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Full text of "Man In The Modern World"

MAN IN THE  MODERN WORLD
and error through concrete experience. A brain capable of con-
ceptual thought appears to be the necessary basis for speedy and
habitual analysis. Without it, the practice of splitting up situations
into their components and assigning real degrees of significance to
the various elements remains rudimentary and rare, whereas with
man, even when habit and trial and error are prevalent, conceptual
thought is of major biological importance. The behaviour of animals
is essentially arbitrary, in .that it is fixed within narrow limits. In
man it has become relatively free—free at the incoming and the out-
going ends alike. His capacity for acquiring knowledge has been
largely released from arbitrary symbolism, his capacity for action,
from arbitrary canalizations of instinct. He can thus rearrange the
patterns of experience and action in a far greater variety, and can
escape from the particular into the general.
Thus man is more intelligent than the animals because his brain
mechanism is more plastic. This fact also gives him, of course, the
opportunity of being more nonsensical and perverse: but its primary
effects have been more analytical knowledge and more varied control.
The essential fact, from my present standpoint, is that the change
has been profound and in an evolutionary sense rapid. Although it
has been brought about by the gradual quantitative enlargement of
the association areas of the brain, the result has been almost as abrupt
as the change (also brought about quantitatively) from solid ice to
liquid water. We should remember that the machinery of the change
has been an increase in plasticity and potential variety: it is by a
natural selection of ideas and actions that the result has been greater
rationality instead of greater irrationality.
This increase of flexibility has also had other psychological conse-
quences which rational philosophers are apt to forget: and in some of
these, too, man. is unique. It has led, for instance, to the fact that
man is the only organism normally and inevitably subject to psycho-
logical conflict. You can give a dog neurosis, as Pavlov did, by a
complicated laboratory experiment: you can find cases of brief
emotional conflict in the lives of wild birds and animals. But, for the
most part, psychological conflict is shirked by the simple expedient
of arranging that now one and now another instinct should dominate
the animal's behaviour. I remember in Spitsbergen finding the nest
of a Red-throated Diver on the shore of an inland pool. The sitting
bird was remarkably bold. After leaving the nest for the water, she
stayed very dose. She did not, however, remain in a state of conflict
between fear of intruders and desire to return to her brooding. She
would gradually approach as if to land, but eventually fear became