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The Mind in the Making by James Harvey Robinson

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The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform































* * * * *



This is an essay--not a treatise--on the most important of all matters
of human concern. Although it has cost its author a great deal more
thought and labor than will be apparent, it falls, in his estimation,
far below the demands of its implacably urgent theme. Each page could
readily be expanded into a volume. It suggests but the beginning of
the beginning now being made to raise men's thinking onto a plain
which may perhaps enable them to fend off or reduce some of the
dangers which lurk on every hand.

J. H. R.




If some magical transformation could be produced in men's ways of
looking at themselves and their fellows, no inconsiderable part of the
evils which now afflict society would vanish away or remedy themselves
automatically. If the majority of influential persons held the opinions
and occupied the point of view that a few rather uninfluential people
now do, there would, for instance, be no likelihood of another great
war; the whole problem of "labor and capital" would be transformed and
attenuated; national arrogance, race animosity, political corruption,
and inefficiency would all be reduced below the danger point. As an old
Stoic proverb has it, men are tormented by the opinions they have of
things, rather than by the things themselves. This is eminently true of
many of our worst problems to-day. We have available knowledge and
ingenuity and material resources to make a far fairer world than that
in which we find ourselves, but various obstacles prevent our
intelligently availing ourselves of them. The object of this book is to
substantiate this proposition, to exhibit with entire frankness the
tremendous difficulties that stand in the way of such a beneficent change
of mind, and to point out as clearly as may be some of the measures to be
taken in order to overcome them.

When we contemplate the shocking derangement of human affairs which
now prevails in most civilized countries, including our own, even the
best minds are puzzled and uncertain in their attempts to grasp the
situation. The world seems to demand a moral and economic regeneration
which it is dangerous to postpone, but as yet impossible to imagine,
let alone direct. The preliminary intellectual regeneration which
would put our leaders in a position to determine and control the
course of affairs has not taken place. We have unprecedented conditions
to deal with and novel adjustments to make--there can be no doubt of that.
We also have a great stock of scientific knowledge unknown to our
grandfathers with which to operate. So novel are the conditions, so
copious the knowledge, that we must undertake the arduous task of
reconsidering a great part of the opinions about man and his relations
to his fellow-men which have been handed down to us by previous
generations who lived in far other conditions and possessed far less
information about the world and themselves. We have, however, first to
create an _unprecedented attitude of mind to cope with unprecedented
conditions, and to utilize unprecedented knowledge_ This is the
preliminary, and most difficult, step to be taken--far more difficult
than one would suspect who fails to realize that in order to take it we
must overcome inveterate natural tendencies and artificial habits of long
standing. How are we to put ourselves in a position to come to think of
things that we not only never thought of before, but are most reluctant
to question? In short, how are we to rid ourselves of our fond prejudices
and _open our minds_?

As a historical student who for a good many years has been especially
engaged in inquiring how man happens to have the ideas and convictions
about himself and human relations which now prevail, the writer has
reached the conclusion that history can at least shed a great deal of
light on our present predicaments and confusion. I do not mean by
history that conventional chronicle of remote and irrelevant events
which embittered the youthful years of many of us, but rather a study
of how man has come to be as he is and to believe as he does.

No historian has so far been able to make the whole story very plain
or popular, but a number of considerations are obvious enough, and it
ought not to be impossible some day to popularize them. I venture to
think that if certain seemingly indisputable historical facts were
generally known and accepted and permitted to play a daily part in our
thought, the world would forthwith become a very different place from
what it now is. We could then neither delude ourselves in the
simple-minded way we now do, nor could we take advantage of the
primitive ignorance of others. All our discussions of social,
industrial, and political reform would be raised to a higher plane of
insight and fruitfulness.

In one of those brilliant divagations with which Mr. H. G. Wells is
wont to enrich his novels he says:

When the intellectual history of this time comes to be written,
nothing, I think, will stand out more strikingly than the empty
gulf in quality between the superb and richly fruitful scientific
investigations that are going on, and the general thought of other
educated sections of the community. I do not mean that scientific
men are, as a whole, a class of supermen, dealing with and thinking
about everything in a way altogether better than the common run of
humanity, but in their field they think and work with an intensity,
an integrity, a breadth, boldness, patience, thoroughness, and
faithfulness--excepting only a few artists--which puts their work
out of all comparison with any other human activity.... In these
particular directions the human mind has achieved a new and higher
quality of attitude and gesture, a veracity, a self-detachment,
and self-abnegating vigor of criticism that tend to spread out and
must ultimately spread out to every other human affair.

No one who is even most superficially acquainted with the achievements
of students of nature during the past few centuries can fail to see
that their thought has been astoundingly effective in constantly adding
to our knowledge of the universe, from the hugest nebula to the tiniest
atom; moreover, this knowledge has been so applied as to well-nigh
revolutionize human affairs, and both the knowledge and its applications
appear to be no more than hopeful beginnings, with indefinite revelations
ahead, if only the same kind of thought be continued in the same patient
and scrupulous manner.

But the knowledge of man, of the springs of his conduct, of his
relation to his fellow-men singly or in groups, and the felicitous
regulation of human intercourse in the interest of harmony and
fairness, have made no such advance. Aristotle's treatises on
astronomy and physics, and his notions of "generation and decay" and
of chemical processes, have long gone by the board, but his politics
and ethics are still revered. Does this mean that his penetration in
the sciences of man exceeded so greatly his grasp of natural science,
or does it mean that the progress of mankind in the scientific
knowledge and regulation of human affairs has remained almost
stationary for over two thousand years? I think that we may safely
conclude that the latter is the case.

It has required three centuries of scientific thought and of subtle
inventions for its promotion to enable a modern chemist or physicist
to center his attention on electrons and their relation to the
mysterious nucleus of the atom, or to permit an embryologist to study
the early stirrings of the fertilized egg. As yet relatively little of
the same kind of thought has been brought to bear on human affairs.

When we compare the discussions in the United States Senate in regard
to the League of Nations with the consideration of a broken-down car
in a roadside garage the contrast is shocking. The rural mechanic
thinks scientifically; his only aim is to avail himself of his
knowledge of the nature and workings of the car, with a view to making
it run once more. The Senator, on the other hand, appears too often to
have little idea of the nature and workings of nations, and he relies
on rhetoric and appeals to vague fears and hopes or mere partisan
animosity. The scientists have been busy for a century in revolutionizing
the _practical_ relation of nations. The ocean is no longer a barrier,
as it was in Washington's day, but to all intents and purposes a smooth
avenue closely connecting, rather than safely separating, the eastern
and western continents. The Senator will nevertheless unblushingly appeal
to policies of a century back, suitable, mayhap, in their day, but now
become a warning rather than a guide. The garage man, on the contrary,
takes his mechanism as he finds it, and does not allow any mystic respect
for the earlier forms of the gas engine to interfere with the needed

Those who have dealt with natural phenomena, as distinguished from
purely human concerns, did not, however, quickly or easily gain
popular approbation and respect. The process of emancipating natural
science from current prejudices, both of the learned and of the
unlearned, has been long and painful, and is not wholly completed yet.
If we go back to the opening of the seventeenth century we find three
men whose business it was, above all, to present and defend common
sense in the natural sciences. The most eloquent and variedly
persuasive of these was Lord Bacon. Then there was the young Descartes
trying to shake himself loose from his training in a Jesuit seminary
by going into the Thirty Years' War, and starting his intellectual
life all over by giving up for the moment all he had been taught.
Galileo had committed an offense of a grave character by discussing in
the mother tongue the problems of physics. In his old age he was
imprisoned and sentenced to repeat the seven penitential psalms for
differing from Aristotle and Moses and the teachings of the theologians.
On hearing Galileo's fate. Descartes burned a book he had written, _On
The World_, lest he, too, get into trouble.

From that time down to the days of Huxley and John Fiske the struggle
has continued, and still continues--the Three Hundred Years' War for
intellectual freedom in dealing with natural phenomena. It has been a
conflict against ignorance, tradition, and vested interests in church
and university, with all that preposterous invective and cruel
misrepresentation which characterize the fight against new and
critical ideas. Those who cried out against scientific discoveries did
so in the name of God, of man's dignity, and of holy religion and
morality. Finally, however, it has come about that our instruction in
the natural sciences is tolerably free; although there are still large
bodies of organized religious believers who are hotly opposed to some
of the more fundamental findings of biology. Hundreds of thousands of
readers can be found for Pastor Russell's exegesis of Ezekiel and the
Apocalypse to hundreds who read Conklin's _Heredity and Environment_
or Slosson's _Creative Chemistry_. No publisher would accept a
historical textbook based on an explicit statement of the knowledge we
now have of man's animal ancestry. In general, however, our scientific
men carry on their work and report their results with little or no
effective hostility on the part of the clergy or the schools. The
social body has become tolerant of their virus.

This is not the case, however, with the social sciences. One cannot
but feel a little queasy when he uses the expression "social science",
because it seems as if we had not as yet got anywhere near a real
science of man. I mean by social science our feeble efforts to study
man, his natural equipment and impulses, and his relations to his
fellows in the light of his origin and the history of the race.

This enterprise has hitherto been opposed by a large number of
obstacles essentially more hampering and far more numerous than those
which for three hundred years hindered the advance of the natural
sciences. Human affairs are in themselves far more intricate and
perplexing than molecules and chromosomes. But this is only the more
reason for bringing to bear on human affairs that critical type of
thought and calculation for which the remunerative thought about
molecules and chromosomes has prepared the way.

I do not for a moment suggest that we can use precisely the same kind
of thinking in dealing with the quandaries of mankind that we use in
problems of chemical reaction and mechanical adjustment. Exact
scientific results, such as might be formulated in mechanics, are, of
course, out of the question. It would be unscientific to expect to
apply them. I am not advocating any particular method of treating
human affairs, but rather such a _general frame of mind, such a
critical open-minded attitude_, as has hitherto been but sparsely
developed among those who aspire to be men's guides, whether
religious, political, economic, or academic. Most human progress has
been, as Wells expresses it, a mere "muddling through". It has been
man's wont to explain and sanctify his ways, with little regard to
their fundamental and permanent expediency. An arresting example of
what this muddling may mean we have seen during these recent years in
the slaying or maiming of fifteen million of our young men, resulting
in incalculable loss, continued disorder, and bewilderment. Yet men
seem blindly driven to defend and perpetuate the conditions which
produced the last disaster.

