1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Conflict of Presentations

(Part 45)

(G) Mental Association and the Memory-Continuum (cont.)

Conflict of Presentations

The flow of ideas is, however, exposed to positive interruptions from two distinct sides, -- buy the intrusion of new presentations and by voluntary interference. The only result of such interruptions which we need here consider is the conflict of presentations that may ensue. Herbert and his followers have gone so far as to elaborate a complete system of psychical statics and dynamics, based on the conception of presentations as forces and on certain more or less improbable assumptions as to the modes in which such forces interact. Since our power of attention is limited, it continually happens that attention is drawn off by new presentations at the expense of old ones. But, even if we regard this non-voluntary redistribution of attention as implying a struggle between presentations, still such conflict to secure a place in consciousness is very different from a conflict between presentations that are already there. Either may be experienced to any degree possible without the other appearing at all; as, absorbed in watching a starry sky, one might be unaware of the chilliness of the air, though recognizing at once, as soon as the cold is felt, that, so far from being incompatible, the clearness and the coldness are causally connected. This difference between a conflict of presentations to enter consciousness, if we allow for a moment the propriety of the expression, and that opposition or incompatibility of presentations which is only possible when they are in consciousness has been strangely confused buy the Herbartians. In the former the intensity of the presentation is primarily alone of account; in the latter, on the contrary, quality and content are mainly concerned. Only the last requires any notice here, since such opposition arises when the ideational continuum is interrupted in the ways just mentioned, and apparently arises in no other way. Certainly there is no such opposition between primary presentations; there we have the law in incopresentability preventing the presentation of opposites with the same local sign; and their presentation with different local signs involves, on this level at all events, no conflict. But what has never been presented could hardly be represented, if the ideational process were undisturbed: even in our dreams white negroes or round squares, for instance, never appear. In fact, absurd and bizarre as dream-imagery is, it never at any moment entails overt contradictions, though contradiction may be implicit.

But between ideas and percepts actual incompatibility is frequent. In the perplexity of Isaac, e.g. – "The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau" – we have such a case in a familiar form. There is here not merely mental arrest but actual conflict; the voice perceived identifies Jacob, at the same time the hands identify Esau. The images of Esau and Jacob by themselves are different, but do not conflict; neither is there any strain, quite the contrary in recognizing a person partly like Jacob and partly like Esau. For there is no direct incompatibility between smooth and rough, so long as one pertains only to voice and the other only to hands, but the same hands and voice cannot be both smooth and rough. Similar incompatibilities may arise without the intrusion of percepts, as when, in trying to guess a riddle or to solve a problem, or generally to eliminate intellectual differences, we have images which in themselves are only logically opposite, psychologically opposed, or in conflict, because each strives to enter the same complex. In all such conflicts alike we find, in fact, a relation of presentations the exact converse of that which constitutes similarity. In the latter we have two complete presentations, a b x and a b y, as similar, each including the common part a b; in the former we have two partial presentations, x and y, as contraries, each excluding the other from the incomplete a b --. And this a b, it is to be noted, is not more essential to the similarity than to the conflict. But in the one it is a generic image (and can logically be predicated of two subjects); in the other it is a partially determined individual (and cannot be subject to opposing predicates). Except as thus supplementing a, b, x and y do not conflict; black and white are not compatible save as attributes of the same thing. The possibility of most of these conflicts – of all, indeed, that have any logical interest – lies in that reduplication of the memory-continuum which gives rise to these new complexes, generic images, or general ideas.

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