Hiram M. (Hiram Miner) Stanley.

Studies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling online

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Negative attention is then, I think, a real activity, a will force which
directly hinders and crushes out the unwelcome in consciousness, while
positive attention is will force vitalizing and strengthening the
pleasant. In conflict of interests these forms are complementary, and
attention is here a double will-effort, both the effort at withdrawing
energy from one point, and the effort at applying it in a new point. In
most cases attention is both resistance and insistance. Even in simple
forms the natural tendency to inertia constitutes a constant counter
interest to any particular activity-interest. Attention then is always
resistance to this natural inertia _plus_ the direct energy in effecting
the particular activity. But in advanced consciousness there is always a
multitude of difficulties in the way of specializing cognition, a great
variety of distractions to be resisted, all which, added to the definite
exertion required in the special work, makes the ordinary attention in
human consciousness a very complex affair. A student engaged on a
mathematical problem is incessantly driving out distracting thoughts and
positively fixing his mind upon the problem. Resistance is manifold,
according to the speciality of the task—the more special, the more
distractions—and the direct concentration is also a real and direct

We may then, I think, see the importance of both positive and negative
acts in attention. As counter to the theory that positive attention is
the only real form, we might plausibly argue the opposite, that it is
only the reverse side of negative attention. If we shut out all but one
element from consciousness, do we not thereby bring that one into bolder
relief and so indirectly strengthen it? May not all intensification of
cognition be thus but an indirect result of negative attention? No, for
even when all distractions are kept away, there is the inherent
difficulty of the act _plus_ the inertia, the general disinclination to
effort. Positive attention may rarely appear as practically pure, and
rarely also negative attention. Consciousness may sometimes consist of
merely pure will tension as keeping off all defined activities; and
persons of great will power sometimes achieve this in putting themselves
to sleep. Consciousness is a blank field, tensely kept, but perfectly so
only for a very brief time.

As to the origin of attention, it must arise with cognition itself. The
past act of cognition was, as we have seen (p. 61), a powerful will act,
an achievement through struggle, and therefore an attention. The history
of cognition and of its ultimate development into the highest forms is a
story of incessant and fierce competition in the struggle of life. Man’s
power of sense, perception and thought is an inheritance from an immense
deal of will effort by untold millions of ancestors. The necessities of
existence compelled an alertness, a general cognitive strain, which
effected progress and discovery, the attainment and integration of new
and most valuable forms of experience which have been handed down to
later generations. The earliest cognitive life is then almost entirely
attentive; cognition does not _come_, it must be _attained_. Gradually,
however, some low form like general sensation is so integrated, and
requires less and less attention, till it _comes_, is _given_, with
comparatively no effort, and a state of unattention thus appears in
consciousness. The child repeats quickly, easily, without attention, the
evolution of the past, and this spontaneous re-enactment continues up to
the full point of hereditary integration. Without effort the child is
carried on at the incitement of instinctive inherent interest up to a
certain comparatively high grade of experience. But heredity _momentum_
gradually ceases, and if there is to be individual progress, attention
must come in. Thus, intellectual education is fundamentally a developing
of attention. Conscious control of cognition, both positively and
negatively, becomes more and more efficient, and the progress of the
race is dependent on exceptional attention in exceptional
individuals—geniuses. Attention becomes more and more limited and
specialized, and a minute subdivision of labour results.

Now, primitive attention is not as Mr. Ward, for example, would make it,
a primordial fact of mind, but as a cognitive form of will or will form
of cognition—it is essentially secondary. However, Mr. Ward, in his
article in the _Encyclopædia Britannica_, makes a peculiarly advanced
form of attention the initial fact of consciousness, namely, by the
non-voluntary act of mind being conscious of changes in itself. But mind
is not at first a something which is inevitably cognizant of its own
experience, but it merely is a state, does not have states, and is not
consciously aware of them as such. There is, for instance, pain, but no
consciousness of the pain as fact of experience. Mind is not primitively
a something acted on, reacting, and cognizant of these self-movements,
but merely effortful will activity attaining snatches of cognition at
the pressure of pain and pleasure. It seems, indeed, tolerably plain
that apperception is not necessary to consciousness as such, and the
general law of evolution from simple to complex leads us to suppose that
consciousness was not at first with any apperceptive process. Changes,
whether as occurring or as being brought about, did not imply an
apperception taking cognizance of them. But however this may be, certain
it is that apperception, as consciousness of self-change or as
consciousness of consciousness, must as a form of cognition arise in
will effort like any other forms, must be a real attention, not a
so-called non-voluntary attention. We do not see any reason why this
form of cognition should be an exception to the general law that every
step of consciousness is an acquirement and achievement determined by
the struggle for existence.

