Posted by on Dec 17, 2012 in William James | 0 comments

In a previous post I mentioned about ordering a copy of ‘The Principles Of Psychology’ by William James. It arrived yesterday and I’ve just started flicking through the book. It does have some interesting things to note within it’s pages. In the very first chapter (in this version) named ‘The Scope Of Psychology’ James talks about experimenting on a frog. Stay with me on this one…here is an extract from that chapter…

“The physiologist does not confidently assert conscious intelligence in the frog’s spinal cord until he has shown that the useful result which the nervous machinery brings forth under a given irritation remains the same when the machinery is altered. If, to take the stock-instance, the right knee of a headless frog be irritated with acid, the right foot will wipe it off. When, however, this foot is amputated, the animal will often raise the left foot to the spot and wipe the offending material away.

Pfluger and Lewes reason from such facts in the following way: If the first reaction were the result of mere machinery, they say; if that irritated portion of the skin discharged the right leg as a trigger discharges its own barrel of a shotgun; then amputating the right foot would indeed frustrate the wiping, but would not make the left leg move. It would simply result in the right stump moving through the empty air (which is in fact the phenomenon sometimes observed). The right trigger makes no effort to discharge the left barrel if the right one be unloaded; nor does an electrical machine ever get restless because it can only emit sparks, and not hem pillow-cases like a sewing-machine.

If, on the contrary, the right leg originally moved for the purpose of wiping the acid, then nothing is more natural than that, when the easiest means of effecting that purpose prove fruitless, other means should be tried. Every failure must keep the animal in a state of disappointment which will lead to all sorts of new trials and devices; and tranquillity will not ensue till one of these, by a happy stroke, achieves the wished-for end.

In a similar way Goltz ascribes intelligence to the frog’s optic lobes and cerebellum. We alluded above to the manner in which a sound frog imprisoned in water will discover an outlet to the atmosphere. Goltz found that frogs deprived of their cerebral hemispheres would often exhibit a like ingenuity. Such a frog, after rising from the bottom and finding his farther upward progress checked by the glass bell which has been inverted over him, will not persist in butting his nose against the obstacle until dead of suffocation, but will often re-descend and emerge from under its rim as if, not a definite mechanical propulsion upwards, but rather a conscious desire to reach the air by hook or crook were the main-spring of his activity. Goltz concluded from this that the hemispheres are not the seat of intellectual power in frogs. He made the same inference from observing that a brainless frog will turn over from his back to his belly when one of his legs is sewed up, although the movements required are then very different from those excited under normal circumstances by the same annoying position. They seem determined, consequently, not merely by the antecedent irritant, but by the final end,-though the irritant of course is what makes the end desired.

We can conclude then that most automatic motor functions are controlled by the spinal cord, and that these unconscious motor functions are seperate from conscious thought.