§ 1. THE PROBLEM OF INSTINCT VERSUS LEARNING. There is no activity of man from birth to death that does not depend upon a growth potential; nor is there an activity that does not depend upon environment, for the growth potential exists only with reference to environment. Thus, basing behaviour upon the laws of dynamics does away with a fruitless and misleading distinction between acquired and inherited behaviour. If one must make the distinction, one should consider that problem-solving in mathematics is quite as instinctive as walking or loving, and one must admit that the latter are acquired to the same extent as learning fractions. These forms of behaviour differ in the same way that a cyclone differs from a gentle breeze, namely, in the circumstances under which stresses are set up that demand resolution.

Moreover, it makes no difference whether the performance in question reveals itself upon the day of birth or when the individual is physically mature. Take the so-called sucking instinct in infants. The neural mechanisms between the mouth and the brain have no efficacy in their own right. If the infant’s mouth and digestive tract, together with the direct anatomical routes from these organs to the brain, were dissected intact, there would be no sucking. “Instinct” is not a mechanical performance depending upon a certain set of preformed, inherited pathways in the nervous system. It is a performance of a total organism, all parts of which are involved in the performance. To be sure, the total organism can be reduced, within limits, and a given performance will in some fashion be carried out; but in such circumstances there is always a loss somewhere, in some respect.

The sucking, too, is acquired, in the same sense that any activity is acquired, through growth and environmental stimulation. There is a period in the life of the embryo prior to which the sucking activity does not appear; and whether it shall appear or not depends upon the dynamic environment in which the nerve and muscle tissue develop. From our discussion in Chapter IV it can be seen that the sucking response emerges from undifferentiated mass action under the control of a total neural pattern. So-called acquired performances, learned after birth, emerge in the same way. Organic and uterine environment control the development of the lips, tongue, throat and their immediate nerve connections quite as much as education controls the development of mathematical reasoning. The growth processes that end in the latter require a different kind of stimulation; that is all.

Compare a newly hatched pheasant with a robin. The one is able to see, run, scratch and pick up its own food while the other is at first blind and helpless. In a few weeks; however, the robin can execute similar movements. How does it happen that movements, essentially alike in character, come about through the operation of different and incompatible principles? Yet this is the assumption involved in the distinction between instinct and learning. Is not the similarity of the two sets of movements sufficient proof that instinct and learning are one and the same?

Grant for the sake of the argument that the two are not the same. The instinct to walk, then, is laid down in toto, in the pheasant, by inheritance. This presupposes a particular set of pathways in the nervous system capable of being used for a particular set of movements. A pheasant starts to walk. It travels in a straight line for a short distance and suddenly turns to the right because there is a tree in the way. Did the instinct to walk inform the bird how to turn to the right when there was a tree in the way? Suppose the obstacle was a mound of earth instead of a tree. Did the instinct provide for this alternative? There is a wide rut in the ground that must be jumped. Did this same instinct furnish the pheasant, also, with the equipment for jumping? A sudden noise is heard, and the pheasant halts in his tracks. Does the instinct—the same set of pathways—provide also the device by means of which to halt when a noise is heard? Does it also furnish the means of turning around and running for a hiding place, or of returning to the mother when she calls? The instinct to walk does marvellous things, that one little set of pathways! It furnishes the pheasant with complete movements of walking, turning to the right, left, back, forward again, up, down, around, across, not only in all directions but at all speeds and in unnumbered emergencies. What could be a better admission that any mode of behaviour for which an explanation is sought in instinct is assumed to exist in toto before it actually does exist? Everything that the theory intended to explain is taken for granted and used as the explanation.

§ 2. “INSTINCTIVE” TENDENCIES. The advocate of the instinct hypothesis will not find comfort in the protest that instinct is merely a tendency toward action. What does tendency mean? It means that a certain act has already commenced; and, as we have seen, an act does not commence until its remote end has been established. To imply a tendency, then, assumes the conditions for the completed performance.

How about the so-called blindness of instinct? Why will a hen brood on corncobs or stones, or the lamb follow the wolf, or two males of the species fight for the possession of a female until one of them is dead? Are not questions pertaining to intelligence just as relevant? Why do human beings do stupid things? Is it any worse for a lamb to follow a wolf than for a human being to follow a medical quack? We call the latter performance human ignorance. Why, at the lamb’s level of performance, should there not be a lack of lamb judgment? We speak of too much credulity or too much will to believe in the case of the human being. Is it preferable, in the case of the lamb, to say, “too much instinct”; or would it be more reasonable, since the lamb must perceive the wolf in relation to something in order to follow it at all, that the lamb’s insight, too, was meagre? Like the human being it wanted something in its own way, and the tension toward the foal was unguided by circumstances that come with growth.

§ 3. “INSTINCT” AND EVOLUTION. The problem of “instinct” can best be understood in the light of evolution. There came a time in the development of animal life when eggs would hatch only if kept warm by the mother bird. Just at the time when such eggs happened to be laid, how was it that the bird showed the necessary behaviour of brooding? How did it happen that the bird developed higher body temperatures during the brooding period, thus imparting the heat necessary for the growth of the embryos within the eggs? Certainly the bird did not reason:—“Well now, here are some eggs that, unlike eggs laid heretofore, will not hatch unless I keep them warm.” Nor did it scurry around and become overheated just before it sat on the nest each time. On the other hand, there was certainly no mysterious set of pathways like so many pipes connected with the egg-laying apparatus, blowing steam into the bird’s muscles, so to speak, keeping it on the nest whether or no. If the instinct did it, why have the bird? And if the bird was just one instinct plus another, an aggregation of mechanical devices, what unified them? There is only one answer. The bird is not a bundle of instincts; there are no instincts; nor is the bird a mysterious deus ex machina informing a strand of nerves to function at a certain time. The bird, from brain to ovaries, is a unified, dynamic system.

