheme aims to explain, is an openness of the retraction reflex path sufficient to stop the hand before it actually reaches

( 73) the flame. If the act of extension excited through the eye is not too impetuous, the retraction reflex will from the outset protect the hand; but if the former is a very open path, the advancing arm may get a momentum which the retraction reflex will not be sufficiently quick and strong to counterbalance in time to save the hand from being burned. A few repetitions of the experience will give this retraction path an openness which will safeguard the hand for the future; and this process is aided by the prolonged pain yielded by a burn, which continues the retraction stimulus for a considerable period and so ‘wears' down the retraction path more than a great many merely momentary stimuli could do. In this way a single experience of burning is often sufficient for all time. Thus experience establishes a balance between the two opposed reflexes, of extension and of pain avoidance, such that the organism carries on its further examination of the candle in safety. If it be thought that this balance will never come about because each repetition will ‘wear' the path for extension as much as that for retraction, it must be remembered, firstly, that the prolonged pain stimulation applies only to the latter path ; and, secondly, that

( 74) the opening, or ‘ Bahneng,' of reflex paths is, like almost all processes in nature, a process which proceeds most rapidly at first. It is ‘ asymptotic.' The passage of a first nervous impulse over a path of high resistance ‘wears' it down more than the same impulse would wear an already opened tract: just as the first five pedestrians across a snowcovered field do more toward making a path than do the next twenty-five.

The explanation which I have given does not account for all varieties of the learning process, of course, nor for the child's ‘ concept' of a candle. But it explains, I believe, how in point of fact a child learns not to burn its hands, and this is all that the fantastic Meynert scheme undertakes to do. The mechanism of learning is by no means understood as yet; that is to say, that the manner in which reflex paths are integrated to produce the more complicated forms of behavior is still a matter for investigation. Yet from the observation of behavior itself certain important facts have already been made out. One of these is that the principle of the mutual interference of opposed reflexes and the mutual augmentation of synenergic reflexes holds throughout. This principle, indeed, al-

( 75) -though it becomes endlessly complicated and in some cases (as in the production of reflex stepping and other alternating movements by means of ' reciprocal innervation') is even partly obscured, seems to be the one general formula for reflex integration. This can be seen in operation in all cases of behavior from the most purely reflex to the most highly ‘conscious.' Thus, just as the leaves of certain plants, which are subject to the two impulses of facing the sunlight but also of avoiding desiccating heat, will spread themselves out broadly toward the sun in the morning and afternoon, but in the heat of noonday will partially fold up, so under the teacher's eye the pugnacious impulse of the small boy is subdued to the furtive expedient of the spit-ball; and so, too, the man who yearns for worldly power but yet in personal contact with his fellows is unconquerably timid will become a renowned inventor, or a shrewd manipulator of stock-markets, or in politics will work into some important position ‘ behind the throne.'

Another feature incidental to the integration of reflexes, which is seen from the observation of behavior, is what I may call the recession of the

(76) stimulus. This is a point not insisted on by Freud, but one which is of vast importance to a clear understanding of the dynamic psychology which Freud has so immensely furthered. The single reflex is of course always touched off by some stimulus, and if only reflex process is in question the immediate stimulus is the inciting and controlling factor. But where even two reflexes are working together to produce specific response or behavior, the case is altered : the stimulus is now merely an agent, a part of a higher process. We have already seen this in the case of our water animal which was enabled by two eye-spots and two fins to swim toward light. Now this light toward which it swims is not the immediate stimulus, which rather is the light quanta which at any moment have entered the cells of the eye-spot. And one could not describe what the animal as a whole is doing in terms of the immediate stimuli; but this can be described only in terms of the environing objects toward which the animal's response is directed. This is precisely the distinction between reflex action and specific response or behavior. As the number of component reflexes involved in response increases, the immediate stimulus itself

( 77) recedes further and further from view as the significant factor.