Unless we wish to see a recurrence of this or some similar calamity,
we must, as I have already suggested, create a new and unprecedented
attitude of mind to meet the new and unprecedented conditions which
confront us. _We should proceed to the thorough reconstruction of our
mind, with a view to understanding actual human conduct and
organization_. We must examine the facts freshly, critically, and
dispassionately, and then allow our philosophy to formulate itself as
a result of this examination, instead of permitting our observations
to be distorted by archaic philosophy, political economy, and ethics.
As it is, we are taught our philosophy first, and in its light we try
to justify the facts. We must reverse this process, as did those who
began the great work in experimental science; we must first face the
facts, and patiently await the emergence of a new philosophy.

A willingness to examine the very foundations of society does not mean
a desire to encourage or engage in any hasty readjustment, but certainly
no wise or needed readjustment _can_ be made unless such an examination
is undertaken.

I come back, then, to my original point that in this examination of
existing facts history, by revealing the origin of many of our current
fundamental beliefs, will tend to free our minds so as to permit
honest thinking. Also, that the historical facts which I propose to
recall would, if permitted to play a constant part in our thinking,
automatically eliminate a very considerable portion of the gross
stupidity and blindness which characterize our present thought and
conduct in public affairs, and would contribute greatly to developing
the needed scientific attitude toward human concerns--in other words,
to _bringing the mind up to date_.


Plans for social betterment and the cure of public ills have in the
past taken three general forms: (I) changes in the rules of the game,
(II) spiritual exhortation, and (III) education. Had all these not
largely failed, the world would not be in the plight in which it now
confessedly is.

I. Many reformers concede that they are suspicious of what they call
"ideas". They are confident that our troubles result from defective
organization, which should be remedied by more expedient legislation
and wise ordinances. Abuses should be abolished or checked by
forbidding them, or by some ingenious reordering of procedure.
Responsibility should be concentrated or dispersed. The term of office
of government officials should be lengthened or shortened; the number
of members in governing bodies should be increased or decreased; there
should be direct primaries, referendum, recall, government by
commission; powers should be shifted here and there with a hope of
meeting obvious mischances all too familiar in the past. In industry
and education administrative reform is constantly going on, with the
hope of reducing friction and increasing efficiency. The House of
Commons not long ago came to new terms with the peers. The League of
Nations has already had to adjust the functions and influence of the
Council and the Assembly, respectively.

No one will question that organization is absolutely essential in
human affairs, but reorganization, while it sometimes produces
assignable benefit, often fails to meet existing evils, and not
uncommonly engenders new and unexpected ones. Our confidence in
restriction and regimentation is exaggerated. What we usually need is
a _change of attitude_, and without this our new regulations often
leave the old situation unaltered. So long as we allow our government
to be run by politicians and business lobbies it makes little
difference how many aldermen or assemblymen we have or how long the
mayor or governor holds office. In a university the fundamental drift
of affairs cannot be greatly modified by creating a new dean, or a
university council, or by enhancing or decreasing the nominal
authority of the president or faculty. We now turn to the second
sanctified method of reform, moral uplift.

II. Those who are impatient with mere administrative reform, or who
lack faith in it, declare that what we need is brotherly love.
Thousands of pulpits admonish us to remember that we are all children
of one Heavenly Father and that we should bear one another's burdens
with fraternal patience. Capital is too selfish; Labor is bent on its
own narrow interests regardless of the risks Capital takes. We are all
dependent on one another, and a recognition of this should beget
mutual forbearance and glad co-operation. Let us forget ourselves in
others. "Little children, love one another."

The fatherhood of God has been preached by Christians for over
eighteen centuries, and the brotherhood of man by the Stoics long
before them. The doctrine has proved compatible with slavery and
serfdom, with wars blessed, and not infrequently instigated, by
religious leaders, and with industrial oppression which it requires a
brave clergyman or teacher to denounce to-day. True, we sometimes have
moments of sympathy when our fellow-creatures become objects of tender
solicitude. Some rare souls may honestly flatter themselves that they
love mankind in general, but it would surely be a very rare soul
indeed who dared profess that he loved his personal enemies--much less
the enemies of his country or institutions. We still worship a tribal
god, and the "foe" is not to be reckoned among his children. Suspicion
and hate are much more congenial to our natures than love, for very
obvious reasons in this world of rivalry and common failure. There is,
beyond doubt, a natural kindliness in mankind which will show itself
under favorable auspices. But experience would seem to teach that it
is little promoted by moral exhortation. This is the only point that
need be urged here. Whether there is another way of forwarding the
brotherhood of man will be considered in the sequel.

III. One disappointed in the effects of mere reorganization, and
distrusting the power of moral exhortation, will urge that what we
need above all is _education_. It is quite true that what we need is
education, but something so different from what now passes as such
that it needs a new name.

Education has more various aims than we usually recognize, and should
of course be judged in relation to the importance of its several
intentions, and of its success in gaining them. The arts of reading
and writing and figuring all would concede are basal in a world of
newspapers and business. Then there is technical information and the
training that prepares one to earn a livelihood in some more or less
standardized guild or profession. Both these aims are reached fairly
well by our present educational system, subject to various economies
and improvements in detail. Then there are the studies which it is
assumed contribute to general culture and to "training the mind", with
the hope of cultivating our tastes, stimulating the imagination, and
mayhap improving our reasoning powers.

This branch of education is regarded by the few as very precious and
indispensable; by the many as at best an amenity which has little
relation to the real purposes and success of life. It is highly
traditional and retrospective in the main, concerned with ancient
tongues, old and revered books, higher mathematics, somewhat archaic
philosophy and history, and the fruitless form of logic which has
until recently been prized as man's best guide in the fastnesses of
error. To these has been added in recent decades a choice of the
various branches of natural science.

The results, however, of our present scheme of liberal education are
disappointing. One who, like myself, firmly agrees with its objects
and is personally so addicted to old books, so pleased with such
knowledge as he has of the ancient and modern languages, so envious of
those who can think mathematically, and so interested in natural
science--such a person must resent the fact that those who have had a
liberal education rarely care for old books, rarely read for pleasure
any foreign language, think mathematically, love philosophy or
history, or care for the beasts, birds, plants, and rocks with any
intelligent insight, or even real curiosity. This arouses the
suspicion that our so-called "liberal education" miscarries and does
not attain its ostensible aims.

The three educational aims enumerated above have one thing in common.
They are all directed toward an enhancement of the chances of
_personal_ worldly success, or to the increase of our _personal_
culture and intellectual and literary enjoyment. Their purpose is not
primarily to fit us to play a part in social or political betterment.
But of late a fourth element has been added to the older ambitions,
namely the hope of preparing boys and girls to become intelligent
voters. This need has been forced upon us by the coming of political
democracy, which makes one person's vote exactly as good as another's.

Now education for citizenship would seem to consist in gaining a
knowledge of the actual workings of our social organization, with some
illuminating notions of its origin, together with a full realization
of its defects and their apparent sources. But here we encounter an
obstacle that is unimportant in the older types of education, but
which may prove altogether fatal to any good results in our efforts to
make better citizens. Subjects of instruction like reading and
writing, mathematics, Latin and Greek, chemistry and physics, medicine
and the law are fairly well standardized and retrospective. Doubtless
there is a good deal of internal change in method and content going
on, but this takes place unobtrusively and does not attract the
attention of outside critics. Political and social questions, on the
other hand, and matters relating to prevailing business methods, race
animosities, public elections, and governmental policy are, if they
are vital, necessarily "controversial". School boards and
superintendents, trustees and presidents of colleges and universities,
are sensitive to this fact. They eagerly deprecate in their public
manifestos any suspicion that pupils and students are being awakened
in any way to the truth that our institutions can possibly be
fundamentally defective, or that the present generation of citizens
has not conducted our affairs with exemplary success, guided by the
immutable principles of justice.

How indeed can a teacher be expected to explain to the sons and
daughters of businessmen, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and
clergymen--all pledged to the maintenance of the sources of their
livelihood--the actual nature of business enterprise as now practiced,
the prevailing methods of legislative bodies and courts, and the
conduct of foreign affairs? Think of a teacher in the public schools
recounting the more illuminating facts about the municipal government
under which he lives, with due attention to graft and jobs! So,
courses in government, political economy, sociology, and ethics
confine themselves to inoffensive generalizations, harmless details of
organization, and the commonplaces of routine morality, for only in
that way can they escape being controversial. Teachers are rarely able
or inclined to explain our social life and its presuppositions with
sufficient insight and honesty to produce any very important results.
Even if they are tempted to tell the essential facts they dare not do
so, for fear of losing their places, amid the applause of all the
righteously minded.

However we may feel on this important matter, we must all agree that
the aim of education for citizenship as now conceived is a preparation
for the same old citizenship which has so far failed to eliminate the
shocking hazards and crying injustices of our social and political
life. For we sedulously inculcate in the coming generation exactly the
same illusions and the same ill-placed confidence in existing
institutions and prevailing notions that have brought the world to the
pass in which we find it. Since we do all we can to corroborate the
beneficence of what we have, we can hardly hope to raise up a more
intelligent generation bent on achieving what we have not. We all know
this to be true; it has been forcibly impressed on our minds of late.
Most of us agree that it is right and best that it should be so; some
of us do not like to think about it at all, but a few will be glad to
spend a little time weighing certain suggestions in this volume which
may indicate a way out of this _impasse_.[1]

We have now considered briefly the three main hopes that have been
hitherto entertained of bettering things (I) by changing the rules of
the game, (II) by urging men to be good, and to love their neighbor as
themselves, and (III) by education for citizenship. It may be that
these hopes are not wholly unfounded, but it must be admitted that so
far they have been grievously disappointed. Doubtless they will
continue to be cherished on account of their assured respectability.

Mere lack of success does not discredit a method, for there are many
things that determine and perpetuate our sanctified ways of doing
things besides their success in reaching their proposed ends. Had this
not always been so, our life to-day would be far less stupidly
conducted than it is. But let us agree to assume for the moment that
the approved schemes of reform enumerated above have, to say the
least, shown themselves inadequate to meet the crisis in which
civilized society now finds itself. Have we any other hope?

Yes, there is Intelligence. That is as yet an untested hope in its
application to the regulation of human relations. It is not
discredited because it has not been tried on any large scale outside
the realm of natural science. There, everyone will confess, it has
produced marvelous results. Employed in regard to stars, rocks,
plants, and animals, and in the investigation of mechanical and
chemical processes, it has completely revolutionized men's notions of
the world in which they live, and of its inhabitants, _with the
notable exception of man himself_. These discoveries have been used to
change our habits and to supply us with everyday necessities which a
hundred years ago were not dreamed of as luxuries accessible even to
kings and millionaires.