The relation of attention to feeling has already been touched upon,
especially as related to interest. Attention, like other volitions, is
aroused by feeling, primarily as direct pleasures and pains, secondarily
by the ideal forms of these, that is, interest. Low organisms are
incited to attentions as simple sensation-cognitions only by present or
immediately impending pain or pleasure. Direct pain does not interest or
include interest in itself. There must be, not merely pain, but
cognition of it as element in experience, before there is interest,
which is always _in_ something. Interest implies representation, the
sense of the value for experience of any given thing. What pleases or
pains interests only so far as perceived as pleasurable-painful; the
thing perceived as source of feeling, or as in any wise related to it,
arouses interest. “I am pleased or pained,” does not equal, “I am
interested”; but only so far as I have cognizance of the object,
pleasing or paining, am I interested in it. The interesting is what
touches my interests, what affects my experience, what potentially
reaches or touches me. It is obviously to the great advantage of the
organism that pleasure-pain object merely perceived should move, excite,
or interest, which brings in attention to the thing, and so fuller
knowledge and preparedness for action. Interest, then, is practically
equivalent to emotion. “It interests me,” is equal to, “It arouses my
emotion.” The interesting picture, book, man, animal, etc., is that
which awakens emotion, and thus incites attention. What affects me or
moves me, interests me. Interest is generally used to denote favourable
emotion of rather low intensity, as when I say, “He interests me”; but
as a psychological term it may well be used in the broad sense to denote
any emotion so far as it stimulates attention. The function of interest
lies wholly in its effect upon attention, it is always a feeling
stimulant to the will act of cognition. I do not exert my cognitive
powers unless I have some interest at stake.

There are, of course, many degrees of interest. Often interest is so
slight as not to rouse attention, being too weak to overcome natural
inertia to will effort or unable to deflect will as bent by some
conflicting interest. A lesson is to be learned, but the interest,
often extrinsic, does not rise to attention point till possibly a
few minutes before recitation. The interest, fear of failure, may
then be sufficiently strong to induce very vigorous attention, and
within a certain range the stronger the interest, the stronger the
attention. Yet at a certain point of intensity emotion begins to
derange will activity and to hinder and even destroy attention. Fear
which has become fright extinguishes attention. Self-controlling
power of attention is lost in a flood of emotion. Yet ungovernably
intense emotion is no longer properly termed interest, which always
implies cognitive power. Interest is properly comparatively mild
emotion state, which includes definite cognitive element. But
interest may be not only at or below attention point, but it may be
of such an intensity and kind as to do away with need of attention,
securing a spontaneous, or practically spontaneous, cognition. Thus,
my interest in a book may at first be insufficient, _i.e._,
practically _nil_, to constrain attention in any degree; it may
become so strong that I make constant cognitive effort, and finally,
as it becomes profound and absorbing, I cognize without any
attention. When anything becomes sufficiently interesting, interest
acts of itself directly upon cognition, which is then performed
without attention. Interest frequently increases to the spontaneous
cognition point, carries cognition in it; but we must remember,
nevertheless, that all cognition had its origin in attention.
Interest acquired and become habitual demands less and less force of
attention, so that our customary interests finally awake cognition
without any attention act. If given cognitions always required the
original will effort,—attention,—intellect could not progress,
delicate and far-reaching reactions could not be initiated, for they
could have no basis. The force of inherent hereditary interests
makes itself felt throughout all advanced psychic life. A survey of
the cognitions of any single day would show us that by far the
greater number are by this type and degree of interest. The common
cognitions and adjustments of every-day life in walking, sitting
down, and in matters of routine, are mostly of this type.

It is tolerably plain that the relation of feeling to cognition cannot
be expressed by any single formula, and it is certainly far from true
that sensation or other cognition is inversely as the intensity of
feeling. If feeling, either as simple pleasure-pain or as interest, is
the incentive of attention, which is the primary measure of cognition;
then intensity of cognition is directly as intensity of feeling for a
certain range, and this is also true where attention has lapsed. The law
of inverse ratio applies only when feeling has risen beyond the point of
highest efficiency, when there is over pressure, and mind runs wild
beyond self-control and attention. Then we should, of course, find at a
certain point, if we could make exact measurement, geometrical decrease
in cognition for arithmetical increase in feeling, but ratio would
constantly change. The centre and spring of any high psychic life is
interest, and as interest increases intellection and volition increases
_pari passu_. In cases of decline, where interest or capacity for
emotion is lost, psychic life as a whole dissolves and disappears. On
the contrary, the progress of mind is in the strengthening and extension
of interest.

Interest leads to attention in the forms mentioned, but it seems also a
mode of attention when, at the bidding of interest, we not only promote
or inhibit some cognition, but some particular feeling. In a fit of
anger we may be prompted by prudence or conscience to forcibly and
directly restrain and abate it. I may similarly maintain an amiable
frame of mind as opposed to crossness. To repel a fit of anger of course
implies repelling the representations which enter into the angry
emotion, and so it is that the repressing or stimulating all emotions,
by reason of their representative nature, necessitates a will effort
with reference to the cognitive element, and thus an attention.

