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COALESCENCE OF ANOTHER AND WITH OTHER STATES OF CON SCIOUSNESS.
I. IN explaining the functions of the sensory organs, I have hitherto confined myself to describing the means by which the physical agent of a sensation is enabled to irritate a given sensory nerve; and to giving some account of the simple sensations which are thus evolved.
Simple sensations of this kind are such as might be produced by the irritation of a single nerve-fibre, or of several nerve-fibres by the same agent. Such are the sensations of contact, of warmth, of sweetness, of an odour, of a musical note, of whiteness, or redness.
But very few of our sensations are thus simple. Most of even those which we are in the habit of regarding as simple, are really compounds of different sensations, or of sensations with ideas, or with judgments. For example, in the preceding cases, it is very difficult to separate the sensation of contact from the judgment that something is touching us; of sweetness, from the idea of something in the mouth; of sound or light, from the judgment that something outside us is shining, or sounding.
2. The sensations of smell are those which are least complicated by accessories of this sort. Thus, particles of musk diffuse themselves with great rapidity through the nasal passages, and give rise to the sensation of a powerful odour. But beyond a broad notion that the odour is in the nose, this sensation is unaccompanied by any ideas of locality and direction. Still less does it give rise to any conception of form, or size, or force,
or of succession, or contemporaneity. If a man had no other sense than that of smell, and musk were the only odorous body, he could have no sense of outnessno power of distinguishing between the external world and himself.
3. Contrast this with what may seem to be the equally simple sensation obtained by drawing the finger along the table, the eyes being shut. This act gives one the sensation of a flat, hard surface outside oneself, which appears to be just as simple as the odour of musk, but is really a complex state of feeling compounded of—
(a) Pure sensations of contact.
(6) Pure muscular sensations of two kinds, the one arising from the resistance of the table, the other from the actions of those muscles which draw the finger along. (c) Ideas of the order in which these pure sensations succeed one another.
(d) Comparisons of these sensations and their order, with the recollection of like sensations similarly arranged, which have been obtained on previous occasions.
(e) Recollections of the impressions of extension, flatness, &c. made on the crgan of vision when these previous tactile and muscular sensations were obtained.
Thus, in this case, the only pure sensations are those of contact and muscular action. The greater part of what we call the sensation is a complex mass of present and recollected ideas and judgments.
4. Should any doubt remain that we do thus mix up our sensations with our judgments into one indistinguishable whole, shut the eyes as before, and, instead of touching the table with the finger, take a round lead pencil between the fingers, and draw that along the table. The "sensation" of a flat hard surface will be just as clear as before; and yet all that we touch is the round surface of the pencil, and the only pure sensations we owe to the table are those afforded by the muscular sense. In fact, in this case, our "sensation" of a flat hard surface is entirely a judgment based upon what the muscular sense tells us is going on in certain muscles.
A still more striking case of the tenacity with which we adhere to complex judgments, which we conceive to be pure sensations, and are unable to analyse otherwise
than by a process of abstract reasoning, is afforded by our sense of roundness.
Anyone taking a marble between two fingers will say that he feels it to be a single round body; and he will probably be as much at a loss to answer the question how he knows that it is round, as he would be if he were asked how he knows that a scent is a scent.
Nevertheless, this notion of the roundness of the marble is really a very complex judgment, and that it is so may be shown by a simple experiment. If the index and middle fingers be crossed, and the marble placed between them, so as to be in contact with both, it is utterly impossible to avoid the belief that there are two marbles instead of one. Even looking at the marble, and secing that there is only one, does not weaken the apparent proof derived from touch that there are two.1
The fact is, that our notions of singleness and roundness are, really, highly complex judgments based upon a few simple sensations; and when the ordinary conditions of those judgments are reversed, the judgment is also reversed.
With the index and the middle fingers in their ordinary position, it is of course impossible that the outer sides of each should touch opposite surfaces of one spheroidal body. If, in the natural and usual position of the fingers, their outer surfaces simultaneously give us the impression of a spheroid (which itself is a complex judgment), it is in the nature of things that there must be two spheroids. But, when the fingers are crossed over the marble, the outer side of each finger is really in contact with a spheroid; and the mind, taking no cognizance of the crossing, judges in accordance with its universal experience, that two spheroids, and not one, give rise to the sensations which are perceived.