But most of us know too little of the past to realize the penalty that
had to be paid for this application of intelligence. In order that
these discoveries should be made and ingeniously applied to the
conveniences of life, _it was necessary to discard practically all the
consecrated notions of the world and its workings which had been held
by the best and wisest and purest of mankind down to three hundred
years ago_--indeed, until much more recently. Intelligence, in a
creature of routine like man and in a universe so ill understood as
ours, must often break valiantly with the past in order to get ahead.
It would be pleasant to assume that all we had to do was to build on
well-designed foundations, firmly laid by the wisdom of the ages. But
those who have studied the history of natural science would agree that
Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes found no such foundation, but had to
begin their construction from the ground up.

The several hopes of reform mentioned above all assume that the now
generally accepted notions of righteous human conduct are not to be
questioned. Our churches and universities defend this assumption. Our
editors and lawyers and the more vocal of our business men adhere to
it. Even those who pretend to study society and its origin seem often
to believe that our present ideals and standards of property, the
state, industrial organization, the relations of the sexes, and
education are practically final and must necessarily be the basis of
any possible betterment in detail. But if this be so Intelligence has
already done its perfect work, and we can only lament that the outcome
in the way of peace, decency, and fairness, judged even by existing
standards, has been so disappointing.

There are, of course, a few here and there who suspect and even
repudiate current ideals and standards. But at present their
resentment against existing evils takes the form of more or less
dogmatic plans of reconstruction, like those of the socialists and
communists, or exhausts itself in the vague protest and faultfinding
of the average "Intellectual". Neither the socialist nor the common
run of Intellectual appears to me to be on the right track. The former
is more precise in his doctrines and confident in his prophecies than
a scientific examination of mankind and its ways would at all justify;
the other, more indefinite than he need be.

If Intelligence is to have the freedom of action necessary to
accumulate new and valuable knowledge about man's nature and
possibilities which may ultimately be applied to reforming our ways,
it must loose itself from the bonds that now confine it. The primeval
curse still holds: "Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely
eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not
eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely
die." Few people confess that they are afraid of knowledge, but the
university presidents, ministers, and editors who most often and
publicly laud what they are wont to call "the fearless pursuit of
truth", feel compelled, in the interest of public morals and order, to
discourage any reckless indulgence in the fruit of the forbidden tree,
for the inexperienced may select an unripe apple and suffer from the
colic in consequence. "Just look at Russia!" Better always, instead of
taking the risk on what the church calls "science falsely so called",
fall back on ignorance rightly so called. No one denies that
Intelligence is the light of the world and the chief glory of man,
but, as Bertrand Russell says, we dread its indifference to
respectable opinions and what we deem the well-tried wisdom of the
ages. "It is," as he truly says, "fear that holds men back; fear that
their cherished beliefs should prove harmful, fear lest they
themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed
themselves to be. 'Should the workingman think freely about property?
What then will become of us, the rich? Should young men and women
think freely about sex? What then will become of morality? Should
soldiers think freely about war? What then will become of military

This fear is natural and inevitable, but it is none the less dangerous
and discreditable. Human arrangements are no longer so foolproof as
they may once have been when the world moved far more slowly than it
now does. It should therefore be a good deed to remove or lighten any
of the various restraints on thought. I believe that there is an easy
and relatively painless way in which our respect for the past can be
lessened so that we shall no longer feel compelled to take the wisdom
of the ages as the basis of our reforms. My own confidence in what
President Butler calls "the findings of mankind" is gone, and the
process by which it was lost will become obvious as we proceed. I have
no reforms to recommend, except the liberation of Intelligence, which
is the first and most essential one. I propose to review by way of
introduction some of the new ideas which have been emerging during the
past few years in regard to our minds and their operations. Then we
shall proceed to the main theme of the book, a sketch of the manner in
which our human intelligence appears to have come about. If anyone
will follow the story with a fair degree of sympathy and patience he
may, by merely putting together well-substantiated facts, many of
which he doubtless knows in other connections, hope better to
understand the perilous quandary in which mankind is now placed and
the ways of escape that offer themselves.


[1] George Bernard Shaw reaches a similar conclusion when he
contemplates education in the British Isles. "We must teach
citizenship and political science at school. But must we? There is no
must about it, the hard fact being that we must not teach political
science or citizenship at school. The schoolmaster who attempted it
would soon find himself penniless in the streets without pupils, if
not in the dock pleading to a pompously worded indictment for sedition
against the exploiters. Our schools teach the morality of feudalism
corrupted by commercialism, and hold up the military conqueror, the
robber baron, and the profiteer, as models of the illustrious and
successful."--_Back to Methuselah_, xii.

* * * * *


Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed;
for everyone thinks himself so abundantly provided with it that those
even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else do not
usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already

We see man to-day, instead of the frank and courageous recognition of
his status, the docile attention to his biological history, the
determination to let nothing stand in the way of the security and
permanence of his future, which alone can establish the safety and
happiness of the race, substituting blind confidence in his destiny,
unclouded faith in the essentially respectful attitude of the universe
toward his moral code, and a belief no less firm that his traditions
and laws and institutions necessarily contain permanent qualities of


The truest and most profound observations on Intelligence have in the
past been made by the poets and, in recent times, by story-writers.
They have been keen observers and recorders and reckoned freely with
the emotions and sentiments. Most philosophers, on the other hand,
have exhibited a grotesque ignorance of man's life and have built up
systems that are elaborate and imposing, but quite unrelated to actual
human affairs. They have almost consistently neglected the actual
process of thought and have set the mind off as something apart to be
studied by itself. _But no such mind, exempt from bodily processes,
animal impulses, savage traditions, infantile impressions, conventional
reactions, and traditional knowledge, ever existed_, even in the case
of the most abstract of metaphysicians. Kant entitled his great work
_A Critique of Pure Reason_. But to the modern student of mind pure
reason seems as mythical as the pure gold, transparent as glass, with
which the celestial city is paved.

Formerly philosophers thought of mind as having to do exclusively with
conscious thought. It was that within man which perceived, remembered,
judged, reasoned, understood, believed, willed. But of late it has
been shown that we are unaware of a great part of what we perceive,
remember, will, and infer; and that a great part of the thinking of
which we are aware is determined by that of which we are not conscious.
It has indeed been demonstrated that our unconscious psychic life far
outruns our conscious. This seems perfectly natural to anyone who
considers the following facts:

The sharp distinction between the mind and the body is, as we shall
find, a very ancient and spontaneous uncritical savage prepossession.
What we think of as "mind" is so intimately associated with what we
call "body" that we are coming to realize that the one cannot be
understood without the other. Every thought reverberates through the
body, and, on the other hand, alterations in our physical condition
affect our whole attitude of mind. The insufficient elimination of the
foul and decaying products of digestion may plunge us into deep
melancholy, whereas a few whiffs of nitrous monoxide may exalt us to
the seventh heaven of supernal knowledge and godlike complacency. And
vice versa, a sudden word or thought may cause our heart to jump,
check our breathing, or make our knees as water. There is a whole new
literature growing up which studies the effects of our bodily
secretions and our muscular tensions and their relation to our
emotions and our thinking.

Then there are hidden impulses and desires and secret longings of
which we can only with the greatest difficulty take account. They
influence our conscious thought in the most bewildering fashion. Many
of these unconscious influences appear to originate in our very early
years. The older philosophers seem to have forgotten that even they
were infants and children at their most impressionable age and never
could by any possibility get over it.

The term "unconscious", now so familiar to all readers of modern works
on psychology, gives offense to some adherents of the past. There
should, however, be no special mystery about it. It is not a new
animistic abstraction, but simply a collective word to include all the
physiological changes which escape our notice, all the forgotten
experiences and impressions of the past which continue to influence
our desires and reflections and conduct, even if we cannot remember
them. What we can remember at any time is indeed an infinitesimal part
of what has happened to us. We could not remember anything unless we
forgot almost everything. As Bergson says, the brain is the organ of
forgetfulness as well as of memory. Moreover, we tend, of course, to
become oblivious to things to which we are thoroughly accustomed, for
habit blinds us to their existence. So the forgotten and the habitual
make up a great part of the so-called "unconscious".

If we are ever to understand man, his conduct and reasoning, and if we
aspire to learn to guide his life and his relations with his fellows
more happily than heretofore, we cannot neglect the great discoveries
briefly noted above. We must reconcile ourselves to novel and
revolutionary conceptions of the mind, for it is clear that the older
philosophers, whose works still determine our current views, had a
very superficial notion of the subject with which they dealt. But for
our purposes, with due regard to what has just been said and to much
that has necessarily been left unsaid (and with the indulgence of
those who will at first be inclined to dissent), _we shall consider
mind chiefly as conscious knowledge and intelligence, as what we know
and our attitude toward it--our disposition to increase our
information, classify it, criticize it and apply it_.

We do not think enough about thinking, and much of our confusion is
the result of current illusions in regard to it. Let us forget for the
moment any impressions we may have derived from the philosophers, and
see what seems to happen in ourselves. The first thing that we notice
is that our thought moves with such incredible rapidity that it is
almost impossible to arrest any specimen of it long enough to have a
look at it. When we are offered a penny for our thoughts we always
find that we have recently had so many things in mind that we can
easily make a selection which will not compromise us too nakedly. On
inspection we shall find that even if we are not downright ashamed of
a great part of our spontaneous thinking it is far too intimate,
personal, ignoble or trivial to permit us to reveal more than a small
part of it. I believe this must be true of everyone. We do not, of
course, know what goes on in other people's heads. They tell us very
little and we tell them very little. The spigot of speech, rarely
fully opened, could never emit more than driblets of the ever renewed
hogshead of thought--_noch grosser wie's Heidelberger Fass_. We
find it hard to believe that other people's thoughts are as silly as
our own, but they probably are.

We all appear to ourselves to be thinking all the time during our
waking hours, and most of us are aware that we go on thinking while we
are asleep, even more foolishly than when awake. When uninterrupted by
some practical issue we are engaged in what is now known as a _reverie_.
This is our spontaneous and favorite kind of thinking. We allow our
ideas to take their own course and this course is determined by our
hopes and fears, our spontaneous desires, their fulfillment or
frustration; by our likes and dislikes, our loves and hates and
resentments. There is nothing else anything like so interesting to
ourselves as ourselves. All thought that is not more or less
laboriously controlled and directed will inevitably circle about the
beloved Ego. It is amusing and pathetic to observe this tendency in
ourselves and in others. We learn politely and generously to overlook
this truth, but if we dare to think of it, it blazes forth like the
noontide sun.

