Chapter 13: The Affective Elements of Consciousness
James Rowland Angell
Feeling and Cognition.-- In the foregoing chapters our attention has been chiefly directed to those phases of our consciousness by means of which we come into the possession of knowledge. We have examined the several stages in-, cognition from its appearance in sensation up through the various steps to reasoning. We have noted the increasing complexity and the increasing definiteness which seems to characterise the development of this aspect of our minds, and we have traced so far as we could the neural basis of the several processes at issue. We have seen that the elements of our knowledge ultimately reduce to sensory activities, for which the immediate preconditions are specialised sense organs and a central nervous system. We have seen how the whole significance of the different stages in the cognitive operation is found in the devices which they represent to further the efficiency of the motor responses which the organism is constantly obliged to make to its environment. We' have seen that memory, imagination, and reasoning are thus simply half-way houses between stimuli and reactions which serve to permit the summoning of just those movements which the present situation demands, when interpreted in the light of the individual's past experience.
We stated explicitly at the outset of our analysis of these cognitive operations that we should be obliged temporarily to overlook certain other factors of our consciousness. We come now to take up one of these neglected processes which has as a matter of fact contributed to produce the results in many of our illustrations. This process is commonly known to psy-
(257)-chologists as feeling. The word feeling has many other well-recognised meanings, and the function which it is made to subserve in this present connection is somewhat arbitrarily imposed upon it. Moreover, certain psychologists refuse to use it in this limited fashion. But we shall employ the term to designate in a general way those processes which represent and express the tone of our consciousness. A rough distinction is sometimes made between cognition and feeling by saying that cognition furnishes us the nouns and adjectives, the "whats" of our states of consciousness, while feeling affords the adverbial "how." What are you conscious of? An object, a picture. How does it affect you? Agreeably. The first question and answer bring out the cognitive factors, the second emphasise the feelings. Another line of demarcation which is sometimes proposed is based on the assertion that cognition informs us of objects and relations external to ourselves, whereas feeling informs us of our own internal mental condition. The general character of the distinction will become more evident as we examine more carefully certain specific types of conscious experience.
Elementary Forms of Feeling, or Affection.-- If we hold a prism up in the sunlight and throw the spectral colours upon a wall, we not only experience the various sensory qualities of the several colours, we also commonly experience pleasure. If we now turn and look at the sun, we not only see the orb, we also experience discomfort. Similarly, when we strike three tuning forks which harmonise with one another we hear the qualities of the component sounds and we also find them agreeable. . Instances of disagreeable sounds will readily suggest themselves. We might examine our sensation of pressure, movement, temperature, smell, and taste, and find the same thing true, i. e., that they are accompanied sometimes by pleasure and sometimes by discomfort. Moreover, we shall find the same kind of sensation, for example, the sensation of sweetness, at one time felt as agreeable, at
(258) another time as disagreeable. The converse case is represented by acquired tastes, such as the fondness for olives, where ordinarily the taste is originally unpleasant, but subsequently becomes highly agreeable. Finally, there are many sensations which seem to be essentially neutral and indifferent. We cannot say with confidence that they are clearly and positively either pleasant or unpleasant. Many colours and many sounds are in this manner all but impossible to classify as agreeable or disagreeable. Ideas also, as well as sensations, display escorts of agreeable or disagreeable character. It would, therefore, appear that pleasantness and unpleasantness are attributes of consciousness which, although they may accompany sensory and ideational activities, are distinguishable from sensations. Apparently sensory forms of consciousness may occur without any, or at all events without any unmistakable, accompanying process of agreeableness and disagreeableness. On the other hand, it does not seem possible to point out any case in which the consciousness of pleasantness and unpleasantness occurs independently of sensations or ideas. The agreeable-disagreeable element or phase of our states of consciousness is often spoken of as " affection," the total complex state in which it occurs being then called " feeling." This seems a convenient usage, even if somewhat arbitrary, and we shall therefore adopt it.
Theories of Wundt and Royce.-- Wundt and Royce have recently maintained that there are other dimensions of feeling in addition to those of pleasantness and unpleasantness. Both of these writers speak of feelings of excitement and calm, and Wundt adds a third group, i. e., feelings of strain and relaxation. It is contended that the individual members of these several groups may, theoretically at least, be combined in any manner whatever. Thus, pleasantness may be accompanied by strain and excitement, or by excitement alone, or by increasing quiet alone.
