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The Unification Of Knowledge

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

WE have now reached a point where we begin to think about the unification of knowledge. The brain is a very complex organism, where there are separate areas devoted to various forms of knowing. For example, there is the visual area which develops the knowledge derived through sight; this takes in for example such areas as word seeing, object seeing, and the like. Then there is the auditory area, which takes in music hearing, object hearing, word hearing, all derived through the sense of hearing. Then there is the motor area which has to do with the motor activities such as the head and eyes, the hands, the arms, the legs, the lips, and the tongue. All these have in the brain a very clearly ascertained area, which is not a subject of conjecture or guessing. We know exactly where these things are, and can prove it when one of them is injured. Thus we can produce paralysis by injuring one of those parts which affect one or another of the areas mentioned.


Now these functional areas, as they are called, are all subject to development, and by attention to certain processes, we can develop them systematically, and by the lack of functioning in one or another direction, we can know what to do next. This process is called perceptive development, and contemplates the unification of all the areas, for they must all work together to get a well rounded and well furnished mental life.

All these powers work with each other, and as they grow in intensity they become automatic, passing from the conscious to the subconscious, or rather unconscious stage, as in the things we do without thinking, because the process of thought is so swift, and so automatic that we say that we do them "without thinking." As a matter of fact it is not the lack of thought, but the perfection of thought. A beautiful dancer does not dance well because she is not thinking, but because she has thought so well and steadily, that she does with a grace that seems to be automatic and without thought, what has been produced by laborious care. The acrobat seems to us, as we look on, to de his wonderful works absolutely without thought, but what we are seeing is really a skill, so highly developed, that it moves so quickly that it only seems without thought. It is the perfection of thought. The actor does not show us his processes as he passes before us, he seems so natural; but what we are seeing is the result of hours and hours of laborious practice. The same is true of the musician, the reader, the skilled physician at an operation, the skilled writer, whose pen skims along as though he never had had to learn to hold a pen. Yet we all know that originally that pen was clumsily held, and the writing process laboriously acquired.

The same thing is true about the faculties of the memory, the imagination and others ; when we see them beautifully functioning, we say, how natural. But what we see is "second nature," really a new nature, which has been built up through the unification of function, so that each reenforces the other, and all work together. This is the unification of knowledge through the perceptive faculties. It is the organization of the senses, through practice and education, so that we get a finished and fully coordinated result.

All this, at first, is of course the result of direction or experience of one kind and another and the kind of perceptive faculties we establish in the brain is the result of the training we receive. You can readily understand all this, when you watch trained animals, because their training is entirely mechanical, and can be produced without the cooperation of the animal, because we have absolute control over him. But in man it must be remembered we are dealing with an organism which has free will, and which thinks for itself, and which is continually reacting on its own environment. What we do, is instantly modified by what he thinks about it himself. What we wish for him, is contingent upon what he wishes, and when these two are in conjunction, we get a powerful result. But when they oppose each other we are liable to get nothing or con-fusion. Or if we are strong enough, we reduce the person taught to the level of an automaton.

Now the senses are all gates to the mind. But they are also tools, which we must forever carry with us, and not only must they give their product to the mind, that is the collective unity of all the senses, but the very tools themselves must be kept sharpened, so that they may be relied upon to give a proper result when called upon. It is the failure to do this, that makes such grotesque results as we often see, when persons are color-blind, or word-blind, or word-deaf, and often are looking directly at an object, but not seeing it, or hearing a definite word but not "sensing" it, that is not hearing it at all. Everybody knows these experiences. At the same time, as these faculties become impaired, they mix up or dull the edge of those with which they must act in close conjunction. What we call intuition, is not a subject of instruction at all. But its results are so allied with all other results that it must be taken into account.

There is nothing in the intellect which was not first in the senses ; hence the sense development is a matter of first importance, not only for its own sake, but even more for the mental increment and growth which is connected with it. But it is entirely possible to develop one without developing the other. For example, for ages men looked on the same world upon which we are looking today, but it never occurred to them to ask questions about it or to delve into the million mysteries of the manner of its origin, and growth of the globe of today; the sluggish intellect simply accepted things as they were, and adapted itself to them. It had not reached the stage of inquiry, which was the beginning of what we call science ; yet those early beings were wonderfully skillful in action, fleetfooted, highly developed in hearing what we cannot hear to day, and probably seeing as we cannot see today. Yet their brains and their thought was as mud, to our keen insight and understanding !

