Mind Self and Society

Supplementary Essay II  The Biologic Individual

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

The distinction of greatest importance between types of conduct in human behavior is that lying between what I will term the conduct of the "biologic individual" and the conduct of the "socially self-conscious individual." The distinction answers roughly to that drawn between conduct which does not involve conscious reasoning and that which does, between the conduct of the more intelligent of the lower animals and that of man. While these types of conduct can be clearly distinguished from each other in human behavior, they are not on separate planes, but play back and forth into each other, and constitute, under most conditions, an experience which appears to be cut by no lines of cleavage. The skill with which one plays a fast game of tennis and that by which he plans a house or a business undertaking seem to belong to the organic equipment of the same individual, living in the same world and subject to the same rational control. For the tennis-player criticizes his game at times and learns to place the ball differently over against different opponents; while in the sophisticated undertakings of planning, he depends confidently on his flair for conditions and men. And yet the distinction is of real and profound importance, for it marks the distinction between our biologic inheritance from lower life and the peculiar control which the human social animal exercises over his environment and himself.

It would be a mistake to assume that a man is a biologic individual plus a reason, if we mean by this definition that he leads two separable lives, one of impulse or instinct, and another of reason--especially if we assume that the control exercised by reason proceeds by means of ideas considered as mental contents which do not arise within the impulsive life and form a real part thereof. On the contrary, the whole drift of modern

(348) psychology has been toward an undertaking to bring will and reason within the impulsive life. The undertaking may not have been fully successful, but it has been impossible to avoid the attempt to bring reason within the scope of evolution; and if this attempt is successful, rational conduct must grow out of impulsive conduct. My own attempt will be to show that it is in the social behavior of the human animal that this evolution takes place. On the other hand, it is true that reasoning conduct appears where impulsive conduct breaks down. Where the act fails to realize its function, when the impulsive effort to get food does not bring the food-and, more especially, where conflicting impulses thwart and inhibit each other-here reasoning may come in with a new procedure that is not at the disposal of the biologic individual. The characteristic result of the reasoning procedure is that the individual secures a different set of objects to which to respond, a different field of stimulation. There has been discrimination, analysis, and a rebuilding of the things that called out the conflicting impulses and that now call out a response in which the conflicting impulses have been adjusted to each other. The individual who was divided within himself is unified again in his reaction. So far, however, as we react directly toward things about us without the necessity of finding different objects from those which meet our immediate vision and hearing and contact, so far are we acting impulsively; and we act accordingly as biologic individuals, individuals made up of impulses sensatizing us to stimuli, and answering directly to this stimulation.

What are the great groups of impulses making up this biologic individual? The answer for the purposes of this discussion need only be a rough answer. There are, first of all, the adjustments by which the individual maintains his position and balance in motion or at rest; (2) the organization of responses toward distant objects, leading to movement toward or from them; (3) the adjustment of the surfaces of the body to contacts with objects which we have reached by movement, and especially the manipulations of these objects by the hand; (4) attack on,

(349) and defense from, hostile forms of prey, involving specialized organization of the general impulses just noted; (5) flight and escape from dangerous objects; (6) movements toward, or away from, individuals of the opposite sex, and the sexual process; (7) securing and ingesting food; (8) nourishment and care of child forms, and suckling and adjustment of the body of the child to parental care; (9) withdrawals from heat, cold, and danger, and the relaxations of rest and sleep; and (10) the formation of various sorts of habitats, serving the functions of protection and of parental care.

While this is but a roughly fashioned catalogue of primitive human impulses, it does cover them, for there is no primitive reaction which is not found in the list, or is not a possible combination of them, if we except the debatable field of the herding instinct. There seem to be in the last analysis two factors in this so-called "Instinct"; first, a tendency of the member of the group that herds to move in the direction of, and at the same rate as, other members of the group; second, the carrying-out of all the life-processes more normally and with less excitability in the group than outside it. The latter is evidently a highly composite factor, and seems to point to a heightened sensitivity to the stimuli to withdrawal and escape in the absence of the group. I have referred to this especially because the vagueness and lack of definition of this group of impulses have led many to use this instinct to explain phenomena of social conduct that lie on an entirely different level of behavior.

It is customary to speak of the instincts in the human individual as subject to almost indefinite modification, differing in this from the instincts in the lower animal forms. Instincts in the latter sense can hardly be identified in man, with the exception of that of suckling and perhaps certain of the immediate reactions of anger which very voting infants exhibit, together with a few others which are too undeveloped to deserve the term. The life of the child in human society subjects these and all the impulses with which human nature is endowed to a pressure which carries them beyond possible comparison with the

(350) animal instincts, even though we have discovered that the instincts in lower animals are subject to gradual changes through long-continued experience of shifting conditions. This pressure is, of course, only possible through the rational character that finds its explanation, if I am correct, in the social behavior into which the child is able to enter.

