Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/782

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
762
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

more and more frequently repeated, and with the number of such efforts becoming more and more sure and successful.

The will presenting the double aspect of a choice between a number of possible acts and of ends to be sought, and of a conscious effort to use the means by which the object is to be reached, its growth is also double. It becomes more worthy of attention as the consciousness, growing richer in ideas and feelings, obtains a larger choice of ends and means, and as the active energy becomes capable of stronger and more consecutive effort.

As the faculty of voluntary motion is developed, movements which were at first fortuitous, unconscious, and ignorant of objects, executed without intentional direction or prevision, mechanically or upon chance impressions of the senses, are taken notice of, become gradually more closely associated with the perceptions, executed with increasing ease and accuracy, and more and more the effect of an express will or conscious energy, which knows what it is doing and does what it wants to. This energy, although it takes on a new name, does not invent a single new movement and creates nothing. The power of attention is an essential factor, perhaps the principal one, and makes of an energy in the beginning dispersed a concentrated and intentional energy. We can not determine to what point attention is at any age the condition of a rich mental and moral development. But when the child, having taken notice of its incoherent and awkward movements, begins the effort to co-ordinate them in view of precise ends; when, for example, it moves symmetrically both arms to embrace or both hands to take; when, inversely, it isolates movements formerly associated, stepping on one foot to push the ball with the other, striking with one hand the dish which it is holding in the other—it is already performing an act of the will.

There is a kind of struggle for existence among the thousand vague movements of the eyes, arms, hands, feet, and head. Those which are useless or injurious are eliminated. Those which are advantageous, that procure a physical or moral satisfaction, are repeated, predominate, and are accomplished in better style. From involuntary they become voluntary, while many, again, escape the will to become habitual. Preyer gives a minute description of the various motions of the child and their progress, which we can retrace daily in its general features, in the attitudes and motions of the head, for a long time directed very awkwardly, even in taking the breast; the motions of prehension, apparently more natural and often easier to the child than the act of letting go, when it has a hold; the gradual way in which it learns to sit down and remain seated, to creep, to get along on its knees, to rise upon its feet, to stand, to let go of the support, and to walk.