There are any number of people who walk about their towns and cities today and have no "understanding" of what is going on. They "have eyes, but they cannot see," "ears have they, but they cannot hear" and so on exactly as the prophet Isaiah said eight hundred years before Christ about the idols. But the modern man, when he is fully trained, not Only sees, but he sees with his inner sight and understanding, and makes all kinds of deductions and inferences from what he sees, and forms opinions and determines policies, and rules of conduct and action. So it is with the processes of development. One of the commonest sayings you hear is "I did not understand that there was so much meaning in that." Of course not. The knowledge was not sensitized and made coordinate with other knowledge. All knowledge held in one compartment, entirely separate from all others, produces exactly that result. Knowledge is not knowledge till it is classified, and you cannot classify, till you have gathered and compared many kinds of knowledge, and made a classification based upon many things, first resemblances, then size, then structure, and the like. It was a great advance when we began first to say animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms. Because then we began to separate things into various kinds, and attached to them certain characteristics. The child has to go through that process from the very beginning. If he is trained well, he gets through with it much earlier than those who are not trained at all.

This coordinating process ordinarily goes through four stages, but these are preceded by a process of fertilization such as has been described in the previous chapters of this volume. The first of these is exact observation. Now observation does not mean merely looking at things. It has already been explained that you may look but not see. It means looking at once at the object itself, and then correlating what is seen with all previous knowledge and experience. For example, you have had the experience of being poisoned by the so called poison ivy ; you know the appearance of the plant and you know the experience which the poison produces. Now a little child may be poisoned over and over again because he will not see the fact of the poisoning, in the appearance of the plant. But you who know how irritating the result is, the moment you see something that looks like poison ivy, recall the pain and the irritation, and you are careful not only to look carefully at anything that looks like poison ivy, but to avoid contact with it and anything that can produce the experience again. Here you are observing effectively, because you are associating cause and effect, and bringing your past experience in your present consciousness, and you do this through your vision. Take again the crossing of a street full of vehicles. You know by experience the usual speed of certain kinds of vehicles, and you make a swift induction as to whether with your known powers of movement, you can get across before the vehicle arrives. That is a coordination of what you have seen of your own judgment of your own powers, and your "guess" as to the probabilities of getting safely across. You are coordinating or unifying again various processes. In other words you are observing all the factors of the problem.

In these and many other cases which will occur to you at once, you perceive the difference between the thoughtless child that goes straight ahead unconscious of danger, and the thoughtful person who makes an accurate observation.. As this process develops as in the case of learned or scientific men, you get "scientific" observation, and all that goes under the name of science. All science begins at this point, and ascertains the relation of cause and effect. It is this pause in thought, examination of the elements of the situation, and the reaching of a conclusion which constitutes the unifying process..

It is exactly so with the sense of hearing or of smell. Take a couple of illustrations. You hear a certain sound and though you cannot see it you know that it is a locomotive, or a steamboat, or an automobile, and in your "mind's eye" you see the object, though it is out of your sight. Here again you have what is called "object hearing," that is the sound suggests the object and you instantly associate the two. Men who spend much time in the woods can hear animals in this way, which the ordinary man cannot hear at all, because he has no experience to correlate. Take the sense of smell. You enter a house and there strikes your notril a smell and you say at once that some-body is boiling or peeling onions ! It may be onions or some-thing related to it. But your nose at once calls to mind a previous experience and you "see" with your mind, the object which produces the smell.

Nature has arranged these things conveniently to the human sense organism. Harmless things usually have pleasant smells. Dangerous things usually the reverse. Not always, of course, but that is the general rule. These at once start inhibitive processes which warn us to beware. So it goes through the whole field of the sense organization, and these all report to the brain, and then they begin to work together and each reports to the other, and thus we gain unity of knowledge and power of perception.

