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parent oi invention and discovery. By continued fixation of our
intellectual gaze upon an object, its connexions with its
surroundings become more clearly realized ; possible explana-
tions of particular facts suggest themselves ; and their validity
is verified or disproved b}^ reasoning out the consequences.
The importance of this faculty in original work of all kinds
is so great, that in many celebrated definitions we find genius
and poii>er of attention made synonymous with each other.
Thus Hamilton teaches that "the difference between an
ordinary mind and the mind of a Newton consists principally
in this, that the one is capable of the application of a more
continuous attention than the other." {Metaph.\o\. I. p. 256.)
Helvetius defined genius as "nothing but continued atten-
tion" — line attention suivie ; Buff'on as une tongue patience.
Newton ascribed his own successes to patient attention more
than to any other talent ; whilst the definition of genius
by another great mind as, " an infinite capacity of taking
pains," is well known. This complete identification of the
two aptitudes is an error. Recent writers justly insist on
the spontaneous non-voluntary character of the outpourings
of genius; whilst Mr, F. Myers and certain German philoso-
phers would connect this faculty with a somewhat mystic
theory of a subconscious mental life, — a second subliminal or
subterranean personality which occasionally emerges above
the surface of consciousness in dreams, hysteria, and the
hypnotic state. The truth seems to be that, although genius
has its source in the native endowments of the mind, its
most impressive and fruitful achievements are only accom-
plished by the exercise of a rare degree of sustained con-
centration, whilst this very concentration is possible only to a
prolific intellect rich and fertile in ideas.

Retention. — A further effect of attention is increased
retentiveness. Events not attended to fade so quickly
from memor}^ that, as in the case of automatically
winding one's watch, a man is often completely
oblivious of the action immediately afterwards. If we
wish to fix in our mind a line of poetry, a person's
address, or his face, we concentrate our attention on



352 RATIOXAL LIFE.



the object to be remembered. In doing so, we not only
prolong and intensify the impression, but we associate
it with other experiences, we assimilate it into the
general system of our mental life. In Herbartian
language, we apperceive it. Attention thus both accele-
rates mental acquisition and secures permanence.
Twenty repetitions of a lesson whilst the mind is
careless and inattentive have not the efficiency of one
performed when our whole energy is concentrated on
the subject in hand.

Physiological conditions.; — Regarding; the physiological
counterpart of attention there is much speculation and little
knowledge. Evidence of a general character renders the follow-
ing statements probable : (i) During periods of intellectual
concentration there is an increased flow of blood to the brain
and heightened activity of the cells which compose the
cortical substance. (2) The adjustment of the sense-organs
and the bodily strain which often accompany a process of
attention involve an innervation of the cerebral motor-centres
subservient to these particular movements. (3) Direction of
attention to a particular sensation seems to stimulate circula-
tion and neural functioning throughout the portion of the
organism, central and peripheral, engaged in the experience.
(4) The same seems to hold in regard to reproduced images
when they are the object of attention. Thus, if I fix my
thought on some particular word, the appropriate ideational
motor and auditory centres, that is, the group of cerebral
cells which minister to the production of this particular sound,
are probably excited to greater activity. These various
physical changes are, however, the ejfed rather than the cause
or neural correlate of the act of attention proper. Of the
latter nothing is really known as certain.

Physiological manuals not infrequently indulge in graphic
accounts of " attention-centres," and of successive groupings
of neural currents in cerebral stations arranged in an ascend-
ing order of dignity and complexity like local, provincial, and
city telegraph offices, with a great presiding metropolitan
centre in the frontal region of the brain. Such descriptions
are purely mythological. They may, of course, afford help
to the imagination — like a coloured picture of an angel.
But unless the reader is reminded that they are mere con-
jectures without any evidence, or even prospect of evidence,
to establish their truth, they are sure to mislead. The sort
of knowledge which we really possess concerning the brain
will be>"dicated in our section on the localization of cerebral



ATTENTION AND APPERCEPTION. 353

functions. If certain areas of the cerebral matter are stimu-
lated or extirpated, certain corresponding movements and
sensations and images are excited or inhibited. Ihat is
almost the sum total of present scientific knowledge concerning
the subject.