In the course of evolution there developed, as one unified whole, an egg-forming apparatus that produced a certain type of egg, a nervous system dynamically so adjusted to the condition of the egg-sac that it conditioned the laying of the egg at a certain time. The same nervous system, during the brooding period, changed the metabolism of the bird in such a way that its temperature increased. The same nervous system was so structured in relation to the egg-laying device, the feathers, the bill, in fact all the necessary organs, that the eggs became a goal for the response of brooding. The same system that, as a whole, produced eggs incapable of hatching without incubation, also produced the insight necessary not only for the brooding response, but for nest building and the care of the young. We have, in the so-called instinctive responses of the bird, the evolution of a self-running, balanced, dynamic system; just as a gravitational system is a balanced and self-running thing, giving organisation and direction to motions within it. Anyone who thinks the bird is a bundle of instincts makes the same mistake of thinking that the earth is merely an aggregation of stones, water, dirt and atmosphere.

Thus a bird, equipped with wings, has the nervous system that makes possible their intelligent use; equipped with a bill, it has a nervous system accompanying it so structured that the bill becomes a tool to be used intelligently in food-getting, nest-building and self-protection. Equipped with an odoriferous gland, the skunk knows when and where to use it. Equipped with powerful muscles, sharp teeth and claws, the lion’s carnivorous habits are a matter of lion intelligence. With a digestive tract constructed to permit the digestion of certain food, and a body whose maintenance requires such food, an animal possesses the necessary sense organs for detecting it, together with the appropriate insight, and desires, for the behaviour of hunting and securing it. Likewise, giving birth to certain types of young, the animal has the nervous system enabling it to care for the young intelligently with respect to the demands of the situation. Every detail of the total system, whether anatomically or functionally considered, evolves with reference to every other. But the system, unified as it is, permits only a limited number of responses and a limited insight. This insight is proportional to the degree of maturation in the race and in the individual.

The differences in the stereotyped character of responses in the different animals, as for example in the insects versus mammals, may be explained by the dynamics of the nerve structures that have been formed in the course of evolution. In any case the unity of the nervous system can be demonstrated physically as easily as the unity of a gravitational system can be demonstrated. In any case we see in the higher organism the development, under a growth potential, of a complex, organised, total behaviour pattern that expands and differentiates through the influence, first, of uterine and intraorganic stimulation and, second, through the addition of environmental stimulation. The species came into existence, in the course of time, through the differentiation of an evolution potential.

§ 4. THE PROBLEM OF LEARNING. We return to the pheasant and the robin. Witness the awkward performance of the robin when, still a fledgeling, it is placed upon the ground. It sinks backward upon its tail as it attempts to walk; it topples on its side or lunges forward upon its breast. Then it is up and trying again. What could look more like trial and error, for the movements are certainly not successful? Herein is precisely the place where the fallacy of the trial and error conception of learning resides. The movements were unsuccessful with respect to what? Obviously the standard of perfect walking. But what has this standard to do with the robin falling against its breast? Nothing. The robin has no more idea of the goal of perfect walking than an infant has of the calculus. The conditions for perfect walking are not the conditions for falling over. The concept of trial and error no more explains walking than the fact that four is the double of two explains two. One cannot account for an event in terms of conditions that apply not to that event but to another.

§ 5. UNIFORMITY OF NATURE, INORGANIC AND ORGANIC. If there is unity and order in Nature there can be only one standard for a given set of conditions. The law of least action sets that standard. If action occurs over the shortest route in time, then organisation is always complete with respect to the existing conditions. Even if action occurred over the longest route in time, as may be assumed in certain physical situations, maximum organisation is implied. Thus we see the fallacy of the double standard. From the standpoint of science there is no trial and error in Nature, no random performance and no waste of whatever kind. It follows that one stage of learning is not the correct point of reference for another; and a superior performance is not the correct point of reference for an inferior one. The correct points of reference are the universal laws of dynamics, the system of energy with which we are dealing, and the actual factors that disturb that system in its present state. This rules out any reference to trial and error or random, unco-ordinated activity. It rules out any reference to a performance as stupid or intelligent except with respect to comparative levels of growth. It means that one level of stupidity in an intelligent act will not account for another; since both levels obey the same laws under differing sets of conditions.

§ 6. FAllACIES ABOUT “LEARNING”. We have not begun to enumerate the fallacies in the orthodox conception of learning. It is an error to assume that we learn by experience unless we mean that the learning involves experience, or better, that learning and experience are synonymous. Then the expression is redundant. Suppose for the sake of the argument that experience does account for learning. There is a first step in the learning process of an infant, and a first step in the learning process everywhere along the line of mental development, when the organism confronts situations which it has never confronted before. How can learning commence prior to a time when there has been no experience at all; and how can a new phase of learning commence prior to a time when there has been no experience in this particular situation? A principle that will not account for the first step in learning will not account for the second, the hundredth or the millionth. Thus the statement that we learn only with experience means that we are using two words to designate the same process, learning and experience.

