§ 1. SCIENCE AND THE “SCIENCES”. If the examination of modern psychology in its relation to other sciences were complete, it would include the discussion of many problems. It would show that exactness versus inexactness is fundamentally the same in all science; that the question of determinism versus indeterminism now attracting the attention of the physicist is by no means confined to physics; that in the onward march toward specialisation of methods and interests, scientists have forgotten the wisdom of the ancient Greeks who saw Nature-as-a-whole and defined the study of it as physics; that the philosopher, bowed down through the ages with artificial theological quibbles, struggled unsuccessfully with dichotomies that the Greeks would not have tolerated.

Our discussion would make it clear that the tradition of looking to physics as the last source of appeal in scientific explanation is merely a social tradition, one of the numerous mores that so often dominate the scientific attitude. The physicist’s recent discovery that energy will not observe itself would appear, in principle, like the philosopher’s contention of long ago that mind cannot observe itself. Our discussion would explain how the phobia of being anthropomorphic does not pertain to functional problems, but only to phenomenological description. We would prove that terms like sensory process, feeling, emotion, thinking, will and self describe, without the inference of intermediate phenomena, specific forms of energy as truly as do terms like heat, light, electron and water; that science is relative, and that the dependence of one science upon another extends from physics to psychology as well as from psychology to physics; that one science is not basic to another from the standpoint of explanation, but only as an understanding of problems is furthered by a knowledge of concrete details and a more varied illustration of principles. This is because the laws that apply in one field are the same, in their logical form, as those that apply in another. Content is not the determiner of principle. Principle is the determiner of content.

§ 2. ENERGY UNITS. We would point out in detail why degrees of complexity accrue only to the phenomenological side of nature, not to the functional. This means that forms of energy vary in the complexity of their apparent content; that is to say, in the number of phenomena to which they can be reduced by known methods of analysis. Functionally, all systems of energy, no matter what their complexity of differentiation, are units; man is no more complex, in principle, than a chemical atom; his behaviour is as simple as that of a falling body. Functionally, the words complex and simple are interchangeable; phenomenologically they are not. Mental terms are phenomenological, not functional, in meaning; they describe the form or quality of energy systems in a certain stage of differentiation. Forms, or phenomenological properties, disappear under structural analysis; the analysis destroys them, or assumes that they have been left behind. It is in this sense that parts cannot explain the whole, and that chemistry does not explain physiology, nor physiology conscious behaviour.

Compare a gentle breeze with a cyclone. The former is phenomenologically simpler than the latter. Its form or configuration is simpler; but the laws that govern the first are no less numerous than the laws that govern the second; essentially the same things are happening in the one case as in the other, but under different sets of conditions. The wider difference between air currents and man’s behaviour is a again a matter of form, a phenomenological, not a functional, difference.

§ 3. ENERGY A NEUTRAL CONCEPT. And finally, we would discuss the difference between logical validity and statistical reliability; the organismic assumptions of mathematical reasoning; the applicability of the new descriptive unit to philosophy, ethics and religion.

We have said that the new descriptive unit is based on the laws of dynamics. These will be interpreted in their logical or conceptual form, not in their mathematical form. Moreover, we shall classify under the laws of dynamics certain principles that have not generally received expression in science; but these principles differentiate from the same set of assumptions that are implicit in the concepts of physics. As we shall employ the so-called physical term energy, nothing spiritualistic or materialistic, vitalistic or mechanistic is meant or implied by it. There is nothing about the terms energy and dynamic that requires a mechanistic definition; nor can the prudence of giving them such a meaning be defended on scientific grounds. Indeed, if we inspect the logic of science carefully enough, it becomes necessary to avoid their historical, mechanistic significance. The reasonableness of the modern substitute, the organismic position, must now speak for itself in the light of the history that we have presented. Meanwhile the reader should keep in mind that an equivalent history could be written for any one of the descriptive sciences.

§ 4. UNIVERSAL LAWS OF NATURE. The laws of dynamics describe, in universal terms, the behaviour of energy systems. The unity of these wholes is dynamic, a matter of organisation with heterogeneity of structure, not a matter of unity in the sense of non-reducibility and indivisibility of structure, as characterised the old concept of unity. Such a whole would, by definition, be homogeneous in structure. It would be an element such as the soul in Aristotle’s philosophy, or the monad of Leibniz, or the conventional reflex and mental elements as employed in physiology and psychology to-day.

