Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/578

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
562
[SENSATION
PSYCHOLOGY


sensibility, ” all identically the same, and explain the unlikeness es in our existing sensations as resulting “from unlike D1ff, ,, ., ,, t1 ., . modes of integration of these absolute units.”-1 tion of The sole evidence on which they rely is physiological, 5'"'S“"°”- the supposed existence of a single nerve shock or neural tremor. It is true that in an extirpated nerve what is known as the “ negative variation” is approximately such an isolated event of uniform quality. But the same cannot be said of what happens during the stimulation of a nerve in situ with its peripheral and central Connexions still intact. The only evidence apparently to which we can safely appeal in this inquiry is that furnished by biology. Protoplasm, the socalled “physical basis of life, ” is amenable to stimulation by every form of physical agency-mechanical, chemical, thermal, photical, electrical-with the single exception of magnetism; and in keeping with this it is found that unicellular organisms respond, and respond in ways more or less peculiar, to each of these possible modes of excitation. Since, so far as is known, there is no morphological separation of function in these lowest forms of life, it is reasonably assumed that the single cell acts the part of “ universal sense-organ, ” and that the advance to such complete differentiation of sense-organs as we find among the higher vertebrates has been a gradual advance. Numerous facts can now be adduced of the occurrence of “ transitional ” or “ alternating ” sense-organs among the lower forms of multicellular animals; organs, that is to say, which are normally responsive to two or more kinds of stimulus, and thus hold an intermediate position between the universal sense-organ of the Protozoa and the special sense-organ of the M ammalia. For example, a group of cells which would behave towards all stimuli impartially were they independent unicellular organisms become, as an organ in a multicellular organism, amenable only to mechanical or only to chemical stimuli, -become, that is to say, an organ of touch and of hearing, or an organ of taste and also of smell; until, finally, when differentiation is sufficiently advanced, the group ends by becoming exclusively the organ of one specified sense, touch or hearing in the one case, taste or smell in the other? Of course the imperfectly specialized sensations, say of the leech, and still more the wholly unspecialized sensations of the amoeba, cannot be regarded as blends of some or all of those which we are said to receive through our five senses. We must rather suppose that- sensations at the outset corresponded very closely with the general vital action of stimuli as distinct from their action on specially differentiated sensory apparatus. Even now we are still aware of the general effects of light, heat, fresh air, food, &c., as invigorating or depressing quite apart from their specific qualities. Hence the frequent use of the term general or common sensibility (coenesthesis). But, though less definitely discriminated, the earlier, and what we call the lower, sensations are not any less concrete than the later and higher. They have been called general rather than specific, not because psychologically they lack any essential characteristic of sensation which those acquired later possess, but simply because physiologically they are not, like these, correlated to special sense-organs. But, short of resolving such sensations into combinations of one primordial modification of consciousness, if we could Complexity Conceive such, there are many interesting facts of which point clearly to a complexity that we can 5°”s"'“°"'° seldom directly detect. Several of our supposed sensations of taste, e.g., are complicated with sensations of touch and smell: thus the pungency of pepper and the dryness of wine are tactual sensations, and their spicy flavours are really smells. How largely smells mingle with what we ordinarily take to be simply tastes is best brought home to us by a severe cold in the head, as this temporarily prevents the access of exhalations to the olfactory surfaces. The difference between the smooth feel of a polished surface and the roughness of one that is 1Cf. G. H. Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind (1879), vol. iii. pp. 250 sqq.; H. Spencer, Principles of Psychology, vol. i. § 60. 2 Cf. W. A. Nagel, “ Die Phylogenese specifischer Sinnesorgane, " unpolished, though to direct introspection an irresolvable difference of quality, is probably due to the fact that several nerve terminations are excited in each case: where the sensation is one of smoothness all are stimulated equally; where it is one of roughness the ridges compress the nerve-ends more, and the hollows compress them less, than the level parts do. The most striking instance in point, however, is furnished by the differences in musical sounds, to 'Which the name limbre is given. To the inattentive or uninstructed ear notes or “compound tones” appear to be only qualitatively diverse and not to be complexes of simple tones. Yet it is possible with attention and practice to distinguish these partial tones in a note produced on one instrument, a. horn, say, and to recognize that they are different from those of the same note produced on a different instrument, for example, a violin.

In like manner many persons believe that they can discriminate in certain colours, hence called "mixed, " the elementary colours of which they are held to be composed; red and yellow, for example, in orange, or blue and red in violet. But in so thinking they appear to be misled, partly by the resemblance that certainly exists between orange and red, on the one hand, and orange and yellow on the other, the two colours between which in the colour spectrum it invariably stands; and partly by the knowledge that, as a pigment, orange is obtainable by the mixture of red and yellow pigments; and so in the other cases. As we shall see later, however (§ 39), in this particular case of sensory continua, resemblance is no proof of complexity. Were it otherwise we should have to conclude that a given tone, since this also resembles the two between which it is intermediate, ought to be a blend of both; whereas, in point of fact, the tone dthough as regards pitch it has a certain resemblance to c and e, its neighbours on either side-differs widely from the chord c-e, which is made up of these. In all cases in which the psychical complexity of a sensation is beyond dispute the partial sensations are distinguished by discernible differences of ex tensity, and usually of intensity as well. Thus, if the skin be touched by the point of a hot or cold bradawl the temperature sensation has not the punctual character of the touch but seems rather to surround this as a sort of penumbra. Similarly, the ground-tone of a clang-complex has not only a greater intensity but also a greater ex tensity than any of the over-tones.” There is also in such cases a certain rivalry or antagonism between the complex as an unanalysed whole and the complex as analysed, and even between the several partial sensations after such analysis. In the absence of such direct evidence it is unwarrantable to infer psychical complexity from complexity in the physical stimuli, even when this is really present. In the case of pigment mixture, however, there is no such physical complexity as is vulgarly supposed. And it is worth noting that white light is physically the most complex of all, whereas the answering sensation is not only simple but probably the most primitive of all visual sensations. Every sensation within the fields of consciousness has sensibly some continuous duration and seems sensibly to admit of some continuous variation in intensity and ex tensity. But whether this quantitative continuity ggzzzlgijfe of presentational change is more than apparent has been questioned. Sensations of almost liminal intensity are found to fluctuate every few seconds, and, as already remarked, when the threshold of intensity is actually reached, they seem intermittently to appear and disappear, a fact which Hume long ago did not fail to notice. The results of numerous experiments, however, justify the conclusion that these *variations are due primarily to oscillation of attention, and furnish so far no ground for the assumption that even the liminal sensation is discontinuous. But again we can only detect a difference of intensity when this is of finite amount and bears a certain constant ratio to the initial intensity with which it is compared -a fact commonly known as Weber's Law. But this imperfection in our power of discrimination is no proof that our sensations vary discontinuously; and not only is there no positive evidence in favour of such discontinuity, but it is altogether improbable on general grounds. Lastly, there is always more or less distinctness in the several nerve-endings as well as isolation of the nerve-fibres themselves. The skin, for example, when carefully explored, turns out to be a complex mosaic of so-called “ spots, ” severally responding to stimulation by sensations of pressure, heat, cold and pain. But from this to argue that the ex tensity of a sensation is really a mere aggregate without any continuity is on a par with calling a lake a. Blbliotheca zoological (1894), pp. I-42. i 3 Cf. Stumpf, Tonpsychologie, ii. 58 seq.