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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/699

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THE NATURE OF PLEASURE AND PAIN.

THE NATURE OF PLEASURE AND PAIN.
By ALFRED FOUILLÉE.

PLATO and Aristotle have well said that neither pure pleasure nor unqualified displeasure exists in man. Both feelings are mixed in unequal proportions by the subtile art of Nature, and the definite impression on our consciousness is a resultant in which one or the other of the elements predominates. The complexity of all emotion may be deduced from the two dominant conceptions of modern physiology. One of them is that our bodies are in reality societies of cells, each of which has its own peculiar activity, and which contend with one another for existence. Among the lower animals each part of the organism appears to enjoy or suffer on its own account, as is exemplified when a worm is cut in two. Among the higher animals a selection and final fusion of the impressions takes place, centering in the brain.

The rudiments of agreeable and disagreeable feeling probably issue from all the parts, and are re-echoed in the general consciousness in such a manner as to communicate to it a timbre of pleasure or pain, according to which elements prevail. Our pains and pleasures would thus be a kind of summary of the elementary affections of a myriad of cells, and our individual comfort or discomfort a collective and social comfort or discomfort. The doctrine of evolution, and of the accumulative effects of heredity in the individual, also confirms this view of the collective character of our sensibility. Not only the present, but the past also, resounds in us; our feelings, even apparently the most novel ones, comprise the unconscious recollection and echo of the experiences of a whole series of ancestors.

Mr. Spencer remarks that the sight of a landscape excites within us certain deep but now vague combinations of states of feeling which were organized in the race during barbarous times, when its pleasurable activities were chiefly among the woods and waters. Mr. Schneider, in his "Freud und Leid des Menschengeschlechts," inquiring why the contemplation of a sunset gives us an impression of calm and peace, says: "There is but one answer: Because for unnumbered generations the view of the setting sun has been associated with the end of the day's work and a feeling of rest and satisfaction." This is saying too much, for the intrinsic effects of the colors and the freshness of the evening air, and our personal recollections, have much to do with these emotions. But it is safe to assume that the calm which the hours of repose have brought to the human race for centuries is reflected in us at the evening hour.

The study of pleasure and pain is thus analogous in complication and difficulty with social science, in which mutual actions and reac-