Copyright
Michael Maher.

Psychology: empirical and rational online

. (page 13 of 63)
Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 13 of 63)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Mr. Herbert Spencer, starting from the same assumptions
as Hume and Mill, nevertheless rejects Idealism, substituting
in its place a species of Hypothetical Dualism which he calls
Transfigured Realism. With him, as with them, we can know
nothing but our own feelings ; yet he affirms that there is
outside of the mind an Unknoivable Reality, the objective
cause of our sensations. But beyond the fact that such a
noumenon exists, we can assert nothing of it. " What we are
conscious of as properties of matter, even down to weight and
resistance, are but subjective affections produced by objective
agencies, which are unknown and unknowable." i'' His defence
of this theory is based on an analysis of our mental operations
akin to that of the older Associationists, supplemented by an
argument against the Idealism of these writers extending over
some nineteen chapters. The chief proofs which he urges



themselves, and which would remain even though all subjective
conditions of the intuition were abstracted. . . . Space is nothing
else than the form of all phenomena of the external sense, that is,
the subjective condition of the sensibility under which alone
external intuition is possible." (Cf. Critique. Transcend. .^EstJi. § 4.)
Such passages could be multiplied indefinitely. It is a summary,
but not very convincing disposal of opponents to simply assert that
any other view of space than this is absurd. If it is still maintained
that Kant allowed the existence of a noumenal space which suffices
for the demands of physical science, then under the shadow of this
obscure and elastic term we have admitted an extra-mental extension
of three dimensions conditioning the unobserved causes of our
sensations, and the chief contention of the Transcendental ^^sthetic is
abandoned.

"^"^ Principles of Psychology, % ^']2,



MODERN THEORIES OF EXTERNAL PERCEPTION. 123

against Idealism are these: (i) Priority. — In the history of
the race, as well as in the history of every mind, " Realism is
the primary conception," and Idealism is merely derived from
and subsequent to the former. (2) Simplicity. — The chain of
reasoning establishing Realism is simpler and shorter than
that proving Idealism. The latter, too, depends on the
former. (3) Distinctness. — The doctrine of Realism is pre-
sented in distinct and vivid terms, whilst Idealism can
be apprehended only in a vague and obscure manner.
(4) Realism is established by the criterion of the Universal
Postulate. We must accept as true what we are obliged to
think, and we cannot think away the existence of the objects
which we perceive.

We can only touch on one or two points of this theory
here. In the first place, though Mr. Spencer's arguments
are undoubtedly valid against the idealist, they are not less
efficacious against his own system. All the proofs from
simplicity, priority, the application of the Universal Postulate,
and the rest, tell equally in favour of Natural Realism against
Transfigured Realism as expounded by himself. In the second
place, Mr. Spencer's Transfigured Realism is little, if at all,
fitter to meet the demands of science than Kant's non-spatial
noumena or Mill's possibilities of sensation. Accordingly, for
disproof of the new hypotheses, we refer the reader back to
the arguments we have been just expounding. Physical
science asserts much about the internal relations of the
extra-mental causes of our sensations, which implies the
existence of a real time, and of a space of three dimensions
apart from our consciousness, yet truly mirrored by the
features of that consciousness. Mr. Spencer's own state-
ment, too, that there are variations in the modes of the
asserted Unknowable corresponding to our consciousness of
changes in space and time, abandons his most important
tenet that we can know nothing about the Unknowable except
its existence. The same difficulty which proved fatal to the
theories of Mill and Kant tell equally against Mr. Spencer.
Neither the assumptions nor conclusions of Physical Science
can be confined within the territory of phenomena. The
notions of " energy " and " force " lying at the root of
mechanics and physics, and the laws of their action which
science professes to expound, imply that the mind has a real
valid knowledge of the supposed noiunenal or unknowable
causes of our sensations. Finally, Mr. Spencer's reduction
of the material world, which we appear to perceive, into
groups of feelings is based, like that of Hume and Dr. Bain,
on the false assertion that we cannot have an immediate
knowledge of external reality.