This material of instinct or impulse in the lower animals is highly organized. It represents the adjustment of the animal to a very definite and restricted world. The stimuli to which the animal is sensitive and which lie in its habitat constitute that world and answer to the possible reactions of the animal. The two fit into each other and mutually determine each other for it is the instinct-seeking-expression that determines the sensitivity of the animal to the stimulus, and it is the presence of the stimulus which sets the instinct free. The organization represents not only the balance of attitude and the rhythm of movement but the succession of acts upon each other, the whole unified structure of the life of the form and the species. In any known human community, even of the most primitive type, we find neither such a unified world nor such a unified individual. There is present in the human world a past and an uncertain future, a future which may be influenced by the conduct of the individuals of the group. The individual projects himself into varied possible situations and by implements and social attitudes undertakes to make a different situation exist, which would give expression to different impulses.

From the point of view of instinctive behavior in the lower animals, or of the immediate human response to a perceptual world (in other words, from the standpoint of the unfractured relation between the impulses and the objects which give them expression), past and future are not there; and yet they are represented in the situation. They are represented by facility of adjustment through the selection of certain elements both in the direct sensuous stimulation through the excitement of the end-organs, and in the imagery. What represents past and what

(351) represents future are not distinguishable as contents. The surrogate of the past is the actual adjustment of the impulse to the object as stimulus. The surrogate of the future is the control which the changing field of experience during the act maintains over its execution.

The flow of experience is not differentiated into a past and future over against an immediate now until reflection affects certain parts of the experience with these characters, with the perfection of adjustment on the one hand, and with the shifting control on the other. The biologic individual lives in an undifferentiated now; the social reflective individual takes this up into a flow of experience within which stands a fixed past and a more or less uncertain future. The now of experience is represented primarily by the body of impulses listed above, our. inherited adjustment to a physical and social world, continuously reconstituted by social reflective processes; but this reconstitution takes place by analysis and selection in the field of stimulation, not by immediate direction and recombination of the impulses. The control exercised over the impulses is always through selection of stimulations conditioned by the sensitizing influence of various other impulses seeking expression. The immediacy of the now is never lost, and the biologic individual stands as the unquestioned reality in the minds of differently constructed pasts and projected futures. It has been the work of scientific reflection to isolate certain of these fixed adjustments (in terms of our balanced postures, our movements toward objects, our contacts with and manipulations of objects) as a physical world, answering to the biologic individual with its intricate nervous system.

The physical world, which has arisen thus in experience, answers not only to our postures and movements with reference to distant objects and our manipulations of these objects, but also to the biological mechanism, especially its complex nervous coordinations by which these reactions are carried out. As it is in this physical world that we attain our most perfect

(352) controls, the tendency toward placing the individual, as a mechanism, in this physical world is very strong. Just in so far as we present ourselves as biological mechanisms are we better able to control a correspondingly greater field of conditions which determine conduct. On the other hand, this statement in mechanical terms abstracts from all purposes and all ends of conduct. If these appear in the statement of the individual, they must be placed in mind, as an expression of the self -placed, in other words, in a world of selves, that is, in a social world. I do not wish to enter the subtle problems involved in these distinctions-the problems of mechanism and teleology, of body and mind, the psychological problem of parallelism or interaction. I desire simply to indicate the logical motive which carries the mechanical statement of behavior into the physical field and the statement of ends and purposes into the mental world, as these terms are generally used. While these two emphases which have been recognized above in the distinction between the past and the future are of capital importance, it is necessary to underscore the return which modern scientific method (and this is but an elaborate form of reflection) inevitably makes to unsophisticated immediate experience in the use of experiment as the test of reality. Modern science brings its most abstract and subtle hypotheses ultimately into the field of the "now" to evidence their reliability and their truth.

This immediate experience which is reality, and which is the final test of the reality of scientific hypotheses as well as the test of the truth of all our ideas and suppositions, is the experience of what I have called the "biologic individual." The term refers to the individual in an attitude and at a moment in which the impulses sustain an unfractured relation with the objects around him. The final registering of the pointer on a pair of scales, of the coincidence of the star with the hair line of a telescope, of the presence of an individual in a room, of the actual consummation of a business deal-these occurrences which may confirm any hypothesis or supposition are not themselves subject to analysis. What is sought is a coincidence of an anticipated re-

(353) -sult with the actual event. I have termed it "biologic" because the term lays emphasis on the living reality which may be distinguished from reflection. A later reflection turns back upon it and endeavors to present the complete interrelationship between the world and the individual in terms of physical stimuli and biological mechanism; the actual experience did not take place in this form but in the form of unsophisticated reality [MS].


No notes

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2