1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Self and the Body

(Part 85)

(K) Presentation of Self, Self Consciousness, and Conduct (cont.)

Self and the Body

The earliest and to the last the most important element in self—what we might perhaps term its root or material elements – is that variously styled the organic sensations, vital sense, coenaesthesis, or somatic consciousness. This largely determines the tone of the special sensations and enters, though little suspected, into all our higher feelings. If, as sometimes happens in serious nervous affections, the whole body or any part f it should lose common sensibility, the whole body or that part is at once regarded as strange and even as hostile. In some forms of hypochondria, in which this extreme somatic insensibility and absence of zest leave the intellect and memory unaffected, the individual doubts his own existence or denies it altogether. Ribot cities the case of such a patient who, declaring that he had been dead for two years, thus expressed his perplexity: -- "J’existe, mais en dehors de la vie réelle, matérielle, et, malgré moi, rien ne m’ayant donné la mort. Tout est mécanique chez moi et se fait inconsciemment," [84-1] It is not because they accompany physiological functions essential to the efficiency of the organism as an organism, but simply because they are the most immediate and most constant sources of feelings, that these massive but ill-defined organic sensations are from the first the objects of the directest and most unreflecting interest. Other objects have at the outset but a mediate interest through subjective selection in relation to these, and never become so instinctively and inseparably identified with self, never have the same inwardness. This brings us to a new point. As soon as definite perception begins, the body as an extended thing is distinguished from other bodies, and such organic sensations as can be localized at all are localized within it. At the same time the actions of other bodies upon it are accomplished by pleasures and pains, while their action upon each other is not. The body also is the only thing directly set in motion by the reactions of these feelings, the purpose of such movements being to bring near to it feelings, the purpose of such movements being to bring near to it the things for which there is appetite and to remove from it those towards which there is aversion. It is thus not merely the type of occupied space and the centre from which all positions are reckoned, but it affords us an unfailing and ever-present intuition of the actually felt and living self, to which other things are external, more or less distant, and at times absent altogether. The body then first of all gives to self a certain measure of individuality, permanence, and inwardness.


84-1 "Bases affectives de la Personalité," in Revue philosophique, xviii. p. 149.

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