HotFreeBooks.com
Life and Habit
by Samuel Butler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Here we pause to ask ourselves whether any action of any creature under any circumstances is ever excited without "stimulus of some kind," and unless we can answer this question in the affirmative, it is not easy to see how Dr. Carpenter's objection is valid.

"Thus," he continues, "a decapitated frog" (here then we have it that the frog's head was actually cut off) "after the first violent convulsive moments occasioned by the operation have passed away, remains at rest until it is touched; and then the leg, or its whole body may be thrown into sudden action, which suddenly subsides again." (How does this quiescence when it no longer feels anything show that the "leg or whole body" had not perceived something which made it feel when it was not quiescent?)—"Again we find that such movements may be performed not only when the brain has been removed, the spinal cord remaining entire, but also when the spinal cord has been itself cut across, so as to be divided into two or more portions, each of them completely isolated from each other, and from other parts of the nervous centres. Thus, if the head of a frog be cut off, and its spinal cord be divided in the middle of the back, so that its fore legs remain connected with the upper part, and its hind legs with the lower, each pair of members may be excited to movements by stimulants applied to itself; but the two pairs will not exhibit any consentaneous motions, as they will do when the spinal cord is undivided."

This may be put perhaps more plainly thus. If you take a frog and cut it into three pieces—say, the head for one piece, the fore legs and shoulder for another, and the hind legs for a third—and then irritate any one of these pieces, you will find it move much as it would have moved under like irritation if the animal had remained undivided, but you will no longer find any concert between the movements of the three pieces; that is to say, if you irritate the head, the other two pieces will remain quiet, and if you irritate the hind legs, you will excite no action in the fore legs or head.

Dr. Carpenter continues: "Or if the spinal cord be cut across without the removal of the brain, the lower limbs may be EXCITED to movement by an appropriate stimulant, though the animal has clearly no power over them, whilst the upper part remains under its control as completely as before."

Why are the head and shoulders "the animal" more than the hind legs under these circumstances? Neither half can exist long without the other; the two parts, therefore, being equally important to each other, we have surely as good a right to claim the title of "the animal" for the hind legs, and to maintain that they have no power over the head and shoulders, as any one else has to claim the animalship for these last. What we say is, that the animal has ceased to exist as a frog on being cut in half, and that the two halves are no longer, either of them, the frog, but are simply pieces of still living organism, each of which has a soul of its own, being capable of sensation, and of intelligent psychological action as the consequence of sensations, though the one part has probably a much higher and more intelligent soul than the other, and neither part has a soul for a moment comparable in power and durability to that of the original frog.

"Now it is scarcely conceivable," continues Dr Carpenter, "that in this last case sensations should be felt and volition exercised through the instrumentality of that portion of the spinal cord which remains connected with the nerves of the posterior extremities, but which is cut off from the brain. For if it were so, there must be two distinct centres of sensation and will in the same animal, the attributes of the brain not being affected; and by dividing the spinal cord into two or more segments we might thus create in the body of one animal two or more such independent centres in addition to that which holds its proper place in the head."

In the face of the facts before us, it does not seen far-fetched to suppose that there ARE two, or indeed an infinite number of centres of sensation and will in an animal, the attributes of whose brain are not affected but that these centres, while the brain is intact, habitually act in connection with and in subordination to that central authority; as in the ordinary state of the fish trade, fish is caught, we will say, at Yarmouth, sent up to London, and then sent down to Yarmouth again to be eaten, instead of being eaten at Yarmouth when caught. But from the phenomena exhibited by three pieces of an animal, it is impossible to argue that the causes of the phenomena were present in the quondam animal itself; the memory of an infinite series of generations having so habituated the local centres of sensation and will, to act in concert with the central government, that as long as they can get at that government, they are absolutely incapable of acting independently. When thrown on their own resources, they are so demoralised by ages of dependence on the brain, that they die after a few efforts at self-assertion, from sheer unfamiliarity with the position, and inability to recognise themselves when disjointed rudely from their habitual associations.

In conclusion, Dr. Carpenter says, "To say that two or more distinct centres of sensation and will are present in such a case, would really be the same as saying that we have the power of constituting two or more distinct egos in one body, WHICH IS MANIFESTLY ABSURD." One sees the absurdity of maintaining that we can make one frog into two frogs by cutting a frog into two pieces, but there is no absurdity in believing that the two pieces have minor centres of sensation and intelligence within themselves, which, when the animal is entire, act in much concert with the brain, and with each other, that it is not easy to detect their originally autonomous character, but which, when deprived of their power of acting in concert, are thrown back upon earlier habit, now too long forgotten to be capable of permanent resumption.

Illustrations are apt to mislead, nevertheless they may perhaps be sometimes tolerated. Suppose, for example, that London to the extent, say, of a circle with a six-mile radius from Charing Cross, were utterly annihilated in the space of five minutes during the Session of Parliament. Suppose, also, that two entirely impassable barriers, say of five miles in width, half a mile high, and red hot, were thrown across England; one from Gloucester to Harwich, and another from Liverpool to Hull, and at the same time the sea were to become a mass of molten lava, so no water communication should be possible; the political, mercantile, social, and intellectual life of the country would be convulsed in a manner which it is hardly possible to realise. Hundreds of thousands would die through the dislocation of existing arrangements. Nevertheless, each of the three parts into which England was divided would show signs of provincial life for which it would find certain imperfect organisms ready to hand. Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, accustomed though they are to act in subordination to London, would probably take up the reins of government in their several sections; they would make their town councils into local governments, appoint judges from the ablest of their magistrates, organise relief committees, and endeavour as well as they could to remove any acetic acid that might be now poured on Wiltshire, Warwickshire, or Northumberland, but no concert between the three divisions of the country would be any longer possible. Should we be justified, under these circumstances, in calling any of the three parts of England, England? Or, again, when we observed the provincial action to be as nearly like that of the original undivided nation as circumstances would allow, should we be justified in saying that the action, such as it was, was not political? And, lastly, should we for a moment think that an admission that the provincial action was of a bona fide political character would involve the supposition that England, undivided, had more than one "ego" as England, no matter how many subordinate "egos" might go to the making of it, each one of which proved, on emergency, to be capable of a feeble autonomy?

M. Ribot would seem to take a juster view of the phenomenon when he says (p. 222 of the English translation) -

"We can hardly say that here the movements are co-ordinated like those of a machine; the acts of the animal are adapted to a special end; we find in them the characters of intelligence and will, a knowledge and choice of means, since they are as variable as the cause which provokes them.

"If these, then, and similar acts, were such that both the impressions which produced them and the acts themselves were perceived by the animal, would they not be called psychological? Is there not in them all that constitutes an intelligent act—adaptation of means to ends; not a general and vague adaptation, but a determinate adaptation to a determinate end? In the reflex action we find all that constitutes in some sort the very groundwork of an intelligent act—that is to say, the same series of stages, in the same order, with the same relations between them. We have thus, in the reflex act, all that constitutes the psychological act except consciousness. The reflex act, which is physiological, differs in nothing from the psychological act, save only in this—that it is without consciousness."

The only remark which suggests itself upon this, is that we have no right to say that the part of the animal which moves does not also perceive its own act of motion, as much as it has perceived the impression which has caused it to move. It is plain "the animal" cannot do so, for the animal cannot be said to be any longer in existence. Half a frog is not a frog; nevertheless, if the hind legs are capable, as M. Ribot appears to admit, of "perceiving the impression" which produces their action, and if in that action there is (and there would certainly appear to be so) "all that constitutes an intelligent act, . . . a determinate adaptation to a determinate end," one fails to see on what ground they should be supposed to be incapable of perceiving their own action, in which case the action of the hind legs becomes distinctly psychological.

Secondly, M. Ribot appears to forget that it is the tendency of all psychological action to become unconscious on being frequently repeated, and that no line can be drawn between psychological acts and those reflex acts which he calls physiological. All we can say is, that there are acts which we do without knowing that we do them; but the analogy of many habits which we have been able to watch in their passage from laborious consciousness to perfect unconsciousness, would suggest that all action is really psychological, only that the soul's action becomes invisible to ourselves after it has been repeated sufficiently often—that there is, in fact, a law as simple as in the case of optics or gravitation, whereby conscious perception of any action shall vary inversely as the square, say, of its being repeated.

It is easy to understand the advantage to the individual of this power of doing things rightly without thinking about them; for were there no such power, the attention would be incapable of following the multitude of matters which would be continually arresting it; those animals which had developed a power of working automatically, and without a recurrence to first principles when they had once mastered any particular process, would, in the common course of events, stand a better chance of continuing their species, and thus of transmitting their new power to their descendants.

