1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > The Presentation-Continuum

(Part 17)

(C) Theory of Presentations (cont.)

The Presentation-Continuum

What is implied in this process of differentiation or mental growth and what is it that grows or becomes differentiated?—these are the questions to which we must now attend. Psychologists have usually represented mental advance as consisting fundamentally in the combination and recombination of various elementary units, the so-called sensations and primitive movements, or, in other words, in a species of "mental chemistry." If we are to resort to physical analogies at all—a matter of very doubtful pro-priety—we shall find in the growth of a seed or an embryo far better illustrations of the unfolding of the contents of consciousness than in the building up of molecules: the process seems much more a segmentation of what is originally continuous than an aggregation of elements at first independent and distinct. Comparing higher minds or stages of mental development with lower—by what means such comparison is possible we need not now consider—we find in the higher conspicuous differences between presentations which in the lower are indistinguishable or absent altogether. The worm is aware only of the difference between light and dark. The steel-worker sees half a dozen tints where others see only a uniform glow. To the child, it is said, all faces are alike ;and throughout life we apt to note the general, the points of resemblance, before the special, the points of difference. [Footnote 45--1] But, even when most definite, what we call a presentation is still part of a larger whole. It is not separated from other presentations, whether simultaneous or successive, by something which is not of the nature of presentation, as one island is separated from another by the intervening sea, or ne note in a melody from the next by an interval of silence. In our search for a theory of presentations, then, it is from this "unity of consciousness" that we must take our start. Working backwards from this as we find it now, we are led alike by particular facts and general considerations to the conception of a totum objectivum or objective continuum which is gradually differentiated, thereby becoming what we call distinct presentations, just as with mental growth some particular presentation, clear as a whole, as Leibnitz would say becomes a complex of distinguishable parts. Of the very beginning of this continuum we can say nothing : absolute beginnings are beyond the pale of science. Actual presentation consists in this continuum being differentiated ; and every differentiation constitutes, a new presentation. Hence the commonplace of psychologist:—We are only conscious as we are conscious of change.


45-1 This last statement is apt to mislead by implying an active comparison of several objects; but that absence or confusion of differences which hides the many is really very different from the detection of resemblances which makes the many one.

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