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into existence when we pass from the immediate data
of the senses to their indirect or acquired ^perceptions.
Here, when the customary character of the environ-
ment is changed, the imagination excited through past
association may induce complete deception. Our esti-
mate of distance and magnitude may thus be altogether
invalidated. A figure seen through a fog is enlarged
because the vagueness of its outlines causes us to
exaggerate its distance. The perspective appearance
of landscape paintings and of stereoscopic pictures, as
well as the ingenious contrivances to which the diorama
owes its success, are designed to awaken through the
imagination by means of the laws of suggestion an
illusory belief as regards the spatial relations of the
several parts of the perceived object. Akin to this
class of illusions are some others due to the unusual
presence or absence of materials for comparison. The
empty rooms of a house in the process of building
always look smaller than they really are, because we
have not the customary furniture to call our attention
to the capacity of the space. Similarly, a dispro-
portionately large table diminishes the size of a
chamber. On the other hand, a multiplicity of small
objects magnifies a given amount of space. A field
with hay-cocks scattered over it, a harbour with ships,
or an orchard studded with apple-trees, seems far
larger than the same space when empt3^ The other
senses are subject to analogous mistal es. The illusion


produced by an echo is similar to that of the looking-
glass. In a rarified atmosphere the force of sound is
lowered in a surprising degree. De Saussure judged
the explosion of a pistol at the top of Mont Blanc
to be about equal to that of a common cracker below.
Want of homogeneity, moreover, in the intervening
medium can interrupt, reflect, or change the character
of sound just as of light.

Dreaming and Reverie. — A specially interesting form of
illusion, or rather hallucination, is that exhibited in dreaming.
Dreams are mental processes which take place during sleep,
and are in some respects akin to states of reverie which occur
during waking life. In dreaming the imagination assumes
the part played in waking life by the external senses.
During sleep the activity of these latter falls into almost
complete abeyance ; volitional control over the course of
thought ceases ; the power of reflexion and comparison is
suspended ; and the fancy of the dreamer moves along
automatically under the guidance of association. Considera-
tion of these circumstances will help us to partially account
for the peculiar features of the dream. Its chief charac-
teristics are, (a) its verisimilitude, (b) its incoherence and
extravagance, (r) its possession of a certain coherence
amid this inconsistency, and (d) the exaggeration of actual

{a) Verisimilitude. — The apparent reality of the dream is,
in great part, a consequence of the cessation of the action of
the external senses. In sleep the images of the fancy which
may arise within us are not subject to the correction which
the presentations of the senses are ever furnishing during
waking life. Even in the most profound reverie, when our
thoughts move along at random, there is always, so long as
we are awake, a plentiful stream of sensation flowing in upon
the mind through the several faculties ; and although we
scarcely advert to them, these sensations exert a steady
counteracting influence on the flights of fancy. The objects
which we dimly see around us, the tactual and auditory
impressions of which we are vaguely conscious, all conspire
to keep us in constant collision with reality ; and when we
imagine ourselves at the head of an army, or in the jaws of a
tiger, the obscurely apprehended table and chairs of our room
exert a silent check upon the credence we are inclined to
give to all vivid ideas. In sleep it is otherwise ; the corrective
action of the external senses being cut off, we are completely


at the mercy of the phantasy, and place imphcit confidence
in each new illusory cognition.''

(b) Incoherence. — The inconsistency of the dream seems to
be due to its course being left entirely to the guidance of
fortuitous associations modified by the interference of acci-
dental sensations at the moment. The absence of voluntary
attention or control over our thoughts disables us from
reflecting upon the ideas which arise spontaneously, and
prevents us from comparing them with past experience, or
with each other. In reverie, on the contrary, this voluntary
power rarely sinks into complete abeyance, and on the
suggestion of some flagrant absurdity, the mind can exert
itself against the illogical train of images, and even if it
permits the incongruous series to take their course, at least
reserves its assent. The casual entrance of the few external
impressions which penetrate to the mind during sleep, and
the action of the systemic sensations are probably fertile
sources of new lines of thought. But since self-command no
longer exists, although we may feel a vague surprise at the
chaotic groupings of ideas thus effected, we are yet unable to
elicit the reflective act by which the inconsistency may be
brought home to us, and accordingly thought follows thought
in an arbitrary manner.

