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Idiocy: And Its Treatment By The Physiological Method

Creator: Edward Seguin (author)
Date: 1907
Publisher: Teachers' College, Columbia University
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Perception producing simple notion, faculty producing ideas more and more complex and abstract, are the extreme terms of the chain, beginning at the peripheric extremity of the nerves, ending in the hemispheres. Perceptions are acquired by the mind through the senses, not by the senses. This is proved anew every time a new sense is created, or an old one improved by some discovery such as spectacles, telescopes, microscopes, algebra, compasses, electrometers, etc. It is not that artificial sense which perceives, it is the mind through it. In our case, every time we have improved, even sometimes nearly created, the modes of perception of idiots, their mind has begun to perceive phenomena through their new and improved senses; and we have been enabled to conduct those impressions to the centre where they become idealized. In this manner all the senses natural or artificial, physical or moral, are doors to the various passages leading into the focus of impressions wherefrom radiates all expression. To facilitate the study, we distinguished the notions from the ideas as if they were two products of different functions; but for the sake of truth we leave them both what they are, the incipiency and the conclusion of the operation of a single function; the function of reflecting all we can of the world into our microcosm.


Thus education connects a small body with all bodies, a small intellect with the general laws of the universe, through specific instruments of perception.


This being the law of perception of phenomena it does not matter through which sense we perceive; the same operation being entirely from the mind, is always identical with itself; this law is nothing less than the principle of our physiological method of education.


Thence the law of evolution of the function of the senses ending in intellectual faculty, rules from the youngest child to the most encyclopaedic nervous apparatus. A corollary law to this, is the mode of perception and idealization of the impressions according to certain conditions, conformable to the teachings of anatomy and physiology. One thing at a time, is the law of sensorial perception for inferior animals. As many things at a time as necessary to form a complete idea, is the law for the intellectual comprehension of man. In animals some senses are more perfect than in man, hence their sensations are more perfect than ours; nevertheless, theirs being received in singleness and registered without associations, cannot become ideas, because their notions acquired alone, live or die alone, incapable of fecundation; the lower animals are as far down as that.


But we cannot study the progress of sensoria and intellectual evolution without finding already animals inferior to mammalia which register their sensations and feelings in comparison with each other, and with a meaning attached to them. These animals must receive compared and comparable impressions, to be capable of combining them presently or hereafter, to form new judgments and determinations. The ant, the bee, the spider, the blue-fly and many more, give evidence of their power of idealizing notions, and of the rationality of their determinations. But for the immense majority of animals, the rule seems to be one perception at a time, whose isolated notion is incapable of entering into collections of images, parents to ideas. Though every observation points to the probable issue of this difference between man and brutes as being only a gradation, whose lowest strata begin lower than the corals, which know in what direction to build and propagate, and ends where man does not yet dare to aspire. However, few minds are prepared for this affirmation unless it could be supported by the following observation:


In the nervous apparatus of animals, the sensory ganglia are larger than the hemisphere in proportion to the development of their respective functions; sensorial perceptions being in them more extensive than the ideal products of comparison. On the contrary, in our human nervous system, the intellectual ganglia are larger than the sensorial ones in proportion to the predominance of the reflective and willed above the perceptive faculties.


The following remarks constitute the psychological corollary to this observation.


The motor of life in animals is mostly centripetal; the motor of life in man is mostly centrifugal. But how many uneducated, or viciously educated men display none but the ferocious centripetal power of the beast; while a dog shall affront death to defend his master, that master may work the ruin of twenty families to satisfy a single brute appetite; nevertheless, the motor in the beast is called instinct, in man soul. Well, we will say yes; instinct when a wild, uneducated, or uneducable stock; soul when engrafted by education and revelation. As a generality, however, animals have only a centripetal or individual life; men, educated and participating in the incessant revelation, have a social and centrifugal existence, also, being, feeling, thinking, in mankind, as mankind is, feels, and progresses in God. What can be done to a certain extent for brutes, may be done for idiots and their congeners; their life may be rendered more centrifugal, that is to say more social, by education.

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