1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Attention

(Part 10)

(B) General Analysis of Mind. Its Ultimate Constituents. (cont.)


As to the subjective relations of objects, the relation of presentation itself, we have merely to note that on the side of the subject it implies what, for want of a better word, may be called attention, extending the denotation of what is meant by consciousness,—so much of it, that is, as answers to being mentally active, active enough a least to "receive impressions." Attention on the side of the subject implies on the side of the object : we might indeed almost call intensity the matter of a presentation, without which it is a nonentity. [Footnote 41-1] As to the connexion between these two, subjective attention and objective intensity—in that higher form of attention called voluntary we are aware (1) that concentration of attention increases or its abstraction diminishes the intensity of a presentation in circumstances where physically and physiologically there is nothing to prevent the intensity of the presentation from continuing uniform. Again, (2) in circumstance when psychologically we are aware of no previous change in the distribution of attention, we find the intensity of a presentation increased or diminished if certain physical concomitanis of the presentation (e.g., stimulus, nervous process, &c. ) are increase or diminished. Thus, though this is a point we could hardly establish without the aid of psychophysics, we may conclude that the intensity of a presentation may be altered from two sides ; that it depends, in other words, partly upon what we may perhaps call its physical intensity and partly on the amount of attention it receives.

Some further exposition of the connexion between subjective attention and objective intensity is perhaps desirable here, where we are seeking to get a general view of the essential facts of mind and their relations, rather later on, when we shall be more concerned with details. We are aware in ordinary life that the intensity of any given sensation depends upon certain physical not the psychological, we conceive sensory objects as having an intensity per se apart from the attention from the attention that their presentation secures. From the physical standpoint it is manifest that no other conception is compatible with a scientific treatment of phenomena. Subjective sources of variation are supposed to be eliminated : the general mind to which, according to the physicist’s conception of a phenomenon, that phenomenon is implicitly supposed to be presented is a mind in which there is no feeling to produce variations of attention, or to favour aesthetic combination of objects. Attention is thus assumed to be constant, and all variations in intensity to be objectively determined. But psychologically we cannot assume this. In any given presentation there is, it must be admitted, no immediate evidence that the intensity of the object is a function of two variables,—(1) what we have called its physical or absolute intensity and (2) the intensity of attention. Still there are facts which justify this conclusion. That the intensity of the presentation varies with the absolute intensity of the object, attention remaining constant, is a proportion not likely to be challenged. What has to be shown is that the intensity of presentations varies with the attention, all else remaining constant. Assuming that voluntary and non-voluntary attention are fundamentally the same, this amounts to showing (1) that concentration upon some objects diminishes the intensity of presentation of other in the same field, whether the concentration be voluntary or non-voluntary, i.e., due to a shock ; and (2) that, even though only within narrow limits, increasing attention voluntarily has the same effect on the presentation as increasing the objective from the physical side. The narrowness of these limits—practically an all-important fact—is theoretically no objection. It would not be difficult psychologically to account for our inability to concentrate attention indefinitely : that we can concentrate it at all is enough to show that there is a subjective factor in the intensity of a presentation. Any fuller consideration of the conncexion between attention and presentation may be deferred.


[41-1] Compare Kant’s Principle of the Anticipations of Perception:-- "In all phenomena the real which is the object of sensation has intensive magnitude."

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