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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

© 1914




        If from the general consideration on the modes of combinations or free association characteristic of representations, we turn to analyze the nature of the moment with representative elements as content, we find that it differs essentially from the synthetic and desultory moments. A close inspection of the character of representations reveals the fact of its difference from presentation-elements. A representative element is neither of the nature of the primary nor of the secondary sensory elements, it differs from both in the character of its psychic "stuff." The difference consists in the fact that a representative element is not cognitive, but recognitive.

        As far as the cognitive aspect is concerned the chief characteristic of the synthetic and desultory moments, having sensory elements only as their content, is the direct reference to the object, to the relations of the external environment, while the characteristic feature of the moment, having mainly representative elements as its constituent, is the indirect reference to external relations. In other words, the sensory elements of the synthetic and desultory moments have immediate cognition, while the representative elements of the moment now under consideration have mediate cognition, or recognition. I see the book lying on my table, I close my eyes and represent to myself the whole thing over again. As I look out of the window I see a house, a horse and carriage standing near by; I close my eyes and imagine the whole situation over again. We say then, incorrectly though, that the representation is a copy of the presentation. Evidently the representation is regarded as not being the same as the presentation just as a copy is really not the same as the original. The psychic elements of representation have the function of cognizing again, or what is more correct to say the function of re-cognition which constitutes the very essence of representation. In representation events are lived over again without the actual recurrence of those experiences. In representation the moment becomes independent of the present, it becomes free from its immediate environment.

        In order that a representation be a true "copy" of its original, it must be cognized as a "copy," that is, it must be cognized as something already cognized, in other words, it must be recognized. This function of recognition is the sine qua non of representation. The image, representation, or idea of a table is not itself a table, nor is it a synthetized sensory compound referring to the object, table, it is a psychic element referring to the sensory compound on its objective aspect. The representation of the table does not refer directly to the table as it is the case in the sensory compound, but to the table as perceived. The image or representation refers not to the object immediately, but mediately, to the object as object of the sensory compound. Hence the object is cognized over in representation, in other words, is recognized.

        This recognition may be of a general or of a specific character. The function of recognition in its general aspect is manifested in the idea. The idea possesses this function of general recognition. The idea "man" recognizes its content in a general way, it refers to man in general, but does not identify its content with any particular individual. I may represent to myself an object recognized as a table, not as any particular table, and I may also represent this particular table on which I am writing. The representation I have of my friend John refers specifically to John not to anyone else. As in my imagination I scrutinize the features of my friend's face, I all along recognize that it is my friend's countenance. Recognition, general as well 'as particular, is involved in the very function of representation.

        In immediate perception itself there is no recognition present. It is not true to fact to say that in the perception of a horse we recognize the object by perceiving it as horse and not as anything else. The fact that I perceive the object as it is depends entirely on the sensory compound which has cognition as the function of its psychic character. The sensory component, the percept horse, is the cognition of the object "horse."

        Some psychologists attempt to find the origin of recognition in the feeling of familiarity. Familiarity, however, is not a primary state out of which recognition develops, but on the contrary recognition is the primary state and familiarity is derivative only. Familiarity is simply the feeling of vague, marginal, or subconscious recognition. Of course, if by the term familiarity is meant not that psychic state observed in the adult consciousness, both abnormal and normal, but that primary state of recognition out of which more definite recognition develops, then it may be admitted that familiarity is the germ of recognition, but then it is only the giving of a special term "familiarity" to an elementary form of recognition. The definite form of recognition develops out of the indefinite form of recognition, recognition must be a primary element. Recognition then is an irreducible mode of psychic activity characteristic of representative mental life.

        Some psychologists regard familiarity as a pure 'feeling of at homeness' or as Fouillée puts it in the decrease of the inward shock of surprise. This is however to put the cart before the horse. It is not the feeling of familiarity that gives rise to recognition, but it is vague, indistinct, marginal, or subconscious recognition that gives rise to the feeling of familiarity. When a person, a scene, an event, or situation is familiar, the psychic state is one of having gone through the same experience before. We cannot localize its date in our scheme of time on which we project our past experiences. We have experienced the same before, but we ask ourselves,―where and when have we seen that person, the scene or the situation before? Often we succeed in forming a complete association with the past, we localize the given familiar experience, and then complete recognition ensues. Familiarity is incomplete, vague, indefinite recognition.