It is commonly believed that attention to a feeling intensifies it—that
the more we attend to our feelings the stronger they are, and the less
attention we pay to them the weaker they are. A soldier wounded on the
field of battle heeds not the pain in the excitement of the conflict.
But the truth is in this case that he has no pain so long as he feels
none, and that he does not attend to the pain signifies simply that pain
does not become a psychic fact, but is wholly physiological, and so not
a subject for psychological discussion. This is a case of the confusing
use of attention for consciousness in general which we have before
criticised. Very often, indeed, such an expression as, “The more he
attends to his pain the more he has,” means simply, the more pain he has
the more he feels, an identical proposition. But we must also
discriminate between attention in a feeling and attention to a feeling.
I work myself up into a passion by strenuously dwelling on
representations involved in anger—this is an attention in a feeling; but
attention to anger would be self-observational effort. The former does
not involve consciousness of the feeling, the latter is nothing more
than strenuous consciousness of the feeling. Men are often angry without
being conscious of it or but dimly so, and attention to the feeling
would consist in intensifying by will effort this consciousness. When a
person says, “I was mad and I knew it,” he asserts the distinctness of
the acts and that the first does not always imply the second. This
cognition originally, like all cognition, required volition, and it is
still subject to volitional control and emphasis, that is attention,
even in advanced consciousness. Attention to a feeling is cognitive
effort in attaining or strengthening consciousness of feeling, hence is
but a mode of apperceptive or introspective effort.

We must distinguish sharply then between the observing act and the
observed feeling, between a cognition of consciousness of pain and a
pain consciousness, and we must note that attention may be either,
neither, or both. Apperception has become such a habit with higher human
consciousness that it is commonly exercised without attention, and so
has seemed to some as a necessary fact of all consciousness, an
anthropomorphism, which seems to us erroneous. When we are conscious we
are generally conscious that we are conscious; when a man has toothache
there is not only pain, ache, toothache, but consciousness of this as
fact of experience; but this does not establish apperception as fact of
all consciousness.

Is it true now that the more we are conscious of a consciousness the
less we have of the latter? Certainly the more conscious we are of it
does not imply having the more of it, though we may say with truth that
within a limited range the greater and intenser the consciousness, the
greater the facility for consciousness of consciousness. A mental fact
must have a certain definiteness and prominence before it is clearly and
easily cognizable. However, speaking of the effect of apperception upon
the consciousness apperceived, it must be evident that it is always a
minifying and not a magnifying. Consciousness is self-divided when there
is both experience and consciousness of experience, hence a loss of
force for the consciousness cognized. A feeling self-consciously felt is
weakened thereby. The feelings we are most conscious of are of
comparatively low intensities. In very intense feelings we lose or
forget ourselves: we do not know what we are doing or feeling.

If now we make the consciousness of consciousness effortful, it is plain
that we diminish the consciousness cognized in still greater measure. A
consciousness of consciousness cannot be forwarded except at expense of
general mental capacity, and so as diverting force from the act
observed, whatever this be. Attention to a feeling must then on general
principles diminish the feeling, and that in a marked measure. The
psychologist who is always twigging his own consciousness to find out
what is going on there must often be surprised to find nothing there. It
is astonishing how fast feeling disappears when we begin to examine and
analyse it. The emotion fades the moment we turn attention to it. We
find that in psychological matters as elsewhere that we cannot have our
cake and eat it too. We murder to dissect. Apperceptive effort is never
intensification in the consciousness cognized, but cognition and
pleasure-pain feeling as a consciousness cognized lose in force, just as
in the body, an undue exaltation of one function is always a depressing
of others by withdrawal of force. The more conscious I am of my fear the
less I fear. While this law of withdrawal of force is obviously the case
when consciousness is at its fullest capacity, yet it may be said that
apperception in other phases acts as stimulant to waken latent forces,
just as in the body stimulus of one function is often stimulus of all,
though we doubt that apperception is original and permanent function in
consciousness. But still in such cases it is a new consciousness which
is stimulated and strengthened and not the consciousness which is being
cognized, and still more then is there decrease in the latter. A given
feeling is never increased by attentive consciousness of it. When a
feeling is said to be intensified by attention to it, we may suspect
either inaccurate analysis or misuse of terms. This, of course, does not
deny that within a certain range _immanent_ attention increases
pleasure, etc., for example, the more actively we taste an orange the
more taste pleasure we get.

We note in passing the very interesting psychological paradox that the
more we view ourselves the less we have to view, the principle of which
has been set forth above. We know well that the very reflective and
self-conscious have little personal force and individual quality.
Moreover the self-conscious stage in youth is precisely the period when
there is the least real self to be conscious of. A strong multiplex mind
is rarely very self-observant.