124 SENSUOUS LIFE.



Probably the best exposition in English of the above line
of argument, based on the conflict between Empiricism and
Physical Science, is that to be found in Mr. Arthur Balfour's
Defence of rhilosophic Doubt, chapters ix. and xii. Viewed as
an argiimentiim ad hominem against the school of Mill and
Spencer, the reasoning there is perfectly valid, and seemingly
unanswerable, though in other respects some of the sceptical
CDncludons appear to us to be overdrawn.

Headings.— The First Prineiples of Knoivledge, by John Rickaby,
Pt. II. c. ii. ; Dr. Mivart, Nature and Thought, c. iii. ; On Truth,
cc. vii. — xi. ; Dr. Martineau, A Study of Religion, Vol. I. pp. 192 —
214; Hamilton, Metaphysies, Lect. xxv.— xxviii. ; Professor Veitch's
Hamilton, cc. v. — vii.; Dr. M'Cosh, Exam, of Mill, cc. 6, 7;
Ueberweg, Logic, §§ 37—44 ; R. Jardine, The Elements of the Psycho-
logy of Cognition, pp. 47—58, 125 — 148. The whole subject is very
ably handled by A. Farges in L'Objectivite de la Perception des Sens
ex'.ernes et ies Theories Modernes (Paris, 1891). See also J. Mark
Baldwin, The Senses and the Intellect, pp. 134 — 138. The ablest
treatise however in English on this subject is Professor T. Case's
Ph)sical Realism (Longmans).



v-''^



CHAPTER VII.

DEVELOPMENT OF SENSE-PERCEPTION!
EDUCATION OF THE SENSES.

Growth of Knowledge. — The true account of
our cognition of the external world is that which
maintains the doctrine of immediate perception — that
in some of its acts the mind directly apprehends a
material reality other than itself; but there is no
incompatibility between this theory and the admis-
sion that in the percipient acts of mature life there
are involved many results gathered by association,
and numerous mediate inferences of a more or less
complicated nature. The advocate of immediate
perception is not committed to the doctrine that the
eye of itself immediately apprehends something pre-
sented to its view as a solid brick house situated at
a hundred yards distance, nor that touch from the
beginning makes known a particular sensation of
pressure as due to a squeeze of the foot. The
apparently simple cognitions which succeed each
other from moment to moment in mature life,
contain certain primary data which have been
immediately presented to the senses ; but a large
fraction of the whole is, in most cases, built up
out of contributions furnished by imagination and



126 SENSUOUS LIFE.



memory. The variety of the elements involved,
and the plurality of the stages comprised in these
brief acts of knowledge, have been dwelt on at
copious length by many modern psychologists, and
elaborate descriptions of the gradual development
of apprehension by the "aggregation," ''segrega-
tion," and "integration" of sensuous "ingredients"
into the final product, the perceived thing, are very
familiar to the reader of English philosophical
literature.

Intellect usually ignored. — In spite, however, of the seeming
exhaustiveness of these analyses one all-important factor
is almost invariably omitted. Intellect, in its old and proper
signification, as a higher rational activity superior to sense,
awakened, indeed, to exercise by the latter, but transcending
its range — Intellect, thus understood, is ignored. Yet it is
precisely this faculty which makes intelligible the stream of
change disclosed in sensation. The formal object of sense is
the concrete quality of the individual thing, and it is percipient
of successive changes and co-existing accidents ; but it cannot
apprehend the being or essence of things ; it is blind to the
causality of agents, and to the substantiality of objects ; and of
those numerous relations of identity, similarity, unlikeness,
dependence, and the rest, which form the universal frame-
work, the rational tissue, of our knowledge, it can give no
account. A creature endowed merely with sensibility could
never come to know itself as a person, to apprehend itself as
an abiding ego, and to set itself in contrast and opposition to
an objective world. Nor could it come to truly cognize any
portion of the external universe, any more than itself as a
being. Now in normal perception these sensuous and intel-
lectual elements are closely interwoven, and it may require
careful attention and reflexion to separate them. ; but none
the less are they radically different in kind. As, however, the
plan of our work requires us to treat of intellectual activity
by itself, we will in the present chapter devote ourselves
mainly to the exposition of the development of the sentient
factor in the process, although, of course, in man's actual
experience sense and intellect are not thus isolated.