Pleasure and Pain. — The relation of attention to
feeling can be readily gathered from Aristotle's theory
of pleasure and pain, given in an earlier chapter.
Pleasure accompanies spontaneous or easy volitional
attention, increasing in proportion to the vigour of the
activity until the energy becomes strained or fatigued.
On the other hand, forced attention, thwarted attention,
and the struggle against distraction, monotony, or
weariness are painful experiences. Novelty pleases,
both by affording pleasant relief and by awakening a
fresh energy. If a particular exercise of attention prove
agreeable, the activity is stimulated and increased ;
if it result in pain, especially of a monotonous character,
the exertion is depressed. I3ut acute pain tends to focus
upon itself the whole available energy of consciousness
and thereby to inhibit all other intellectual operations.'*
Such cases, however, are rather instances of purely
painful feeling in which rational activity proper is
suspended. Fixed ideas, disagreeable recollections,
and sharp griefs often exert a violent painful fasci-
nation on the mind, which renders it almost impossible
to get rid of the unpleasant thought.

Interest. — We attend readily to some subjects because
they are interesting; and they possess interest because
they afford us pleasure or a particular kind of pain.
Some psychologists would completely identify interest
and attention, maintaining that to attend to an object
and to be interested are the same thing. Still, ordinary
language recognizes a difference. Whereas attention is
transitory, interest may be permanent ; thus we can retain
interest in a science to which we have not devoted
attention for a considerable period. Moreover, we
easily concentrate our attention on a particular subject

4 " Si sit dolor intensus impeditur homo ne tunc aliquid
addiscere posset. Et tantum potest intendi quod nee etiam
instanti dolore potest homo aliquid considerare etiam quod prius
scivit." (St. Thomas, Sum. 1-2. q. 37. a. i.)
X



354 RATIONAL LIFE.



because it interests us ; it is not immediately interest-
ing because we direct our attention towards it. Common
thought in fact seems to identify interest with a pecuHar
attraction exerted by certain subjects of consideration
in virtue of associated pleasurable or painful experi-
ences in the past. Thus, even an elementary knowledge
of Botany or Geology gives a new "interest" to a
walk in the country, and the fact of having read one
of Scott's novels makes Edinburgh quite a different city
to the visitor.

Education. — From all this we see the importance
of the mental function of attention from an educa-
tionalist standpoint. Without some degree of attention
intellectual acquisition of any kind is impossible ; and in
proportion as this power is brought more under com-
mand, so is progress more rapid and more solid. The
child at first finds great difficulty in controlling his
attention, especially for any length of time. It is, there-
fore, the office of the teacher to help these first feeble
efforts by awakening interest in the pupil's tasks. Skill
in illustrations that are homely 3^et novel, ingenuity
in connecting the lesson, or parts of it, with subjects of
the child's previous experience or reading — especially
with the stories in which he hc.s taken pleasure — ^judg-
ment in changing the subject, or enlivening it by a joke
or anecdote when the class is growing weary, tact in
utilizing incidental points that turn up to enforce some
practical or moral truth, are all so many means ot
stimulating and sustaining attention. But the educa-
tion of the faculty of attention is even more important
as a part of moral training. It is by control of our
attention that we can determine which of two con-
flicting motives shall prevail. B}^ the free effort of our
attention we keep steadily before our minds the claims
of dut3s or the consideration of permanent happiness
when impulse surges up within, or seductive pleasure
assails us from without ; and the strong-willed man is he
who can keep his attention riveted to some abiding
rational motive that gives stability to his deliberately
formed resolve, and thus remains unshaken by gusts of
passion or transitory cravings of sense.



I



ATTENTION AND APTERCEPTION . 355



Are there Unconscious Modifications of the Mind ? — Con-
nected with the topic of attention, is that of latent mental
operations. Notwithstanding the superstitions dread of meta-
physics, which infects all recent psychology, no really
intelligible answer can be offered to this much discussed
question unless we know what is meant by " mind " and by
" modification of mind ; " and these queries inevitably carry
us into Philosophy. If we start with the great majority of
empirical psychologists by defining the mind as "the entire
collection of our conscious states," or " the total stream ot
our conscious life," then obviously an affirmative reply would
involve a contradiction in terms. Or even if prescinding from
the inquiry as to the nature of the soul, we define a " mental
modification" as a " conscious state," there can be no further
dispute. Still such a summary disposal of the question
merely ignores a very genuine problem. But if by mind, or
soul, we understand a real beiiif^ other than the series of
" phenomena " or " conscious states," and if we then propose
the inquiry thus : Do there take place any real activities, processes,
or energizings of the mind of which ice are completely unconscious ?
the question is no longer meaningless.