Out of the false logic lurking in the experience theory of learning come many other fallacious assumptions, including the popular belief that practice, as such, makes perfect; that the way to learn is to drill; that the nervous system develops by exercise just as a muscle is alleged to do. On the contrary, an attempt to explain learning in terms of exercise, or by the use and disuse of nerve pathways, is utterly wrong. Drop a ball a million times and it will not fall more easily the last time than the first. The apple need not seek its way to the ground several times, nor even once, before making the “perfect” performance. An air current, never having gone from a certain place to another, has no difficulty in finding its way. An electric current will travel just as well through a switch the first time as it will the thousandth. Repetition makes no difference to the switch nor to the current. The current is conditioned upon the difference in potential between the ends of the wires.

In a similar fashion a nerve cell, sufficiently maturated to permit conduction, need not, through repeated exercise, be practiced in the art of carrying its impulses. Whether a given nerve cell will conduct depends upon its dynamic relation to the surrounding field—its position in a field of potentials—not upon the number of times it has been used. Similarly, the synapses, or junctures between nerve cells, which are like switches, will carry a current as readily the first time as the millionth.

§ 7. LEARNING IS DOING. Learning is doing. It is not explained by doing. The facts that account for learning are external to it, and repetition of response is not external. Thus, not repetition of response, but the facts that explain repetition, explain learning. The acquisition of intellectual or muscular skill involves persistence in a given task; and this requires repetition of stimulus-situations, just as a growth process requires time. In fact, learning is a growth process; but repetition of performance will not explain it anymore than time will explain growth.

One child has studied his lesson several times. Another has studied it only once. The first knows it much better; but the additional study is not the cause of the greater knowledge when studying and increasing knowledge are one and the same process. Hence, by definition, progress presupposes stages of development; it is not explained by them. The dependence of one stage upon its predecessor is definitional, not dynamic; since progress is by definition a unit from beginning to end.

Let an analogy be considered in this connection. Think of half a circle. You cannot think of half before you think of whole, for the half presupposes the whole; but once you have the idea of whole you can think of either half or of both. Furthermore, thinking of one half implies the existence of the other in the same descriptive unit. Thus, definitionally, one half depends upon the other; you cannot have one without implying the other. It is the same with all unity. You cannot think of a single part without implying all the others, but no one part will explain any other.

§ 8. LEARNING IS A “WHOLE”. Merely transpose this logic from a spatial to a temporal unit. One phase or step in a temporal continuum will not account for the next. Learning is by definition a continuum, a certain temporal unit. The instant you say “learning” you imply all of the steps that the process involves from its beginning to its end. True it is that one would not have progressed through the second step until after he had gone through the first; but again the dependence is definitional, not causal, just as one would not have half of a circle until he had implied the other half. Thus it follows that, in order to explain learning, one must go (1) to growth potentials considered external to behaviour, and (2) to environment.

The problem, repetition of response, may be approached from another angle. Suppose the increment of progress between the first and second repetitions of an unlearned task be considered subtracted from the repetitions. Subtract also the increment between the second and the third repetitions, the third and the fourth, and so on. These increments represent all there is to the learning process, as such; and the repetitions—the doing of the same thing over and over again remain. Without these increments the performance would not have changed from the beginning. This argument, alone, proves that the essence of learning is not the repeating of an activity; it is doing something in a new way each time a stimulus-situation is met. Learning, therefore, is precisely what repetition is not; it is exactly the opposite of the conventional notion of habit.

Often, in explaining learning conventionally, an analogy is drawn between the nervous system and a muscle. The nervous system improves with use, it is argued, just as a muscle does. But the analogy is misleading, first, because a muscle does not improve because of use. A muscle contraction is a product of numerous conditions; and among them are a stimulus and the metabolic relations of the muscle to its blood supply. The same situation that incites a muscle contraction stimulates heart action, raises blood pressure and produces faster rates of metabolism. These processes result in a growth or “hardening” of the muscle. The cause of the “hardening” is not the contraction itself, but is external to the muscle. A growth potential is realised in kinetic energy when that potential is set up by stimulation—an entirely different story, based upon an entirely different logic, from the claim that organs improve by use.

§ 9. EXPERIMENTS ON ANIMAL LEARNING. Very striking in this connection are experiments on learning in animals with the use of operative technique. Lashley1 showed that a monkey could learn to open a latch-box with the right hand when its left hand and arm were paralysed by an operation on the right cerebral hemisphere. The nerve paths and synapses which, in terms of the exercise theory, require use if the left hand and arm are ever to be employed in opening the box had been destroyed. The problem learned, the monkey’s right hand and arm were then paralysed by an operation on the left cerebral hemisphere. Meanwhile the left side of the body had recovered. Before the right side recovered the monkey was given the latch-box. He opened it successfully with the unpractised hand and arm. It is evident that the monkey, not a set of pathways, had learned to open the box. The nervous system as a whole was involved in the manipulations and in gaining the insight necessary to execute the task.

