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 p
rforming 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.