Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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The Principles of Psychology
William James (1890)

On Some General Conditions of Brain-Activity.

The elementary properties of nerve-tissue on which the brain-functions depend are far from being satisfactorily made out. The scheme that suggests itself in the first instance to the mind, because it is so obvious, is certainly false: I mean the notion that each cell stands for an idea or part of an idea, and that the ideas are associated or 'bound into bundles' (to use a phrase of Locke's) by the fibres. If we make a symbolic diagram on a blackboard, of the laws of association between ideas, we are inevitably led to draw circles, or closed figures of some kind, and to connect them by lines. When we hear that the nerve-centres contain cells which send off fibres, we say that Nature has realized our diagram for us, and that the mechanical substratum of thought is plain. In some way, it is true, our diagram must be realized in the brain; but surely in no such visible and palpable way as we at first suppose.[1] An enormous number of the cellular bodies in the hemispheres are fibreless. Where fibres are sent off they soon divide into untraceable ramifications; and nowwhere do we see a simple coarse anatomical connection, like a line on the blackboard, between two cells. Too much anatomy has been found to order for theoretic purposes, even by the anatomists; and the popular-science notions of cells and fibres are almost wholly wide of the truth. Let us therefore relegate the subject of the intimate workings of the brain to [p.82] the physiology of the future, save in respect to a few points of which a word must now be said. And first of [sic]


[sic] in the same nerve-tract. This is a property extremely important for the understanding of a great many phenomena of the neural, and consequently of the mental, life; and it behooves us to gain a clear conception of what it means before we proceed any farther.

The law is this, that a stimulus which would be inadequate by itself to excite a nerve-centre to effective discharge may, by acting with one or more other stimuli (equally ineffectual by themselves alone) bring the discharge about.  The natural way to consider this is as a summation of tensions which at last overcome a resistance. The first of them produce a 'latent excitement' or a 'heightened irritability'-the phrase is immaterial so far as practical consequences go; the last is the straw which breaks the camel's back. Where the neural process is one that has consciousness for its accompaniment, the final explosion would in all cases seem to involve a vivid state of feeling of a more or less substantive kind. But there is no ground for supposing that the tensions whilst yet submaximal or outwardly ineffective, may not also have a share in determining the total consciousness present in the individual at the time. In later chapters we shall see abundant reason to suppose that they do have such a share, and that without their contribution the fringe of relations which is at every moment a vital ingredient of the mind's object, would not come to consciousness at all.

The subject belongs too much to physiology for the evidence to be cited in detail in these pages. I will throw into a note a few references for such readers as may be interested in following it out,[2] and simply say that the direct [p.83] electrical irritation of the cortical centres sufficiently proves the point. For it was found by the earliest experimenters here that whereas it takes an exceedingly strong current to produce any movement when a single induction-shock is used, a rapid succession of induction-shocks ('faradization') will produce movements when the current is comparatively weak. A single quotation from an excellent investigation will exhibit this law under further aspects:

"If we continue to stimulate the cortex at short intervals with the strength of current which produces the minimal muscular contraction [of the dog's digital extensor muscle], the amount of contraction gradually increases till it reaches the maximum. Each earlier stimulation leaves thus an effect behind it, which increases the efficacy of the following one. In this summation of the stimuli....the following points may be noted: 1) Single stimuli entirely inefficacious when alone may become efficacious by sufficiently rapid reiteration. If the current used is very much less than that which provokes the first beginning of contraction, a very large number of successive shocks may be needed before the movement appears-20, 50, once 106 shocks were needed. 2) The summation takes place easily in proportion to the shortness of the interval between the stimuli. A current too weak to give effective summation when its shocks are 3 seconds apart will be capable of so doing when the interval is shortened to 1 second. 3) Not only electrical irritation leaves a modification which goes to swell the following stimulus, but every sort of irritant which can produce a contraction does so. If in any way a reflex contraction of the muscle experimented on has been produced, or if it is contracted spontaneously by the animal (as not unfrequently happens 'by sympathy,' during a deep inspiration), it is found that an electrical stimulus, until then inoperative, operates energetically if immediately applied."[3]


"In a certain stage of the morphia-narcosis an ineffectively weak shock will become powerfully effective, if, immediately before its appli-[p.84] cation to the motor centre, the skin of certain parts of the body is exposed to gentle tactile stimulation....If, having ascertained the subminimal strength of current and convinced one's self repeatedly of its inefficacy, we draw our hand a single time lightly over the skin of the paw whose cortical centre is the object of stimulation, we find the current at once strongly effective. The increase of irritability lasts some seconds before it disappears. Sometimes the effect of a single light stroking of the paw is only sufficient to make the previously ineffectual current produce a very weak contraction. Repeating the tactile stimulation will then, as a rule, increase the contraction's extent."[4]

