Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV.: THE INTEGRATION OF CORRESPONDENCES. - The Principles of Psychology
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CHAPTER XIV.: THE INTEGRATION OF CORRESPONDENCES. - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology 
The Principles of Psychology (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855).
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THE INTEGRATION OF CORRESPONDENCES.
§ 161. Yet one more point of view remains, from which the phenomena of Life must be contemplated. It requires to be observed how, out of co-ordination there grows up integration—how compound impressions, as well as the compound motions guided by them, ever more and more approximate in their apparent character to simple impressions and simple motions—how the co-ordinated elements of any stimulus or act perpetually tend towards union, so as eventually to become distinguishable only by analysis—and how, further, the connection between stimulus and act, obeying the same law, becomes constantly closer, and ends in making them two sides of the same change.
It is by virtue of this law that the higher orders of correspondence become possible. In its absence, complex impressions could not generate complex actions with the needful rapidity; nor would there be time for that immense multiplicity of correspondences which advanced life displays. If the two organic changes which constitute sensation and motion, did not, in superior creatures, follow with greater rapidity than the withdrawal of a snail into its shell follows the touch of its horn, all those correspondences with the environment which imply any quickness of adjustment, would be impracticable. And if the period that elapses between the gaze of a young child at a stranger, and the fit of crying that follows it (a period during which the component visual impressions are being co-ordinated) were habitually paralleled in the perceptions of adult life—if compound cognitions were not formed, and the appropriate operations produced by them, in periods incomparably briefer, human life would cease.
The necessity for this progressive integration of correspondences will be most clearly understood, if, regarding sensations as so many symbols, and perception as the interpretation of groups of symbols, we observe what takes place with verbal symbols and the meanings they convey: a comparison which is the more appropriate, inasmuch as the last process is but a higher form of the first. As in the lower phases of perception, a single sensation, as of scent, serves the organism as an index of the combined attributes with which such scent is connected; so, in the lower phases of language, a simple sound or sign is used to indicate a complex idea. In either case, within narrow limits, this system answers very well. But any considerable multiplication in the number of correspondences, requires another system. By scent, only some objects can be distinguished; seeing that many are scentless. Simple sounds and signs are too few in number to represent any considerable variety of ideas. Hence, in either case, a system of compound symbols becomes the prerequisite to any great extension of the correspondences. Things that are without odour, and things that are alike in odour, can be divided into sundry sub-classes, when impressions of colour and size, as well as of scent, can be appreciated. And when simple sounds are endlessly modified by articulations, and simple signs replaced by composite ones, it becomes possible verbally to indicate an infinity of objects, acts, qualities, &c. But now, what is the condition under which this more elaborate language becomes serviceable? Or, to confine the attention to one division of it:—What is required before composite written signs can supplant simple arbitrary ones? It is required that the constituent elements shall be so efficiently co-ordinated, so rapidly united in the act of perception, so integrated, as to become practically one. Had the letters that make up each word, to be separately identified, as the child identifies them when learning to read, the system would be of little or no use. Able though it might be, by the varied combinations of its elementary signs, to express with precision all words whatever; it could never compete with the limited system of simple arbitrary signs, did it remain thus cumbrous in its application. Similarly with the primordial language of the sensations. If the several colours, size, shape, motion, distance, direction of a given object, had to be successively identified by the creature perceiving it—if the object had to be spelled out in this deliberate fashion; the method of recognition by combined sensations, would yield in utility to the limited method of recognition by a single sensation. Universal in its powers, it would yet be too slow of application to satisfy the requirements. In both cases, however, the progressive integration of the component correspondences removes this difficulty, by reducing, in effect, the compound signs to simple ones. A word made up of a dozen letters, comes eventually to be recognized as instantaneously as a single letter; while the host of impressions involved in the perception of a complex object, seemingly take no more time to receive and interpret than a single sound or taste. And thus there is an infinite gain in the speciality of the correspondences, without any loss in their rapidity. Let us glance at the results under some of their leading aspects.
