Automatism of Animals and Men

Abstract

I WAS surprised to see by Mr. Wallace's letter of last week that he and I had understood Prof. Huxley's address in senses entirely different I understood Prof. Huxley to mean that not only the reflex action of animals, but also all the conscious, so-called voluntary actions of men—those, for example, that we perform for the first time, and, as we say, with a conscious end in view—are purely automatic; that is, that consciousness, while it accompanies the workings of the animal machine, never stands in a causal relation to any movement whatever; that no movement ever was the result of a state of consciousness, that every movement is the result of physical antecedents which, being present, the movement must of necessity follow, and that in this physical chain there is no break whatever. Years ago I saw no escape from this conclusion, and I have repeatedly made explicit statements of it in the pages of this journal and elsewhere. I was therefore gratified to find Prof. Huxley agreeing with the doctrine; and that the British public should be so little startled by his announcement of an opinion which has seemed absurd to almost everyone to whom I have attempted to expound it, struck me as rather curious. But the explanation is easy, if a man of such fine and cultured intellect as Mr. Wallace could so completely miss the meaning of Prof. Huxley's discourse.

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SPALDING, D. Automatism of Animals and Men. Nature 10, 520 (1874) doi:10.1038/010520a0

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