§7. Shock and the Sense of Change 1)


335. Some writers insist that all experience consists in sense-perception; and I think it is probably true that every element of experience is in the first instance applied to an external object. A man who gets up out of the wrong side of the bed, for example, attributes wrongness to almost every object he perceives. That is the way in which he experiences his bad temper. It cannot, however, be said that he perceives the perversity which he wrongly attributes to outward objects.

336. We perceive objects brought before us; but that which we especially experience — the kind of thing to which the word »experience« is more particularly applied — is an event. We cannot accurately be said to perceive events; for this requires what Kant called the »synthesis of apprehension,« not however, by any means, making the needful discriminations. A whistling locomotive passes at high speed close beside me. As it passes the note of the whistle is suddenly lowered from a well-understood cause. I perceive the whistle, if you will. I have, at any rate, a sensation of it. But I cannot be said to have a sensation of the change of note. I have a sensation of the lower note. But the cognition of the change is of a more intellectual kind. That I experience rather than perceive. It is [the] special field of experience to acquaint us with events, with changes of perception. Now that which particularly characterizes sudden changes of perception is a shock. A shock is a volitional phenomenon. The long whistle of the approaching locomotive, however disagreeable it may be, has set up in me a certain inertia, so that the sudden lowering of the note meets with a certain resistance. That must be the fact; because if there were no such resistance there could be no shock when the change of note occurs. Now this shock is quite unmistakable. It is more particularly to changes and contrasts of perception that we apply the word »experience.« We experience vicissitudes, especially. We cannot experience the vicissitude without experiencing the perception which undergoes the change; but the concept of experience is broader than that of perception, and includes much that is not, strictly speaking, an object of perception. It is the compulsion, the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking that constitutes experience. Now constraint and compulsion cannot exist without resistance, and resistance is effort opposing change. Therefore there must be an element of effort in experience; and it is this which gives it its peculiar character. But we are so disposed to yield to it as soon as we can detect it, that it is extremely difficult to convince ourselves that we have exerted any resistance at all. It may be said that we hardly know it except through the axiom that there can be no force where there is no resistance or inertia. Whoever may be dissatisfied with my statement will do well to sit down and cipher out the matter for himself. He may be able to formulate the nature of the oppositional element in experience, and its relation to ordinary volition better than I have done; but that there is an oppositional element in it, logically not easily distinguished from volition, will, I make no doubt at all, be his ultimate conclusion.


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