Finally, the exercise theory rests upon the notion of gradation of neural resistances at the synapses, or junctures between nerve cells. This resistance, it is said, decreases with the repeated passage of currents through the synapse. Again the interpretation violates the laws of dynamics. Moreover, experimentally, it is demonstrable that a nerve fibre will conduct with maximum strength or not at all. If, then, the intensity of a nerve current is cut down by resistance at the synapse, the decrement is made up again by a maximum discharge of the next neuron in the chain. Every way we turn we find complete evidence against the theory that habits are formed by repeating them. (. pp. 107; 120.)

§ 10. WHY IS PRACTICE NECESSARY? If all this is true why must the virtuoso spend hours, daily, with his violin, or suffer the loss of those finer and more nicely balanced touches that mark him as a genius? Why must a person continue to speak or read a foreign language, or else decline in his facility? Once more we face a familiar principle in dynamics. As long as there are differentials of potential in an energy system, energy in the regions of the highest potential will, if unstable, “leak” into surrounding regions of lowest potential, unless the differentials are kept up by disturbances from outside. A learned performance is represented in the nervous system by differentials of potential in the form of structurisations of nerve tissue. Where the energy is grossly structured into relatively coarse and stable patterns, the change toward homogeneity of form will be slow in the absence of stimulation. We find such structurisations in the gross aspects of maturation, the growth of major cellular interconnections in the nervous system, and an increased cellular formation in the muscles. But within these gross patterns there are finer and less stable structurisations, representing the latest stages of differentiation in the maturation process. These are the first to suffer with lack of stimulation; the grosser developments are the last to suffer, and the latter represent the cruder, more mass-like performances characteristic of the earlier stages in learning. The finer co-ordinations also suffer most under fatigue, and in disease, emotional excitement or other disturbing situations.

The virtuoso reverts, practically speaking, to older and grosser performances in the absence of the stimulation to which practice subjects him. The foreigner, under fatigue and excitement, “reverts” to his mother tongue; the senescent individual reverts to childhood; the maladjusted person flees from the cruel world of adult reality and regresses to childhood ways; the delirious person, removed from external stimulation, reverts to youth and recites verbatim poetry and drama which he is unable to recall voluntarily because normal waking life is, in its totality, a much more highly differentiated behaviour pattern than the one involving materials learned in childhood.

The reversion or the regression is conditioned by the absence of stimulus-patterns. The golfer, for example, who has not played for several months, perhaps years, has removed himself from the stimulus-patterns that keep the energy of his nervous system differentiated and organised with respect to the goals of golf. The gross aspects of movements made on the golf course do not suffer, meanwhile, for they are made in response to other situations in life. Were the player to remove himself long enough from all environment, the gross aspects of these movements would also suffer; he would finally become unable to walk. Gross and constant arrangements of stimulus-patterns having to do with gross spatial and temporal relationships between objects and events in our environment sustain the gross organisation of our behaviour patterns, and also the cruder aspects of perceiving and thinking. As we shift from one task to another we still confront these stimulus arrangements. But the finer arrangements to which the finer aspects of perception and co-ordination are adjustments, differ from one situation to another, and as fast as we remove ourselves from these aspects, the alignments of potential in the nervous system corresponding to them disappear.

§ 11. APPLICATION To MORALS. Until he understands thoroughly the details of such a theory of habit formation as we have just presented, the moralist will find little comfort or satisfaction in trying to explain addiction to tobacco, liquor and drugs. But here again, repetition of the act is involved only by definition; it explains nothing. The reason why these habits are hard to break is the fact that the circumstances required for breaking them have not been satisfied. Narcotics alter the composition of tissues in the body. In the sense in which we have used repetition of stimulation, repetition does count. With each application the tissues of the throat, and other parts of the body, become more and more dehydrated, producing a tickling and thirst which, in advanced stages, becomes pain. During the application and shortly after, the narcotic anæsthetises the tissues, and, if strong enough, depresses the nervous system. In any case there is temporary relief from the tickling or the pain, and an intoxicated feeling that, in the right circumstances, is pleasurable. The habit commences as a voluntary act, generally for social reasons. Shortly the social motive gives way to the demand for relief from dehydrated conditions in the tissues; the narcotic, taken to obtain relief, increases the dehydrated condition; thus the entire process becomes a vicious circle. In no case, however, is the habit to be explained by the tunnelling of grooves through the nervous system. Efforts to break the habit must always be motivated in proportion to the demand for relief from pain.

§ 12. ESSENTIALS OF LEARNING. So far, then, what are the essential conditions of learning? First, the learner, whether an animal or a human being, must be maturating and, in the long run, confronting a learning situation that furnishes external stimulation. Second, the learner must be interested; he must have the will to learn. In other words, he must be under tension toward some goal. The ultimate source of this tension is the growth potential; the immediate source is environmental and intraorganic stimulation. The importance of the will to learn and of intraorganic stimulation has already been alluded to (pp. 103; 145), and will become evident, again, in the following chapter. Meanwhile, two vital problems of learning remain to be considered here, insight and motivation.

§ 13. INSIGHT IN RELATION TO LEARNING. So atomistically minded are most of us that, after all is said and done, we wonder why learning does not follow the great and fundamental law of association. We forget that by looking at learning piece-meal we fail to observe its essentials. We observe a growing embryo and see cell piling upon cell. Why then is growth not a multiplication of cells? It is, but only from the standpoint of dead anatomy. Dynamically the cells are the structurisations of an energy system; as cells they are parts without relation and without unity. Regarded as structurisations of a dynamic pattern they become, not explanations, but results. A true description of growth rests, not upon the cell, but upon the process by means of which the cell is formed. To think of growth in terms of cells is to put the cart before the horse. Likewise, when we think of learning in terms of discrete experiences, said to be associated together, we are putting the cart before the horse. The experiences are like the cells; they are the evidences, not the causes of development.