What, then, are these universal laws of Nature which explain man in all the complexity of his purposive behaviour, as readily as they explain the simplest events in the so-called physical world, provided those events are apprehended in relation to a system of energy? What are these laws of dynamics that, even when applied to a gravitational system, give us a picture not inconsistent with a teleological interpretation when, in other circumstances, the phenomenological complexity of the system demands it?

For convenience we have selected eight laws, and present them, first, in relation to physical and biological problems. The remainder of the book will be an application of the same basic laws to the problems of human nature.

§ 5. LAW OF FIELD PROPERTIES. The first of these laws of dynamics, as we propose them, is the law of field properties.1 This is the principle that any item of reality is in its own right an integrated whole that is more than the sum of its parts; it possesses properties not characteristic of its parts. From a phenomenological standpoint it has a form or configuration of its own which is its sine qua non, or distinguishing characteristic; from a functional standpoint it is a dynamic field, an organised system whose unique quality accrues to unity of organisation. Thus the properties of the whole are field properties. A property may be regarded, from various standpoints, as a mode of behaviour of the whole, a peculiar relationship sustained by the unit toward a larger unit, or a relationship sustained toward parts within the system. This law changes the conventional idea of integration. Strictly speaking, parts are not integrated; it is the whole as such that exhibits integration. One should speak of an integrated whole, not an integration of parts.

Considered as a unit, the earth, for example, possesses a density gradient from its surface to its interior that no part or section within the whole possesses. Under the proper conditions, however, any section or part possesses its own secondary gradient; but its basic properties are dependent upon a major gradient to which it is subordinate. Again, by virtue of its peculiar organisation, water possesses properties which neither hydrogen nor oxygen possesses. In other words, as one thinks from the part to the whole there emerge properties that, so far as the parts are concerned, were non-existent. An electrostatic field and an atmospheric field, likewise, possess attributes over and above the properties of electrons or areas to which the fields can arbitrarily be reduced. Strictly speaking, therefore, the fields are not composed of electrons or areas; the fields are these parts-in-relation; and the relations are as important as the parts. Indeed, to describe a field as made up of parts plus relations is an artificial procedure, for there is no dividing line separating parts and the relations between them. Thus parts, or ingredients, are always to some extent artifacts, and become false atoms unless they are defined as having membership character in a whole of some kind.

Water is not in reality composed of hydrogen and oxygen; nor is the human body composed of cells. A molecule is a field exhibiting a certain characteristic form, depending upon the organisation of energy within it. The human body, from the time of conception to the time of death, is likewise a field of energy, a whole, dynamically over and above, but including its cells and organs.

All such units require general descriptive terms pertaining to the character of their organisation. The more specific of these descriptive terms are pattern, symmetry, balance, equilibrium, form, structurisation, configuration, alignment of stresses, strains and potentials, gradients, lines and fields of force. A field, no matter to what extent it is differentiated, is the descriptive unit of science. The descriptive unit of the human body is of necessity the body itself, not its parts; for the body is not the sum of its several organs. It is a unit of organisation, an equilibrated, balanced field of metabolic forces to which the organs and cells are subordinate.

These metabolic fields of force are called physiological gradients. Even the single cells, with very little differentiation of structure, is a completely integrated field whose typical, basic gradient extends from the surface to the interior with its highest rate of living at the surface and lowest rate of living, generally speaking, in the centre. Cut a single-celled organism in two, and the surface-interior gradient is exposed along the cut surface; but the original gradient changes. The point of lowest rate of living shifts to the centre; and the exposed surface takes on surface character throughout. Then we have two organisms instead of one. The change was conditioned by the dynamic relationship existing between the organism and forces impinging upon it from its environment. Thus, the surface-interior gradient is not something wholly indigenous to the organism; it is conditioned by, and in that sense derived from, a larger whole. Of course the gradient is in part conditioned by the structural composition of the organism itself but only under the laws of a larger system of energy which includes the organism.

The more complex organisms possess axial or head-tail gradients. One, a gradient in the nervous tissue, extends from the head to the tail, in which the highest rate of metabolism is at the head end and the lowest rate at the tail end. Another, in the muscular tissue, extends in the opposite direction, its low point at the head and high point at the tail. These gradients control the development of organs within the body.

