Illusions eBook

James Sully
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 358 pages of information about Illusions.

And what applies to the illusory interpretation of others’ feelings applies to the ascription of feelings to inanimate objects.  This is due not simply to the impulse to expand one’s conscious existence through far-reaching resonances of sympathy, but also to a permanent or temporary disposition to attribute a certain kind of feeling to an object.  Thus, the poet personifies nature in part because his emotional cravings prompt him to construct the idea of something that can be admired or worshipped.  Once more, the action of a momentary feeling when actually excited is seen in the “mechanical” impulse of a man to retaliate when he strikes his foot against an object, as a chair, which clearly involves a tendency to attribute an intention to hurt to the unoffending body, and the rationale of which odd procedure is pretty correctly expressed in the popular phrase:  “It relieves the feelings.”

It is worth noting, perhaps, that these illusions of insight, like those of perception, may involve an inattention to the actual impression of the moment.  To erroneously attribute a feeling to another through an excess of sympathetic eagerness is often to overlook what a perfectly dispassionate observer would see, as, for example, the immobility of the features or the signs of a deliberate effort to simulate.  This inattention will, it is obvious, be greatest in the poetic attribution of life and personality to natural objects, in so far as this approximates to a complete momentary illusion.  To see a dark overhanging rock as a grim sombre human presence, is for the moment to view it under this aspect only, abstracting from its many obvious unlikenesses.

In the same manner, a tendency to read a particular meaning into a word may lead to the misapprehension of the word.  To give an illustration:  I was lately reading the fifth volume of G. H. Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind.  In reading the first sentence of one of the sections, I again and again fell into the error of taking “The great Lagrange,” for “The great Language.”  On glancing back I saw that the section was headed “On Language,” and I at once recognized the cause of my error in the pre-existence in my mind of the representative image of the word “language.”

In concluding this short account of the errors of insight, I may observe that their range is obviously much greater than that of the previously considered classes of presentative illusion.  This is, indeed, involved in what has been said about the nature of the process.  Insight, as we have seen, though here classed with preservative cognition, occupies a kind of border-land between immediate knowledge or intuition and inference, shading off from the one to the other.  And in the very nature of the case the scope for error must be great.  Even overlooking human reticence, and, what is worse, human hypocrisy, the conditions of an accurate reading of others’ minds are rarely realized.  If, as has been remarked

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Illusions from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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