This is very evident in the case of the bee. We may grant with Bethe that the bee is only, in the last analysis, a reflex mechanism. But it is a very complex one, and when we are studying the bee's behavior we are studying an organism which by means of integrated reflexes has become enabled to respond specifically to the objects of its environment. It may be doubted whether Bethe, or any other of the biologists, fully realizes the significance of this ; fully realizes, that is, how completely in behavior the stimulus recedes from its former position of importance. To study the behavior of the bee is of course to put the question, " What is the bee doing? " This is a plain scientific question. Yet if we should put it thus to Bethe, his answer would probably be: " It is doing of course a great many things ; now its visual organ is stimulated and it darts toward a flower ; now its olfactory organ is stimulated and it goes for a moment to rub antennae with another bee of its own hive; and so forth." But this is not an answer. We ask, " What is the bee doing? " And we are told, " Now its visual . . . and now its olfac-

( 78) -tory, . . ." etc., etc. With a little persistence we could probably get Bethe to say, " Why, the bee isn't doing anything." Whereas an unbiased observer can see plainly enough that " The bee is laying by honey in its home."

My point is that the often too materialistically-minded biologist is so fearful of meeting a certain bogy, the ‘ psychic,' that he hastens to analyze every case of behavior into its component reflexes without venturing first to observe it as a whole. In this way he fails to note the recession of the stimulus and the infallibly objective reference of behavior. He does not see that in any case of behavior no immediate sense stimulus whatsoever will figure in a straightforward and exact description of what the creature is doing: and ‘What?' is the first question which science puts to any phenomenon. This was the case even in the first instance which we looked at (p. 52), where two eye-spots and two vibratory cilia enabled an animal to swim toward a light. It is equally true in the cases of the rootlet, and of the planarian which responds specifically to an amount of change, or even a rate of change. It is a thousand times more marked in the case of the bee, for here not only would it not

( 79) be possible to describe what the bee does in terms of sensory stimuli, but also in much of the bee's conduct it would not be possible to point out any physical object on which the bee's activities turn or toward which they are directed. It lays up a store of honey in its home. If we suppose that here the parental hive is the physical object around which the bee's activities center, we soon find ourselves wrong, for when the swarm migrates the bee knows the old hive no more but continues its busy life of hoarding in some other locality. The fact is that the specific object on which the bee's activities are focused, and of which they are a function, its ‘home,' is a very complex situation, neither hive, locality, coworkers, nor yet flowers and honey, but a situation of which all of these are the related components. In short we cannot do justice to the case of the bee, unless we admit that he is the citizen of a state, and that this phrase, instead of being a somewhat fanciful metaphor or analogy, is the literal description of what the bee demonstrably is and does. Many biologists shy at such a description; they believe that these considerations should be left to Vergil and to M. Maeterlinck, while they themselves deem it safer to deal with the bee's olfac-

( 80) -tory and visual organs. They will not describe the bee's behavior as a whole, will not observe what mere reflexes when coöperating integrally in one organism can accomplish, because they fear, at bottom, to encounter that bogy which philosophers have set in their way, the ‘subjective' or the ‘ psychic.' They need not be afraid of this, for all that they have to do is to describe in the most objective manner possible what the bee is doing.

But our present point is that even two reflexes acting within one organism bring it about that the organism's behavior is no longer describable in terms of the immediate sensory stimulus, but as a function of objects and of situations in the environment, and even of such aspects of objects as positions, directions, degrees of concentration, rates of change, etc. While as the number of integrated reflexes increases, in the higher organisms, the immediate stimulus recedes further and further from view, and is utterly missing in an exact description (merely that) of what the organism does.

