Title of article

Herbert Nichols

That the pendulum of opinion swung too violently against the conception that mind is an active factor in Evolution I count the major misfortune of the modern epoch of Science. That there is now a return of interest I esteem to be the most important outlook of our day. That this return of interest centres in Psychology is inevitable. If now this new movement should become abortive through any false lead of Psychology the result would be deplorable.

It is with anxiety, therefore, that I read the numerous writings of Prof. J. Mark Baldwin upon the role played by mind in Evolution (see above Reprint for complete list). The prolific earnestness of this author, together with his conspicuous position as professor at Princeton and Alternate Editor of The Psychological Review, give unusual prominence to his views. Yet these views, as I believe, are precisely of the kind which we have most to dread It is in this belief that I am prompted to the analysis of them which I here propose. And as Prof. Baldwin has no more enthusiastic admirer of his sincerity and

(698) zeal, so I beg him to permit me to point out the more freely the objections to his main assumption.

In Professor Baldwin's latest paper, above referred to, he has " gathered into one sketch " an outline of his theory. In this pamphlet, as in all else that he has written on this subject, we are presented with a vast pyramid standing on its apex. We are told how he conceives Evolution to work under his assumption, and gradually his story narrows toward an explicit statement of what this assumption is. Unfortunately, however, the vast superstructure closes in to a cloud of mist, and does so, alas, not only before he has made clear in exact detail what his assumption is, but even before making understood how the things he vaguely suggests could ever clearly be conceived to be possible.

The gist of Mr. Baldwin's notion is that Pleasure-Pain is a psychic "factor" that crucially determines Evolution. Pleasure results from beneficial stimulus. It causes, in turn, "excessive" neural discharge. Neural discharge causes "expansion." Expansion brings the creature into continued subservience to the beneficial stimulus. Excessive neural discharge makes the paths of actual discharge more pervious to the continued stimulus and to subsequent discharges from the same source. Thus a "Circular Reaction" becomes fixed which, because it is beneficial, conduces to the preservation at once of the peculiar habit and variation in the organisms so developed, and also of the creature in which it is developed. The antithesis of all this happens with pain.

Now for the difficulties; and to bring them out let us imagine an unorganized creature before usCsay an amoeba. Our -problem is to find how it becomes organized. Let us imagine it attacked by any given stimulus at some point of its periphery. Mr. Baldwin tell us that if this stimulus is beneficial it will give pleasure, and the pleasure will cause "excess movements." Mr. Baldwin does not pretend that these are yet organized movements. To do so would be to beg his whole question. Yet he claims that this unorganized movement would complete his "Circular Reaction" with the beneficial stimulus and perpetuate the beneficient work. But how can we conceive

(699) that unorganized movement, or movement in the abstract, should do such an organized act as to select beneficial stimuli and avoid those which are detrimental? Especially how shall this be done after Mr. Baldwin has carefully laid it down than there can be no such thing as benefit or detriment in a mere muscular movement in and of itself ? [2] Of course Mr. Baldwin knows that various propositions have been suggested by different physiologists to explain why an undifferentiated creature like an amoeba, puts forth pseudopodia and makes definite prehensile movements in response to certain stimuli; and makes definite revulsions in response to others. But if so he is aware that all these propositions are based upon some purely physical relationship of the different stimuli to the protoplasmic substance, whereby some act in one way and others in a reverse manner. All such movements are definite and concrete and can be perfectly understood. But how mere movement in the abstract should be able to select that sort of nutriment which is beneficial and to avoid those forces which are harmful is surely above human power to conceive -- unless, perhaps, Mr. Baldwin can explicitly describe to us how it is to be conceived. To assume outright that the movements resulting from pleasure would locomote intelligently toward proper nutriment, or do aught differently than the same movements caused in any other way, is simply to leap the whole problem by one absolutely unbounded bald assumption. Than this it is more respectable to say that Ormozd takes the kitten by the neck and chucks it bodily to the saucer.