§ 6. THE LAW OF DERIVED PROPERTIES. The second Of these laws may be called the law of derived properties. Parts derive their properties from the whole. Lift a stone and its property of weight will be observed. Yet look within the stone and weight cannot be found, for weight is a relationship between the stone and the gravitational system of which the stone is a part. In other words, weight is a derived property. Similarly, a given electric charge is not an independent thing. Its potential is derived from an electrical field whose other parts have other potentials, all subordinate to the field-as-a-whole. The highness of one potential is relative to lowness elsewhere, and hence cannot be defined in terms of itself; in fact, it does not exist by itself. Highness exists only in terms of lowness and vice versa. Each is derived from the organisation of a field.

Turning to the living organism we find an analogous state of affairs. The function of a given organ is derived through dynamic relationship between that organ and the body-as-a-whole. Whether or not, for example, the thyroid will secrete into the blood stream, depends upon a chemical balance between that organ and the rest of the body. Whether oxidation of blood and digestion will take place depends also upon dynamic relations, chemical or mechanical, existing between the tissues of the lungs and digestive tract, on the one hand, and the organic environment in which they are located, on the other. The function of a given areas in the brain depends upon activity taking place throughout the nervous system; for the entire system is a balance of potentials, disequilibrated as a unit by any pattern of stimulation. The response that follows is a process of regaining balance. The law of derived properties, like all laws of dynamics, then, is universal.

§ 7. THE LAW OF DETERMINED ACTION. Third, the whole conditions the activities of its parts. This may be called the law of determined action. The laws that parts obey are the laws of the whole; the whole, as such, obeys its own laws. Logically speaking, the whole determines the behaviour of its parts. With respect to itself, it is self-determining. From a philosophical standpoint there is freedom in the whole part relationship as one thinks from the whole to its parts; there is determinism when one thinks from the parts to the whole. Since any part is also a whole and every whole also a part, any object or event in Nature is free or determined depending upon one’s point of reference. Parts that are relatively segregable and therefore relatively independent are, by definition, units in their own right and follow the laws of wholes; but parts are never absolutely independent, no matter how specialised, or how apparently remote from their fields. Causation, as a logical concept, obtains only between a whole and its parts, never from part to part. We have complete indeterminism when parts are considered out of relation to wholes, the indeterminism that is now puzzling the physicist with respect to the electron, simply because he is studying parts out of relation to the systems of which they are members.

Think of a gravitational system again. When bodies move within such a system, the system as a whole conditions the movement. The direction and velocity with which apples fall, whether in the United States or in China, are determined by the gravitational system as a unit. Consider also the living organism in the light of this law. Careful studies of growth in the embryo reveal that not only are the properties of the different organs derived from the organism as a dynamic field, but that the laws of dynamics explain where and when all the different organs shall appear and how far they will develop.

It is becoming evident that the laws of heredity are also the laws of dynamics; that any organ of the body can be changed either by altering the germ plasm and keeping the environment normal, or by keeping the germ plasm normal and altering the environment. If an embryo is taken early in its development before specialisation has advanced too far, and before the dynamic balance between parts has become so delicate that the organism is permanently destroyed by disturbance of a given part, curious results can be obtained by an interchange of tissue from one part to another. Tissue that, if left alone, would have grown into a head, develops into a tail when substituted for tissue at the tail-end. Conversely, tissue that would have grown into a tail develops into a head when substituted at the head-end. The development of the parts is determined, therefore, by the dynamic relation of that part to the whole, or in other words, by a physiological gradient.

If we inspect more minutely what is happening in the embryo, we find that the direction in which nerve fibres grow out, from their origin in cell bodies of the spinal cord to the extremities of the organism, is to be explained in accordance with exactly the same principles that govern activities in electrical fields. Matured nerve cells lie in chains. Each cell possesses receiving fibres, or dendrites, and discharging fibres, or axons. Whether these fibres shall receive or discharge is conditioned by the dynamics of the field into which they grow. This means that the nerve cells are polarised, in chains, by the physiological gradients that surround them. Nerve fibres that will discharge into the muscles grow out from the spinal cord and attach themselves to the bulky part of a muscle-segment where metabolism in the segment is greatest. Nerve fibres that shall eventually receive sensory impulses from the muscles extend out and attach themselves to the ends of the muscle-segment where the rate of metabolism is lowest. The detailed dynamics of these growth processes are very intricate and cannot be discussed here in detail, but the familiar laws of dynamics apply throughout.