The reverie or "free association of ideas" has of late become the
subject of scientific research. While investigators are not yet agreed
on the results, or at least on the proper interpretation to be given
to them, there can be no doubt that our reveries form the chief index
to our fundamental character. They are a reflection of our nature as
modified by often hidden and forgotten experiences. We need not go
into the matter further here, for it is only necessary to observe that
the reverie is at all times a potent and in many cases an omnipotent
rival to every other kind of thinking. It doubtless influences all our
speculations in its persistent tendency to self-magnification and
self-justification, which are its chief preoccupations, but it is the
last thing to make directly or indirectly for honest increase of
knowledge.[2] Philosophers usually talk as if such thinking did not
exist or were in some way negligible. This is what makes their
speculations so unreal and often worthless. The reverie, as any of us
can see for himself, is frequently broken and interrupted by the
necessity of a second kind of thinking. We have to make practical
decisions. Shall we write a letter or no? Shall we take the subway or
a bus? Shall we have dinner at seven or half past? Shall we buy U. S.
Rubber or a Liberty Bond? Decisions are easily distinguishable from
the free flow of the reverie. Sometimes they demand a good deal of
careful pondering and the recollection of pertinent facts; often,
however, they are made impulsively. They are a more difficult and
laborious thing than the reverie, and we resent having to "make up our
mind" when we are tired, or absorbed in a congenial reverie. Weighing
a decision, it should be noted, does not necessarily add anything to
our knowledge, although we may, of course, seek further information
before making it.


A third kind of thinking is stimulated when anyone questions our
belief and opinions. We sometimes find ourselves changing our minds
without any resistance or heavy emotion, but if we are told that we
are wrong we resent the imputation and harden our hearts. We are
incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find
ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes
to rob us of their companionship. It is obviously not the ideas
themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem, which is
threatened. We are by nature stubbornly pledged to defend our own from
attack, whether it be our person, our family, our property, or our
opinion. A United States Senator once remarked to a friend of mine
that God Almighty could not make him change his mind on our
Latin-America policy. We may surrender, but rarely confess ourselves
vanquished. In the intellectual world at least peace is without

Few of us take the pains to study the origin of our cherished
convictions; indeed, we have a natural repugnance to so doing. We like
to continue to believe what we have been accustomed to accept as true,
and the resentment aroused when doubt is cast upon any of our
assumptions leads us to seek every manner of excuse for clinging to
them. _The result is that most of our so-called reasoning consists in
finding arguments for going on believing as we already do_.

I remember years ago attending a public dinner to which the Governor
of the state was bidden. The chairman explained that His Excellency
could not be present for certain "good" reasons; what the "real"
reasons were the presiding officer said he would leave us to
conjecture. This distinction between "good" and "real" reasons is one
of the most clarifying and essential in the whole realm of thought. We
can readily give what seem to us "good" reasons for being a Catholic
or a Mason, a Republican or a Democrat, an adherent or opponent of the
League of Nations. But the "real" reasons are usually on quite a
different plane. Of course the importance of this distinction is
popularly, if somewhat obscurely, recognized. The Baptist missionary
is ready enough to see that the Buddhist is not such because his
doctrines would bear careful inspection, but because he happened to be
born in a Buddhist family in Tokio. But it would be treason to his
faith to acknowledge that his own partiality for certain doctrines is
due to the fact that his mother was a member of the First Baptist
church of Oak Ridge. A savage can give all sorts of reasons for his
belief that it is dangerous to step on a man's shadow, and a newspaper
editor can advance plenty of arguments against the Bolsheviki. But
neither of them may realize why he happens to be defending his
particular opinion.

The "real" reasons for our beliefs are concealed from ourselves as
well as from others. As we grow up we simply adopt the ideas presented
to us in regard to such matters as religion, family relations,
property, business, our country, and the state. We unconsciously
absorb them from our environment. They are persistently whispered in
our ear by the group in which we happen to live. Moreover, as Mr.
Trotter has pointed out, these judgments, being the product of
suggestion and not of reasoning, have the quality of perfect
obviousness, so that to question them

... is to the believer to carry skepticism to an insane degree, and
will be met by contempt, disapproval, or condemnation, according to
the nature of the belief in question. When, therefore, we find
ourselves entertaining an opinion about the basis of which there is
a quality of feeling which tells us that to inquire into it would be
absurd, obviously unnecessary, unprofitable, undesirable, bad form,
or wicked, we may know that that opinion is a nonrational one, and
probably, therefore, founded upon inadequate evidence.[3]

Opinions, on the other hand, which are the result of experience or of
honest reasoning do not have this quality of "primary certitude". I
remember when as a youth I heard a group of business men discussing
the question of the immortality of the soul, I was outraged by the
sentiment of doubt expressed by one of the party. As I look back now I
see that I had at the time no interest in the matter, and certainly no
least argument to urge in favor of the belief in which I had been
reared. But neither my personal indifference to the issue, nor the
fact that I had previously given it no attention, served to prevent an
angry resentment when I heard _my_ ideas questioned.

This spontaneous and loyal support of our preconceptions--this process
of finding "good" reasons to justify our routine beliefs--is known to
modern psychologists as "rationalizing"--clearly only a new name for a
very ancient thing. Our "good" reasons ordinarily have no value in
promoting honest enlightenment, because, no matter how solemnly they
may be marshaled, they are at bottom the result of personal preference
or prejudice, and not of an honest desire to seek or accept new

In our reveries we are frequently engaged in self-justification, for
we cannot bear to think ourselves wrong, and yet have constant
illustrations of our weaknesses and mistakes. So we spend much time
finding fault with circumstances and the conduct of others, and
shifting on to them with great ingenuity the on us of our own failures
and disappointments. _Rationalizing is the self-exculpation which
occurs when we feel ourselves, or our group, accused of
misapprehension or error._

The little word _my_ is the most important one in all human affairs,
and properly to reckon with it is the beginning of wisdom. It has the
same force whether it is _my_ dinner, _my_ dog, and _my_ house,
or _my_ faith, _my_ country, and _my God_. We not only resent the
imputation that our watch is wrong, or our car shabby, but that our
conception of the canals of Mars, of the pronunciation of "Epictetus",
of the medicinal value of salicine, or the date of Sargon I, are
subject to revision.

Philosophers, scholars, and men of science exhibit a common
sensitiveness in all decisions in which their _amour propre_ is
involved. Thousands of argumentative works have been written to vent a
grudge. However stately their reasoning, it may be nothing but
rationalizing, stimulated by the most commonplace of all motives.
A history of philosophy and theology could be written in terms of
grouches, wounded pride, and aversions, and it would be far more
instructive than the usual treatments of these themes. Sometimes,
under Providence, the lowly impulse of resentment leads to great
achievements. Milton wrote his treatise on divorce as a result of his
troubles with his seventeen-year-old wife, and when he was accused of
being the leading spirit in a new sect, the Divorcers, he wrote his
noble _Areopagitica_ to prove his right to say what he thought fit,
and incidentally to establish the advantage of a free press in the
promotion of Truth.

All mankind, high and low, thinks in all the ways which have been
described. The reverie goes on all the time not only in the mind of
the mill hand and the Broadway flapper, but equally in weighty judges
and godly bishops. It has gone on in all the philosophers, scientists,
poets, and theologians that have ever lived. Aristotle's most abstruse
speculations were doubtless tempered by highly irrelevant reflections.
He is reported to have had very thin legs and small eyes, for which he
doubtless had to find excuses, and he was wont to indulge in very
conspicuous dress and rings and was accustomed to arrange his hair
carefully.[4] Diogenes the Cynic exhibited the impudence of a touchy
soul. His tub was his distinction. Tennyson in beginning his "Maud"
could not forget his chagrin over losing his patrimony years before as
the result of an unhappy investment in the Patent Decorative Carving
Company. These facts are not recalled here as a gratuitous
disparagement of the truly great, but to insure a full realization of
the tremendous competition which all really exacting thought has to
face, even in the minds of the most highly endowed mortals.

And now the astonishing and perturbing suspicion emerges that perhaps
almost all that had passed for social science, political economy,
politics, and ethics in the past may be brushed aside by future
generations as mainly rationalizing. John Dewey has already reached
this conclusion in regard to philosophy.[5] Veblen[6] and other
writers have revealed the various unperceived presuppositions of the
traditional political economy, and now comes an Italian sociologist,
Vilfredo Pareto, who, in his huge treatise on general sociology,
devotes hundreds of pages to substantiating a similar thesis affecting
all the social sciences.[7] This conclusion may be ranked by students
of a hundred years hence as one of the several great discoveries of
our age. It is by no means fully worked out, and it is so opposed to
nature that it will be very slowly accepted by the great mass of those
who consider themselves thoughtful. As a historical student I am
personally fully reconciled to this newer view. Indeed, it seems to me
inevitable that just as the various sciences of nature were, before
the opening of the seventeenth century, largely masses of
rationalizations to suit the religious sentiments of the period, so
the social sciences have continued even to our own day to be
rationalizations of uncritically accepted beliefs and customs.

_It will become apparent as we proceed that the fact that an idea is
ancient and that it has been widely received is no argument in its
favor, but should immediately suggest the necessity of carefully
testing it as a probable instance of rationalization_.


This brings us to another kind of thought which can fairly easily be
distinguished from the three kinds described above. It has not the
usual qualities of the reverie, for it does not hover about our
personal complacencies and humiliations. It is not made up of the
homely decisions forced upon us by everyday needs, when we review our
little stock of existing information, consult our conventional
preferences and obligations, and make a choice of action. It is not
the defense of our own cherished beliefs and prejudices just because
they are our own--mere plausible excuses for remaining of the same
mind. On the contrary, it is that peculiar species of thought which
leads us to _change_ our mind.

It is this kind of thought that has raised man from his pristine,
subsavage ignorance and squalor to the degree of knowledge and comfort
which he now possesses. On his capacity to continue and greatly extend
this kind of thinking depends his chance of groping his way out of the
plight in which the most highly civilized peoples of the world now
find themselves. In the past this type of thinking has been called
Reason. But so many misapprehensions have grown up around the word
that some of us have become very suspicious of it. I suggest,
therefore, that we substitute a recent name and speak of "creative
thought" rather than of Reason. _For this kind of meditation begets
knowledge, and knowledge is really creative inasmuch as it makes
things look different from what they seemed before and may indeed work
for their reconstruction_.

In certain moods some of us realize that we are observing things or
making reflections with a seeming disregard of our personal
preoccupations. We are not preening or defending ourselves; we are not
faced by the necessity of any practical decision, nor are we
apologizing for believing this or that. We are just wondering and
looking and mayhap seeing what we never perceived before.

