Hiram M. (Hiram Miner) Stanley.

Studies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling online

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we say that change of consciousness is change of attention, we really
add nothing; it is an identical proposition. Attention does not qualify
consciousness, but is merely synonym for it.

Still again, may attention designate intensity, or some certain degree
of intensity? We may say of one, “he was looking inattentively,” or of a
fixed, intense gaze, “he was looking very attentively.” A strong vision
is thus opposed to weak as an attention. As all psychoses have some
degree of intensity, they are thereby acts of attention, if we reckon
from a zero point, or a more or less large number of consciousnesses if
we reckon from some fixed degree of intensity. But to call a psychosis,
because of its intensity, or because it has reached a certain degree
thereof, an attention, seems an unnecessary procedure. Nothing is gained
by describing an intense psychosis as an attention, and certainly
intense pains and pleasures hardly come under the term. Nor yet are
intense cognitions, merely by reason of the intensity, properly states
of attention. Fixed ideas are commonly intense, yet there is no true
attention, as we have before intimated. Cognitions which come as intense
must be marked off from those which are intense by reason of a
self-determined self-consciousness intensifying. The essence of
attention is intensifying act self-regulated. To be sure, intense
presentations are given as such only by an heredity _momentum_, from
past ancestral intensifyings; their _impetus_ is on the basis of past
cognitive exertions. Presentation intensity, and, indeed, all mental
intensity, is originally and fundamentally volitional; the act had its
force solely in will power; but in late phases psychoses which
originally required intense exertion rise spontaneously and have a
strength and persistence apart from volition, and so the word attention
does not rightly apply to them. Thus also we can solve the problem that
Mr. Ward states when he says, “How the intensity that presentations have
apart from volition is related to that which they have by means of
it—how the objective component is related to the subjective—is a hard
problem; still there is no gain in a spurious simplicity that ignores
the difference” (_Mind_, xii. p. 65). But “objective component” and
“subjective” do not enter into the question; cognition does not arise as
a given, as forced and determined from without, but it is rather at
bottom a mode of volition. Still attention is not then cognition
intensity in general.

If attention is not any form or quality of mental activity in general or
of cognition in particular, we must find its essence in volition—as,
indeed, has been intimated in the immediately preceding pages. Attention
is properly the will side of cognition; it is cognitive effort.
Considering attentively, looking attentively, listening attentively,
mean cognitive efforts in thinking, seeing and hearing. Here is a
cognitive experience which does not simply happen, but is definitely
brought about and held to. There is intensifying act by which the given
cognition is held and kept in dominancy. The word attention must, as a
psychological term, be extended to denote, not merely modes of cognitive
effort prominent in man, but all cognitive exertion of whatever grade.
It will include all will-tension in all the senses—olfactory, gustatory,
muscular, etc.—as well as visual and auditory.[D] A dog scenting game
may be as truly attentive as a waiter listening to your order. So far as
the smelling by the dog is merely instinctive, that is, heredity
survival, there is no real attention; the mental activities are not
efforts of will-attentions—so far as they occur spontaneously and
inevitably. But when, as we often see, a dog is somewhat baffled in
scenting, it plainly puts forth cognitive effort, it exerts its
cognitive powers to the utmost, there is that strain and stretch which
the word attention literally and naturally suggests. As soon, in fact,
as the labour point is reached in any mode of cognition, here is
attention. All toil and work is attention, as a definite exertion of
will including some cognitive element. The labour of life is attention,
is minding or attending to business. Attention is thus will effort in
maintaining and intensifying a mode of cognition.

- - -

Footnote D:

See also my remarks in _Psychological Review_, ii. p. 53.

- - -

Concentration of attention is then, we may now remark, a redundancy, as
we make attention equal to concentration. To say his attention was
concentrated upon a certain subject, is equivalent to saying his mind
was concentrated. Sometimes, indeed, concentrated attention may mean
intense attention or concentration, but some concentration being always
involved in attention, it is a confusing and inaccurate phrase.