(r) Coherence. — The consistency of the dream, in so far as
it occasionally exists, probably results in part from an orderly
succession of previously associated ideas, in part from a
faint power of selection exerted by a dominant tone of con-
sciousness at the time, which rejects striking eccentricities.

(d) Exaggeration. — The exaggeration of occasional real
impressions is accounted for by the fact that while the^ great
majority of external sensations are excluded, those which do
find entrance are thereby in a peculiarly favourable position.
They are in novel isolation from their surroundings ; their
nature is vaguely apprehended;** and they cannot be con-

^ 8 Lewes, following Hartley, explains the apparent reality of the
phantasms of the dream, mainly by the suspension of the corrective
action of the external senses. Cf. Physiology of Common Life, pp. 367 —
370. Carpenter, Mental Physiology, § 482, in accordance with the
important part he assigns to Will in mental Hfe, like Stewart, lays
chief stress on " the entire suspension of volitional control over the
current of thought " during sleep. St. Thomas had anticipated both
explanations. He accounts for the illusions of sleep by the suspen-
sion of the senses combined with the interruption of the voluntary
control of reason. See note on next page.

9 Mr. Sully {Illusions, pp. 147—149) ascribes the magnifying
agency of the dream chiefly to the obscure manner in which the
nature of the stimulus is apprehended— igtiotum pro magnifico. The



fronted with other experiences. Accordingly they usurp the
whole available resources of consciousness, and so assume an
utterly inordinate importance, A slight sensation of cold or
pressure, if it accidentally fits in with the current of our
dream, may thus give rise to the illusion that we are lost in a
snow-storm, or crushed under a falling house. The- seeming
rapidity of events, which is simply the rapidity of thoughts
confounded with reality, is explained in the same way.^*^

In brief, then, as following Aristotle, St. Thomas himself
repeatedly teaches, the mind accepts the representations of
the imagination as real objects unless it be checlced by some
other faculty ; consequently when, as in sleep, the senses and
the free application of the understanding which constitutes
voluntary attention are suspended, illusion is inevitable. ^^

Readings. — On the Imagination, of. St. Thomas, Comm. De Anima,
Lib. III. Lect. 4 — 6; Mark Baldwin, op. cit. c. xii. ; Carpenter,
Mental Physiology, c. xii.; Hamilton, MetapJi. Lect. xxxiii. ; Porter,
cp. cit. Part. II. cc. v. vi. ; Gutberlet, Die Psychologie, pp. 83, seq.
On Illusions, cf. Farges, L'Ohjectivite de la Perception des Sens Externes,
pp. 184 — 237; Baldwin, op. cit. c. xiii. The subject of Dreams is
treated by Aristotle in a special tract, cf. St. Thomas, Co;;/;;?. D^
Somn'.is. Carpenter, op. cit. c. xv. is good on the same subject.

force of a novel impression even in waking life is usually over-
estimated. In sleep the general lethargy of the higher centres
engaged in cognition prevents proper recognition of even familiar
stimuli, and so converts them into strange or formidable phenomena.

^^ " The only phase of the waking state in which any such
intensely rapid succession of thoughts presents itself, is that which
is now well attested as a frequent occurrence, under circumstances
in which there is imminent danger of death, especially by drown-
ing, the whole previous life of the individual seems to be presented
instantaneously to his view, with its every important incident
vividly impressed on his consciousness, just as if all were combineci
in a picture, the whole of which could be taken in at a glanco^^
(Carpenter, op. cit. § 484, note.)