Curiosity is as clear and definite as any of our urges. We wonder what
is in a sealed telegram or in a letter in which some one else is
absorbed, or what is being said in the telephone booth or in low
conversation. This inquisitiveness is vastly stimulated by jealousy,
suspicion, or any hint that we ourselves are directly or indirectly
involved. But there appears to be a fair amount of personal interest
in other people's affairs even when they do not concern us except as a
mystery to be unraveled or a tale to be told. The reports of a divorce
suit will have "news value" for many weeks. They constitute a story,
like a novel or play or moving picture. This is not an example of pure
curiosity, however, since we readily identify ourselves with others,
and their joys and despair then become our own.

We also take note of, or "observe", as Sherlock Holmes says, things
which have nothing to do with our personal interests and make no
personal appeal either direct or by way of sympathy. This is what
Veblen so well calls "idle curiosity". And it is usually idle enough.
Some of us when we face the line of people opposite us in a subway
train impulsively consider them in detail and engage in rapid
inferences and form theories in regard to them. On entering a room
there are those who will perceive at a glance the degree of
preciousness of the rugs, the character of the pictures, and the
personality revealed by the books. But there are many, it would seem,
who are so absorbed in their personal reverie or in some definite
purpose that they have no bright-eyed energy for idle curiosity. The
tendency to miscellaneous observation we come by honestly enough, for
we note it in many of our animal relatives.

Veblen, however, uses the term "idle curiosity" somewhat ironically,
as is his wont. It is idle only to those who fail to realize that it
may be a very rare and indispensable thing from which almost all
distinguished human achievement proceeds. Since it may lead to
systematic examination and seeking for things hitherto undiscovered.
For research is but diligent search which enjoys the high flavor of
primitive hunting. Occasionally and fitfully idle curiosity thus leads
to creative thought, which alters and broadens our own views and
aspirations and may in turn, under highly favorable circumstances,
affect the views and lives of others, even for generations to follow.
An example or two will make this unique human process clear.

Galileo was a thoughtful youth and doubtless carried on a rich and
varied reverie. He had artistic ability and might have turned out to
be a musician or painter. When he had dwelt among the monks at
Valambrosa he had been tempted to lead the life of a religious. As a
boy he busied himself with toy machines and he inherited a fondness
for mathematics. All these facts are of record. We may safely assume
also that, along with many other subjects of contemplation, the Pisan
maidens found a vivid place in his thoughts.

One day when seventeen years old he wandered into the cathedral of his
native town. In the midst of his reverie he looked up at the lamps
hanging by long chains from the high ceiling of the church. Then
something very difficult to explain occurred. He found himself no
longer thinking of the building, worshipers, or the services; of his
artistic or religious interests; of his reluctance to become a
physician as his father wished. He forgot the question of a career and
even the _graziosissime donne_. As he watched the swinging lamps he
was suddenly wondering if mayhap their oscillations, whether long or
short, did not occupy the same time. Then he tested this hypothesis by
counting his pulse, for that was the only timepiece he had with him.

This observation, however remarkable in itself, was not enough to
produce a really creative thought. Others may have noticed the same
thing and yet nothing came of it. Most of our observations have no
assignable results. Galileo may have seen that the warts on a
peasant's face formed a perfect isosceles triangle, or he may have
noticed with boyish glee that just as the officiating priest was
uttering the solemn words, _ecce agnus Dei_, a fly lit on the end of
his nose. To be really creative, ideas have to be worked up and then
"put over", so that they become a part of man's social heritage. The
highly accurate pendulum clock was one of the later results of
Galileo's discovery. He himself was led to reconsider and successfully
to refute the old notions of falling bodies. It remained for Newton to
prove that the moon was falling, and presumably all the heavenly
bodies. This quite upset all the consecrated views of the heavens as
managed by angelic engineers. The universality of the laws of
gravitation stimulated the attempt to seek other and equally important
natural laws and cast grave doubts on the miracles in which mankind
had hitherto believed. In short, those who dared to include in their
thought the discoveries of Galileo and his successors found themselves
in a new earth surrounded by new heavens.

On the 28th of October, 1831, three hundred and fifty years after
Galileo had noticed the isochronous vibrations of the lamps, creative
thought and its currency had so far increased that Faraday was
wondering what would happen if he mounted a disk of copper between the
poles of a horseshoe magnet. As the disk revolved an electric current
was produced. This would doubtless have seemed the idlest kind of an
experiment to the stanch business men of the time, who, it happened,
were just then denouncing the child-labor bills in their anxiety to
avail themselves to the full of the results of earlier idle curiosity.
But should the dynamos and motors which have come into being as the
outcome of Faraday's experiment be stopped this evening, the business
man of to-day, agitated over labor troubles, might, as he trudged home
past lines of "dead" cars, through dark streets to an unlighted house,
engage in a little creative thought of his own and perceive that he
and his laborers would have no modern factories and mines to quarrel
about had it not been for the strange practical effects of the idle
curiosity of scientists, inventors, and engineers.

The examples of creative intelligence given above belong to the realm
of modern scientific achievement, which furnishes the most striking
instances of the effects of scrupulous, objective thinking. But there
are, of course, other great realms in which the recording and
embodiment of acute observation and insight have wrought themselves
into the higher life of man. The great poets and dramatists and our
modern story-tellers have found themselves engaged in productive
reveries, noting and artistically presenting their discoveries for the
delight and instruction of those who have the ability to appreciate

The process by which a fresh and original poem or drama comes into
being is doubtless analogous to that which originates and elaborates
so-called scientific discoveries; but there is clearly a temperamental
difference. The genesis and advance of painting, sculpture, and music
offer still other problems. We really as yet know shockingly little
about these matters, and indeed very few people have the least
curiosity about them.[8] Nevertheless, creative intelligence in its
various forms and activities is what makes man. Were it not for its
slow, painful, and constantly discouraged operations through the ages
man would be no more than a species of primate living on seeds, fruit,
roots, and uncooked flesh, and wandering naked through the woods and
over the plains like a chimpanzee.

The origin and progress and future promotion of civilization are ill
understood and misconceived. These should be made the chief theme of
education, but much hard work is necessary before we can reconstruct
our ideas of man and his capacities and free ourselves from
innumerable persistent misapprehensions. There have been
obstructionists in all times, not merely the lethargic masses, but
the moralists, the rationalizing theologians, and most of the
philosophers, all busily if unconsciously engaged in ratifying
existing ignorance and mistakes and discouraging creative thought.
Naturally, those who reassure us seem worthy of honor and respect.
Equally naturally those who puzzle us with disturbing criticisms and
invite us to change our ways are objects of suspicion and readily
discredited. Our personal discontent does not ordinarily extend to any
critical questioning of the general situation in which we find
ourselves. In every age the prevailing conditions of civilization have
appeared quite natural and inevitable to those who grew up in them.
The cow asks no questions as to how it happens to have a dry stall and
a supply of hay. The kitten laps its warm milk from a china saucer,
without knowing anything about porcelain; the dog nestles in the
corner of a divan with no sense of obligation to the inventors of
upholstery and the manufacturers of down pillows. So we humans accept
our breakfasts, our trains and telephones and orchestras and movies,
our national Constitution, or moral code and standards of manners,
with the simplicity and innocence of a pet rabbit. We have absolutely
inexhaustible capacities for appropriating what others do for us with
no thought of a "thank you". We do not feel called upon to make any
least contribution to the merry game ourselves. Indeed, we are usually
quite unaware that a game is being played at all.

We have now examined the various classes of thinking which we can
readily observe in ourselves and which we have plenty of reasons to
believe go on, and always have been going on, in our fellow-men. We
can sometimes get quite pure and sparkling examples of all four kinds,
but commonly they are so confused and intermingled in our reverie as
not to be readily distinguishable. The reverie is a reflection of our
longings, exultations, and complacencies, our fears, suspicions, and
disappointments. We are chiefly engaged in struggling to maintain our
self-respect and in asserting that supremacy which we all crave and
which seems to us our natural prerogative. It is not strange, but
rather quite inevitable, that our beliefs about what is true and
false, good and bad, right and wrong, should be mixed up with the
reverie and be influenced by the same considerations which determine
its character and course. We resent criticisms of our views exactly as
we do of anything else connected with ourselves. Our notions of life
and its ideals seem to us to be _our own_ and as such necessarily true
and right, to be defended at all costs.

_We very rarely consider, however, the process by which we gained our
convictions_. If we did so, we could hardly fail to see that there was
usually little ground for our confidence in them. Here and there, in
this department of knowledge or that, some one of us might make a fair
claim to have taken some trouble to get correct ideas of, let us say,
the situation in Russia, the sources of our food supply, the origin of
the Constitution, the revision of the tariff, the policy of the Holy
Roman Apostolic Church, modern business organization, trade unions,
birth control, socialism, the League of Nations, the excess-profits
tax, preparedness, advertising in its social bearings; but only a very
exceptional person would be entitled to opinions on all of even these
few matters. And yet most of us have opinions on all these, and on
many other questions of equal importance, of which we may know even
less. We feel compelled, as self-respecting persons, to take sides
when they come up for discussion. We even surprise ourselves by our
omniscience. Without taking thought we see in a flash that it is most
righteous and expedient to discourage birth control by legislative
enactment, or that one who decries intervention in Mexico is clearly
wrong, or that big advertising is essential to big business and that
big business is the pride of the land. As godlike beings why should we
not rejoice in our omniscience?

It is clear, in any case, that our convictions on important matters
are not the result of knowledge or critical thought, nor, it may be
added, are they often dictated by supposed self-interest. Most of them
are _pure prejudices_ in the proper sense of that word. We do not form
them ourselves. They are the whisperings of "the voice of the herd".
We have in the last analysis no responsibility for them and need
assume none. They are not really our own ideas, but those of others no
more well informed or inspired than ourselves, who have got them in
the same careless and humiliating manner as we. It should be our pride
to revise our ideas and not to adhere to what passes for respectable
opinion, for such opinion can frequently be shown to be not respectable
at all. We should, in view of the considerations that have been
mentioned, resent our supine credulity. As an English writer has

"If we feared the entertaining of an unverifiable opinion with the
warmth with which we fear using the wrong implement at the dinner
table, if the thought of holding a prejudice disgusted us as does a
foul disease, then the dangers of man's suggestibility would be turned
into advantages."[9]

The purpose of this essay is to set forth briefly the way in which the
notions of the herd have been accumulated. This seems to me the best,
easiest, and least invidious educational device for cultivating a
proper distrust for the older notions on which we still continue to

The "real" reasons, which explain how it is we happen to hold a
particular belief, are chiefly historical. Our most important
opinions--those, for example, having to do with traditional,
religious, and moral convictions, property rights, patriotism,
national honor, the state, and indeed all the assumed foundations of
society--are, as I have already suggested, rarely the result of
reasoned consideration, but of unthinking absorption from the social
environment in which we live. Consequently, they have about them a
quality of "elemental certitude", and we especially resent doubt or
criticism cast upon them. So long, however, as we revere the
whisperings of the herd, we are obviously unable to examine them
dispassionately and to consider to what extent they are suited to the
novel conditions and social exigencies in which we find ourselves

The "real" reasons for our beliefs, by making clear their origins and
history, can do much to dissipate this emotional blockade and rid us
of our prejudices and preconceptions. Once this is done and we come
critically to examine our traditional beliefs, we may well find some
of them sustained by experience and honest reasoning, while others
must be revised to meet new conditions and our more extended
knowledge. But only after we have undertaken such a critical
examination in the light of experience and modern knowledge, freed
from any feeling of "primary certitude", can we claim that the "good"
are also the "real" reasons for our opinions.