§ 14. BANKRUPTCY OF ASSOCIATIONISM. Nevertheless, suppose we apply the association theory seriously to the learning process. A child finds a bee crawling on the windowsill and seizes it with his hand. The obvious happens. In order to account for this event the association theory regards the perception of the bee as a complex of sensations. Each of these sensations must be associated by so many separate acts of mind with innumerable elements in the movement of withdrawing the hand. Which aspects of the bee produced the contractions of the flexor muscles and which the contractions of the extensors? Both types of muscular response are physically required for the withdrawal. But this is only a small part of the difficulty. The multitudinous details of the bee—head, body, wings, feet, colour, size, shape—and the multitudinous separate contractions and relaxations of muscles must become bonded in the right way to the feeling of pain. The bee must be associated with the movement; the pain with the movement; and the pain with the bee. Nor is this all. The bee is on the windowsill. The hand was withdrawn from the windowsill. If bees are hereafter to be avoided when seen on windowsills, the windowsill must be associated with the multitudinous aspects of the bee and again with the movement and still again with the pain. And the bee is crawling, so the crawling motion must also be associated with the bee, with the movement of withdrawal, the pain and the windowsill. For every conceivable aspect of the situation bee travelling at a certain speed, a certain sized bee, a certain coloured bee and so on ad infinitum,—bonds must be multiplied and remultiplied. What a marvellous piece-meal performance; millions of different mental acts, each a separate thing, coming together! Did they all decide to do it of their own accord just in the right way at the right time? Did a miracle-performing agent like attention do it? Suppose the miracle was thus wrought. It was all for nothing, for in terms of the theory nothing is learned until after the associations are formed and after the bonds are established by use. We never learn except by experience.

Tomorrow the poor child is in the garden picking flowers. There is a bee in the flower. But there are no established bonds between the bee and the flower; the bonds were formed between a bee and a windowsill. There is no knowledge as yet that a bee in a flower will sting; a certain pathway in the nervous system must be used first, the pathway that connects flower with a stinging bee; so the child must be stung by the bee-in-the-flower. Then he must be stung again in every new situation before he knows that a bee in that situation may sting him. The appeal to common elements between old and new situations will not save the theory; for the common element has not yet been associated with the elements of the situation that are not common, and this can never be accomplished until the process of bonding has been achieved, through experience, in each new situation. A bee, therefore, may be ever so familiar, but the familiarity, not yet connected by association with a new situation, is worthless.

Stupid, you say. This is not what association means. Obviously, having been stung once the child associates his past experiences with the new situation before he is stung again. But now you have abandoned your theory. The child is in a new situation and is performing an act never before executed; no bond has been formed by use; no pathway opened by repetition. You are granting insight to the child. Put the theory to a further test. Suppose the child was stung originally on the left hand and suppose his left eye had been closed and he saw the bee with the right eye. A certain set of bonds, presumably, have been formed. Now the next day the child approaches a bee with the right hand and the right eye is closed. Here is a different set of pathways, with unformed bonds. What will the child do?

No, the child did not learn by forming associations and by exercising his synapses. When he first saw the bee on the windowsill and was stung, the experience then and there was no piece-meal affair, but a single, unified performance involving the whole neuromuscular system. This system obeyed in its own way the laws of dynamics. In having the experience the child was learning, neither before nor after; when he saw the bee the next time he avoided it for the same reason that he had the original experience. The situation then demanded a new, but at the same time, an organised response, developed there on the spot; the bee was perceived in relation to the total situation. The child did not repeat being stung for the same reason that an apple does not repeat its fall. A particular alignment of stresses repeats its activity but once. Thereafter there is a new alignment of potentials. The original experience was a phase in growth process, a phase in the differentiation of an energy pattern.

We said that the child avoids bees after being stung for the same reason that he can understand what the bee is doing at the time of the initial stinging. It becomes obvious, therefore, on analysis, that the instant one admits prediction in behaviour he forsakes the laws of association. Since learning is always a matter of making predictions implicitly, the notion of association is throughout fictitious.

§ 15. INSIGHT VERSUS ASSOCIATIONISM. Thus the concept of insight supplants the concept of association. There is nothing mysterious about insight. It can be demonstrated in animals as far down in the evolutionary scale as the goldfish. F. T. Perkins2 trained numbers of these animals to choose their food from the dimmest of three illuminated compartments, a bright, a medium and a dim. Then he shifted the brightness of the lights up the scale of intensity until what was the brightest before was now the dimmest. How did the fish behave? The correct compartment is now the one which they had all learned not to select, for they were punished whenever they went to it. They went immediately to the dimmest of the three compartments, the very light, which in the previous situation, they had learned to avoid. What better proof could there be of insight; the perceiving of one detail of a situation in its relation to the total situation. What better proof of the fact that the same light had one property in one combination and another property in the other. The properties of the parts are derived from the whole of which they are members; and this holds for perceiving in the goldfish as well as for perceiving in human beings.

