In attempting to understand the elements out of which mental phenomena are compounded, it is of the greatest importance to remember that from the protozoa to man there is nowhere a very wide gap either in structure or in behavior. From this fact, it is a highly probable inference that there is also nowhere a very wide mental gap. It is, of course, POSSIBLE that there may be, at certain stages in evolution, elements which are entirely new from the standpoint of analysis, though in their nascent form they have little influence on behavior and no very marked correlatives in structure. But the hypothesis of continuity in mental development is clearly preferable if no psychological facts make it impossible. We shall find, if I am not mistaken, that there are no facts which refute the hypothesis of mental continuity, and that, on the other hand, this hypothesis affords a useful test of suggested theories as to the nature of mind.
The hypothesis of mental continuity throughout organic evolution may be used in two different ways. On the one hand, it may be held that we have more knowledge of our own minds than those of animals and that we should use this knowledge to infer the existence of something similar to our own mental processes in animals and even in plants. On the other hand, it may be held that animals and plants present simpler phenomena, more easily analyzed than those of human minds; on this ground, it may be urged that explanations which are adequate in the case of animals ought not to be lightly rejected in the case of man. The practical effects of these two views are diametrically opposite: the first leads us to level up animal intelligence with what we believe ourselves to know about our own intelligence while the second leads us to attempt a leveling down of our own intelligence to something not too remote from what we can observe in animals. It is, therefore, important to consider the relative justification of the two ways of applying the principle of continuity.
We know a great many things concerning ourselves which we cannot know nearly so directly concerning animals or even other people. We know when we have a toothache, what we are thinking of, what dreams we have when we are asleep, and a host of other occurrences which we only know about others when they tell us of them, or otherwise make them inferable by their behavior. Thus, so far as knowledge of detached facts is concerned, the advantage is on the side of self-knowledge as against external observation.
But when we come to the analysis and scientific understanding of the facts, the advantages on the side of self-knowledge become far less clear. We know, for example, that we have desires and beliefs, but we do not know what constitutes a desire or a belief. The phenomena are so familiar that it is difficult to realize how little we really know about them. We see in animals, and to a lesser extent in plants, behavior more or less similar to that which, in us, is prompted by desires and beliefs, and we find that, as we descend in the scale of evolution, behavior becomes simpler, more easily reducible to rule, more scientifically analyzable and predictable. And just because we are not misled by familiarity we find it easier to be cautious in interpreting behavior when we are dealing with phenomena remote from those of our own mind.
Introspection, as psychoanalysis has demonstrated, is extraordinarily fallible even in cases where we feel a high degree of certainty. The net result seems to be that, though self-knowledge has a definite and important contribution to make to psychology, it is exceedingly misleading unless it is constantly checked and controlled by the test of external observation, and by the theories which such observation suggests when applied to animal behavior. On the whole, therefore, there is probably more to be learned about human psychology from animals than about animal psychology from human beings; but this conclusion is one of degree, and must not be pressed beyond a point.
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