« AnteriorContinuar »
PHANTASMS MAY ARISE FROM IDEAS OF WHICH THE
MIND MIGHT OTHERWISE HAVE BEEN EITHER CON
SCIOUS OR UNCONSCIOUS.
The difficulty is this :-Consciousness being interrupted always by forgetfulness, there being no moment of our lives wherein we have the whole train of our past actions before our eyes in one view ; but even the best memories losing the sight of one part while they are viewing another."
I SHALL now attempt to explain other laws of consciousness, which are materially involved in the circumstances under which phantasms arise. The investigation, however, is difficult ; a proof of which is, that, from not prosecuting it, considerable disturbance seems to have been given to the speculations of those who have endeavoured to explain, upon established metaphysical principles, the origin of apparitions.
Nicolai, the philosophical seer of Berlin, who was long under the influence of spectral impressions, offers the following remarks on his own case :
“ I observed these phantasms of the mind with great accuracy, and very often reflected on my previous thoughts, with a view to discover some law in
the association of ideas by which exactly these or other figures might present themselves to the imagination. Sometimes I thought I had made a discovery, especially in the latter period of my visions; but, on the whole, I could trace no connexion which the various figures that thus appeared and disappeared to my sight, had either with my state of mind, or with my employment and the other thoughts which engaged my attention. After frequent accurate observations on the subject, having fairly proved and maturely considered it, I could form no other conclusion on the cause and consequence of such apparitions, than that, when the nervous system is weak, and at the same time too much excited, or rather deranged, similar figures may appear in such a manner as if they were actually seen and heard ; for these visions in my case were not the consequence of any known law of reason, of the imagination, or of the otherwise usual association of ideas.”*
Such were the difficulties that pressed themselves upon the mind of Nicolai, in endeavouring to account for the mysterious introduction of the fantastic visitants, by whom he was almost hourly surrounded. In the attempt, therefore, which I shall make to obtain some satisfaction on this head, it will be first necessary to inquire how far we are entitled, on every occasion, to seek for an explanation of such phenomena in the well-known law of the association of ideas.
It has been before shewn, that when a number of sensations occur in succession, the repetition of any
Nicholson's Journal, vol, vi. p. 167.
one of them would recall in their original order, yet in a less vivid state, the feelings by which they were followed. To this law was affixed the usual term of the association of ideas. But a question now arises, If ideas, of which we are at any one moment of time to tally unconscious, be still liable to recur agreeably to the law of association? The hypothetical answer which I should be disposed to give is this, That past feelings, even should they be those of our earliest moments of infancy, never cease to be under the operation of this principle, and that they are constantly liable to be renovated, though they should not be the object of consciousness, at the latest period of our life. According to this view, any past impression of the mind never becomes, as it were, extinct. Yet, amidst the incalculable quantity of ideas which are rapidly succeeding to each other, the amount of those that are vivified to such a degree as to be the object of consciousness, must fall far short of the actual number of such, as, from their extreme faintness, are no longer recognised.
After these remarks, I shall advert to another principle of the mind deserving consideration, which is this: Feelings of any particular description or subject are liable to be frequently renovated, and there is a natural tendency in the same feelings, on each occasion of their renewal, to become gradually more and more faint.* The law which partially counteracts this tendency will be explained in the next chapter.
* A tendency of this kind differs in degree in different indivi. duals. Thus, in the Psychological Magazinc of Germany, there
I shall now suppose, that certain sensations have been induced sufficiently vivid to excite mental consciousness ; and that the renovated feelings, named ideas, which correspond to them, sustain, upon each occasion of their renewal, a gradual diminution from their original degree of vividness. The result which, agreeably to the general doctrine I have inculcated, will ensue, may be readily anticipated. Any train of ideas must, in the course of its undisturbed depression, be eventually reduced to states far too faint to be the object of our consciousness.
In order, however, to render this law as intelligible as possible, I subjoin the following tabular view, in which the lower numbers in the scale represent the more faint or least vivid of our feelings, and the higher numbers the more excited states of the mind.
is the narrative of a girl, whose ideas must have declined very slowly from their original state of vividness. After having listened but once to the longest song, she could repeat it verbatim, and with equal accuracy could not only rehearse the whole of any sermon she might hear at church, but was even found to preserve the recollection of it after the interval of a year had expired.--The me. mory of Bishop Jewel was very remarkable. It is stated in Clark's Mirror, that “ he could readily repeat any thing that he had penned after once reading: and therefore, usually, at the ringing of the bell, began to commit his sermons to heart, and kept what he had learned so firmly, that he used to say, That if he were to make a speech premeditated, before a thousand auditors, shouting or fighting all the while, yet could he say whatsoever he had provided to speak. Sir Francis Bacon, reading to him only the last clauses of ten lines in Erasmus his paraphrase in a confused and dismembered manner, he, after a small pause, rehearsed all those broken parcels of sentences the right way, and the contrary, with., out stumbling."
Mode in which a Train or Association of Ideas, unin
terrupted by Sensations, is supposed to uniformly decrease in Vividness.
Associated Train of Ideas.
1st 2d 3d 4th 5th 6th of Vivid- Previous Stage of Stage of Stage of Stage of Stage of Stage of ness and Sensation Depres. Depres. Depres- Depres- Depres- DepresFaintness sion. sion. sion.
sion. sion. sion.
Such is the mode in which a train of past feelings would decrease in vividness, if the original sensations, of which they are revivals, had possessed any uniform degree of vividness, and if there had been no excitements influencing at the time the ideas of the mind. But I ought to add, that from so many disturbing causes, which have a tendency to irregularly vivify the recollected images of thought, no actual illustration can be afforded of this principle, that in a strict sense is exempt from sources of fallacy.
From an inspection of the foregoing table, the law which I have laid down may be explained in terms