In a more restricted sense, attention is not merely any will tension in
cognition, but only so far as self-consciousness is involved in all the
exertion. We must sharply distinguish between this attention as willed
activity and as simple act of will. Willed cognitive activity denotes
cognition determined upon and consciously accomplished. The willing in
the knowing act may not be will to know. Willed cognitive activity, when
not against the will, when including choice and acquiescence, is in the
true sense voluntary attention—attention voluntarily, freely, willingly
performed. The term voluntary is not the proper correlative of
spontaneous, but rather volitional, while non-voluntary must be set over
against voluntary. In self-conscious attention of any kind there must be
consciousness of the tension, and consciously exercised effort in
delineating and maintaining cognition. In this narrow sense attention is
conscious furtherance or hindrance of cognition. Effort is consciously
put forth in some particular cognitive form; there is a self-limitation
by the mind in cognitive process. In short, attention here equals
cognition consciously constrained.

As to the relation of attention to subject, we remark that psychology as
the science of mental phenomena, rather than science of the soul, is not
called upon to imply a subject as in any wise attending. Yet we use, and
use inevitably, substantive forms and personal pronouns, but while it is
impossible for science to desubstantialize language, yet it must be ever
on its guard against the delusions of language. It is a common impulse
to explain activities by referring them to agents, to describe attention
and all mental acts as being what they are by reason of the actor, the
self, or _ego_; but science in this, as in so many things, inverts the
common order; the agent is made by and of activities, and not the
reverse. Agent or subject is no more than a congeries of manifold
interdependent activities. There is, and can be, no fixing of the mind
by the mind: the word, mind, being used in the same sense in both cases.
When I say, “I fix the mind upon something,” this means for analytical
psychology, that in the complex of consciousnesses which are unified by
an _ego_-sense, there occurs a will effort accomplishing a perception.
This purely dynamic interpretation is the method of all science which
cannot accept inexplicable essences and agents as explaining anything.
Attention is not to be explained by an attender, but it is a mode of
activity in that collection of activities which we term organic life
with conscious process. So even attention, as self-conscious exertion,
is not to be interpreted as an agent which is conscious of itself in
exerting; but we consider it as volitional activity with consciousness
of self as manifold complex of objects vitally connected with will
effort. Self-consciousness does not necessarily mean a self conscious of
itself.

It is obvious from our discussion thus far that we do not accept the
common division of attention into spontaneous and voluntary, which means
for us no more than spontaneous and voluntary—more properly
volitional—cognition. So-called spontaneous attention is the displacing
of one consciousness element by another without any will effort; there
is no displacing or placing as will activity, but cognitions appear,
persist and disappear by an inherent force. When in deep study the noise
of a whistle may spontaneously “attract my attention,” as the phrase is,
but this denotes no more than forcible change of state. There is nought
in the new act but the sensing the noise of whistle; there is no real
attending activity, no will effort at either promotion or inhibition.
However, we must grant that most cognition contains a volition element.
Absolute zero or negative value as to volition is but a momentary and
comparatively rare phenomenon in normal consciousness, where
self-possession and self-direction in some measure is almost constant.
In the case of noise of steam-whistle suddenly breaking in upon a
student, there is quickly attention—either positively, as listening to
quality, or to detect direction of sound; or negatively—true
_in_attention—as inhibiting and disturbing element. When one is made
“wild,” or distracted, by noise, then his mind is occupied unwillingly,
indeed, yet there being no real promotion or inhibition, we must term
the state _unattention_. Another form is where we give up in despair,
and passively suffer the annoying noise. In both cases we neither
stimulate nor repress, and so both are emotional unattentions. On
account of the pain-pleasure nature of all experience, there is even
here, however, some will attitude and tendency, some favouring or
retarding act, though it be wholly impotent in effect.

