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The Mind's Dependence On The External World

But can we first see how in a general way the brain and nervous system
are primarily related to our thinking? Let us go back to the beginning
and consider the babe when it first opens its eyes on the scenes of its
new existence. What is in its mind? What does it think about? Nothing.
Imagine, if you can, a person born blind and deaf, and without the sense
of touch, taste, or smell. Let such a person live on for a year, for
five years, for a lifetime. What would he know? What ray of intelligence
would enter his mind? What would he think about? All would be dark to
his eyes, all silent to his ears, all tasteless to his mouth, all
odorless to his nostrils, all touchless to his skin. His mind would be a
blank. He would have no mind. He could not get started to think. He
could not get started to act. He would belong to a lower scale of life
than the tiny animal that floats with the waves and the tide in the
ocean without power to direct its own course. He would be but an inert
mass of flesh without sense or intelligence.

THE MIND AT BIRTH.--Yet this is the condition of the babe at birth. It
is born practically blind and deaf, without definite sense of taste or
smell. Born without anything to think about, and no way to get anything
to think about until the senses wake up and furnish some material from
the outside world. Born with all the mechanism of muscle and nerve ready
to perform the countless complex movements of arms and legs and body
which characterize every child, he could not successfully start these
activities without a message from the senses to set them going. At birth
the child probably has only the senses of contact and temperature
present with any degree of clearness; taste soon follows; vision of an
imperfect sort in a few days; hearing about the same time, and smell a
little later. The senses are waking up and beginning their acquaintance
with the outside world.

THE WORK OF THE SENSES.--And what a problem the senses have to solve! On
the one hand the great universe of sights and sounds, of tastes and
smells, of contacts and temperatures, and whatever else may belong to
the material world in which we live; and on the other hand the little
shapeless mass of gray and white pulpy matter called the brain,
incapable of sustaining its own shape, shut away in the darkness of a
bony case with no possibility of contact with the outside world, and
possessing no means of communicating with it except through the senses.
And yet this universe of external things must be brought into
communication with the seemingly insignificant but really wonderful
brain, else the mind could never be. Here we discover, then, the two
great factors which first require our study if we would understand the
growth of the mind--the material world without, and the brain within.
For it is the action and interaction of these which lie at the bottom of
the mind's development. Let us first look a little more closely at the
brain and the accompanying nervous system.

Next: Structural Elements Of The Nervous System

Previous: The Relations Of Mind And Brain

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