1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Retentiveness

(Part 20)

(C) Theory of Presentations (cont.)


nIn the preceding paragraphs we have had occasion to distinguish between the presentation-continuum or whole field of consciousness, as we may for the present call it, and those several modifications within this field which are ordinarily spoken of as presentations, and to which—now that their true character as parts is clear—we too many confine the term. But it will be well in the next place, before inquiring more closely into their characteristics to, consider for a moment that persistence of preceding modifications which the differentiation of the presentation continuum implies. This persistence is best spoken of as retentiveness; it is sometimes confounded with memory, though this is something much more complex and special. Retentiveness is both a biological and psychological fact; memory is exclusively the latter. In memory there is necessarily some contrast of past and present, in retentiveness nothing but the persistence of the old. If psychologists have erred in regarding the presentations in consciousness together as a plurality of units, they have erred in like manner concerning the persisting residua of such presentation. As we see a certain colour or a certain object again and again we do not go on accumulating images or representations of it, which are some where crowded together like shades on the banks of the Styx ; nor is such colour, or whatever it be, the same at the hundredth time of presentation as at the first, as the hundredth impression of a seal on wax would be. There is no such constancy or uniformity in mind. Obvious as this must appear when we pause to think of it, yet the explanations of perception most in vogue seem wholly to ignore it. Such explanations are far to mechanical and, so to say, atomistic ; but we must fall upon the unity and continuity of our presentation-continuum if we are to got a better. Suppose that in that course of a few minutes we take half a dozen glances at a strange and curious flower. We have not as many complex presentations which might symbolize as F1, F2, F3. But rather, at first only the general outline noted, next the disposition of petals, stamens, &c., then the attachment of the anthers, form of the ovary, and so on; that is to say, symbolizing the whole flower as [p´ (a b) s´ (c d) o´ (f g)], we first apprehend say [p´.. s´ .. o´], then [p´ (a b) s´..o´], or [p´ (a..) s´ (c..) o´ (f..)], and so forth. It is because the earlier apprehensions persist that the later are an advance upon them and an addition to them. There is nothing in this process properly answering to the reproduction of ideas: in the last and complete apprehension as much as in the vague and inchoate one the flower is there as a primary presentation. There is a limit, of course, to such a procedure, but the instance taken, we may safely say, is not such as to exceed the bounds of a simultaneous field of consciousness. Now the question is : Ought we not to assume that such increase of differentiation through the persistence of preceding differentiations holds of the content of consciousness as a whole? Here, again, we shall find limitations,—limitations too of great practical importance; for if presentations did not pale as well as persist, and if the simpler presentations admitted of indefinite differentiation, mental advance—unless the field of consciousness i.e., the number of presentations to which could attend together, increased without limit—would be impossible. But, allowing all this, it is still probably the more correct and fundamental view to suppose that, in those circumstances in which w now have sensation of, say, red, or sweet, there was in the primative consciousness nothing but a vague modification, which persisted ; and that on a repetition of the circumstances this persisting modification was again further modified. The whole field of consciousness would thus, like a continually growing picture, increase indefinitely in complexity of pattern, the earlier presentations not disappearing, like the waves of yesterday in the calm of to-day, but rather lasting on, like old scars that show beneath new ones.

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