Studies recently made of the brain show that the functioning of each part of the cortex reduces to a problem in field dynamics, not to the localisation of function assumed in orthodox neurology. Suffice it to make the generalisation, therefore, that even the rôle played by the individual cell—its function, the rate, direction, time and extent of its growth—depends upon surrounding field properties. These are all illustrations of the law that the whole conditions the activities of its parts.

§ 8. THE LAW OF INDIVIDUATION. We shall present, as a fourth law of dynamics, the principle that parts emerge from wholes through processes of differentiation or individuation. We may suppose that from a relatively homogeneous mass of cosmic energy there emerged, in the course of chemical evolution, more or less specialised and complicated systems of energy. These systems took on membership character in the whole, and derived their properties through dynamic relations sustained to the whole as they emerged. In the same general way, living organisms, built upon the same dynamic plan as inorganic systems, differentiated and emerged out of gravitational fields already existing. Their property of life was derived from the dynamics of the system in which they emerged. Life describes the dynamic aspect of a highly differentiated energy system, within a larger field of force. Differentiation, or individuation, means relative segregation of phenomenological units within larger wholes. The more highly differentiated systems exhibit greater phenomenological complexity than less differentiated systems. As phenomenological segregation increases dynamic dependence also increases.

The same law is revealed clearly in the development of the embryo. Specialised tissues and organs evolve through individuation from relatively undifferentiated fields of cells, and originally from undifferentiated protoplasm. In the beginning these parent cells have the possibility of growth into any kind of tissue. Thus the various organs of the body, the various conduction paths of the nervous system and the so-called nerve centres, both of the lower parts of the brain and of the cortex, all come into existence through individuation; they are local figures or patterns, emerging from a physiological ground or field. Much will be said of this law, shortly, when the movements of the embryo and the acquisition of skill in the adult are examined.

§ 9. LAW OF FIELD GENESIS. Fifth, wholes evolves as wholes. This is the law of field genesis. A given system of energy may undergo a growth or expansion process. This is an activity within a larger whole, conditioned by that whole. The structural modification of simpler atomic patterns into more complex ones may be considered an illustration of the law from physical science. In reality it is not an isolated pattern that has changed, but a field of force that has undergone differentiation.

The fact that chemical “elements” can be arranged according to the number of electrons found in the atom would make it appear as if, in order to derive one substance from another, the addition or subtraction of electrons would suffice. The “adding” and “subtracting” must be accomplished, however, in accordance with the laws of balance and symmetry of energy systems. To assume that going from one chemical “element” to another implies only an additive and subtractive process, as these are ordinarily construed, is to distort the picture by over-simplifying it. The formation of complex atoms involves not merely the simpler atoms themselves, but the fields in which the simpler atoms exist.

Let hydrogen and oxygen “combine” to form water. The formation of the new molecule, a variety of growth process, is a differentiation of an energy-field involving electrical, gravitational, thermal and mechanical stresses. To say that the event is merely the combining of two elements is again to commit an error of over-simplification. Similarly, common sense declares that one domino knocked another one down; but in reality the domino was pushed down no more than it was pushed up. The gravitational system in which the dominoes are behaving, which accounts for their behaviour, is ignored. Accordingly, in asserting that oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water the essentials of the process are overlooked; and as a consequence there is obtained a false conception of what is occurring. Specifically, this false notion is carried in the term synthesis; which is nothing but an unintelligible generation of wholes from parts.

The real problem is a change of form in the energy of a field, from relative homogeneity to relative heterogeneity of pattern. “Creative synthesis” turns out to be organic analysis, an individuation out of the whole through differentiation of form. What seems to be the derivation of a whole from parts is in reality the opposite. A larger unit of energy than synthesis presupposes is differentiating under its own laws. In this individuation process parts become more and more unlike.

We construe the formation of planets, of oceans and continents, the growth processes that characterise living organisms, and biological evolution in general, as expanding, differentiating wholes, not synthetic products of previously unrelated parts. The law of field genesis means that wholes are primary.

