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So excellent a king, that was, to this;
Hamlet, Act I. Sc. 3. The power of passion to falsify the computation of time is remarkable in this instance; because time, which has an accurate measure, is less obsequious to our desires and wishes, than objects which have. no precise standard of less or more.
Good news are greedily swallowed upon very slender evidence : our wishes magnify the probability of the event, as well as the vera. city of the relater; and we believe as certain, what at best is doubtful. For the same reason, bad news gain also credit upon the slightest evidence: fear, if once alarmed, has the same effect that hope has, to magnify every circumstance that tends to conviction. Shakspeare, who shows more knowledge of human nature than any of our philosophers, has in his Cymbeline* represented this bias of the mind; for he makes the person who alone was affected with the bad news, yield to evidence that did not convince any of his companions. And Othellof is convinced of his wife's infidelity from circumstances too slight to move any person less interested.
If the news interest us in so low a degree as to give place to reason, the effect will not be altogether the same: judging of the probability or improbability of the story, the mind settles in a rational conviction, either that it is true or not. But, .even in that case, the mind is not allowed to rest in that degree of conviction which is produced by rational evidence: if the news be, in any degree, favorable, our belief is raised by hope to an improper height; and if unfavorable, by fear.
This observation holds equally with respect to future events : if a future event be either much wished or dreaded, the mind never fails to augment the probability beyond truth.
That easiness of belief with respect to wonders and prodigies, even the most absurd and ridiculous, is a strange phenomenon; because nothing can be more evident than the following proposition, that the more singular any event is, the more evidence is required Act II. Sc. 4.
† Act III. Sc. 4.
to produce belief. A familiar event daily occurring, being in itself extremely probable, finds ready credit, and therefore is vouched by the slightest evidence; but to overcome the improbability of a strange and rare event, contrary to the course of nature, the very strongest evidence is required. It is certain, however, that wonders and prodigies are swallowed by the vulgar, upon evidence that would not be sufficient to ascertain the most familiar occurrence. It has been reckoned difficult to explain that irregular bias of mind; but we are now made acquainted with the influence of passion upon opinion and belief: a story of ghosts or fairies, told with an air of gravity and truth, raises an emotion of wonder, and perhaps of dread; and these emotions imposing upon a weak mind, impress upon it a thorough conviction contrary to reason.
Opinion and belief are influenced by propensity as well as by passion. An innate propensity is all we have to convince us, that the operations of nature are uniform: influenced by that propensity, we often rashly think, that good or bad weather will never have an end; and in natural philosophy, writers, influenced by the same propensity, stretch, commonly, their analogical reasonings beyond just bounds.
Opinion and belief are influenced by affection as well as by propensity: The noted story of a fine lady and a curate viewing the moon through a telescope, is a pleasant illustration. I perceive, says the lady, two shadows inclining to each other; they are certainly two happy lovers. Not at all, replies the curate; they are two steeples of a cathedral.
APPENDIX TO PART V.
METHODS THAT NATURE HAS AFFORDED FOR COMPUTING TIME
The succession of our thoughts the only natural method of computing time; but this is inaccurate-Two periods of computing time, passing and past-Examples of time passing: Absence appears long to lovers— Time appears short to a criminal between sentence and execution—Time appears long when bodily pain is fixed to one part of the body-Examples of time past: Here we measure by succession of thought—To distinguish between a train of perceptions and a train of ideas here necessary-Time employed on real objects appears longer than that spent on ideas—When passing through a populous country time appears longer than when passing through a barren one-Time appears short when travelling with agreeable company, or when engaged in agreeable workClose thinking renders time short-Grief has the same effect.
This subject is introduced, because it affords several curious examples of the influence of passion to bias the mind in its conceptions and opinions—a lesson that cannot be too frequently inculcated, as there is not, perhaps, another bias in human nature that has an influence, so universal, to make us wander from truth as well as from justice.
I begin with time; and the question is, what was the measure of time before artificial measures were invented; and what is the measure at present when these are not at hand ? I speak not of months
and days, which are computed by the moon and sun; but of hours, or in general of the time that passes between any two occurrences when there is not access to the sun. The only natural measure is the succession of our thoughts; for we always judge the time to be long or short, in proportion to the number of perceptions and ideas that have passed during that interval. This measure is, indeed, far from being accurate; because in a quick and in a slow succession, it must evidently produce different computations of the same time: but, however inaccurate, it is the only measure by which we naturally calculate time; and that measure is applied on all occasions, without regard to any casual variation in the rate of succession.
