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women of science
G. Stein
Gertrude Stein (1st row, 2nd from left) MBL Class Photo: Embryology Course, 1897
Stein on boat
A trip to Quisset on the Vigilant Gertrude. Stein sits in the back on the right side. Courtesy of The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Known mainly as an author and patron of the arts, Gertrude Stein first considered a career in science. After her graduation from Radcliffe in 1897, she enrolled in the premedical program at Johns Hopkins. In the summer of that year, she came to the MBL, where she took the Embryology course. Stein and her brother Leo, a member of the Invertebrate course at the same time, appear in several of the MBL photographs in the archival collection.

Normal Motor Automatism

by Leon M. Solomons and Gertrude Stein

"It is well known that many hysterical subjects exhibit a remarkable development of the subconscious life, amounting, in many cases, to that most interesting phenomenon known as double personality. It has often been argued that the performances of these 'second personalities' are essentially different from the merely automatic movements of ordinary people-so different, in fact, as to compel us to accept the name 'second personality' as a literal expression of the real state of things. Against this view it is urged that we underestimate the automatic powers of the normal subject. We are told that many of the acts which we usually do quite consciously might really be done without consciousness. In support of this assertion such facts are pointed out, as men completely undressing without knowing it, when their attention is distracted by other matters. If this latter explanation is to hold, however, something more than assertion must be forthcoming. The limit of automatism is something that is essentially capable of demonstration by experimental methods, and its investigation forms the subject of this paper.

It must not be understood that any attempt is made to answer the vexed question of a so-called 'subliminal consciousness.' This question cannot be settled experimentally, unless it be admitted beforehand that the automatic acts of normal subjects, between which and the 'second personality' an analogy is asserted, are themselves unaccompanied by consciousness. But this is by no means universally admitted. The question of consciousness, in all cases where it is not directly experienced, is essentially a philosophical one, and the facts of psychology have little, comparatively, to do with it. But the question of whether the performances of the 'second personality' are to be allied to the automatic acts of ordinary people, or whether they are to be allied to those acts which never go on save in the full glare of consciousness-by the aid of reflection, judgment and will; this question is perfectly definite, capable of satisfactory solution by observation and experiment, and of great importance to scientific psychology.

The object of our experiments, then, was primarily to determine the limits of normal automatism, and, if possible, show them to be really equal to the explanation of the second personality; and incidentally to study as carefully as possible the process by which a reaction becomes automatic. Above all, we wished to avoid anything like a real production of a second personality. For the experiments to really settle the point at issue it was essential that no suspicion should rest upon the complete 'normality' of the subject through the experiments. Our idea was to reproduce rather the essential elements of the 'second personality,' if possible, in so far as they consist of definite motor reactions unaccompanied by consciousness-or shall we say, out of deference to the subliminal consciousness theory, unaccompanied by 'conscious consciousness'. . . ."

from Psychological Review, 1896.