1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Theory of Presentations - Introduction. Assumption of a Psychological Individual.

(Part 16)

(C) Theory of Presentations

Theory of Presentations - Introduction. Assumption of a Psychological Individual.

Having now ascertained what seem to be the essential elements in any state of mind, we may next proceed to examine these several elements separately in more detail. It will be best to begin with that which is both the clearest in itself and helps us the most to understand the rest, viz., the objects of attention or consciousness, i.e., presentations. And this exposition will be simplified if we start with a supposition that will enable us to leave aside, at lest for the present, the difficult question of heredity.

We know that in the course of each individual’s life there is more or less of progressive differentiation or development ; we know too same holds broadly of a race ; and it is believed to hold in like manner of the evolution of the animal kingdom generally. It is believed that there has existed a series of sentient individuals beginning with the lowest form of life and advancing continuously up to man. Some traces of the advance already made may be reproduced in the growth of each have been obliterated. What was experience in the past has become instinct in the present. The descendant has not consciousness of his ancestors’ failures when performing by "an untaught ability" what they slowly and painfully found out. But if we are to attempt to follow the genesis of mind from its earliest dawn it is the primary experience rather than the eventual instinct that we have first of all to keep in view. To this end, then, it is proposed to assumed that we are dealing with one individual which has continuously advanced from the beginning of psychical life, and not with a series of individuals of which all save the first have inherited certain from its progenitors. The life-history of such an imaginary individual, that is to say, would correspond with all that was new, all that could be called evolution or development, in a certain typical series of individuals each of whom advanced a certain stage in mental differentiation. On the other hand, from history would be omitted that inherited reproduction of ancestral experience, or tendency to its reproduction, by which alone, under the actual conditions of existence, progress is possible.

If an assumption of this kind had been explicitly avowed by the psychologists who have discussed the growth of experience in accordance with the evolution hypothesis, not a few of the difficulties in the way of that hypothesis might have been removed. That individual minds make some advance in the complexity and distinctness of their presentations between birth and maturity is an obvious fact; heredity, though a less obvious fact is also beyond question. Using Locke’s analogy of a writing-tablet—or let us say an ethcing-tablet—by way of illustration, we may be sure that every individual started with some features of the picture completely preformed, however latent, others more or less clearly out-lines, and other again barely indicated, while of other there is as yet absolutely no trace. But the process of reproducing the old might differ as widely from that of producing the new as electrotyping does from engraving. However, as psychologist we know nothing directly about it; neither can we distinguish precisely at any link in the chain of life what is old and inherited—original in the sense of Locke and Leibnitz—from what is new or acquired—original in the modern sense. But we are bound as a matter of method to suppose all complexity and differentiation among presentations to have been originated, i.e., experimentally acquired, at some time or other. So long, then, as we are concerned primarily with the progress of this differentiation we may disregard the fact that it has not actually been, as it were, the product of one hand dealing with one tabula rasa but of many hands, each of which, starting with a reproductin of what had been wrought on the preceding tabulae, put in more or fewer new touches before devising the whole to a successor who would proceed in like manner.

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