In the evolution of man there has occurred a change in the structurisation of the organism, commonly described as a dropping out of elements. There was a time, for example, when the skeleton was composed, anatomically, of more bones than are found in the human being. Likewise, organisms had more muscles and more teeth. They also possessed more hair; and the parts of the brain were more distinct than in the human being. We interpret this change from gross structurisation and relative dynamic independence of parts, to finer structurisation of the total field, with greater dynamic dependence, as a change toward heterogeneity. The skeleton of man, although less complex numerically in regard to number of bones, is more complex in its total structurisation, and capable of more complex performances. The same principle holds for the digestive, muscular and nervous systems.

The total picture of this evolutionary process, like the total picture of so-called chemical synthesis, is that of an energy pattern undergoing differentiation, in dynamic relation to its surroundings. During this differentiation, unity becomes phenomenologically more apparent with increased dynamic dependence of the structured parts.

The embryo, integrated when a single cell, furnishes us with an excellent picture of an expanding and differentiating dynamic unit. The unity of the organism, throughout its growth, accrues to the gradients of which we have already spoken. Growth, then, is a function of the organism-as-a whole; it is the progressive internal differentiation of a single protoplasmic individual; and this differentiation, in complex organisms, involves the separation of the living mass into subordinate semi-independent parts, the cells. Development should not be regarded as a multiplication and co-operation of cells, but rather as a differentiation of protoplasm. Thus the fifth law precludes any type of elementarism and synthesis. At the same time it contains the principle implicit in the physicist’s second law of thermo-dynamics.

§ 10. LAW OF LEAST ACTION. A sixth universal law of dynamics is one which may be called the law of least action. Stated in strict physical language it is the principle that objects generally move from one place to another over the shortest route in time, action being defined as energy multiplied by time. There are exceptions to this statement, notably in the field of optics, which need not concern us here, where movement is over the longest route in time. In either event complete organisation in a given system of energy is implied, whether we are dealing with maxima or minima.

Our interest in the law rests in this assumption of complete organisation, without which least and greatest have no significance. Let us envisage this organisation in the light of least action. Least action implies three points of reference, a starting place, direction of movement, and termination of movement. The starting place is the position at which a given amount of potential energy is, for some reason or other, released into kinetic. The possibility of motion is realised in motion itself. Direction of movement, in turn, implies that before an object commences to move it has some place to go to; and that place is the position at which the moving object would come to rest. But what starts the movement? What gives it direction? What brings it to a close? This entire situation is made intelligible only in terms of a disequilibrated balance or system of stresses. Think of the falling apple again. As the apple hangs on the tree it is balanced against “gravity” by an attachment. When the stem breaks that balance is disturbed and the apple falls. The apple was already hanging under stress toward the earth, or more specifically, toward the centre of the earth. Its fall possessed a definite direction toward a definite end. Had there been a tunnel through the earth, the apple would have fallen down the tunnel, and on beyond the centre of the earth; then, like a pendulum, it would have retraced its path over and over, shortening the excursion each time, until it has come to rest at the centre. Hence, the centre of the earth is the “goal” of the apple.

On closer inspection still more interesting features of this situation come to light. Stress toward the earth means that the apple on the tree is in dynamic relation to an entire system of energy, a gravitational system, of which it is a part. It means, further, that the stress has no significance in its own right. The stress at that point exists only in relation to the absence of stress at the centre of the earth. The apple falls from a position of relatively high stress in the direction of a point at which the stress will be resolved.

This is not all. The direction of resolution of stress is conditioned by the alignment of stresses between the apple and the centre of the earth. A gravitational system, as a functional unit, therefore, conditions the three outstanding aspects of the apple’s fall. The potential energy of the apple is given to it, in its position, by the system; the direction of the movement is given to it by the system; and the end of the movement is established by the system. Before movement is possible a dynamic whole provides the beginning, the direction and the end of the movement. The remote end is established before movement commences. A whole is conditioning the activities of its parts. Thus the different positions occupied by the apple along its path from the tree to the place where the ground prevents it from reaching the centre of the earth, are phases of a movement that is a unit from its beginning to its end. The movement is conditioned at once, in its totality, by the field properties of a system. One position along the line of motion will not account for the next. An attempt to explain the object’s progress in terms of steps would be to apply atomistic logic to a temporal sequence. Wholes, then, are temporal as well as spatial phenomena. The growth process, for example, is dynamically like the falling of an apple; it is a unit from beginning to end. In order to explain any phase of it, one must hunt for conditions external to growth; just as to explain the fall of the apple one must hunt for the conditions external to the apple and its complete line of motion.

