Further evidence bearing on the functions performed by the basal nervous system of the three lower classes of vertebrates is afforded by experiments made on frogs. If the cerebrum of a frog, including its basal system, is removed, the animal may continue to live; but if an obstacle is placed in its way, the frog when touched from behind makes no effort to avoid the obstruction in its path, but will leap or crawl against it; its mnemic and instinctive powers are abolished with the destruction of its basal nervous system. Experiments made on some of the higher animals lead to a similar conclusion, and prove that the living nervous substance of the basal system controls the emotional and instinctive actions of these beings.

Instinctive and emotional actions need no teaching; they are inherent qualities of the living substance of the basal system and become manifest immediately this substance is brought into action by an appropriate stimulus. On the other hand, between the reception of a stimulus and the discharge of psychical nerveforce a measurable interval of time occurs, due to the compli cated nerve-paths which the latter form of energy has to traverse before it can act on the muscles. Beyond this, thought-reactions must be practised and learnt by each individual during his lifetime, and they pass away at his death. The greater number of basal reactions become by use habitual, though some of them, as for instance the egg-laying of certain insects, are but once performed."

The opinion we advance that the structural arrangement and functions performed by the nervous substance of the basal system are hereditary, rests on the fact that the brains of the three lower classes of vertebrates do not possess psychical nervous structures comparable with those in the brains of the mammalia, while each order of the lower classes of vertebrates manifests characteristic instinctive actions and emotional feelings, which are passed on to succeeding generations of similar beings, although these may be placed under very different environmental conditions.

We cannot in human beings obtain the same kind of evidence regarding the functions performed by their basal system as that

5 Professor W. H. Wilson, of Cairo, finds that stimulation of the basal system of the large Egyptian iguana causes definite movements of various parts of its body, and that there is a distinct and precise motor localisation in the mid-brain of these reptiles, determined by the ending of the tactile tracts of their bodies in this part of the brain. The Arris and Gale Lectures, by Professor Elliot Smith, The Lancet (1910), p. 222. See also Psychology of Education, by Professor J. Welton, pp. 71-4.

[ocr errors]

• First Book of Psychology, pp. 89, 231, by Professor M. W. Calkins. In an article on The Human Brain in Relation to Education,' published by me in The Westminster Review for December 1900, I gave a case illustrating the possession of well-marked hereditary powers of observation possessed by an Andamanese lad, p. 635 (N.C.M.).

to which we have above referred in the case of the lower animals. But the clinical evidence we possess on this subject tends to confirm the idea that specific forms of energy received by this part of the human brain are transmuted by its elements into instinctive actions and emotional feelings, and that these elements are hereditary.' The history of Laura Bridgeman and H. Kellner affords us further evidence as to the hereditary properties possessed by the living substance of the basal nervous systems. From the second to about her tenth year of age, although the psychical capacities of Laura Bridgeman were dormant, her emotional feelings ran rampant, and were frequently displayed in uncontrolled fits of passion and unmeaning laughter. She could not have learnt as a child how to express her ill-temper, or to laugh or cry, by imitating these emotional expressions of feeling as they appeared in other people, since she could neither see nor hear. It seems evident, then, that these emotional feelings and actions, as in the case of the lower animals, were inherent qualities of the child's basal nervous system, brought into play by energy which it received through tactile-sense organs. These manifestations of emotional feeling constituted the only prominent traits of the child's personal character.

The living nervous elements of the basal system, then, constitute the mechanism by which instinctive actions and emotional feelings are elaborated; and unless through the orderly working of these elements, the manifestation of these faculties is impossible. From a racial point of view the instinctive and emotional faculties are of far greater antiquity than the psychical faculties; and consequently have become fixed or hereditary characters and, to a large extent, rule the actions of the various classes of animals throughout their lives. The instinctive and emotional powers, however, which were sufficient for the preservation of the different orders of the lower animals, do not suffice to maintain the order of primates (including human beings) in their struggle for existence is an ever-increasing complexity of environment. Under the laws, therefore, of natural selection, the living substance of the basal nervous system of man has developed a form of matter possessing psychical powers, by the means of which human beings have been able to gain and to maintain their commanding position in the world. The consideration of this latter subject must be postponed to another section; we now have to deal with the question whether hereditary qualities are amenable to the influence of culture.

To some extent they certainly are, even in the case of animals. ' Charles Darwin was the first to show that the emotional expressions of human beings, such as those of anger, hate, fear, joy, sorrow, &c., have been gradually evolved from similar movements made by the lower animals.

The fighting propensities of Irish terriers, for instance, which are among the most pugnacious species of dogs, when they are carefully trained and kept in control may be restrained for a time; but when left to their own devices their hereditary qualities soon re-assert themselves, and they will attack without provocation almost every dog they may happen to meet.

By careful management young people may be brought to curb their primitive emotional feelings; but persons who have had extensive experience in rearing and educating children, and who have lived long enough to see these children reach the middle age of their lives, state that when these individuals are left to their own devices, as a rule their hereditary qualities assert themselves and exercise an abiding influence over their conduct throughout their lives. A selfish and sly child grows up to be, more or less, a scheming, unsatisfactory individual. The generous, frank lad grows up to be a manly, self-reliant person. This principle is applicable not only to individuals but also to families and races of human beings; their hereditary racial qualities contribute directly to mould their destinies. As an example, we may point to the contrast which, as a rule, exists between the phylogenetic characters and destinies of the Teutonic and Iberian peoples of Europe.