Finally we have to remark upon the way in which attention may be
divisive of cognition. Boswell makes Dr. Johnson to say, “If we read
without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention;
so that there is but one half to be employed on what we read.” But
admitting the necessity of intrinsic interest, this does not do away
with attention. Attention hinders rather than helps cognition only when
it becomes wearing strain, as in reading when much fatigued. But
attention as fulness of vigorous normal will activity gives a force and
value to cognition which it would not otherwise have, and often makes
its very existence possible. The greatest, most significant cognitions
in the mental life of any individual are those which are achieved at the
top of endeavour. Real knowledge as advancement and acquirement is
always the fruit of long training and attention.

The act of attention is painful and therefore is not exercised by lower
organisms, at least, only under absolute necessity. Often the pain from
attention is so great that the individual prefers to suffer than to
exert himself cognitively and so help to remove pain-giver. It is only
under the greatest pressure that new knowledge and new ideas are
acquired, and the history of mind shows a series of _tours de force_
achieved only in moments of direst need. The strengthening and the
holding of cognitive powers to a given point by effort of will is
peculiarly distasteful and painful activity. All minds tend toward
inaction or toward the regions of effortless action where overwhelming
interest carries them freely along. Attention, while the most
advantageous of actions, is yet most irksome and painful. It would seem
to us at first blush that if pleasure and not pain had attached to the
attentive act from the beginning, the evolution of mind would have been
accomplished in the merest fraction of the time actually required. It
would have been the difference between going down a steep incline rather
than up. Why progress should only be realized through painful effort and
struggle is a problem which has vexed the thought of man throughout
history but upon which psychology has little light to throw. Our present
concern is to simply emphasize the fact that cognitive act as attention
is always painful, and if the act of cognition is performed without pain
we may promptly deny this to be an attention. This is, of course, far
from asserting that all cognizings with pain are attentions.


Popular and scientific observation agree that a very interesting and
important phenomenon in consciousness is the sense of self as involving
such feelings as pride, shame, self-satisfaction, and self-disgust. And
the evolutionary psychologist is bound to consider self-consciousness in
its rise and development as a life factor. What is its significance for
life? How and when did it arise as answering a demand in the struggle
for existence? Further, the psychologist is bound to clearly define and
analyse the self-sense as psychic fact, to understand just what it is,
as well as what it seems. The nature of the self-sense must be carefully
studied by introspection, and its elements and quality determined.
However, the psychist has nothing, of course, to do with the self which
is sensed, an inquiry which belongs alone to the metaphysician.

Self-consciousness has been throughout all our discussion assumed and
implied as factor in emotion life. Object is not merely perceived, for
this in itself has no life value, but is at once interpreted in
experience terms, is self-related, and emotion arises and stimulates
suitable will-response in bodily activities. Thus all response to
environment through cognition of environment means with sense of the
environment as its own. Thus, and thus only, is sense of environment
rendered efficacious, for bare objectivity, which signifies nothing, has
no value for life. Under the conditions of existence in the struggle of
life object cognition could not originate because it has no function.
The theory of natural selection then requires that object and subject
cognition be regarded as complementary psychic factors, coincident in
their origin, and developing in strict correlation.

This corollary from the theory of natural selection, implying a
self-relating act in all cognition under the condition of struggle for
existence, is seen to be a likely hypothesis so far as we can judge from
the action of low psychisms. Any one who closely observes animals must
recognise that self-interest determines their cognitive activities and
in turn is roused by it. The alert listening and looking of a squirrel
is obviously impelled by fear and awakens fear. The object perceived is
constantly interpreted for its experience value, that is, there is
constant self-reference. This is the type of all cognition under natural
selection, _i.e._, where use dominates.

Assuming then psychism as mode of adaptive reaction, we see the
necessity for the correlation of the sense of self with the sense of
things. An experiencer blind to self, who has no awareness of self, but
merely blindly strives, has little advantage, for it possesses no
self-directivity and no power of intelligent action. Its adaptation is
purely general; to be specific adaptation it must appreciate differences
in environment in their differential action upon itself, an appreciation
of the objective in subjective terms. It is probable then that the first
knowledge was the apprehension of thing as painer and then of the thing
as pleasurer. A discrimination of the two is attained, probably tactile,
as hard and soft. The subjective import of the thing is at once realized
from these signs.

It is obvious that the origin of self-consciousness must be placed very
early in psychic life. With organisms which have but a few flashes of
consciousness during their whole individual existence, whose whole
experience is a mere sum of separate pleasure-pain thrills and blind

Online LibraryHiram M. (Hiram Miner) StanleyStudies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling → online text (page 20 of 32)