M. Ribot declines to pursue the subject further, and has only cursorily alluded to it. He writes, however, that, on the "obscure problem" of the difference between reflex and psychological actions, some say, "when there can be no consciousness, because the brain is wanting, there is, in spite of appearances, only mechanism," whilst others maintain, that "when there is selection, reflection, psychical action, there must also be consciousness in spite of appearances." A little later (p. 223), he says, "It is quite possible that if a headless animal could live a sufficient length of time" (that is to say, if THE HIND LEGS OF AN ANIMAL could live a sufficient length of time without the brain), "there would be found in it" (THEM) "a consciousness like that of the lower species, which would consist merely in the faculty of apprehending the external world." (Why merely? It is more than apprehending the outside world to be able to try to do a thing with one's left foot, when one finds that one cannot do it with one's right.) "It would not be correct to say that the amphioxus, the only one among fishes and vertebrata which has a spinal cord without a brain, has no consciousness because it has no brain; and if it be admitted that the little ganglia of the invertebrata can form a consciousness, the same may hold good for the spinal cord."

We conclude, therefore, that it is within the common scope and meaning of the words "personal identity," not only that one creature can become many as the moth becomes manifold in her eggs, but that each individual may be manifold in the sense of being compounded of a vast number of subordinate individualities which have their separate lives within him, with their hopes, and fears, and intrigues, being born and dying within us, many generations, of them during our single lifetime.

"An organic being," writes Mr. Darwin, "is a microcosm, a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute, and numerous as the stars in heaven."

As these myriads of smaller organisms are parts and processes of us, so are we but parts and processes of life at large.



CHAPTER VIII—APPLICATION OF THE FOREGOING CHAPTERS—THE ASSIMILATION OF OUTSIDE MATTER



Let us now return to the position which we left at the end of the fourth chapter. We had then concluded that the self-development of each new life in succeeding generations—the various stages through which it passes (as it would appear, at first sight, without rhyme or reason)—the manner in which it prepares structures of the most surpassing intricacy and delicacy, for which it has no use at the time when it prepares them—and the many elaborate instincts which it exhibits immediately on, and indeed before, birth—all point in the direction of habit and memory, as the only causes which could produce them.

Why should the embryo of any animal go through so many stages— embryological allusions to forefathers of a widely different type? And why, again, should the germs of the same kind of creature always go through the same stages? If the germ of any animal now living is, in its simplest state, but part of the personal identity of one of the original germs of all life whatsoever, and hence, if any now living organism must be considered without quibble as being itself millions of years old, and as imbued with an intense though unconscious memory of all that it has done sufficiently often to have made a permanent impression; if this be so, we can answer the above questions perfectly well. The creature goes through so many intermediate stages between its earliest state as life at all, and its latest development, for the simplest of all reasons, namely, because this is the road by which it has always hitherto travelled to its present differentiation; this is the road it knows, and into every turn and up or down of which, it has been guided by the force of circumstances and the balance of considerations. These, acting in such a manner for such and such a time, caused it to travel in such and such fashion, which fashion having been once sufficiently established, becomes a matter of trick or routine to which the creature is still a slave, and in which it confirms itself by repetition in each succeeding generation.

Thus I suppose, as almost every one else, so far as I can gather, supposes, that we are descended from ancestors of widely different characters to our own. If we could see some of our forefathers a million years back, we should find them unlike anything we could call man; if we were to go back fifty million years, we should find them, it may be, fishes pure and simple, breathing through gills, and unable to exist for many minutes in air.

It is admitted on all hands that there is more or less analogy between the embryological development of the individual, and the various phases or conditions of life through which his forefathers have passed. I suppose, then, that the fish of fifty million years back and the man of to-day are one single living being, in the same sense, or very nearly so, as the octogenarian is one single living being with the infant from which he has grown; and that the fish has lived himself into manhood, not as we live out our little life, living, and living, and living till we die, but living by pulsations, so to speak; living so far, and after a certain time going into a new body, and throwing off the old; making his body much as we make anything that we want, and have often made already, that is to say, as nearly as may be in the same way as he made it last time; also that he is as unable as we ourselves are, to make what he wants without going through the usual processes with which he is familiar, even though there may be other better ways of doing the same thing, which might not be far to seek, if the creature thought them better, and had not got so accustomed to such and such a method, that he would only be baffled and put out by any attempt to teach him otherwise.

And this oneness of personality between ourselves and our supposed fishlike ancestors of many millions of years ago, must hold also between each individual one of us and the single pair of fishes from which we are each (on the present momentary hypothesis) descended; and it must also hold between such pair of fishes and all their descendants besides man, it may be some of them birds, and others fishes; all these descendants, whether human or otherwise, being but the way in which the creature (which was a pair of fishes when we first took it in hand though it was a hundred thousand other things as well, and had been all manner of other things before any part of it became fishlike) continues to exist—its manner, in fact, of growing. As the manner in which the human body grows is by the continued birth and death, in our single lifetime, of many generations of cells which we know nothing about, but say that we have had only one hand or foot all our lives, when we have really had many, one after another; so this huge compound creature, LIFE, probably thinks itself but one single animal whose component cells, as it may imagine, grow, and it may be waste and repair, but do not die.

It may be that the cells of which we are built up, and which we have already seen must be considered as separate persons, each one of them with a life and memory of its own—it may be that these cells reckon time in a manner inconceivable by us, so that no word can convey any idea of it whatever. What may to them appear a long and painful process may to us be so instantaneous as to escape us altogether, we wanting some microscope to show us the details of time. If, in like manner, we were to allow our imagination to conceive the existence of a being as much in need of a microscope for our time and affairs as we for those of our own component cells, the years would be to such a being but as the winkings or the twinklings of an eye. Would he think, then, that all the ants and flies of one wink were different from those of the next? or would he not rather believe that they were always the same flies, and, again, always the same men and women, if he could see them at all, and if the whole human race did not appear to him as a sort of spreading and lichen-like growth over the earth, not differentiated at all into individuals? With the help of a microscope and the intelligent exercise of his reason, he would in time conceive the truth. He would put Covent Garden Market on the field of his microscope, and would perhaps write a great deal of nonsense about the unerring "instinct" which taught each costermonger to recognise his own basket or his own donkey-cart; and this, mutatis mutandis, is what we are getting to do as regards our own bodies. What I wish is, to make the same sort of step in an upward direction which has already been taken in a downward one, and to show reason for thinking that we are only component atoms of a single compound creature, LIFE, which has probably a distinct conception of its own personality though none whatever of ours, more than we of our own units. I wish also to show reason for thinking that this creature, LIFE, has only come to be what it is, by the same sort of process as that by which any human art or manufacture is developed, i.e., through constantly doing the same thing over and over again, beginning from something which is barely recognisable as faith, or as the desire to know, or do, or live at all, and as to the origin of which we are in utter darkness,—and growing till it is first conscious of effort, then conscious of power, then powerful with but little consciousness, and finally, so powerful and so charged with memory as to be absolutely without all self-consciousness whatever, except as regards its latest phases in each of its many differentiations, or when placed in such new circumstances as compel it to choose between death and a reconsideration of its position.

No conjecture can be hazarded as to how the smallest particle of matter became so imbued with faith that it must be considered as the beginning of LIFE, or as to what such faith is, except that it is the very essence of all things, and that it has no foundation.

In this way, then, I conceive we can fairly transfer the experience of the race to the individual, without any other meaning to our words than what they would naturally suggest; that is to say, that there is in every impregnate ovum a bona fide memory, which carries it back not only to the time when it was last an impregnate ovum, but to that earlier date when it was the very beginning of life at all, which same creature it still is, whether as man or ovum, and hence imbued, so far as time and circumstance allow, with all its memories. Surely this is no strained hypothesis; for the mere fact that the germ, from the earliest moment that we are able to detect it, appears to be so perfectly familiar with its business, acts with so little hesitation and so little introspection or reference to principles, this alone should incline us to suspect that it must be armed with that which, so far as we observe in daily life, can alone ensure such a result— to wit, long practice, and the memory of many similar performances.

The difficulty is, that we are conscious of no such memory in our own persons, and beyond the one great proof of memory given by the actual repetition of the performance—and of some of the latest deviations from the ordinary performance (and this proof ought in itself, one would have thought, to outweigh any save the directest evidence to the contrary) we can detect no symptom of any such mental operation as recollection on the part of the embryo. On the other hand, we have seen that we know most intensely those things that we are least conscious of knowing; we will most intensely what we are least conscious of willing; we feel continually without knowing that we feel, and our attention is hourly arrested without our attention being arrested by the arresting of our attention. Memory is no less capable of unconscious exercise, and on becoming intense through frequent repetition, vanishes no less completely as a conscious action of the mind than knowledge and volition. We must all be aware of instances in which it is plain we must have remembered, without being in the smallest degree conscious of remembering. Is it then absurd to suppose that our past existences have been repeated on such a vast number of occasions that the germ, linked on to all preceding germs, and, by once having become part of their identity, imbued with all their memories, remembers too intensely to be conscious of remembering, and works on with the same kind of unconsciousness with which we play, or walk, or read, until something unfamiliar happens to us? and is it not singularly in accordance with this view that consciousness should begin with that part of the creature's performance with which it is least familiar, as having repeated it least often—that is to say, in our own case, with the commencement of our human life—at birth, or thereabouts?

It is certainly noteworthy that the embryo is never at a loss, unless something happens to it which has not usually happened to its forefathers, and which in the nature of things it cannot remember.

