The Comparative Psychology of Man

Spencer, Herbert 1876. The Comparative Psychology of Man. Mind 1(1): 7-20.

That making a general survey is useful as a preliminary to deliberat study, either of a whole or of any prat, scarcely needs showing. Vagueness of thought accompanies the wandering about in a region without known bounds or landmarks. Attention devoted to some portion of a subject, in ignorance of its connection with the rest, leads to untrue conceptions. The whole cannot be rightly conceived without some knowledge of the parts; and no part can be rightly conceived out of relation to the whole. (Spencer 1876: 7)

This is simultaneously an encouragement to review phatic communion before setting forth an original framework and can also be used as a call for an elucidation of a broader historical-philosophical context for phatic communion.

It will also include inquiries concerning the time taken in completing mental evolution, and the time during which adult mental power lasts, such as the greater or less persistence of emotions and of intellectual processes. (Spencer 1876: 7)

This is obviously a reference to Spencer's principle of economy of mental effort, which is presumably continued by William James in his Principles of Psychology in viewing "higher intellect" as a matter of duration, or how long a single thought can be sustained in a mind. In casual parlange, smarter people can focus and dedicate their thinking on any given item for much longer than a person whose attention span is short.

This division should also include in its scope the sentiments of the sexes towards one another, considered as varying quantitatively and qualitatively; as well as their respective sentiments towards offspring, similarly varying. (Spencer 1876: 8)

Reinforcing the opinion that "sentiments" in Spencer's vocabulary are pretty much "attitudes" in Herbert Blumer's.

For the third division of inquiries may be reserved the more special mental traits distinguishing different types of men. One class of such specialties results from difference of proportion among faculties possessed in common; and another class results from the presence in some races of faculties that are almost or quite absent from others. (Spencer 1876: 8)

"I have chosen the above from a Savage Community, because I wanted to emphasize that such and no other is the nature of primitive speech." (Malinowski 1923: 316)

Some there are whose intelligence, high though it may be, produces little impression on those arond; while there are some who, when uttering even commonplaces, do it so as to affect listeners in a disproportionate degree. Comparison of two such makes it manifest that, generally, the difference is due to the natural language of the emotions. Behind the intellectual quickness of the one there is not felt any power of character; while the other betrays a momentum capable of bearing down opposition - a potentiality of emotion that has something formidable about it. (Spencer 1876: 8)

Commonplaces, i.e. cliches, phatic expressions.

The natural language of emotions, i.e. the classic understanding according to which "natural language" is basically nonverbal communication, and not informal verbal language as it is most frequently understood today. I have a hunch that this shift occurred within logic or computer science, when it became necessary to distinguish between normal human language and artificial or technical languages used in mathematics and computing. But I've yet to discover the exact point in time when this shift occurred, or even whereabouts (gut feeling says mid 20th century but this is a hunch).

Character occurs twice in Malinowski's "Phatic Communion", both in paragraph 4: "taciturnity means not only unfriendliness but directly a bad character. This no doubt varies greatly with the national character".

What are the relations of this trait to the social state, as predatory or industrial, nomadic or agricultural? Mental complexity. - How races differ in respect of the more or less involved structures of their minds, will best be understood on recalling that unlikeness between the juvenile mind and the adult mind among ourselves, which so well typifies the unlikeness between the minds of savage and civilised. (Spencer 1876: 9)

Not far off from calling primitive peoples mentally infantile. What is scientific racism? For my purposes, I'll note that there is probably an etymological connection betveen "juvenile" and "jovial", which may be connected with the phaticisms "free" and "aimless".

Relative plasticity. - Is there any relation between the degree of mental modifiability which remains in adult life, and the character of the mental evolution in respect of mass, complexity, and rapidity? The animal kingdom at large yields us reasons for associating an inferior and more rapidly-completed mental type, with a relatively automatic nature. Lowly organised creatures, guided almost entirely by reflex actions, are in but small degrees changeable by individual experiences. As the nervous structure complicates, its actions become less rigorously confined within pre-established limits; and as we approach the highest creatures, individual experiences take larger and larger shares in moulding the conduct: there is an increasing ability to take in new impressions and to profit by the acquisitions. Inferior and superior races are contrasted in this respect. Many travellers comment on the unchangeable habits of savages. (Spencer 1876: 10)

Having to do with the diminutive representative examples - Malinowski has "savages", La Barre has women, children and primates, Jakobson has infants and talking birds. Are bearded and unbearded races superior or inferior? Also, many travellers have apparently attempted to change the habits of the inhabitants of lands they travel.

Speaking broadly, while they resist permanent modification they lack intellectual persistence, and they lack emotional persistence. Of various low types we read that they cannot keep the attention fixed beyond a few minutes on anything requiring thought, even of a simple kind. Similarly with their feelings: these are less enduring than those of civilised men. There are, however, qualifications to be made in this statement; and comparisons are needed to ascertain how far these qualifications go. The savage shows great persistence in the action of lower intellectual faculties. He is untiring in minute observation. He is untiring, also, in that kind of perceptive activity which accompanies the making of his weapons and ornaments: often persevering for immense periods in carving stones, &c. Emotionally, too, he shows persistence not only in the motives prompting these small industries, but also in certain of his passions - especially in that of revenge. (Spencer 1876: 11)

Compare to "affirmations of some supremely obvious state of things" (PC 2.2) and "accounts of irrelevant happenings, comments on what is perfectly obvious" (PC 5.1).