But, perhaps, Mr. Baldwin merely means that the excess movement would work to continue the contact with the original stimulus already made. If so, then must we contend that absolute quiescence would most conduce to the preservation of a contact already made, and incoordinate wiggling would be the thing in the world most likely to break the contact, and to drive the creature away from the beneficial stimulus.

Mr. Baldwin's assumption that excess movements, however caused, would be any more likely, in tile abstract, to secure circular reactions among beneficial stimuli than among detri-

(700)-mental ones is, therefore, wholly false. All would depend on the prevalence of one or the other sort of conditions. If dangers most abounded the creature would be all the more quickly destroyed by his excess locomotion. If benefits abounded then the creature would prosper because of that fact, but not because of any power of muscular tissue to select these benefits, save that be by its physical properties -- i. e., the same which are being studied by the physiologists as before mentioned.

Thus falls the king-bolt in Mr. Baldwin's "circular reactions." But falling back upon the second link it does seem at first sight that advantage should be secured to a creature by a "new factor," which should have the power of saying which the creature should act and when not; and that had the intelligence to decide that the creature should move only when in the presence of beneficial stimuli and not move in response to detrimental ones. But here again there is a snare and delusion, and just where it was least to be expected. For it is just as likely as not that to move would be the most beneficial thing in the world under attack of detrimental forcesCfor instance, to get away from them; or that to move under beneficial conditions would be the most detrimental thing in the worldC for example, would wiggle the creature away from a newly secured morsel of food. In short, so long as it remains true, as shown in our last paragraph, that abstract movement is equally likely to do harm or good, so also must it remain true, that even a " new factor," with the power attributed to it by Mr. Baldwin, could not by any possibility favor the organism by the means described. How should it by the exercise of a power which in itself is alike blind to good or ill ?

Thus falls the main swivel in Mr. Baldwin's chain of reactions, and falls at a simple touch. But lest it seem to fall too easily in proportion to the mighty and world-deciding destiny asserted of it, let us pursue it further and in more detail. Thoroughly to dispose of an error we must see how and why it was made. The doctrine of pleasure, of which Mr. Baldwin's "excess discharge" is the attempted physiological expression, dates back to Aristotle. Aristotle declared that pleasure ac-

(701)-companies perfect use of our faculties, and pain their impeded use. The philosophy which prevailed after Aristotle was dominated by the Oriental superstition that the forces of this world are divided between the Powers of Good and of Evil. Now this superstition seized upon and biased the dogmas of our theologic ancestors until belief in a personal Devil was universal among even the learned in the middle ages, is a matter of undisputed history. Aristotle's doctrine fitted well with this superstition, and his unquestioned authority enforced its universal acceptance. Thus, as late as 1647, we have Descartes, the highest authority of his age, declaring that " All our pleasure is nothing more than the consciousness of some one or other of our perfections." When Science dawned, and began basing mental activities upon correspondent neural processes, nothing was easier or more inevitable than that the doctrine which always had been conceded to express general conditions of welfare and activity should be transferred to general conditions of the nervous system; and that, in general, " heighten neural discharge " should be declared to be the basis of pleasure, and the reverse to be the basis of pain. Thus, an early conjecture of Aristotle, fostered by one of the grossest theological superstitions, and transformed, as I shall show, by most uncritical and fallacious physiological assumptions, is the historic origin of what Prof. Baldwin calls "A New Factor in Evolution. [3]

The origin of the notion having been accounted for independently of any critical regard of the facts, we will now examine it in the light of the facts. We have no means of examining neural discharges directly, or independently of their stimuli, their sensory effects, and their motor results; we have no other means of measuring them, except through analogy with the strength of these. In general it is fundamentally observed that where the stimulus is intense the sensation is intense. Also, muscular reaction is proportional to the stimulus and to the sensation. Every known fact, outside of the pine. nomina of pain and pleasure in dispute, conforms to the in-

(702)-ference that the stimulus, the neural discharge, the physic counterpart, and the motor result, rise and fall together. Beginning now with the motor reactions of pain, it is to be observed that they are among the strongest and most violent of which we are capable; the violent struggles that every creature makes to free himself from pain, or that he displays, reflexly, in the convulsions of its torture, are among the most familiar facts known. Again, it is equally well known, that the stimuli which cause pain are the most violent that we encounter usually it is for that reason that they are detrimental. Also, pain is the strongest and most violent of our sensations. When therefore, all the evidences alike, from every common source of observation, agree that the neural discharge ought to be strong proportionally as the stimulus, the sensation, and the motor reactions are strong, it would seem that we ought to conclude that the neural discharges of pain are strong.

