Harald Høffding.

Outlines of psychology online

. (page 18 of 41)
Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 18 of 41)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

It were a delicate stratagem, to shoe
-A. troop of horse with felt. I'll put it in proof;
And when I have stolen upon these sons-in-law,
Then, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill."

Kin<; Lear^ .Act IV. Sc. 7.

" Griesinger, Pathol, unci Thcrafric der Psych. Krankhciten., 2nd ed., pi 374.
3 Tegner, Sprkkets makt Ofver Tanken (" Speech often Determines Thought "), Stock-
holm, 1880, p. 35, se<j.


his house, his friends, etc., the idea of a gambler to that of a
green table, the idea of a wreck to that of a coast, etc. There
is, besides, a natural association between an event and the time
and place of its occurrence. '

An important instance of association by external connection is
that between the thing and the sign for the thing. An emotion and
its external expression are naturally associated in idea. If, e.g., the
word " terror " is looked up in a dictionary, the imagination pictures
involuntarily the image of a startled movement, of growing pale
and so forth. The Greek word for flight ((f)6,3os) acquired later the
meaning of fear. Language is a sign of this kind, originating
partly as involuntary outburst at the sight of an impressive
phenomenon or of one affecting the weal and woe of the individual,
partly from involuntary imitation of sounds emitted by phenomena
(thunder, splashing, ringing, cries of animals, etc.), but afterwards
employed by individuals as a means of mutual understanding.
"Just as the subject was himself disposed, in his poverty of ideas
and of self-determined forms of expression, to have recourse with
the same idea to the same expression (the same sound), so too the
sound became familiar to others by being repeated as a response, and
by that instinct of imitation which is in operation just at this stage
of life and before the sound has as yet acquired a hard and fast
meaning ; in this way a link common to several persons was at once
formed between this sound and the idea in the mind . . . the means of
sharing and understanding the idea was formed." ' Why it should
be sound that is the universal sign for all sensations and feelings,
may be explained perhaps by the fact that it commands the greatest
wealth of shades for the expression of the feelings. Even in the
animal kingdom, a cry is at once the involuntary result of anything
that makes a strong impression on the individual, and a signal for
other individuals. The cry of pain serves as warning, and enticing
sounds attract the sexes. According to Darwin, the habit of
uttering musical sounds was dev^eloped in the progenitors of man
during courtship, and was thus associated with the most powerful
emotions : ardent love, rivalry, and triumph. This faculty must
have arisen, therefore, before the faculty of articulate speech.^ The
several sensations have this in common, that they all, in their dif-
ferent ways, influence feeling ; it is consequently not surprising that
they are all ultimately translated into the language of feeling.

1 Madvig, Om Sprogets Vasen, Udvikling og Liv ("On the Nature, Development,
and Life of Language"), {University Program), Copenhagen, 1842, p. 9, seq.

2 The Expression of the Emotions, London, 1872, p. 27 [2nd ed. (1890) p. 92].


(c.) It is the first and third of these laws of association that have
chiefly attracted attention. And attempts have been made to simplify
tlic matter yet farther by the rejection of one of the two, or by the
reduction of both to a single law. For a long time the dominant
tendency of English psychologists was to regard the law of con-
tiguity as fundamental, and to explain all union within consciousness
by habitual union in space and time. This was the case even with
Thomas liobbes, the founder of English psychology {Human
Nature, 1640), and later, with e.g., James Mill.^ This is the principle
of the extreme "associationist psychology," ^ which conceives ot
consciousness as a series or bundle of sensations and ideas, and
can in consequence admit no other associations than such as
rest upon external contact. Association by similarity thus becomes
only a special case of association by external connection, accounted
for by the fact that similar and allied experiences, from the
nature of the circumstances, frequently occur simultaneously or
in immediate succession. The artificiality of this notion is
obvious. It is contrary, moreover, to the experience, that it is often
the relation of similarity which causes us to bring together objects
remote in time and space. Caesar, Alexander, and Napoleon, are
indeed often presented together in our thought ; but this is so just
because they have been so often compared with one another. The
steps of a mathematical proof easily follow in our memory, but
only after thought has united them.

