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Original Nucleus Of Personality

( Originally Published 1916 )

IN the suggestive closing chapter of his " Psychology " the Danish philosopher, Hoffding, says : " However far back we go, the individuals will start always with a certain organisation, with certain forms and powers which they have not themselves acquired. . . . At every stage of the great process of evolution there is a given basis, by which the effect of all experience is determined. . . . The external always presupposes the internal. . . . What is acquired is conditioned by what is originally innate. This is a fundamental relation that constantly repeats itself." This is true of all living things. It is the first chapter in their evolutionary history. Each has its primary nucleus in which is enfolded its future life-history, " after its kind." We are to see briefly how this applies in the case of human personality, and to point to the grounds on which we look back to some such beginning.

The whole of the facts of our lives consist of what we experience. These three words express a unity ; but with a trinity of meaning or reference. Whilst the experiencing is our perceiving, feeling, thinking, wondering, wishing, and the like, and what we experience forms the contents of our perceiving, feeling, thinking, wondering, wishing, there is the presupposition, both in the experiencing and the contents experienced, of ourselves. We must be there to have the experience.

Logic and psychology are quite at one in this matter. People have become very shy of a logical reading of - Descartes' famous dictum : "I think, therefore I am " ; and rightly so, so far as the interpretation of his meaning is concerned. He was merely reading off from the page of his own consciousness what he found to be directly given there. He found that given in and with all our conscious experience is a direct consciousness of ourselves. We discover ourselves in the very activities of thinking, willing, feeling. Along with our experiences, that is, we have a direct intuition of ourselves as having them. This was Descartes' view ; and it is in closest accord with the verdict of common sense. All that Descartes meant to say was : "1, the thinker, think." Yet the actual form of words used by him bears a logical interpretation. And, though we do not need to reason about what is already obvious and directly given, logic may quite well join hands with psychology in affirming the presence of a something original in all experience and as the pre-condition of all experience.

It is but a slight step aside from the immediate consciousness that we and our experiences are bound together, and are apprehended together, to say that an experience implies an experiencer. And this is, in effect, the logic of the case. It is of value to us, because we may work back from it in a way that-without the aid of logic—we could not work back from the direct intuition of our own existence. We can say, having in mind the growth of conscious experience and of the power of conscious experience in the race : Whensoever and howsoever conscious experience had a beginning, there must have been a being capable of having conscious experience for it to begin. Or, having in mind the growth of conscious experience and of the power of conscious experience in the individual : At whatever moment and in whatever form his conscious experience began, there must have been at that moment also the beginnings of conscious personality.

It is with the unfolding of the life of the individual that we are now concerned. Nothing can be more certain than this fact of an original nucleus or centre from which personality in its later developments grows. A member of any species is somehow pre-conditioned as a member of that species and no other. " When you come to think of it," says one writer, " there is something very remarkable in the fact that all dogs are dogs, whether Borzois or Toy Pours, whether whippets or Great Danes. Why this is I cannot understand : why they all, although so utterly different, should alike be dogs, with a vast groundwork of character identically the same, nor how they should all derive from a common ancestor." There, clearly, is a common centre, a basis of similarity, whereby dogs are dogs. Equally, there is a more complex basis of similarity between different dogs of the same species. This is but saying in other words that the creative process does not, however carefully at times it seems to recapitulate past stages, really go back to the most simple beginnings, to what we may call the amoeba stage. The germ-cell from which one of the higher animals develops, however primitive in type and appearance, is laden with possibilities higher in kind and vastly different from those belonging to the primitive cell of the amoeba. An embryo cannot, of course, develop without an environment ; but it has, none the less, a life-history which is potentially present in some mysterious way even in its germ-cell, and which only waits to unfold. Each species has its own original nucleus of quality and tendency whence each member of the species derives a large and determining part of its individuality.

The higher the species the richer in range and in quality this original determining of its individuality will be. In his "Inquiries into Human Faculty," Mr. Galton refers to the complexity of man's character even in members of the lowest and most savage races. And speaking of mankind in general, he says : "Different aspects of the multifarious character of man respond to different calls from without, so that the same individual, and much more the same race, may behave very differently at different epochs. There may have been no fundamental change of character, but a different phase or mood of it may have been evoked by special circumstances. . . Sudden eras of great intellectual progress cannot be due to any alteration in the natural faculties of the race, because there has not been time for that, but to their being directed in productive channels." In view of this large and varied capacity of response, the original nucleus of qualities and tendencies in man as man must be of immense importance in the determining of the nature of human personality. Mr. Galton's colleague in study has recently given the result of statistical inquiries in still more specialised form. Pairs of exceptional parents, says Professor Karl Pearson, tend to have exceptional sons in ten the proportion as compared with pairs of non-exceptional parents. The difference between the exceptional man born of non-exceptional parents and the exceptional man born of an exceptional stock is in the fact that, if each marries an exceptional woman, the latter will have children on the average up to "the type or the stock," but the former's children will show "regression towards mediocrity." The general conclusion being that the type or average of the stock is inherited, and passes on from generation to generation." In the words or Hôffding : "At every stage of the great process or evolution there is a given basis, by which the effect of all experience is determined."