We constantly use the summation of stimuli in our practical appeals. If a car-horse balks, the final way of starting him is by applying a number of customary incitements at once. If the driver uses reins and voice, if one bystander pulls at his head, another lashes his hind quarters, and the conductor rings the bell, and the dismounted passengers shove the car, all at the same moment, his obstinacy generally yields, and he goes on his way rejoicing. If we are striving to remember a lost name or fact, we think of as many 'cues' as possible, so that by their joint action they may recall what no one of them can recall alone. The sight of a dead prey will often not stimulate a beast to pursuit, but if the sight of movement be added to that of form, pursuit occurs. "Brücke noted that his brainless hen, which made no attempt to peck at the grain under her very eyes, began pecking if the grain were thrown on the ground with force, so as to produce a rattling sound." [5] "Dr. Allen Thomson hatched out some chickens on a carpet, where he kept them for several days. They showed no inclination to scrape,...but when Dr. Thomson sprinkled a little gravel on the carpet,...the chickens immediately began their scraping movements."[6] A strange person, and darkness, are both of them stimuli to fear and mistrust in dogs (and for the matter of that, in men). Neither circum-[p.85] stance alone may awaken outward manifestations, but together, i.e. when the stange man is met in the dark, the dog will be excited to violent defiance.[7] Street-hawkers well know the efficacy of summation, for they arrange themselves in a line upon the sidewalk, and the passer often buys from the last one of them, through the effect of the reiterated solicitation, what he refused to buy from the first in the row. Aphasia shows many examples of summation. A patient who cannot name an object simply shown him, will name it if he touches as well as sees it, etc.

Instances of summation might be multiplied indefinetely, but it is hardly worth while to forestall subsequent chapters. Those on Instinct, the Stream of Thought, Attention, Discrimination, Association, Memory, Aesthetics, and Will, will contain numerous exemplifications of the reach of the principle in the purely psychological field.


One of the lines of experimental investigation most diligently followed of late years is that of the ascertainment of the time occupied by nervous events. Helmholtz led off by discovering the rapidity of the current in the sciatic nerve of the frog. But the methods he used were soon applied to the sensory nerves and the centres, and the results caused much popular scientific admiration when described as measurements of the 'velocity of thought.' The phrase 'quick as thought' had from time immemorial signified all that was wonderful and elusive of determination in the line of speed; and the way in which Science laid her doomful hand upon this mystery reminded people of the day when Franklin first 'eripuit coelo fulmen,' fore- [p.86] shadowing the region of a newer and colder race of gods. We shall take up the various operations measured, each in the chapter to which it more naturally pertains. I may say, however, immediately, that the phrase 'velocity of thought' is misleading, for it is by no means clear in any of the cases what particular act of thought occurs during the time which is measured. 'Velocity of nerve-action' is liable to the same criticism, for in most cases we do not know what particular nerve-processes occur. What the times in question really represent is the total duration of certain reactions upon stimuli. Certain of the conditions of the reaction are prepared beforehand; they consist in the assumption of those motor and sensory tensions which we name the expectant state. Just what happens during the actual time occupied by the reaction (in other words, just what is added to the pre-existent tensions to produce the actual discharge) is not made out at present, either from the neural or from the mental point of view.

The method is essentially the same is all these investigations. A signal of some sort is communicated to the subject, and at the same instant records itself on a time-registering apparatus. The subject then makes a muscular movement of some sort, which is the 'reaction,' and which also records itself automatically. The time found to have elapsed between the two records is the total time of that observation. The time-registering instruments are of various types.

One type is that of the revolving drum covered with smoked paper, on which one electric pen traces a line which the signal breaks and the 'reaction' draws again; whilst another electric pen (connected with a pendulum or a rod of metal vibrating at a known rate) traces alongside of the former [p.87] line a 'time-line' of which each undulation or link stands for a certain fraction of a second, and against which the break in the reaction-line can be measured. Compare Fig.21, where the line is broken by the signal at the first arrow, and continued again by the reaction at the second. Ludwig's Kymograph, Marey's Chronograph are good examples of this type of instrument.

Another type of instrument is represented by the stopwatch, of which the most perfect from is Hipp's Chronoscope. The hand on the dial measures intervals as short as 1/1000 of a second. The signal (by an appropriate electric connection) starts it; the reaction stops it; and by reading off its initial and terminal positions we have immediately and with no farther trouble the time we seek.

A still simpler instrument, though one not very satisfactory in its working, is the 'psychodometer' of Exner & Obersteiner, of which I picture a modification devised by my colleague Professor H.P. Bowditch, which works very well.
The manner in which the signal and reaction are connected with the chronographic apparatus varies indefinitely [p.88] in different experiments. Every new problem requires some new electric or mechanical disposition of apparatus. [8]

The least complicated time-measurement is that known as simple reaction-time, in which there is but one possible signal and one possible movement, and both are known in advance. The movement is generally the closing of an electric key with the hand. The foot, the jaw, the lips, even the eyelid, have been in turn made organs of reaction, and the apparatus has been modified accordingly.[9] The time usually elapsing between stimulus and movement lies between one and three tenths of a second, varying according to circumstances which will be mentioned anon.