So far from association by similarity being resolvable into associa-
tion by contiguity, every association by contiguity on the contrary
presupposes an association by similarity, or at the least an im-
mediate recognition. In order that A may excite the ideas of 7>', C, D,
with which it usually arises simultaneously in consciousness, it must
first, so to speak, establish its identity. Thus.// must give rise to a,
and only then will a bring with it b, c, and d. The relation of simi-
larity is thus the innermost germ of all association of ideas ; the
external connection can take effect only on presupposition of the in-
ternal. When the apple on the table before me carries my thoughts
to Adam and Eve, this is because first — perhaps so quickly that I do
not remember or am hardly conscious of it — I have thought of the
apple on the tree of knowledge. The association by similarity,
lying at the root of the association by contiguity, may easily escape

1 [Analysis of the Jliiinan Mimi, i. p. iii. (Tr.)l

2 The expression "association of ideas" was introduced by I.ocke, wlio indicated by
it, however, only certain individual jieculiarities, and did not, like Hobbes and the later
school, make the "association of ideas" the one governing psychological principle.


our attention. As we may have after-images of sensations which
we have not noticed (see IIL 6), so a series of ideas may be
aroused without our observing that they are hnked to an earher
idea through association by similarity. Once, while taking a walk,
I was surprised by the vivid memory-image of a Swiss mountain
view, and on closer reflection found that it must have been called up
by the sight of heavy banks of clouds in the horizon ; the resem-
blance of the clouds to the mountains had — while ! was thinking of
something quite different — aroused a whole series of associations,
which at last drew my full attention. Such an association by
similarity may, like recognition, be effected so easily and quickly
(especially when what is identified is well known, and has no
special interest), that it scarcely rises above the threshold of con-
sciousness. But it is a link which cannot be dispensed with, how-
ever much it may vanish into the unconscious. — Here reference may
again be made to the fact that the " psychical relation " of a stimulus
— i.e. its interest for, and connection with, the consciousness of a
sleeper — is able to rouse from sleep ; this is another case in which
we stand at a transition stage between the conscious and the
unconscious (see IIL 9).

The fact that the relation of similarity lies at the root of associa-
tion by contiguity, does not deprive this latter of its independent
weight. Mere recognition and identification would carry the life
of ideas no farther. Through association by contiguity an abun-
dant material is appropriated and preserved in consciousness ; the
material taken in is then gradually arranged according to the
principle of similarity. In every association of ideas two laws are
at work : a centrifugal and a centripetal tendency. The two
make their appearance in different degrees according to the nature
and gifts of the individuals. Some strive to accumulate a large and
varied material of ideas and percepts : the aim of others on the
contrary is to arrive at as many simple and clear points of view as
possible, for which reason they concentrate their interest on the
general and typical. Historical research and scientific specialization
exemplify the one direction ; mathematical and philosophical study
the other. Only the artistic genius is in a position to bring into
unity the special and the typical.

There is however a psychological point of view, from which the
two laws may be brought under one and the same fundamental law.^

1 Kant, Kritik der reinen Vemunft, Kehrbach's, ed. p. ii6, seq. 125.; FrieS; Neue
Krilik, I, p. 114, seq. ; William Hamilton, Lectures on Metaphysics, ii. p. 233.


For however many different sensations and ideas may come
simultancouslv, or in immediate succession, into our consciousness
tlicy neither arc nor remain quite separate. They are all embraced
l)y one and the same consciousness, through whose activity they
have arisen. The manner in which they act upon one another and
are combined, is determined by the form and direction taken by
the synthetic activity of consciousness at the given moment. On
the other hand, they react, each one of them, upon the general
condition of consciousness. Now when one of these sensations
or ideas is renewed and brings the others with it, what really
operates is the tendency to reawaken the general state, or the
general activity, to which all these ideas belonged. The innermost
basis of all association of ideas should thus be looked for in the
unity which is present in every mental state and every mental
activity, and which stamps all simple elements with a common
characteristic. From this point of view the association between
the parts and the whole would be the typical form of all associa-
tion. This fundamental law of all association of ideas might be
called the la^u of ioialify.

