1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Combinations of Sensations and Movements

(Part 55)

(H) Feeling (cont.)

Combinations of Sensations and Movements

2. Certain sensations or movements not separately unpleasant become so when presented together or in immediate succession; and contrariwise, some combinations of sensations or of movements may be such as to afford pleasure distinct from, and often greater than, any that they separately yield. Here again we find that in some cases the effect seems mainly to depend on intensity, in others mainly on quality. (i.) As instances of the former may be mentioned the pleasurableness of a rhythmic succession of sounds or movements, of symmetrical forms and curved outlines, of gentle crescendos and diminuendos in sound, and of gradual variations of shade in colour, and the painfulness of flickering lights, "beats" in musical notes, false time, false steps, false quantities, and the like. In all these, whenever the result is pleasurable, attention can be readily accommodated, -- is, so to say, economically meted out; and, whatever the result is painful, attention is surprised, balked, wasted. Thus we can make more movements and with less expenditure of energy when they are rhythmic than when they are not, as the performances of a ballroom or of troops marching to music amply testify. Of this rhythmic language is retained. (ii.) As instances of the latter may be cited those arrangements of musical tones and of colours that are called harmonious or the opposite. Harmony, however, must be taken to have a different meaning in the two cases. When two or three tones harmonize there results, as is well known, a distinct pleasure over and above any pleasure due to the tones themselves. On the other hand, tones that are discordant are unpleasant in spite of nay pleasantness they may have singly. Besides the negative condition of absence of beats, a musical interval to be pleasant must fulfill certain positive conditions, sufficiently expressed for our purpose by saying that two tones are pleasant when they give rise to few combination tones, and when among these there are several that coincide, and that they are unpleasant when they give rise to many combination-tones, and when among these there are few or none that coincide. Too many tones together prevent any from being distinct. But where tones coincide the number of tones actually present is less than the number of possible tones, and there is a proportionate simplification, so to put it; more is commanded and with less effort. A recent writer [Footnote 69-2] on harmony, in fact, compares the confusion of a discord to that of "trying to reckon up a sum in one’s head and failing because the numbers are too high." A different explanation must be given of the co-called harmonies of colour. The pleasurable effect of graduations of colour or shade – to which, as Ruskin tells us, the rose owes its victorious beauty when compared with other flowers – has been already mentioned : it is rather a quantitative than a qualitative effect. What we are now concerned with are the pleasurable or painful combinations of different ungraduated colours. A comparison of these seems to justify the general statement that those colours yield good combinations that are far apart in the colour circle, while those near together are apt to be discordant. The explanation given, viz., that the one arrangement secures and the other prevents perfect retinal activity, seems on the whole satisfactory. – especially if we acknowledge the tendency of all recent investigations and distinguish sensibility to colour and sensibility to mere light as both psychologically and physiologically two separate facts. Thus, when red and green are juxtaposed, the red increases the saturation of the green and the green that of the red, so that both colours are heightened in brilliance. But such an effect is only pleasant to the child and the savage; for civilized men and the contrast is excessive, and colours less completely opposed, as red and blue, are preferred, each being a rest from the other, so that as the eye wanders to and fro over their border different elements are active by turns. Red and orange, again, are bad, in that both exhaust in a similar manner and leave the remaining factors out of play.


69-2 Preyer, Akustische Untersuchungen, p. 59.

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