Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

will move

glazed table cover and rubbed with a piece of india rubber: an excitement is thus produced, which, if the paper be taken about two inches from the window, it back again; or if it be put near a wall, will cause it to move towards and adhere to it.

The motions of the animal being are caused by the excitements of consciousness, and these are produced by action on its nervous system. The objects by which an animal is surrounded, act on its senses and excite in it, through the medium of sensation, a knowledge of themselves, which is nothing more than a consciousness of their adequacy to act on the senses, and produce effects called sensations, by which they are known.

The young animal, ere yet it opens its eyes, if touched, indicates the knowledge of a sensation, caused by something external to itself; the various substances produce a variety of sensations, and these effects form the characteristics of the things which cause them; thus the sensations of hotness, coldness, roughness, smoothness sharpness, bluntness, become characteristics distinguishing objects, and the knowledge of the abilities of things to produce these, constitutes the branch of knowledge excited through the sense of touch,

The tastes and smells, which characterize different substances, also tend much to the expansion of animal knowledge; they are the guides to that sort of matter fit to be assimilated with the organic substance.

Sounds are the effects of the motions of things. The rushing of the wind or the waters, the moving about of animals, and their various noises, whether roaring like that of the lion, growling like that of the wolf, barking like that of the dog, singing like the bird, or speaking like man; they are all indicative of animal motions and consequently of the animals themselves.

The earliest muscular efforts at movements, having more or less resistance given to them, by external things, the knowledge of the hardness and softness of those things is soon excited: the young animal is soon made conscious that the earth has ability to bear it

up, and that the water has not; and that some things are

sense.

heavy and others light. Through the medium of the eye,

educated and influenced by the other senses, a wide range of objects excite a knowledge of themselves in the brain; the land, sea, the ships, towns, streets, people, fields, animals, herbage, trees, the clouds, the stars—all depict themselves on the retina by the agency of the rays of light, and thus the consciousness of visible appearances is produced. The general fact or law relative to the original production of knowledge, will, after what has been laid down, appear to be simply this: -That all consciousness of external things is originally produced in the nervous system, by the action of those things on the

organs

of As soon as the knowledge of any thing has been excited in an individual animal being, it often is found to use signs, by which the same knowledge is communicated to its fellows. This significant mode of acting on each others senses, and so communicating knowledge, is eminently characteristic of men; but still, among the other animals, it is common in a certain degree: the hen, knowing the approach of the hawk, cries to her brood, and immediately they all hasten to her. Some wild birds assemble in flocks, and while the main body is taking food, scouts are seated on the trees at watch, and if a fowler should come near, and be heard or seen by one of these guards, immediately it communicates the intelligence of danger to its fellows, and the whole flock takes flight. There is then another general fact or law relative to the excitement of knowledge, namely, That after consciousness has been excited in an individual being, that being is often enabled to excite a similar consciousness in other beings, by acting on their senses in a certain significant manner.

After a consciousness of things has been produced through the medium of the senses, there is a re-excitement of this knowledge takes place, in the order of successive trains of thought. I have before said that there is no power in the individual animal to produce consciousness for itself, neither is there power to re-excite it, or to produce thoughts. In any given state of thought there can be no knowledge of what state will follow. To say that any being is conscious of what thoughts will next be excited in it, is to say that the thoughts which are to be next excited, are already excited, which involves absurdity. To say that a man wills the excitement of certain thoughts, is to say that he is already aware of those thoughts; or to say that he wills to produce a certain subject for thought, is to admit that consciousness of the subject is already excited. This mode of expression then involves self-contradiction : such propositions are absurd. As it is absurd, therefore, to say that the individual knows what thoughts are to be next excited in him, it is plain that he, not knowing this, cannot be said to have powers for the direction of his own thoughts: hence results the enquiry, what is it that directs the re-production of these excitements ? I answer that, with respect to man, the following circumstances do so. First, the circumstance of two or more events occurring near together in time has the effect of enabling the thoughts produced by these events afterwards to excite one another in the individual ;thus, if a person acquainted with American history hears the phrase "American independence" uttered, he is instantly conscious of a variety of events associated by nearness in time to that one. If the year 1798 be mentioned in the hearing of an intelligent Irish patriot, it excites a long train of vivid thoughts in his brain respecting the terrible calamities of his country associated with that time; the acts, and the actors, will appear to him in the imagery of thought, and fluctuating in his brain, will, during the period of their continuance, together with the feelings they excite, constitute his consciousness.