Just when a cognition rises to attention point, just when volition with
effort becomes prominent factor, this is a difficult and delicate
problem. However, according to the relative prominence or obscurity of
volition element, we must divide cognitions into attentions and
impressions. In the variety of human cognitive activity there is a
constant flow of cognitions which are one moment being strengthened to
attentions, and another, weakened to impressions. With volatile persons
cognitive life is a kaleidoscopic congeries of rapidly experienced
impressions and attentions. Will darts in and out with marvellous
velocity, now vivifying some, now others, in the stream of cognitive
activities determined by pleasure and pain interest. With all of us
there is a manifold complex _continuum_ of cognition, a general
non-attention knowing of external world and _ego_, which we continually
carry with us. Into this field of exertionless cognitive life
will-effort penetrates now to one point, now to another, seizing upon
and enlarging the most interesting and significant facts. As I am
sitting in my chair, I am dimly aware, without will tension, of a large
field of varied objects, any one of which I may emphasize, attend to,
when incited by sufficient interest. Practically exertionless awareness
is a constant _substratum_ for developed consciousness; here, in the
world of habit, it is always at home, and moves with great ease and
smallest friction; but the process of learning, the work of adding to
mental possessions and enlarging the _totum objectivum_ and _totum
subjectivum_, this is attention for complex consciousness.

We must note this, that attention is any general alertness toward
cognizing, though no actual cognition be attained. Cognitive straining
without result is truly a form of attention. A man listening for a sound
is equally attentive with a man listening to a sound. It is not
necessary for an attention to have something to attend to. Attention is
effort at cognizing as well as in cognizing. The stupid boy is often the
most attentive, the most strenuous in cognitive effort, yet there may be
little apprehension. In fact, we must recognise that in cognitive, as in
muscular activity, effort may be excessive, and defeat its own end. When
suddenly awaking in the night we often strain sense to the utmost, but
with no result; nothing is heard or seen. In this, as in some other
cases, we must notice that attention is not necessarily delineation.
While generally a particularizing effort of cognition, attention may
sometimes occur as mere general cognition stress.

If attention consists in cognitive effort, whether successful or not,
what is the nature of the effort to attend? A student says, I try to
attend, but I cannot; I cannot hold my mind down to anything. Professor
James remarks, “In fact, it is only to the _effort to attend_, not to
the mere _attending_, that we are seriously tempted to ascribe
spontaneous power” (_Psychology_, p. 451). But it is obvious in such
phrases attention means simply cognition, and may be substituted for it,
whereas we have just pointed out that attention is both the effort
toward and in cognizing act. Literally interpreted, then, the problem is
whether we can make an effort to make an effort at cognizing. In great
lassitude or exhaustion we lose control of ourselves, we are unable to
exercise volition either as attention or otherwise. We recognise and
lament the fact to ourselves, we feel our powerlessness, but I hardly
think we do ever really make an effort at effort. At the very first
stage of recovery from such state of utter non-volition, the will act is
always toward definite sense adjustments, or in holding to and promoting
certain thoughts and representations, and we thus have real attention.
The utter rout of psychoses, which once possessed us, we now conquer and
control for our ends and interests.

Attention to attention is obviously distinctively different from this
phase. We can and do attend to attention as psychic fact. An act of
attention cannot, indeed, attend to itself, but the volition act in
consciousness of consciousness, as consciousness of some attention act,
is very properly an attention to attention. If I am looking attentively
at a man, I cannot, by the very nature of attention, be simultaneously
volitionally introspective of, _i.e._, attentive to the looking
attentively. When actively sensing light, I cannot at the same moment
attend to this attention, because attention is always concentrative of
will. To be volitionally conscious of light is one moment, and to be
volitionally conscious of this light consciousness is another moment.
The attention attended to is not in process at the same moment as the
attention. This does not deny that we have simultaneous spontaneous
introspection of attentions. Introspection, like sensation, perception,
ideation, is attention only so far as it is effortful.