I do not flatter myself that this general show-up of man's thought
through the ages will cure myself or others of carelessness in
adopting ideas, or of unseemly heat in defending them just because we
have adopted them. But if the considerations which I propose to recall
are really incorporated into our thinking and are permitted to
establish our general outlook on human affairs, they will do much to
relieve the imaginary obligation we feel in regard to traditional
sentiments and ideals. Few of us are capable of engaging in creative
thought, but some of us can at least come to distinguish it from other
and inferior kinds of thought and accord to it the esteem that it
merits as the greatest treasure of the past and the only hope of the


[2] The poet-clergyman, John Donne, who lived in the time of James I,
has given a beautifully honest picture of the doings of a saint's
mind: "I throw myself down in my chamber and call in and invite God
and His angels thither, and when they are there I neglect God and His
angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the
whining of a door. I talk on in the same posture of praying, eyes
lifted up, knees bowed down, as though I prayed to God, and if God or
His angels should ask me when I thought last of God in that prayer I
cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I had forgot what I was about, but
when I began to forget it I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday's
pleasures, a fear of to-morrow's dangers, a straw under my knee, a
noise in mine ear, a light in mine eye, an anything, a nothing, a
fancy, a chimera in my brain troubles me in my prayer."--Quoted by
ROBERT LYND, _The Art of Letters_, pp. 46-47.

[3] Instincts of the Herd, p. 44.

[4] Diogenes Laertius, book v.

[5] _Reconstruction in Philosophy_.

[6] _The Place of Science in Modern Civilization._

[7] _Traite de Sociologie Generale, passim._ The author's term
"_derivations_" seems to be his precise way of expressing what we have
called the "good" reasons, and his "_residus_" correspond to the
"real" reasons. He well says, _"L'homme eprouve le besoin de
raisonner, et en outre d'etendre un voile sur ses instincts et sur ses
sentiments"_--hence, rationalization. (P. 788.) His aim is to reduce
sociology to the "real" reasons. (P. 791.)

[8] Recently a re-examination of creative thought has begun as a
result of new knowledge which discredits many of the notions formerly
held about "reason". See, for example, _Creative Intelligence_, by a
group of American philosophic thinkers; John Dewey, _Essays in
Experimental Logic_ (both pretty hard books); and Veblen, _The Place
of Science in Modern Civilization_. Easier than these and very
stimulating are Dewey, _Reconstruction in Philosophy_, and Woodworth,
_Dynamic Psychology_.

[9] Trotter, _op. cit._, p. 45. The first part of this little volume
is excellent.

* * * * *


Nous etions deja si vieux quand nous sommes nes.--ANATOLE FRANCE.

Simia quam similis, turpissima bestia, nobis?--ENNIUS.

Tous les homines se ressemblent si fort qu'il n'y a point de peuple
dont les sottises ne nous doivent faire trembler.--FONTENELLE.

The savage is very close to us indeed, both in his physical and
mental make-up and in the forms of his social life. Tribal society
is virtually delayed civilization, and the savages are a sort of
contemporaneous ancestry.--WILLIAM I. THOMAS.


There are four historical layers underlying the minds of civilized
men--the animal mind, the child mind, the savage mind, and the
traditional civilized mind. We are all animals and never can cease to
be; we were all children at our most impressionable age and can never
get over the effects of that; our human ancestors have lived in
savagery during practically the whole existence of the race, say five
hundred thousand or a million years, and the primitive human mind is
ever with us; finally, we are all born into an elaborate civilization,
the constant pressure of which we can by no means escape.

Each of these underlying minds has its special sciences and
appropriate literatures. The new discipline of animal or comparative
psychology deals with the first; genetic and analytical psychology
with the second;[10] anthropology, ethnology, and comparative religion
with the third; and the history of philosophy, science, theology, and
literature with the fourth.

We may grow beyond these underlying minds and in the light of new
knowledge we may criticize their findings and even persuade ourselves
that we have successfully transcended them. But if we are fair with
ourselves we shall find that their hold on us is really inexorable. We
can only transcend them artificially and precariously and in certain
highly favorable conditions. Depression, anger, fear, or ordinary
irritation will speedily prove the insecurity of any structure that we
manage to rear on our fourfold foundation. Such fundamental and vital
preoccupations as religion, love, war, and the chase stir impulses
that lie far back in human history and which effectually repudiate the
cavilings of ratiocination.

In all our reveries and speculations, even the most exacting,
sophisticated, and disillusioned, we have three unsympathetic
companions sticking closer than a brother and looking on with jealous
impatience--our wild apish progenitor, a playful or peevish baby, and
a savage. We may at any moment find ourselves overtaken with a warm
sense of camaraderie for any or all of these ancient pals of ours, and
experience infinite relief in once more disporting ourselves with them
as of yore. Some of us have in addition a Greek philosopher or man of
letters in us; some a neoplatonic mystic, some a mediaeval monk, all
of whom have learned to make terms with their older playfellows.

Before retracing the way in which the mind as we now find it in
so-called intelligent people has been accumulated, we may take time to
try to see what civilization is and why man alone can become
civilized. For the mind has expanded _pari passu_ with civilization,
and without civilization there would, I venture to conjecture, have
been no human mind in the commonly accepted sense of that term.

It is now generally conceded by all who have studied the varied
evidence and have freed themselves from ancient prejudice that, if we
traced back our human lineage far enough we should come to a point
where our human ancestors had no civilization and lived a speechless,
naked, houseless, fireless, and toolless life, similar to that of the
existing primates with which we are zoologically closely connected.

This is one of the most fully substantiated of historical facts and
one which we can never neglect in our attempts to explain man as he
now is. We are all descended from the lower animals. We are
furthermore still animals with not only an animal body, but with an
animal mind. And this animal body and animal mind are the original
foundations on which even the most subtle and refined intellectual
life must perforce rest.

We are ready to classify certain of our most essential desires as
brutish--hunger and thirst, the urgence of sleep, and especially
sexual longing. We know of blind animal rage, of striking, biting,
scratching, howling, and snarling, of irrational fears and ignominious
flight. We share our senses with the higher animals, have eyes and
ears, noses and tongues much like theirs; heart, lungs, and other
viscera, and four limbs. They have brains which stand them in good
stead, although their heads are not so good as ours. But when one
speaks of the animal mind he should think of still other resemblances
between the brute and man.

All animals learn--even the most humble among them may gain something
from experience. All the higher animals exhibit curiosity under
certain circumstances, and it is this impulse which underlies all
human science.

Moreover, some of the higher animals, especially the apes and monkeys,
are much given to fumbling and groping. They are restless, easily
bored, and spontaneously experimental. They therefore make discoveries
quite unconsciously, and form new and sometimes profitable habits of
action. If, by mere fumbling, a monkey, cat, or dog happens on a way
to secure food, this remunerative line of conduct will "occur" to the
creature when he feels hungry. This is what Thorndike has named
learning by "trial and error". It might better be called "fumbling and
success", for it is the success that establishes the association. The
innate curiosity which man shares with his uncivilized zoological
relatives is the native impulse that leads to scientific and
philosophical speculation, and the original fumbling of a restless ape
has become the ordered experimental investigation of modern times. A
creature which lacked curiosity and had no tendency to fumble could
never have developed civilization and human intelligence.[l0]

But why did man alone of all the animals become civilized? The reason
is not far to seek, although it has often escaped writers[11] on the
subject. All animals gain a certain wisdom with age and experience,
but the experience of one ape does not profit another. Learning among
animals below man is _individual_, not _co-operative_ and _cumulative_.
One dog does not seem to learn from another, nor one ape from another,
in spite of the widespread misapprehension in this regard. Many
experiments have been patiently tried in recent years and it seems to
be pretty well established that the monkey learns by _monkeying_, but
that he rarely or never appears to _ape_. He does not learn by imitation,
because he does not imitate. There may be minor exceptions, but the fact
that apes never, in spite of a bodily equipment nearly human, become in
the least degree civilized, would seem to show that the accumulation of
knowledge or dexterity through imitation is impossible for them.

Man has the various sense organs of the apes and their extraordinary
power of manipulation. To these essentials he adds a brain
sufficiently more elaborate than that of the chimpanzee to enable him
to do something that the ape cannot do--namely, "see" things clearly
enough to form associations through imitation.[12]

We can imagine the manner in which man unwittingly took one of his
momentous and unprecedented first steps in civilization. Some restless
primeval savage might find himself scraping the bark off a stick with
the edge of a stone or shell and finally cutting into the wood and
bringing the thing to a point. He might then spy an animal and, quite
without reasoning, impulsively make a thrust with the stick and
discover that it pierced the creature. If he could hold these various
elements in the situation, sharpening the stick and using it, he would
have made an invention--a rude spear. A particularly acute bystander
might comprehend and imitate the process. If others did so and the
habit was established in the tribe so that it became traditional and
was transmitted to following generations, the process of civilization
would have begun--also the process of human learning, which is
noticing distinctions and analyzing situations. This simple process of
sharpening a stick would involve the "concepts", as the philosophers
say, of a tool and bark and a point and an artificial weapon. But ages
and ages were to elapse before the botanist would distinguish the
various layers which constitute the bark, or successive experimenters
come upon the idea of a bayonet to take the place of the spear.

Of late, considerable attention has been given to the question of
man's original, uneducated, animal nature; what resources has he as a
mere creature independent of any training that results from being
brought up in some sort of civilized community? The question is
difficult to formulate satisfactorily and still more difficult to
answer. But without attempting to list man's supposed natural
"instincts" we must assume that civilization is built up on his
original propensities and impulses, whatever they may be. These
probably remain nearly the same from generation to generation. The
idea formerly held that the civilization of our ancestors affects our
original nature is almost completely surrendered. _We are all born
wholly uncivilized._

If a group of infants from the "best" families of to-day could be
reared by apes they would find themselves with no civilization. How
long it would take them and their children to gain what now passes for
even a low savage culture it is impossible to say. The whole arduous
task would have to be performed anew and it might not take place at
all, unless conditions were favorable, for man is not naturally a
"progressive" animal. He shares the tendency of all other animal
tribes just to pull through and reproduce his kind.

