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An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

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338                      VI. ON PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY
'panics', 'compulsory actions', identifications or confusions of orders of abstractions., show a similar semantic mechanism of mis-evaluation. Although they naturally belong to the so-called 'conditional reactions', yet, being impervious to reason, they have the one-valued character of unconditionality, as in animals.
Similarly with the difference between signals and symbols. The signal with the animal is less conditional, more one-valued, 'absolute', and involves the animal in the responses which we have named conditional reactions of lower order. Symbols with the normally developed man (see discussion of 'normal' above) are, or should be, oo-valued, indefinitely conditional, not automatic; the meanings, and, therefore, the situation as-a-whole, or the context in a given case, become paramount, and the reactions should be fully conditional - that is to say, reactions of higher order. In human regression or undevelopment, human symbols have degenerated to the value of signals effective with animals, the main difference being in the degree of conditionality. Absolutism as a semantic tendency in humans involves, of necessity, one- or few-valued attitudes, the lack of conditionality, and thus represents a pre-human tendency.
To what extent the language of the degrees of conditionality is helpful in understanding the development of human 'intelligence', and why a fully developed human 'mind' should be related with fully conditional reactions of higher order, can be well illustrated by an example taken quite low in the scale of life.
This example is selected only because it is simple, and illustrates an important principle very clearly. We know that fishes have a well-developed nervous system, do not possess a differentiated cerebral cortex; but experiments show that they can learn by experience. If we take a pike (or a perch) and put it in a tank in which some minnows, its natural food, are separated from it by a glass partition, the pike will dash repeatedly against the glass partition to capture the minnows. After a number of such dashes it abandons the attempt. If we then remove the partition, the pike and the minnows will freely swim together and the pike will not attempt to capture the minnows.4
The dash for capturing the minnows was a positive and unconditional, inborn feeding reaction, unsuited for the environmental conditions as they happened to be at that moment. The (perhaps) painful striking of the glass was a negative stimulus, which abolished the positive reaction - speaking descriptively - and established a negative conditional reaction, the result of individual experience, which, as we observe by the actions of the fish, is not flexible, not adjustable, and quite rigid,