When events are happening to it which have ordinarily happened to its forefathers, and which it would therefore remember, if it was possessed of the kind of memory which we are here attributing to it, IT ACTS PRECISELY AS IT WOULD ACT IF IT WERE POSSESSED OF SUCH MEMORY.

When, on the other hand, events are happening to it which, if it has the kind of memory we are attributing to it, would baffle that memory, or which have rarely or never been included in the category of its recollections, IT ACTS PRECISELY AS A CREATURE ACTS WHEN ITS RECOLLECTION IS DISTURBED, OR WHEN IT IS REQUIRED TO DO SOMETHING WHICH IT HAS NEVER DONE BEFORE.

We cannot remember having been in the embryonic stage, but we do not on that account deny that we ever were in such a stage at all. On a little reflection it will appear no more reasonable to maintain that, when we were in the embryonic stage, we did not remember our past existences, than to say that we never were embryos at all. We cannot remember what we did or did not recollect in that state; we cannot now remember having grown the eyes which we undoubtedly did grow, much less can we remember whether or not we then remembered having grown them before; but it is probable that our memory was then, in respect of our previous existences as embryos, as much more intense than it is now in respect of our childhood, as our power of acquiring a new language was greater when we were one or two years old, than when we were twenty. And why should this power of acquiring languages be greater at two years than at twenty, but that for many generations we have learnt to speak at about this age, and hence look to learn to do so again on reaching it, just as we looked to making eyes, when the time came at which we were accustomed to make them.

If we once had the memory of having been infants (which we had from day to day during infancy), and have lost it, we may well have had other and more intense memories which we have lost no less completely. Indeed, there is nothing more extraordinary in the supposition that the impregnate ovum has an intense sense of its continuity with, and therefore of its identity with, the two impregnate ova from which it has sprung, than in the fact that we have no sense of our continuity with ourselves as infants. If then, there is no a priori objection to this view, and if the impregnate ovum acts in such a manner as to carry the strongest conviction that it must have already on many occasions done what it is doing now, and that it has a vivid though unconscious recollection of what all, and more especially its nearer, ancestral ova did under similar circumstances, there would seem to be little doubt what conclusion we ought to come to.

A hen's egg, for example, as soon as the hen begins to sit, sets to work immediately to do as nearly as may be what the two eggs from which its father and mother were hatched did when hens began to sit upon them. The inference would seem almost irresistible,—that the second egg remembers the course pursued by the eggs from which it has sprung, and of whose present identity it is unquestionably a part- phase; it also seems irresistibly forced upon us to believe that the intensity of this memory is the secret of its easy action.

It has, I believe, been often remarked, that a hen is only an egg's way of making another egg. Every creature must be allowed to "run" its own development in its own way; the egg's way may seem a very roundabout manner of doing things; but it IS its way, and it is one of which man, upon the whole, has no great reason to complain. Why the fowl should be considered more alive than the egg, and why it should be said that the hen lays the egg, and not that the egg lays the hen, these are questions which lie beyond the power of philosophic explanation, but are perhaps most answerable by considering the conceit of man, and his habit, persisted in during many ages, of ignoring all that does not remind him of himself, or hurt him, or profit him; also by considering the use of language, which, if it is to serve at all, can only do so by ignoring a vast number of facts which gradually drop out of mind from being out of sight. But, perhaps, after all, the real reason is, that the egg does not cackle when it has laid the hen, and that it works towards the hen with gradual and noiseless steps, which we can watch if we be so minded; whereas, we can less easily watch the steps which lead from the hen to the egg, but hear a noise, and see an egg where there was no egg. Therefore, we say, the development of the fowl from the egg bears no sort of resemblance to that of the egg from the fowl, whereas, in truth, a hen, or any other living creature, is only the primordial cell's way of going back upon itself.

But to return. We see an egg, A, which evidently knows its own meaning perfectly well, and we know that a twelvemonth ago there were two other such eggs, B and C, which have now disappeared, but from which we know A to have been so continuously developed as to be part of the present form of their identity. A's meaning is seen to be precisely the same as B and C's meaning; A's personal appearance is, to all intents and purposes, B and C's personal appearance; it would seem, then, unreasonable to deny that A is only B and C come back, with such modification as they may have incurred since their disappearance; and that, in spite of any such modification, they remember in A perfectly well what they did as B and C.

We have considered the question of personal identity so as to see whether, without abuse of terms, we can claim it as existing between any two generations of living agents (and if between two, then between any number up to infinity), and we found that we were not only at liberty to claim this, but that we are compelled irresistibly to do so, unless, that is to say, we would think very differently concerning personal identity than we do at present. We found it impossible to hold the ordinary common sense opinions concerning personal identity, without admitting that we are personally identical with all our forefathers, who have successfully assimilated outside matter to themselves, and by assimilation imbued it with all their own memories; we being nothing else than this outside matter so assimilated and imbued with such memories. This, at least, will, I believe, balance the account correctly.

A few remarks upon the assimilation of outside matter by living organisms may perhaps be hazarded here.

As long as any living organism can maintain itself in a position to which it has been accustomed, more or less nearly, both in its own life and in those of its forefathers, nothing can harm it. As long as the organism is familiar with the position, and remembers its antecedents, nothing can assimilate it. It must be first dislodged from the position with which it is familiar, as being able to remember it, before mischief can happen to it. Nothing can assimilate living organism.

On the other hand, the moment living organism loses sight of its own position and antecedents, it is liable to immediate assimilation, and to be thus familiarised with the position and antecedents of some other creature. If any living organism be kept for but a very short time in a position wholly different from what it has been accustomed to in its own life, and in the lives of its forefathers, it commonly loses its memories completely, once and for ever; but it must immediately acquire new ones, for nothing can know nothing; everything must remember either its own antecedents, or some one else's. And as nothing can know nothing, so nothing can believe in nothing.

A grain of corn, for example, has never been accustomed to find itself in a hen's stomach—neither it nor its forefathers. For a grain so placed leaves no offspring, and hence cannot transmit its experience. The first minute or so after being eaten, it may think it has just been sown, and begin to prepare for sprouting, but in a few seconds, it discovers the environment to be unfamiliar; it therefore gets frightened, loses its head, is carried into the gizzard, and comminuted among the gizzard stones. The hen succeeded in putting it into a position with which it was unfamiliar; from this it was an easy stage to assimilating it entirely. Once assimilated, the grain ceases to remember any more as a grain, but becomes initiated into all that happens to, and has happened to, fowls for countless ages. Then it will attack all other grains whenever it sees them; there is no such persecutor of grain, as another grain when it has once fairly identified itself with a hen.

We may remark in passing, that if anything be once familiarised with anything, it is content. The only things we really care for in life are familiar things; let us have the means of doing what we have been accustomed to do, of dressing as we have been accustomed to dress, of eating as we have been accustomed to eat, and let us have no less liberty than we are accustomed to have, and last, but not least, let us not be disturbed in thinking as we have been accustomed to think, and the vast majority of mankind will be very fairly contented—all plants and animals will certainly be so. This would seem to suggest a possible doctrine of a future state; concerning which we may reflect that though, after we die, we cease to be familiar with ourselves, we shall nevertheless become immediately familiar with many other histories compared with which our present life must then seem intolerably uninteresting.

This is the reason why a very heavy and sudden shock to the nervous system does not pain, but kills outright at once; while one with which the system can, at any rate, try to familiarise itself is exceedingly painful. We cannot bear unfamiliarity. The part that is treated in a manner with which it is not familiar cries immediately to the brain—its central government—for help, and makes itself generally as troublesome as it can, till it is in some way comforted. Indeed, the law against cruelty to animals is but an example of the hatred we feel on seeing even dumb creatures put into positions with which they are not familiar. We hate this so much for ourselves, that we will not tolerate it for other creatures if we can possibly avoid it. So again, it is said, that when Andromeda and Perseus had travelled but a little way from the rock where Andromeda had so long been chained, she began upbraiding him with the loss of her dragon, who, on the whole, she said, had been very good to her. The only things we really hate are unfamiliar things, and though nature would not be nature if she did not cross our love of the familiar with a love also of the unfamiliar, yet there can be no doubt which of the two principles is master.

Let us return, however, to the grain of corn. If the grain had had presence of mind to avoid being carried into the gizzard stones, as many seeds do which are carried for hundreds of miles in birds' stomachs, and if it had persuaded itself that the novelty of the position was not greater than it could very well manage to put up with—if, in fact, it had not known when it was beaten—it might have stuck in the hen's stomach and begun to grow; in this case it would have assimilated a good part of the hen before many days were over; for hens are not familiar with grains that grow in their stomachs, and unless the one in question was as strongminded for a hen, as the grain that could avoid being assimilated would be for a grain, the hen would soon cease to take an interest in her antecedents. It is to be doubted, however, whether a grain has ever been grown which has had strength of mind enough to avoid being set off its balance on finding itself inside a hen's gizzard. For living organism is the creature of habit and routine, and the inside of a gizzard is not in the grain's programme.

Suppose, then, that the grain, instead of being carried into the gizzard, had stuck in the hen's throat and choked her. It would now find itself in a position very like what it had often been in before. That is to say, it would be in a damp, dark, quiet place, not too far from light, and with decaying matter around it. It would therefore know perfectly well what to do, and would begin to grow until disturbed, and again put into a position with which it might, very possibly, be unfamiliar.