^^ " Quod rerum species vel similitudines non discernantur a
rebus ipsis, contingit ex hoc quod vis altior, quae judicare et dis-
cernere potest, ligatur. . . . Sic ergo cum offeruntur imaginariae
similitudines, inhasretui eis quasi rebus ipsis, nisi sit aliqiia alia vis
qua contradicat, puta sensus aut ratio. Si autem sit ligata ratio, et
sensus sopitus, inharetur similitndinibus sicut ipsis rebus, ut in visiis
dormientium accidit, et ita in phreneticis." {Qq. Disp. De Malo III.
a. 3. ad 9. Cf. Comment, in Arist., De Somniis, Lect. iv.)



Memory. — The term Memory, in ordinary lan-
guage, designates the faculty of retaining, repro-
ducing, and recognizing representations of past
experiences. These several features of memory
vary in degree of perfection in the same, and in
different individuals. Viewed as the capacity for
preserving our mental acquisitions this power has
been called the Conservative Faculty. It is an
essential condition of all knowledge. The simplest
act of judgment, as well as the longest chain of
reasoning, necessarily implies retention. But acqui-
sition plus conservation is not enough. During the
whole of our life the greater portion of our mental
possessions lie below the surface of consciousness,
and exist only in a condition of potential resusci-
tation. It is the power of recalling and recognizing
these dormant cognitions which completes and
perfects this instrument of knowledge.- The act
of recognition is radically distinct from the mere
re-apparition of an old mental state; but both have
been sometimes comprehended under the Repro-
ductive Faculty,

Aristotle distinguishes between memory [fxvr^^irj), the passive
faculty of retention, and reminiscence {avu^vrjo-n), the power of


active search or recall. The division is analogous to that of
modern writers into spontaneous or automatic memory, and
voluntary memory, or the power of recollection. The operation
of reminiscence is compared by St. Thomas to that of
syllogising, a progress from the known to the unknown, from
the remembered to the forgotten. As it involves volitional
and rational activitv it is restricted to man, whilst memory is
common to the brutes. Hamilton confines the narne memory
to the retentive or conservative capacity of the mind, whilst
under the reproductive faculty he includes both reproduction
and recognition. The imagination proper, he describes as
the representative faculty.

Reproduction. — A brief study of our minds
reveals the fact that even spontaneous thoughts
and recollections of past events do not occur
completely at random. Our fancy can, it is
true, move in a very rapid and seemingly arbitrary
manner, whilst widely remote actions and episodes
often reappear in imagination in an unexpected and
disconnected way. Still, closer attention to the
reproduced states will usually disclose faint and
unobtrusive connexions binding together the links
of what looked like a haphazard series of thoughts.

Process of Recollection.— But it is in the act of

reminiscence or recollecttoii, in the sustained effort to recall
some past experience, we perceive most clearly that the
current of representations which pass before our con-
sciousness do not proceed in an entirely casual and
lawless manner. Starting from a vague notion of the
event which we wish to remember, we try to go back
to it by something connected with it in time, in place,
or by any other kind of affinity. We first endeavour
to place ourselves in the mental situation of the
original incident. Then we notice that by fixing our
attention on any particular occurrence we bring it into
greater vividness, and numerous attendant circum-
stances are gradually recalled. Our ordinary procedure
is accordingly to seize upon, and intensify by attention,


the force of that one of the newly-awakened recollec-
tions which we judge most likely to lead to the desired
end. When our gaze is focussed on this fresh centre a
new system of objects related by similarity, contiguity,
or contrast, begins to emerge from obscurity, and here
we repeat our process of choice, picking out again the
most promising train. By reiterated selections and
rejections of this kmd we approach gradually closer
and closer to the object of pursuit, until it finally flashes
upon us with a more or less lively feeling of satisfaction.
Throughout our investigation we must have had some
vague idea, some general outline of the experience of
which we are in search, in order to direct us along the
most likely paths. This is made evident in the final
act of recognition, for in this stage we become conscious
that the rediscovered fact fits precisely into the vague
outline still retained. The accompanying pleasure is
due to the perception of agreement between the new
and the old, together with the feeling of relief occasioned
by having the undefined want satisfied.

