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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/300

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

attention to it. This we call conscious inhibition. It plays a great role in our lives; but it does not mean necessarily that inhibited impressions may not survive in memory and at a later time determine the action taken; in such cases the potential reaction is stored up. (2) Consciousness may evoke a reaction from a remembered sensation and combine it with sensations received at other times. In other words, consciousness has a selective power, manifest both in choosing from sensations received at the same time and in combining sensations received at different times. It can make synchronous impressions dyschronous in their effects, and dyschronous impressions synchronous. But this somewhat formidable sentence merely paraphrases our original description: The function of consciousness is to dislocate in time the reactions from sensations.

This disarrangement and constant rearrangement of the sensations, or impressions from sensations, which we gather, so that their connections in time are altered seems to me the most fundamental and essential characteristic of consciousness which we know. It is not improbable that hereafter it will become possible to give a better characterization of consciousness. In that case the opinion just given may become unsatisfactory, and have to yield to one based on greater knowledge. The characteristic we are considering is certainly important, and so far as the available evidence goes it belongs exclusively to consciousness. Without it life would have no interest, for there would be no possibility of experience, no possibility of education.

Now, the more we have learned about animals, the better have we appreciated the fact that in them only such structures and functions are preserved as are useful, or have a teleological value. Formerly a good many organs were called rudimentary or vestigial and supposed to be useless survivals because they had no known function. But in many cases the functions have since been discovered. Such, for example, were the pineal gland, the pituitary body, the suprarenal capsules and the Wolffian body of man, all of which are now recognized to be functionally important structures. Useless structures are so rare that one questions whether any exist at all, except on an almost insignificant scale. It has accordingly become well-nigh impossible for us to imagine consciousness to have been evolved, as it has been, unless it had been bionomically useful. Let us therefore next consider the value of consciousness from the standpoint of bionomics.[1]

We must begin with a consideration of the nature of sensations and the object of the reactions which they cause. In the simpler forms of nervous action a force, usually but not necessarily external to the


  1. A convenient term, recently gaining favor, for what might otherwise be called the economics of the living organism. Bionomics seems preferable to ecology, which some writers are adopting from the German.