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professor's dissertation upon attention. “ Suppose the eye to be fixed in a particular position, the picture of an object to be painted on the retina. Does the mind perceive the complete figure of the object at once, or is this perception the result of the various perceptions we have of the different points in the outline.” To this question, thus gravely stated as if it were of immense importance, the professor gives the following answer.
“ That the mind would perceive every point in the outline of the object, provided the whole of it were painted on the retina at the same instant, for perception, like consciousness, is an involuntary operation. As no two points, however, of the outline are in the same direction, every point by itself, constitutes just as distinct an object of attention to the inind, as if it were separated by an interval of empty space from all the rest. If the doctrine, therefore, formerly stated be just, it is impossible for the mind to attend to more than one of these points at once; and as the perception of the figure of the object implies a knowledge of the relative situations of the different points with respect to each other, we must conclude that the perception of figure by the eye, is the result of a number of different acts of attention. These acts of attention, however, are performed with such rapidity, that the effect, with respect to us, is the same as if the perception were instantaneous.” This statement may be regarded as the sublime of metaphysical sci
We had before thought that we had descended deeply enough, when descanting upon the acts of the will, but now we are going deeper and deeper, and, no doubt, at last shall reach the very bottom of the ocean. We before heard of acts of the will which were performed in the billionth, trillionth, and quadrillionth, &c. part of an instant, and we now hear of acts of perception and attention, performed in as little time. For when we look at any object, as a landscape for instance, we do not have a truly instantaneous perception of it, but our perception is made up of as many perceptions and acts of attention, as there are minima visibilia, or least visible points in it; for, says the professor, “ as no two points of the outline are in the same direction, every point by itself, constitutes as distinct an object of attention to the mind, as if it were separated by an interval of empty space from all the rest.” The doctrine held, then, is, that when we look at this landscape, the rays which come from each minimum visibile, as Berkeley calls it, make a distinct impression upon the mind, and by a distinct act of attention it is perceived; and that when all these minima visibilia have be n thus severally perceived by separate acts of attention, then the mind perceives the whole object, and not before. Now, as we showed before in regard to the will, amidst the numberless rays of light coming from the minima visibilia of any landscape or other object, that strike upon the retina and excite this perception and attention of the mind, must there not be some so rapidly succeeding each other, that not the space of time amounting to the billionth, trillionth, and quadrillionth, &c. part of an instant can intervene? Surely, no mathematical proposition can be more strictly demonstrated than this. Here then perception and attention, the last a voluntary act, is said to be performed in the millionth, billionth, trillionth, &c. part of an instant. The proposition, therefore, of the professor is so evidently trifling, absurd and ridicu. lous, that we shall not give ourselves the trouble of answer. ing the arguments, by which he endeavours to substantiate it. The argumentum ad absurdum, is here also perfectly satisfactory. We should as soon seriously undertake to answer that proposition formerly discussed by the schoolmen, referred to by Dr. Reid, num chimæra bombinans in vacuo possit comedere secundas intentiones; or some of those learned queries so humorously referred to in that whimsical but profound piece of criticism, entitled Martinus Scriblerus, or the art of sinking in poetry.
In immediate connection with the power of attention and greatly depending upon it, is memory, by which we are able to retain possession of the ideas we have imbibed, and put them to their several uses, In the Greek mythology, we cannot say with what ground in philosophy, Mnemosyne was made the mother of the Muses. In this adjustment of the several places of their Gods, by the Pagans, we rather think that memory was elevated to an undue rank, and usurped some of the honours of reason and imagination. The memory is greatly aided in the functions allotted it in our system, by that application of mind which is denominated attention. The province of perception and attention is to collect together those treasures which are to be deposited in this store-house, as it has been very justly and significantly styled, to be called out at pleasure for the service of the understanding. More than half of those persons who are perpetually complaining of their want of memories, may rather ascribe their incapacity in recollecting things, which they desire to recall, to their habits of inattention. There is undoubtedly a great difference in the degree of strength in those powers of memory, with which different persons are endowby the Creator, as there is a difference, in like manner, in all our other faculties; but there is also, as certainly, much less original distinction among us in this respect, than there appears to be upon a superficial view. Many persons do not recollect what they have heard, seen or read, because they have not closely applied their minds to the subjects discussed, and endeavoured to obtain clear and distinct ideas about them. They pass precipitately from object to object, and obtain no clear and distinct ideas of
any. The power of memory performs two very distinct acts, remembrance, and reminiscence or recollection. By the one, we involuntarily call to mind what we had before known, and by the other, we voluntarily recall those ideas which were once conveyed into the mind; or what is the same thing, think anew of those things concerning which we had thought before.
There are three characteristic excellencies of a perfectly good memory, facility or quickness, in the acquisition of ideas, which we wish to appropriate to ourselves; the power of retention, by which we hold possession of those which have been committed to this depository; and lastly, readiness of recollection, by which we are able to command, at our pleasure, the whole store of ideas which we have accumulated, and put them into requisition as the purposes of life, and the intercourse of mankind may render it necessa• ry. The great faults, therefore, of the memory, as opposites of these excellencies, are dullness in acquiring, unretentiveness, and unfaithfulness or slowness, in recollection. Some persons will commit any train of thought to memory, with great facility, but as quickly have it obliterated from their minds; while others, on the contrary, find great difficulty in committing any thing to memory, but when once it is well fixed in that power, it is faithfully retained. This may be one reason, among others, why those who have what are supposed to be parts more sluggish and unpromising, are often found, in the race of improvement, to outstrip competitors of much brighter talents, and who commenced their career under more happy auspices. The very difficulty experienced by the former, in making their attainments, rendered those habits of attention necessary, which gave them clear and distinct ideas, and at the same time, enabled them completely to appropriate them to themselves. Hence, in a race of this nature, the fable of the hare and the tortoise is often realised. There is another reason, however, which may be given to account for this phenomenon. Those powers of understanding, which are the most solid and cultivable, are not apt to arrive at very early maturity. They are very gradually evolved, but at length expand into the greatest beauty and perfection. Great precocity of genius, generally disappoints the expectations it awakens. Premature talent, like a tender flower, expands at a very early period, blossoms, and exhibits all the appearance of producing a noble supply of fruit, but too often, like that fruit which is said to grow upon the margin of the dead sea, after displaying every symptom of flourishing and arriving at perfection, withers away, and crumbles at the touch. The lily and the rose, soon arrive at maturity, and as soon decay; but the oak and the cedar ripen slowly, and require time and nur. ture, to bring them to full perfection.
The same observation has been made concerning memory and reason, as were alluded to before, about wit and judgment; that wherever the one power is found in its greatest strength, there is apt to be a deficiency in the other. Mr. Pope, a nice observer, remarks, that,
Thus in the soul while memory prevails,
Within certain restrictions no doubt, this observation is well founded. In the original conformation of the mind, there can be no reason assigned why, when the power of memory is communicated in its highest perfection, there should be a failure in those of reason and invention, unless it be, indeed,