The subject of experiment, whenever the reactions are short and regular, is in a state of extreme tension, and feels, when the signal comes, as if it started the reaction, by a sort of fatality, and as if no psychic process of perception or volition had a chance to intervene. The whole succession is so rapid that perception seems to be retrospective, and the time-order of events to be read off in memory rather than known at the moment. This at least is my own personal experience in the matter, and with it I find others to agree. The question is, What happens inside of us, either in brain or mind? and to answer that we must analyze just what processes the reaction involves. It is evident that some time is lost in each of the following stages:

1. The stimulus excites the peripheral sense-organ adequately for a current to pass into the sensory nerve;
2. The sensory nerve is traversed;
3. The transformation (or reflection) of the sensory into a motor current occurs in the centres;
4. The spinal cord and motor nerve are traversed;
5. The motor current excites the muscle to the contracting point.[p.89]

Time is also lost, of course, outside the muscle, in the joints, skin, etc., and between the parts of the apparatus; and when the stimulus which serves as signal is applied to the skin of the trunk or limbs, time is lost in the sensorial conduction through the spinal cord.

The stage marked 3 is the only one that interests us here. The other stages answer to purely physiological processes, but stage 3 is psycho-physical; that is, it is a higher-central process, and has probably some sort of consciousness accompanying it. What sort?

Wundt has little difficulty in deciding that it is consciousness of a quite elaborate kind. He distinguishes between two stages in the conscious reception of an impression, calling one perception, and the other apperception, and likening the one to the mere entrance of an object into the periphery of the field of vision, and the other to its coming to occupy the focus or point of view. Inattentive awareness of an object, and attention to it, are, it seems to me, equivalents for perception and apperception, as Wundt uses the words. To these two forms of awareness of the impression Wundt adds the conscious volition to react, gives to the trio the name of 'psycho-physical' processes, and assumes that they actually follow upon each other in the succession in which they have been named.[10] So at least I understand him. The simplest way to determine the time taken up by this psycho-physical stage No. 3 would be to determine separately the duration of the several purely physical processes, 1, 2, 4, and 5, and to subtract them from the total reaction-time. Such attempts have been made.[11] But the data for calculation are too [p.90] inaccurate for use, and, as Wundt himself admits,[12] the precise duration of stage 3 must at present be left enveloped with that of the other processes, in the total reaction-time.

My own belief is that no such succession of conscious feelings as Wundt describes takes place during stage 3. It is a process of central excitement and discharge, with which doubtless some feeling coexists, but what feeling we cannot tell, because it is so fugitive and so immediately eclipsed by the more substantive and enduring memory of the impression as it came in, and of the executed movement of response. Feeling of the impression, attention to it, thought of the reaction, volition to react, would, undoubtedly, all be links of the process under other conditions,[13] and would lead to the same reaction-after an indefinitely longer time. But these other conditions are not those of the experiments we are discussing; and it is mythological psychology (of which we shall see many later examples) to conclude that because two mental processes lead to the same result they must be similar in their inward subjective constitution. The feeling of stage 3 is certainly no articulate perception. It can be nothing but the mere sense of a reflex discharge. The reaction whose time is measured is, in short, a reflex action pure and simple, and not a psychic act. A foregoing psychic condition is, it is true, a prerequisite for this reflex action. The preparation of the attention and volition; the expectation of the signal and the readiness of the hand to move, the instant it shall come; the nervous tension in which the subject waits, are all conditions of the formation in him for the time being of a new path or arc of reflex discharge. The tract from the sense-organ which receives the stimulus, into the motor centre which discharges the reaction, is already tingling with premonitory innervation, is raised to such a pitch of heightened irritability by the expectant attention, that the signal is instantaneously sufficient to cause the overflow.[14] No other [p.91] tract of the nervous system is, at the moment, in this hair-trigger condition. The consequences is that one sometimes responds to a wrong signal, especially if it be an impression of the same kind with the signal we expect.[15] But if by chance we are tired, or the signal is unexpectedly weak, and we do not react instantly, but only after an express perception that the signal has come, and an express volition, the time becomes quite disproportionately long (a second or more, according to Exner[16] ), and we feel that the process is in nature altogether different.

In fact, the reaction-time experiments are a case to which we can immediately apply what we have just learned about the summation of stimuli. 'Expectant attention' is but the subjective name for what objectively is a partial stimulation of a certain pathway, the pathway from the 'centre' for the signal to that for the discharge. In Chapter XI we shall see that all attention involves excitement from within of the tract concerned in feeling the objects to which attention is given. The tract here is the excito-motor arc about to be traversed. The signal is but the spark from without which touches off a train already laid. The performance, under these conditions, exactly resembles any reflex action. The only difference is that whilst, in the ordinarily so-called reflex acts, the reflex arc is a permanent result of organic growth, it is here a transient result of previous cerebral conditions.[17] [p.92]