The great question between vast masses of living organism is simply this: "Am I to put you into a position with which your forefathers have been unfamiliar, or are you to put me into one about which my own have been in like manner ignorant?" Man is only the dominant animal on the earth, because he can, as a general rule, settle this question in his own favour.

The only manner in which an organism, which has once forgotten its antecedents, can ever recover its memory, is by being assimilated by a creature of its own kind; one, moreover, which knows its business, or is not in such a false position as to be compelled to be aware of being so. It was, doubtless, owing to the recognition of this fact, that some Eastern nations, as we are told by Herodotus, were in the habit of eating their deceased parents—for matter which has once been assimilated by any identity or personality, becomes for all practical purposes part of the assimilating personality.

The bearing of the above will become obvious when we return, as we will now do, to the question of personal identity. The only difficulty would seem to lie in our unfamiliarity with the real meanings which we attach to words in daily use. Hence, while recognising continuity without sudden break as the underlying principle of identity, we forget that this involves personal identity between all the beings who are in one chain of descent, the numbers of such beings, whether in succession, or contemporaneous, going for nothing at all. Thus we take two eggs, one male and one female, and hatch them; after some months the pair of fowls so hatched, having succeeded in putting a vast quantity of grain and worms into false positions, become full-grown, breed, and produce a dozen new eggs.

Two live fowls and a dozen eggs are the present phase of the personality of the two original eggs. They are also part of the present phase of the personality of all the worms and grain which the fowls have assimilated from their leaving the eggshell; but the personalities of these last do not count; they have lost their grain and worm memories, and are instinct with the memorises of the whole ancestry of the creature which has assimilated them.

We cannot, perhaps, strictly say that the two fowls and the dozen new eggs actually ARE the two original eggs; these two eggs are no longer in existence, and we see the two birds themselves which were hatched from them. A bird cannot be called an egg without an abuse of terms. Nevertheless, it is doubtful how far we should not say this, for it is only with a mental reserve—and with no greater mental reserve— that we predicate absolute identity concerning any living being for two consecutive moments; and it is certainly as free from quibble to say to two fowls and a dozen eggs, "you are the two eggs I had on my kitchen shelf twelve months ago," as to say to a man, "you are the child whom I remember thirty years ago in your mother's arms." In either case we mean, "you have been continually putting other organisms into a false position, and then assimilating them, ever since I last saw you, while nothing has yet occurred to put YOU into such a false position as to have made you lose the memory of your antecedents."

It would seem perfectly fair, therefore, to say to any egg of the twelve, or to the two fowls and the whole twelve eggs together, "you were a couple of eggs twelve months ago; twelve months before that you were four eggs;" and so on, ad infinitum, the number neither of the ancestors nor of the descendants counting for anything, and continuity being the sole thing looked to. From daily observation we are familiar with the fact that identity does both unite with other identities, so that a single new identity is the result, and does also split itself up into several identities, so that the one becomes many. This is plain from the manner in which the male and female sexual elements unite to form a single ovum, which we observe to be instinct with the memories of both the individuals from which it has been derived; and there is the additional consideration, that each of the elements whose fusion goes to make up the impregnate ovum, is held by some to be itself composed of a fused mass of germs, which stand very much in the same relation to the spermatozoon and ovum, as the living cellular units of which we are composed do to ourselves— that is to say, are living independent organisms, which probably have no conception of the existence of the spermatozoon nor of the ovum, more than the spermatozoon or ovum have of theirs.

This, at least, is what I gather from Mr. Darwin's provisional theory of Pangenesis; and, again, from one of the concluding sentences in his "Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation," where, asking the question why two sexes have been developed, he replies that the answer seems to lie "in the great good which is derived from the fusion of two somewhat differentiated individuals. With the exception," he continues, "or the lowest organisms this is possible only by means of the sexual elements—THESE CONSISTING OF CELLS SEPARATED FROM THE BODY" (i.e., separated from the bodies of each parent) "CONTAINING THE GERMS OF EVERY PART" (i.e., consisting of the seeds or germs from which each individual cell of the coming organism will be developed—these seeds or germs having been shed by each individual cell of the parent forms), "AND CAPABLE OF BEING FUSED COMPLETELY TOGETHER" (i.e., so at least I gather, capable of being fused completely, in the same way as the cells of our own bodies are fused, and thus, of forming a single living personality in the case of both the male and female element; which elements are themselves capable of a second fusion so as to form the impregnate ovum). This single impregnate ovum, then, is a single identity that has taken the place of and come up in the room of two distinct personalities, each of whose characteristics it, to a certain extent, partakes, and which consist, each one of them, of the fused germs of a vast mass of other personalities.

As regards the dispersion of one identity into many, this also is a matter of daily observation in the case of all female creatures that are with egg or young; the identity of the young with the female parent is in many respects so complete, as to need no enforcing, in spite of the entrance into the offspring of all the elements derived from the male parent, and of the gradual separation of the two identities, which becomes more and more complete, till in time it is hard to conceive that they can ever have been united.

Numbers, therefore, go for nothing; and, as far as identity or continued personality goes, it is as fair to say to the two fowls, above referred to, "you were four fowls twelve months ago," as it is to say to a dozen eggs, "you were two eggs twelve months ago." But here a difficulty meets us; for if we say, "you were two eggs twelve months ago," it follows that we mean, "you are now those two eggs;" just as when we say to a person, "you were such and such a boy twenty years ago," we mean, "you are now that boy, or all that represents him;" it would seem, then, that in like manner we should say to the two fowls, "you ARE the four fowls who between them laid the two eggs from which you sprung." But it may be that all these four fowls are still to be seen running about; we should be therefore saying, "you two fowls are really not yourselves only, but you are also the other four fowls into the bargain;" and this might be philosophically true, and might, perhaps, be considered so, but for the convenience of the law courts.

The difficulty would seem to arise from the fact that the eggs must disappear before fowls can be hatched from them, whereas, the hens so hatched may outlive the development of other hens, from the eggs which they in due course have laid. The original eggs being out of sight are out of mind, and it is without an effort that we acquiesce in the assertion,—that the dozen new eggs actually are the two original ones. But the original four fowls being still in sight, cannot be ignored, we only, therefore, see the new ones as growths from the original ones.

The strict rendering of the facts should be, "you are part of the present phase of the identity of such and such a past identity," i.e., either of the two eggs or the four fowls, as the case may be; this will put the eggs and the fowls, as it were, into the same box, and will meet both the philosophical and legal requirement of the case, only it is a little long.

So far then, as regards actual identity of personality; which, we find, will allow us to say, that eggs are part of the present phase of a certain past identity, whether of other eggs, or of fowls, or chickens, and in like, manner that chickens are part of the present phase of certain other chickens, or eggs, or fowls; in fact, that anything is part of the present phase of any past identity in the line of its ancestry. But as regards the actual memory of such identity (unconscious memory, but still clearly memory), we observe that the egg, as long as it is an egg, appears to have a very distinct recollection of having been an egg before, and the fowl of having been a fowl before, but that neither egg nor fowl appear to have any recollection of any other stage of their past existences, than the one corresponding to that in which they are themselves at the moment existing.

So we, at six or seven years old, have no recollection of ever having been infants, much less of having been embryos; but the manner in which we shed our teeth and make new ones, and the way in which we grow generally, making ourselves for the most part exceedingly like what we made ourselves, in the person of some one of our nearer ancestors, and not unfrequently repeating the very blunders which we made upon that occasion when we come to a corresponding age, proves most incontestably that we remember our past existences, though too utterly to be capable of introspection in the matter. So, when we grow wisdom teeth, at the age it may be of one or two and twenty, it is plain we remember our past existences at that age, however completely we may have forgotten the earlier stages of our present existence. It may be said that it is the jaw which remembers, and not we, but it seems hard to deny the jaw a right of citizenship in our personality; and in the case of a growing boy, every part of him seems to remember equally well, and if every part of him combined does not make HIM, there would seem but little use in continuing the argument further.

In like manner, a caterpillar appears not to remember having been an egg, either in its present or any past existence. It has no concern with eggs as soon as it is hatched, but it clearly remembers not only having been a caterpillar before, but also having turned itself into a chrysalis before; for when the time comes for it to do this, it is at no loss, as it would certainly be if the position was unfamiliar, but it immediately begins doing what it did when last it was in a like case, repeating the process as nearly as the environment will allow, taking every step in the same order as last time, and doing its work with that ease and perfection which we observe to belong to the force of habit, and to be utterly incompatible with any other supposition than that of long long practice.