The fact that before movement commences a remote end has been established demonstrates a correspondence between purposive behaviour in human beings and the behaviour of objects found elsewhere in Nature. Human behaviour is purposive; it is always executed with respect to some goal. But movement anywhere occurs with reference to a remote end. When a person extends his hand to raise a glass of water from the table the hand is directed by a neuromuscular system conditioning the activities of its parts in accordance with the same principles with which the earth, as a gravitational system, conditions the path of a falling apple.

The analogy can be carried farther. The apple is responding to a total situation, including the centre of the earth. Spatially and temporally the centre of the earth is ahead of the apple; it is the apple’s future. Strange as it may seem the apple is responding to its future. The whole, of which the apple is a part, surrounds the apple, both in space and time. Determinism holds only from the whole to its parts; the whole is both spatial and temporal; it contains future and past time, when a part is the point of reference; hence, the future, as much as the past, controls the present.

Growth is as much a response to the future as it is an evolution from the past. We, as individuals, are responding now to conditions that are, for us, our futures. This fact gives purpose and value to human life that are objective. Biological evolution is directional; it is progress towards a remote end; the race is responding to its future. Very little imagination is required, therefore, to understand how an acceptance of the laws of energy logically necessitates belief in the teleological character of man’s relation to that cosmic plan of which he is a member. The law of least action, which has long been regarded as one of the most inviolate and basic of all physical principles, harbours, indeed, a wealth of implications.

Returning to further illustrations from physics, air currents proceed from areas of high atmospheric pressure to areas of low pressure, over the shortest routes in time; electrical currents travel from points of highest potential toward the points of lowest potential within a given electrical field until the differential is resolved. Let gas escape into an empty container and it will diffuse throughout the container until the pressure is equal in all directions. Suppose a soap-bubble film to be stretched across the bowl of a pipe. Let a fine thread be dropped gently upon the soap film so that the thread forms an irregular figure upon the film. Pierce the film in the centre of the coiled thread. At once the thread will form a circle, and there will be no soap film within it. Between the circle and the edge of the bowl the film will remain intact. Why the circle? The thread changes its position until the surface tension between it and the film is equal in every direction. In all of these examples there was movement toward a condition of equilibrium when the balance of a given system of stresses was disturbed. In each case movement took place in the line of least action. Drops of water are shaped, therefore, in conforming to the character of the pressure that surrounds them. If the pressure is equal the drop will be spherical. Apples grow round not through some inherited predisposition, but in accordance with the laws of dynamics; our heads, eyes, fingers, trunks, are round, too, for the same reason; for the same reason, also, the embryo in a certain stage of its development is a sphere.

Examine, for the moment, the importance of this law in biology. We have already noted how, in general, physiological gradients determined the details of growth processes in the living organism. The most highly specialised of the senses develop in the head region where rates of metabolism are the highest. The direction in which nerve fibres grow out into the body from the spinal cord, the polarity of the nerve cell in chains, the direction of nerve impulses, the excitability of a given nerve centre, all illustrate the same law. A certain motion begins in a given place and progresses toward a given remote end, always under conditions that, in terms of dynamics, are fundamentally the same. Even a muscle, contracting, illustrates the law. Its energy, before excitation, is in balance with its surroundings; excitation disturbs that balance and the contraction takes place as a resolution of the potential. The growth process may be construed as the resolution of a tension. We speak of the growth potential whose realisation is the growth process itself, a release of potential energy into kinetic by the stimulating influence of environment.

§ 11. LAW OF MAXIMUM WORK. As a seventh law of dynamics we may choose the law of maximum energy or maximum work. When the balance of an energy system is disturbed, the energy of the entire system is affected, and all the available potentials are expended, that is, become kinetic, in the process of re-establishing the balance. Let a pair of scales be considered as a system of energy and let someone stand upon them without placing a sufficient number of balancing weights on the lever. The lever will rise until a certain maximum weight is hung from it. Then, as a system, the scales will become balanced completely against the stress applied to them. Or, if the dial type of recording device is used, the pointer will keep moving until a certain maximum value is reached. Suppose that salt is poured into a given amount of water. Under the existing conditions the salt will enter solution up to a certain maximum, and stop. When two chemicals interact all the energy of which both are composed is involved in the “exchange”; although some of it is lost in the form of heat.

