Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/344

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
330
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

pun, but one made unwittingly. What is called the inelegance of using the same word in one sentence, or in two consecutive sentences, causes mental diplopia. For even if each of the two words has the same dictionary meaning, we must bear in mind that a word loses something of that kind of meaning when forming part of a proposition, losing and taking meaning by and from its context. Hence the second time the word comes there is a faint revival of the ideas it symbolized when used the first time, along with a vivid revival of other ideas it now symbolizes; there is trivial confusion from slight mental diplopia, like that from an ill-understood pun. I now give a more striking example—one in which there is manifest diplopia without confusion.

A smell, say of roses, I now have makes me think of a room where I passed much of my time when a child. Here clearly is "mental diplopia," and the mechanism of it is quite similar to that of the pun, making allowance for caricature in the latter. For the true process is that the smell of roses, now having, develops what we call the same smell, but really another smell, that of roses once had, in the old room. The two scents, linked together, hold together two dissimilar mental states (1) present, now narrowed, surroundings, and (2) certain vague quasi-former surroundings. When the scent of hay, or the caw of rooks, rouses in us vague pleasurable feelings, the mechanism is of the same kind, but the process is more complex. To further insist on the fact that mentation is stereoscopic, with more or less manifest diplopia, I give an example of mentation which is exceedingly common. While writing I suddenly think of York Minster. Here is manifest mental diplopia (1) narrowed consciousness of my present surroundings, with (2) cropping-up of consciousness of some quasi-former surroundings. Of course something, whether I can mentally seize it or not, in my present surroundings, has developed a similar something associated with York surroundings.

Recapitulating, I can say that the process of all thought is double, in degrees from a stereoscopic unity of subject and object to manifest diplopia (two objective states for one subject). The process of all thought is tracing relations of resemblance and difference, from simplest perception—to say what a thing is, is to say what it is like and unlike—up to most complex abstract reasoning. The formula of the caricature of the normal process of thought is the "pretense" of some resemblance between things vastly different—from punning, where the pretended resemblances and real differences are of a simple order, up to humor, where both are highly compound. We have the "play" of mind in three degrees of evolution, three stages of increasingly complex incongruousnesses.

If I had time, I could, I think, show that this address on jokes is not itself merely one big poor joke, but that what has been said applies closely to the study of "mental symptoms" in serious diseases. I