A detailed criticism of these views is not to be thought of
(259) at this time. The author can only indicate the general grounds of his disagreement with these theories, and remark that their enunciation has Dot as yet called forth very extended assent from psychologists. That our general condition is sometimes one of strain and sometimes one of relaxation naturally admits of no doubt. But our awareness of this condition of strain or relaxation is due primarily to the peculiar kinaesthetic sensations which accompany such states and report the tension of our muscular system. This feature in consciousness is of a sensory nature therefore, and does not warrant a classification with the affective elements. Strain and relaxation may be at times general characteristics of the total attitude of consciousness towards its object. But they belong to the cognitive order of conscious processes.
Again, excitement and its opposite are characteristics which apply beyond question to the general activity of consciousness. But after we have subtracted the effects already mentioned under strain-relaxation, it is not clear that we have anything left to designate as the consciousness of excitement, except our awareness of the general vividness and rate of flow in our conscious states. When we are much excited, commonly our muscles are (some or all of them) tense, our respiration is abnormal, etc. When there is muscular quiet with absence of acute kinaesthetic sensations, only our consciousness of the intensity and rapidity of change in the conscious processes remains. Although we acknowledge, therefore, the appositeness of these new categories as applied to certain general modifications of our consciousness, we maintain that we become aware of these modifications through cognitive channels already recognised and described. We consequently prefer at present to abide by the older analysis of pleasantness and unpleasantness as the two modes of affection fundamentally distinct from sensation.
Pain Sensations and Affection.-- It will be judicious before going further to forestall one fertile source of confusion in
(260) the description of affection. It will be remembered that in our account of sensations we noted pain, which, we saw reason to believe, probably had a definite nervous organ like other sensations. The characteristic conscious quality arising from this organ is the cutting-pricking sensation. If pain is like other sensations, it should sometimes prove agreeable and sometimes disagreeable, and again neutral. It may possibly seem to strain veracity somewhat to speak of this sensation as ever being neutral, much less agreeable. And yet slight sensations of this character are at least interesting, and many persons secure a certain thrill of pleasurable gratification in gently touching a wound, in approaching with the tongue a sore or loose tooth, etc. That these sensations quickly take on when intense an all but unbearable character is notorious. This disagreeableness constitutes the affective phase of these sensations just as it does with those of sound or vision. When we speak of pain, we shall try to mean such states of consciousness as depend upon the operation of the pain nerves, in connection with which it must be remembered we most often obtain on the side of intensity our maximal experiences of the disagreeable. It is not possible at the present moment to indicate precisely how far pain nerves may be involved in the operation of the other sensory tracts, such as the visual, and therefore bow far many of our unpleasant sensory experiences, such as occasionally arise from audition, vision, etc., may be referable to this source. Meantime, we shall follow the indication of the facts best established to-day, with a mental willingness to rehabilitate our conception whenever it may become conclusively inadequate.
Affection and Sensation.-- In our study of sensation we discovered that intensity, duration, and extensity were fundamentally significant features in its constitution. If affection is connected with sensory activities, it is highly probable that it will be found related to changes in these basal sensory characteristics.
Relation of Affection to the Duration of Sensory Processes. --The case of duration is relatively simple and obvious. Sensory stimuli of extremely brief duration may, if we are attempting to attend to them, be somewhat unpleasant. Stimuli which are agreeable at first, such as certain tones, often become positively disagreeable if long continued, and always under such conditions become at least tedious. It must be remembered that in some instances, for example, cases of olfactory and thermal stimulation, the sense organ becomes either exhausted or adapted, as the case may be, and that for this reason the stimuli practically cease to be feltcease properly to be stimuli. Such cases furnish exceptions to the statement above, which are exceptions in appearance only. Disagreeable stimuli when long continued become increasingly unpleasant until exhaustion sets in to relieve, often by unconsciousness, the strain upon the organism. There is, therefore, for any particular pleasure-giving stimulus a definite duration at which its possible agreeableness is at a maximum. Briefer stimulations are at least less agreeable, and longer ones become rather rapidly neutral or even unpleasant. Disagreeable stimuli probably have also a maximum unpleasantness at a definite period, but the limitations of these periods are much more difficult to determine with any approach to precision. All sensory experiences, if continued long enough, or repeated frequently enough, tend accordingly to lose their affective characteristics and become relatively neutral. As familiar instances of this, one may cite the gradual subsidence of our interest and pleasure in the beauties of nature when year after year we live in their presence; or the gradual disappearance of our annoyance and discomfort at the noise of a great city after a few days of exposure to it. Certain objects of a purely aesthetic character, such as statues, may, however, retain their value for feeling throughout long periods.
Affection and the Intensity of Sensations.--The relations
(262) of affection to the intensity of sensation processes is extremely complex; among other reasons, because the intensity of a sensation is not wholly dependent upon the vigour of the stimulus, but upon the relations momentarily existing between the stimulus and the organism. When one has a headache the sound which otherwise might hardly be noticed seems extremely loud. Commonly, however, sensations of very weak intensity are either indifferent or slightly exasperating and unpleasant; those of moderate intensity are ordinarily agreeable, and those of high intensity are usually unpleasant. Owing to the obvious connection of the sensory attributes of duration and intensity, we shall expect that affection will show variations in keeping with the relation between these two. A very brief stimulus of moderate intensity may affect the nervous system in a very slight degree. A moderate stimulus on the other hand, if long continued, may result in very intense neural activity' and so be accompanied finally by unpleasant affective tone, rather than by the agreeableness which generally belongs to moderate stimulation.
Affection and Extensity of Sensations.-- We shall find that the extensity of sensation processes, when regarded alone, possesses no significance for the production of affective phenomena which has not already been exhibited under the head of intensity. A colour which seems to us beautiful, when a sufficient amount of it is presented to us, may become indifferent when its extent is very much diminished. This consists, practically, however, in substituting a moderate intensity of visual stimulation for one of very restricted intensity. On the side of extensity the variations in affective reactions are most important in connection with the perception of form, and to this feature we shall refer at a later point.
Comparison of Affection With Sensation.-It may be remarked before we proceed to another phase of the matter in hand, that affection agrees with sensation in possessing degrees of intensity and duration, although it never displays
(263) extensity. It apparently possesses only two fundamental qualities, agreeableness and disagreeableness, which shade through an imaginary zero point into one another. On both sides of this zero point there are ranges of conscious experience whose affective character we cannot introspectively verify with confidence, and we may call this zone the region of neutral affective tone. But we must not suppose that this involves a genuine third elementary quality of affection. Apart from these two qualities, it seems probable that the only variations in affection itself are those which arise from differences in its intensity and duration. The more intimate phases of the changes dependent upon the shifting relations among these attributes we cannot at present enter upon. Wundt, however, maintains that an indefinite number of qualities of agreeableness and disagreeableness exist. Conclusive introspective proof bearing upon the matter is obviously difficult to obtain.
Affection and Ideational Processes.-- We have spoken first of affection in dependence upon sensory activities, in part because it is in this connection that it first appears, and in part because the fundamental facts are here more obvious and less complex in their surroundings. But affection is of course a frequent companion of ideational processes, and it is, indeed, in this sphere that it gains its greatest value for the highest types of human beings. We must, therefore, attempt to discover the main conditions under which it comes to light among ideas. We may conveniently take as the basis of our examination the processes which we analysed under the several headings of memory, imagination, and reasoning. Fortunately we shall find that the principles governing affection in these different cases are essentially identical. That our memories are sometimes agreeable and sometimes disagreeable needs only to be mentioned to be recognised as true. Oddly enough, as was long ago remarked, the memory of sorrow is often a joy to us, and the converse is equally true. It
(264) does not follow, therefore, that the affective colouring of an act of memory will be like that of the circumstances recalled. It may, or it may not, be similar. Moreover, either the original event or the recalling of it may be affectively neutral. What then determines the affective accompaniment of any specific act of memory? In a general way we may reply, the special conditions at the moment of recall. In a more detailed way we may say whatever furthers conscious activity at the moment in progress will be felt as agreeable, whatever impedes such activities will be felt as disagreeable. An illustration or two may help to make this clearer.
Affection a Concomitant of the Furthering, or Impeding, of Ideational Activities.-- Suppose a man goes out to make a number of purchases. At the first shop he gives an order, and upon putting his band into his pocket to get his purse and pay his bill he finds that the purse is gone. The purse contained a considerable sum of money, and a search through the outlying and generally unused pockets of the owner fails to disclose it. The immediate effect of this discovery is distinctly and unmistakably disagreeable. The matter in hand is evidently checked and broken up. Furthermore, the execution of various other cherished plans is instantly felt to be endangered. Thereupon, the victim turns his attention to the possible whereabouts of the purse. Suddenly it occurs to him that just before leaving home he changed his coat, and instantly the fate of the purse is clear to him. It is serenely resting in the pocket of the coat lie previously had on, which is now in his closet. The result of this memory process is one of vivid pleasure. The business in hand can now go on. It may involve a trip home again, but at all events the money is still available, and the whole experience promptly becomes one of agreeable relief.
Suppose that in this same case, instead of being able to recall the circumstances assuring him of the safety of the purse, our illustrative individual had failed to find any such
(265) reassuring clue, and did on the other hand distinctly recall being roughly jostled by a group of suspicious-looking characters on the platform of the street car while on the way from his home. In this case the memory process would augment the unpleasantness of the original discovery of the loss. The activity which he had planned for himself would appear more than ever thwarted, and the disagreeableness of the experience might be so intense as to impress itself on his mind for many days to come.
Affection and Memory.-- We shall find upon examination that the paradox referred to a few lines above finds its explanation in a manner altogether similar to that of this case just described. The remembrance of a previous success or of a former prosperity may be accompanied by the most disagreeable exasperation, because it jars upon the experiences of the present moment, from which everything but disaster may seem to have fled. Many persons in straitened circumstances often seek a pale and disappointing solace in the memory of better days. Pride makes in this way a vain effort to efface the brute reality of the present, but the effort is generally a melancholy failure. Happiness lies not in the contemplation of such a past, but in the earnest and absorbed performance of the task just at hand. On the other hand, the memory of privation and struggle, once success is achieved, may be pleasurable, because in this case the thought not only does nothing to thwart our present purposes and interests, but even augments our progress by a conviction of our own strength and capacity.
From these brief considerations it is evident that memory processes may contain very intense affective elements, and that apparently these will be painful, or at least unpleasant, when the thought which comes to mind serves to impede our immediate purposes and desires, especially if the impeding is sufficiently serious to arouse emotion; whereas they will be pleasurable when the suggested ideas contribute vigorously
(266) to the onward flow of our interests and intentions. Many memory processes stand midway between these extremes, and are neutrally toned. It is not so evident, but it is nevertheless the general opinion of psychologists, that the affective feature in such ideational feelings is qualitatively identical with the affective element in sensory feelings. Sometimes the sensory peripherally initiated feeling is more intense, sometimes the ideational or centrally initiated feeling. But, so far as concerns the affective elements proper, the two are probably qualitatively alike, and the differences in the total states of consciousness in which they appear are, intensity apart, primarily due to differences in the cognitive and motor elements accompanying them.
Is There an Affective Memory? -- An interesting question suggests itself at this point, upon which we may profitably dwell a moment. Do we have memories of our feelings in the same sense in which we have memories of ideas and perceptions? Before we essay an answer we must be sure that we understand exactly what the question means. When we remember events we find that at times the visual image, perhaps, of the surroundings comes into our minds. Sometimes words or motor images may flash upon us. Or again, we may in reply to a question say, " Yes, I remember the circumstances," when in point of fact what we mean is that we are certain we could remember them if necessary, although we do not at the moment make any effort actually to recall them. The last form of memory for feelings we undoubtedly have. We can often say with confidence whether at a definite time we were experiencing pleasure, or displeasure, or neither. But if we actually attempt to recall the event, we find then, as we just remarked, that sometimes the recollection itself is affectively colourless, sometimes it has the affective character of the original event, and sometimes an opposite character. In a practical way, therefore, we have a memory of affective experiences as genuinely as we have in the case of ideas. We
(267) can tell what affective tone belonged to vivid experiences. But our ability to reinstate the original affective tone with the cognitive memory of an event is extremely defective. The reasons for this will be clearer after we have examined the neural basis of affection.
Affection and Imagination.-- The case of imagination we may readily suppose will prove to be much like that of memory, for we discovered earlier in our work how closely related these two forms of conscious process are. This supposition we find to be correct, and the only important addition which we shall need to make to our previous account of the operation of affection in connection with memory will become manifest in our examination of reasoning, which we shall employ in its broadest meaning to apply to all grades of purposive thinking.
Affection and Reasoning.-In our analysis of reasoning we found that in its most rudimentary forms it seemed to reduce to the ability to apprehend relations and employ them constructively. Recognition we saw was, therefore, in a measure an elementary expression of the reasoning power akin to the crude forms of conception. It has sometimes been maintained by psychologists that all recognition, whether of object or relation, is as such agreeable. The objects or relations which we apprehend are, of course, often unpleasant. But whenever the content of our apprehension is itself indifferent, the act of identifying is said to be agreeable; hence the theory. The agreeableness is admitted to be inconsiderable in such eases as would be i llustrated by a person's per ception of a familiar book when his eyes chance to fall upon it in an accidental excursion about the room. But it is nevertheless said to be discernible even in instances of this kind, while in all cases of mental struggle with some baffling problem, the detection of a relevant relation, or the appearance of an appropriate idea, is welcomed with a thrill of unmistakable pleasure. Total states of consciousness of this kind,
(268) together with such antithetic cases as are mentioned a few lines below, are by certain psychologists designated as " intellectual feelings." Wholly strange surroundings, on the other hand, in which we find nothing familiar to recognise, are said to produce in us at times uneasiness and discomfort. Moreover, we are all familiar with the unpleasantness of an abortive effort to recall a name or a number, and the fruitless effort to solve a problem is often mentally most distressing. Evidently such a formula as that cited above contains a quota of truth, but it is also evident that exceptions are easy to find. In order to reach consistency we must look for the principle lying beneath these formulations. By examining the conditions under which we execute these relatings of conscious processes to one another, we may come upon the law governing their affective consequences.
It will clearly be judicious to follow the clue which we secured in our description of the affective aspect of memory. It is at least possible that this may prove to afford us a basal principle. If so, we shall expect that in so far as any apprehension of -relations, or objects, furthers an enterprise at the moment dominating our consciousness, it will be agreeable; whereas in so far as it thwarts or checks such an interest it will be unpleasant. This certainly seems to hold true wherever it is possible to apply it to concrete facts. For example, strange things are not disagreeable, but quite the contrary, provided we are travelling for amusement. If we are in haste to reach some destination in a city, and find that we have accidentally left the street car at the wrong point and are in strange streets surrounded by totally unfamiliar houses, the experience may be momentarily very uncanny and disagreeable, after which it may strike us as amusing, or as exasperating, depending on the circumstances involved. The agreeableness or disagreeableness in the perception of such objects and such relations is, therefore, in no true sense primarily determined by their strangeness or their famil
(269) -iarity. It is determined by the manner in which the perception affects our purposes and interests.
On the other hand, the perception of a familiar object like one's own home may arouse either ennui, tedium, and a sense of unrest, or the keenest pleasure, depending not at all upon the familiarity of the object, but solely upon the mental condition in which we chance to be, and upon the relation which the object bears to this condition. If we are eager to see our parents to communicate some piece of good news we may find the sight of home most delightful. If, on the other hand, we desire, in the midst of a hot summer, to get away to the sea, the very bricks of the house cry out and mock us in our discomfort.
On the whole it appears probable that the principle which obtains in these cases holds good throughout all the purposive thought processes of our mental life. In trains of thought where we almost lose ourselves in complete revery, as well as in those prolonged and strenuous mental operations by means of which we solve the more serious problems, practical or theoretical, with which our pathway is beset, in these and in all the intermediary transitional forms agreeable feeling is the accompaniment of such ideas as further our momentary interests; disagreeableness, on the other hand, is the mark of those which obstruct or thwart those interests.