In the first place, that some mental operations happen
without their being apprehended by the explicitly reflex
activity of ^^'//-consciousness is indubitable. For instance,
the self-conscious element in the percipient act of the
spectator who watches the finish of an exciting race is
reduced to nil. It is also indisputable that there enters
into the texture of our normal conscious existence a
multitude of sub-conscious, or obscure mental processes
so dim and indistinct as to be at best only very faintly
realized. Our emotional temperament and our normal moral
disposition is largely determined by such sub-conscious influ-
ences. But when we come to the question as to the reality
of latent activities of the mind completely below the surface
of consciousness, there is no longer agreement among
psychologists. The following arguments have been ad-
vanced :

For Unconscious Modifications.— (i) The reality oi minima
visibilia, audibilia, etc.— the fact that our ordinary sensations
of sight, sound, and the rest, arise out of an aggregate of
elementary impressions occasioned by combinations of
stimuli separately unperceivable. Thus the leaves of the
forest, individually indiscernible, each contribute to the
general presentation of colour. Neural excitations that are
iust too feeble or too brief to result in a sentient state which
rises above the threshold of consciousness must, it is main-
tained, have a real effect upon the mind. (2) That such an



356 RATIONAL LIFE,



effect though unconscious is real, it is urged, is often proved
by the effect of the sudden cessation of the unobserved
stimulus. Thus the miller, though unconscious of the sound
of the mill-wheel, is awakened at once by its stopping.
(3) The effect of a mere act of attention in evoking into
distinct consciousness experiences hitherto unnoticed, as for
instance a headache, or the pressure of my back against
the chair, points to their previous reality as mental impres-
sions though unconscious. (4) The facts of habit, acquired
skill, and dexterity. Complex operations seemingly automatic
which were originally effected by conscious effort must, it is
alleged, be still performed under the guidance and control of
the mind though acting unconsciously. Similarly unconscious
inferences enter into our acquired perceptions. (5) The
effects of unconscious trains of thought by which reminis-
cences of events long forgotten, or unnoticed at the timxC, or
the solution of problems are suddenly presented to the mind.
(6) Abnormal phenomena of hysterical patients, deferred or
post-hypnotic suggestions, somnambulistic feats, negative
illusions, or artificially induced anaesthesia — in a word, a
multitude of actions fulfilling the conditions of "having all
the characteristics of a psychological fact save one — i.e., they
are always unnoticed by the agent himself at the very time
when he performs them."^

Against such Modifications. — It is argued (i) that the
facts of minima sensibilia merely prove that the normal
physical stimulus of a sensation must possess a certain quan-
tity of strength before consciousness is awakened, but when
that limit is passed the eftect produced is of a completely new
and completely different kind. It is always unlawful, as Mill
has shown, to ascribe separate fragments of such a total
" heteropathic effect " to separate fragments of the cause.
Similarly, though successive increments of heat will finally
cause ice to melt and then to boil, or dynamite to explode,
we cannot legitimately conceive each small addition of heat
as producing a corresponding small part in the liquefaction,
evaporation, or explosion. (2) The positive effect of the
sudden cessation of a stimulus is explained by the consider-
able change thereby wrought in the tension of the nervous
mechanism, which has become adapted to the regular action
of the stimulus. (3) Attention can undoubtedly increase our
sensibility to impressions of all kinds, but this only shows, it
is maintained, that the particular experience was felt in a
faint degree before ; or that it is only imder these new
psychological conditions it begins to exist. (4) The pheno-