We know that all perceiving is in this way relational; and, unless the relations are such as can be grasped by the learner at a given level of maturation, learning will not commence. Learning is a growth of insight, and to be effective, this growth must be stimulated at a rate commensurate with the learner’s normal rate of maturation. If repetition of stimulation comes too frequently, the task becomes insensible to the learner, a situation that is induced, also, by stimulating the organism with tasks whose difficulties mount faster than the learner is maturating. This conception of learning construes it as a process of making discoveries; it is a stream of inventions on the part of the learner, no different in principle from the creative work of the artist, the scientist and the organiser of business.

§ 16. THE PROBLEM OF MOTIVATION. Conventional psychology has been responsible for a veritably atrocious use of rewards and punishments in an effort to control the learning process, on the theory that a particular performance is facilitated or stamped in by pleasure and inhibited or stamped out by annoyance. This aspect of the association theory, like all other aspects of it, is false in spirit and in fact. First, before an experience will be pleasant or unpleasant in a learning situation the experience must be judged right or wrong, helpful or harmful, with respect to some goal. If, then, insight is not basic to the satisfaction or the annoyance, there is no satisfaction or annoyance. Moreover, the learning is accomplished when the judgements of right and wrong are made, not when the experiences are pleasurable or annoying; the latter are by-products, not causes of the learning. Motivation through the arousal of pleasure or unpleasure is efficacious, therefore, only when it makes a given organised response more vigorous. It increases tension; and under increased tension the organism’s responses are faster and at the same time more intricately organised, but pleasure and unpleasure accomplish nothing in their own right. The greater vigour of response, characterised phenomenologically by feeling, is induced by the stimulating situation that produces the feeling. If the situation is not sensible to the learner, and the response is not insightful, no amount of feeling will result in learning. The motive must be logically relevant to the goal.

Second, the philosophical assumption behind the conventional idea of rewards and punishments is fallacious. Man’s goals are not pleasure and unpleasure. In the course of performing some act he discovers pleasure and unpleasure, and abstracts from the performance these affective aspects only to assign them as the cause of the performance; just as in learning he discovers the acquisition of experience, abstracts the experience from the learning, and assigns to experience a causal efficacy. Man’s goals are situations and things, not feelings. What he wants is an opportunity to resolve his growth potential; he wants action, since his potentials are constantly being set up and released, and his activities must always have remote ends.

Third, ulterior rewards and punishments do not supply these ends. To use them as ends misapplies the laws of dynamics. If an engineer wishes to direct a stream of water to a certain place he locates that place at a given level in the same gravitational system that includes the water. Then the water will reach the goal under the power of the system. He does not locate still another place to one side of the original, for he would then divert the water from the spot he has already provided. Likewise, in human behaviour, there is only one legitimate remote end for a given performance, and that remote end must be its own reward or its own punishment.

Bribes, grades, grade-points, stars, social standing and gifts on the one hand, and whippings, scarings and deprivations on the other, are very likely to detract from the desired goal, the goal of a perfected act, the goal of achievement or skill. They deprive the learner of truth, knowledge and sportsmanship for their own sake; they sterilise idealism. These motives have become vicious influences in our day, taking out of mental development, both in our school systems and in our homes, its romance, adventure and culture, the aspects of life’s intangible worth, the most precious of its values. Intemperately misapplied, they deaden the personality, sterilise intelligence, weaken curiosity, stunt inventiveness, curtail initiative, and create all manner of artificialities such as egotism, conceit, social prestige, desire for power and authority, humiliation, inferiority complexes, and maladjustments of many kinds. They sap life of its deeper meaning, make people superficial, materialistic and utilitarian; they make automatons of our children just as automatons are made out of circus animals, whose insight is reduced to artificial situations in which every detail of performance is under the rigid control of a trainer who allows them no initiative or spontaneity of their own; for to express themselves naturally would mean to spoil the display and endanger the life of the trainer. The spirit of rewards and punishments is the spirit of authority, dominance and rule, the spirit that crushes and overpowers. Learning must be its own reward or there is no learning, only a shrunken mind, distorted intellectually and morally. Nature does not operate on the principle of ulterior gains. To motivate is to give a task meaning and value in its own right.

§ 17. THE PROBLEM OF MEMORY. If this psychology of learning is revolutionary, the psychology of memory will seem even more so, for here atomism makes its last and strongest appeal. Even now the reader will insist that since one never recalls an experience that he has not had, original experience explains recall. Here again definitional dependence is confused with explanation. Dynamic and definitional dependence are different so long as there are external points of reference, a whole that surrounds a part.

It has always been held that the congenitally blind, for instance, have no concept of colour because they have never seen colour; whereas the reason why they have no concept of colour is the same as the reason why they cannot see. The visual response cannot be made, since the optic system is lacking the necessary differentiation and organisation of structure. If the blind man could see he could recall visually; for recalling visually is a special case of seeing. The observation in its own right has no power to condition recall. On the other hand, by definition, recall presupposes observation, just as one half of a circle presupposes the other. There is nothing to account for at all until both the observation and the recall are admitted into the same descriptive unit.

§ 18. MEMORY “TRACES”. Meanwhile, psychology has posited in its customary atomistic fashion a memory trace in the brain to account for the recalls of “past experience”. Let us grant the trace and see what happens. A trace, left by an original impression, guarantees recall and a recognition of the recall as that of a previous experience. An independent thing, this trace does the recalling, and by definition, the recognising, for it supplies the necessary information to the recaller that the experience in question had been in consciousness before. There is nothing left for the recaller to do! A function of the organism-as-a-whole has been relegated to a trace, and the recalls are the acts of so many separate minds, residing in the traces which are by assumption independent and unrelated.