§ 162. After the above explanations, it needs not to dwell upon the apparent simultaneity with which the outlines, lights and shades, and all the visible peculiarities with which bodies impress us, arouse those ideas of tangible extension, of resistance, of texture, with which experience has joined them; unless to point out how truly this is an integration of correspondences—how truly the visual sensations corresponding to a certain distance, the impressions of light and shade corresponding to a certain shape, the arrangement of lines corresponding to a certain solid extension, with many others, are so united as to seem one—so united that the entire group of sensations, and the inferences drawn from them, appear to constitute but a single state of consciousness. Nor is it requisite to do more than just indicate the exceeding precision with which the most complex assemblages of these symbols are instantaneously distinguished from nearly identical assemblages; as seen in our ability to recognize by a single look, not only particular human beings, similar though they are in their chief attributes to most others, but even their particular mental states, trifling as are the outward modifications implying these. But while it is unnecessary to enlarge on these familiar facts, it may be well, for the purpose of conveying a vivid idea of the manner in which this integration of correspondences subserves the perceptions, just to describe an experiment by which its extreme strength and rapidity may be shown.
Our judgments of distance are guided by at least three separate indications. When the observed objects are known to us, the angles they subtend, or, rather, the spaces which their images cover upon the retina, aid in the estimate. The particular focal adjustments which the eyes must undergo to obtain distinct vision, and which are accompanied by certain muscular sensations, further assist. And the muscular sensations accompanying the due convergence of the visual axes, supply a third evidence. In all ordinary vision, these indications agree. But by that ingenious instrument of Professor Wheatstone's invention—the Pseudoscope—the last two are made to contradict each other. The muscular actions by which the visual axes are adjusted, being the more marked, and accompanied by the stronger sensations, give the preponderating evidence; and the result is, that when looked at through the Pseudoscope, convex objects seem concave, and concave ones convex. By particular management, however—that is, by adding to the evidence from focal adjustment some further evidence—the verdict of consciousness may be suddenly reversed. If, after contemplating the inside of a cup, and duly wondering at its apparent convexity, the cup be turned laterally little by little, so that the outside may gradually come into view, and the opening grow more elliptical; there presently arrives a time when the perception all at once changes, and the cup is seen under its ordinary aspect. Now, the fact which it here concerns us to remark as so significant, is, the impossibility of any intermediate or hesitating judgment. Notwithstanding the conflict of evidence, there is, save just at the moment of change, a quite definite perception either of concavity or convexity. The perception is not incomplete or obscure, but perfectly distinct. The preponderating impressions, by forcibly exciting all those other impressions with which they are habitually connected, produce the same effect as though these other impressions were actually received, instead of the opposite ones being received. The co-ordinated sensations have become so inseparably integrated, that none of them can be present to consciousness without the whole group to which they belong being present. The entire perception, complex as it is in nature, is shown to be practically one.
With the executive, as well as with the directive processes, this integration takes place; and may be analogously illustrated. Any long-employed combination of muscular actions—any combination of which the elements never occur in any other arrangement, eventually becomes almost undecomposable. The tricks of walk, of attitude, of manual action, into which children fall, and of which it is so difficult to break them, furnish examples. The stammering which, commencing as it often does from imitation, becomes, when once established, next to incurable, owes its pertinacity to this tendency. So, too, is it with peculiarities of handwriting. The motions of the fingers, having by years of practice with the pen been co-ordinated after a particular fashion, cannot be otherwise co-ordinated without a degree of labour to which few are equal. Though, by moving them slowly and with attention, the muscles of the fingers may be made to produce differently-formed letters; yet, on the attention being relaxed, and the usual speed resumed, they re-assume their old character. Similarly in all handicrafts, chains of perpetually-repeated muscular actions, however complex, eventually approximate in rapidity and ease, to simple motions; and, at the same time, become incapable of modified adjustment—tend more and more to produce each other automatically—grow inseparable—become integrated.