Surely we ought so to conclude, unless Prof. Baldwin has further evidence to offer. The evidence most likely for him to offer is that pain is characteristic of exhaustion, weakness, disorder and disease. This is the stronghold of the traditional school, and has been the secret of its fallacy from its beginning. Yet, there is not a single one of these phenomena that is not perfectly explained without accepting the tradition, and without any of the violations of fundamental analogies which its acceptance necessitates. This is done upon the basis of specific pain-nerves. Every analogy demands that there should be such nerves. If all other sensations have specific nerves so should pain. They have long been anticipated in physiology. And recently they have been demonstrated with surprisingly wide-founded and abundant evidence ; [4] is quite equal indeed to that for the nerves of touch.

Necessarily the universal distribution of these nerves brings them into close connection with the vaso-motor mechanism Wherever there is unusual congestion of the blood there is

(703) likely to be pain. We are not certain what the appropriate form of stimulus is for the pain-nerves, but assuming it to be mechanical pressure, then any unusual stretching or tension, whether in the capillaries or the surrounding tissues, as caused by congestion or from undue secretion of any of the glands, or from any other disorder, would perfectly explain the attendance of pain. That this should explain the characteristic pains of exhaustion, weakness, disease, and all other abnormalities, rather than the mere loss of general bodily strength, to which the common tradition more directly attributes them, no scientist should doubt. For, first, there is no evidence that mere weakness, independently of the physiological derangements which are the co-results of its cause, are at all painful. A man may bleed to death, and suffer no pain. Again, a frail invalid may fade away with weakness, and suffer no trace of pain; indeed, may depart with gladness. Or a sprinter may drop with exhaustion and, perhaps, suffer no pain at all; or if any, none save what is unmistakably due to the abnormal disturbances of circulation already referred to. Secondly, all causes of weakness are likely to produce disorders which, in turn, shall produce disturbances likely to excite the pain nerves in the way above indicated. This is so evident that it need not be discussed. Third, when so excited, even during general bodily weakness, there is still every evidence that the pain discharges are characteristically strong above other nervous activities, and relatively so proportionally to the lowering of the general level of strength. It would seem, therefore, that every known phenomena of pain, on the one hand, receives perfect explanation on the basis of pain-nerves, that every analogy demands such nerves, and that finally they have been conclusively demonstrated. And, on the other hand, it is strikingly manifest that every evidence we possess flatly contradicts the assumption that pain discharges are feeble.

The corresponding assumption that the neural discharge of pleasure is "excessive " equally fails of corroboration when confronted with the facts. Here again, we can measure the discharge only by its psychic accompaniment, its stimulus, and its motor effect. That pleasures, among psychic states, are charac-

(704)-teristically intense, is not true. Again, that intensity of stimulus is not a uniform determinant of pleasure is one of the best known truths of every form of art. And that the motor effects of pleasure are not conspicuous for violence is the less well known. Some of them are violent, no doubt, yet abundance of others are among the most soothing and quieting influences which we experience. The entire field of pleasure therefore -- source, centre, and motor discharge -- is one endless contradiction of the assumption that its neural discharge is predominately intense, and points even to a new definition of pleasure from that of which the traditional school is possessed. Again, it is the delusive general relationship of pleasure to health, strength and welfare which has ever been the source of error. With health and freshness all functions, undoubtedly, are more vigorous, and those which give pleasure are more active among the rest. Also, in health we are freer of unpleasant disorders. Yet it remains true that the feeblest invalid is often capable of the intensest pleasure, and that the trained athlete may suffer excruciating pain if the dentist but tickle the bare nerve of his tooth with a feather.