Cf. Pierre Janet, L'Automatisme Psycliologiquc (Edit. 1898), p. 225



ATTENTION AND APPERCEPTION. 357



mena of habit, automatic action, acquired perceptions, and
the hke, may be ascribed not to psychical, but to physio*
logical dispositions, which by frequent repetition of a series
of movements become organized and embodied in the
nervous system in such a manner as to be able to bring about
the final result without the concomitant action of the mind
during the process. (5) Sudden reminiscences, and dis-
coveries, the effects of seemingly unconscious trains of
thought, and the like, may be similarly explained as due to
unconscious cerebration. The neural processes in the brain
being once set in motion may run their course unconsciously
till the particular cerebral situation is reached which forms
the appropriate condition for the final mental act. Or, it may
be held that the intermediate mental links do actually appear
in consciousness, but that, like the perceptions of the sepa-
rate letters of a word, they are too fleeting and of too little
interest to be remembered. The phenomena of dreams,
somnambulism, hypnotism, and the like, are similarly ex-
plained as actually felt at the time, but lost by inattention and
rapid obliviscence.

These explanations seem to us to afford an intelligible
interpretation of most of the facts adduced. Nevertheless,
provided it be recognized that no composition, amalgamation,
or coalescence of unconscious units can constitute a conscious
state, we do not see any conclusive reason for denying the
reality of unconscious activities of the human mind. Further-
more, adopting the Aristotelico-scholastic theory that the
Soul is a substantial principle at once the source of vegetative,
sentient, and rational life — a doctrine which we will establish
in Rational Psj^chology — this view seems to be forced upon us.
Latent modifications of the mind must be admitted at least
as dispositions, habits, or species impresses, to account for the
possibility of recognition and ordinary knowledge. The vital
processes of the potentics vegetativce — the vegetative functions
of the Soul — are normally unconscious ; and the scholastic
conception of the nature of the action of the intellectiis agens
seems also iu harmony with the doctrine of unconscious
mental energies.*^

Apperception.— (S'rt/^;T^vo/;' = to notice with attention.) —

^ The literature on this subject is abundant. The modern
scholastic writers who have treated it most fully are Sanseverino,
Dynam. pp. 944—982 ; Farges, op. cit. pp. 295—307, 390—395 ;
Mercier, La PsycJioIogje, pp. 154, seq. ; Gutberlet, Die Psychologic,
pp. 49 — 59, 166, seq. See also Hamilton, Metaph. "Vol. I. pp. 338,
seq.; Carpenter, Mental Physiology, c. xiii.; Mill, Exam. c. xv. ;
James, op. cit. Vol. I. pp. 162 — 175 ; Mark Baldwin, op. cit. pp.
45 — 48; Pierre Janet, L'Automatisme Psychologique, pp. 223 — 304.



358 NATIONAL LIFE.



Historical Sketch. — Recent ps3'chology dwells much on the
"apperceptive" activity of the mind ; and Herbart's disciples
in psedogogic literature are copious in illustrating the mental
processes now designated by that word. As it is connected
with the present subject we shall treat it briefly here.
Leibnitz, who seems to have been the first to employ the
term apperception, understands by it strong distinct percep-
tions, as opposed to petites perceptions — obscure or unconscious
impressions. He only means by it developed self-consciousness
or rejlex cognition. Kant, borrowing the term from Leibnitz,
employs it to signify///^ innate unifying activity of self-conscious-
ness, which in his theory of knowledge plays so important
a part in combining the chaotic manifold impressions of
sense. This self-consciousness he does not conceive like
Leibnitz, as emerging with the development of mental life,
but as an original endowment, an a priori transcendental
condition of all rational experience. Apperception with
Herbart and his followers means the appropriation of fresh
presentations or perceptions by groups of similar ideas per-
sisting in the mind from previous experience. Writers of
this school have usefully enforced the truth that every
cognition leaves a certain vestige or residual effect in the
mind, which modifies its future percipient acts. A newly
imported elephant, for instance, is apprehended quite
differently by a London child, a zoologist, an African hunter,
an ivory dealer, and a menagerie proprietor. The powers
of vision may be approximately equal in all of these observers,
yet the total cognition will be different in each case, because
of the different mental habits of each.