I am happy to say that since the preeceding paragraphs (and the notes thereto appertaining) were written, Wundt has himself become converted to the view which I defend. He now admits that in the shortest reactions "there is neither apperception nor will, but that they are merely brain-reflexes due to practice."[18] The means of his conversion are certain experiments performed in his laboratory by Herr L. Lange,[19] who was led to distinguish between two ways of setting the attention in reacting on a signal, and who found that they gave very different time-results. In the 'extreme sensorial' way, as Lange calls it, of reacting, [p.93] one keeps one's mind as intent as possible upon the expected signal, and 'purposely avoids'[20] thinking of the movement to be executed; in the 'extreme muscular' way one 'does not think at all'[21] of the signal, but stands as ready as possible for the movement. The muscular reactions are much shorter than the sensorial ones, the average difference being in the neighborhood of a tenth of a second. Wundt accordingly calls them 'shortened reactions' and, with Lange, admits them to be mere reflexes; whilst the sensorial reactions he calls 'complete,' and holds to his original conception as far as they are concerned. The facts, however, do not seem to me to warrant even this amount of fidelity to the original Wundtian position. When we begin to react in the 'extreme sensorial' way, Lange says that we get times so very long that they must be rejected from the count as non-typical. "Only after the reacter has succeeded by repeated and conscientious practice in bringing about an extremely precise co-ordination of his voluntary impulse with his sense-impression do we get times which can be regarded as typical sensorial reaction-times."[22] Now it seems to me that these excessive and 'untypical' times are probably the real 'complete times,' the only ones in which distinct processes of actual perception and volition occur (see above, pp.88-9). The typical sensorial time which is attained by practice is probably another sort of reflex, less perfect than the reflexes prepared by straining one's attention towards the movement.[23] The times are much more variable in the sensorial way than in the muscular. The several muscular reactions differ little from each other. Only in them does the phenomenon occur of reacting on a false signal, or of reacting before the signal. Times intermediate between these two types occur according as the attention fails to turn itself exclusively to one of the extremes. It is obvious that Herr Lange's distinction between the two types of reaction is a highly important one, and that the 'extreme muscular [p.94] method,' giving both the shortest times and the most constant ones, ought to be aimed at in all comparative investigations. Herr Lange's own muscular time averaged 0".123; his sensorial time, 0".230.

These reaction-time experiments are then in no sense measurements of the swiftness of thought. Only when we complicate them is there a chance for anything like an intellectual operation to occur. They may be complicated in various ways. The reaction may be withheld until the signal has consciously awakened a distinct idea (Wundt's discrimination-time, association-time) and then performed. Or there may be a variety of possible signals, each with a different reaction assigned to it, and the reacter may be uncertain which one he is about to receive. The reaction would then hardly seem to occur without a preliminary recognition and choice. We shall see, however, in the appropriate chapters, that the discrimination and choice involved in such a reaction are widely different from the intellectual operations of which we are ordinarily conscious under those names. Meanwhile the simple reaction-time remains as the starting point of all these superinduced complications. It is the fundamental physiological constant in all time-measurements. As such, its own variations have an interest, and must be briefly passed in review.[24]

The reaction-time varies with the individual and his age. An individual may have it particularly long in respect of signals of one sense (Buccola, p.147), but not of others. Old and uncultivated people have it long (nearly a second, in an old pauper observed by Exner, Pflüger's Archiv, VII. 612-4). Children have it long (half a second, Herzen in Buccola, p.152).

Practice shortens it to a quantity which is for each individual a minimum beyond which no farther reduction can be made. The aforesaid old pauper's time was, after much practice, reduced to 0.1866 sec. (loc. cit. p.626). [p.95]
Fatigue lengthens it.
Concentration of attention shortens it. Details will be given in the chapter on Attention.
The nature of the signal makes it vary.[25] Wundt writes:
 "I found that the reaction-time for impressions on the skin with electric stimulus is less than for true touch-sensations, as the following averages show:

Average Variation
0.167 sec.
0.0221 sec.
0.222 sec.
0.0219 sec.
Electric skin-sensation
0.201 sec.
0.0115 sec.
0.213 sec.
0.0134 sec.
" I here bring together the averages which have been obtained by some other observers:

Thermic reactions have been lately measured by A. Goldscheider and by Vintschgau (1887), who find them slower than reactions from touch. That from heat especially is very slow, more so than from cold, the differences (according to Goldscheider) depending on the nerve-terminations in the skin.

Gustatory reactions were measured by Vintschgau. They differed according to the substances used, running up to half a second as a maximum when identification took place. The mere perception of the presence of the substance on the tongue varied from 0".159 to 0".219 (Pflüger's Archiv, XIV.529).

Olfactory reactions have been studied by Vintschgau, [p.96] Buccola, and Beaunis. They are slow, averaging about half a second (cf. Beaunis, Recherches exp. sur l'Activité Cérébrale, 1884, p.49 ff.)

It will be observed that sound is more promptly reacted on than either sight or touch. Taste and smell are slower than either. One individual, who reacted to touch upon the tip of the tongue in 0".125, took 0".993 to react upon the taste of quinine applied to the same spot. In another, upon the base of the tongue, the reaction to touch being 0".141, that to sugar was 0".552 (Vintschgau, quoted by Buccola, p.103). Buccola found the reaction to odors to vary from 0".334 to 0".681, according to the perfume used and the individual.

The intensity of the signal makes a difference. The intenser the stimulus the shorter the time. Herzen (Grundlinien einer allgem. Psychophysiologie, p.101) compared the reaction from a corn on the toe with that from the skin of the hand of the same subject. The two places were stimulated simultaneously, and the subject tried to react simultaneously with both hand and foot, but the foot always went quickest. When the sound skin of the foot was touched instead of the corn, it was the hand which always reacted first. Wundt tries to show that when the signal is made barely perceptible, the time is probably the same in all the senses, namely about 0.332" (Physiol. Psych., 2d ed., II. 224).