The atomist is likely to protest at this bald statement of his position. The trace theory never meant this, he says. By trace is meant only that an original experience makes a difference to the future of the organism; that with experience the nervous system undergoes a relatively permanent change. Such a change, however, construed organismically as maturation, does not represent an experience, for experience takes place only with reference to a particular stimulus-pattern. The neural processes corresponding to the particular aspects of an experience exist only as experience is taking place, and when the experience is over the neural pattern disappears. Maturation or growth of the nervous system is no more a trace than one’s body of twenty years ago exists now in the form of a trace. This means that maturation conditions the general aspects of experience, the degree of its differentiation; the stimulus-pattern conditions its temporary form.

What, you are now asking, does explain recall? The same organisation of potentials in the nervous system and the same stimulus-pattern that accounted for the original observation, except that (1) maturation has taken place meanwhile, and (2) there is only a partial duplication of the original stimulus-pattern. To illustrate this, you climb a mountain on your vacation. When you return you are able to recall the scenery. You are doing nothing more than to see the scenery with part of the stimulus-pattern missing, the scenery itself. When you were actually looking at the mountain, you were responding to many more stimuli than the mountain itself. There were your companions, your camping equipment, and your conversations with each other, even with yourself. You return home, bringing these stimuli with you, including language. Circumstances, then, construct a stimulus-pattern partly duplicating the original; the response partly duplicates the original, and we designate it as recall. If the repeated stimulus-pattern were as complete as the original, the perception would have been equally as complete. You would then be re-observing the mountain, for, by assumption, it would be in front of you again. Errors in the recall are to be explained in terms of maturation on the one hand, and removal from stimulus-patterns on the other.

§ 19. MEANINGS. But why, you ask, does one refer the recall to a particular place and time if there are no traces? One might just as well ask, Why the recognition of the original object? Why did it have meaning? How does any original experience have meaning? The first meanings in life obviously do not depend upon traces, for there are none; if first meanings, no matter how vague, do not require traces, neither do meanings that are apprehended later on, no matter how old we are. Each perception and each recall (for recall is incomplete perception) involves an interpretative factor, a discovery, an invention. It is the perceiving of some detail in its relation to a total situation. It is an emergent phenomenon.

An apple does not derive its fall from a preceding fall. No experience derives its meaning from a previous experience. Each experience derives its meaning from a total system of potentials existing in the present. Phenomenologically the performance of the apple is called motion, a fall to the ground. In case of memory the phenomenological property is a feeling of familiarity, the form assumed by the kinetic energy in question.

§ 20. TIME-PERSPECTIVE. The judgement of two lines, the one as shorter than the other, is by definition incomplete until the two lines have been perceived in relation. Similarly, in recall, the experience is incomplete until two phases of it are apprehended in terms of a larger time-frame. The first phase is the reference to past time; the second is the reference to present time. Before the past reference, involved in recall, can be understood without recourse to traces, the nature of this time-frame must be inspected. This time-frame is a whole which, with reference to itself, is undifferentiated time, neither past, present nor future. It is the temporal field-property of a ground of experience. The temporal parts of the field have the relationships of past, present and future within the total time-frame, and that total time-frame may be now.

Fig. 3

Let Figure 3 represent a given field of experience which, with reference to everything else, is called now. The field is spatial and temporal. Suppose it to be the perception of a landscape and the observer is watching an object, x, move from A to B. X is perceived in its space-time relations to the field as a whole. But the time properties of the perception, x, are changing as x is seen leaving A and approaching B. A is past time with respect to x and B is future, for x was at A and will be at B, and x is the moving present. All of this is apprehended within the time-frame that we have just defined as now. Compare this discussion with p. 85 and the logic of the two accounts will be found identical. We were speaking then of a gravitational field; we are now speaking of a field of experience. The apprehension of the distance x to B and the position B, which are the future with respect to x, is as necessary in apprehending the time properties of x, as are the apprehension of the distance A to x and the position A. But A–B is a dimension; it represents a field, not a moment.

One might also apprehend x in its time relations to S and T, or any system of points within the field. The apprehension of any object within a field of experience, then, involves a past reference and a future reference—the actual existence of past and future time in the field that we call now. The field, with respect to any point therein, involves the principle of time, and differentiates into the past, present and future with a given part becoming the point of reference. In other words, the past, present and future actually exist now because the now is a field extended in time with reference to its parts, just as it is extended in space with reference to its parts. A space-whole surrounds its parts spatially; a time-whole surrounds its parts temporally.

§ 21. SPACE-WHOLE AND TIME-WHOLE. There is an up and a down, a right and a left with reference to a center, when a differentiated field of experience is examined from the standpoint of space; but from the standpoint of the undifferentiated whole there is no up nor down, no right nor left; it is merely expanse. Similarly, when the differentiated field is regarded from the standpoint of time there is past and future, with respect to a centre, the present; but if the time field is considered from the standpoint of the whole alone, there is merely time.

