1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Sensations and Movements

(Part 54)

(H) Feeling (cont.)

Sensations and Movements

1. The quality and intensity as well as the duration and frequency of a sensation or movement all have to do with determining to what feeling it gives rise. It will be best to leave the last two out of account for a time. Apart form these, the pleasantness or painfulness of a movement appears to depend solely upon its intensity, that is to say, upon the amount of effort necessary to effect it, in such wise that a certain amount of exertion is agreeable and any excess disagreeable. Some sensations also, such as light and sound, are agreeable if not too intense, their pleasantness increasing with their intensity up to a certain point, on nearing which the feeling rapidly changes and becomes disagreeable or even painful. Other sensations, as bitter tastes, e.g., are naturally unpleasant, however faint, -- though we must allow the possibility of an acquired liking for moderately bitter or pungent flavours. But in every case such sensations produce unmistakable manifestations of disgust, if at all intense. Sweet tastes, on the other hand, however intense, are pleasant to an unspoiled palate, though apt before long to become mawkish, like "sweetest honey, loathsome in his own deliciousness," as confectioners’ apprentices are said soon to find. The painfulness of all painful sensations or movements increases with their intensity without any assignable maximum being reached.

A comparison of examples of this kind, which it would be tedious to described more fully and which are indeed too familiar to need much description, seems to show (1) that, so far as feeling is determined by the intensity of a presentation, there is pleasure so long as attention can be adapted or accommodated to the presentation, and pain so soon as the intensity is too great for this; and (2) that, so far as feeling is determined by the quality of a presentation, those that are pleasurable enlarge the field of consciousness and introduce or agreeably increase in intensity certain organic sensations, while those that are painful contract the field of consciousness an introduce or disagreeably increase in intensity certain organic sensations. There are certain other hedonic effects due to quality the examination of which we must for the present defer. Meanwhile as to the first point it may be suggested, as at any rate a working hypotheses, that in itself any and every simple sensation or movement is pleasurable if there is attention forthcoming adequate to its intensity. In the earliest and simplest phases of life, in which the presentation-continuum is but little differentiated, it is reasonable to suppose that variation in the intensity of presentation preponderates over changes in the quality of presentation, and that to the same extent feelings is determined by the former and not by the latter. And, whereas this dependence on intensity in invariable, there is no ground for supposing the quality of any primary presentation, when not of excessive intensity, to be invariably disagreeable; not of excessive intensity, to be invariably disagreeable; the changes above-mentioned in the hedonic effects of bitter tastes, sweet tastes, or the line tend rather to prove the contrary, This brings us to the second point, and it requires some elucidation. We need here to call to mind the continuity of our presentations and especially the existence of a background of organic sensations or somatic consciousness, as it is variously termed. By the time that qualitatively distinct presentations have been differentiated form this common basis it becomes possible for any of these, without having the intensity requisite to affect feeling directly, to change it indirectly by means of the systemic sensations accompanying them, or, in other words, by their tone. The physiological concomitants of these changes of somatic tones are largely reflex movements or equivalents of movements, such as alterations in circulatory, respiratory, and excretory processes. Such movements are psychologically movements no longer, and are rightly regarded as pertaining wholly to the sensory division of presentations. But originally it may have been otherwise. To us, now these organic reflexes seem but part and parcel of the special sensation whose tone they form, and which they accompany even when that sensation, so far as its mere intensity goes, might be deemed indifferent. But perhaps at first the special qualities that are now throughout unpleasant may have been always presented with an excessive intensity that would be painful on this score alone, and the reflexes that at present pertain to them may then have been psychologically the expression of this pain. [Footnote 68-1] At any rate it is manifestly unfair to refuse either to seek out the primitive effects of the sensations is question and allow for the workings of heredity, or to reckon this accompanying systematic feeling as part of them. The latter seems the readier and perhaps, too, the preferable course. A word will now suffice to explain what is meant by enlarging and contracting the field of consciousness and agreeably increasing or decreasing certain elements therein.