In the most general way we may ask : What are the qualities or tendencies which constitute the original nucleus of human personality ? At least three perfectly general qualities may be traced. They are : (a) a spontaneous activity; (b) a tendency to develop along the lines, both physical and mental, which are characteristic of man ; and (c) a marked capacity to differentiate in response to the call of the environment, and thus to be modified by environment. In each case the principle applies that the higher the species, and the higher the stock or type or breed within the species, the richer both in range and in quality is the original endowment.

(a) The most important practical question with regard to the first of these original factors in personality is : Towards what are we thus active ? Reserving to the next chapter the consideration of the close and constant mutual dependence of mind and body, we may here keep the mind and its activity mainly in view. We cannot conceive of mental activity apart from something that the mind works upon. So we find that Kant, with all he,is insistence upon the part played by mind, felt the necessity of postulating an external reality, or "things-in-themselves," failing to see how else to account for sense-experience. Self-activity not being, then, a process so complete within itself that it can conjure up its own materials as well as make its own constructions, we must look beyond the mind before we can have any clear conception as to what is meant by its activity.

And here, amongst other things, we have the fundamental reason for the provision of a school or college curriculum. It is of the nature of mind to be active in respect of that which is presented to it, on the two conditions that that which is presented comes within its powers and that it evokes its powers. Granted these two conditions the mind of its own nature tends to be active. As to this spontaneous activity itself, a word will be said at the close of the chapter.

(b) Given the presence of an interacting environment, the effect of the mind's natural activity is to raise the individual to the normal level of human intelligence. Just as the result of our natural bodily activity is the attainment of a normal standard of physical development, so do we by the exercise of our spontaneous mental activities attain to a normal intellectual standard. The spontaneous activity, physical and mental, whereby from the first dawn of individual consciousness we respond to environment, tends all the time to make us men ; i.e., to develop body and mind according to the human type or standard. And here we have the real reason why the learner's approach to a curriculum that is within his powers and yet calls for effort should be by way of self-activity. The natural effect of the full and free use of his own powers, is to raise him to his due stature as an intelligent being. Denied the full and free use of his own powers he is in danger of being dwarfed in mental stature. This is the final plea for "self-activity" as a principle of method.

(c) The third of the tendencies which we trace back to the original nucleus is the tendency to take individual shape according to the specific experiences and the actual environment encountered. Our specific responses to our specific environment individualise us. In virtue of them we are ourselves, i.e., have an individuality differing from other men's individuality. This is far from being solely a question of environment. The play of external forces, however varied, subtle, and persistent, can never completely account for the life-form either of genus, species, or individual. We may go back to the making of nerve-paths for the simplest way in which to illustrate this ; and the illustration is appropriate, for in the differentiation of nerve-structure we have the physiological effect of all variations in experience—the physiological basis or counterpart of individuality. Is it not clear that the play of external forces alone cannot account for the making of specific nerve-paths ? that there must be some internal power of selection whereby stimulations of a specific kind are appropriated by the nerve-grouping which is destined to become a specific sense-organ? How could light-wave stimulations affect selectively the sensitive surface where organs of sight are to be slowly fashioned, and sound-wave stimulations the centres of a future organ of hearing, if the organism itself had no say in the matter ? How, evolutionarily speaking, could a light-wave modification in the part which was the ultimate beginning of optic nerves and eye have held its own against, say, a sound-wave stimulation which might have challenged its right to the track ? The capacity to differentiate is really postulated in any thoroughgoing evolutionary explanation. And this capacity is necessarily latent in the original nucleus whether we are considering the life-history of a genus, of a species, or of an individual. That is to say, the changes involved alike in the evolution of organic forms and in the development of individuals depend upon something besides the action of external forces. They are, " phenomena of the internal character ".of the germs and cells in which these high issues are being initiated.