Laws of Association. — The study of such an
operation as that just described convinces us that
our recollections succeed each other not arbitrarily,
but according to certain laws. Careful observation
of our mental processes have enabled psychologists
to reduce such laws to a few very general principles.
These principles which condition the reproduction
of phenomena of the mind have been called the
Laws of Mental Suggestion or the Laws of the
Association of Ideas. The chief of these are :

(i) The law of similarity or affinity in character.

(2) The law of contrast or opposition in character.

(3) The law of contiguity, comprising association
{a) in space, and {h) in time.

Similarity. — The Law of Similarity expresses the
general condition that the mind in the presence of any mental


state tends to repvoditce the like of that state in past experience;
or as it is sometimes enunciated, mental states suggest
or recall their like in past experience. The previous form
of expression, however, possesses the advantage of
calHng attention to a point frequently overlooked by
EngHsh psychologists, namely, that it is in the mind,
and not in the transient phenomena, the^ binding or
associating force dwells. An impression oridea, viewed
merely as an individual phenomenon, contains no reason
in itself why another mental event like or unlike it
should be its successor. It is only the permanence of
the Subject which renders association of the states
possible. The mind, retaining as habits or faint modi-
fications former experiences, resuscitates on the occur-
rence of similar or contrasted events the latent state,
and recognizes the likeness which subsists between the
new and the old. The vicious reasoning of sensation-
alist writers who explain both the mind and the material
world, including the human organism, as a product of
the association of ideas is thus obvious.

Examples of association by similarity are innu-
merable. A photograph recalls the original, a face
that we see, a story that we read, a piece of music or a
song that we hear, all remind us of similar experiences
in the past. Even the less refined sensations of touch,
taste, and smell, cause us to recollect like impressions
in our previous life. Painting, sculpture, the drama,
and the rest of the fine arts, seek to please by their
success in imitation. The pleasures of wit and humour,
the charm of happy figurative language in poetry or
prose, and the admiration won by great strokes of
scientific genius, are in the same way largely based on
the satisfaction of the tendency by which the mind is
impelled to pass from a thought to its like.

Contrast. — The Laiv of Contrast enunciates the
general fact that the mind in the presence of any mental state
tends to reproduce contrasted states previously experienced. Or
it may be formulated in the proposition that mental
slates suggest contrasted states of past experience. The idea
of prodigal wealth recalls that of needy poverty, cold
suggests heat, black white, virtue vice, and so on.


From the beginning, however, this law has been felt
to be reducible to morS ultimate principles. In fact,
to declare broadly that mental states are inclined to
revive former perceptions both like and unlike them
would approach paradox, if not actual contradiction.
The truth is, this law in so far as it is mental and not
an effect of organic reaction is a result of the combined
forces, similarity and contiguity. This will be made
evident presently.

Contiguity. — The Laiu of Contiguity formulates the
truth that the mind in the presence of an object or events whethe-v
actual oy ideal, tends to recall other objects and events, fovnievly
closely connected in space or time with that now present. It is
often impossible to draw a rigid line between associa-
tions due to close connexion in time and those founded
on contiguity in space. When looked at from the
mental side, we say the subjective impressions occurred
simultaneously, or in close succession ; viewed from
the opposite standpoint, we say the perceived objects
were locally contiguous. Suggestion by contiguity
whether in space or time is the most important and
far reaching form of association. It is not confined
to cognitive acts, but includes emotions, volitions, and
external movements as well. It is the principle upon
which every system of education both mental and
physical is based ; and by the sensationalist school in
this country it has been erected into an omnipotent
agency through which all knowledge and belief regard-
ing space and time, mind and matter, have been
created. We have pointed out in treating of sense-
perception how the taste, smell, touch, and sight of
objects mutually suggest one another. Contiguous
association is also a leading source of our pleasures
and pains. The process of learning to walk, to speak,
and to write, and the acquisition of the various manual
arts, rest upon the tendency of acts which are repeated
in succession to become so united that each impels to
the reproduction of the next. Language is possible
because auditory sounds grow to be associated on the
one side with the visual image of the object, and on
the other with the complex cluster of motor or muscular


impulses involved in the utterance of the name ; and
literature is intelligible only through the marvellous
command which repeated associations have given us
over the innumerable combinations of individual letters
which cover the page of a book.