Complexity of perceptional process. — Before
beginning, an example may be useful to show the



Development of sense-perception. 127

reader unfamiliar with psychological analysis, that
seemingly simple perceptions are really complex.
Walking in a field, I become suddenly conscious of
a familiar sound, and exclaim, " I hear my big,
white dog barking in the road on my right about
eighty yards away." But a little reflexion will
convince me that the sense of hearing contributes
only a small share to such a percipient act. Of the
distance, direction, size, and colour of the agent
which has caused the noise, my ear of itself can tell
me nothing. It merely presents to me an auditory
sensation of a particular quality, and of greater or
less intensity ; the remaining elements of the cogni-
tion are reproductions of past experiences. Similarly
in other cases, unnoticed inferences, and faint associa-
tions furnished by the rest of the senses, attaching
to the direct testimony of each particular faculty,
simulate after a time the character of immediate
revelations of the latter. These indirect or infer-
ential cognitions may be styled the acquired perceptions
of the sense in question. It is the office of the
psychologist carefully to analyze these into their
primitive elements, to ascertain what are the ulti-
mate data afforded by each sense, and to trace the
chief steps in the process by which the elaborate
result is reached.

Development of Tactual Perception.— Although

in describing the general features of the different senses
viewed as mental powers, the order of treatment
adopted was unimportant, here in tracing the develop-
ment of perception it is a matter of great moment to
follow as closely as possible the natural order in which



J2S SENSUOUS LIFE.



de facto the several faculties come to offer their contribu-
tions. ^ Accordingly we will commence with the sense of
touch, including under it tactual sensations proper,
feelings of pressure, and muscular sensations, whether
of resistance or of movement. It seems to us a mistake
in this connexion to endeavour to separate the conscious-
ness of pressure from that of mere contact. The isola-
tion is purely ideal. The difference between them is
one of degree, and in the actual experience of the child
sensations of touch, so far as they are of any psj^cho-
logical significance, involve feelings of pressure. The
consciousness of resistance to active effort put forth,
indeed, implies a new element, and facilitates the appre-
hension of something other than self given in the
recipient sensation of passive pressure, but even this
latter state makes us directly cognizant of extra-mental
reality. Starting then with the sense of touch, naturally
the first question which meets us is : How do we come
to know the spatial relations of the several parts of our
own person P

Localization of Sensations. — In mature life we instan-
taneously localize an impression in the point of the



1 To start with perception by taste, smell, or hearing, or at all
events to take any of these as the true type of external perception,
is a complete inversion of what is actually given in nature, and may
lead into serious philosophical error. These are precisely the
faculties by which originally we do not obtain any direct percep-
tion of matter. They are wanting in the most important feature of
that species of cognition which they are supposed to exemplify.
They are originally of an almost purely subjective character, and
are therefore but little better suited than imagination or memory
to illustrate the manner in which we .come to know the material
universe. Hearing, employed not for the illustration of indirect or
acquired perceptions, but as a typical representation of the per-
ceptual process in general , as is often done by psychologists,
misleads the reader into the belief that since by far the greater
part of the information yielded by this faculty is of a mediate
and inferential character, testifying only to possibilities of other
forms of sensation, therefore all modes of perception are of a
similarly subjective character, and no percipient faculty gives us
a direct immediate presentation of extended matter. Hearing
and smell exhibit abundantly the force of associated or acquired
perceptions, but direct perception they do Jiot illustrate.