Whether this modifiability is due to direct supplies of energy from a constant force—" some cause which transcends our knowledge and conception" (Spencer, "First Principles," or is in some equally mysterious way latent in the organism from the beginning, matters not in logic. Science, as has been often said, may take the latter view, since its work is not to push back to first principles. Philosophy may adopt the former alternative. Indeed, Herbert Spencer, who has had more than any one to say about the effect of external forces in producing differentiations of form, avows the need for the conception of an Unknowable Energy. And he continually transcends the strict pursuit of the evolutionary hypothesis by invoking this Energy.

' Haeckel, similarly, according to Mr. McCabe, "does not teach"—" never did teach "—that the - spiritual universe is an 'aspect of the material universe.." It is his fundamental and This, however, is in passing. The point we are considering is that the environment could not modify us if we were not modifiable through our responses to it. Such adaptability, or power to respond and to be modified by response, is necessary to the beginning of an individual experience. This is a persisting quality. And several questions arise from it for the educator. All his planning turns upon his knowledge that human personality is modifiable according to environment and the appeal of experience. The grading of schools and the educational aim and tendency of schools of different grade ; the admitted duty—as much honoured in the breach as in the observance—of including adequate appeals to all sides of child-nature and child-capacity which make for human power ; the spirit of the school discipline, and many other matters are involved, in this great original fact, belonging to the being of man as man, that from the first moment of conscious experience onward through all conscious experience individuality is taking shape.

So far, then, the two vital considerations both for the philosopher and for the educator are the inner potency and tendency of the individual and the nature and effect of environing reality. Life is a product of inner tendency and outer conditions. This was well illustrated by Professor Sherrington, of Liverpool, in a recent address. He exhibited a muscle resembling the human biceps. "This muscle," he said, "has its place in the economy of nature, and into it it fits as a key into the lock for which it has been made.

Was the universe made to suit this little muscle or was this little muscle made to suit the universe ? The problem concerning this muscle and that concerning man are, in so far, the same. Surely our answer is that the muscle and the rest of the universe fit each other because they have grown up together—because they are part of one great whole ; they fit just as a lock and key fit because they compose one thing, and it is pointless to ask whether the lock was made to fit the key or the key the lock."' So, although in the following chapters the whole inquiry turns upon the unfolding, especially in a psychological sense, of man's personal life,. his relationship to environing reality is pre-supposed throughout. The self and the universe are not divided. The ultimate nucleus of human personality, and with it the rich succession of nascent tendencies, which unfold from it from stage to stage in our individual progress, fit the universe and the universe fits them.

It would seem possible, therefore, to assign a fourth fundamental quality or tendency to the original nucleus. For this mutual fitting of the self to the universe of reality and of the universe to the self is somehow prophetic of an abiding harmony. This possibility is for the self—and perhaps for the universe also—of the nature of an Ideal. The Ideal may thus be said to dwell within us as an inherent part of our being—an ideal so varied and far-reaching in character through its relation to the whole of our contact with the universe of matter and of spirit, that it need not surprise us if we find ourselves incapable of realising it in a short lifetime of finite experience. As might be expected, this presence of the Infinite or the Ideal with us gives rise to difficulties and even to seeming contradictions. The finite character of our experience and of our progress and the infinite nature of the Ideal which is somehow born within us and which bears us company are not easily harmonised. Professor Mackenzie has dealt penetratingly with this difficulty. He sees that our consciousness, though in a sense finite, can identify itself with the infinite, and that though this carries us beyond the finite centre of individual consciousness, "yet it is the ultimate point of reference for the individual consciousness." If our ideal self is in any true sense our self at all, it may be asked, Why does it always dance in front of us, so that we never come up with it? This is the "difficulty of an Infinite Ideal combined with a finite consciousness," and an Infinite Ideal supposed to be in part "constitutive of our consciousness." Professor Mackenzie meets the difficulty by admitting that a contradiction remains in individual personality between the infinite and the finite side. Whilst finitude belongs essentially to human personality, which is connected with a particular animal organism, "the infinite side belongs to us as truly as the finite side."

The seeming contradiction applies, as Professor Mackenzie shows, equally to the divergence between human knowledge and ideal reason. The only question is as to whether it is better to speak of a contradiction between the infinite and the finite side of our personality, rather than to view the fact that realisation falls short of the ideal as a result of the gradual unfolding of our personality. There would be no contradiction in saying that even the original nucleus never completely unfolds in the course of our finite experience. The only way of making this into a contradiction would be by saying that there cannot be more in the original nucleus than we actually see unfold ; and this, by his whole-hearted inclusion of participation in the infinite by human personality, Professor Mackenzie seems clearly to disallow. There is no real contradiction in the fact that the whole sum of developing tendency falls short of the goal of perfect development. Even in full consciousness of the divergence between our attainment and the ideal possible to us as self-conscious beings, we may harmonise the two in the idea of growth and progress. Even our highest conceptions of the ideal are charged with an impulsive energy.

