CHAPTER V. CONSCIOUSNESS.
“It is not easy for the mind to put off those confused notions and prejudices it has imbibed from custom, inadvertency, and common conversation. It requires pains and assiduity to ex amine its ideas, till it resolves them into those clear and distinct simple ones out of which they are compounded; and to see which, amongst its simple ones, have or have not a necessary connexion and dependence one upon another. Till a man doth this in the primary and original notions of things, he builds upon floating and uncertain principles, and will often find himself at a loss.” Locke, Hum. Und. b. ii. c. 13. s. 28.
IT will now be instructive to retrace our steps, to look back upon the space we have passed, and con template the progress we have made toward our journey’s end.
We have become acquainted with the elementary feelings of our nature; first, those derived immediately from our bodies, whether by impressions made on the surface of them, or unseen causes operating on them within; secondly, the feelings which, after the above mentioned feelings have ceased, are capable of existing as copies or representatives of them.
We have also observed the manner in which those secondary Feelings, to which we have given the name of IDEAS, flow, either into groups, or into trains. And we have explored the system of contrivances, to which mankind have had recourse, for MARKING those feelings, and the trains of them; so as either to fix the knowledge of them for one s own use, or to make communication of them to others.
In what has been thus already presented, it will be seen that several expositions of considerable importance are included.
Sensations, and Ideas, are both feelings. When we have a sensation we feel, or have a feeling; when we have an idea we feel, or have a feeling.
Having a SENSATION, and having a feeling, are not two things. The thing is one, the names only are two. I am pricked by a pin. The sensation is one; but I may call it sensation, or a feeling, or a pain, as I please. Now, when, having the sensation, I say I feel the sensation, I only use a tautological expression: the sensation is not one thing, the feeling another; the sensation is the feeling. When, instead of the word feeling, use the word conscious, I do exactly the same thing, I merely use a tautological expression. To say I feel a sensation, is merely to say I feel a feeling; which is an impropriety of speech. And to say I am conscious of a feeling, is merely to say that feel it. To have a feeling is to be conscious; and to be conscious is to have a feeling. To be conscious of the prick of the pin, is merely to have the sensation. And though I have these various modes of naming my sensation, by saying, I feel the prick of a pin, I feel the pain of a prick, I have the sensation of a prick, I have the feeling of a prick, I am conscious of the feeling; the thing named in all these various ways is one and the same.
The same explanation will easily be seen to apply to IDEAS. Though, at present, I have not the sensation, called the prick of a pin, I have a distinct idea of it. The having an idea, and the not having it, are distinguished by the existence or non-existence of a certain feeling. To have an idea, and the feeling of that idea, are not two things; they are one and the same thing. To feel an idea, and to be conscious of that feeling, are not two things; the feeling and the consciousness are but two names for the same thing. In the very word feeling all that is implied in the word Consciousness is involved.
Those philosophers, therefore, who have spoken of Consciousness as a feeling, distinct from all other feelings, committed a mistake, and one, the evil consequences of which have been most important; for, by combining a chimerical ingredient with the elements of thought, they involved their inquiries in confusion and mystery, from the very commencement.
It is easy to see what is the nature of the terms CONSCIOUS, and CONSCIOUSNESS, and what is the marking function which they are destined to perform. It was of great importance, for the purpose of naming, that we should not only have names to distinguish the different classes of our feelings, but also a name applicable equally to all those classes. This purpose is answered by the concrete term Conscious; and the abstract of it, Consciousness. Thus, if we are in any way sentient; that is, have any of the feelings whatsoever of a living creature; the word Conscious is applicable to the feeler, and Consciousness to the feeling: that is to say, the words are GENERICAL marks, under which all the names of the subordinate classes of the feelings of a sentient creature are included. When I smell a rose, I am conscious; when I have the idea of a fire, I am conscious; when I remember, I am conscious; when I reason, and when I believe, I am conscious; but believing, and being conscious of belief, are not two things, they are the same thing; though this same thing I can name, at one time without the aid of the generical mark, while at another time it suits me to employ the generical mark. (74) (75)
[74 The mistake of Reid in raising Consciousness to a separate faculty has been commented on by Brown, Hamilton, and others. It must be allowed that to feel and to be conscious are not two things but the same thing: that is to say, the use of the term consciousness, whether in common life or in philosophical discussion, does not point to knowing, and exclude feeling.
Consciousness is the widest word in our vocabulary. By common consent it embraces everything that “mind” embraces; while one mode of extricating the great problem of Perception from self contradictions, makes it mean more than mind strictly means. We speak of the object-consciousness as our attitude in being cognisant of the extended universe; while our attitude under feeling, and thought, we call subject-consciousness, or mind.
The object-consciousness follows one set of laws, the laws of matter and space, as propounded in Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and so on. The subject-consciousness follows a different set of laws, such as the laws of pleasure and pain, and the association of ideas, treated of in Psychology. We are conscious objectively, in counting the stars, we are conscious subjectively, in feeling oppressed by their number.