Where the signal is of touch, the place to which it is applied makes a difference in the resultant reaction-time. G.S. Hall and V. Kries found (Archiv f. Anat. u. Physiol., 1879) that when the finger-tip was the place the reaction was shorter than when the middle of the upper arm was used, in spite of the greater length of nerve-trunk to be traversed in the latter case. This discovery invalidates the measurements of the rapidity of transmission of the current in human nerves, for they are all based on the method of comparing reaction-times from places near the root and near the extremity of a limb. The same observers found that signals seen by the periphery of the retina gave longer times than the same signals seen by direct vision.

The season makes a difference, the time being some hun-[p.97] dredths of a second shorter on cold winter days (Vintschgau apud Exner, Hermann's Hdbh., p.270).

Intoxicants alter the time. Coffee and tea appear to shorten it. Small doses of wine and alcohol first shorten and then lengthen it; but the shortening stage tends to disappear if a large dose be given immediately. This, at least, is the report of two German observers. Dr. J. W. Warren, whose observations are more thorough than any previous ones, could find no very decided effects from ordinary doses (Journal of Physiology, VIII. 311). Morphia lengthens the time. Amyl-nitrite lengthens it, but after the inhalation it may fall to less than the normal. Ether and chloroform lengthen it (for authorities, etc., see Buccola, p.189).

Certain diseased states naturally lengthen the time.

The hypnotic trance has no constant effect, sometimes shortening and sometimes lengthening it (Hall, Mind, VIII. 170; James, Proc. Am. Soc. for Psych. Research, 246).

The time taken to inhibit a movement (e.g. to cease contraction of jaw-muscles) seems to be about the same as to produce one (Gad, Archiv f.(Anat.u.) Physiol., 1887, 468; Orchansky, ibid., 1889, 1885).

An immense amount of work has been done on reaction-time, of which I have cited but a small part. It is a sort of work which appeals particularly to patient and exact minds, and they have not failed to profit by the opportunity.


The next point to occupy our attention is the changes of circulation which accompany cerebral activity.

All parts of the cortex, when electrically excited, produce alterations both of respiration and circulation. The blood-pressure rises, as a rule, all over the body, no matter where the cortical irritation is applied, though the motor zone is the most sensitive region for the purpose. Elsewhere the current must be strong enough for an epileptic attack to be produced.[27] Slowing and quickening of the heart are also observed, and are independent of the vaso-constrictive phenomenon. Mosso, using his ingenious 'plethysmo-[p.98] graph' as an indicator, discovered that the blood-supply to the arms diminished during intellectual activity, and found furthermore that the arterial tension (as shown by the sphygmograph) was increased in these members (see Fig.23).

So slight an emotion as that produced by the entrance of Professor Ludwig into the laboratory was instantly followed by a shrinkage of the arms.[28] The brain itself is an excessively vascular organ, a sponge full of blood, in fact; and another of Mosso's inventions showed that when less blood went to the arms, more went to the head. The subject to be observed lay on a delicately balanced table which could tip downward either at the head or at the foot if the weight of either end were increased. The moment emotional or intellectual activity began in the subject, down went the balance at the head-end, in consequence of the redistribution of blood in his system. But the best proof of the immediate afflux of blood to the brain during mental activity is due to Mosso's observations on three persons whose brain had been laid bare by lesion of the skull. By means of apparatus described in his book,[29] this physiologist was enabled to let the brain-pulse record itself directly by a tracing. The intra-cranial blood-pressure rose immediately whenever the subject was spoken to, or when he began to think actively, as in solving a problem in mental arithmetic. Mosso gives in his work a large number of reproductions of tracings which show the instantaneity of the change of blood-supply, whenever the mental activity was quickened by any cause whatever, intellectual [p.99] or emotional. He relates of his female subject that one day whilst tracing her brain-pulse he observed a sudden rise with no apparent outer or inner cause. She however confessed to him afterwards that at that moment she had caught sight of a skull on top of a piece of furniture in the room, and that this had given her a slight emotion.

The fluctuations of the blood-supply to the brain were independent of respiratory changes,[30] and followed the quickening of mental activity almost immediately. We must suppose a very delicate adjustment whereby the circulation follows the needs of the cerebral activity. Blood very likely may rush to each region of the cortex according as it is most active, but of this we know nothing. I need hardly say that the activity of the nervous matter is the primary phenomenon, and the afflux of blood its secondary consequence. Many popular writers talk as if it were the other way about, and as if mental activity were due to the afflux of blood. But, as Professor H.N. Martin has well said, "that belief has no physiological foundation whatever; it is even directly opposed to all that we know of cell life."[31] A chronic pathological congestion may , it is true, have secondary consequences, but the primary congestions which we have been considering follow the activity of the brain-cells by an adaptive reflex vaso-motor mechanism doubtless as elaborate as that which harmonizes blood-supply with cell-action in any muscle or gland. Of the changes in the cerebral circulation during sleep, I will speak in the chapter which treats of that subject.