In the biological realm a striking example of the law is found in the “all-or-none” principle with which a nerve fibre conducts. The impulse travelling over a fibre is always at a maximum, no matter by what form or strength of stimulus it is initiated. The same law seems to hold, also, for the contraction of a muscle fibre. Illustrations of the law in more complicated situations are “efforts” expended by the living organism in maintaining its integrity under disintegrating influences. All responses to stimuli constitute a class of such efforts, but vigorous, voluntary performances are particularly interesting examples; and the widespread organic changes that occur during emotional excitement are perhaps the most striking of all.

Other classes of adjustments, made by the organism in accordance with this same law, are the regenerative processes taking place after injuries to tissue, and the recuperative processes following fatigue. It is evident from this law that energy systems, as units, resist change or disintegration, a principle which we shall have occasion to employ in our treatment of emotion and “instinct”, and again in our discussion of habit. This law means, first, that when a system is disturbed it is disturbed throughout, not merely in one part; and second, that it resists disequilibration, using all of its available potential in regaining balance. Its behaviour follows a universal “all-or-none” law.

§ 12. LAW OF CONFIGURATION. Finally, as an eighth law, may be cited the principle of configuration. Basically this principle contains the idea that never does one discrete and isolated event affect another discrete and isolated event; for discrete and isolated things are fictions. The simplest conceivable event is a complex process of some sort, a dynamically integrated unit, affected by another system-as-a-whole. That other system is an organised whole of which the first is a part. If we wish to think of one system affecting another, such as two molecules interacting, their behaviour must be explained, ultimately, in terms of a larger system of which both molecules are members. In other words, the change that occurs in a given system is a response to a total set of conditions. This law will be interpreted as follows when applied to human behaviour:—Any reaction of the human being is a reaction of the organism-as-a-whole, and is a unified response to a total situation of some kind. If the response is directed specifically toward a detail of the total situation it is always made to that detail in relation to other details.

Further significance of the law can be understood only with reference to the conditions for least action. Any particular process in nature is the behaviour of a certain system of energy, structured in a certain way. A configuration is composed, then, of energy differentiated into alignments of stresses. Structurisation means that the whole possesses a form or Gestalt of its own. The form may remain constant while the parts vary, if the total balance of the parts remains the same. For example, a melody may be played in a high key or in a low one, with one quality of tone or with another. The auditory quality may vary; but the melody, the form of the total experience, remains constant. The sensory alignments—for they are alignments of energy—are a unified, balanced pattern. The melody is the configuration, the form of the total experience, which behaves or changes in an organismic fashion.

The systematic fashion with which energy patterns change, and objects move in space and time, is made intelligible by the conditions of least action. The descriptive unit, considered as a temporal thing, involves a high stress, a low stress, and a resolution of the differential. As a unit in time, the configuration includes the starting place, the direction, and the termination of a movement; as a unit in space, a configuration is a balanced system of structured energy, exhibiting a unique form or phenomenological aspect of its own.

Configurations are temporal as well as spatial units; they are structured in time as well as in space. The end of movement will not account for the beginning, nor the beginning for the end; tension will not explain the resolution toward the goal, nor will the goal account for the tension. The one implies the other; both must exist, or nothing.

The importance of this principle justifies repeating ourselves at this point. The first inch that an apple falls will not explain its fall through the second inch, or the second the third, or the third the fourth, and so on. Likewise, in the human being, growth between the ages of five and six will in no way explain the growth between the ages of six and seven. In accordance with the same principle, past experience does not account for present conduct. When the two are by definition placed in the same continuum the one has no causal efficacy with respect to the other. The logical absurdity of trying to explain one step in a continuous process by another is easily seen in simple situations like the following:—the sun will not rise to-morrow morning because it came up yesterday; a bird is not flying over yonder tree because, the moment before, it was flying over the river nearby. We can anticipate difficulty, on the part of the reader, when we apply this same reasoning to the problem of memory, for past experience will not account for memory. A given performance must be studied in relation to that dynamic whole which starts, directs and completes it; for the performance is inexplicable in terms of itself, or its parts. The performance is a unit, no matter how large or complex the thing performing, and no matter how long a time is consumed in the process.