This principle was familiar to the scholastics in the well-
known axiom, Umimquodqiie recipitur secundum modum reci-
pientis ; but they did not consider to what extent the recipient
mind may be accidentally modified by experience, — nor how
much its percipient powers are enriched with the growth of
knowledge from infancy to manhood. Herbart, therefore,
notwithstanding his mythological account of " masses of
concepts" which apperceive each other, and push each other
above or beneath the " surface of consciousness," did useful
work for educational theory in emphasizing the influence of
pre-existing knowledge in the process of cognition.

Definition. — Psychologists are not at present agreed as to
the precise meaning to be allotted to the term. Perhaps
amongst the best definitions of the process is that of Karl
Lange : '■''Apperception is that psychical activity by which indi-
vidual perceptions, ideas, or idea-complexes are brought into
relation to our previous intellectual and emotional life, assimi-
lated with it, and thus raised to greater clearness, activity, and



ATTENTION AND APPERCEPTION. 359

significancey^ Apperception is iu fact equivalent to conscious
assimilation in a wide sense. It includes identification, recoj;-
nition, classification, understanding, interpretation, and all
forms of knowledge in which a new idea or group of ideas
is incorporated with an existing group/^

Nature of the process. — For instance, on awaking I dimly
see a strange object in the middle of my room. In the
obscurity it resembles a very big dog with an enormous head.
It might be a lion couchant, except that there are no wild
[ nimals in the neighbourhood. After straining my eyes in
vain to discover what it can be, I wearily desist. Suddenly
I recollect having last night left my umbrella open in order
to dry. I now look again and apprehend tho object quite
distinctly, though the room is as dark as before. The head
and shoulders of the monster are formed by my umbrella ;
the body is my half-open portmanteau. I have identified,
recognized, apperceived, the mysterious being. Or to borrow
another example cited by Mr. Stout : Robinson Crusoe and
his man Friday suddenly perceive a ship off the shore. To
the savage it was " only a dark and amorphous blur, a
perplexing, frightening mass of details." To the old sailor
Crusoe, on the contrary, it is, in spite of his poorer eyesight,
"an object." It is a unity; all its parts combine to make
a symmetric whole which coalesces with a representation
latent in his mind. It fuses with, or is subsumed under a
familiar generic notion : it is classified as " Ship." It is

' Cf. Apperception, p. 41. According to this view, all perceptions
except the first simple sensations involve apperception. The chief
distinction lies in the fact that the latter term accentuates the
element of assimilation with previous acquisitions. Lange gives a
useful historical account of apperception in Pari III.

^ Mr. G. Stout, in his able and interesting chapter on the subject
{Analytic Psychology, Vol. II. c. vii.), distinguishes apperception from
mere assimilation, as involving attention and a " noetic " or conscious
appropriation of the new element which is absent from the latter :
" Where attention is not present, there is no apperception but mere
assimilation, because there is no noetic synthesis. Thus, in
automatic actions, the impressions which guide us are all assimi-
lated, but not apperceived. . . . Unless there is some difficulty to be
overcome, mere assimilation and association fulfil the office of
apperception. . . . For the most part, the perceptions of size, shape,
and distance depend on processes of relative suggestion which are
independent of apperception, except in the earlier stages of mental
development." (p. 118.) The distinction is convenient for some
purposes, but very difficult to maintain owing to the imperceptible
degrees by which cognitive appropriation fades into mere automatic
coalescence. If rigidly adhered to, it would exclude from apper-
ception much of what is usually ascribed to that process.



360 RATIONAL LIFE.



apperceived. Or, on reading a work on Psychology, I find
apperception described as noetic assimilation, noetic incor-
poration of a new fact. Suppose I have not met this
adjective before, I feel puzzled, probably irritated, as the
chapter proceeds and sundry possible meanings vaguely
suggest themselves to my mind. At last I recur to my Greek
and recall that voelv signifies to perceive. Immediately, the
meaning of noetic as percipient, cognitive, becomes clear.
I understand, I apperceive it, successfully. Guessing a riddle,
solving a problem, harmonizing conflicting evidence, con-
struing an author, are all illustrations of apperceptive activity.
In fact, every advance in knowledge in which the new fact
is consciously combined with former experience is included
under the term.

Apperception and Education. — The chief merit of the
Herbartian school is their constant insistence on the metho-
dical or systematic direction of apperception throughout the



Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 36 of 63)