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Romanes on the Psychological Criteria for Mind

           Excerpted from George Romanes' book Animal Intelligence (1888).  

                Now, in this mode of procedure what is the kind of activities which may be regarded as indicative of mind? I certainly do not so regard the flowing of a river or the blowing of the wind. Why? First, because the objects are too remote in kind from my own organism to admit of it; and, secondly, because the activities which they present are of invariably the same kind under the same circumstances; they afford no evidence of feeling or purpose. In other words, two conditions require to be satisfied before we even begin to imagine that observable activities are indicative of mind: first, the activities must be displayed by a living organism; and secondly, they must be of a kind to suggest the presence of two elements which we recognize as the distinctive characteristics of mind as such—consciousness and choice.

               So far, then, the case seems simple enough. Wherever we see a living organism apparently exerting intentional choice, we might infer that it is conscious choice, and therefore that the organism has a mind. But further reflection shows us that this is just what we cannot do; for although it is true that there is no mind without the power of conscious choice, it is not true that all apparent choice is due to mind. In our own organisms, for instance, we find a great many adaptive movements performed without choice or even consciousness coming into play at all—such, for instance, as in the beating of our hearts. And not only so, but physiological experiments and pathological lesions prove that in our own and in other organisms the mechanism of the nervous system is sufficient, without the intervention of consciousness, to produce muscular movements of a highly co-ordinate and apparently intentional character. Thus, for instance, if a man has his back broken in such a way as to sever the nervous connection between his brain and lower extremities, on pinching or tickling his feet they are drawn suddenly away from the irritation, although the man is quite unconscious of the adaptive movement of his muscles; the lower nerve-centres of the spinal cord are competent to bring about this movement of adaptive response without requiring to be directed by the brain. This non-mental operation of the lower nerve-centres in the production of apparently intentional movement is called Reflex Action, and the cases of its occurrence, even within the limits of our own organism, are literally numberless. Therefore, in view of such non-mental nervous adjustment, leading to movements which are only in appearance intentional, it clearly becomes a matter of great difficulty to say in the case of the lower animals whether any action which appears to indicate intelligent choice is not really action of the reflex kind.

              On this whole subject of mind-like and yet not truly mental action I shall have much to say in my subsequent treatise, where I shall be concerned among other things with tracing the probable genesis of mind from non-mental antecedents. But here it is sufficient merely to make this general statement of the fact, that even within the experience supplied by our own organisms adaptive movements of a highly complex and therefore apparently purposive character may be performed without any real purpose, or even consciousness of their performance. It thus becomes evident that before we can predicate the bare existence of mind in the lower animals, we need some yet more definite criterion of mind than that which is supplied by the adaptive actions of a living organism, howsoever apparently intentional such actions may be. Such a criterion I have now to lay down, and I think it is one that is as practically adequate as it is theoretically legitimate.

             Objectively considered, the only distinction between adaptive movements due to reflex action and adaptive movements due to mental perception, consists in the former depending on inherited mechanisms within the nervous system being so constructed as to effect particular adaptive movements in response to particular stimulations, while the latter are independent of any such inherited adjustment of special mechanisms to the exigencies of special circumstances. Reflex actions under the influence of their appropriate stimuli may be compared to the actions of a machine under the manipulations of an operator; when certain springs of actions are touched by certain stimuli, the whole machine is thrown into appropriate movement; there is no room for choice, there is no room for uncertainty; but as surely as any of there inherited mechanisms are affected by the stimulus with reference to which it has been constructed to act, so surely will it act in precisely the same way as it always has acted. But the case with conscious mental adjustment is quite different. For, without at present going into the question concerning the relation of body and mind, or waiting to ask whether cases of mental adjustment are not really quite as mechanical in the sense of being the necessary result or correlative of a chain of physical sequences due to a physical stimulation, it is enough to point to the variable and incalculable character of mental adjustments as distinguished from the constant and foreseeable character of reflex adjustments. All, in fact, that in an objective sense we can mean by a mental adjustment is an adjustment of a kind that has not been definitely fixed by heredity as the only adjustment possible in the given circumstances of stimulation. For were there no alternative of adjustment, the case, in an animal at least, would be indistinguishable from one of reflex action.

              It is, then, adaptive action by a living organism in cases where the inherited machinery of the nervous system does not furnish data for our prevision of what the adaptive action must necessarily be—it is only here that we recognize the objective evidence of mind. The criterion of mind therefore, which I propose, and to which I shall adhere throughout the present volume, is as follows:-- Does the organism learn to make new adjustments, or to modify old ones, in accordance with the results of its own individual experience? If it does so, the fact cannot be due merely to reflex action in the sense above described, for it is impossible that heredity can have provided in advance for innovations upon, or alterations of, its machinery during the lifetime of a particular individual.

Romanes' procedures

An example anecdote from Romanes' work

Charles Darwin's views on the issue of Mental Continuity

Edward Thorndike's criticisms of Romanes' anecdotal methodology