A valuable and for our purpose sufficiently inclusive and workable idea of the original nucleus is provided by thinkers of such different schools as Caird and Spencer. "The inmost secret of each man's heart is the secret of the whole world," says Caird. And Spencer speaks of "the I which continuously survives" and is the subject of our various experiences as " a portion of the Unknowable Power." This Spencer urges in order to meet the need of a principle of unity and of continuity within human personality ; for he sees that "the aggregate of subjective states constituting the mental I have not in themselves the principle of cohesion holding them together as a whole." Behind the " mental I," the acts and facts of mind which make up our experience, there must be some primary nucleus or soul, one in nature with the universe, as Caird says, or, as Spencer, a "portion of the Unknowable Power." Thus viewed, we have the image and superscription of universal reality stamped upon human personality from its first unfolding.

" A spark disturbs our clod ;
Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take,
I must believe."

But difficulties are not to be avoided. In thus affirming the ultimate unity of the inmost self and the universe, we are soon face to face with difficult problems. Whence comes error? Whence comes evil ? Are our actual environing conditions typical of the purpose and meaning of the universe ? Is there a true self discoverable which can pass through all unchallenged ? It may be that philosophy only finds answers to these difficulties when as an interpreting angel it enters the domain of spirit, making religion itself more realisable to many by its discourse. The mystery of disharmony, side by side with the moving of the Ideal within us, may find its solution in a right attitude of the personal will. The self can become the ally of the universe, link itself in thought and will and feeling—but essentially in will —with the All. Indeed, the belief in this possibility is the mainspring of the universal religious impulse. This appears to be the meaning of the Ideal. The inner self or soul and the universe are not divided. In our inmost being we are and remain bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh ; so that in knowing ourselves, in knowing mind or man, we so far touch the centre of things, and know reality almost at first hand.

If we call man's capacity for the Ideal a fourth quality or tendency, immanent in the primary nucleus of human personality, it will be in view of the fact variously expressed by Caird, Mackenzie, and Spencer in the quotations already given. Many names might be added and passages quoted to show that philosophy is by various paths arriving at a spiritual interpretation of reality. Man from this standpoint lives and moves and has his being in a universe of spiritual reality. "The inmost secret of each man's heart is the secret of the whole world." " The infinite side belongs to us as truly as the finite." "The I which continuously survives is a portion of the Unknowable Power."

Probably no further explanation can be offered of the bare fact of our mental activity, or of our having a life-history as thinking, feeling, self-determining beings, than this. We are portions of the Supreme Energy, partakers in the spiritual nature of the universe. His first being and fundamental character, the genesis of his personality, man derives from something akin to himself, though infinitely higher than himself, in the universe. This is his Alpha—the primary nucleus, as we have called it—of human personality.

From this same source, and because he is a conscious receiver of the impress of the Whole, man has ideals or an Ideal, inalienably rooted in his consciousness of himself. This is his never-attained Omega. Between this Alpha and this Omega lie all that comes to him through the self-active tendencies, the instinctive impulses, of his nature ; all, that comes to him as his education ; the whole, indeed, of his sought and unsought experience, which is in effect an education whether he will or no.


1. The suggestion of an original nucleus is somewhat cursorily made in this chapter, as the main purpose of the book is less to theorise than to present results which have a practical bearing. For further reading, either the last chapter in Hoffding's " Psychology " (Eng. trans.), or Ormond's " Foundations of Knowledge," may be suggested. But one of two things must be allowed ;—either that the potentiality of progressive acquisition is somehow infolded in a primary nucleus—actually there in the germ, or that the original nucleus (for some starting-point has to be postulated) is such as to be capable of progressively receiving fresh influxes of energy from outside.

2. By way of a real beginning in child-study, we might by observation and inquiry frame for ourselves an answer to the question : In what way does the tiniest infant manifest that he is alive ?

3. A useful suggestion is given by Dr. Percy Nunn, of London University, to the effect that the term "self-expression" is too frequently taken as meaning that the "self" is something already existing within the young child and only waiting to be " expressed." It would be more true, Dr. Nunn says—and it will be readily agreed that it would be equally true—" to say that self-expression is a movement towards a self—a process in which the child (to use Mr. Kipling's phrase) finds himself" Perhaps the truth that combines the two views is that activity, which is the child's great method of self-expression, is also one of his great methods of gaining experience. In his experience, the child certainly realises or " finds" himself.

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