§6. A Definition of Feeling 1)

306. By a feeling, I mean an instance of that kind of consciousness which involves no analysis, comparison or any process whatsoever, nor consists in whole or in part of any act by which one stretch of consciousness is distinguished from another, which has its own positive quality which consists in nothing else, and which is of itself all that it is, however it may have been brought about; so that if this feeling is present during a lapse of time, it is wholly and equally present at every moment of that time. To reduce this description to a simple definition, I will say that by a feeling I mean an instance of that sort of element of consciousness which is all that it is positively, in itself, regardless of anything else.

307. A feeling, then, is not an event, a happening, a coming to pass, since a coming to pass cannot be such unless there was a time when it had not come to pass; and so it is not in itself all that it is, but is relative to a previous state. A feeling is a state, which is in its entirety in every moment of time as long as it endures. But a feeling is not a single state which is other than an exact reproduction of itself. For if that reproduction is in the same mind, it must be at a different time, and then the being of the feeling would be relative to the particular time in which it occurred, which would be something different from the feeling itself, violating the definition which makes the feeling to be all that it is regardless of anything else. Or, if the reproduction were simultaneous with the feeling, it must be in another mind, and thus the identity of the feeling would depend upon the mind in which it was, which is other than the feeling; and again the definition would be violated in the same way. Thus, any feeling must be identical with any exact duplicate of it, which is as much as to say that the feeling is simply a quality of immediate consciousness.

308. But it must be admitted that a feeling experienced in an outward sensation may be reproduced in memory. For to deny this would be idle nonsense. For instance, you experience, let us say, a certain color sensation due to red-lead. It has a definite hue, luminosity, and chroma. These [are] three elements — which are not separate in the feeling, it is true, and are not, therefore, in the feeling at all, but are said to be in it, as a way of expressing the results which would follow, according to the principles of chromatics, from certain experiments with a color disk, color-box, or other similar apparatus. In that sense, the color sensation which you derive from looking at the red-lead has a certain hue, luminosity, and chroma which completely define the quality of the color. The vividness, however, is independent of all three of these elements; and it is very different in the memory of the color a quarter of a second after the actual sensation from what it is in the sensation itself, although this memory is conceivably perfectly true as to hue, luminosity, and chroma, which truth constitutes it an exact reproduction of the entire quality of the feeling.

309. It follows that since the vividness of a feeling — which would be more accurately described as the vividness of a consciousness of the feeling — is independent of every component of the quality of that consciousness, and consequently is independent of the resultant of those components, which resultant quality is the feeling itself. We thus learn what vividness is not; and it only remains to ascertain what else it is.

310. To this end two remarks will be useful. The first is that of whatever is in the mind in any mode of consciousness there is necessarily an immediate consciousness and consequently a feeling. The proof of this proposition is very instructive as to the nature of feeling; for it shows that, if by psychology we mean the positive, or observational, science of the mind or of consciousness, then although the entire consciousness at any one instant is nothing but a feeling, yet psychology can teach us nothing of the nature of feeling, nor can we gain knowledge of any feeling by introspection, the feeling being completely veiled from introspection, for the very reason that it is our immediate consciousness. Possibly this curious truth was what Emerson was trying to grasp — but if so, pretty unsuccessfully — when he wrote the lines,


The old Sphinx bit her thick lip — 

Said, »Who taught thee me to name?

I am thy spirit, yoke-fellow,

Of thine eye I am eyebeam.

»Thou art the unanswered question;

Couldst see thy proper eye,

Always it asketh, asketh;

And each answer is a lie.«


But whatever he may have meant, it is plain enough that all that is immediately present to a man is what is in his mind in the present instant. His whole life is in the present. But when he asks what is the content of the present instant, his question always comes too late. The present has gone by, and what remains of it is greatly metamorphosed. He can, it is true, recognize that he was at that time, for example, looking at a specimen of red-lead, and must have seen that color, which, he perceives, is something positive and sui generis, of the nature of feeling. But nobody's immediate consciousness, unless when he was much more than half asleep, ever consisted wholly of a color-sensation; and since a feeling is absolutely simple and without parts — as it evidently is, since it is whatever it is regardless of anything else, and therefore regardless of any part, which would be something other than the whole — it follows that if the red color-sensation was not the whole feeling of the instant it has nothing in common with the feeling of the instant. Indeed, although a feeling is immediate consciousness, that is, is whatever of consciousness there may be that is immediately present, yet there is no consciousness in it because it is instantaneous. For we have seen already that feeling is nothing but a quality, and a quality is not conscious: it is a mere possibility. We can, it is true, see what a feeling in general is like; that, for example, this or that red is a feeling; and it is perfectly conceivable that a being should have that color for its entire consciousness, throughout a lapse of time, and therefore at every instant of that time. But such a being could never know anything about its own consciousness. It could not think anything that is expressible as a proposition. It could have no idea of such a thing. It would be confined to feeling that color. Thus, if you perceive that you must at the instant in question have been looking at a given specimen of red-lead, you know that that color has some resemblance to your feeling at that instant. But this only means that when the feeling gives place to comparison this resemblance appears. But there is no resemblance at all in feeling, since feeling is whatever it is, positively and regardless of anything else, while the resemblance of anything lies in the comparison of that thing with something else. . . .

311. Every operation of the mind, however complex, has its absolutely simple feeling, the emotion of the tout ensemble. This is a secondary feeling or sensation excited from within the mind, just as the qualities of outward sense are excited by something psychic without us. It seems at first glance unaccountable that a mere slight difference in the speed of vibration should make such a difference of quality as that between deep vermillion and violet blue. But then it is to be remembered that it is doubtless our imperfect knowledge of those vibrations which has led us to represent them abstractly as differing only in quantity. There is already a hint in the behavior of electrons that a lower speed and a greater one have differences which we have not been aware of. People wonder, too, how dead matter can excite feelings in the mind. For my part, instead of wondering how it can be, I feel much disposed to deny downright that it is possible. These new discoveries have reminded us how very little we know of the constitution of matter; and I prefer to guess that it is a psychic feeling of red without us which arouses a sympathetic feeling of red in our senses.

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