Thus it comes about that in the description of the behavior of creatures as complicated as human beings it has been quite forgotten that sensory

( 81) stimuli and reflexes are still at the bottom of it all. Indeed, such a suggestion has only to be made and it will be instantly repudiated, especially by those philosophers and psychologists who deem themselves the accredited guardians of historic truth. In other words, the study of the integration of reflexes has been so neglected, and it is indeed difficult, that we have come to believe that an unfathomable gulf exists between the single reflex movement and the activities of conscious, thinking creatures. The gap in our knowledge is held to be a gap in the continuity of nature. And yet if we face the matter frankly, we see that history, biography, fiction, and the drama are all descriptions of what men do, of human behavior. We are wont to say, " Ah, yes, but the true interest of these things lies in what the men are meanwhile thinking." So be it. But are thought and behavior so toto caelo different? And what did Spinoza mean by saying that " The will and the intellect are one and the same "? And, further, have those who so confidently assert that thought is a principle distinct from integrated reflex activity ever succeeded in telling what ‘thought' is? We meet here, of course, the profoundest question in psychology,

( 82) and the one which for more than a hundred years has been the central problem of philosophy—What is cognition? Or, Is cognition different in principle from integrated reflex behavior?

I must state that Freud has never raised this question in so explicit a form. He has also not answered it. But by discovering for us the way in which the ‘thoughts ' of men react on one another, in actual concrete fact, he has given us the key that fits one of the most ancient and most baffling of locks. What I shall say in the remainder of this section is confessedly more than Freud has said; it is, however, as I believe, the inevitable and almost immediate deduction from what he has said. This view of mind as integrated reflex behavior is subversive of much that is traditional in philosophy and psychology, and particularly of the dualistic dogma which holds that the mechanical and spiritual principles, so unmistakable in our universe, are utterly alien to each other, and even largely incompatible. This newer view, however, instead of being subversive, is unexpectedly and categorically confirmatory of certain ancient doctrines of morals and of freedom:—verities which have been well-nigh forgotten in a so-called ‘scientific' age.

(83) Let us consider, then, the higher forms of behavior, in human beings, and the question of consciousness and thought.[14]

If one sees a man enter a railway station, purchase a ticket, and then pass out and climb on to a train, one feels that it is clear enough what the man is doing, but it would be far more interesting to know what he is thinking. One sees clearly that he is taking a train, but one cannot see his thoughts or his intentions and these contain the ‘ secret' of his actions. And thus we come to say that the conscious or subjective is a peculiar realm, private to the individual, and open only to his introspection. It is apart from the world of objective fact. Suppose, now, one were to apply the same line of reasoning to an event of inanimate nature. At dawn the sun rises above the eastern ridge of hills. This is the plain fact, and it is not of itself too interesting. But what is the 'secret ' behind such an occurrence? " Why this is, as everybody knows, that the sun is the god Helios who every

( 84) morning drives his chariot up out of the East, and he has some magnificent purpose in mind. We cannot tell just what it is because his thoughts and purposes are subjective and not open to our observation. We suspect, however, that he is paying court to Ceres, and so cheers on by his presence the growing crops." Or again, the same line of reasoning as used in a somewhat later age. The stream flows through the field, leaps the waterfall, and goes foaming onward down the valley. The fact is that it has always done so. And the secret? "Well, they used to say that the stream was a daughter of Neptune and that she was hurrying past to join her father. We know better than that now ; we know that water always seeks its own level, and the only secret about it is that the water is urged on from behind by an impulse which some call the vis viva. We've never seen this vis viva, for it is invisible ; but it is the secret of all inanimate motion; and of course it must be there, for otherwise nothing would move."

It has taken man ages to learn that the gaps in his knowledge of observed fact cannot be filled by creatures of the imagination. It is the most precious achievement of the physical sciences that

( 85) the ‘secrets behind' phenomena lie in the phenomena and are to be found out by observing the phenomena and in no other way. The ‘ mental' sciences have yet to learn this lesson. Continued observation of the rising and setting sun revealed that the secret behind was not the gallantry of Helios, but the rotation of our earth which, by simple geometry, caused the sun relatively to ourselves to rise in the East. Continued observation of water showed that neither a nature god nor yet a vis viva is the secret behind the flowing stream; but that the stream is flowing as directly as the surface of the earth permits, toward the center o f the earth. And that this is merely a special instance of the fact that all masses move toward one another. There is indeed a mystery behind such motion, but science calls this mystery neither Helios, Neptune, nor vis viva, but simply motion ; and science will penetrate this mystery by more extended observation of motion. Now the inscrutable ‘ thought behind ' the actions of a man, which is the invisible secret of those actions, is another myth, like the myths of the nature gods and the vis viva. Not that there are not actual thoughts, but tradition has turned thought into a myth by

( 86) utterly misconceiving it and locating in the wrong place.