Against the "discharge" link, pleasurable or painful, in Mr. Baldwin's "Circular Reaction," it would seem unnecessary to push the sword further. In has absolutely no foundation in fact. Yet, as this is of a class of tradition that dies hard, I will bring yet multiplied objections against it. When a child first brings its finger into contact with a flame it instinctively draws its arm away: a complicated and delicately articulated mechanism has been evolved by nature, and inherited by the child for this purpose. The case is typical, and other examples are innumerable. Now, under Mr. Baldwin's Plan of Evolution, it would have been impossible for such an organized response to pain to have developed. His whole scheme is one wherein "the excess discharges" of pleasure conduce to the development of organized responses to pleasure, and the "restricted discharges" of pain specially prevent the development of organized responses to pain. It is true that Mr. Baldwin expressly declares his "New Factor" to be ontogenic. Still, if so, then pain restrictions must have yet worked from the moment of each creatures

(705) birth to stamp out every provision of the type above cited. Over and above this, every intelligent organization against detrimental forces would be impossible from the moment of birth.

This is no small obstacle to the universal acceptance of Mr. Baldwin's " New Factor," yet the more intimately we approach it the more do the difficulties increase. This time for a bull's-eye example we will take a plunge straight at the " pain-pleasure discharge " itself. Mr. Baldwin tells us it is " central " -- let us now ask to what is it proportional? What gauges its "heightening" or its "restriction?" The pain or the pleasure, of course, Mr. Baldwin answers, since his " New Factor " is a psychic factor. But to which is the pain or pleasure proportionate -- the incoming sensory nerve current, or the "benefit from the external stimulus." It is just here that a "tremendous" (to use a favorite word of this enthusiastic writer) stumbling block arises. Mr. Baldwin tells us with emphasis that the pleasure comes in and by the stimulus. But how and in what manner does the external pleasure-stimulus connect with the centrally rising "heightened discharge" ? Plainly it cannot be through the mere intensity of the ordinary incoming sensory nerve-current; for the pleasure is proportional to the benefits from the external stimulus; and these benefits are by no means proportional to the intensity of the stimulus. But, perhaps, Mr. Baldwin conceives -- he does not tell us here in the least what he does conceive, though it is an absolutely essential point -- of some specific kind or mode of neural activity to convey his pleasure-stimulus from the periphery to the centre, and one in no way parallel to the intensity of the external stimulus. If so, then a still greater difficulty now arises to conceive how the "benefit" or the "detriment " from the external event expresses itself through this new mode of communication. We are told that the pleasure is proportional to the amount of the benefit worked by the stimulus, not to its intensity. But just how and when does this " amount" get transformed into this new kind of ingoing pleasure current? Benefit is a "tremendously" abstract affair. Where does it end, and when does it act? The benefit does not happen instantlyCwhen then is its pleasure experienced ? How and

(706) when does it sum itself up with reference to the heightened motor discharge? For this last, we had supposed, resulted immediately upon the arrival of the sensory impulse at the brain, and cannot be permitted a long delay if it is to join in " Circular Reaction " with the passing stimulus.

Surely here is a puzzle! Let us endeavor to follow a concrete example; and again it shall be Mr. Baldwin's own, wherein he explicitly describes the sort of betterment that gives pleasure and " heightened discharge." When the sun shines on a creature its warmth promotes nourishment and other vegetative functions. Let us say now that it heightens digestion from a usual period of two or three hours to one of twenty minutes. When, then, does the "central discharge " begin to be " "heightened " by this betterment in order to complete Mr. Baldwin's " Circular Reaction?" Also, just how does the benefit gather itself together from the bowels to express itself as tile pleasure of the original sensation i. e., the sensation of warmth that came at the beginning of the twenty minutes ? A diagram drawn to scale of these physiological activities, and with their space and time processes accurately portrayed, would facilitate the acceptance of Mr. Baldwin's " New Factor " among scientists generally.