Not only between the elements of each cognition, and between the elements of each operation, does this connection grow ever more close; but also between cognitions and the operations guided by them. In the child learning to walk, or to direct its hand towards a neighbouring object, or to perform any manual act; there is a deliberate and conscious modification of the motions in obedience to the sensations. But in after-years, the various muscular adjustments by which, from minute to minute, the behests of the intellect are fulfilled, follow the will instantaneously, and without effort. While absorbed in gossip, the needle of the seamstress is carried through stitch after stitch, by a co-ordination of sensations and actions that has become next to instinctive. While deep in thought—“absent in mind,” as the phrase is—the occurrence of particular perceptions will often be quite unconsciously followed by the habitual actions appropriate to them; sometimes with ludicrous effect. The start on one side, which is produced by a loud noise close at hand; the throwing out the arms in the endeavour to regain the balance after having slipped; these and many like phenomena, show us how directive and executive processes, originally quite distinct, come to be so united, that one follows the other not only instantaneously and without volition, but often without the possibility of prevention. Even where the impressions and motions are in the highest degree complex, the law may be traced; as in the feats of a skilful billiard-player. In one of his strokes, we see the distance, direction, relative positions of the balls to each other, to the cushions, and to the pockets, all united into a complex visual impression co-ordinated with the greatest nicety; we see the direction of the cue, its adjustment to the ball, the strength of its impact, and the quality of its impact, all accurately modified to suit the requirements; and we see that by long habit, the compound impression has been so united with the compound action, that the one follows the other almost mechanically. No reasoning or calculation is required; or, indeed, is permissible. For it is notorious that in this, and like games of skill, any lengthened consideration, any hesitation, any anxiety, any active interference on the part of the higher mental faculties, almost inevitably causes a failure. The direct relation that has been established between the constituent sensations and motions, must be allowed free play; and success becomes sure in proportion as, by constant co-ordination, the combined changes have become practically one change.
In all which instances of the gradual consolidation of the elements of any habitual correspondence, we may perceive how that automatic character displayed in the simple correspondences of inferior creatures, tends to be gradually assumed by more complex correspondences—how that integration, which the reflex and purely instinctive correspondences perfectly exemplify, is partially exemplified by all higher correspondences, in the order of their ascending complication.
§ 163. But it is not only to the constituents of immediate perception, to the elements of composite motion, and to the combination of the two, that this law applies; it applies also to the highest processes of cognition. The most advanced abstractions of science, display it equally with the acquirement of manipulatory skill, or the power rapidly to recognize objects. For the act of making a generalization, is, in reality, an integration of the various separate cognitions which the generalization includes—is a union of them into a single cognition. After there has been a mental accumulation of phenomena presenting a certain community of nature—remembered first as isolated facts, and after further experience colligated as facts having some resemblance—there suddenly, on the occurrence perhaps of some typical example, arises a cognition of the relation of coexistence or sequence common to the whole group: the particular facts, before but loosely aggregated, all at once crystallize into a general fact—are integrated. The mode, too, in which this result is brought about, is the same in these highest as in the lowest cases. As that continuous repetition of experiences in which any two sensations are always joined, any two muscular contractions constantly performed together, or any perception uniformly followed by a special motion, results in the greater or less integration of the component changes; so, the continuous repetition of those more complex experiences, which, though superficially unlike, one and all present the same fundamental relation of coexistence or sequence, ultimately results in establishing a union in thought between the elements of this relation: and this union, made ever stronger by still multiplying experiences, constitutes the generalization of them. Moreover, it will be obvious without details, that the same thing holds respecting the generalization of generalizations. Thus, the integration of correspondences is traceable from the simplest up to the most elaborate of the intellectual processes. And in the last, as in the first, the effect is so to simplify the complex directive and executive actions, as to render practicable, adjustments that would else fail from the elaborateness and slowness of the processes they involved. For as the perception of a complex object would mostly fail of its end, if it could be effected only by slowly spelling out the constituent sensations produced; so, any series of compound experiences, which, embodied into a generalization, afford valuable guidance, would be of little or no service if every member of the series had to be separately recollected before the guiding cognition could be formed.
§ 164. This gradual union of the elements of any internal change by which the organism adapts itself to an external coexistence or sequence—this process which may be almost described as the development of a special faculty for each special relation—has been, in common with previous ones, abundantly displayed in the course of human advancement. Being a process through which only, highly special and complex correspondence can be achieved, progress in integration has been a necessary accompaniment of progress in speciality and complexity; and in proportion as civilization has displayed the last, it must have displayed the first. The one having been illustrated in detail, it is therefore needless to illustrate the other. Similarly, greater length and degree of life, involved as they are by greater complexity and speciality of correspondence, have accompanied that greater integration which has rendered these possible.