DEVELOPMENT OF SENSE-PERCEPTION. 129

body2 irritated; and some writers maintain that the
affirmation of consciousness is of such a character
that this reference of a feehng to the part excited must
be a natural endowment possessed from the beginning.
But what precisely is meant by saying, " I feel a pain
in my foot" ? The statement at once calls up a visual
image of the member affected ; and it further presents
this image at about five feet in a nearly vertical line
from my eyes. However, as distance cannot be directly
apprehended by the eye, but is known primarily through
muscular sensations of movement, and as the visual
image of my foot is certainly not given in the painful
feeling of pressure, the first consciousness of such a
sensation could not have been similar to this. We are
not born with an innate idea or representation of our
person. Aristotle, long ago, taught that all knowledge
starts from experience, and the topography of our own
body is no exception to the rule. By observation and
experiment, and not through any a priori endowment,
we have come to learn the shape and appearance of our
organism, and to know the definite locality on the visual
map to which a particular tactual stimulation is to be
referred.^

2 This seems true in the case of sensations of surface pressure,
not so, however, as regards the organic sensations, or those of the
other special senses. We project or externalize the cause of
the auditory or visual sensation, but unless the impression is
markedly painful we do not in mature life advert to the point of
the organism affected by the stimuli of these senses. It is in fact
the organic or tactual element involved in these sensations which
enables us to localize them in our own body.

3 Dr. Gutberlet, who maintains the doctrine that an original
local reference of a very vague character is attached to sensa-
tions of contact, summarizes the arguments against the extreme
" nativistic " or a priori view : (i) We appear to localize impressions
in parts of the body demonstrably incapable of sensations, e.g., in
our bones, teeth, hair, &c. (2) We also misinterpret the locus of
known impressions, assigning them to wrong places, e.g., pressure
of the elbow is felt in the fingers, irritation of the brain is referred
to the extremities. (3) Irritation of the stump of an amputated leg
causes us to assign the sensation to the locality originally occupied
by the lost limb. (4) We sometimes project sensations outside of
the body, e.g., the feeling of pressure to the end of a walking-stick
or a pen. (5) The definiteness of localization varies considerably

J •



130 SENSUOUS LIFE.



Tactual Cognition of the Organism.— Although
the extreme " nativistic " theory is thus erroneous,
exaggerated empiricism rushes into an equally false
opinion when it refuses to admit the presence of any
element of a local character, or any presentation of
extension in our primitive sensations of contact. The
true doctrine, as usual, lies between the extreme views.
Impressions of extended objects are given from the
beginning as extended, and bearing a local reference,
but of an extremely vague and indefinite character.
From the apprehension of purel}^ unextended sensations
the notion of extended matter cannot be formed, and in
this respect the cognition of the spatial character of our
own body stands in the same situation as the rest of the
material world. The extended nature of the organ is
given simultaneously with that of the extended surface
pressing upon it, but as we have said, this primitive
presentation is very ill-defined.*

Local SigJis. — Of the shape or quantity of the
surface covered our knowledge is at first almost infini-
tesimal, whilst of the local relations between the point
affected and the rest of our person we necessarily as yet
know nothing. Nevertheless the character of an impres-
sion is largely dependent on its situation ; the pressure,
for instance, of the same object across the fingers, the
palm, the fore-arm, on the head, and on the calf of the

in different parts of the body, and decreases in proportion as the
part affected is beyond the range of the eye and of the hand, e.g.,
irritation in the back and within the organism. {Die Psychologic,
pp. Co, Ci.)

"* " There is an element of voluminousncss . . . discernible in each
and every sensation, though more developed in some than in others,
and this is the original sensation of space, out of which all the exact
knowledge we afterwards come to have is woven by processes of
discrimination, association, and selection." (James, Vol. II., p. 135)
Similarly, J. Mark Baldwin: "No purely empirical explanation is
sulhcient to account for the extensive form of sensation. . . . The
power to perceive space is as native as the power to percei\e
anything else ; but this does not mean that space is native to the
mind any more than trees are or music. Objects are given to us in
space, and space is given to us with objects." {Senses and Intellect,
p. 122.) The empiricism of the associationists on this question is
tailing more and more into disrepute.



DEVELOPMENT OF SENSE-PERCEPTION. 131



leg, possesses in each case a certain distinctive feature.
Further, this variation in the aspect of the mental state
is in proportion, though not in a constant proportion,
to variation in locality. Thus, if the same stimulus be
applied to two points on the arm, separated by a short
interval, the sensations aroused will contain a certain
difference of character, which will increase if the inter-
mediate distance be increased ; similarly with impres-
sions on the fingers, though here change in the sensation
is more rapid in proportion to variation of locality.
Assuming the faculty of apprehending extended impres-
sions over the surface of the body, and this " local
colouring," which marks the sensibility of the different
parts affected, if an object is moved along the skin from
one locality to another, the capacity of the intermediate
region for tactual sensations is discovered.

