1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Gradual Differentiation of Presentation-Continuum

(Part 18)

(C) Theory of Presentations (cont.)

Gradual Differentiation of Presentation-Continuum

But "change of consciousness" is too loose an expression to take the place of the unwieldy phrase differentiation of a presentation-continuum, to which we have been driven. For not only does the term "consciousness’ confuse what exactness requires us to keep distinct, an activity and its object, but also the term "change" fails to express the characteristics which distinguish presentations from other changes. Differentiation implies that the simple becomes complex or the complex ;it implies also that this increased complexity is due to the persistence of former changes ; we may even say such persistence is essential to the very idea of development of growth. In trying then, to conceive our psychological individual in the earliest stages of development we must not picture it as experiencing a succession of absolutely new sensations, which, coming out of nothingness, admit of being strung upon the "thread of consciousness" like beads picked up at random, or cemented into a mass like the bits of stick and sand with which the young caddis covers its nakedness. The notion, which Kant has done much to encourage, that psychical life with a confused manifold of sensations not only without logical but without psychological unity is one that becomes more inconceivable the more closely we consider it. An absolutely new presentation, having no sort of connexion with former presentations till the subject has synthesized it with them, is a conception for which it would be hard to find a warrant either by direct observation, by inference from biology, or in considerations of an a priori kind. At any given moment we have a certain whole of presentations, "field of consciousness’ psychologically one and continuous; at the next we have to an entirely new field but a partial change within this field. Many who would allow this in the case of representations, i.e., where idea succeeds idea by the workings of association, would demur to it in the case of primary presentations or sensations. "For," they would say, "may not silence be broken by a clap of thunder, and have not the blind been made to see?" To urge such objections is to miss the drift of our discussion, and to answer them way serve to make it clearer. Where silence can be broken there are representations of preceding sounds and in all probability even subjective presentation of sound as well ;- silence as experienced by one who are has heard is very different from the silence of Condillac’s statue before it had ever heard. The question is rather whether such a conception as that of Condillac’s is possible ; supposing a sound to be, qualitatively, entirely distinct from a smell, could a field of consciousness consisting of smells be followed at once by one in which sounds had part? And, as regards the blind coming to see, we must remember not only that the blind have eyes but that they are descended from ancestors who could see. What nascent presentations of sight are thus involved it would be hard to say; and the problem of heredity is one that we have for the present left aside.

The vies have taken is (1) that at its first appearance in psychical life a new sensation or so-called elementary presentation is really a partial modification of some pre existing presentation, which thereby becomes as a whole more complex than it as before ; and (2) that this complexity and differentiation of parts never become a plurality of discontinuous presentations, having a distinctness and individuality such as the atoms or elementary particles of the physical world are supposed to have. Beginners in psychology, and some who are not beginners are apt to be led astray by expositions which begin with the sensations of the special senses, as if there furnished us with the type of an elementary presentation. The fact is we never experience a mere sensation of colour, sound, touch, and the like ; and what the young student mistakes for such, is really a perception, a sensory presentation combined with various sensory and motor presentations and with representations—and having thus a definiteness and completeness only possible to complex presentations. More over, if we could attend to a pure sensation of sound or colour by itself, there is much to justify the suspicion that even this is complex and not simple, and owes to such complexity its clearly marked specific quality. In certain of our vaguest and most diffused organic sensations, in which we can distinguish little besides variations in intensity and massiveness, there is probably a much nearer approach to the character of the really primitive presentations.

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