The subject-consciousness comprises all our feelings and thoughts; it enters into volition; and it makes a part of sensation, in which both attitudes are conjoined. This conscious ness may be faint and limited, or it may be intense and variegated. We may be in a state of pleasure with little or nothing of thought accompanying; we are still properly said to be conscious or under consciousness. But we may add to the mere fact of pleasure, the cognition of the state, as a state of pleasure, and as a state belonging to us at the time. This is not the same thing as before: it is something new superposed upon the previous consciousness. When we take note of the fact that we are pleased, we proceed beyond the bare experience of the present pleasure, to an intellectual act of comparison, assimilation, or classification with past pleasures; we probably introduce the machinery of language to express ourselves as pleased; all this is so much extra consciousness. These knowing operations are not involved in mere feeling; we may feel without them. Indeed, if the cognitive powers are brought into very active exercise upon our feelings, as in the selfdissection of the Psychologist, the feelings themselves are apt to subside.
It is thus correct to draw a line between feeling, and knowing that we feel; although there is great delicacy in the operation. It may be said, in one sense, that we cannot feel without knowing that we feel, but the assertion is verging on error? for feeling may be accompanied with a minimum of cognitive energy, or as good as none at all; or it may be accompanied with an express application of our knowing powers, which is purely optional on our part, and even hostile to the full development of the feeling as feeling, as pleasure or pain.
Reid wanted a name to express the act of scrutinizing or examining the mind, and to correspond with such names as Perception, Observation, for the study of the extended or object universe. He used Consciousness for this purpose; a word that had been probably more applied to our cognitive energies than to our experience of mere feeling in its simplest manifestation. It is not often that “consciousness” is employed as the popular designation of states of feeling as such, states of marked enjoyment or suffering. On the other hand, the word is frequently made use of to designate the act of cognizing or thinking of our states of feeling; for which, however, selfconsciousness is undoubtedly the more proper appellative.
Hamilton terms “consciousness” a “condition” of our feelings and mental operations; more correctly it is the operations themselves; the consciousness is not the condition of the feeling, but the feeling itself. More material is the opinion, held by Hamilton in common with most of the German philosophers, that the foundation of all consciousness is knowing; that we feel, only as we know that we feel. He says, “It is evident that every mental phenomenon is either an act of knowledge, or only possible through an act of knowledge: for consciousness is a knowledge – a phenomenon of cognition.” (“Metaphysics,” Lect. xi.) Now although we may not be able to rebut this singular assertion by pointing to a state of feeling such as to entirely exclude knowledge, we may ask, do the two properties, said to be thus implicated, rise and fall in steady concomitance; the more the knowledge, the greater the feeling? The answer must be negative. A favourite doctrine of Hamilton, containing a certain amount of truth, affirms an inverse ratio between knowing and feeling; which it is difficult to reconcile with the present doctrine. A new distinction must be laid down between the kind of knowing that constitutes “feeling,” and the kind of knowing that constitutes knowing” in the strict sense of knowledge. We may concede to Hamilton that feeling must always be within reach of a cognitive exertion, but it cannot be conceded that an actual cognitive exertion is essential to the manifestation of the feeling. Such exertion unless kept within narrow limits of intensity cools down instead of promoting the emotional state.
The facts of the case appear to be best represented, by allowing the state of Feeling to stand on its own independent foundation as a mode of the subject-consciousness, or of mind. There may, and almost always does, go along with it a certain degree of cognitive effort. We can scarcely be under feeling, without performing some function of an intellectual kind; the divisions of the mental energies do not imply that they can exist in absolute separation. The act of discriminating the degree of feeling, of pronouncing a pleasure to be greater than, or equal to, some other pleasure, is properly an intellectual, or cognitive exercise; but this discrimination does not make the feeling. So a feeling cannot exist without impressing the memory in some degree, which is an intellectual function; one may truly affirm that we do not feel unless, immediately afterwards, we remember that we felt. It is an incident or concomitant of feeling to leave an impression behind, but this does not characterize or define the state of feeling. Being an accompaniment or concomitant of an emotional excitement, we may point to memory as a proof of its existence and a criterion of its degree, but we should confuse all the boundaries of mental phenomena, if we treated memory or retentiveness otherwise than as an intellectual property, a property whose sphere is intellect and not feeling. B.]