From this point of view association by similarity and association
by contiguity do not figure as two special and mutually ex-
clusive forms, but merge one into the other, since it has been
shown above that there is an intermediate form related to
both, — a form which now appears as the type of all association.
For starting from the formula a.^^ -Vici^ -\- b-\- c), it may easily be
shown that association by similarity and by contiguity are only
extreme cases of the law expressed in this formula. T^ius when
b and c decrease in strength and distinctness until lost in indefinite-
ness, we are left with the formula of association by similarity :
{a^ +<^2), as the extreme case. — And again in another way, associa-
tion by totality may be reduced to association by similarity. The
more the idea of the common elements (^i and a.^ preponderates,
the stronger will the differences seem between the other elements
(through such effects of contrast as are quoted in pp. 122, 123).^ The
totality's thus divided as it were into two parts (a« and b ■\- c), and

1 C/. with the above the interesting observation of Stumpf, TonpsycJwlogie, i, p. 114. —
" The similarity seems to us to be most distinct, when the whole is apprehended as a
whole. The more we direct our attention to the resembling parts, the more we lose the
impression of the similarity of the whole. I observe the likeness in two faces, inquire
into the reason and find that the eyes are alike. So soon as I observe this, the difference
of the other features attracts attention, even more than the likeness of that feature, and
the likeness of the whole as such seems almost to disappear. In the same way, when
two sounds pos.sess the same partial tones, the similarity of the sounds is more evident to
me the less 1 pick out these common tones."


an association is eflected with the former only. — But when on
the other hand, a., is recognized and merged with ever greater
rapidity and inattention, we arrive at the formula of associa-
tion by contiguity {a + d). — In our experience it is scarcely
possible to point to a case where similarity and contiguity are
not both at work. The law of totality is thus properly f/ie law of

But we must go a step farther. For what lends its special
character to every mental state, and at the same time forms the
constant common element (a), is chiefly the mood which prevails
in it, which determines and is determined by it. As with the
immediate sensations, so too in the flow of ideas, the interest,
and the attention determined by the interest, play an essential part.
We are never wholly passive in associations of ideas, any more
than in our sensations (pp. 108-112). The combination among
our ideas is consequently in each moment conditioned, not only by
relations of similarity and contiguity, but also by the prevailing
feeling. We have an approximation to the pure, absolute validity
of the above laws, only in instances where the mood is neutral,
or rather where it is so concerned in a certain direction as to
make it its actual object that the ideas should arrange themselves
according to their relation and their connection. To begin with,
definite practical ends and interests weigh down the scale in favour
of definite sets of ideas. Thus a sort of choice among possible ideas
takes place, and here opportunities are afforded to many unconscious
influences, which make themselves felt even when we think we are
following, and not directing, the current of our thought. From
interest we are brought back to impulse, instinct, and temperament,
hidden stnirces which are often only recognized from their effects.
The union between feeling and idea lies deeper than that between
the ideas themselves. If all mental connections depended on the
actual experiences of the individual and on their combination
according to the laws of association of ideas, the consciousness of
each individual would be much more clear and penetrable than
it actually is. — This is not to be understood as implying that
mere want of intelligible connection is to be attributed to the in-
fluence of feeling. Feeling can on the contrary give rise to firmer
connections than there would otherwise be. The strongest feeling
is that with which men embrace their ideal or practical aims ;
this feeling leads to search for the means to realize the aims, and
so lavs the foundation of a firm connection between a whole set


of ideas.^ This leads us to the consideration of the real unity of
consciousness (V. B. 5) and its importance for the continuance and
healthiness of mental life.