Time order, — Although, as we have said, associations
in space are often intimately related to connexions in
time, there is one important feature in which these
latter differ from the former. Owing to the permanent
coexistence of the separate parts of an extended object,
and to our visual power of simultaneously apprehending
these parts, no particular point becomes endowed with
any special priority ; consequently we can in imagina-
tion, as in the previous reality, pass in any order from
each point to every other. But in serial states, where
each separate impression has dropped out of conscious-
ness before the appearance of the next, the whole force
of the association is to reproduce the mental states in
their original order of occurrence.

Reduction of these laws. — Contiguous sugges-
tion is an agency of such extensive range in mental
phenomena that some psychologists hold similarity,
contrast, and all other forms of association, to be
merely special applications of this ultimate principle.
Others, on the contrary, consider contiguity to be a
particular case of similarity — likeness in space or

Contrast analyzed. — That the law ot contrast is resolv-
able we have before stated. Contraria sunt ejiisdem generis.
Contrast presupposes similarity in genus. There is no
disposition in the mind to pass from the idea of civili-
zation to that of liquid or of black, because there is no
relation of similarity between them. But there is an
easy transition in thought from civilization to barbarism,
from solid to liquid, and from black to white, because
each pair of terms refer to a common class. Still this
does not quite complete the explanation, as there may
be many species in the class, and there is no special


inclination felt to pass to intermediate objects, such as
from white to green or red. It is here the principle of
contiguous suggestion supplements that of similarity.
We are accustomed to meet in literature, in language,
and in daily experience, contrasted terms and objects
bound together in pairs ; and in fact the entire judicial
function of the intellect consists in the discrimination
of unlike things, and assimilation of those which are
like, so that we naturally acquire a facility for passing
from a notion to its opposite.

Attempted analysis of similarity. — The effort to reduce
similarity and contiguity to a single principle is not
quite so successful, though they are evidently connected.
Psychologists who maintain that contiguity is the most
general principle, explain suggestion by apparent
resemblance as really due to the fact that those features
in the present object which also existed in the former
object arouse by contiguity the parts which were
adjacent to them on that occasion. Thus, when tiie
face of a stranger reminds me by similarity of an old
friend, it is held that the process consists of a deeper
impression of the common features, which results from
the fact of these features having been previously per-
ceived, and then a consequent reinstatement of the
lineaments, formerly contiguous, whilst our interest
and attention is withdrawn from those adjacent in the
present experience.

The following analysis of Similarity is given by the
German psychologists Maas and Biunde : Let the face now
seen for the first time be called B. Let the former face
recalled through the resemblance of B be styled A. Let the
points common to both be called ;;/. Let the unlike features
peculiar to B be named b, and let those peculiar to A be
named a. Now, when B is observed, the familiar hut
unexpected feature in attracts notice, while the less interesting
b is ignored. But ni has been formerly frequently joined witli
a constituting the total representation A, and accordingly
bringing back its old associate it reinstates A. " When, for
example, I look at the portrait of Sir Philip Sydney, I am
reminded of its likeness to the portrait of Queen Elizabeth,
because of the ruff which is about the neck of each, which in
this case is the only common feature, and attracts at once the


attention. The ruff brings back everything besides in Her
Majesty's portrait — the head-dress, the features, the sceptre,
the robes, &c., till the whole is restored."^ Mr. J. Ward on
similar lines contends that it is in previous contiguity alone
the associative or suggestive force lies, and that similarity is
only an incidental relation recognized after the reproduction
is accomplished.-

Attempted analysis of contiguity. — Writers who look
upon similarity as the ultimate law, describe contiguity
as merely a particular case of resemblance. No part of
the present representation, it is urged, can be "common"
to the previous mental state in the strict sense of being
numerically one and identical on the two occasions.
Even the mental states aroused by the contemplation
of the same object now and five seconds ago are two

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 18 of 63)