1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Succession

(Part 49)

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


This is perhaps the fittest point at which to inquire into the character and origin ofour knowledge of succession and duration, so far, that is as such an inquiry belongs to psychology. We have no to ask now time itself comes to be; but assuming it to be, we ask how to individual comes to know it. Time is often figuratively represented as a line, and we may perhaps utilize this figure to make clear the relation of our intuition of time to what we call time itself. Time, then, we say, stretches backwards and forwards from the present moment. But the present, though a point of time, is still such that we can and do in that moment attend to a plurality of presentations to which we might otherwise have attended severally in successive moment. Granting this implication of simultaneity and succession, we may, if we represent succession as a line, represent simultaneity as a second line at right angles to the first; empty time – or time-length without time-breadth, we may say—is a mere abstraction. Now it is with the former line that we have to do in treating of time as it is, and with the latter in treating of our intuition if time, where, just as in a perspective representation of distance, we are confined to lines in a plane at right angles to the actual line of depth. In a succession of events, say of sense-impressions, A B C D E. . . the presence of B means the absence of A and of C, but the presentation of this succession involves the simultaneous presence, in some mode or other, of two or more of the presentations A B C D. In presentation, as we have seen, all that corresponds to the differences of past, present, and future is in consciousness simultaneously. This truism – or paradox – that all we know of succession is but an interpretation of what is really simultaneous or co-existence, we may then concisely express by saying that we are aware of time only through time-perspective, and experience shows that it is a long step from a succession of presentations to such presentation of succession. The first condition is that we should have represented together presentations that were in the first instance attended to successively, and this we have both in the persistence of primary memory-images and in the simultaneous reproduction of longer or shorter portions of the memory-train. In a series thus secured there may be time-marks, though no time, and by these marks the series must be distinguished from other simultaneous series. To ask which is first among a number of simultaneous presentation is unmeaning; one might be logically prior to another, but in time they are together and priority is excluded. Nevertheless after each distinct representation a, b, c, d there probably follows, as we have suppose, some trace of that movement of attention of which we are aware in passing from one presentation to another. In our present reminiscences we have, it must be allowed, little direct proof of this interposition, though there is strong indirect evidence of it in the tendency of the flow to follow the order in which the presentations were first attended to. With the movements themselves we are familiar enough, though the residua of such movements are not ordinarily conspicuous. These residua, the, are our temporal signs, and, together with the representations connected by them, constitute the memory-continuum. But temporal signs alone will not furnish all the pictorial exactness of the time-perspective. They give us only a fixed series; but the working of obliviscence, by insuring a progressive variation in intensity and distinctness as we pass from one member of the series to the other, yields the effect which we call time-distance. By themselves such variations would leave us liable to confound more vivid representations in the distance with fainter ones nearer the present, but from this mistake the temporal signs save us; and, as a matter of fact, where the memory-train is imperfect such mistakes continually occur. On the other hand, where these variations are slight and imperceptible, though the memory-continuum preserves the order of events intact, we have still no such distinct appreciation of comparative distance in time as we have nearer the present where these perspective effects are considerable.

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