The closer investigation into the influence of feeling and will on
cognition must, however, be postponed to the following chapters
(VI. F. and VII. B. 2). Here it shall merely be added, that though
association by contrast has sometimes been postulated as a special
fi)rni of association of ideas, the phenomena which come under that
head may find a natural explanation through the influence of feeling,
in so far as they are not to be explained quite simply by the laws of
similarity or of contiguity. It is characteristic of the life of feeling,
to move in opposites ; from first to last it is determined by the great
contrast between pleasure and pain, and we find in it far stronger
effects of contrast than among sensations. After great tension
in one direction there commonly succeeds a relaxation, if not
a tendency to turn the interest in the contrary direction, just as
the eye when f;itigued with one colour seeks the contrasting colour.
This would explain the necessity of passing from the idea of light
to that of darkness, and from the idea of great to that of small.
But it is not necessary in all cases to revert to the bent that feeling
has for contrasting states ; the explanation is often contained in a
relation of similarity or of contiguity.- Contrasts often belong to
the same general conception, just as two poles which are re-
moved each in its own direction from a common centre. Dwarf
and giant both deviate from the ordinary medium height. And
moreover it chances in the natural course of life, that opposites
succeed, depend upon and pass into, one another ; as day succeeds
night ; and joy, sorrow. So that here external connection may
give rise to the association.

{d) Even if it cannot be admitted that those psychologists are
right, who regard obliviscence as the difficulty to be explained, and

1 Hobbes had already drawn attention to the attaching and arranging power which
the tliought of an aim exercises in the association of ideas (Huiiuin Nature, Chap. 4;
Leviathan, Cl\ap. 3). In later times William Hamilton laid down the law of interest,
as supplementary to the law of similarity and contiguity. — (C/. Mansel, Metaphysics,
Edinburgh, 1875, p. 241, seij.). In Wundt's theory of apperception (concentration of
consciousness) as act of will {Physiol. Psychol, ii. p. 205, scq. 13rd ed. ii. p. 235, se</.'\)
the law of interest is ingeniously combined with the notion of apperception as propounded
by Leibniz and Kant. Wundt appears to draw too sharp a distinction between association
and apperception, between .active and passive connection of ideas. No association,
whatever it niay be, takes place quite passively, just as generally, in every department of
mental life, it proves impossible to draw a sharp line between passivity and activity. —
In P'ries (.Vciie Kritik der I'erniin/t. — Psychisclu Anthropologic) ase. to be found sound
and interesting observations on this point.

- Cf. James .Mill, Analysis of tin J'henomena of the Human Mind, 2nd ed., London,
1869, I, p. 113, scq.



reminiscence as a matter of course, it cannot on the other hand be
maintained that ideas are forgotten "of themselves." It may be
as great an art to forget as to remember, whence the reply of
Themistocles when Simonides offered to teach him the art of
memory, that he would rather learn to forget : " for I remember
even that which I do not wish to remember ; but cannot forget what
I wish to forget." What is indifferent or of little importance dis-
appears as of itself ; but the painful ideas are the very ones which,
as a rule, are associated with such impressive experiences and cir-
cumstances, that the involuntary flow of ideas docs not carry them
away. Moreover, there may even be in the nature of the individual
a tendency to cling with a certain obstinacy to painful ideas. Under
other circumstances, the problem may be of course to forget ideas
which are associated with pleasure. Here will only be noted
briefly the various ways and means by which an idea may be
more or less completely expelled from consciousness. These will
be the laws of obliviscence as opposed to those of reminiscence.

(i) It is not of course possible to oppose an idea quite directly.
The art of forgetting (or as it has also been called, of abstracting)
can only consist in the suppression of certain ideas by means of
others. One who wishes to forget must look for powerful and great
series of ideas, in which his thought may be fully occupied. The
nature of what he seeks (pleasures or penances, work or fancy) will
depend on his character and on the mental resources at his dis-
posal. — The capacity for self-education depends in great measure
on the power of exercising the art of obliviscence. Fortunately,
as will appear, nature comes to the help of the art.