That measure would however be tolerable, did it labor under no other imperfection beside that mentioned: but in many instances it is much more fallacious; in order to explain which distinctly, an analysis will be necessary. Time is computed at two different periods; one while it is passing, another after it is past: these computations shall be considered separately, with the errors to which each of them is liable. Beginning with computation of time, while it is passing, it is a common and trite observation, that to lovers absence appears immeasurably long--every minute an hour, and every day a year: the same computation is made in every case where we long for a distant event; as where one is in expectation of good news, or where a profligate heir watches for the death of an old rich miser. Opposite to these are instances not fewer in number: to a criminal the interval between sentence and execution appears wofully short: and the same holds in every case where one dreads an approaching event; of which, even a school-boy can bear witness : the hour allowed him for play, moves, in his apprehension, with a very swift pace; before he is thoroughly engaged, the hour is gone. A computation founded on the number of ideas, will never produce estimates so regularly opposite to each other; for our wishes do not produce a slow succession of ideas, nor our fears a quick succession. What then moves nature, in the cases mentioned, to desert her ordinary measure for one very different? I know not that this question ever has been resolved; the false estimates I have suggested being so common and familiar, that no writer has thought of their cause. And, indeed, to enter upon this matter without preparation, might occasion some difficulty; to encounter which we are luckily prepared, by what is said upon the power of passion to bias the mind in its perceptions and opinions. Among the circumstances that terrify a condemned criminal, the short time he has to live is one; which time, by the influence of terror, is made to appear still shorter than it is in reality. In the same manner, among the distresses of an absent lover, the time of separation is a capital circumstance, which for that reason is greatly magnified by his anxiety and impatience: he imagines that the time of meeting comes on very slowly, or rather that it will never come: every minute is thought of an intolerable length. Here is a fair, and, I hope, satisfactory reason, why time is thought to be tedious when we long for a future event, and not less fleet when we dread the event. The reason is confirmed
with a very
by other instances. Bodily pain, fixed to one part, produces a slow train of perceptions, which, according to the common measure of time, ought to make it appear short: yet we know, that, in such a state, time has the opposite appearance; and the reason is, that bodily pain is always attended with a degree of impatience, which makes us think every minute to be an hour. The same holds where the pain shifts from place to place; but not so remarkably, because such a pain is not attended with the same degree of impatience. The impatience a man has in travelling through a barren country, or in a bad road, makes him think, during the journey, that time goes on
We shall see afterward, that a very different computation is made when the journey is over.
How ought it to stand with a person who apprehends bad news? It will probably be thought that the case of this person resembles that of a criminal, who, terrified at his approaching execution, believes every hour to be but a minute: yet the computation is directly opposite. Reflecting upon the difficulty, there appears one capital distinguishing circumstance: the fate of the criminal is determined; in the case under consideration, the person is still in suspense. Every one has felt the distress that accompanies suspense : we wish to get rid of it at any rate, even at the expense of bad news. This case, therefore, upon a more narrow inspection, resembles that of bodily pain: the present distress, in both cases, makes the time appear extremely tedious.
The reader, probably, will not be displeased, to have this branch of the subject illustrated, by an author who is acquainted with every maze of the human heart, and who bestows ineffable
grace ment upon every subject he handles :
Rosalinda. I pray you, what is't a-clock ? Orlando. You should ask me, what time o’day; there's no clock in the forest. Ros. Then there is no true lover in the forest; else, sighing every minute, and groaning every hour, would detect the lazy foot of Time, as well as a clock.
Orla. Why not the swift foot of Time? Had not that been as proper ? Ros. By no means, sir. Time travels in diverse paces with diverse persons. I'll tell you who Time ambies withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal.
Orla. I pr’ythee whom doth he trot withal ?
Ros. Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized: if the interim be but a se’ennight, Time's pace is so hard, that it seems the length of seven years.
Orla. Who ambles Time withal ?
Ros. With a priest that lacks Latin, and a rich man that hath not the gout: for the one sleeps easily, because he cannot study; and the other lives merrily, because he feels no pain: the one lacking the burthen of lean and wasteful learning: the other knowing no burthen of heavy tedious penury. These Times ambles withal.
Orla. Whom doth he gallop withal ?
Ros. With a thief to the gallows: for, tho' he go as softly as foot can fall, he thinks himself too soon there.
Orla. Whom stays it still withal ?
Ros. With lawyers in the vacation: for they sleep between term and term, and then they perceive not how Time moves.
As You Like It, Act III. Sc. 2. The natural method of computing present time, shows how far
from truth we may be led by the irregular influence of passion : nor are our eyes immediately opened when the scene is past; for the deception continues while there remain any traces of the passion. But looking back upon past time when the joy or distress is no longer remembered, the computation is very different: in that condition, we coolly and deliberately make use of the ordinary measure, namely, the course of our perceptions. And I shall now proceed to the errors to which this measure is subjected. Here we must distinguish between a train of perceptions, and a train of ideas. Real objects make a strong impression, and are faithfully remembered': ideas, on the contrary, however entertaining at the time, are apt to escape a subsequent recollection. Hence it is, that in retrospection, the time that was employed upon real objects, appears longer than that employed upon ideas: the former are more accurately recollected than the latter; and we measure the time by the number that is recollected. This doctrine shall be illustrated by examples. After finishing a journey through a populous country, the frequency of agreeable objects, distinctly recollected by the traveler, makes the time spent in the journey appear to him longer than it was in reality; which is chiefly remarkable in the first journey, when every object is new, and makes a strong impression. On the other hand, after finishing a journey through a barren country thinly peopled, the time appears short, being measured by the number of objects, which were few, and far from interesting. Here in both instances a computation is made, directly opposite to that made during the journey. And this, by the way, serves to account for what may appear singular, that in a barren country, a computed mile is always longer, than near the capital, where the country is rich and populous: the traveler has no natural measure of the miles he has traveled, other than the time bestowed upon the journey; nor any natural measure of the time, other than the number of his perceptions: now these, being few from the paucity of objects in a waste country, lead him to compute that the time has been short, and consequently that the miles have been few: by the same method of computation, the great number of perceptions, from the quantity of objects in a populous country, make ihe traveler conjecture that the time has been long, and the miles many. The last step of the computation is obvious: in estimating the distance of one place from another, if the miles be reckoned few in number, each mile must of course be long; if many in number, each must be short.
Again, traveling with an agreeable companion, produces a short computation both of the road and of time; especially if there be few objects that demand attention, or if the objects be familiar: and the case is the same of young people at a ball, or of a joyous company over a bottle: the ideas with which they have been entertained, being transitory, escape the memory: after the journey and the entertainment are over, they reflect that they have been much diverted, but scarcely can say about what.
When one is totally occupied with any agreeable work that admits not many objects, time runs on without observation : and upon a