On seeing the man purchase a ticket at the railway station, we felt that there was more behind this action, ‘thoughts' that were the invisible secret of his movements. Suppose, instead, we inquire whether the more is not ahead. More is to come; let us watch the man further. He enters the train, which carries him to a city. There he proceeds to an office, on the door of which we read ‘Real Estate.' Several other men are in this office; a document is produced; our man takes a sum of money from his pocket and gives this to one of the other men, and this man with some of the others signs the document. This they give to our man, and with it a bunch of keys. All shake hands, and the man whom we are watching departs. He goes to the railway station and takes another train, which carries him to the town where we first saw him. He walks through several streets, stops before an empty house, takes out his bunch of keys, and makes his way into the house. Not long afterwards several vans drive up in front, and the men outside proceed to take household furniture off the vans and into the house. Our man inside indicates

( 87) where each piece is to be placed. He later gives the men from the vans money.

All this we get by observing what the man does, and without in any way appealing to the ‘ secret' thoughts of the man. If we wish to know more of what he is doing we have only to observe him more. Suppose, however, that we had appealed to his inner thoughts to discover the 'secret' of his movements, when we first saw him buying a ticket at the railway station. We approach him and say, " Sir, I am a philosopher and extremely anxious to know what you are doing, and of course I cannot learn that unless you will tell me what you are thinking." " Thinking? " he may reply, if he condones our guileless impertinence. " Why, I am thinking that it's a plaguey hot day, and I wish I had made my morning bath five degrees colder, and drunk less of that hot-wash that my wife calls instant coffee." " Was that all? " " Yes, that was all until I counted my change ; and then I heard the train whistle.—Here it is. Good-by ! And good luck to your philosophy ! "

Thought is often a mere irrelevance, a surface embroidery on action. What is more important, the very best that the man could have told us would

( 88) have been no better than what we have learned by watching the man. At best he could have told us, " I am intending to buy a house and to get my furniture in to-day "; exactly what we have observed. And if he told us his further intentions, these in turn could be as completely learned by watching his movements ; and more reliably, since men do both think and speak lies.

Freud makes, however, the further point that thought, that is, conscious thought, is so little complete as to be scarcely any index to a man's character or deeds. This is Freud's doctrine of the unconscious ; although Freud is by no means the first to discover or to emphasize the unconscious. A man's conscious thoughts, feelings, and desires are determined by unconscious thoughts or ' wishes' which lie far deeper down, and which the upper, conscious man knows nothing of. I have illustrated this doctrine at length in the first part of this volume. In fact, conscious thought is merely the surface foam of a sea where the real currents are well beneath the surface. It is an error, then, to suppose that the ‘ secret behind' a man's actions lies in those thoughts which he (and he alone) can ‘introspectively survey.' We shall presently see

( 89) that it is an error to contrast thought with action at all.

But what are we to do when ‘thought' has receded to so impregnable a hiding-place? We are to admit, I think, that we have misunderstood the nature of thought, and predicated so much that is untrue of it, that what we have come to call thought' is a pure myth. We are to say with William James :[15] " I believe that ' consciousness,' when once it has evaporated to this estate of pure diaphaneity, is on the point of disappearing altogether. It is the name of a nonentity, and has no right to a place among first principles. Those who still cling to it are clinging to a mere echo, the faint rumor left behind by the disappearing ‘soul' upon the air of philosophy." This is the keynote of his Radical Empiricism, the principle that of all those which he enunciated was dearest to him ; and it is his final repudiation of dualism. With this we return to the facts.