Brain-activity seems accompanied by a local disengagement of heat. The earliest careful work in this direction was by Dr. J.S. Lombard in 1867. Dr. Lombard's latest results include the records of over 60,000 observations.[32] He noted the [p.100] changes in delicate thermometers and electric piles placed against the scalp in human beings, and found that any intellectual effort, such as computing, composing, reciting poetry silently or aloud, and especially that emotional excitement such as an anger fit, caused a general rise of temperature, which rarely exceeded a degree Fahrenheit. The rise was in most cases more marked in the middle region of the head than elsewhere. Strange to say, it was greater in reciting poetry silently than in reciting it aloud. Dr. Lombard's explanation is that "in internal recitation an additional portion of energy, which in recitation aloud, was converted into nervous and muscular force, now appears as heat."[33] I should suggest rather, if we must have a theory, that the surplus of heat in recitation to one's self is due to inhibitory processes which are absent when we recite aloud. In the chapter on the Will we shall see that the simple central process is to speak when we think; to think silently involves a check in addition. In 1870 the indefatigable Schiff took up the subject, experimenting on live dogs and chickens, plunging thermo-electric needles into the substance of their brain, to eliminate possible errors from vascular changes in the skin when the thermometers were placed upon the scalp. After habituation was established, he tested the animals with various sensations, tactile, optic, olfactory, and auditory. He found very regularly an immediate deflection of the galvanometer, indicating an abrupt alteration of the intra-cerebral temperature. When, for instance, he presented an empty roll of paper to the nose of his dog as it lay motionless, there was a small deflection, but when a piece of meat was in the paper the deflection was much greater. Schiff concluded from these and other experiments that sensorial activity heats the brain-tissue, but he did not try to localize the increment of heat beyond finding that it was in both hemispheres, whatever might be the sensation applied.[34] Dr. R.W. Amidon in 1880 made a farther step forward, in localizing the heat produced by voluntary muscular contractions. Applying a number of [p.101] delicate surface-thermometers simultaneously against the scalp, he found that when different muscles of the body were made to contract vigorously for ten minutes or more, different regions of the scalp rose in temperature, that the regions were well focalized, and that the rise of temperature was often considerably over a Fahrenheit degree. As a result of his investigations he gives a diagram in which numbered regions represent the centres of highest temperature for the various special movements which were investigated. To a large extent they correspond to the centres for the same movements assigned by Ferrier and others on other grounds; only they cover more of the skull.[35]

Phosphorus and Thought.

Chemical action must of course accompany brain-activity. But little definite is known of its exact nature. Cholesterin and creatin are both excrementitious products, and are both found in the brain. The subject belongs to chemistry rather than to psychology, and I only mention it here for the sake of saying a word about a wide-spread popular error about brain-activity and phosphorus. 'Ohne Phosphor, kein Gedanke,' was a noted war-cry of the 'materialists' during the excitement on that subject which filled Germany in the '60s. The brain, like every other organ of the body, contains phosphorus, and a score of other chemicals besides. Why the phosphorus should be picked out as its essence, no one knows. It would be equally true to say 'Ohne Wasser kein Gedanke,' or 'Ohne Kochsalz kein Gedanke'; for thought would stop as quickly if the brain should dry up or lose its NaCl as if it lost its phosphorus. In America the phosphorus-delusion has twined itself round a saying quoted (rightly or wrongly) from Professor L. Agassiz, to the effect that fishermen are more intelligent than farmers because they eat so much fish, which contains so much phosphorus. All the facts may be doubted.

The only straight way to ascertain the importance of [p.102] phosphorus to thought would be to find whether more is excreted by the brain during mental activity than during rest. Unfortunately we cannot do this directly, but can only gauge the amount of PO5 in the urine, which represents other organs as well as the brain, and this procedure, as Dr. Edes says, is like measuring the rise of water at the mouth of the Mississippi to tell where there has been a thunder-storm in Minnesota.[36] It has been adopted, however, by a variety of observers, some of whom found the phosphates in the urine diminished, whilst others found them increased, by intellectual work. On the whole, it is impossible to trace any constant relation. In maniacal excitement less phosphorus than usual seems to be excreted. More is excreted during sleep. There are differences between the alkaline and earthy phosphates into which I will not enter, as my only aim is to show that the popular way of looking at the matter has no exact foundation.[37] The fact that phosphorous-preparations may do good in nervous exhaustion proves nothing as to the part played by phosphorus in mental activity. Like iron, arsenic, and other remedies it is a stimulant or tonic, of whose intimate workings in the system we know absolutely nothing, and which moreover does good in an extremely small number of the cases in which it is prescribed.

The phosphorous-philosophers have often compared thought to a secretion. "The brain secretes thought, as the kidneys secrete urine, or as the liver secretes bile," are phrases which one sometimes hears. The lame analogy need hardly be pointed out. The materials which the brain pours into the blood (cholesterin, creatin, xanthin, or whatever they may be) are the analogues of the urine and the bile, being in fact real material excreta. As far as these matters go, the brain is a ductless gland. But we know of nothing connected with liver-and kidney-activity which can [p.103] be in the remotest degree compared with the stream of thought that accompanies the brain's material secretions.

There remains another feature of general brain-physiology, and indeed for psychological purposes the most important feature of all. I refer to the aptitude of the brain for acquiring habits. But I will treat of that in a chapter by itself.