Once having become a chrysalis, its memory of its caterpillarhood appears to leave it for good and all, not to return until it again assumes the shape of a caterpillar by process of descent. Its memory now overleaps all past modifications, and reverts to the time when it was last what it is now, and though it is probable that both caterpillar and chrysalis, on any given day of their existence in either of these forms, have some sort of dim power of recollecting what happened to them yesterday, or the day before; yet it is plain their main memory goes back to the corresponding day of their last existence in their present form, the chrysalis remembering what happened to it on such a day far more practically, though less consciously, than what happened to it yesterday; and naturally, for yesterday is but once, and its past existences have been legion. Hence, it prepares its wings in due time, doing each day what it did on the corresponding day of its last chrysalishood and at length becoming a moth; whereon its circumstances are so changed that it loses all sense of its identity as a chrysalis (as completely as we, for precisely the same reason, lose all sense of our identity with ourselves as infants), and remembers nothing but its past existences as a moth.

We observe this to hold throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms. In any one phase of the existence of the lower animals, we observe that they remember the corresponding stage, and a little on either side of it, of all their past existences for a very great length of time. In their present existence they remember a little behind the present moment (remembering more and more the higher they advance in the scale of life), and being able to foresee about as much as they could foresee in their past existences, sometimes more and sometimes less. As with memory, so with prescience. The higher they advance in the scale of life the more prescient they are. It must, of course, be remembered, and will later on be more fully dwelt upon, that no offspring can remember anything which happens to its parents after it and its parents have parted company; and this is why there is, perhaps, more irregularity as regards our wisdom-teeth than about anything else that we grow; inasmuch as it must not uncommonly have happened in a long series of generations, that the offspring has been born before the parents have grown their wisdom-teeth, and thus there will be faults in the memory.

Is there, then, anything in memory, as we observe it in ourselves and others, under circumstances in which we shall agree in calling it memory pure and simple without ambiguity of terms—is there anything in memory which bars us from supposing it capable of overleaping a long time of abeyance, and thus of enabling each impregnate ovum, or each grain, to remember what it did when last in a like condition, and to go on remembering the corresponding period of its prior developments throughout the whole period of its present growth, though such memory has entirely failed as regards the interim between any two corresponding periods, and is not consciously recognised by the individual as being exercised at all?



CHAPTER IX—ON THE ABEYANCE OF MEMORY



Let us assume, for the moment, that the action of each impregnate germ is due to memory, which, as it were, pulsates anew in each succeeding generation, so that immediately on impregnation, the germ's memory reverts to the last occasion on which it was in a like condition, and recognising the position, is at no loss what to do. It is plain that in all cases where there are two parents, that is to say, in the greater number of cases, whether in the vegetable or animal kingdoms, there must be two such last occasions, each of which will have an equal claim upon the attention of the new germ. Its memory would therefore revert to both, and though it would probably adhere more closely to the course which it took either as its father or its mother, and thus come out eventually male or female, yet it would be not a little influenced by the less potent memory.

And not only this, but each of the germs to which the memory of the new germ reverts, is itself imbued with the memories of its own parent germs, and these again with the memories of preceding generations, and so on ad infinitum; so that, ex hypothesi, the germ must become instinct with all these memories, epitomised as after long time, and unperceived though they may well be, not to say obliterated in part or entirely so far as many features are concerned, by more recent impressions. In this case, we must conceive of the impregnate germ as of a creature which has to repeat a performance already repeated before on countless different occasions, but with no more variation on the more recent ones than is inevitable in the repetition of any performance by an intelligent being.

Now if we take the most parallel case to this which we can find, and consider what we should ourselves do under such circumstances, that is to say, if we consider what course is actually taken by beings who are influenced by what we all call memory, when they repeat an already often-repeated performance, and if we find a very strong analogy between the course so taken by ourselves, and that which from whatever cause we observe to be taken by a living germ, we shall surely be much inclined to think that there must be a similarity in the causes of action in each case; and hence, to conclude, that the action of the germ is due to memory.

It will, therefore, be necessary to consider the general tendency of our minds in regard to impressions made upon us, and the memory of such impressions.

Deep impressions upon the memory are made in two ways, differing rather in degree than kind, but with two somewhat widely different results. They are made:-

I. By unfamiliar objects, or combinations, which come at comparatively long intervals, and produce their effect, as it were, by one hard blow. The effect of these will vary with the unfamiliarity of the impressions themselves, and the manner in which they seem likely to lead to a further development of the unfamiliar, i.e., with the question, whether they seem likely to compel us to change our habits, either for better or worse.

Thus, if an object or incident be very unfamiliar, as, we will say, a whale or an iceberg to one travelling to America for the first time, it will make a deep impression, though but little affecting our interests; but if we struck against the iceberg and were shipwrecked, or nearly so, it would produce a much deeper impression, we should think much more about icebergs, and remember much more about them, than if we had merely seen one. So, also, if we were able to catch the whale and sell its oil, we should have a deep impression made upon us. In either case we see that the amount of unfamiliarity, either present or prospective, is the main determinant of the depth of the impression.

As with consciousness and volition, so with sudden unfamiliarity. It impresses us more and more deeply the more unfamiliar it is, until it reaches such a point of impressiveness as to make no further impression at all; on which we then and there die. For death only kills through unfamiliarity—that is to say, because the new position, whatever it is, is so wide a cross as compared with the old one, that we cannot fuse the two so as to understand the combination; hence we lose all recognition of, and faith in, ourselves and our surroundings.

But however much we imagine we remember concerning the details of any remarkable impression which has been made us by a single blow, we do not remember as much or nearly as much as we think we do. The subordinate details soon drop out of mind. Those who think they remember even such a momentous matter as the battle of Waterloo recall now probably but half-a-dozen episodes, a gleam here, and a gleam there, so that what they call remembering the battle of Waterloo, is, in fact, little more than a kind of dreaming—so soon vanishes the memory of any unrepeated occurrence.

As for smaller impressions, there is very little of what happens to us in each week that will be in our memories a week hence; a man of eighty remembers few of the unrepeated incidents of his life beyond those of the last fortnight, a little here, and a little there, forming a matter of perhaps six weeks or two months in all, if everything that he can call to mind were acted over again with no greater fulness than he can remember it. As for incidents that have been often repeated, his mind strikes a balance of its past reminiscences, remembering the two or three last performances, and a general method of procedure, but nothing more.

If, then, the recollection of all that is not very novel, or very often repeated, so soon fades from our own minds, during what we consider as our single lifetime, what wonder that the details of our daily experience should find no place in that brief epitome of them which is all we can give in so small a volume as offspring?

If we cannot ourselves remember the hundred-thousandth part of what happened to us during our own childhood, how can we expect our offspring to remember more than what, through frequent repetition, they can now remember as a residuum, or general impression. On the other hand, whatever we remember in consequence of but a single impression, we remember consciously. We can at will recall details, and are perfectly well aware, when we do so, that we are recollecting. A man who has never seen death looks for the first time upon the dead face of some near relative or friend. He gazes for a few short minutes, but the impression thus made does not soon pass out of his mind. He remembers the room, the hour of the day or night, and if by day, what sort of a day. He remembers in what part of the room, and how disposed the body of the deceased was lying. Twenty years afterwards he can, at will, recall all these matters to his mind, and picture to himself the scene as he originally witnessed it.

The reason is plain; the impression was very unfamiliar, and affected the beholder, both as regards the loss of one who was dear to him, and as reminding him with more than common force that he will one day die himself. Moreover the impression was a simple one, not involving much subordinate detail; we have in this case, therefore, an example of the most lasting kind of impression that can be made by a single unrepeated event. But if we examine ourselves closely, we shall find that after a lapse of years we do not remember as much as we think we do, even in such a case as this; and that beyond the incidents above mentioned, and the expression upon the face of the dead person, we remember little of what we can so consciously and vividly recall.

II. Deep impressions are also made by the repetition, more or less often, of a feeble impression which, if unrepeated, would have soon passed out of our minds. We observe, therefore, that we remember best what we have done least often—any unfamiliar deviation, that is to say, from our ordinary method of procedure—and what we have done most often, with which, therefore, we are most familiar; our memory being mainly affected by the force of novelty and the force of routine—the most unfamiliar, and the most familiar, incidents or objects.

But we remember impressions which have been made upon us by force of routine, in a very different way to that in which we remember a single deep impression. As regards this second class, which comprises far the most numerous and important of the impressions with which our memory is stored, it is often only by the fact of our performance itself that we are able to recognise or show to others that we remember at all. We often do not remember how, or when, or where we acquired our knowledge. All we remember is, that we did learn, and that at one time and another we have done this or that very often.

As regards this second class of impressions we may observe:-

1. That as a general rule we remember only the individual features of the last few repetitions of the act—if, indeed, we remember this much. The influence of preceding ones is to be found only in the general average of the procedure, which is modified by them, but unconsciously to ourselves. Take, for example, some celebrated singer, or pianoforte player, who has sung the same air, or performed the same sonata several hundreds or, it may be, thousands of times: of the details of individual performances, he can probably call to mind none but those of the last few days, yet there can be no question that his present performance is affected by, and modified by, all his previous ones; the care he has bestowed on these being the secret of his present proficiency.

In each performance (the performer being supposed in the same state of mental and bodily health), the tendency will be to repeat the immediately preceding performances more nearly than remoter ones. It is the common tendency of living beings to go on doing what they have been doing most recently. The last habit is the strongest. Hence, if he took great pains last time, he will play better now, and will take a like degree of pains, and play better still next time, and so go on improving while life and vigour last. If, on the other hand, he took less pains last time, he will play worse now, and be inclined to take little pains next time, and so gradually deteriorate. This, at least, is the common everyday experience of mankind.

