The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology/Part 2/XVIII

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The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology by Boris Sidis
Presentations and Representations

In the course of our analysis of the lower types of moments it has been shown that the psychic elements entering into their synthetized content occur not in a free independent state, but in fixed accumulations and stable compounds, having reinstatement as the mode of their reproduction. There is, however, a higher type of moment in which psychic elements occur in a free independent state, having accordingly a mode of reproduction different from that of the types we have just examined. Let us see now what the nature of these free elements is, how they come to arise and what is the peculiar mode of their reproduction.

If we look at the tree yonder and then close our eyes, we can represent to ourselves the tree in its general outlines at least. We see its trunk, its branches, and its green foliage. After our friend's departure we continue to see him in our mind's eye. We live over mentally, in our imagination, all our relations, our mutual enjoyments. We seem to watch him act and hear him talk. The representative elements cannot possibly be identified with or derived from after-images. For after-images are really after-sensations and consist of sensory elements. The elements involved in the state of representative psychic life are freed from all immediate coexistence with sensory elements, primary or secondary; in fact, they appear when the sensory elements disappear.

The two sets of psychic elements, the presentative and representative, stand in inverse relation to each other. When the one is at its maximum the other is at its minimum. When sensory elements appear the free elements become faint. This faintness is in proportion to the intensity of the sensory element. It is hard for us to look at a color and imagine it at the same time; and the more intense and brilliant the color is, the harder it is for us to have the color, at the same time, represented. Look at an object, say the lighted lamp, take in well its sensory elements and you will find that it is almost impossible to represent it to yourself at the same time. Try hard to represent to yourself the object and you will find that its sensory elements will begin to vacillate and become faint, or less vivid. When absorbed in our ideas we often do not notice even very intense stimuli. The two series of elements, the sensory or, presentative, and the free ones, the representative, cannot run together without interfering with each other, nay, without arresting each other.

Representative elements bring with them a new fundamental departure in the mental activity of the moment, they may keep up its activity when flagging, may intensify it, but may also deflect it, or distract it, giving rise to another conflicting moment. Thus on the one hand my continuous thought about a certain scientific proposition constituting the substance of the present active moment may begin to flag, but it is soon kept up by new observations and experiments; on the other hand, the occasional glance at the morning newspaper may tend to deflect mental activity to quite a different channel by awakening the activity of quite a different moment-consciousness conflicting with the train of thought on scientific matter.

Presentative elements have a permanency and stability which representative elements totally lack; they can be kept up in their full strength by keeping up the same intensity of stimulation, as by maintaining the object before the particular sense organ that forms the nucleus of the percept. Thus the pricking of the needle is perceived as long as the stimulation is continued, and the chair yonder is seen as long as it is kept before the eyes. Representative elements on the contrary, are extremely unstable and fluctuating, and are aptly characterized as being very much like "the flare and flicker of a gas flame blown by the wind." When representative elements become permanent, stable, the state of the moment acquires a pathological character manifested in the phenomena of insistent thoughts and fixed ideas.

Presentative psychic elements are always firmly bound up with an external object and with stimulations of peripheral sense-organs; they can never free themselves from the bondage to the external environment. Not so the representative elements, although appearing at first in connection with sensory elements and peripheral stimulations, they finally end by freeing themselves from this bondage. The representative elements involved in the representation zebra do not originally arise without some presentative elements. Once however, the given representation has definitely arisen we may imagine the zebra without actually perceiving it. In the midst of a conversation, or in the midst of an engaging study, the image of a tiger, or of a palm seen in some distant country may rise clearly and vividly before the mind's eye, and temporarily interrupt the course and trend of our thought.

While I am writing these lines a fleeing copperhead, a pulsating vorticella, a fish's tail, a cow's head and a puffing steam engine have flashed across my mental field and gone. They may be ultimately traced to some sensory stimulus and positive after-images, but these are far in the background of consciousness and remain unnoticed. Representative elements come and go in consciousness, they appear independently of all other elements, they are essentially free elements. We call this coming and going of these independent elements the "free play of the imagination."