Notice here, that until we gain this power we have merely a disorganized and unclassified mass of information, which can-not be called "knowledge." When a child asks "Why don't lobsters grow on trees," a perfectly natural question, by the way, in a child, what you notice is that the child does not know the nature of trees, or the nature of lobsters, though he may know both objects perfectly well. He has the objective knowledge of these, but he has no coordinating link arising from the proper distribution. The same thing is true when he asks "Who made God." All that this means is that he does not realize that the nature of the Deity is such that it is eternal and uncreated. It is the same with many of the so-called "hard" questions that children ask. You do exactly the same thing with matters which are unclassified in your mind ! Only a few years ago thousands of people mixed up Ukrainia, a part of the former empire of Russia, with the ukulele, a Hawaiian musical instrument. When the ignorant man heard people discussing the McKinley Bill, a tariff bill in Congress, and asked "Why don't they pay it," he simply had no knowledge of what a bill in Congress is. For him the question was a natural one, and co-ordinated simply with his previous knowledge, or, in this case, his previous ignorance !

It is for this reason that the unification of knowledge through the perceptive faculties is so necessary. Lack of it makes even the facts which we actually have useless, and often misleading. We cannot properly see, with a view to an accurate observation, without getting the senses to act together. Unity of action and unity of coordination is as needful here as unity in physical action to get an upright carriage of the body.

Now this inner unity is called apperception. This term often confuses those who use it, because it tends to make the process more involved than it actually is. But after accurate observation, comes grouping of which mention has already been made under the term classification. Grouping is followed by what is called inference. Here we strike a new addition to our process. If you saw a human being far enough away walking on all-fours, his posture and his gait would suggest an animal not a man. But an upright being, far away, even though you cannot see his whole form, or any feature, though it might be a post or some other upright figure, would suggest a human form. That is an inference. Now that comes about through this means; you gather together what you do know, and apply it to what you do not know, and make what ordinarily is called a "guess." It is not a guess, because it is really based on your previous knowledge. It is not like a genuine "guess," as, for example, when I stand holding my hand behind me and say, "Guess what I have in my hand." Here you have no guide because there is nothing upon which to base a coordinated effort at inference. It is simply a shot in the dark. An inference always has behind it a reason. It may be a poor reason, or a false one, but it nevertheless stands for a reason. But a shot in the dark is simply and purely a mental blank cartridge, because you can hold in your hand anything from a gold piece to a piece of chewing gum. This is not reasoning. But an inference, when it is a just inference, is a process which accurately takes the step from the known to the unknown.

You hear a new sound, you quickly mobilize all the sounds you have heard, you make a prompt inference, that it sounds like a human step, you softly go down stairs listening, and presently you turn up the light, and there stands a burglar. That was a just inference. Time, occasion, the visual sound, your knowledge of the situation, all said to you when put together, "Nobody should be there at this time, but a human being who only could make that kind of a noise, and it must be a burglar." And the inference was justified by the fact. You would not ordinarily expect a Republican to make the best statement possible about Democratic principles. Nor would you expect a Democrat to do the same about a Republican. No Methodist can state the principles of the Presbyterian as well as the Presbyterian himself. We all expect that in these cases where special interests and feelings are involved, that there will, with the best of us, enter some preference which obscures the judgment. The same thing is true about competitors in business and the like. In all these cases the inferences are not likely to be just inferences by the opposite person, but the general inference of all of us, that for true Republicanism we must go to a Republican, or for true Presbyterianism we must go to a Presbyterian, and the like is a sound inference.

Now we have observation grouping and inferring. There remains one more process, that is recording, either actually or mentally, the result of all these processes. That record is either on the brain, in the mind or made externally in writing by some other instrument of record. That covers the whole circle of the organization of the perceptive faculties. These four powers are capable, all of them, of development by practice and by tests. Every psychological laboratory has instruments for making such tests. Every parent can make such tests by simple questioning, directing the observation, or by causing groupings to be made, or by asking what certain things suggest, or what inferences may be drawn from them, and finally by asking what the total reaction is, in a full statement of the whole process. It is a most fascinating sport to do this with either children or grown-ups. All need this alike, and all of us should do it as long as we live, because as we add new knowledge, we need to re-classify many things, and as we find out that some of our knowledge is false, or has been changed or altered by invention, discovery, and the like, we need to go over the whole range of that particular matter, and reorganize the entire field. That is a life-long process. The scientist, the learned man in every field, is simply a man who has carried these things to such lengths that he can see farther and infer more, and more quickly, than most of us.

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