Secondly—The circumstance of things being near together in space gives the thoughts of them a power of suggesting each other. When we think of any place we have been at, a variety of thoughts, respecting the things and events of its neighbourhood, are suggested, one thought exciting another.

D

Thirdly-Circumstances of causation produce trains of thought. If we mention a fire that has occurred lately, by which a number of houses have been burnt, destruction of life or property is directly suggested to our hearers, and they generally enquire if any one was burnt, and if the property was saved ? If answer be made that a tradesman lost his life in the fire, the thought of this catastrophe suggests its probable effects, and an enquiry is made if he had a family, and, if so, if they are left in poverty, or are they in any way provided for.

Events linked together in the chain of causation, however remote from each other they may be in time and space, still have the ability of suggesting; as when we think of the present state of protestantism, thoughts of its origin, of the men and the circumstances by which it was produced, may be suggested. The thoughts of the geologist often relate to circumstances in the chain of causation, the transpiration of which was countless ages since; and when he examines a formation, the causes which produced it, and the events of the period, will be suggested to him, by his past experience and immediate observation. The astronomer's science suggests thoughts of the origin of the globe, and even still more remote occurrences. Thus the suggestions of causation flow sometimes backwards from effect to cause; sometimes forwards from cause to effect: often a vast quantity of intermediate causes are skipped, and sometimes a regular train of causation, including a series of links, is excited.

Fourthly—The circumstance of the resemblance of things gives to them a power of suggesting each other. It is, I suppose, from this law of nature, that portraits have come so generally into use,

Colours can be so arranged, on a piece of flat material, as to resemble an individual, or scene, and thus excite thoughts. The widow sees the portrait of her deceased husband, and thoughts of him are immediately suggested to her. A scene in the country often reminds us of a nearly

a

similar one which we have known before, and the narration of an anecdote often calls forth another somewhat similar to it in class or incident. Resemblances of very

faint character often give rise to suggestions; thus, the anger and strife of men, and that of the more terrible kinds of lower animals, having, to the ignorant or the poetic, a remote analogy to the phenomena of the clouds and storms, the thoughts of these become associated and suggest one another; so that in description we often meet such phrases as “The war of elements,” “The tempests' wrath,” “The roar of the thunder"; and, with respect to men, we hear of “The fierce lightnings of their anger," the “ Whirlwind of the passions.” By this mode of fanciful suggestion the universe is animated and made the subject of feelings; the moon is personified, and spoken of as “The virgin moon,” “The sun laughs at the storm," " The morning smiles,” “The drowsy eve retires to rest,” “The heavens shed tears of dew," "Nature delights in change," “Nature rewards and punishes,” &c., &c., &c. This mode of suggestion, though pleasing enough as poetry, is exceedingly mischievous and liable to mislead.

These remote analogies produce suggestions, which, when expressed in speech, form what we call hyperbolical and metaphorical language. Sometimes the analogy is expressed more literally, as “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,”

Fifthly-The circumstance of things being strongly contrasted gives them a suggesting power. Present peace and security suggests thoughts of past horrors; and thoughts of misery suggest those of enjoyment. The soldier stretched on the battle field, wounded and surrounded with danger, has thoughts of his peaceful home suggested to him, aggravating his torture, and if he should escape, and settle in domestic peace,

his curity will often excite thoughts of his former danger.

Aye,” he will exclaim to those who have been speaking of his present circumstances, “they are different times with me now to what they used to be," and then will probably follow a tale of former perils.

se

« AnteriorContinuar »