Where sensory elements appear in synthetized compounds, or in the precept, they cannot be separated, they are firmly bound together. It is only in representation that the corresponding representative elements free themselves from the bonds of union which the sensory elements cannot throw off. The orange yonder is a synthetized compound of many sensory elements, primary and secondary, but as long as they remain sensory the elements are kept in union and cannot be dissociated. Such a dissociation, however, is fully possible with the representative elements entering into the representation of the orange. We can think of its color, size, shape, weight, smell and taste separately.

The freedom of the representative elements is clearly brought out in the so-called free play of the imagination. Sensory elements are synthetized in the compound in definite relations which cannot possibly be severed unless the stimuli are rearranged, and in many cases the sensory elements do not admit even of that procedure. The sensory elements in the perception of a particular object, say a house, have definite relations which cannot be modified without first changing the color, structure, shape, size, of the house and rearranging its relative parts. In imagination or representation, however, all that is done in less than no time, without in the least interfering with the external stimuli.

Representative elements manifest even more freedom. In many cases a modification of certain relations in the sensory elements cannot possibly be effected, because the relations of the external stimuli constituting what may be termed the external object do not admit of a rearrangement. Thus we cannot have the mouth of the horse on his back, horns growing out of his sides, the mane on his hind parts and the tail on his brow. We can, however, easily accomplish such a rearrangement in our imagination. Furthermore, in representation psychic elements appear in combinations of which sensory elements do not admit. Pegasus, a horse with wings; mermaid, a being half woman half fish: centaurus, a being half man and half horse, and other combinations of the most impossible character, as far as sensory elements are concerned, may be formed in representation.

At first representative elements are started by sensations and are thus far bound up with them, but they gradually free themselves from them. Thus in a baby under my close observation, the representative element never came unless the object was present. If the object was taken away, he soon forgot it. In the uneducated mind even of a high type of moment-consciousness representations are still bound up with presentations. The gossip can keep on talking as long as the thought is fixed on the concrete. Persons who lack scientific, conceptual thought cannot grasp an abstract general proposition without having it first expressed in concrete terms, or fixed in sensory pictures. The savage gets a headache when his thought is forced to flow in a stream of representation. In the imbecile, in the idiot we find the same thing manifested. They can only think in concrete sensory terms. In mental asthenia which approaches the state of the higher stages of imbecility and also in secondary dementia, states consequent on psychic degeneration, we find the same truth illustrated. The patient's mental activity falls many stages nearer to the level of presentative life. It is only in the higher forms of psychic life that representative elements become free, independent, and are freely and easily associated and dissociated.

If looked at from the standpoint of control, we find that sensory elements, on account of their fixed relations in the combinations and compounds in which they enter, are uncontrollable. The compound with all its sensory elements, primary and secondary, is given, and cannot directly be controlled; it is highly stable, it resists attempts at decomposition. The combinations, however, formed of the free representative elements are of unstable equilibrium, the elements can be easily shifted, displaced, rearranged, easily dissociated, and new combinations formed. The mode of function of the representative element is free association.

Even when entering into the associative play the representative elements do not blend and fuse so as not to be discriminated. Representative elements certainly do not float about without entering with others into some form of association, but in the very association and combination they still manage to preserve relatively their freedom and independence. The sensory elements in the compound are so blended and fused that they cannot be discriminated in the compound without some effort and under special artificial conditions. Oculo-motor sensations, the estimation of the visual angle, of the size of the image thrown on the retina are not so very evident in the direct perception of the external object.

Tactual and muscular sensations are not so very clear in our perception of space, nor are our rhythmical, respiratory and kinaesthetic sensations quite obvious in our estimation of time. The free associations, however, into which representative elements enter give full scope to their components. The elements are combined without at the same time losing their individuality; they remain clearly defined in their nature and outlines in relation to the other elements with which they form combinations.

Representations, however, presuppose presentative life, they constitute the intermediate stages of which presentations form the termini. Representations begin and end with presentations. At the same time it should be clearly held in mind that while representation refers to presentation, it is by no means true that representations can be analyzed into sensory elements in the same way as a living organism can be analyzed into elementary cells. The living organism is made up, is constituted by elementary cells; cells form the organism. Representations, however, are not formed out of presentative elements, sensory elements, sensation elements. Sensory processes do not enter into the make-up of a representation. Just as the sensation of black is not black, so is the idea or representation of black not a sensation 'black.'