The terms, local sign, and local colour, have been used by
Lotze to designate a purely subjective quality varying with
the part of the organism affected, and attached to the purely
subjective non-spatial presentations of sense. These local
signs become symbols of the muscular sensations of movement
required to pass from one sensitive point to another, and by
their means out of mental states, individually revealing no
element of extension, the notion of space is alleged to be
built up. Lotze thus advanced beyond the empiricism
advocated by Dr. Bain, Mill, and other English sensationalists,
in admitting the necessity of more than mere tactual and
muscular sensations. But the local signs cannot generate,
though they ma}' be of great value in defining our notion
of space. A direct presentation of extension must be some-
how afforded as material to work upon.

Sensations of Double-Contact. — It is probably, how-
ever, the experience of double-contact, which contri-
butes most to the definition of the relative situation of
the several parts of the organism. If a child lays his
right hand upon his left there is awakened a double
tactual feeling of extension. If he then moves the right
palm along the left arm up to the elbow or shoulder he
becomes conscious of a series of muscular sensations in the
right arm, and also of a series of extended tactual
impressions both in the right hand and along the left



132 SENSUOUS LIFE.



arm, which vary in character as they depart farther
from the original sensation in the left hand. This
movement may be then reversed and the tactual sensa-
tions gone through in the opposite direction ; and
finally by laying the left arm along a flat surface, or
vice versa, the series of tactual impressions, formerly
given in succession, will now be presented as co-existing
outside of each other in space. When these or kindred
experiments have been executed a few times, the
difference in character of the tactual impressions on
two points of the arm awaken by association a repre-
sentation of the number of tactual sensations and of the
duration of the series of muscular sensations required to
span the interval, and their relative situations are so
far defined. In this way a blind child would rapidly
gather by experience a tolerably accurate knowledge
of the configuration of its body, and of the relative
positions of its varying forms of tactual sensibility.
The localization of impressions would become more
definite in the parts capable of being easily explored
by means of sensations of double contact, while the
outlying districts would be known in a less perfect way.
Combination of Touch and Sight. — Still, it is sight
which, normally speaking, presents to us the rich
realities of space. Apprehending in a simultaneous act
a large space of the surface of the body, the eye far
surpasses in efficiency the consciousness of double
contact, while it supplements the latter experience as a
third witness in a multitude of observations. As our
education advances the visual image of the point of the
organism stimulated becomes more intimately associated
with the local colouring of the tactual sensibility of that
point, and the map of the sense of touch is translated
into that of sight.

Tactual Cognition of other Extended Objects. —
Together with progress in our knowledge of our own
body proceeds our education as regards the material
world outside ; every increment of information in the
one department is a corresponding gain in the other.
Abstracting again from vision, when the child lays his
liand flat on some object before him, suppose a book,



DEVELOPMENT OF SENSE-PERCEPTIOM. 133

he becomes conscious of an extended impression. By
moving his hand he experiences two concomitant series
of tactual and motoy sensations. When he reaches the
edge of the surface the tactual sensations cease, and
then reversing the operation he may reproduce them in
the opposite order. After a few such experiments, he
would come to know in a rough way the number of
units of tactual or motor sensations necessary to pass
from the first to the last impression of contact, and he
would thus have a measure of the length or hreadth of
the book. Suppose he then takes the volume between
his two hands or fingers, he will discover that it presents
several resisting surfaces, and some further experiments
in the way of tactual and muscular feelings define his
knowledge of its solidity and zveight.

Here, again, as before, to the normally endowed being,
the visual images presented by sight of the objects
touched and handled enormously faciUtate progress, and
gradually enable him to infer the temperature, magnitude,
solidit}^, and weight of things at a distance. This mode
of education is going on in one shape or another every
moment of his waking existence, and consequently his
perception of the objects in his immediate vicinity very



Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 13 of 63)