We cannot wipe out or effectually alter the structural arrangement and motion of the elements which form the basal nervous system it is there, and there it will remain throughout our own lives and the lives of our children, asserting its presence in our instinctive actions and emotional feelings. It is clear, however, that education to be effective must take into consideration the animal as well as the mental side of our nature. One of our most astute and at the same time sympathetic observers of human nature, writing on the subject of education in the year 1829, states that the wisdom of our ancestors seemed to have determined that the education of youth was so paltry and unimportant a matter, that almost anyone might undertake the charge; and many an honest gentleman may be found to the present day, who takes good care to have a character with his butler when he engages him, and will not purchase a horse without the strongest warranty and the closest inspection; but will place his


The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, vol. i. pp. 320, 340, 567. See also Origin and Character of the British People, by N. C. Macnamara, pp. 213, 214, 222. Professor Welton states, Nor can innate disposition be absolutely changed, though doubtless it can be modified by the firm exercise of the personal will,' p. 127, The Psychology of Education.

The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray. Smith, Elder & Co. 1899 edition. Book of Snobs, p. 347.

son at a school for no better reason than that he, some forty years previously, had been a pupil in this establishment.

A great change has doubtless been made in the management of our preparatory and public schools since the year 1829. But it seems to us that knowledge concerning the nature of mental phenomena, and of the functions performed by that form of living matter the orderly working of which is necessary for the development of a high order of personal character, may tend to establish on scientific principles much that is good in the existing methods of education, at present merely empirical, and enable us to improve what is defective in them. Nothing can be of greater importance in the training of young people than a knowledge of the trend of the individual inherited qualities which, we repeat, to a large extent influence their career throughout their lives. 10

Few parents who have attained middle age are ignorant of the nature of their own good or bad hereditary qualities; consequently they are in a position to form a fairly accurate estimate of the predominant traits of character their children possess, and which of these qualities should be fostered and which suppressed. Young people may easily be made to understand this, a knowledge which may doubtless in many cases be turned to good account. The same principle applies with even greater force to the schoolmaster who takes charge of a boy fresh from home. It is generally taken for granted that a lad's character will soon be known from his conduct. No doubt there is much truth in this, but the building up of a boy's character is far too important a matter to be left to chance. If the father, and the head of the school under whose care he proposes to place his son, could be brought to appreciate the importance of a free and clear understanding as to the lad's hereditary qualities and interests, it would much tend towards promoting the proper development of his personal character, and thus of his happiness and usefulness in his subsequent career in life."1

The question as to how far any special training can permanently affect the action of the basal system is an open one; after a young person has attained the adult period of life we can hardly hope permanently to modify his hereditary qualities. But so far as this country is concerned, it does not seem that in either our schools or universities is the subject of character seriously considered the attention of teachers and pupils being, so far as education is concerned, mainly absorbed in the book-work necessary to enable candidates successfully to

10 The Psychology of Education, by J. Welton, pp. 70-75.

11 International Science Series, vel. xcv. p. 177. Also The Psychology of Education, by J. Welton, pp. 17, 215.

compete for appointments in one or other branch of the Government Services; and to develop into a good sort of fellow.

On the other hand, at West Point, U.S.A., the American Government has established and maintains a college in which a succession of six hundred lads is constantly under training for either a military or civil career. Each member of the American Senate has power to nominate two lads annually to West Point; the course of study extends over four successive years and its cost is nearly covered by a Government grant. Each pupil on entering the college has to state the career which he intends to follow; he is then assigned to a special department for training so as best to qualify him for his future calling." But the ruling principle at West Point is, first and foremost, the development of a lad's character, which implies self-knowledge, self-control, and selfreliance. As the College authorities emphatically state, classroom work, though essential, is but a very poor article unless grounded on a high standard of personal character. In order to attain this end, the cadets of West Point are subjected to a system of discipline and training which would astonish the students of our public schools and colleges. The result, however, of this system is admirable-the knowledge, patriotism, manners and customs of the West Point men are proverbial throughout the United States, and would seem to be all one could desire.


In the previous section reasons were given for holding the opinion that the function of the living substance of a certain part of the brain was to transform the energy it received from the various sense-organs into instinctive actions and emotional feelings. The specific form of living matter which constitutes this part of the brain was shown to be hereditary in structure and functions, and to exist in the brain of all vertebrate animals, including man. The reflex and automatic processes effected through the instrumentality of the living substance of the central nervous system were sufficient for the protection and the reproduction of the three lower classes of vertebrates; but in the course of time, as the environment became more complicated, some special protective apparatus became necessary for the preservation of the individuals of each of the ascending orders of animals. To meet this want a gradual evolution of the primitive nervous system has taken place, culminating in the power possessed by human beings to think and to reason. It is to the nature and properties of this latter form of matter that we now desire to draw

12 Special Reports on Educational Subjects, vol. ix. pp. 68, 131. Mr. M. E. Sadler's conclusions, p. 160, of this Report should be carefully studied by everyone interested in the progress of education in this country. Wyman & Son, Fetter Lane. See also vol. xiii.

« VorigeDoorgaan »