Most of us do not stop to think of the conditions of an animal
existence. When we read the descriptions of our nature as given by
William James, McDougall, or even Thorndike, with all his reservations,
we get a rather impressive idea of our possibilities, not a picture of
uncivilized life. When we go camping we think that we are deserting
civilization, forgetting the sophisticated guides, and the pack horses
laden with the most artificial luxuries, many of which would not have
been available even a hundred years ago. We lead the simple life with
Swedish matches, Brazilian coffee, Canadian bacon, California canned
peaches, magazine rifles, jointed fishing rods, and electric
flashlights. We are elaborately clothed and can discuss Bergson's
views or D. H. Lawrence's last story. We naively imagine we are
returning to "primitive" conditions because we are living out of doors
or sheltered in a less solid abode than usual, and have to go to
the brook for water.

But man's original estate was, as Hobbes reflected, "poor, nasty,
brutish, and short". To live like an animal is to rely upon one's own
quite naked equipment and efforts, and not to mind getting wet or cold
or scratching one's bare legs in the underbrush. One would have to eat
his roots and seeds quite raw, and gnaw a bird as a cat does. To get
the feel of uncivilized life, let us recall how savages with the
comparatively advanced degree of culture reached by our native Indian
tribes may fall to when really hungry. In the journal of the Lewis and
Clark expedition there is an account of the killing of a deer by the
white men. Hearing of this, the Shoshones raced wildly to the spot
where the warm and bloody entrails had been thrown out

... and ran tumbling over one another like famished dogs. Each tore
away whatever part he could, and instantly began to eat it; some
had the liver, some the kidneys, and, in short, no part on which we
are accustomed to look with disgust escaped them. One of them who
had seized about nine feet of the entrails was chewing at one end,
while with his hand he was diligently clearing his way by
discharging the contents at the other.

Another striking example of simple animal procedure is given in the
same journal:

One of the women, who had been leading two of our pack horses,
halted at a rivulet about a mile behind and sent on the two horses
by a female friend. On inquiring of Cameahwait the cause of her
detention, he answered, with great apparent unconcern, that she
had just stopped to lie in, but would soon overtake us. In fact,
we were astonished to see her in about an hour's time come on with
her new-born infant, and pass us on her way to the camp, seemingly
in perfect health.

This is the simple life and it was the life of our ancestors before
civilization began. It had been the best kind of life possible in all
the preceding aeons of the world's history. Without civilization it
would be the existence to which all human beings now on the earth
would forthwith revert. It is man's starting point.[13]

But what about the mind? What was going on in the heads of our
untutored forbears? We are apt to fall into the error of supposing
that because they had human brains they must have had somewhat the
same kinds of ideas and made the same kind of judgments that we do.
Even distinguished philosophers like Descartes and Rousseau made this
mistake. This assumption will not stand inspection. To reach back in
imagination to the really primitive mind we should of course have to
deduct at the start all the knowledge and all the discriminations and
classifications that have grown up as a result of our education and
our immersion from infancy in a highly artificial environment. Then we
must recollect that our primitive ancestor had no words with which to
name and tell about things. He was speechless. His fellows knew no
more than he did. Each one learned during his lifetime according to
his capacity, but no instruction in our sense of the word was
possible. What he saw and heard was not what we should have called
seeing and hearing. He responded to situations in a blind and
impulsive manner, with no clear idea of them. In short, he must have
_thought_ much as a wolf or bear does, just as he _lived_ much like

We must be on our guard against accepting the prevalent notions of
even the animal intellect. An owl may look quite as wise as a judge. A
monkey, canary, or collie has bright eyes and seems far more alert
than most of the people we see on the street car. A squirrel in the
park appears to be looking at us much as we look at him. But he cannot
be seeing the same things that we do. We can be scarcely more to him
than a vague suggestion of peanuts. And even the peanut has little of
the meaning for him that it has for us. A dog perceives a motor-car
and may be induced to ride in it, but his idea of it would not differ
from that of an ancient carryall, except, mayhap, in an appreciative
distinction between the odor of gasoline and that of the stable. Only
in times of sickness, drunkenness, or great excitement can we get some
hint in ourselves of the impulsive responses in animals free from
human sophistication and analysis.

Locke thought that we first got simple ideas and then combined them
into more complex conceptions and finally into generalizations or
abstract ideas. But this is not the way that man's knowledge arose. He
started with mere impressions of general situations, and gradually by
his ability to handle things he came upon distinctions, which in time
he made clearer by attaching names to them.

We keep repeating this process when we learn about anything. The
typewriter is at first a mere mass impression, and only gradually and
imperfectly do most of us distinguish certain of its parts; only the
men who made it are likely to realize its full complexity by noting
and assigning names to all the levers, wheels, gears, bearings,
controls, and adjustments. John Stuart Mill thought that the chief
function of the mind was making inferences. But making distinctions is
equally fundamental--seeing that there are really many things where
only one was at first apparent. This process of analysis has been
man's supreme accomplishment. This is what has made his mind grow.

The human mind has then been built up through hundreds of thousands of
years by gradual accretions and laborious accumulations. Man started
at a cultural zero and had to find out everything for himself; or
rather a very small number of peculiarly restless and adventurous
spirits did the work. The great mass of humanity has never had
anything to do with the increase of intelligence except to act as its
medium of transfusion and perpetuation. Creative intelligence is
confined to the very few, but the many can thoughtlessly avail
themselves of the more obvious achievements of those who are
exceptionally highly endowed.

Even an ape will fit himself into a civilized environment. A
chimpanzee can be taught to relish bicycles, roller skates, and
cigarettes which he could never have devised, cannot understand, and
could not reproduce. Even so with mankind. Most of us could not have
devised, do not understand, and consequently could not reproduce any
of the everyday conveniences and luxuries which surround us. Few of us
could make an electric light, or write a good novel to read by it, or
paint a picture for it to shine upon.

Professor Giddings has recently asked the question, Why has there been
any history?[14] Why, indeed, considering that the "good" and
"respectable" is usually synonymous with the ancient routine, and the
old have always been there to repress the young? Such heavy words of
approval as "venerable", "sanctified", and "revered" all suggest great
age rather than fresh discoveries. As it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be, is our protest against being disturbed, forced to
think or to change our habits. So history, _namely change_, has been
mainly due to a small number of "seers",--really gropers and
monkeyers--whose native curiosity outran that of their fellows and led
them to escape here and there from the sanctified blindness of their

The seer is simply an example of a _variation_ biologically, such as
occurs in all species of living things, both animal and vegetable. But
the unusually large roses in our gardens, the swifter horses of the
herd, and the cleverer wolf in the pack have no means of influencing
their fellows as a result of their peculiar superiority. Their
offspring has some chance of sharing to some degree this pre-eminence,
but otherwise things will go on as before. Whereas the singular
variation represented by a St. Francis, a Dante, a Voltaire, or a
Darwin may permanently, and for ages to follow change somewhat the
character and ambitions of innumerable inferior members of the species
who could by no possibility have originated anything for themselves,
but who can, nevertheless, suffer some modification as a result of the
teachings of others. This illustrates the magical and unique workings
of culture and creative intelligence in mankind.[15]

We have no means of knowing when or where the first contribution to
civilization was made, and with it a start on the arduous building of
the mind. There is some reason to think that the men who first
transcended the animal mind were of inferior mental capacity to our
own, but even if man, emerging from his animal estate, had had on the
average quite as good a brain as those with which we are now familiar,
I suspect that the extraordinarily slow and hazardous process of
accumulating modern civilization would not have been greatly
shortened. Mankind is lethargic, easily pledged to routine, timid,
suspicious of innovation. That is his nature. He is only artificially,
partially, and very recently "progressive". He has spent almost his
whole existence as a savage hunter, and in that state of ignorance he
illustrated on a magnificent scale all the inherent weaknesses of the
human mind.


Should we arrange our present beliefs and opinions on the basis of
their age, we should find that some of them were very, very old, going
back to primitive man; others were derived from the Greeks; many more
of them would prove to come directly from the Middle Ages; while
certain others in our stock were unknown until natural science began
to develop in a new form about three hundred years ago. The idea that
man has a soul or double which survives the death of the body is very
ancient indeed and is accepted by most savages. Such confidence as we
have in the liberal arts, metaphysics, and formal logic goes back to
the Greek thinkers; our religious ideas and our standards of sexual
conduct are predominantly mediaeval in their presuppositions; our
notions of electricity and disease germs are, of course, recent in
origin, the result of painful and prolonged research which involved
the rejection of a vast number of older notions sanctioned by
immemorial acceptance.

_In general, those ideas which are still almost universally accepted
in regard to man's nature, his proper conduct, and his relations to
God and his fellows are far more ancient and far less critical than
those which have to do with the movement of the stars, the
stratification of the rocks and the life of plants and animals_.

Nothing is more essential in our attempt to escape from the bondage of
consecrated ideas than to get a vivid notion of human achievement in
its proper historical perspective. In order to do this let us imagine
the whole gradual and laborious attainments of mankind compressed into
the compass of a single lifetime. Let us assume that a single
generation of men have in fifty years managed to accumulate all that
now passes for civilization. They would have to start, as all
individuals do, absolutely uncivilized, and their task would be to
recapitulate what has occupied the race for, let us guess, at least
five hundred thousand years. Each year in the life of a generation
would therefore correspond to ten thousand years in the progress of
the race.

On this scale it would require forty-nine years to reach a point of
intelligence which would enable our self-taught generation to give up
their ancient and inveterate habits of wandering hunters and settle
down here and there to till the ground, harvest their crops,
domesticate animals, and weave their rough garments. Six months later,
or half through the fiftieth year, some of them, in a particularly
favorable situation, would have invented writing and thus established
a new and wonderful means of spreading and perpetuating civilization.
Three months later another group would have carried literature, art,
and philosophy to a high degree of refinement and set standards for
the succeeding weeks. For two months our generation would have been
living under the blessings of Christianity; the printing press would
be but a fortnight old and they would not have had the steam engine
for quite a week. For two or three days they would have been hastening
about the globe in steamships and railroad trains, and only yesterday
would they have come upon the magical possibilities of electricity.
Within the last few hours they would have learned to sail in the air
and beneath the waters, and have forthwith applied their newest
discoveries to the prosecution of a magnificent war on the scale
befitting their high ideals and new resources. This is not so strange,
for only a week ago they were burning and burying alive those who
differed from the ruling party in regard to salvation, eviscerating in
public those who had new ideas of government, and hanging old women
who were accused of traffic with the devil. All of them had been no
better than vagrant savages a year before. Their fuller knowledge was
altogether too recent to have gone very deep, and they had many
institutions and many leaders dedicated to the perpetuation of outworn
notions which would otherwise have disappeared. Until recently changes
had taken place so slowly and so insensibly that only a very few
persons could be expected to realize that not a few of the beliefs
that were accepted as eternal verities were due to the inevitable
misunderstandings of a savage.

