1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Unity and Complexity

(Part 34)

(E) Perception (cont.)

Unity and Complexity

(c) The remaining important factors in the psychological of things might be describe in general terms as the time-relations of their components. Such relation are themselves in no way psychologically determined; impressions recur with a certain order or want of order quite independently of the subject’s interest or of any psychological principles of synthesis or association whatever. It is essential that impression should recur, and recur as they have previously occurred, if knowledge is ever to begin; out of a continual chaos of sensation, all matter and no form, such as some philosophers describe, noting but chaos could result. But a flux of impressions having this real or sense-given order will not suffice; there must be also attention to and retention of the order, and these indispensable processes at least are psychological. Still they need not be further emphasized here, nor would it have been necessary at this point to call them to mind at all hand not British empirical philosophers brought psychology into disrepute by overlooking them altogether.

But for its familiarity we should marvel at the fact that out of the variety of impressions simultaneously presented we do not instantly group together all the sounds and all the colours, all the touches and all touches and all the smells, but, dividing what is given together, single out a certain sound or smell as belonging with a certain colour and feel, similarly singled out from the rest, to what we call one thing. We might wonder, too—those at least who have made so much of association by similarity ought to wonder—that, say, the white so snow calls up directly, not other shades of white or other colours, but the expectation of cold or of powdery softness. The first step in this process has been the simultaneous projection the same occupied space of the several impressions which we thus come to regard as the qualities of the body filling it. Yet such simultaneous and coincident projection would avail but little unless the constituent impressions were again and again repeated in like order so as this constancy in the one group was present along with changes in other groups and in the general field. There is nothing in its first experience to tell the infant that the song of the bird does not inhere in the hawthorn whence the notes proceed, but that the fragrance of the may-flower does. It is only where a group, as a whole, has been found to change its position relatively to other groups, and—apart from causal relations—to be independent of changes of position among them, that such complexes can become distinct unities and yield a world of things. Again, because things are so often a world within themselves, their several parts or members not only having distinguishing qualities but moving and changing with more or less independence of the rest, it comes that what is from one point of view one thing becomes from another point of view several, —like a tree with its separable branches and fruits, for example. Wherein, then, more precisely, does the unity of a thing consist? This question, so far as it here admits of answer, carries us over to temporal continuity.

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