[75 Those psychologists who think that being conscious of a feeling is something different from merely having the feeling, generally give the name Consciousness to the mental act by which we refer the feeling to ourself; or, in other words, regard it in its relation to the series of many feelings, which constitutes our sentient life. Many philosophers have thought that this reference is necessarily involved in the fact of sensation: we cannot, they think, have a feeling, without having the knowledge awakened in us at the same moment, of a Self who feels it. But of this as a primordial fact of our nature, it is impossible to have direct evidence; and a supposition may be made which renders its truth at least questionable. Suppose a being, gifted with sensation but devoid of memory; whose sensations follow one after another, but leave no trace of their existence when they cease. Could this being have any know ledge or notion of a Self? Would he ever say to himself, I feel; this sensation is mine? I think not. The notion of a Self is, I apprehend, a consequence of Memory. There is no meaning in the word Ego or I, unless the I of to-day is also the I of yesterday; a permanent element which abides through a succession of feelings, and connects the feeling of each moment with the remembrance of previous feelings. We have, no doubt, a considerable difficulty in believing that a sentient being can exist without the consciousness of Itself. But this difficulty arises from the irresistible association which we, who possess Memory, form in our early infancy between every one of our feelings and our remembrance of the entire series of feelings of which it forms a part, and consequently between every one of our feelings and our Self. A slight correction, therefore, seems requisite to the doctrine of the author laid down in the present chapter. There is a mental process, over and above the mere having a feeling, to which the word Consciousness is sometimes, and it can hardly be said improperly, Applied, viz. the reference of the feeling to our Self. But this process, though separable in thought from the actual feeling, and in all probability not accompanying it in the beginning, is, from a very early period of our existence, inseparably attendant on it, though, like many other mental processes, it often takes place too rapidly to be remembered at the next instant.
Other thinkers, or perhaps the same thinkers on other occasions, employ the word Consciousness as almost a synonyme of Attention. We all know that we have a power, partly voluntary, though often acting independently of our will, of attending (as it is called) to a particular sensation or thought. The essence of Attention is that the sensation or thought is, as it were, magnified, or strengthened: it becomes more intense as a whole, and at the same time more distinct and definite in its various parts, like a visible object when a stronger light is thrown upon it: while all other sensations or thoughts which do or which might present themselves at the same moment are blunted and dimmed, or altogether excluded. This heightening of the feeling we may call, if we please, heightening the consciousness of the feeling; and it may be said that we are made more conscious of the feeling than we were before: but the expression is scarcely correct, for we are not more conscious of the feeling, but are conscious of more feeling.
In some cases we are even said to be, by an act of attention, made conscious of a feeling of which we should otherwise have been unconscious: and there is much difference of opinion as to what it is which really occurs in this case. The point has received some consideration in a former Note, but there may be advantage in again recalling it to remembrance. It frequently happens (examples of it are abundant in the Analysis) that certain of our sensations, or certain parts of the series of our thoughts, not being sufficiently pleasurable or painful to compel attention, and there being no motive for attending to them voluntarily, pass off without having been attended to; and, not having received that artificial intensification, they are too slight and too fugitive to be remembered. We often have evidence that these sensations or ideas have been in the mind; because, during their short passage, they have called up other ideas by association. A good example is the case of reading from a book, when we must have perceived and recognized the visible letters and syllables, yet we retain a remembrance only of the sense which they conveyed. In such cases many psychologists think that the impressions have passed through the mind without our being conscious of them. But to have feelings unconsciously, to have had them without being aware, is something like a contradiction. All we really know is that we do not remember having had them; whence we reasonably conclude that if we had them, we did not attend to them; and this inattention to our feelings is what seems to be here meant by being unconscious of them. Either we had the sensations or other feelings without attending to them, and therefore immediately forgot them, or we never, in reality, had them. This last has been the opinion of some of the profoundest psychologists. Even in cases in which it is certain that we once had these feelings, and had them with a lively conscious ness (as of the letters and syllables when we were only learning to read) yet when through numberless repetitions the process has become so rapid that we no longer remember having those visual sensations, these philosophers think that they are elided, that we cease to have them at all. The usual impressions are made on our organs by the written characters, and are transmitted to the brain, but these organic states, they think, pass away without having had time to excite the sensations corresponding to them, the chain of association being kept up by the organic states without need of the sensations. This was apparently the opinion of Hartley; and is distinctly that of Mr. Herbert Spencer. The conflicting suppositions are both consistent with the known facts of our mental nature. Which of them is the true, our present knowledge does not, I think, enable us to decide.
The author of the Analysis often insists on the important doctrine that we have many feelings, both of the physical and of the mental class, which, either because they are permanent and unchangeable, or for the contrary reason, that they are extremely fugitive and evanescent, and are at the same time uninteresting to us except for the mental processes they originate, we form the habit of not attending to; and this habit, after a time, grows into an incapacity; we become unable to attend to them, even if we wish. In such cases we are usually not aware that we have had the feelings; yet the author seems to be of opinion that we really have them. He says, for ex ample, in the section on Muscular Sensations (ch. i. sect, vii.) “We know that the air is continually pressing upon our bodies. But the sensation being continual, without any call to attend to it, we lose from habit, the power of doing so. The sensation is as if it did not exist.” Is it not the most reasonable supposition that the sensation does not exist; that the necessary condition of sensation is change; that an un changing sensation, instead of becoming latent, dwindles in intensity, until it dies away, and ceases to be a sensation? Mr. Bain expresses this mental law by saying, that a necessary condition of Consciousness is change; that we are conscious only of changes of state. I apprehend that change is necessary to consciousness of feeling, only because it is necessary to feeling: when there is no change, there is, not a permanent feeling of which we are unconscious, but no feeling at all.
In the concluding chapter of Mr. Bain s great work, there is an enumeration of the various senses in which the word Consciousness is used. He finds them no fewer than thirteen. Ed.]