Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/462

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before he would hit upon the right one, would be just one-half of 3,113,884,401, which is 1,556,942,200. Supposing, therefore, that the child makes 100 experiments in a minute, it would take him within a fraction of thirty years to attain the first successful utterance of the letter A.

But the child's task is not yet accomplished when he has succeeded in pronouncing the letter once. He must pronounce it again and again, before it is so completely within the reach of his will that he can pronounce it immediately, making automatically all the required muscular contractions of the combination the instant the volition calls for the letter. It is evident that, in the absence of all knowledge of those 20 muscles, and of all organic tendencies in the right direction (which could only be acquired by repeated successful experiments), it would be almost as difficult for the child to hit upon the right combination the second and the third time as the first; and, therefore, only after many successes would the required combination become automatic, and the utterance of the letter A really be so completely brought under the dominion of the will as to be classed among the voluntary movements. If, therefore, we again under-estimate the difficulties of the case, as we have done all along, and suppose that only 10 successful experiments would be necessary to accomplish the result—that is, to agglutinate into a unitary movement the required group or combination of muscular contractions, so that the group should be instantaneously and automatically adjusted the moment a volition is made for the letter A—we find that the child's lesson, the learning to pronounce a single letter at will, is a task which would require for its accomplishment 300 years of steady work, night and day, at the rate of 100 experiments every minute!

How insignificant, however, is the successful pronunciation at will of one letter, when we reflect that the child ultimately attains the voluntary control of, not merely one of the billions of possible combinations of 20 muscles, but that he attains the absolute voluntary command of all the 450 voluntary muscles of his body, individually and collectively, in all their possible combined, as well as isolated, contractions! In some of the combinations of muscular contractions which the child ultimately becomes capable of executing, nearly every one of the 450 voluntary muscles of the body participates; as, for example, in the throwing of a stone; and yet the wonderful combination is made and the movement executed with as much precision and promptness as the crooking of his finger. We have no hesitation in saying that, if all this had to be learned by the child, it would require a lifetime of many millions of years; and, as we know that the requisite knowledge or capacity is not a miraculous donation to the child, but must be the accumulated acquisitions of a slow process of experience of some kind, and at some time or other, we should be appalled by the magnitude of our own figures, did we not know that man is not the creature of to-day, but the child