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The Beginning Of Reason

We found feeling by far the strongest factor in producing action in
babyhood and childhood. Our instinctive doing, we learned, is the result
of a race impulse. Will acts chiefly at emotion's bidding. But very
early the baby's experience operates as a partial check to feeling's
exclusive sway. It keeps him from touching the fire, no matter how its
brightness attracts. It may be merely the sense memory of hurt when
fingers and that bright thing came together; and one such impression
will probably prevent him from ever again touching it. Or it may be the
brain-cell's retention of the painful feeling of slapped hands when the
fingers reaching out to the flame had not yet quite touched. These
punishment experiences are only effective in many children after more or
less repetition has set up an automatic prohibition from brain to motor
nerves; but right here intellect begins to assert itself in the form of
sense memory. The baby does not reason about the matter. His nerve-cells
simply remember pain, and that particular brightness and glow, and
finger touch--or that reaching out to the glow--and slapped hands, as
occurring together. In the same way he early connects pleasure with the
taste of certain forbidden things. He does not know they are sweet. He
only knows "I want." Even here his desire to taste may be checked in
action by a vivid memory of what happened when he tasted that other
time, and was spanked or put in his little room all alone with only milk
and bread to eat for a long time.

Later on the child may think, from cause to effect, thus: "Sweet, good,
want, taste, spank, hurt (or no dinner, all by self, lonely), spank hurt
more than sweets good. Not taste." But long before he can work this out,
consciously, two distinct memories, one of pleasure and one of pain, are
aroused by the sight of the sweet. And what he will do with it depends
upon which memory is stronger. In other words, his action is governed
altogether by his feeling, though memory, which is an intellectual
factor, supplies the material for feeling.

Next: Development Of Reason And Will

Previous: The Place Of Emotion

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