It is just one error which has prevented us from seeing that the study of what men do, i.e., how they ‘behave,' comprises the entire field of psy-

( 90) -chology. And that is the failure to distinguish essence from accident. If one holds out one's hand and lets fall a rubber ball, it moves down past the various parts of one's person and strikes the floor; now it is opposite one's breast, now at the level of the table-top, now at the level of the chair-seat, and now it rests on the floor. This, we say, is what the ball does, and all this is as true as it is irrelevant. For if the same ball had been dropped by some other means from the same point it would have fallen in just the same way if neither oneself, nor the table, nor the chair had been there. It was all accident that it fell past one's breast and past the table ; accident even that it hit the floor, for had there been no floor there it would have continued to fall. What the ball is essentially doing, although it took science a long time to find this out, is moving toward the center o f the earth; and in this lies significance, for if the earth's mass were displaced or abolished, the motion of the ball would indeed be concomitantly displaced or abolished. Mathematics and science conveniently designate that which is thus essential in any process as ' function.' It is accident that the ball moves parallel to the table-leg, for essentially the movement of the ball

( 91) is a function of the earth's center. This is what the ball is really ‘doing.' We have adumbrated this same fact in connection with the bee. It is in the present respect accidental that the bee sips at this flower, or that ; pluck them aside and the bee will turn as well to other flowers. What is, however, not accidental is that the bee is laying up honey in its home; for the bee's life-activities are a function of its home,—and home is a complicated but purely objective state of things. All this is but a different aspect of that which I have called the recession of the stimulus; the latter giving place, as reflexes become more and more integrated, to objects and to relations between objects as that of which the total body-activity is a function.

Now it is the same case with the man whom we saw buying a railway ticket. What he is thinking at the moment is likely to be a most irrelevant gloss on what he is actually doing, and will be far from being the ‘ secret' of his movements. At the very most favorable moment his thought can do no more than reveal to us what he is doing; for notoriously introspection gives us no clew as to how we achieve even the least voluntary movement. Therefore

( 92) what the man is doing is the sole question to be considered. But on the other hand, while it is true that the man is buying a ticket it is only a subordinate and insignificant matter, for essentially the man is purchasing a house, and this latter statement shows us that of which the man's total behavior is a true function. The purchase of a railway ticket is as accidental to this process as a body's striking the floor is irrelevant to the law of gravitation; and if there were no railway in existence the man would purchase his house, and go to secure his deed by stage-coach, chaise, or on his legs. Just as the stimulus recedes, so the component activities recede from their primary position in the total process, as integration advances. Both stimulus and component process are there and are necessary, but they are only parts of a larger whole.

These considerations make it clear, I trust, why the dualistic philosophical view, which contrasts physical motion with a secret, inscrutable, ‘ psychical' process ‘behind,' is mischievous.[16] It totally ignores the work of integration, and to assuage

( 93) *The view which I am outlining has, per contra, nothing to do with ‘materialism,' as I have shown at length in " The Concept of Consciousness."

this ignorance it fabricates a myth. With that view falls also the entire subject of ‘ psychophysical parallelism ' ; which was a complete misapprehension from the outset. It is not that we have two contrasted worlds, the ‘objective' and the ' subjective ' ; there is but one world, the objective, and that which we have hitherto not understood, have dubbed therefore the ‘subjective,' are the subtler workings of integrated objective mechanisms.

