1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Feeling - Summary and Result

(Part 59)

(H) Feeling (cont.)

Feeling - Summary and Result

We are now at the end of our survey of certain typical pleasurable and painful states. The answer tour inquiry which it seems to suggest is that there is pleasure in proportion as a maximum of attention is effectively exercised, and pain in proportion as such effective attention is frustrated by distractions, shocks, or incomplete and faulty adaptations, or fails of exercise, owing to the narrowness of the filed of consciousness and the slowness and smallness of its changes. Something must be said in explication of this formula, and certain objections that might be made to it must be considered. First of all, it implies that feeling is determined partly by quantitative, or, as we might say, material, conditions, and partly by conditions that are formal or quantitative. As regards the former, both the intensity or concentration of attention and its diffusion or the extent of the field of consciousness have to be taken into account. Attention, whatever, else it is, is a limited quantity –

Pluribus intentus minor est ad singular sensus –

To quote Hamilton’s per adage. Moreover, as we have seen, attention requires time. If, then attention be distributed over too wide a field, there is a corresponding loss of intensity, and so of distinctness: we tend towards a succession of indistinguishables – indistinguishable, therefore, from no succession. We must not have more presentations in the field of consciousness than will allow of some concentration of attention: a maximum diffusion will not do. A maximum concentration, in like manner -- even if there were no other objection to it – would seem to conflict with the general conditions of consciousness, inasmuch as a single simple presentation, however intense, would admit of no differentiation, and any complex presentation is in some sort a plurality. The most effective attention, then, as regards its quantitative conditions, must lie somewhere between the two zeros of complete indifference and complete absorption. If there be an excess of diffusion, effective attention will increase up to a certain point as concentration increases, but beyond that point will decrease if this intensification continues to increase; and vice versa, if there be an excess of concentration. But, inasmuch as these quantitative conditions involve a plurality of distinguishable presentations or changes in consciousness, the way is open for formal conditions as well. Since different presentations consort differently when above the threshold of consciousness together, one filed may be wider and yet as intense as another, or intenser and yet as wide, owing to a more advantageous arrangement of its constituents. [Footnote 71-1]


71-1 As it is impossible to say that any distinguishable presentation is absolutely simple, the hypothesis of subconsciousness would leave us free to assume that any pleasantness or unpleasantness that cannot be explained on the score of intensity is due to some obscure harmony or discord, compatibility or incompatibility, of elements not separately discernible. But this, though tempting, is not really a very scientific procedure. If a particular presentation is pleasurable or painful in such wise as to lead to a redistribution of attention, it is reasonable to look for an explanation primarily in its connexion with the rest of the fields of consciousness. Moreover, it is obvious – since what takes place in subconsciousness can only be explained in analogy with what takes place in consciousness – that, if we have an inexplicable in the one, we must have a corresponding inexplicable in the other. If the feeling produced by what comports itself as a simple presentation cannot be explained by what is in consciousness, we should be forced to admit that some presentations are unpleasant simply because they are unpleasant – an inexplicability which the hypothesis of subconsciousness might push farther back but would not remove.

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