[1] I shall myself in later places indulge in much of this schematization. The reader will understand once for all that it is symbolic; and that the use of it is hardly more than to show what a deep congruity there is between mental processes and mechanical processes of some kind, not necessarily of the exact kind portrayed.

[2] Valentin: Archiv f. d. gesammt. Physiol., 1873, p.458. Stirling: Leipzig Acad. Berichte, 1875, p.372 (Journal of Physiol., 1875). J. Ward: Archiv f. (Anat. u.) Physiol., 1880, p.72. H. Sewall: Johns Hopkins Studies, 1880, p.30. Kronecker u. Nicolaides: Archiv f. (Anat.u.) Physiol., 1880, p.437. Exner: Archiv f. die ges. Physiol., Bd. 28, p.487 (1882). Eckhard: in Hermann's Hdbch. D. Physiol., Bd. I. Thl. II. p.31. François-Franck: Leçons sur les Fonctions motrices du Cerveau, p.51 ff., 339.-For the process of summation in nerves and muscles, cf. Hermann: ibid. Thl. I. p.109, and vol. I. p.40. Also Wundt: Physiol. Psych., I. 243 ff.; Richet: Travaux du Laboratoire de Marey, 1877, p.97; L'Homme et l'Intelligence, pp.24 ff., 468; Revue Philosophique, t.XXI. p. 564. Kronecker u. Hall: Archiv f. (Anat.u.) Physiol., 1879; Schönlein: ibid. 1882, p.357. Sertoli (Hofmann and Schwalbe's Jahresbericht, 1882. p.25. De Watteville: Neurologisches Centralblatt, 1883, No. 7. Grünhagen: Arch. f. d. ges. Physiol., Bd. 34, p.301(1884).

[3] Bubnoff und Heidenhain: Ueber Erregungs-und Hemmungsvorgänge innerhalb der motorischen Hirncentren. Archiv f. d. ges. Physiol., Bd.26, p.156(1881).

[4] Archiv f. d. ges. Physiol., Bd.26, p.176(1881). Exner thinks (ibid. Bd.28, p.497(1882) that the summation here occurs in the spinal cord. It makes no difference where this particular summation occurs, so far as the general philosophy of summation goes.

[5] G.H. Lewes: Physical Basis of Mind, p.479, where many similar examples are given, 487-9.

[6] Romanes: Mental Evolution in Animals, p.163.

[7] See a similar instance in Mach: Beiträge zur Analyse der Empfindungen, p.36, a sparrow being the animal. My young children are afraid of their own pug-dog, if he enters their room after they are in bed and the lights are out. Compare this statement also: "The first question to a peasant seldom proves more than a flapper to rouse the torpid adjustments of his ears. The invariable answer of a Scottish peasant is, 'What's your wull?'-that of the English, a vacant stare. A second and even a third question may be required to elicit an answer." (R.Fowler: Some Observations on the Mental State of the Blind, and Deaf, and Dumb (Salisbury, 1843), p.14.)

[8] The reader will find a great deal about chronographic apparatus in J. Marey: La Méthode Graphique, pt. II. chap. II. One can make pretty fair measurements with no other instrument than a watch, by making a large number of reactions, each serving as a signal for the following one, and dividing the total time they take by their number. Dr. O. W. Holmes first suggested this method., which has been ingeniously elaborated and applied by Professor Jastrow. See Science' for September 10, 1886.

[9] See, for a few modifications, Cattell, Mind, XI. 220 ff.

[10] Physiol. Psych., II. 221-2. Cf. also the first edition, 728-9. I must confess to finding all Wundt's utterances about 'apperception' both vacillating and obscure. I see no use whatever for the word, as he employs it, in Psychology. Attention, perception, conception, volition, are its ample equivalents. Why we should need a single word to denote all these things by turns, Wundt fails to make clear. Consult, however, his pupil Staude's article, 'Uber den Begriff der Apperception,' etc., in Wundt's periodical Psychologische Studien, I. 149, which may be supposed official. For minute criticism of Wundt's 'apperception,' see Marty: Vierteljahrschrift f. wiss. Philos., X. 346.

[11] By Exner, for example, Pflüger's Archiv, VII. 628 ff.

[12] P.222. Cf. also Richet, Rev. Philos., VI. 395-6.

[13] For instance, if, on the previous day, one had resolved to act on a signal when it should come, and it now came whilst we were engaged in other things, and reminded us of the resolve.

[14] "I need hardly mention that success in these experiments depends in a high degree on our concentration of attention. If inattentive, one gets very discrepant figures...This concentration of the attention is in the highest degree exhausting. After some experiments in which I was concerned to get results as uniform as possible, I was covered with perspiration and excessively fatigued although I had as quietly in my chair all the while." (Exner, loc. cit. VII. 618.)

[15] Wundt, Physiol. Psych., II.226.

[16] Pflüger's Archiv, VII.616.