The same considerations give light on another, though cognate, issue. The man who buys a ticket is said to do so in the interest of some ‘ end' which he has in mind. In this way action is, again, contrasted (as the ‘means') with the mental secret of action (the ‘ end'). This is an unfortunate way of looking at the matter, since in reality, as I have tried to show, that which is so contrasted with the subordinate action (‘means '), and is said to be a mentally entertained ‘ end ' and quite different in nature from the means, is after all precisely another action—the purchase of a home. It is not true that we do something in order to attain a dead and static ‘ end '; we do something as the necssary but subordinate moment in the doing of something

(94) more comprehensive. The true comparison then is not between deed or means and thought or end, but between part deed and whole deed. This is of importance, and we shall consider it again ; but I will point out, in passing, that without this fallacy of ‘ ends ' we should never have been afflicted with that fantastic whimsy called ‘hedonistic ethics '; which, I incline to think, is responsible for much of modern deviltry.

We return now to the main line of our argument. It is clear that this function which behavior or conduct is of the external situation is the very same thing which Freud deals with under the name of ‘ wish.' It is a course of action which the body takes or is prepared (by motor set) to take with reference to objects, relations, or events in the environment. The prophetic quality of thought which makes it seem that thought is the hidden and inner secret of conduct is due to the fact that thought is the preceding labile interplay of motor settings which goes on almost constantly, and which differs from overt conduct in that the energy involved is too small to produce gross bodily movements. This is a piece of nature's economy.

Now in this wish or function we have the pure

( 95) essence of human will, and of the soul itself. No distinction can be found between function, wish, and purpose; in every case we are dealing with a dynamic relation between the individual's living body, as subject of the relation (or mathematically speaking the ‘dependent variable'), and some environmental fact, as object of the relation (or ‘independent variable'). The mechanism of the body incorporates the wish or purpose. And this view gives a concrete meaning to Aristotle's dictum that the soul is the 'form' or " entelechy of a natural body endowed with the capacity of life.[16] The living body through a long process of organization has come at length to ‘embody' purpose. But the soul is of course always and forever the purpose that is embodied, and not the mere matter (Aristotle's 'potentiality ') that as a mechanism embodies. The distinction is the same as that between the design which an inventor patents and the steel and brass in which the plan is tangibly realized.

Such a view of the soul departs widely from the academic dogmas of the present day and from popular psychology ; and it has the apparent

( 96) novelty that any restatement of the views of Plato and Aristotle must have in an age which has forgotten the classics. One or two further deviations from current psychological notions must be briefly mentioned. The first and most important is in regard to ‘ consciousness.' This actually figures in all modern discussions as a substance which, contrasted with the substance of matter, is that of which sensations, ideas, and thoughts are composed : the ego, mind, and soul are thought to be made of it, it is the ‘subjective' essence, and the question of cognition is concerned with the relations between consciousness and matter. In the view now before us, consciousness and ‘ the subjective as such' are done away with. Consciousness is not a substance but a relation—the relation between the living organism and the environment to which it specifically responds ; of which its behavior is found to be this or that constant function; or, in other words, to which its purposes refer. This is the relation of awareness, and the cognitive relation. There will be no consciousness except in a situation where both living organism and environment are present and where the functional relation already described exists between them. It has al-

(97) -ways been admitted that cognition involves a knower and a known, and if we look for these in this situation, we see at once that the body is the knower, and the environing objects responded to are the known. In short, those objects or aspects toward which we respond, of which our purposes are functions—these are the ‘ contents of consciousness.' And these immediately, not some pale ‘ representations ' thereof. This is a return to the obvious fact that what a man knows are the actual things around him, the objects and events with which he has to deal; it is a return also to Aristotle, who said, " Actual knowledge is identical with its object";[17] and again, "The mind is the thing when actually thinking it."[18] Here it is of secondary importance whether there is overt and grossly visible conduct or only the less energetic play of motor setting and attitude, for the two are equally describable only as functions of something in the outside situation; and that about which a man thinks is clearly, even for introspection, numerically identical with that upon which his actions turn, and with that which, when he comes near enough, he sees and handles.