There is another interesting phase of the law of configuration. Energy systems always “seek” a balance; they “seek” stability; and apparently under most if not all conditions in Nature, balance or stability is characterised by symmetry of pattern. Witness the spherical character of planets, the symmetrical character of their orbits, the symmetry of crystals, the bilateral symmetry of the human body, the great importance of symmetry in art, and probably the symmetry of molecules. Moreover, rhythm or periodicity, which is temporal symmetry, characterises all events in Nature. Witness again the periodicity of wave motions and the great importance of rhythm in human life.

§ 13. FAR-REACHING CONSEQUENCES. The consequences of our position are far-reaching. It can no longer be said that because man is more complex in form than a chemical compound he obeys different laws; for functionally the one is as complex as the other. It can no longer be said that because man is a conscious, thinking being, his behaviour is of a different order from that of a simply structured gravitational system. Because he remembers, it cannot be said that he behaves in accordance with a principle peculiar to consciousness. Because man exhibits insight, it cannot be said that his behaviour contains a factor without an analogue in electromagnetic fields. Because man wills it can no longer be said that he is free while a gravitational system is not. The organised energy of the latter moves the released apple just as truly as the human being moves his hand. Will, in principle, is organised energy. Man’s will differs from the energy of a gravitational system only in a phenomenological sense. From a functional standpoint energy, anywhere, may be construed as mind, but mind in an entirely new sense, in an organismic, not a vitalistic, spiritualistic or idealistic sense. Mind, thus defined, is not idea until structured as thought. It is structured into electricity, heat, light, sound and gravitational systems at the physicist’s level; water, iron, protein at the chemist’s; muscle, nerve, organisms at the biologist’s; ideas, feelings, will, self at the psychologist’s. This conception is merely a neutral dynamism, an objective functionalism which we have described logically, not an idealism until, phenomenologically, we reach the level of differentiation that we call experience. We have concerned ourselves with pre-idealistic or pre-psychological organisation, and have referred to experience merely in order to show the universality of the laws of dynamics. The dynamics of purposive, conscious, insightful, reflective behaviour are all contained in the dynamics of the atom; and vice versa, these dynamics are not mechanical.

Mind is determinism and, as such, is essentially the same everywhere; it is causation, and is instantaneous everywhere, an instantaneous change in dynamic relations. The gravitational system sets the apple in motion the instant the stem breaks; the human being, in the same way and by the same means, instantaneously moves his muscles and thinks. This conception of mind takes us back, in some respects, to the ancient Greeks. It is mind in a dynamic sense, not in the dualistic, mentalistic sense which subsequent usage gave it. We are looking at Nature, as the ancients did, as a whole, before analysis introduced false concepts.

§ 14. SUMMARY. This chapter has been devoted to the constructive task of presenting the dynamics of wholes, as they are found in Nature about us. Genetically, these wholes are pre-psychological types of organisation. Now that we commence a study of human nature we shall find that, dynamically, human nature is like any form of Nature.

We can now return to the first part of Chapter I. It is, after all, an energy system that thinks. To think is to follow the laws of dynamics. When simply structured systems of energy follow the laws of dynamics, an apple falls, a wind blows, an electric current travels, a gas diffuses, iron rusts. In the realm of biology, where systems are phenomenologically more complex, an organism grows, an organ forms, a nerve discharges, a muscle contracts, a gland secretes. At the psychological level, a still more complex level, but again only in a phenomenological sense, a human being wills, a self experiences, an individual moves a hand or a foot; he speaks, learns, portrays emotion, sees, hears, and feels. Ethically and philosophically, he responds to the future, with an effort to understand that future; he sets up goals and ideals. He posits a God; constructs the Universe-as-a-whole and evaluates his position in it. Value, as a relation, is man’s dynamic membership-character in the Cosmic Plan. Throughout the gamut of activity from the humble gravitational system to the Universe-as-a-whole, only one logic is applicable, one framework of thought in terms of which to envisage every detail. At present the unit of that framework, as we see it best, is organismic, relative and universal. Each unit has a property, a quality, a form, a value of its own, expressible mathematically, physically, chemically, biologically, psychologically or ethically, depending upon the type of larger whole of which it is apprehended as a member.

1 This and the following seven laws are quoted from Wheeler, Readings in Psychology; Crowell, New York, 1930. By permission.

The Laws of Human Nature
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