In speaking of the "savage" or "primitive mind", we are, of course,
using a very clumsy expression. We shall employ the term, nevertheless,
to indicate the characteristics of the human mind when there was as yet
no writing, no organized industry or mechanical arts, no money, no
important specialization of function except between the sexes, no
settled life in large communities. The period so described covers all
but about five or six thousand of the half million to a million years
that man has existed on the earth.

There are no chronicles to tell us the story of those long centuries.
Some inferences can be made from the increasing artfulness and variety
of the flint weapons and tools which we find. But the stone weapons
which have come down to us, even in their crudest forms (eoliths), are
very far from representing the earliest achievements of man in the
accumulation of culture. Those dim, remote cycles must have been full
of great, but inconspicuous, originators who laid the foundations of
civilization in discoveries and achievements so long taken for granted
that we do not realize that they ever had to be made at all.

Since man is descended from less highly endowed animals, there must
have been a time when the man-animal was in a state of animal
ignorance. He started with no more than an ape is able to know. He had
to learn everything for himself, as he had no one to teach him the
tricks that apes and children can be taught by sophisticated human
beings. He was necessarily self-taught, and began, as we have seen, in
a state of ignorance beyond anything we can readily conceive. He lived
naked and speechless in the woods, or wandered over the plains without
artificial shelter or any way of cooking his food. He subsisted on raw
fruit, berries, roots, insects, and such animals as he could strike
down or pick up dead. His mind must have corresponded with his brutish
state. He must at the first have learned just as his animal relatives
learn--by fumbling and by forming accidental associations. He had
impulses and such sagacity as he individually derived from experience,
but no heritage of knowledge accumulated by the group and transmitted
by education. This heritage had to be constructed on man's

Of mankind in this extremely primitive condition we have no traces.
There could indeed be no traces. All savages of the present day or of
whom we have any record represent a relatively highly developed
traditional culture, with elaborate languages, myths, and
well-established artificial customs, which it probably took hundreds
of thousands of years to accumulate. Man in "a state of nature" is
only a presupposition, but a presupposition which is forced upon us by
compelling evidence, conjectural and inferential though it is.

On a geological time scale we are still close to savagery, and it is
inevitable that the ideas and customs and sentiments of savagery
should have become so ingrained that they may have actually affected
man's nature by natural selection through the survival of those who
most completely adjusted themselves to the uncritical culture which
prevailed. But in any case it is certain, as many anthropologists have
pointed out, that customs, savage ideas, and primitive sentiments have
continued to form an important part of our own culture down even to
the present day. We are met thus with the necessity of reckoning with
this inveterate element in our present thought and customs. Much of
the data that we have regarding primitive man has been accumulated in
recent times, for the most part as a result of the study of simple
peoples. These differ greatly in their habits and myths, but some
salient common traits emerge which cast light on the spontaneous
workings of the human mind when unaffected by the sophistications of a
highly elaborate civilization.

At the start man had to distinguish himself from the group to which he
belonged and say, "I am I." This is not an idea given by nature.[16]
There are evidences that the earlier religious notions were not based
on individuality, but rather on the "virtue" which objects had--that
is, their potency to do things. Only later did the animistic belief in
the personalities of men, animals, and the forces of nature appear.
When man discovered his own individuality he spontaneously ascribed
the same type of individuality and purpose to animals and plants, to
the wind and the thunder.

This exhibits one of the most noxious tendencies of the mind--namely,
personification. It is one of the most virulent enemies of clear
thinking. We speak of the Spirit of the Reformation or the Spirit of
Revolt or the Spirit of Disorder and Anarchy. The papers tell us that,
"Berlin says", "London says", "Uncle Sam so decides", "John Bull is
disgruntled". Now, whether or no there are such things as spirits,
Berlin and London have no souls, and Uncle Sam is as mythical as the
great god Pan. Sometimes this regression to the savage is harmless,
but when a newspaper states that "Germany is as militaristic as ever",
on the ground that some insolent Prussian lieutenant says that German
armies will occupy Paris within five years, we have an example of
animism which in a society farther removed from savagery than ours
might be deemed a high crime and misdemeanor. Chemists and physicians
have given up talking of spirits, but in discussing social and
economic questions we are still victimized by the primitive animistic
tendencies of the mind.

The dream has had a great influence in the building up of the mind.
Our ideas, especially our religious beliefs, would have had quite
another history had men been dreamless. For it was not merely his
shadow and his reflection in the water that led man to imagine souls
and doubles, but pre-eminently the visions of the night. As his body
lay quiet in sleep he found himself wandering in distant places.

Sometimes he was visited by the dead. So it was clear that the body
had an inhabitant who was not necessarily bound to it, who could
desert it from time to time during life, and who continued to exist
and interest itself in human affairs after death.

Whole civilizations and religions and vast theological speculations
have been dominated by this savage inference. It is true that in very
recent times, since Plato, let us say, other reasons have been urged
for believing in the soul and its immortality, but the idea appears to
have got its firm footing in savage logic. It is a primitive inference,
however it may later have been revised, rationalized, and ennobled.

The taboo--the forbidden thing--of savage life is another thing very
elementary in man's make-up. He had tendencies to fall into habits and
establish inhibitions for reasons that he either did not discover or
easily forgot. These became fixed and sacred to him and any departure
from them filled him with dread. Sometimes the prohibition might have
some reasonable justification, sometimes it might seem wholly absurd
and even a great nuisance, but that made no difference in its binding
force. For example, pork was taboo among the ancient Hebrews--no one
can say why, but none of the modern justifications for abstaining from
that particular kind of meat would have counted in early Jewish times.
It is not improbable that it was the original veneration for the boar
and not an abhorrence of him that led to the prohibition.

The modern "principle" is too often only a new form of the ancient
taboo, rather than an enlightened rule of conduct. The person who
justifies himself by saying that he holds certain beliefs, or acts in
a certain manner "on principle", and yet refuses to examine the basis
and expediency of his principle, introduces into his thinking and
conduct an irrational, mystical element similar to that which
characterized savage prohibitions. Principles unintelligently urged
make a great deal of trouble in the free consideration of social
readjustment, for they are frequently as recalcitrant and obscurantist
as the primitive taboo, and are really scarcely more than an excuse
for refusing to reconsider one's convictions and conduct. The
psychological conditions lying back of both taboo and this sort of
principle are essentially the same.

We find in savage thought a sort of intensified and generalized taboo
in the classification of things as clean and unclean and in the
conceptions of the sacred. These are really expressions of profound
and persistent traits in the uncritical mind and can only be overcome
by carefully cultivated criticism. They are the result of our natural
timidity and the constant dread lest we find ourselves treading on
holy (_i. e._, dangerous) ground.[17] When they are intrenched in the
mind we cannot expect to think freely and fairly, for they effectually
stop argument. If a thing is held to be sacred it is the center of
what may be called a defense complex, and a reasonable consideration
of the merits of the case will not be tolerated. When an issue is
declared to be a "moral" one--for example, the prohibition of strong
drink--an emotional state is implied which makes reasonable compromise
and adjustment impossible; for "moral" is a word on somewhat the same
plane as "sacred", and has much the same qualities and similar effects
on thinking. In dealing with the relations of the sexes the terms
"pure" and "impure" introduce mystic and irrational moods alien to
clear analysis and reasonable readjustments. Those who have studied
the characteristics of savage life are always struck by its deadly
conservatism, its needless restraints on the freedom of the
individual, and its hopeless routine. Man, like plants and animals in
general, tends to go on from generation to generation, living as
nearly as may be the life of his forbears. Changes have to be forced
upon him by hard experience, and he is ever prone to find excuses for
slipping back into older habits, for these are likely to be simpler,
less critical, more spontaneous--more closely akin, in short, to his
animal and primitive promptings. One who prides himself to-day on his
conservatism, on the ground that man is naturally an anarchic and
disorderly creature who is held in check by the far-seeing Tory, is
almost exactly reversing the truth. Mankind is conservative by nature
and readily generates restraints on himself and obstacles to change
which have served to keep him in a state of savagery during almost his
whole existence on the earth, and which still perpetuate all sorts of
primitive barbarism in modern society. The conservative "on principle"
is therefore a most unmistakably primitive person in his attitude. His
only advance beyond the savage mood lies in the specious reasons he is
able to advance for remaining of the same mind. What we vaguely call a
"radical" is a very recent product due to altogether exceptional and
unprecedented circumstances.


[10] It is impossible to discuss here the results which a really
honest study of child psychology promises. The relations of the child
to his parents and elders in general and to the highly artificial
system of censorship and restraints which they impose in their own
interests on his natural impulses must surely have a permanent
influence on the notions he continues to have as an adult in regard to
his "superiors" and the institutions and _mores_ under which he is
called to live. Attempts in later life to gain intellectual freedom
can only be successful if one comes to think of the childish origin of
a great part of his "real" reasons.

[11] Clarence Day in _Our Simian World_ discusses with delightful
humor the effects of our underlying simian temperament on the conduct
of life.

[12] The word "imitation" is commonly used very loosely. The real
question is does an animal, or even man himself, tend to make
movements or sounds made by their fellow-creatures in their presence
It seems to be made out now that even monkeys are not imitative in
that sense and that man himself has no general inclination to do over
what he sees being done. Pray, if you doubt this, note how many things
you see others doing that you have no inclination to imitate! For an
admirable summary see Thorndike, E. L., _The Original Nature of Man_,
1913, pp. 108 ff.

[13] "If the earth were struck by one of Mr. Wells's comets, and if,
in consequence, every human being now alive were to lose all the
knowledge and habits which he had acquired from preceding generations
(though retaining unchanged all his own powers of invention and memory
and habituation) nine tenths of the inhabitants of London or New York
would be dead in a month, and 99 per cent of the remaining tenth would
be dead in six months. They would have no language to express their
thoughts, and no thoughts but vague reverie. They could not read
notices, or drive motors or horses. They would wander about, led by
the inarticulate cries of a few naturally dominant individuals,
drowning themselves, as thirst came on, in hundreds at the riverside
landing places, looting those shops where the smell of decaying food

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