5. Phenomena of this kind are not uncommonly called delusions of the senses; but there is no such thing as a fictitious, or delusive, sensation. A sensation must
A ludicrous form of this experiment is to apply the crossed fingers to the end of the nose, when it at once appears double; and, in spite of the absurdity of the conviction, the mind cannot expel it, so long as the sensations last,
exist to be a sensation, and, if it exists, it is real and not delusive. But the judgments we form respecting the causes and conditions of the sensations of which we are aware, are very often erroneous and delusive enough; and such judgments may be brought about in the domain of every sense, either by artificial combinations of sensations, or by the influence of unusual conditions of the body itself. The latter give rise to what are called subjective sensations.
Mankind would be subject to fewer delusions than they are, if they constantly bore in mind their liability to false judgments due to unusual combinations, either artificial or natural, of true sensations. Men say, "I felt,” “I heard," " "I saw" such and such a thing, when, in ninetynine cases out of a hundred, what they really mean is, that they judge that certain sensations of touch, hearing, or sight, of which they were conscious, were caused by such and such things.
6. Among subjective sensations within the domain of touch, are the feelings of creeping and prickling of the skin, which are not uncommon in certain states of the circulation. The subjective evil smells and bad tastes which accompany some diseases are very probably due to similar disturbances in the circulation of the sensory organs of smell and taste.
Many persons are liable to what may be called auditory spectra-music of various degrees of complexity sounding in their ears, without any external cause, while they are wide awake. I know not if other persons are similarly troubled, but in reading books written by persons with whom I am acquainted, I am sometimes tormented by hearing the words pronounced in the exact way in which these persons would utter them, any trick or peculiarity of voice, or gesture, being, also, very accurately reproduced. And I suppose that everyone must have been startled, at times, by the extreme distinctness with which his thoughts have embodied themselves in apparent voices.
The most wonderful exemplifications of subjective sensation, however, are afforded by the organ of sight.
Anyone who has witnessed the sufferings of a man labouring under delirium tremens (a disease produced by excessive drinking), from the marvellous distinctness of
his visions, which sometimes take the forms of devils, sometimes of creeping animals, but almost always of something fearful or loathsome, will not doubt the intensity of subjective sensations in the domain of vision.
7. But that illusive visions of great distinctness should appear, it is not necessary for the nervous system to be thus obviously deranged. People in the full possession of their faculties, and of high intelligence, may be subject to such appearances, for which no distinct cause can be assigned. An excellent illustration of this is the famous case of Mrs. A. given by Sir David Brewster, in his Natural Magic." (See Appendix.)
It should be mentioned that Mrs. A. was naturally a person of very vivid imagination, and that, at the time the most notable of these illusions appeared, her health was weak from bronchitis and enfeebled digestion.
It is obvious that nothing but the singular courage and clear intellect of Mrs. A. prevented her from becoming a mine of ghost stories of the most excellently authenticated kind. And the particular value of her history lies in its showing, that the clearest testimony of the most unimpeachable witness may be quite inconclusive as to the objective reality of something which the witness has seen.
Mrs. A. undoubtedly saw what she said she saw. The evidence of her eyes as to the existence of the apparitions, and of her ears to those of the voices, was, in itself, as perfectly trustworthy as their evidence would have been had the objects really existed. For there can be no doubt that exactly those parts of her retina which would have been affected by the image of a cat, and those parts of her auditory organ which would have been set vibrating by her husband's voice, or the portions of the sensorium with which those organs of sense are connected, were thrown into a corresponding state of activity by some internal cause.
What the senses testify is neither more nor less than the fact of their own affection. As to the cause of that affection they really say nothing, but leave the mind to form its own judgment on the matter. A hasty or superstitious person in Mrs. A.'s place would have formed a wrong judgment, and would have stood by it on the plea that
she must believe her senses."