        The peculiar experience of a present novel situation as having experienced or lived through the same before has been mystically referred to a previous existence, the theory of Platonic reminiscence. The explanation, however, of this phenomenon is quite simple, inasmuch that it can be shown that in such cases some similar experience had been gone through before. The subject cannot close the circuit, so to say, and effect a connection with his previous life experiences, he cannot associate fully the present experience with his former experience and localize it in his past. Other cases of such familiarity are brought about by states of dissociation. The patient perceives, goes through experiences in one state and vaguely remembers them in another. Such states of familiarity or imperfect recognition can be found in pre-epileptic states, in post-hypnotic conditions, in hypnoidal twilight states, and other subconscious dissociative states.

        In regard to this phenomenon of general familiarity almost amounting to recognition without attaining it, James makes the following pertinent remarks which fully bears out the fact that recognition is primary and is at the basis of what we term the sense of familiarity. "There is a curious experience," says James, "which everyone seems to have had―the feeling that the present moment in its completeness has been experienced before―we were saying just the thing, in just this place, to just these people, etc. This 'sense of pre-existence' has been treated as a great mystery and occasioned much speculation. . . . I must confess that the quality of mystery seems to me a little strained. I have over and over again in my own case succeeded in resolving the phenomenon into a case of memory, so indistinct that while some past circumstances are presented again, the others, are not. The dissimilar portions of the past do not arise completely enough for the date to be identified. All we get is the present scene with a general suggestion of pastness about it." I may say the same thing in my own case. Whenever I find in myself the presence of some obscure form of familiarity, I can invariably trace it to some vague, indistinct memory of an experience lived through some time before. The same holds true in the case of patients, as well as of my experiments carried out on subjects in subconscious states, hypnotic, post-hypnotic, hypnoidal, and others.

        When an experience enters into a number of systems, or as James would put it into a number of "settings," then the special character of the "setting" becomes confused or even obliterated. The experience present calls forth so many different systems or "settings" that the recognition element lapses and reverts to the psychic state characteristic of the lower forms of moment consciousness, passing through the more elementary forms of recognition to cognition. When the recognitive moment reproduces itself so that it becomes habitual and automatic, it falls in the scale of psychic life and reverts to the type of a lower moment.

        A psychic state which recurs under a great number of conditions and circumstances loses all special and local psychic color, so to say, and hence becomes degraded in the type of its mental activity. All ordinary experiences which have been recognized over and over again, all sorts and conditions of mental life, under different and opposite tendencies, feelings and emotions, under various settings and conflicting systems cease to be surrounded by a nimbus of pastness and become cognitive in character. When too often repeated the experience becomes so much worn by use, if we may use such an expression, that it can no longer be reproduced voluntarily in consciousness. Thus a strange face seen a few times or only once can be clearly represented, but the faces of familiar people with whom we are in constant intercourse can no longer be clearly reproduced and represented. Such a reproduction can only be brought about by a perceptual state, or by various subconscious states, such as dreams, hypnosis, or hypnoidal state. In such cases there is present a feeling of familiarity due to the series of recognitions and cognitions. Familiarity here is lapsed recognition.

        James brings it out clearly: "If a phenomenon is met with, however, too often, and with too great a variety of contexts, although its image is retained and reproduced with correspondingly great facility, it fails to come up with anyone particular setting and the projection of it backwards to a particular past date consequently does not come about. We recognize but do not remember it―its associates form too confused a cloud." In other words, recognition does not reach its full development. There is recognition of the phenomenon as such, but not as having had the experience in the past. The halo of pastness is gone. James quotes Spencer "To ask a man whether he remembers that the sun shines, that fire burns, that iron is hard, would be a misuse of language. Even the almost fortuitous connections among our experiences cease to be classed as memories, when they have become thoroughly familiar. Though on hearing the voice of some unseen person slightly known to us, we say we recollect to whom the voice belongs, we do not use the same expression respecting the voices of those with whom we live. The meanings of words which in childhood have to be consciously recalled seem in adult life to be immediately present.

        James then goes on saying: "These are the cases where too many paths, leading to too diverse associates, block each other's way, and all that the mind gets along with its object is a fringe of felt familiarity or sense that there are associates. A similar result comes about when a definite setting is only nascently aroused. We then feel that we have seen the object already, but when or where we cannot say, though we may seem to ourselves to be on the brink of saying it. That nascent cerebral excitation can affect consciousness with a sort of sense of the imminence of that which stronger excitations would make us definitely feel is obvious from what happens when we seek to remember a name. It tingles, it trembles on the verge, but does not come. Just such a tingling and trembling of unrecovered associates is the penumbra of recognition that may surround any experience and make it seem familiar, though we know not why." In other words, imperfect, diffused recognition with no special system, or setting to come in live contact with and be localized in a mental series of an individual moment consciousness fails to give that mental synthesis which is the essential characteristic of the fully developed moment-consciousness. Recognition of an experience lived through in the past is the basis of what is known as the sense of familiarity.