In his recent treatise on psychology Professor James discusses in an
interesting and suggestive way the relation of ideation to attention,
maintaining that “ideational preparation ... is concerned in all
attentive acts.” Attention is “anticipatory imagination” or
“preperception” which prepares the mind for what it is to experience.
Thus the schoolboy, listening for the clock to strike twelve,
anticipates in imagination and is prepared to hear perfectly the very
first sound of the striking.

It is undoubtedly true that in the form of attention we term expectant,
where we are awaiting _some given impression_, there is a representing,
antedating experience, which may be a preparatory preperception. But
with a wrong imaging of what is to be experienced there is hindrance, as
when in a dark, quiet room we are led to expect sensation of light but
actually receive sensation of sound. Very often, indeed, our
anticipations make us unprepared for experience. Further, the
experiments adduced by Professor James from Wundt and Helmholtz are in
the single form of expectant attention, and we must remark that in these
experiments the reagent is also experimenter, and this introduces a new
attention, consciousness of consciousness, and that of a peculiar kind,
which complicates an already complex consciousness. In general we may
say that experimentally incited consciousness is artificial, at least as
far as it feels itself as such, and for certain points like simple
attention this tends to vitiate results. Self-experimentation or
experiment on those conscious of it as such may mislead in certain
cases, and must, so far as this element of consciousness of experiment
is not allowed for. In physical science things always act naturally,
whether with observation or experiment, but in psychology observation,
other things being equal, is more trustworthy than experiment.

In all cases of expectant or experimentally expectant attention, the
attention does not, however, lie in the expectancy or in the imaging as
such, but it is merely the will effort concerned in these operations.
Yet as we may expect without effort, and preconceive without volition,
attention is necessarily involved in neither. A perception or a
preperception is an attention only as accomplished by will with effort,
but only an unattention when purely involuntary. Professor James’s use
of attention as preperception brings us back to the common idea of
attention, as any consciousness which cognizes something. This is so
inbred in thought and language that it is most difficult to avoid using
the term in this sense. Many psychologists, like Mr. James and Mr.
Sully, frequently mention attention as a will phenomenon, but they do
not treat it under will, and they constantly return to the cognition
meaning. Höffding, however, treats attention under psychology of will.
Attention as the exercise of will in building up and maintaining
cognitive activity, is naturally treated under cognition; but it is on
the whole safer and better to discuss attention under will so as to keep
it sharply distinguished from the presentation form which it vitalizes.
I have endeavoured to hold the term strictly to this sense, yet it is
not unlikely I may sometimes unwittingly countenance the common
confusion, but trust the instances will be few.

When we have, then, a case of expectant attention, we must distinguish
the attention in the imaging from the attention in the actual cognizing.
It is, indeed, true for us almost invariably that cognitive strain
without immediate realization is incentive to ideating. In listening in
the night in vain for a sound we hear in imagination many sounds, and we
form preparatory ideas of what we are to hear. Sense-adjustments call up
a train of sensations in ideal form. But it is obvious that low
intelligences which have no power of expectancy or ideation do yet
really attend. The very first cognitions and all early cognitions by
their very newness and difficulty were attentions long before ideation
was evolved. With low organisms, as cognitive power extends only to the
present in time and space, immediacy of reaction is imperatively
demanded, and every tension of cognitive apparatus is immediately
directive of motor apparatus, so that suitable motion is at once
accomplished. The cognition, though dim and evanescent factor, is yet
powerfully energized, and so a true attention. Always with lowest
sentiencies, and often with higher, pain is suddenly realized without
anticipation, followed quickly by attention as strong effort to cognize
the nature and quality of the pain-giver and so to effectually get rid
of pain-giver and pain.

Preliminary idea, then, cannot occur in early attentions and in late
attentions, it is by no means necessary. It is said that we see only
what we look for, but it must be answered that seeing commonly happens
without any looking for. The kindergarten child, Professor James to the
contrary notwithstanding, is not confined in his seeing to merely those
things which he has been told to see and whose names have been given
him. A child continually asks, What is that? and is quick to discern the
new and strange. He accomplishes a wide variety of attentions without
ideas and gives himself almost entirely to immediate presentations.