So with painters, actors, and professional men of every description; after a little while the memory of many past performances strikes a sort of fused balance in the mind, which results in a general method of procedure with but little conscious memory of even the latest performances, and with none whatever of by far the greater number of the remoter ones.

Still, it is noteworthy, that the memory of some even of these will occasionally assert itself, so far as we can see, arbitrarily, the reason why this or that occasion should still haunt us, when others like them are forgotten, depending on some cause too subtle for our powers of observation.

Even with such a simple matter as our daily dressing and undressing, we may remember some few details of our yesterday's toilet, but we retain nothing but a general and fused recollection of the many thousand earlier occasions on which we have dressed, or gone to bed. Men invariably put the same leg first into their trousers—this is the survival of memory in a residuum; but they cannot, till they actually put on a pair of trousers, remember which leg they DO put in first; this is the rapid fading away of any small individual impression.

The seasons may serve as another illustration; we have a general recollection of the kind of weather which is seasonable for any month in a year; what flowers are due about what time, and whether the spring is on the whole backward or early; but we cannot remember the weather on any particular day a year ago, unless some unusual incident has impressed it upon our memory. We can remember, as a general rule, what kind of season it was, upon the whole, a year ago, or perhaps, even two years; but more than this, we rarely remember, except in such cases as the winter of 1854-1855, or the summer of 1868; the rest is all merged.

We observe, then, that as regards small and often repeated impressions, our tendency is to remember best, and in most detail, what we have been doing most recently, and what in general has occurred most recently, but that the earlier impressions though forgotten individually, are nevertheless, not wholly lost.

2. When we have done anything very often, and have got into the habit of doing it, we generally take the various steps in the same order; in many cases this seems to be a sine qua non for our repetition of the action at all. Thus, there is probably no living man who could repeat the words of "God save the Queen" backwards, without much hesitation and many mistakes; so the musician and the singer must perform their pieces in the order of the notes as written, or at any rate as they ordinarily perform them; they cannot transpose bars or read them backwards, without being put out, nor would the audience recognise the impressions they have been accustomed to, unless these impressions are made in the accustomed order.

3. If, when we have once got well into the habit of doing anything in a certain way, some one shows us some other way of doing it, or some way which would in part modify our procedure, or if in our endeavours to improve, we have hit upon some new idea which seems likely to help us, and thus we vary our course, on the next occasion we remember this idea by reason of its novelty, but if we try to repeat it, we often find the residuum of our old memories pulling us so strongly into our old groove, that we have the greatest difficulty in repeating our performance in the new manner; there is a clashing of memories, a conflict, which if the idea is very new, and involves, so to speak, too sudden a cross—too wide a departure from our ordinary course—will sometimes render the performance monstrous, or baffle us altogether, the new memory failing to fuse harmoniously with the old. If the idea is not too widely different from our older ones, we can cross them with it, but with more or less difficulty, as a general rule in proportion to the amount of variation. The whole process of understanding a thing consists in this, and, so far as I can see at present, in this only.

Sometimes we repeat the new performance for a few times, in a way which shows that the fusion of memories is still in force; and then insensibly revert to the old, in which case the memory of the new soon fades away, leaving a residuum too feeble to contend against that of our many earlier memories of the same kind. If, however, the new way is obviously to our advantage, we make an effort to retain it, and gradually getting into the habit of using it, come to remember it by force of routine, as we originally remembered it by force of novelty. Even as regards our own discoveries, we do not always succeed in remembering our most improved and most striking performances, so as to be able to repeat them at will immediately: in any such performance we may have gone some way beyond our ordinary powers, owing to some unconscious action of the mind. The supreme effort has exhausted us, and we must rest on our oars a little, before we make further progress; or we may even fall back a little, before we make another leap in advance.

In this respect, almost every conceivable degree of variation is observable, according to differences of character and circumstances. Sometimes the new impression has to be made upon us many times from without, before the earlier strain of action is eliminated; in this case, there will long remain a tendency to revert to the earlier habit. Sometimes, after the impression has been once made, we repeat our old way two or three times, and then revert to the new, which gradually ousts the old; sometimes, on the other hand, a single impression, though involving considerable departure from our routine, makes its mark so deeply that we adopt the new at once, though not without difficulty, and repeat it in our next performance, and henceforward in all others; but those who vary their performance thus readily will show a tendency to vary subsequent performances according as they receive fresh ideas from others, or reason them out independently. They are men of genius.

This holds good concerning all actions which we do habitually, whether they involve laborious acquirement or not. Thus, if we have varied our usual dinner in some way that leaves a favourable impression upon our minds, so that our dinner may, in the language of the horticulturist, be said to have "sported," our tendency will be to revert to this particular dinner either next day, or as soon as circumstances will allow, but it is possible that several hundred dinners may elapse before we can do so successfully, or before our memory reverts to this particular dinner.

4. As regards our habitual actions, however unconsciously we remember them, we, nevertheless, remember them with far greater intensity than many individual impressions or actions, it may be of much greater moment, that have happened to us more recently. Thus, many a man who has familiarised himself, for example, with the odes of Horace, so as to have had them at his fingers' ends as the result of many repetitions, will be able years hence to repeat a given ode, though unable to remember any circumstance in connection with his having learnt it, and no less unable to remember when he repeated it last. A host of individual circumstances, many of them not unimportant, will have dropped out of his mind, along with a mass of literature read but once or twice, and not impressed upon the memory by several repetitions; but he returns to the well-known ode with so little effort, that he would not know that he was remembering unless his reason told him so. The ode seems more like something born with him.

We observe, also, that people who have become imbecile, or whose memory is much impaired, yet frequently retain their power of recalling impression which have been long ago repeatedly made upon them.

In such cases, people are sometimes seen to forget what happened last week, yesterday, or an hour ago, without even the smallest power of recovering their recollection; but the oft repeated earlier impression remains, though there may be no memory whatever of how it came to be impressed so deeply. The phenomena of memory, therefore, are exactly like those of consciousness and volition, in so far as that the consciousness of recollection vanishes, when the power of recollection has become intense. When we are aware that we are recollecting, and are trying, perhaps hard, to recollect, it is a sign that we do not recollect utterly. When we remember utterly and intensely, there is no conscious effort of recollection; our recollection can only be recognised by ourselves and others, through our performance itself, which testifies to the existence of a memory, that we could not otherwise follow or detect.

5. When circumstances have led us to change our habits of life—as when the university has succeeded school, or professional life the university—we get into many fresh ways, and leave many old ones. But on revisiting the old scene, unless the lapse of time has been inordinately great, we experience a desire to revert to old habits. We say that old associations crowd upon us. Let a Trinity man, after thirty years absence from Cambridge, pace for five minutes in the cloister of Neville's Court, and listen to the echo of his footfall, as it licks up against the end of the cloister, or let an old Johnian stand wherever he likes in the third Court of St. John's, in either case he will find the thirty years drop out of his life, as if they were half-an-hour; his life will have rolled back upon itself, to the date when he was an undergraduate, and his instinct will be to do almost mechanically, whatever it would have come most natural to him to do, when he was last there at the same season of the year, and the same hour of the day; and it is plain this is due to similarity of environment, for if the place he revisits be much changed, there will be little or no association.

So those who are accustomed at intervals to cross the Atlantic, get into certain habits on board ship, different to their usual ones. It may be that at home they never play whist; on board ship they do nothing else all the evening. At home they never touch spirits; on the voyage they regularly take a glass of something before they go to bed. They do not smoke at home; here they are smoking all day. Once the voyage is at an end, they return without an effort to their usual habits, and do not feel any wish for cards, spirits, or tobacco. They do not remember yesterday, when they did want all these things; at least, not with such force as to be influenced by it in their desires and actions; their true memory—the memory which makes them want, and do, reverts to the last occasion on which they were in circumstances like their present; they therefore want now what they wanted then, and nothing more; but when the time comes for them to go on shipboard again, no sooner do they smell the smell of the ship, than their real memory reverts to the times when they were last at sea, and striking a balance of their recollections, they smoke, play cards, and drink whisky and water.

We observe it then as a matter of the commonest daily occurrence within our own experience, that memory does fade completely away, and recur with the recurrence of surroundings like those which made any particular impression in the first instance. We observe that there is hardly any limit to the completeness and the length of time during which our memory may remain in abeyance. A smell may remind an old man of eighty of some incident of his childhood, forgotten for nearly as many years as he has lived. In other words, we observe that when an impression has been repeatedly made in a certain sequence on any living organism—that impression not having been prejudicial to the creature itself—the organism will have a tendency, on reassuming the shape and conditions in which it was when the impression was last made, to remember the impression, and therefore to do again now what it did then; all intermediate memories dropping clean out of mind, so far as they have any effect upon action.