        Perhaps we may refer to the Bergsonian view of recognition, namely that recognition is interrelated with and based on special motor adaptations. "Every perception," says Bergson, "has its organized motor accompaniment, the ordinary feeling of recognition has its roots in the consciousness of this organization." While it is true that recognition deals with the use of objects and with special adaptations to the external environment, as far as such recognition is expressed in motor adjustments, it can hardly be said that this view holds true of recognition in general. In the process of recognition it is not the motor accompaniment, it is the feeling of sameness of experience, the feeling of pastness with its localization in a series of "settings" or of systems that go to form the main elements.

        I must say that the motor accompaniments have been too much overworked in our psychological theories. We have carried over into our philosophy, such as pragmatism, and into our psychology of recent years too much of the haste and whirl of the exchange and the shop. Everything is motor and everything is practical. This is a reflection of our present industrial age in the domain of the mind. Perhaps it expresses well the tendency of the modern philosophical and psychological trend of transmuting every thing into motion when psychologists describe themselves as being "motor men on the psychological car."

        Recognition is not motion at least from a psychological standpoint, unless like Bergson we resort to the metaphysical, pan-psychistic argument of reducing motion to independent objective images as constituting the nature of external reality. Barring such metaphysical speculations that, as we have pointed out, have no place in psychology which must keep strictly to the difference between the external and internal, to the opposition of the objective reality of the material world and of the subjective reality of the mental world, different spheres of phenomena which should not be reduced one to the other, we cannot help realizing the fact that there is far more of the character of recognition in mental states in which the motor element is insignificant or nil, such as sensations, ideas, memories, thought reasoning and so on than there is in the automatic reflex reactions of behavior and motor adjustments. When we see color green and recognize that we have seen it the day before we can hardly speak of a motor element present in recognition. When I think of the Bergsonian theory of memory, or recognition and remember of my thinking about it the night before and disagreeing with it, the motor element can only enter by a great strain of imagination. If there are any motor elements they hardly play any significant part in the process of memory and recognition. We must deny emphatically the significance and importance of the motor element in recognition. The essential element in recognition is not the motor, but the psychic elements.

        Bergson himself is driven to take this aspect of recognition when he develops his theory of pure memory with no action in contradistinction to the memory which inserts itself edgewise into the flux of sensori-motor adaptations. Bergson not without some contradiction strongly contrasts the true pure memory with the memory image sharply inserted into the plane of action. If we grant Bergson that such pure unadulterated memories are present, memories free from all motor reactions, then we must necessarily agree to the fact that remembrance, recollection, and hence recognition can exist without any motor accompaniments. In other words, recognition cannot be resolved into action, into motor accompaniments, into behavior and reactions. Recognition is a psychic quale sui generis.

        Each set of particular representative elements carries along, as James terms it, its special "setting" or as I describe it "system." It is this special setting that helps the process of recognition in having the particular experience projected in the past, in having it oriented among many other systems of associations and having it localized in its particular past. Recognition then arises when the present experience calls forth its special system, or setting in a series of mental events. The present experience must close with the past experience and form a circuit. At the same time the experience must not be short-circuited, because in such a case we have a state of dissociation. The present experience must form a circuit with its system or setting and with the personality as a whole. Recognition thus requires a special setting in the complex web and woof of the present total moment consciousness constituting the individuality of the subject.

        In the higher forms of mental life where self-consciousness is developed, the experience forms a live circuit, so to say, with the whole personality. The higher states of recognition appear in the form of the "I" consciousness. "It is I who experienced all that in my past. It is I who remembers that this bit of experience has taken place in 'my' experience some time ago." There is the my present self thinking of the experience as lived through by my past self.

        In the lower forms of recognition where the self is not present, as in the higher vertebrates and possibly in infants, there exists the present cognition of the experience and the re-cognition of it in the shape of a vague memory that it had been experienced before. The present experience of an already experienced event floats in a cloud of pastness. It is this psychic state of pastness in a present experience that makes it felt to the subject who experiences it―as recurrent and recognitive. Of course, not every recurrent experience, even of the higher types of moments is recognitive, as there are psychopathic recurrent states which, like the lower forms of moment-consciousness, recur and reproduce themselves with no element of recognition present. We can, however, fully assert that every recognitive experience is recurrent. Recognition requires former or past experience.


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