[17] In short, what M. Delboeuf calls an 'organe adventice.' The reaction-time, moreover, is quite compatible with the reaction itself being of a reflex order. Some reflexes (sneezing, e.g.) are very slow. The only time-measurement of a reflex act in the human subject with which I am acquainted is Exner's measurement of winking (in Pflüger's Archiv f. d. gesammt. Physiol., Bd. VIII. P.526, 1874). He found that when the stimulus was a flash of light it took the wink 0.2168 sec. to occur. A strong electric shock to the cornea shortened the time ot 0.0578 sec. The ordinary 'reaction-time' is midway between these values. Exner 'reduces' his times by eliminating the physiological process of conduction. His 'reduced winking-time' is then 0.471 as a minimum (ibid. 531), whilst his reduced reaction-time is 0.0828 (ibid. VII. 637). These figures have really no scientific value beyond that of showing, according to Exner's own belief (VII. 531) that reaction-time and reflex-time measure processes of essentially the same order. His description, moreover, of the process is an excellent description of a reflex act. "Every one," says he, "who makes reaction-time experiments for the first time is surprised to dind how little he is master of his own movements, so soon as it becomes a question of executing them with a maximum of speed. Not only does their energy lie, as it were, outside the field of choice, but even the time in which the movement occurs depends only partly upon ourselves. We jerk our arm, and we can afterwards tell with astonishing precision whether we have jerked it quicker or slower than another time, although we have no power to jerk it exactly at the wished-for moment."-Wundt himself admits that when we await a strong signal with tense preparation there is no consciousness of any duality of 'apperception' and motor response; the two are continuous (Physiol. Psych., II. 226).-Mr. Cattell's view is identical with the one I defend. "I think," he says, "that if the processes of perception and willing are present at all they are very rudimentary....The subject, by a voluntary effort[before the signal comes], puts the lines of communication between the centre for "the stimulus " and the centre for the co-ordination of a state of unstable equilibrium. When, therefore, a nervous impulse reaches the "former centre," it causes brain-changes in two directions; an impulse moves along to the cortex and calls forth there a perception corresponding to the stimulus, while at the same time an impulse follows a line of small resistance to the centre for the co-ordination of motions, and the proper nervous impulse, already prepared and waiting for the signal, is sent from the centre to the muscle of the hand. When the reaction has often been made the entire cerebral process becomes automatic, the impulse of itself takes the well-travelled way to the motor centre and releases the motor impulse." (Mind, XI. 232-3.) - Finally, Prof. Lipps has, in his elaborate way (Grundtatsachen, 179-188), made mince-meat of the view that stage 3 involves either conscious perception or conscious will.

[18] Physiol. Psych. 3d. edition (1887), vol. II p.266.

[19] Philosophische Studien, vol. IV. p.479 (1888).

[20] Loc. cit. p.488.

[21] Loc. cit. p.487.

[22] Loc. cit. p.489.

[23] Lange has an interesting hypothesis as to the brain-process concerned in the latter, for which I can only refer to his essay.

[24] The reader who wishes to know more about the matter will find a most faithful compilation of all that has been done, together with much original matter, in G. Buccola's 'Legge del Tempo.' etc. See also chapter XVI of Wundt's Physiol. Psychology; Exner in Hermann's Hdbch., Bd. 2, Thl. II. pp.252-280; also Ribot's Contemp. Germ. Psych., chap. VIII.

[25] The nature of the movement also seems to make it vary. Mr. B. I. Gilman and I reacted to the same signal by simply raising our hand, and again by carrying our hand towards our back. The moment registered was always that at which the hand broke and electric contact in starting to move. But it started one or two hundredths of a second later when the more extensive movement was the one to be made. Orchansky, on the other hand, experimenting on contractions of the masseter muscle, found (Archiv f. (Anat.u. ) Physiol., 1889, p.187) that the greater the amplitude of contraction intended, the shorter grew the time of reaction. He explains this by the fact that a more ample contraction makes a greater appeal to the attention, and this shortens the times.

[26] Physiol. Psych., II. 223.

[27] François-Franck, Fonctions Motrices, Leçon XXII.

[28] La Paura (1884), p.117.

[29] Ueber den Kreislauf des Blutes im menschlichen Gehirn (1881), chap. II. The Introduction gives the history of our previous knowledge of the subject.

[30] In this conclusion M. Gley (Archives de Physiologie, 1881, p.742) agrees with Professor Mosso. Gley found his pulse rise 1-3 beats, his carotid dilate, and his radial artery contract during hard mental work.

[31] Address before Med. and Chirurg. Society of Maryland, 1879.

[32] See his book. "Experimental Researches on the Regional Temperature of the Head" (London, 1879).

[33] Loc. cit. p.195.

[34] The most convenient account of Schiff's experiments is by Prof. Herzen, in the Revue Philosophique, vol. III. p.36.

[35] A New Study of Cerebral Cortical Localization (N.Y., Putnam, 1880), pp.48-53.

[36] Archives of Medicine, vol. X, No. 1 (1883)

[37] Without multiplying references, I will simply cite Mendel (Archiv f. Psychiatrie, vol, III, 1871), Mairet (Archives de Neurologie, vol. IX, 1885), and Beaunis (Rech. Expérimentales sur l'Activité Cérébrale, 1887). Richet gives a partial bibliography in the Revue Scientifique, vol. 38, p.788 (1886).