The difference in point is manifest on comparing the flow of spirits, buoyancy, and animation which result from a certain duration of pleasurable sensations with the lowness or depression of spirits, the gloom and heaviness of heart, apt to ensue from prolonged physical pain. Common language, in fact, leaves us no choice but to describe these contrasted states by figures which clearly imply that they differ in the range and variety of the presentations that make up consciousness, and in the quickness with which these succeed each other. [Footnote 68-2] It is not merely that in hilarity as contrasted with dejection the train of ideas takes a wider sweep and shows greater liveliness, but as it were at the back of this, on the lower level or purely sensory experience, certain organic sensations which are ordinarily indifferent acquire a gentle intensity, which seems by flowing over to quicken and expand the ideational stream as we see, for instance, in the effects of mountain air and sunshine. Or, on the other hand, these sensations become so violently intense as to drain off and ingulf all available energy in one monotonous corroding care, an oppressive weight which leaves no place for free movement, no life or leisure to respond, to what are wont to be pleasurable solicitations. [Footnote 68-3]

As regards the duration and the frequency of presentation, it is in general true that the hedonic effect soon attains its maximum, and then, if pleasant, rapidly declines, or even changes to its opposite. Pains in like manner decline, but more slowly, and without in the same sense changing to pleasures. The like holds of too frequent repetition. Physiological explanation of these facts, good as far as it goes, is, of course, at once forthcoming: sensibility is blunted, time is required for restoration, and so forth; but at least we want the psychological equivalent of all this. In one respect we find nothing materially new; so far as continued presentation entails diminished intensity we have nothing but diminished feeling as a consequence; so far as its continued presentation entails satiety the train of agreeable accompaniments ceases in which the pleasurable tone consisted. But in another way long duration and frequent repetition produce indirectly certain characteristic effects on feeling in consequence of habituation and accommodation. We may get used to a painful presentation in such wise that we cease to be conscious of it as positively disagreeable, though its cessation is at once a source of pleasure; in like manner we come to require things simply because it is painful to be without them, although their possession has long ceased to be a ground of positive enjoyment. [Footnote 69-1] This loss (or gain) consequent on accommodation1 has a most important effect in changing the sources of feeling: it helps to transfer attention from mere sensations to what we may distinguish as interests.


68-1 In the lowly organisms that absorb food directly through the skin such bitter juices as exist naturally might at once produce every violent effects, -- comparable, say, to scalding; and the reflexes then established may have been continued by natural selection so as to save from poisoning the higher organisms, whose absorbent surfaces are internal and only guarded in this way by the organ of state. Some light is thrown on questions of this kind by the very interesting experiments of Dr Romanes; for a general account of these see his Jelly-fish, Star-fish, and Sea-urchins, chap. ix.

68-2 This is one among many cases in which the study of a vocabulary is full of instruction to the psychologist. The reader who will be at the trouble to compare the parallel columns under the heading "Passive Affections," in Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, will find ample proof both of this general statement and of what is said above in the text.

68-3 Observation and experiment show that the physical signs of pain in the higher animals consist in such changes as a lowered and weaker pulse, reduction of the surface temperature, quickened respiration, dilatation of the iris, and the like. And so far as can be ascertained these effects are not altogether the emotional reaction to pain but in large measure its actual accompaniments, the physical side of what we have called its tone. The following is a good description of these general characteristics of feeling: -- "En meme temps, il se fait une série de mouvements généraux de flexion, comme si l’animal voulait se render plus petit, et offrir moins de surface á la douleur. Il est intéressant de remarquer que, pour l’homme comme pour tous les animaux, on retrouve ces mêmes mouvements généraux de flexion et d’extension répondant aux sentiments différents de plaisir et de la douleur. Le plaisir répond á un movement de douleur, on se rapetisse, on se referme sur soi; c’est un movement général de flexion" (C. Richet, L’Homme et l’ Intelligence: La Douleur, p. 9).

69-1 It has been definitely formulated, but in physiological language, by Dr Bain as the Law of Novelty: "No second occurrence of any great shock or stimulus, whether pleasure, pain, or mere excitement, is ever fully equal to the first, notwithstanding that full time has been given for the nerves to recover from their exhaustion" (Mind and Body, p. 51). Comp. also his Emotions and Will, 3d ed., p. 83.

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