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Subject And Object








BUT before proceeding to this additional factor in shape-perception,
namely that of Empathic Interpretation, I require to forestall an
objection which my Reader has doubtless been making throughout
my last chapters; more particularly that in clearing away the ground
of this objection I shall be able to lay the foundations of my further
edifice of explanation. The objection is this: if the man on the hill
was aware of performing any, let alone all, of the various operations
described as constituting shape-perception, neither that man nor any
other human being would be able to enjoy the shapes thus perceived.

My answer is:

When did I say or imply that he was aware of doing any of it? It is
not only possible, but extremely common, to perform processes
without being aware of performing them. The man was not aware,
for instance, of making eye adjustments and eye movements, unless
indeed his sight was out of order. Yet his eye movements could have
been cinematographed, and his eye adjustments have been described
minutely in a dozen treatises. He was no more aware of doing any
measuring or comparing than we are aware of doing our digestion
or circulation, except when we do them badly. But just as we are
aware of our digestive and circulatory processes in the sense of
being aware of the animal spirits resulting from their adequate
performance, so he was aware of his measuring and comparing,
inasmuch as he was aware that the line A--B was longer than the
line C--D, or that the point E was half an inch to the left of the point
F. For so long as we are neither examining into ourselves, nor called
upon to make a choice between two possible proceedings, nor forced
to do or suffer something difficult or distressing, in fact so long as
we are attending to whatever absorbs our attention and not to our
processes of attending, those processes are replaced in our
awareness by the very facts--for instance the proportions and
relations of lines--resulting from their activity. That these results
should not resemble their cause, that mental elements (as they are
called) should appear and disappear, and also combine into
unaccountable compounds (Browning's "not a third sound, but a
star") according as we attend to them, is indeed the besetting
difficulty of a science carried on by the very processes which it
studies. But it is so because it is one of Psychology's basic facts.
And, so far as we are at present concerned, this difference between
mental processes and their results is the fact upon which
psychological aesthetics are based. And it is not in order to convert
the Man on the Hill to belief in his own acts of shape-perception,
nor even to explain why he was not aware of them, that I am
insisting upon this point. The principle I have been expounding, let
us call it that of the merging of the perceptive activities of the
subject in the qualities of the object of perception, explains another
and quite as important mental process which was going on in that
unsuspecting man.

But before proceeding to that I must make it clearer how that man
stood in the matter of awareness of himself. He was, indeed,
aware of himself whenever, during his contemplation of that
landscape, the thought arose, "well, I must be going away, and
perhaps I shan't see this place again"--or some infinitely abbreviated
form, perhaps a mere sketched out gesture of turning away,
accompanied by a slight feeling of clinging, he couldn't for the
life of him say in what part of his body. He was at that moment
acutely aware that he did not want to do something which it was
optional to do. Or, if he acquiesced passively in the necessity of
going away, aware that he wanted to come back, or at all events
wanted to carry off as much as possible of what he had seen. In short
he was aware of himself either making the effort of tearing himself
away, or, if some other person or mere habit, saved him this effort,
he was aware of himself making another effort to impress that
landscape on his memory, and aware of a future self making an
effort to return to it. I call it effort; you may, if you prefer, call it
will; at all events the man was aware of himself as nominative of a
verb to cling to, (in the future tense) return to, to choose as
against some other alternative; as nominative of a verb briefly, to
like or love. And the accusative of these verbs would be the
landscape. But unless the man's contemplation was thus shot with
similar ideas of some action or choice of his own, he would express
the situation by saying "this landscape is awfully beautiful."

This IS. I want you to notice the formula, by which the landscape,
ceasing to be the accusative of the man's looking and thinking,
becomes the nominative of a verb to be so-and-so. That
grammatical transformation is the sign of what I have designated, in
philosophical language, as the merging of the activities of the
subject in the object. It takes place already in the domain of simple
sensation whenever, instead of saying "I taste or I smell
something nice or nasty" we say--"this thing tastes or smells nice
or nasty." And I have now shown you how this tendency to put the
cart before the horse increases when we pass to the more complex
and active processes called perception; turning "I measure this
line"--"I compare these two angles" into "this line extends from A to
B"--"these two angles are equal to two right angles."

But before getting to the final inversion--"this landscape is
beautiful" instead of "I like this landscape"--there is yet another,
and far more curious merging of the subject's activities in the
qualities of the object. This further putting of the cart before the
horse (and, you will see, attributing to the cart what only the horse
can be doing!) falls under the head of what German psychologists
call Einfuehlung, or "Infeeling"--which Prof. Titchener has
translated Empathy. Now this new, and comparatively newly
discovered element in our perception of shape is the one to which,
leaving out of account the pleasantness of mere colour and sound
sensations as such, we probably owe the bulk of whatever
satisfaction we connect with the word Beautiful. And I have already
given the Reader an example of such Empathy when I described the
landscape seen by the man on the hill as consisting of a skyline
"dropping down merely to rush up again in rapid concave curves";
to which I might have added that there was also a plain which
extended, a valley which wound along, paths which climbed
and roads which followed the undulations of the land. But the
best example was when I said that opposite to the man there was a
distant mountain rising against the sky.





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