What connection is there between this trait and the social state? Clearly a very explosive nature - such as that of the Bushman - is unfit for social union; and, commonly, social union, when by any means established, checks impulsiveness. What respective shares in checking impulsiveness are taken by the feelings which the social state fosters - such as the fear of surrounding individuals, the instinct of sociality, the desire to accumulate property, the sympathetic feelings, the sentiment of justice? These, which require a social environment for their development, all of them involve imaginations of consequences more or less distant; and thus imply checks upon the prompting of the simpler passions. Hence arise the questions - In what order, in what degrees, and in what combinations do they come into play? (Spencer 1876: 12-13)

These feelings, which the social state supposedly fosters, I have already correlated with Malinowski's phatic communion in a dedicated post in the Phatic Workshop.

Two natures respectively adapted to slightly unlike sets of social conditions, may be expected by their union to produce a nature somewhat more plastic than either - a nature more impressible by the new circumstances of advanced social life, and therefore more likely to originate new ideas and display modified sentiments. (Spencer 1876: 13)

Shorthand: intercultural plasticity. Estonglish and other variants immediately come to mind but this would probably be an interesting aspect to dissect in modern networked cultures.

The sexual sentiment. - Results of value may be looked for from comparisons of races made to determine the amounts and characters of the higher feelings to which the relations of the sexes give rise. (Spencer 1876: 15)

Higher feelings meaning affection?

(a) How far is development of the sexual sentiment dependent upon intellectual advance - upon growth of imaginative power? (b) How far is it related to emotional advance; and especially to evolution of those emotions which originate from sympathy? What are its relations to polyandry and polygyny? (c) Does it not tend towards, and is it not fostered by, monogamy? (d) What connection has it with maintenance of the family bond, and the consequent better rearing of children? (Spencer 1876: 16)

Something something mobile work.

Imitativeness. - One of the characteristics in which the lower types of men show us a smaller departure from reflex action than do the higher types, is their strong tendency to mimic the motions and sounds made by others - an almost involuntary habit which travellers find it difficult to check. This meaningless repetition, which seems to imply that the idea of an observed action cannot be framed in the mind of the observer without tending forthwith to discharge itself in the action conceived (and every ideal action is a nascent form of the consciousness accompanying performance of such action), evidently diverges but little from the automatic; and decrease of it is to be expected along with increase of self-regulating power. This trait of automatic mimicry is evidently allied with that less automatic mimicry which shows itself in greater persistence of customs. For customs adopted by each generation from the last, without thought or inquiry, imply a tendency to imitate which overmasters critical and sceptical tendencies: so maintaining habits for which no reason can be given. (Spencer 1876: 16)

Compare this to the automaticity of Gardiner-Jakobsonian phatic function. The latter portions concerns the passing along of culture ("custom"). Habits for which no reason can be given are similar to rites, which in Durkheim appeared to have no better explanation than "this is how our forefathers did things".

Specialities of emotional nature. - These are worthy of careful study, as being intimately related to social phenomena - to the possibility of social progress, and to the nature of the social structure. Of those to be chiefly noted there are - (a) Gregariousness or sociality - a trait in the strength of which races differ widely: some, as the Mantras, being almost indifferent to social intercourse; others being unable to dispense with it. Obviously the degree of the desire for the presence of fellow-men, affects greatly the formation of social groups, and consequently underlies social progress. (b) Intolerance of restraint. Men of some inferior types, as the Mapuché, are ungovernable; while those of other types, no higher in grade, not only submit to restraint, but admire the persons exercising it. These contrasted traits have to be observed in connection with social evolution; to the early stages of which they are respectively antagonistic and favourable. (c) The desire for praise is a trait which, common to all races, high or low, varies considerably in degree. (Spencer 1876: 18)

Must be compared more closely with Malinowski, particularly in the aspect of group formation, on which I now have more linguistic material from him and Durkheim.

The altruistic sentiments. - Coming last, these are also highest. The evolution of them in the course of civilisation shows us very clearly the reciprocal influences of the social unit and the social organism. On the one hand, there can be no sympathy, nor any of the sentiments which simpathy generates, unless there are fellow-beings around. On the other hand, maintenance of union with fellow-beings depends in part on the presence of sympathy, and the resulting restraint on conduct. Gregariousness or sociality favours the growth of sympathy; increased sympathy conduces to closer sociality and a more stable social state; and so, continuously, each increment of the one makes possible a further increment of the other. (Spencer 1876: 19)

Blockquotable. He goes on to list Pity, Generosity and Justice. These curiously follow a quasi-Peircean line noticeable elsewhere in his writings, too, even infra pp. 17, "for there are generalities of the first, second, third, &c. orders and abstractions similarly ascending in degree".


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