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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/778

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The plasticity of the child is hardly less. By causing it to perform a certain motion and habitually preventing it from making the opposite one, we act in a wonderful degree on its feelings and ideas. Is not making it talk, eat, and move in a more lively way a means of shaking off the inertness of which we just spoke? Hence the possibility of that moral training, which should not be confounded with moral education proper, for it is in one sense the opposite, but which is, nevertheless, not unrelated to it; for there is mechanism, one part of training, at the beginning in all education. It is thus important to study the motions of the little child—first, in order to interpret them correctly as signs, and thereby to read in its consciousness; and, second, to know how to regulate them practically, to favor or repress them according to circumstances, and in this way to act upon the child's character. Let us try, then, to retrace in outline the progress of the faculty of motion in the child till it learns how to walk, dwelling preferably upon the movements the more direct relation of which with the will gives them a special importance. The general truth prevails through the whole subject that motions which become voluntary begin by not being so; that intentional activity, the nascent will, does but gain possession of acts which were at first not willed. We are about to inquire how this takes place.

Involuntary motions appear to be of four kinds—automatic, reflex, instinctive, and imitative. The motions which I call automatic are not inspired or guided by any representation, but proceed exclusively from the energy accumulated from nutrition in the nervous centers. They occur when that energy is disengaged outwardly by the motor nerves without peripheric excitation of the sensitive nerves, and of course without a mental representation, of which the subject is not yet capable. These uncoördinated movements, including motions before and just after birth, the first motions of the eyelids, eyes, hands, arms, and legs, and all sorts of grimaces, have in themselves but little psychological interest; but they are the ones of which the will gains the most complete possession. The more indeterminate and characterless they are in their origin, the more conscious energy, awaking in them, will be able to make them its own. The case is different with the motions of the next two categories; regulated and limited by nature, the will will never absolutely dispose of them or resist them without difficulty. It would be no small effort for it to prevent reflex actions and contend against the instincts.

The reflexes are motions which are produced instantaneously and mechanically after certain peripheral impressions; of such is sneezing, the first act of the infant in coming into the world, and coughing. Although they fall more or less under consciousness, in that it is informed of them as they occur or immediately after-