6. Finally, we should note the suddenness and apparent caprice with which memory will assert itself at odd times; we have been saying or doing this or that, when suddenly a memory of something which happened to us, perhaps in infancy, comes into our head; nor can we in the least connect this recollection with the subject of which we have just been thinking, though doubtless there has been a connection, too rapid and subtle for our apprehension.

The foregoing phenomena of memory, so far as we can judge, would appear to be present themselves throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms. This will be readily admitted as regards animals; as regards plants it may be inferred from the fact that they generally go on doing what they have been doing most lately, though accustomed to make certain changes at certain points in their existence. When the time comes for these changes, they appear to know it, and either bud forth into leaf or shed their leaves, as the case may be. If we keep a bulb in a paper bag it seems to remember having been a bulb before, until the time comes for it to put forth roots and grow. Then, if we supply it with earth and moisture, it seems to know where it is, and to go on doing now whatever it did when it was last planted; but if we keep it in the bag too long, it knows that it ought, according to its last experience, to be treated differently, and shows plain symptoms of uneasiness; it is distracted by the bag, which makes it remember its bulbhood, and also by the want of earth and water, without which associations its memory of its previous growth cannot be duly kindled. Its roots, therefore, which are most accustomed to earth and water, do not grow; but its leaves, which do not require contact with these things to jog their memory, make a more decided effort at development—a fact which would seem to go strongly in favour of the functional independence of the parts of all but the very simplest living organisms, if, indeed, more evidence were wanted in support of this.



CHAPTER X—WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT TO FIND IF DIFFERENTIATIONS OF STRUCTURE AND INSTINCT ARE MAINLY DUE TO MEMORY



To repeat briefly;—we remember best our last few performances of any given kind, and our present performance is most likely to resemble one or other of these; we only remember our earlier performances by way of residuum; nevertheless, at times, some older feature is liable to reappear.

We take our steps in the same order on each successive occasion, and are for the most part incapable of changing that order.

The introduction of slightly new elements into our manner is attended with benefit; the new can be fused with the old, and the monotony of our action is relieved. But if the new element is too foreign, we cannot fuse the old and new—nature seeming equally to hate too wide a deviation from our ordinary practice, and no deviation at all. Or, in plain English—if any one gives us a new idea which is not too far ahead of us, such an idea is often of great service to us, and may give new life to our work—in fact, we soon go back, unless we more or less frequently come into contact with new ideas, and are capable of understanding and making use of them; if; on the other hand, they are too new, and too little led up to, so that we find them too strange and hard to be able to understand them and adopt them, then they put us out, with every degree of completeness—from simply causing us to fail in this or that particular part, to rendering us incapable of even trying to do our work at all, from pure despair of succeeding.

It requires many repetitions to fix an impression firmly; but when it is fixed, we cease to have much recollection of the manner in which it came to be so, or of any single and particular recurrence.

Our memory is mainly called into action by force of association and similarity in the surroundings. We want to go on doing what we did when we were last as we are now, and we forget what we did in the meantime.

These rules, however, are liable to many exceptions; as for example, that a single and apparently not very extraordinary occurrence may sometimes produce a lasting impression, and be liable to return with sudden force at some distant time, and then to go on returning to us at intervals. Some incidents, in fact, we know not how nor why, dwell with us much longer than others which were apparently quite as noteworthy or perhaps more so.

Now I submit that if the above observations are just, and if, also, the offspring, after having become a new and separate personality, yet retains so much of the old identity of which it was once indisputably part, that it remembers what it did when it was part of that identity as soon as it finds itself in circumstances which are calculated to refresh its memory owing to their similarity to certain antecedent ones, then we should expect to find:-

I. That offspring should, as a general rule, resemble its own most immediate progenitors; that is to say, that it should remember best what it has been doing most recently. The memory being a fusion of its recollections of what it did, both when it was its father and also when it was its mother, the offspring should have a very common tendency to resemble both parents, the one in some respects, and the other in others; but it might also hardly less commonly show a more marked recollection of the one history than of the other, thus more distinctly resembling one parent than the other. And this is what we observe to be the case. Not only so far as that the offspring is almost invariably either male or female, and generally resembles rather the one parent than the other, but also that in spite of such preponderance of one set of recollections, the sexual characters and instincts of the OPPOSITE sex appear, whether in male or female, though undeveloped and incapable of development except by abnormal treatment, such as has occasionally caused milk to be developed in the mammary glands of males; or by mutilation, or failure of sexual instinct through age, upon which, male characteristics frequently appear in the females of any species.

Brothers and sisters, each giving their own version of the same story, though in different words, should resemble each other more closely than more distant relations. This too we see.

But it should frequently happen that offspring should resemble its penultimate rather than its latest phase, and should thus be more like a grand-parent than a parent; for we observe that we very often repeat a performance in a manner resembling that of some earlier, but still recent, repetition; rather than on the precise lines of our very last performance. First-cousins may in this case resemble each other more closely than brothers and sisters.

More especially, we should not expect very successful men to be fathers of particularly gifted children; for the best men are, as it were, the happy thoughts and successes of the race—nature's "flukes," so to speak, in her onward progress. No creature can repeat at will, and immediately, its highest flight. It needs repose. The generations are the essays of any given race towards the highest ideal which it is as yet able to see ahead of itself, and this, in the nature of things, cannot be very far; so that we should expect to see success followed by more or less failure, and failure by success—a very successful creature being a GREAT "fluke." And this is what we find.

In its earlier stages the embryo should be simply conscious of a general method of procedure on the part of its forefathers, and should, by reason of long practice, compress tedious and complicated histories into a very narrow compass, remembering no single performance in particular. For we observe this in nature, both as regards the sleight-of-hand which practice gives to those who are thoroughly familiar with their business, and also as regards the fusion of remoter memories into a general residuum.

II. We should expect to find that the offspring, whether in its embryonic condition, or in any stage of development till it has reached maturity, should adopt nearly the same order in going through all its various stages. There should be such slight variations as are inseparable from the repetition of any performance by a living being (as contrasted with a machine), but no more. And this is what actually happens. A man may cut his wisdom-teeth a little later than he gets his beard and whiskers, or a little earlier; but on the whole, he adheres to his usual order, and is completely set off his balance, and upset in his performance, if that order be interfered with suddenly. It is, however, likely that gradual modifications of order have been made and then adhered to.

After any animal has reached the period at which it ordinarily begins to continue its race, we should expect that it should show little further power of development, or, at any rate, that few great changes of structure or fresh features should appear; for we cannot suppose offspring to remember anything that happens to the parent subsequently to the parent's ceasing to contain the offspring within itself; from the average age, therefore, of reproduction, offspring would cease to have any further experience on which to fall back, and would thus continue to make the best use of what it already knew, till memory failing either in one part or another, the organism would begin to decay.

To this cause must be referred the phenomena of old age, which interesting subject I am unable to pursue within the limits of this volume.

Those creatures who are longest in reaching maturity might be expected also to be the longest lived; I am not certain, however, how far what is called alternate generation militates against this view, but I do not think it does so seriously.

Lateness of marriage, provided the constitution of the individuals marrying is in no respect impaired, should also tend to longevity.

I believe that all the above will be found sufficiently well supported by facts. If so, when we feel that we are getting old we should try and give our cells such treatment as they will find it most easy to understand, through their experience of their own individual life, which, however, can only guide them inferentially, and to a very small extent; and throughout life we should remember the important bearing which memory has upon health, and both occasionally cross the memories of our component cells with slightly new experiences, and be careful not to put them either suddenly or for long together into conditions which they will not be able to understand. Nothing is so likely to make our cells forget themselves, as neglect of one or other of these considerations. They will either fail to recognise themselves completely, in which case we shall die; or they will go on strike, more or less seriously as the case may be, or perhaps, rather, they will try and remember their usual course, and fail; they will therefore try some other, and will probably make a mess of it, as people generally do when they try to do things which they do not understand, unless indeed they have very exceptional capacity.

It also follows that when we are ill, our cells being in such or such a state of mind, and inclined to hold a corresponding opinion with more or less unreasoning violence, should not be puzzled more than they are puzzled already, by being contradicted too suddenly; for they will not be in a frame of mind which can understand the position of an open opponent: they should therefore either be let alone, if possible, without notice other than dignified silence, till their spleen is over, and till they have remembered themselves; or they should be reasoned with as by one who agrees with them, and who is anxious to see things as far as possible from their own point of view. And this is how experience teaches that we must deal with monomaniacs, whom we simply infuriate by contradiction, but whose delusion we can sometimes persuade to hang itself if we but give it sufficient rope. All which has its bearing upon politics, too, at much sacrifice, it may be, of political principles, but a politician who cannot see principles where principle-mongers fail to see them, is a dangerous person.

I may say, in passing, that the reason why a small wound heals, and leaves no scar, while a larger one leaves a mark which is more or less permanent, may be looked for in the fact that when the wound is only small, the damaged cells are snubbed, so to speak, by the vast majority of the unhurt cells in their own neighbourhood. When the wound is more serious they can stick to it, and bear each other out that they were hurt.