But, of course, all this is doing the utmost of injustice to Mr. Baldwin's " New Factor." For, is it not a psychic factor ? And is it not the essence of psychic factors to surmount all lawful relations of space and intensity? How absurd of me to attempt to trace the benefits and detriments of the sun's rays through the viscera to the " heightening " and " restricting " of central discharges! Pleasure and pain, of course, are super-spacial and super-temporal fiats that leap all physical difficulties and bounds. Only why, then, does Mr. Baldwin take the trouble to localize them as central! Or why declare them to have any mechanical relationship with motor discharges? It is just here that I must plead it to have been most natural for me to have been mislead to conceiving that the " central " processes of pleasure have some lawful articulation with the incoming sensory impulse' since they are explicitly declared to have both temporal and spatial articulation with the outgoing motor discharges. But, perhaps, Mr. Bald-

(707)-win's vagueness and confusion of statement and longing to be scientific may here have got the best of these outgoing articulations --- perhaps, they do not and could not work according to any known axioms of science even here! Let us examine this.

Upon close consideration it becomes obvious that Mr. Baldwin's " New Factor " not only interrupts all normal relations of intensity between incoming stimuli and outgoing discharges -- so that feeble stimuli, if beneficial, now produce " heightened discharges;" and violent stimuli, if detrimental, are " tempered to the shorn lamb" -- but also it wholly transforms their mechanical effects. Not only now do pleasures produce " expansion " and pains " restrictions," but violent pleasure-discharges produce violent expansions, and violent pain-discharges produce violent contractions. Or, at least, I suppose they do; though here is tho very pesky plague of it, to know what Mr. Baldwin does conceive to happen. For, if now the " discharges " do thus cause literal bodily expansion or contraction, in due accord with their intensity, it is impossible to conceive what " heightening " or " restricting " has to do with the case. And, on the other hand, if " expansion" refers to " degree of activity," and " restriction " means " quiescence," I give up trying to understand the matter, and plead insanity and hallucination at once; for then the innumerable acts which seem to be performed before my eyes, both expressively and preventatively of pain must be " restricted " absolutely, and by no possible means actually can happen; and the cause of my derangement in conceiving that they do is surely sprung from my overwrought sympathy for all physiologists or psychologists who shall attempt to measure the amount of restriction necessary to be applied to each varying intensity of incoming detrimental stimulus in order to reduce it to a constantly maintained zero of quiescence, and not have the least little bit over to set the creature wiggling right up to its detrimental persecutor, and perpetuate " Circular Reaction " therewith, just as if it were beneficial. [5]

But, seriously, there are a few things that we must conclude regarding Mr. Baldwin's " New Factor," if we are to pay to it any logical regard whatever: (1) The work assumed of it is not one of simple heightening and restricting, but one of absolute interruption, transformation and reversal of natural consequences. (2) These interruptions, transformations and reversals proceed by no known axioms or measurements of science, and as little so in their articulations with the motor apparatus as with the disseminated benefits and detriments from the external forces. (3) There are no central neural processes correspondent to these alleged activities of pain and pleasure. There are no facts which suggest them; no physical activities could behave in such disregard of physical laws; and to assert them as acting by such laws would either duplicate the " New Factor " as an efficient cause, or else reduce pain and pleasure to ordinary non-interfering parallelism; which is a flat contradiction to Mr. Baldwin's entire proposition. (4) It is absurd to locate this New Factor as " central." For a factor that transcends all physical laws of space, time and intensity cannot be located in this physical world. (5) And, finally, if such a "New Factor" existed, any exact determination in physiology and in psychology would be futile. Whereas the psychic factor of Prof. James is a wee and comparatively inoffensive affair, which only tips a molecule here or turns a current there, just a little, and when absolutely needed -- and apparently from the remainder of his system is never needed -- on the contrary, this Factor of Mr. Baldwin's is the dominant

(709) force in evolution above all other forces. It acts upon every external stimulus, interrupts and transforms its natural effect, molds and remolds the entire organism and all subsequent species in accord with the non-physical and miraculous power. If such a factor be admitted so dominantly throughout nature then exact science becomes absolutely impossible.