To be sure, every one sees only what he is prepared to see, only what is
made possible for him by his mental constitution as determined by his
own pre-experience and the experience of his ancestors, but this does
not signify ideation. Every cognizing is conditioned by the past, but
this does not call for a reawakening and projecting in ideal form at
every instance of cognitive effort before any real cognition is reached.

In fact many, if not the most of our attentions, are merely
intensifyings of some present cognition, of some cognitive psychosis
which has simply come or happened. Take the instance of attention to
marginal and retinal images; this certainly does not always imply
pre-perception, the forming of an idea of what we are to see, though in
the cases mentioned by Professor James it may. For example, I was
writing the above seated with my profile to the window when I became
suddenly aware, through the physiological agency of a marginal image, of
a moving object to my right. This perception of bare, undefined object
was spontaneous, a pure given; I exercised no will in attaining it, and
so the state of cognition was not an attention. However, by attending,
by intensifying the cognition by will effort, I perceive that the
indefinite object is a man walking on the sidewalk, who is of a certain
height, clothed in a certain way, etc. I do not trace the least ideation
in the whole process; the slight attending as act of will did not imply
any anterior or posterior idea or representation. The reason for the
will act was the intrinsic interest of movement, and this intrinsic
interest arises in the fact that moving objects have had for all life a
special pleasure-pain significance; the moving object is the most
dangerous, and so motion perceived has become ingrained in mind as a
special stimulant of attention. This habit of attentiveness to things in
motion survives and continues for cases where it is of no use and even
of harm; thus, in the present instance, it diverts me from my work. It
is obvious that attention often occurs in the same way for other senses
without preliminary idea.

Is there such a state as negative attention or active inattention? Is
will activity in cognition always positive merely, and never existing as
direct repression or weakening of acts? To some psychologists negative
attention means only that certain elements in a consciousness are
overshadowed by the dominancy of some single factor; that, owing to the
limited capacity of mind, many elements can exist only in enfeebled form
beside their stronger neighbours. If the life blood of mind, will, is
largely absorbed by some particular form or mode, all other forms must
suffer in consequence.

It is, of course, obvious that the amount of will force which is put
into some given cognition is potentially or actually withdrawn from
other factors which then, however, are more justly termed unattentions
than inattentions. But is the withdrawal of energy attained only by
transference? May it not be attained by direct repression and
suppression? When we wish to weaken some particular cognition, is it to
be done only by specially energizing some other cognition? It would seem
on general principles rather strange that we can, under stimulus of
interest, increase our energizing of any given cognition but cannot
reduce it except indirectly by transference. This would mean that the
sum total of actual will force remains constant as far as subject to
voluntary control, and it is only by subdivision into many channels that
any actual diversion is secured. Will force may be withdrawn and
transferred, but not an atom of it can be directly suppressed. But can I
not directly repress a troublesome thought or a painful sight? If by a
great effort of will I keep my eyes closed to some horrible but
fascinating sight, this is a true active inattention, the exactly
opposite exertion to holding my eyes open and fixed upon my book for
reading when very sleepy, which process is always termed attention. When
our energy is going in some comparatively undesirable way we often do
simply switch on to another track, but often also we shut off steam and
reverse. Instead of direct promotion or indirect inhibition there is
direct inhibition or often both forms of inhibition combined. We may,
under pressure of interest, directly weaken any cognition, untensify,
check and reduce the will effort involved by immediate relaxation. In
putting ourselves to sleep we relax with effort, we reduce and stop all
attentions. In awaking we often go through a reverse process. The
attitude of any cognition is either by and through will, or with
comparative indifference and no intervention of will or with will
directly against it, which three states we term attention, unattention,



Online LibraryHiram M. (Hiram Miner) StanleyStudies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling → online text (page 19 of 32)