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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/286

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

—(1) insane delusions; (2) alternating selves; (3) mediumships or possessions, and their discussion is popular, anecdotal, and tolerant, as becomes a member of the Society of Psychical Research. Mr. James tries to interpret the phenomena of mediumship. He speculates on the brain-condition during perversions of personality, and says "we must suppose the brain capable of successively changing all its modes of action, and abandoning the use for the time being of whole sets of well-organized association paths. And not only this, but we must admit that organized systems of paths can be thrown out of gear with others so that the processes in one system give rise to one consciousness and those of another system to another simultaneously existing consciousness."

Chapter XI, on Attention, discusses the question whether this is a faculty or a resultant—a cause or an effect. The author accuses the psychologists of the English empiricist school, naming Locke, Hume, Hartley, the Mills, and Spencer, of neglecting to notice it at all, and explains the motive of this ignoring by saying that "these writers are bent on showing how the higher faculties of the mind are pure products of 'experience'; and experience is supposed to be of something simply given. Attention, implying a degree of reactive spontaneity, would seem to break through the circle of pure receptivity which constitutes 'experience,' and hence must not be spoken of under penalty of interfering with the smoothness of the tale." The following extracts from his summary of the chapter may be taken as a fair sample of his style, and of his mode of dealing with subjects.

Mr. James says that he inclines to the cause-theory; but he also says that, "as regards immediate sensorial attention, hardly any one is tempted to regard it as anything but an effect." And, again: "Derived attention, where there is no bodily effort, seems also most plausibly to be a mere effect." And, again: "Even where the attention is voluntary it is possible to conceive of it as an effect and not a cause, a product and not an agent." Viewing it thus he says: "The stream of our thought is like a river. On the whole, easy flowing predominates in it, the drift of things is with the pull of gravity, and effortless attention is the rule. But at intervals an obstruction, a setback, a logjam occurs, stops.the current, creates an eddy, and makes things temporarily move the other way. If a real river could feel these eddies and set-backs as places of effort, 'I am here flowing,' it would say, 'in the direction of greatest resistance. My effort is what enables me to perform this feat.' ... The agent would all the while be the total downward drift of the rest of the water, forcing some of it upward in this spot. . . . Just so with our voluntary acts of attention. They are momentary arrests, coupled with a peculiar feeling of portions of the stream. ... But the feeling of effort may be an accompaniment more or less superfluous, and no more contribute to the result than the pain in a man's finger when a hammer falls on it contributes to the hammer's weight. Thus our notion that our effort in attending is an original faculty, of which brain and mind are the seat, may be an abject superstition. Attention may have to go like many a faculty once deemed essential. It may be an excrescence on psychology. No need of it to drag ideas before consciousness or fix them, when we see how perfectly they drag and fix each other there."

Then, after this persuasive statement of the effect-theory, he gives the other side a chance by answering the question as to "what the effort to attend would effect if it were an original force." "It would deepen and prolong the stay in consciousness of innumerable ideas which else would fade more quickly away. The delay thus gained might not be more than a second in duration—but that second might be critical; for in the constant rising and falling of considerations in the mind, where two associated systems of them are nearly in equilibrium, it is often a matter of but a second, more or less, of attention at the outset, whether one system shall gain force to occupy the field and develop itself, and exclude the other, or be excluded itself by the other. When developed it may make us act, and that act may seal our doom. The whole feeling of reality, the whole sting and excitement of our voluntary life, depend on our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that, was forged innumerable ages ago. This appearance, which