Our examination of this " New Factor " may, therefore, now be summarized as follows. It is obvious, historically, how its ancient traditions, rooting originally in superstition, have survived and come down to be an anomaly in our scientific times. It never had any closer foundation in facts than the superficial observation that pleasure more often comes with health and strength, and pain with weakness and disease. The central neural processes on which it is alleged to be based do not exist. The phenomena in question, upon examination, flatly contradict at every point the assumptions and assertions boldly made of them. The alleged " Factor," if carried out under these assumptions and specifications so made of it, quickly reduces the entire realm of biology and of psychology to endless confusion and ridicule.

On the other hand these phenomena have now been treated of substantially without violating the symmetries of nature, and in accord with the obvious demands and analogies of the remainder of ascertained knowledge. Pain-nerves have been conclusively demonstrated. Pleasure and displeasure, if they have not been so successfully disposed of as bodily pain, have been finally divorced~from it and from the tradition that they are " quality activities " of any kind; they are rapidly being driven by new analysis and definitions to where they are seen to be forms or movements of thought quite independent of specific qualitative make-up; are being explained on the same footing and in the same categories with conceptions, volitions and similar mental processes, which apparently may be of any and every "quality," or, at least, in which the qualities of the content play no at present determinable part.

Nor have these things been done in a corner. Modern literature is full of them. These new opinions have been put for

(710)-wardly neither timidly, obscurely, nor by inferior men. Long ago so great an authority as Prof. James declared of the ancient tradition that it was "one of the most artificial and scholastic untruths, which remain to disfigure modern science." There would seem, therefore, now to be as little excuse for an intelligent man to believe in this "New Factor" as to continue to believe in the other half of the tradition, i.e., in a personal devil. For a scientist to continue to throw such 'disfiguring untruth' among the already vastly complicated problems of biology and psychology, of heredity, and of social and ethical development, while completely and blindly ignoring the objections which have been heaped, mountain high, against it, cannot henceforth be counted as less than pure Orientalism. To persist in the attempt, with whatever sincerity and enthusiasm of purpose, can only result, as my first words portrayed, in retarding the swing of the pendulum to a more sober consideration by Science of the problems of mind, and in bringing our New Psychology to speedy and undeserved contempt.

It seems hardly worth while to follow Prof. Baldwin into the doctrines of " Imitation" and "Organic Selection " built by him upon his above foundation, when these foundations show themselves to be the veriest myths.


  1. Reprinted from The American Naturalist, June and July, 1896.
  2. Mental Development, p. 189.
  3. Whether it is with reference to Spencer, Bain, Descartes or Aristotle, that this factor is "new," Prof. Baldwin does not state.
  4. See article in Brain, p. 1, 1893, and p. 339, 1894, by Dr. Henry Head of University College Hospital, London. Also those by Prof. von Frey in Berichte d. math. phys. classe d. Konigl. Sachs. Gesellschaft der Wissensehaft zu Leipzig 1894, pp. 185 and 283; 1895, p. 166.
  5. The physiological cult of the traditional Pain-Pleasure School juggle much with this "heighten and restricted central discharge," as if it were ordinary neural activity. But when all obfuscation is nailed to the board it becomes plain that, since the muscular effects some after the motor nerve-currents are formed, therefore it is something beside the mere intensity of these currents which determines whether the result shall be expansion or restriction. And if it is something different from the intensity of these nerve-currents, then also must it be different from the ordinary intensity of the central neural activity which gives rise to these currents. In which ease it is nonsense to talk of "heightening and restricting" precisely as if they were performed by ordinary central activities.

    Unmistakably it is no " ordinary " activity that either destroys ordinary intensity regardlessly of all opposing parallelograms of forces, or that upsets the laws of conservation of energy. True, we do not yet understand Inhibition; yet, no scientist thinks of explaining it, except within "ordinary" scientific laws. And any force which transforms any incoming sensory nerve-current, however detrimental, into flat quiescence without expenditure of other physical energy in opposition to it, certainly does not act within ordinary scientific laws.

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