Zoonomia, Vol. I Or, the Laws of Organic Life by Erasmus Darwin is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here: [LINK TO TABLE OF LINK]. Section X: Of Associate Motions
All the fibrous motions, whether muscular or sensual, which are frequently brought into action together, either in combined tribes, or in successive trains, become so connected by habit, that when one of them is reproduced the others have a tendency to succeed or accompany it.
I. 1. Many of our muscular motions were originally excited in successive trains, as the contractions of the auricles and of the ventricles of the heart; and others in combined tribes, as the various divisions of the muscles which compose the calf of the leg, which were originally irritated into synchronous action by the tædium or irksomeness of a continued posture. By frequent repetitions these motions acquire associations, which continue during our lives, and even after the destruction of the greatest part of the sensorium; for the heart of a viper or frog will continue to pulsate long after it is taken from the body; and when it has entirely ceased to move, if any part of it is goaded with a pin, the whole heart will again renew its pulsations. This kind of connection we shall term irritative association, to distinguish it from sensitive and voluntary associations.
2. In like manner many of our ideas are originally excited in tribes; as all the objects of sight, after we become so well acquainted with the laws of vision, as to distinguish figure and distance as well as colour; or in trains, as while we pass along the objects that surround us. The tribes thus received by irritation become associated by habit, and have been termed complex ideas by the writers of metaphysics, as this book, or that orange. The trains have received no particular name, but these are alike associations of ideas, and frequently continue during our lives. So the taste of a pine-apple, though we eat it blindfold, recalls the colour and shape of it; and we can scarcely think on solidity without figure.
II. 1. By the various efforts of our sensations to acquire or avoid their objects, many muscles are daily brought into successive or synchronous actions; these become associated by habit, and are then excited together with great facility, and in many instances gain indissoluble connections. So the play of puppies and kittens is a representation of their mode of fighting or of taking their prey; and the motions of the muscles necessary for those purposes become associated by habit, and gain a great adroitness of action by these early repetitions: so the motions of the abdominal muscles, which were originally brought into concurrent action, with the protrusive motion of the rectum or bladder by sensation, become so conjoined with them by habit, that they not only easily obey these sensations occasioned by the stimulus of the excrement and urine, but are brought into violent and unrestrainable action in the strangury and tenesmus. This kind of connection we shall term sensitive association.
2. So many of our ideas, that have been excited together or in succession by our sensations, gain synchronous or successive associations, that are sometimes indissoluble but with life. Hence the idea of an inhuman or dishonourable action perpetually calls up before us the idea of the wretch that was guilty of it. And hence those unconquerable antipathies are formed, which some people have to the sight of peculiar kinds of food, of which in their infancy they have eaten to excess or by constraint.
III. 1. In learning any mechanic art, as music, dancing, or the use of the sword, we teach many of our muscles to act together or in succession by repeated voluntary efforts; which by habit become formed into tribes or trains of association, and serve all our purposes with great facility, and in some instances acquire an indissoluble union. These motions are gradually formed into a habit of acting together by a multitude of repetitions, whilst they are yet separately causable by the will, as is evident from the long time that is taken up by children in learning to walk and to speak; and is experienced by every one, when he first attempts to skate upon the ice or to swim: these we shall term voluntary associations.
2. All these muscular movements, when they are thus associated into tribes or trains, become afterwards not only obedient to volition, but to the sensations and irritations; and the same movement composes a part of many different tribes or trains of motion. Thus a single muscle, when it acts in consort with its neighbours on one side, assists to move the limb in one direction; and in another, when, it acts with those in its neighbourhood on the other side; and in other directions, when it acts separately or jointly with those that lie immediately under or above it; and all these with equal facility after their associations have been well established.
The facility, with which each muscle changes from one associated tribe to another, and that either backwards or forwards, is well observable in the muscles of the arm in moving the windlass of an air-pump; and the slowness of those muscular movements, that have not been associated by habit, may be experienced by any one, who shall attempt to saw the air quick perpendicularly with one hand, and horizontally with the other at the same time.
3. In learning every kind of science we voluntarily associate many tribes and trains of ideas, which afterwards are ready for all the purposes either of volition, sensation, or irritation; and in some instances acquire indissoluble habits of acting together, so as to affect our reasoning, and influence our actions. Hence the necessity of a good education.
These associate ideas are gradually formed into habits of acting together by frequent repetition, while they are yet separately obedient to the will; as is evident from the difficulty we experience in gaining so exact an idea of the front of St. Paul's church, as to be able to delineate it with accuracy, or in recollecting a poem of a few pages.
And these ideas, thus associated into tribes, not only make up the parts of the trains of volition, sensation, and irritation; but the same idea composes a part of many different tribes and trains of ideas. So the simple idea of whiteness composes a part of the complex idea of snow, milk, ivory; and the complex idea of the letter A composes a part of the several associated trains of ideas that make up the variety of words, in which this letter enters.
The numerous trains of these associated ideas are divided by Mr. Hume into three classes, which he has termed contiguity, causation, and resemblance. Nor should we wonder to find them thus connected together, since it is the business of our lives to dispose them into those three classes; and we become valuable to ourselves and our friends, as we succeed in it. Those who have combined an extensive class of ideas by the contiguity of time or place, are men learned in the history of mankind, and of the sciences they have cultivated. Those who have connected a great class of ideas of resemblances, possess the source of the ornaments of poetry and oratory, and of all rational analogy. While those who have connected great classes of ideas of causation, are furnished with the powers of producing effects. These are the men of active wisdom, who lead armies to victory, and kingdoms to prosperity; or discover and improve the sciences, which meliorate and adorn the condition of humanity.
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Darwin, Erasmus, 2005. Zoonomia, Vol. Or, the Laws of Organic Life. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15707/15707-h/15707-h.htm#sect_X
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