III. We should expect to find a predominance of sexual over asexual generation, in the arrangements of nature for continuing her various species, inasmuch as two heads are better than one, and a locus poenitentiae is thus given to the embryo—an opportunity of correcting the experience of one parent by that of the other. And this is what the more intelligent embryos may be supposed to do; for there would seem little reason to doubt that there are clever embryos and stupid embryos, with better or worse memories, as the case may be, of how they dealt with their protoplasm before, and better or worse able to see how they can do better now; and that embryos differ as widely in intellectual and moral capacity, and in a general sense of the fitness of things, and of what will look well into the bargain, as those larger embryos—to wit, children—do. Indeed it would seem probable that all our mental powers must go through a quasi-embryological condition, much as the power of keeping, and wisely spending, money must do so, and that all the qualities of human thought and character are to be found in the embryo.

Those who have observed at what an early age differences of intellect and temper show themselves in the young, for example, of cats and dogs, will find it difficult to doubt that from the very moment of impregnation, and onward, there has been a corresponding difference in the embryo—and that of six unborn puppies, one, we will say, has been throughout the whole process of development more sensible and better looking—a nicer embryo, in fact—than the others.

IV. We should expect to find that all species, whether of plants or animals, are occasionally benefited by a cross; but we should also expect that a cross should have a tendency to introduce a disturbing element, if it be too wide, inasmuch as the offspring would be pulled hither and thither by two conflicting memories or advices, much as though a number of people speaking at once were without previous warning to advise an unhappy performer to vary his ordinary performance—one set of people telling him he has always hitherto done thus, and the other saying no less loudly that he did it thus;— and he were suddenly to become convinced that they each spoke the truth. In such a case he will either completely break down, if the advice be too conflicting, or if it be less conflicting, he may yet be so exhausted by the one supreme effort of fusing these experiences that he will never be able to perform again; or if the conflict of experience be not great enough to produce such a permanent effect as this, it will yet, if it be at all serious, probably damage his performances on their next several occasions, through his inability to fuse the experiences into a harmonious whole, or, in other words, to understand the ideas which are prescribed to him; for to fuse is only to understand.

And this is absolutely what we find in fact. Mr. Darwin writes concerning hybrids and first crosses:- "The male element may reach the female element, but be incapable of causing an embryo to be developed, as seems to have been the case with some of Thuret's experiments on Fuci. No explanation can be given of these facts any more than why certain trees cannot be grafted on others."

I submit that what I have written above supplies a very fair prima facie explanation.

Mr. Darwin continues:-

"Lastly, an embryo may be developed, and then perish at an early period. This latter alternative has not been sufficiently attended to; but I believe, from observations communicated to me by Mr. Hewitt, who has had great experience in hybridising pheasants and fowls, that the early death of the embryo is a very frequent cause of sterility in first crosses. Mr. Salter has recently given the results of an examination of about five hundred eggs produced from various crosses between three species of Gallus and their hybrids; the majority of these eggs had been fertilised; and in the majority of the fertilised eggs, the embryos had either been partially developed, and had then perished, or had become nearly mature, but the young chickens had been unable to break through the shell. Of the chickens which were born more than four-fifths died within the first few days, or at latest weeks, 'without any obvious cause, apparently from mere inability to live,' so that from the five hundred eggs only twelve chickens were reared" ("Origin of Species," 249, ed. 1876).

No wonder the poor creatures died, distracted as they were by the internal tumult of conflicting memories. But they must have suffered greatly; and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals may perhaps think it worth while to keep an eye even on the embryos of hybrids and first crosses. Five hundred creatures puzzled to death is not a pleasant subject for contemplation. Ten or a dozen should, I think, be sufficient for the future.

As regards plants, we read:-

"Hybridised embryos probably often perish in like manner . . . of which fact Max Wichura has given some striking cases with hybrid willows . . . It may be here worth noticing, that in some cases of parthenogenesis, the embryos within the eggs of silk moths, which have not been fertilised, pass through their early stages of development, and then perish like the embryos produced by a cross between distinct species" (Ibid).

This last fact would at first sight seem to make against me, but we must consider that the presence of a double memory, provided it be not too conflicting, would be a part of the experience of the silk moth's egg, which might be then as fatally puzzled by the monotony of a single memory as it would be by two memories which were not sufficiently like each other. So that failure here must be referred to the utter absence of that little internal stimulant of slightly conflicting memory which the creature has always hitherto experienced, and without which it fails to recognise itself. In either case, then, whether with hybrids or in cases of parthenogenesis, the early death of the embryo is due to inability to recollect, owing to a fault in the chain of associated ideas. All the facts here given are an excellent illustration of the principle, elsewhere insisted upon by Mr. Darwin, that ANY great and sudden change of surroundings has a tendency to induce sterility; on which head he writes ("Plants and Animals under Domestication," vol. ii. p. 143, ed. 1875):-

"It would appear that any change in the habits of life, whatever their habits may be, if great enough, tends to affect in an inexplicable manner the powers of reproduction."

And again on the next page:-

"Finally, we must conclude, limited though the conclusion is, that changed conditions of life have an especial power of acting injuriously on the reproductive system. The whole case is quite peculiar, for these organs, though not diseased, are thus rendered incapable of performing their proper functions, or perform them imperfectly."

One is inclined to doubt whether the blame may not rest with the inability on the part of the creature reproduced to recognise the new surroundings, and hence with its failing to know itself. And this seems to be in some measure supported—but not in such a manner as I can hold to be quite satisfactory—by the continuation of the passage in the "Origin of Species," from which I have just been quoting—for Mr. Darwin goes on to say:-

"Hybrids, however, are differently circumstanced before and after birth. When born, and living in a country where their parents live, they are generally placed under suitable conditions of life. But a hybrid partakes of only half of the nature and condition of its mother; it may therefore before birth, as long as it is nourished within its mother's womb, or within the egg or seed produced by its mother, be exposed to conditions in some degree unsuitable, and consequently be liable to perish at an early period . . . " After which, however, the conclusion arrived at is, that, "after all, the cause more probably lies in some imperfection in the original act of impregnation, causing the embryo to be imperfectly developed rather than in the conditions to which it is subsequently exposed." A conclusion which I am not prepared to accept.

Returning to my second alternative, that is to say, to the case of hybrids which are born well developed and healthy, but nevertheless perfectly sterile, it is less obvious why, having succeeded in understanding the conflicting memories of their parents, they should fail to produce offspring; but I do not think the reader will feel surprised that this should be the case. The following anecdote, true or false, may not be out of place here:-

"Plutarch tells us of a magpie, belonging to a barber at Rome, which could imitate to a nicety almost every word it heard. Some trumpets happened one day to be sounded before the shop, and for a day or two afterwards the magpie was quite mute, and seemed pensive and melancholy. All who knew it were greatly surprised at its silence; and it was supposed that the sound of the trumpets had so stunned it as to deprive it at once of both voice and hearing. It soon appeared, however, that this was far from being the case; for, says Plutarch, the bird had been all the time occupied in profound meditation, studying how to imitate the sound of the trumpets; and when at last master of it, the magpie, to the astonishment of all its friends, suddenly broke its long silence by a perfect imitation of the flourish of trumpets it had heard, observing with the greatest exactness all the repetitions, stops, and changes. THE ACQUISITION OF THIS LESSON HAD, HOWEVER, EXHAUSTED THE WHOLE OF THE MAGPIE'S STOCK OF INTELLECT, FOR IT MADE IT FORGET EVERYTHING IT HAD LEARNED BEFORE" ("Percy Anecdotes," Instinct, p. 166).

Or, perhaps, more seriously, the memory of every impregnate ovum from which every ancestor of a mule, for example, has sprung, has reverted to a very long period of time during which its forefathers have been creatures like that which it is itself now going to become: thus, the impregnate ovum from which the mule's father was developed remembered nothing but horse memories; but it felt its faith in these supported by the recollection of a VAST NUMBER of previous generations, in which it was, to all intents and purposes, what it now is. In like manner, the impregnate ovum from which the mule's mother was developed would be backed by the assurance that it had done what it is going to do now a hundred thousand times already. All would thus be plain sailing. A horse and a donkey would result. These two are brought together; an impregnate ovum is produced which finds an unusual conflict of memory between the two lines of its ancestors, nevertheless, being accustomed to SOME conflict, it manages to get over the difficulty, AS ON EITHER SIDE IT FINDS ITSELF BACKED BY A VERY LONG SERIES OF SUFFICIENTLY STEADY MEMORY. A mule results—a creature so distinctly different from either horse or donkey, that reproduction is baffled, owing to the creature's having nothing but its own knowledge of itself to fall back upon, behind which there comes an immediate dislocation, or fault of memory, which is sufficient to bar identity, and hence reproduction, by rendering too severe an appeal to reason necessary—for no creature can reproduce itself on the shallow foundation which reason can alone give. Ordinarily, therefore, the hybrid, or the spermatozoon or ovum, which it may throw off (as the case may be), finds one single experience too small to give it the necessary faith, on the strength of which even to try to reproduce itself. In other cases the hybrid itself has failed to be developed; in others the hybrid, or first cross, is almost fertile; in others it is fertile, but produces depraved issue. The result will vary with the capacities of the creatures crossed, and the amount of conflict between their several experiences.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse