Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
"That one thought is often suggested to the mind by another, and that the sight of one external object often recalls former occurrences, and revives former feelings, are facts," says Mr. Dugald Stewart, "which are perfectly familiar, even to those who are least disposed to speculate concerning the principles of our nature." This is what is meant by the term association. It is that principle of our minds by which past thoughts and states are recalled, and revived, through the influence of present perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. This law of the human mind was denominated by the old philosophers, "association of ideas." By Dr. Brown it was denominated "suggestion." By others, it is designated by the simple term, association.
TERM ASSOCIATION, WHY PREFERRED.
I prefer the latter term to either of the former, because it alone expresses all the phenomena which require consideration, when treating of the subject before us. We find by experience, that not only thoughts and events are associated, but thoughts, events, and feelings also. The term association of ideas, can be properly applied to ideas only. The same is true of suggestion. An idea or event cannot properly be said to suggest feelings. Thoughts and events may be said to revive feelings; and feelings may be said to suggest thoughts and events. Association is the term, and the only term, which can properly be applied to all these different classes of phenomena.
THE ASSOCIATING PRINCIPLE NOT WITHOUT LAW.
Although the mind is so constituted, that certain states follow certain other states, these phenomena, as philosophers have long since observed, not only do not follow each other at random, but are known to follow some one or more fixed laws. To ascertain and illustrate the operation of these laws, has been considered one of the great problems in intellectual philosophy; and has, accordingly, occupied a conspicuous place in almost every treatise upon the science. Mr. Hume, I believe, was the first philosopher who attempted to settle definitely the number of these laws. According to this philosopher, they are all reduced to three: Resemblance, cause and effect, and contiguity in time and place. Others have since added that of contrast.
THE LAW OF ASSOCIATION.
Years ago, Dr. Brown presented the suggestion,a suggestion which he did not attempt to verify, that "if our analysis be sufficiently minute" all associations would be found to depend upon one and the same law. Mr. Dugald Stewart had previously affirmed, that there are great numbers of facts of association that do not fall under any of the laws developed by any of his predecessors. "Things," he says, "which have no known relations to each other, are often associated, in consequence of their producing similar effects upon the mind." Here Mr. Stewart, without being aware of the fact, has stated the only, the exclusive, and universal, law of association.
THE LAW OF ASSOCIATION STATED.
Whenever any one object of present thought, or perception, suggests something else which has been a former object of thought, or perception, the reason, and the only reason is, that the present object produced upon the mind an effect similar to that which was produced by the former object.
That this is the only and exclusive law I argue from two fundamental considerations.
PHENOMENA OF ASSOCIATION EXPLAINED.
1. All the phenomena referred to the commonly received laws, can be explained on this hypothesis.
That many of the phenomena of association can be accounted for in consistency with the commonly admitted laws, will be denied by no person of reflection. That objects which resemble each other, that those which have been perceived at the same time or place, that sustain to each other the relation of contrast, or cause and effect, do mutually suggest each other,is undeniable. But do such phenomena necessarily suppose the existence of a plurality of laws? May they not all be referred to one, and that the one under consideration? Those of resemblance, obviously may. The same is true of those which sustain to each other the relations of contiguity of time and place, and of cause and effect. For they undeniably have co-existed with the same feeling or states of mind. The only phenomena which present the appearance of difficulty, are those of contrast. That a giant and a dwarf resemble each other in but few particulars, and that they stand in striking contrast to each other, is readily admitted; but that, as objects of perception, or recollection, they may have co-existed with the same feelings, or states of mind, and as causes also of the same, I as fully believe, as I do that the conception of a hero and of a lion have co-existed in a similar manner. A giant and a dwarf are strongly contrasted; but each, as striking departures, though in different directions, from the common stature, may have co-existed with similar feelings of wonder or surprise, and as common causes of the same; and this may be the only reason why one suggests the other. In conversing upon this subject on a particular occasion, an individual present remarked, that he recollected having, at a particular time, seen a dwarf. A giant, which he had previously seen, was not suggested at all, but another dwarf whom he had before met with. I at once asked the speaker, if the giant referred to was not a familiar acquaintance of his. He replied that he was. This fact readily accounted for the phenomena of association, presented by him. Familiarity had destroyed the feeling of strangeness, which had formerly co-existed with the perception or recollection of the giant. The same feeling, however, co-existing with the perception of the two dwarfs, the perception of one would of course suggest the other. In the same manner, all the phenomena of contrast may be reduced to the hypothesis before us.
FACTS OTHERWISE INEXPLICABLE.
2. There are fundamental facts of association which can not be accounted for, except by the law under consideration.
This is admitted by Mr. Stewart in the extract above cited, and his statement will be denied by no one at all familiar with facts of consciousness. I will now adduce some facts of this kind.
1. Facts of analogy,an exceedingly various class of associations, which can be accounted for best upon this one principle. Why, for example, do the conception of the lion and of the hero, mutually suggest each other? Externally they bear no relations of resemblance, contiguity in time or place, cause and effect, or contrast. The contemplation of one, however, does produce upon the mind awe inspiring effects similar to those which are induced by the contemplation of the other, and this is the only assignable reason why they mutually suggest each other. So of all other facts of association. An individual, for example, relates to a number of persons a single incident of a sublime, beautiful, heroic, horrid, or ludicrous character. How happens it that each hearer instantly recollects almost every incident of a similar character which he has ever met with? These incidents resemble each other in one particular only, and sustain no other relation to each other than this: they have, as objects of perception or contemplation, existed in the mind as causes of similar feelings to those awakened by the incident under consideration. The hypothesis before us is the only one conceivable which accounts for such phenomena.
2. Phenomena of Dreaming,The phenomena of dreaming can readily be accounted for on this hypothesis, and, as I conceive, upon no other. In consequence of peculiar attitudes of the body, or states of the physical or mental system, certain feelings are awakened in the mind. Those objects of thought or perception which have formerly co-existed with similar feelings, are consequently suggested; and these are judged to be the causes of existing feelings. A sick man, for example, with a bottle of hot water at his feet, dreamed that he was walking upon the crater of Etna, and that this was the cause of the burning sensation which he felt. He had formerly felt similar sensations when walking upon the crater of Vesuvius, and had just been reading of a traveler's walking -upon the crater of Aetna. These facts fully account for his dream. In a similar manner, all the phenomena of dreaming may be accounted for. But can they be accounted for by the common laws of association? I answer, no.
3. Phenomena of Somnambulism,Some of the phenomena of somnambulism here deserve an attentive consideration. It is well known that somnambulists frequently pass from a state of wakefulness to that of sleep, and vice versa, very suddenly; and that in each change, there is an entire oblivion of what passed in the preceding state; while the train of thought, or the employment left, when passing from the present state, is, on returning to that state, instantly resumed, at the very point where it was left. Sentences left half finished, when passing out of one state, are completed as soon as the individual enters upon the same state again. How manifest, from such phenomena, is the fact, that the universal law of suggestion is based upon similarity of states or feelings.
FACTS CONNECTED WITH PARTICULAR DISEASES.
There are many facts connected with particular diseases, which more fully confirm and illustrate the principle which I am endeavoring to establish. Take, as a specimen, the two following cases stated by Dr. Abercrombie, in his Intellectual Philosophy. I give them in the words of the author.
"Another very remarkable modification of this affection is referred to by Mr. Combe, as described by Major Elliott, professor of mathematics in the United States Military Academy at West Point. The patient was a young lady of cultivated mind, and the affection began with an attack of somnolency, which was protracted several hours beyond the usual time. When she came out of it, she was found to have lost every kind of acquired knowledge. She immediately began to apply herself to the first elements of education, and was making considerable progress, when, after several months, she was seized with a second fit of somnolency. She was now at once restored to all the knowledge which she possessed before the first attack, but without the least recollection of anything that had taken place during the interval. After another interval she had a third attack of somnolency, which left her in the same state as after the first. In this manner she suffered these alternate conditions for a period of four years, with the very remarkable circumstance that during the one state she retained all her original knowledge; but during the other, that only which she had acquired since the first attack. During the healthy interval, for example, she was remarkable for the beauty of her penmanship, but during the paroxysm wrote a poor, awkward hand. Persons introduced to her during the paroxysm, she recognized only in a subsequent paroxysm, but not in the interval; and persons whom she had seen for the first time during the healthy interval, she did not recognize during the attack."
"Dr. Prichard mentions a lady who was liable to sudden attacks of delirium, which, after continuing for various periods, went off suddenly, leaving her at once perfectly rational. The attack was often so sudden that it commenced while she was engaged in interesting conversation, and on such occasions it happened, that on her recovery from the state of delirium she instantly recurred to the conversation she had been engaged in at the time of the attack, though she had never referred to it during the continuance of the affection. To such a degree was this carried, that she would even complete an unfinished sentence. During the subsequent paroxysm, again, she would pursue the train of ideas which had occupied her mind in the former. Mr. Combe also mentions a porter, who in a state of intoxication left a parcel at a wrong house, and when sober could not recollect what he had done with it. But the next time he got drunk, he recollected where he left it, and went and recovered it."
Here are manifest and striking facts of association. On the commonly received laws of the associating principle, they cannot be explained at all. On the hypothesis under consideration, however, they admit of a most ready explanation. How can they be explained on any other hypothesis?
I will adduce another fact taken from the same author.
"A case has been related to me of a boy, who at the age of four received a fracture of the skull, for which he underwent the operation of trepan. He was at the time in a state of perfect stupor, and after his recovery retained no recollection either of the accident or of the operation. At the age of fifteen, during the delirium of a fever, he gave his mother a correct description of the operation, and the persons who were present at it, with their dress, and other minute particulars. He had never been observed to allude to it before, and no means were known by which he could have acquired the circumstances which he mentioned.
But one explanation can be given of such a remarkable fact. During the interval between the surgical operation and the sickness referred to, the feelings existing in connection with the operation had never been revived, and from the peculiarity of the feelings could not have been. During this sickness, in consequence of the action of the fever upon the brain and skull, these feelings were revived. The consequence was, that the circumstances attending their existence were recalled. No other hypothesis can explain such facts.
WHY DIFFERENT OBJECTS EXCITE SIMILAR FEELINGS.
The law of associations has been stated and illustrated. We are now prepared for another important inquiry, to wit, On what principle is it that different objects, or rather thoughts and perceptions, excite similar feelings in our minds, and thus mutually suggest each other? The following may be specified as the most important reasons why different objects excite such feelings.
1. In consequence of natural resemblance between the objects themselves. That objects naturally alike should excite similar feelings, is a necessary consequence of personal identity. Such objects do not suggest one another, because they are alike, but simply because, being alike, they excite similar feelings. The principle of association in such instances is the same as in all others.
2. Objects excite similar feelings, and thus mutually suggest each other, in consequence of similarity of relations to the original principles of our nature. Sweetness, beauty, and harmony, as mere objects of sense, are totally unlike. But they may and do sustain such a relation to the original principles of our nature, as to induce similar states of mind. Consequently, the perception of one may suggest that of the other. Thus the origin of figurative language, such as sweet or beautiful sounds, admits of a ready explanation. Also the sublime comparisons of poetry and oratory; founded upon the relations of analogy. An Indian orator, speaking of the American revolution, said, "That it was like the whirlwind, which tears up the trees, and tosses to and fro the leaves, till we cannot tell whence they come, nor whither they will fall. At length the Great Spirit spoke to the whirlwind, and it was still." Says another, whose age numbered more than one hundred years: "I am the aged hemlock. The winds of an hundred winters have whistled through my branches, and I am dead at the top." "And I heard," says the sacred writer, "as it were the voice of a great multitude and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluiah; for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." Milton, speaking of the breaking up of the council of Pandemonium, says:
"Their rising all at once, was as the sound
Of thunder heard remote."
An aged soldier, in one of the tragedies, says of himself:
How different, as mere objects of sense, are all the things compared together in the above quotations! But sustaining a common relation to the original laws of the mind, they induce similar feelings or states of mind. Consequently, the apprehension of one, suggests that of the other.
3. Objects co-exist and excite similar feelings, in consequence of a perceived relation between the objects themselves; such, for example, as the relations of cause and effect, parent and child, etc. Why it is that the feelings excited by one of these objects are transferred to the other as soon as the relation between them is perceived, we cannot tell. All that we can say is, that such is the constitution of our minds, that when two objects are known to sustain such relations to each other, they will, in all ordinary circumstances, excite similar feelings and the idea of one will, consequently, suggest that of the other.
4. Objects co-exist with similar feelings in consequence of mere accidental association. Whenever the mind has been brought, from any cause whatever, into any particular state, the accidental perception of any object, or suggestion of any thought, however foreign to the cause of the present state, will so modify that state, that the new object will ever after sustain an entirely new relation to the sensibility of our nature. To the present state of the mind, thus modified, it sustains the relation of a cause. Consequently, its subsequent presence as an object of perception, or of conception, will excite, in a greater or less degree, that state, and will of course recall the objects which formerly co-existed with the same state. Thus the same object may, at different periods of our lives, be associated with entirely different, and even opposite states of mind, states of mind, also, totally different from what they are naturally adapted to produce. Thus of course they may and will, recall entirely different objects to our remembrance. In many instances, we find it wholly impossible to account for the change which has taken place in the effect of particular objects upon our sensibility, and consequently upon our train of associations; so gradual and accidental, has been the transfer of the object from one state of feeling to another.
APPLICATION OF THE PRINCIPLES ABOVE ILLUSTRATED.
The law of association which has been confirmed and illustrated, has many and very important applications. To a few of these, special attention is invited, as we conclude the present chapter.
GROUND OF THE MISTAKE IN RESPECT TO THE LAWS OF ASSOCIATION.
We are now prepared to state distinctly the ground of the mistake of philosophers, pertaining to the laws of association. Because objects sustaining certain relations to each other do mutually suggest one another, they have fastened upon these relations as the laws of association. In this manner, they have overlooked the fact, that objects suggest each other, only on the ground of a common impression made by each upon the mind, and that the relations existing between them present the reason why they make a common impression, instead of revealing laws of the associating principle. Philosophers have noticed the fact, that some objects are associated on the exclusive ground of a common impression. Yet they have singularly overlooked the universal law of association revealed in that fact.
ACTION OF THE ASSOCIATING PRINCIPLE IN DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS.
We are all familiar with the fact, that the action of the associating principle is very different in different individuals. This is evidently owing to two circumstances,natural temperament, and the diverse pursuits of individuals; one thereby being more deeply interested in, and consequently more deeply impressed with different objects, and with different elements of the same object, than another. Let any number of individuals of diverse temperaments, for example, contemplate the same painting, each will be most forcibly impressed with those features of it particularly correlated to his own peculiarities of natural temperament. Hence the corresponding diversity of the action of the associating principle, in such a ease. So with a gentleman on a tour of observation; a merchant engaged in the purchase and sale of grain; and a farmer seeking a location for his family;in looking over the same plantation. Each will contemplate it in the light of the leading idea in his own mind. A corresponding diversity will of course exist in the impressions received, and in the consequent action of the associating principle.
INFLUENCE OF HABIT.
That actions and trains of thought, to which we have been long familiar, are performed and carried on by us with a degree of ease and exactness perfectly unaccountable to a new beginner, is obvious to every one. In respect to the ease and exactness with which trains of physical actions to which we have become habituated are repeated, two reasons may be assigned.
The first is, a certain conformation of the physical organization so that, as soon as the train is commenced the action of the muscles in obedience to the will is spontaneous and necessary in a given order of action.
The second is, the fact that all the actions under consideration have become indissolubly associated with the same state of mind. Of course, as soon as that state is reproduced, those actions are spontaneously suggested in their proper order.
The same remarks are equally applicable to trains of thought to which we have become habituated. When the mind has often existed in a certain state, there is, as shown above, a strong tendency, spontaneously, or on the slightest impression to recur to that state again. The train of thought having become associated with this state is, of course, pursued with precision and facility.
STANDARDS OF TASTE AND FASHION.
"A mode of dress," says Dugald Stewart, "which at first appears awkward, acquires, in a few weeks or months, the appearance of elegance. By being accustomed to see it worn by others whom we consider as models of taste, it becomes associated with the agreeable impressions which we receive from the ease and grace and refinement of their manners," Thus the pronunciation common to the higher classes in Edinburg, while it remained the capital of Scotland, and which was then regarded as the standard of purity in diction, has now become barbarous, in consequence of the removal of the capital to London.
VICISSITUDES IN RESPECT TO SUCH STANDARDS.
Every one is familiar with the perpetual vicissitudes in dress, and everything, the chief recommendation of which is fashion. The remarks of Mr. Stewart on this point also, are so much to the purpose, and so well expressed, that I will venture another citation from him. "It is evident that, as far as the agreeable effect of ornament arises from association, the effect will continue only while it is confined to the higher orders. When it is adopted by the multitude, it not only ceases to be associated with ideas of taste and refinement, but it is associated with ideas of affectation, absurd imitation, and vulgarity. It is accordingly laid aside by the higher orders, who studiously avoid every circumstance in external appearance, which is debased by low and common use; and they are led to exercise their invention in the introduction of some new peculiarities, which first become fashionable, then common, and last of all are abandoned as vulgar." There is one circumstance which Mr. Stewart has not mentioned, which has perhaps quite as much influence in inducing these vicissitudes as that presented above. "The higher classes" are pleased with revolutions in society which are visibly produced by themselves, and which do not diminish, but increase and render manifest, to themselves and the world, their own controlling influence. In the perpetual vicissitudes of costume, proceeding from and controlled by themselves, they are continually manifested to themselves as the "glass of fashion, and the mould of form." Thus a continued gratification of the love of power is enjoyed, a motive not the most commendable to be sure, but yet quite as real as that above presented.
PECULIARITIES OF GENIUS ASSOCIATED WITH JUDGMENT, OR CORRECT TASTE.
We are now able to state distinctly the peculiarities of true genius, when associated with good judgment. It consists in distinguishing those things which please,simply in consequence of accidental associations, like those above referred to,from those which are correlated to the original and changeless principles of our nature; and in thus shadowing forth the real and permanent forms of beauty, sublimity, and fitness. Those forms of thought which stand correlated to the current opinions of the day, may have a wide-spread ephemeral popularity, after which they sink to a silent or dishonored grave, and a long oblivion. The productions of true genius, associated with good taste; on the other hand, will please as long as human nature remains what it is.
INFLUENCE OF WRITERS AND SPEAKERS OF SPLENDID GENIUS, BUT OF INCORRECT TASTE.
It is well known, that very strong conceptive and imaginative faculties (the peculiarities of true genius), sometimes exist in the absence of a well balanced judgment and consequent good taste. The productions of such individuals will be characterized by surpassing excellences, and glaring defects. Yet the mass of their admirers will, in time, become as well pleased with the latter as with the former; and the defects will, perhaps, be more frequently copied by imitators than the excellences. The reason is this. The defects come to be associated with the feelings of interest and delight which the excellences excite. The former are thus embalmed and consecrated by the latter. Every individual who would preserve his taste unvitiated, should be, in a special sense, on his guard under such circumstances.
DANGER OF VICIOUS ASSOCIATIONS.
Great genius and great vices, polished manners and corrupt morals, and productions the most finished in respect to style and imagery, and the most foul in respect to sentiment, are not unfrequently associated among men. The imminent peril of intercommunion with such minds and with such productions, is manifest, in the light of the law of association above illustrated. The feelings of sublimity, beauty, and delight, awakened by the contemplation of great minds, polished manners, and the perfections of style and imagery,at first weaken, and finally entirely supplant the feelings of disgust, abhorrence, and repellency, which the contemplation of vice and corrupt principle, in their unassociated grossness, excites. The final result is, the acquirement of polished manners and style, with the loss of virtue and virtuous principles. That "which cannot be gotten for gold," and for "which silver cannot be weighed as the price thereof," in comparison with which "no mention shall be made of coral or of pearls, and the price of which is above rubies," has been exchanged for that which might have been attained in much higher perfection without this irreparable loss; but which may exist in connection with the foulest morals, and an equal preeminence in guilt.
UNFOUNDED PREJUDICES, HOW JUSTIFIED.
Every individual is familiar with the fact, that person and classes of men, placed in circumstances degrading in public estimation, often become the victims of cruel and unrighteous prejudice. Some circumstance, aside from condition, is fastened upon as the cause of this feeling, which is thus justified, on the assumption that it is natural, and therefore necessary, designed and sanctioned by Providence. Feelings connected with individuals by accidental association, are assumed as resulting from the original constitution of our nature, and are justified on that assumption.
SLANDER AND LIBEL.
It is very frequently asserted as a proverb, that the evils resulting from giving persons a bad name, and spreading false reports respecting them, will ere long correct, and more than correct themselves, in consequence of a reaction of public feeling, as the truth comes to be known. This would be true, were men disposed to render impartial justice in all instances. But this is far from being the case. Preeminent virtues and endowments, together with a commanding influence, may often, under such circumstances, occasion a reaction of public feeling which will perfectly overwhelm the authors of the mischief. The standing of the mass of mankind, however, is not such as to occasion such reaction, even when the wrong done comes to be known. Hence, it often happens that the feelings first awakened come to be permanently, to a greater or less degree, associated with them in the public mind. If this is not so, no thanks are due to those who first set the ball rolling.
INFLUENCE OF ASSOCIATION IN PERPETUATING EXISTING MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS.
"To the pure," says the sacred writer, "all things are pure; but to the corrupt and unbelieving, there is nothing pure." In other words, a mind truly pure comes to be so correlated to objects in respect to not only the action of the voluntary power; but also in respect to the sensibility and intelligence, that all things awaken thoughts and feelings tending to perpetuate and increase that purity. The same is true with the vicious. Every object of thought and perception is brought into such a relation to their minds, as to generate thoughts and feelings which tend only to develop and confirm existing tendencies to corruption. This law of self-perpetuation which virtue and vice respectively possess, is found in the associating principle. In a mind which has long been the cage of impure thoughts and feelings, those feelings at last come to be associated with all objects of thought, and thus the entire current of thought and feeling is turned into an impure channel.
There are no limits to the application of the associating principle, as above illustrated. Its importance in mental science will be appreciated as it is understood in its endlessly diversified applications.