(2) In many cases an idea is associated from the first with
another idea of such strength and importance as gradually to
obscure or suppress it. If something is pointed out to a little
child with the hand and the hand then taken away, the eyes
of the child usually follow the hand instead of being fixed on the
object. But if this object attracts the attention for any reason, the
child no longer troubles himself as to what has become of the hand.
This is the history of all true education (see III. 4) ; authority
leads the pupil to a truth, which ultimately acquires independent
validity and weight, and the original authority is forgotten, just as
the scaffolding is removed when the house is finished. If the
house can be built without the use of scaffolding, of course so
much the better. Both the science of education and so-called
"mnemonics" have often laid too much stress upon the use of


means which it may afterwards be difficult to drive out of con-

(5) In other cases the first idea does not disappear completely,
but becomes a subordinate element in the one it has aroused. In
reading, the letters call up a host of ideas and feelings, but for all
that the signs themselves do not wholly vanish from consciousness.
In metaphorical and symbolical descriptions, the original meaning
often remains obscurely in the background. When, for example,
the fire of inspiration is spoken of, there is still, to those not much
accustomed to rhetoric, a glimmer from the notion of actual fire.

(4) An idea, then, may be suppressed either by an idea quite
foreign to it, voluntarily aroused from another region of conscious-
ness {a<:^x), or by an idea which it itself occasions {a <^ l>), or it

may become a subordinate element in the victorious idea {J. But

there remains a fourth possibility. It may preserve its indepen-
dence as against the other idea to which it is attached, and yet
be so closely combined with it that a new idea arises, which is
determined by both of the former, although neither is to be dis-
tinguished in it. The formula for this would be ul> = c. Here a
sort of psychical chemistry^ is exhibited: in chemical composi-
tion the product has quite different properties from the substances
of which it is composed. The history of compound words affords
examples. The word "meat-broth" scarcely calls up the two ideas
"meat" and "broth" as distinct in consciousness; but it was
originally formed to distinguish this kind of broth from any other-
— Human speech seems to have passed through three stages of
development. At the most primitive, every word is a root and
every root a word. This stage, at which every root has preserved
its' independence. Max Miiller calls Xhe radical j we have an example
of it in ancient Chinese. At the next stage two roots coalesce to
form a word ; one of the two has then usually the chief weight,
and the other becomes a mere ending, for which reason this is
usually called the terminational stage.- Here the two constituents of
the word still seem to excite their own independent ideas, even when
the original meaning of the termination is lost. On the other hand,
at the third stage, which is represented by the Aryan and Semitic
languages and called the inflexional stage, the roots may be so welded

1 Hartley, in his Observations of Man, was the first to call attention to this
phenomenon. It is a special case of " injissoluble association."

2 [Max Miiller cites the Turanian family of speech, which is however no longer recog-
niieJ by philologists as a distinct family. (Tr. at author's request.)]

M 2


together that only the educated are able to separate them.^— The
idea of distance seems to us simple and immediate, and yet (as will
appear in the next section) it is undoubtedly the product of
sensations which no longer take effect independently. — The same
holds good of every conception of a totality, which has been reached
through the laborious working up of details ; the totality stands out
as the object of immediate intuition, of an " intuitive knowledge,"
from which all discursive elements and processes have vanished.
Here custom co-operates ; the oftener we have gone through the
details, the more completely and easily can the totality come
instantaneously before us. Succeisive apprehension precedes
simultaneous {cf. p. 114, seq^.

Such a transformation may be effected more or less mechanically.
The expression in words may precede and induce the thought, as
in the development of language seems to have been the case in the
transition from termination to inflexion. But there may be an inter-
mingling of the actual ideas mainly conditioned by the impulse
— grounded in the nature of consciousness — to unity and close
combination among the conscious elements.

9. The idea in its simplest form is a reproduced sensation. As
such it is uncompounded, in the sense in which a sensation is uncom-
pounded (pp. 102-106), and may be called simple idea. Out of
such simple ideas are formed, through association by contiguity

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 18 of 41)