( 98)

Thought is, however, more than the object thought about : there is active thinking about the objects. If we look once more at the least manifold in which cognition occurs—a living organism in, and responsive to, an environment—we see that this further active element is the active play of motor attitude, which eventually resolves itself into the less labile but more forceful phenomenon, conduct. Thus thought is latent course of action with regard to environment (i.e., is motor setting), or a procession of such attitudes. But we have already found that will is also course of action with regard to environment, so that the only difference between thought and volition is one of the intensity of nerve impulse that plays through the sensori-motor arcs—a difference of minimal importance for either psychology or ethics. From this appears the literal truth of Spinoza's dictum that " The will and the intellect are one and the same "; a saying that is verifiable on many sides, and one which early moralists recognize in such maxims as, " As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he "; but one which, on the other hand, is made unintelligible in the scheme of the mind offered by current psychology.

The scheme that I have been suggesting could be

( 99) elucidated and fortified by the consideration of attention, memory, emotion, illusions, and the other phenomena studied by psychology. But I have discussed these at some length elsewhere,[19] and enough has been said, I think, to show what sort of a dynamic theory of will and cognition Freud's doctrine of the ‘wish,' as I believe, implies. We have seen that the wish is purpose embodied in the mechanism of a living organism, that it is necessarily a wish about, or a purpose regarding, some feature of the environment; so that a total situation comprising both organism and environment is always involved. We have seen that will, thought, and the object of knowledge are all integral and inseparable parts of this total situation. Inseparable because, if organism and environment are sundered, the cognitive relation is dissolved, and merely matter remains ; precisely as only water remains when a rainbow is pulled apart. Mind is a relation and not a substance.


  1. Here the reader may raise the query—" Carry out without the directing influence of an intelligent soul?" To this I will ask the reader to accept provisionally the answer—Yes, without. But this merely because the question as raised, although familiar, is meaningless. We are not coming out to a psychology without a soul, unless by soul one means 'ghost-soul.' Quite on the contrary, Freud's is actually the first psychology with a soul.
  2. The reader who is interested in the development of specific response into intelligence will enjoy the small volume of A. Bethe (" Dürfen wir den Ameisen and Bienen psychische Qualitäten zuschreiben?" Bonn, 1898), in which the author shows how the life-activities of ants and bees can be explained in terms of reflex process.
  3. I would not for a moment minimize the actuality of ‘thought' For the moment we are considering another aspect of the matter.
  4. " Ethics." Part II, Prop. XLIX, Corol. See also the Scholium which follows.
  5. " The Principles of Psychology," 2d edition, Vol. I, Part IV, Chap. IX.
  6. "The Varieties of Religious Experience." 1902, p. 444. t New York, 1888, Chap. XII.
  7. "Behavior of the Lower Organisms." New York, 1906, pp. 92-3.
  8. "Yes, but not conscious purposes," I seem to hear the reader say. This is a point which I shall take up a little further on.
  9. " The Integrative Action of the Nervous System." New York, 1906, p. 235.
  10. Op. citat., pp. 145-6.
  11. The Principles of Psychology." New York, 1890, Vol. I, pp. 24-7.
  12. Theodor Meynert was an Austrian. And in both Austria and Germany, despite the efforts of Froebel, the tradition survives that fear is a normal and necessary ingredient of the learning process.
  13. Whether the organs of heat and pain are identical or distinct, the stimulation and sensation, is a single continuous series running from warmth to heat and pain. 
  14. This new theory of cognition can of course be treated here only in outline. I have written further of it under the title of "Response and Cognition" in The Journal o f Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 1915, Vol. XII, pp. 365-372; 393-409. The article is reprinted as a Supplement to this book.
  15. "Essays in Radical Empiricism." New York, 1912, p. 2.
  16. " De Anima," 412a.
  17. "De Anima," 431a.
  18. Ibidem, 431b.
  19. " Response and Cognition." The Journal o f Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods. 1915, Vol. XII, pp. 365-372; 393-409. Cf. Supplement. " The Concept of Consciousness." George Allen and Macmillan, 1914. "The Place of Illusory Experience in a Realistic World." An essay in " The New Realism." Macmillan, 1912.

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