No mystery, therefore, clouds a memorial reference to the past. A recall is like x in the figure. It is an experience apprehended with reference to an existing time-frame, now, that, with respect to the recall as the point of reference, contains the past, the present, and the future. We have run into our old organismic law once more—that the part derives its properties from the whole. That whole is the now. The now, obviously, is not the present except when apprehended as a part of a larger time-frame. As a field, or whole, in relation to its own parts, it is merely time, which is neither past, present nor future.

There is no transcending of the present and a digging back into past time that is gone when we recall; there is no awakening of a trace. X, the recall, is an experience related to a total “now”-situation, differentiated into past, present and future time. Any particular experience within the field emerges with its past or future or present time-reference in this now. The same processes that can be experienced as a recall, with a past reference, can be experienced as an anticipation of the future. One may visualise a mountain scene and realise it as a recall, or as an anticipation of seeing the mountain again, with no explicit reference to the past. This often happens when one is on his way to visit old scenes.

§ 22. SUMMARY OF THE LAWS OF LEARNING: LAW I. The laws of learning are the laws of dynamics. In order to illustrate them specifically, consider the accompanying set of digits. The law of field properties states that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Column A contains a plan; this plan is the whole to which we shall refer. Apprehending the plan permits one to learn the column in a single “repetition”. Column B contains as many digits as column A but the logical plan is missing. The whole is a less significant one and a longer time is required to learn it; for its unity is confined to time and space relationships only, which are less stable than logical relationships.

A                B

The same law may be illustrated in golf. One can never learn golf by first acquiring the proper wrist movements, then, separately, the elbow, shoulder, waist, knee and ankle movements. Co-ordinations of the body are not acquired in this way. The stance, body balance, and organised system of tensions and strains is more than the sum of so many separate movements. Attempts to put separate movements together by “association” ruins one’s golf, as every careful observer knows. Movements must be of the body-as-a-whole; these are awkward and undifferentiated at first, but not random.

§ 23. LAW II. Parts derive their properties from the whole of which they are members. In column A there is the number 10. It is only with reference to the whole that this number has the property of being fourth in line from the top, in fact, only in virtue of the plan that it is in the column at all. 10’s property of being three more than the preceding number and four less than the succeeding number is also derived from the plan. In golf, twisting one’s wrists means nothing in its own right. Wrist movements belong to elbow and shoulder movements in exactly the same sense that 10 belongs to 7 and 14 in column A. If the wrist movement does not derive its properties of extent, force and direction from the total movement-pattern it has nothing to do with the golf-process at all. The purpose of the wrist movement is to give snap to the swing and position to the club-head. Try to put snap into the swing by twisting the wrists without making an organised body movement and the result is disastrous; there is neither snap nor swing. Try it by keeping the entire body stiff as a board, or by becoming absolutely limp all over!

§ 24. LAW III. The whole governs the activities of its parts. In learning the digits of columns A and B, one must first know that they are in a column or series; each number must be learned in its position in the series. In golf, if the proper balance of the whole body is not acquired first, the delicate movements that are to follow cannot be executed. The stance or total pattern of movement (varying with the purpose of the shot) determines how each muscle shall be contracted.

§ 25. LAW IV. Skill along any line comes about through the individuation of specialised movements from mass action. It matters not how long the process takes. It may take place in a few seconds, as in case of column A, or it may require years, as in golf. A total behaviour pattern, under a growth potential, is undergoing differentiation through external stimulation. The potential exhibits itself in the will or the desire to learn.

§ 26. LAW V. Wholes evolve as wholes in the learning process. In the case of the columns, it is always a column with a good or a poor plan of organisation that is being learned. Golf is always a total pattern of movements involving the whole body. At every step the whole is there; the organisation is present; but it is changing toward greater differentiation. At no time is there a building up of a whole from its parts, or the addition of a new movement to a mass of old ones, or a new experience to an apperceptive mass.

What seems to the uninitiated as an addition is an entirely new total pattern of movement, or a new field of experience, albeit it has, in either case, a feeling of familiarity about it.

§ 27. LAW VI. Learning follows the law of least action. In order to learn at all one must be under tension; there is no learning where there is no will to learn. Once the tension is set up the goal is set up also; and the behaviour is already organised with respect to that goal, for the tension and the goal presuppose organisation. From a practical standpoint, so-called perfect versus random co-ordinations are differentiated versus undifferentiated movements, that have emerged in the course of stimulation and maturation. Every thought and movement has direction from the outset. Only the conditions for least action will account for this direction.

§ 28. LAW VII. Learning follows the law of maximum work. Movements once acquired are not forgotten so long as stimulation continues, for the organised potentials of the nervous system will, other things being equal, preserve their status quo except as, of their own accord, so to speak, they iron themselves out in the absence of stimulation. Movements persist, then, for the same reason that “work” is required to move a stone. A system of energy, once formed, resists a disturbance of its balance; it insists upon making its own changes.

§ 29. LAW VIII. Learning is a configurational response. It is a unit in space and in time. Not only does it involve responding to a detail of a situation in relation to a total situation, but one phase of progress will not account for the next. From the standpoint of the learner, progress is an evolution of insight, a continuous process of invention.

1 . Lashley; Brain Mechanisms and Intelligence; Chicago, 1929.

2 . Perkins and Wheeler; Configurational Learning in the Goldfish; Comp. Psy. Monog., Vol. 7; 1930; No. 31.

The Laws of Human Nature
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