Superphysics Superphysics
Section 7

Contiguity And Distance In Space And Time

by David Hume Icon
8 minutes  • 1574 words

Everything contiguous to us in space or time is conceived with a peculiar force and vivacity and excels every other object, in its influence on the imagination because:

  • ourself is intimately present to us
  • whatever related to self must also be present to us.

But if an object is so far removed, as to have lost this relation, its idea becomes still fainter and more obscure.

This would, perhaps, require a more particular examination.

The imagination can never totally forget the points of space and time which we exist in. ◦ It receives their frequent advertisements from the passions and senses. ◦ No matter how it turns its attention to foreign and remote objects, it needs to reflect on the present at every moment. • It is also remarkable, that we: ◦ take real objects in their proper order and situation ◦ never leap from one real object to another, which is distant from it, without running over all those objects between them. • Therefore, when we reflect on any object distant from ourselves, we reach it by: ◦ passing through all the intermediate space between ourselves and the object ◦ renew our progress every moment, recalling the consideration of ourselves and our present situation. • This interruption must weaken the idea by: ◦ breaking the action of the mind ◦ hindering the conception from being so intense and continued, as when we reflect on a nearer object. • The fewer steps we make to arrive at the object and the smoother the road, the less this reduction of vivacity is felt. ◦ But still may be observed more or less in proportion to the degrees of distance and difficulty.

• Here then we are to consider two kinds of objects, the contiguous and remote.
    ◦ The contiguous object approaches an impression in force and vivacity, through their relation to ourselves.
    ◦ The remote object appears in a weaker and more imperfect light, through the interruption in our manner of conceiving them.
• This is their effect on the imagination.
    ◦ If my reasoning is just, they must have a proportional effect on the will and passions.
• Contiguous objects must have an influence much superior to the distant and remote.
    ◦ Accordingly, we commonly find that men are principally concerned about those objects which are not much removed in space or time.
    ◦ They enjoy the present and leave what is afar off, to the care of chance and fortune.
        ▪ Talk to a man of his condition 30 years hence, and he will not regard you.
        ▪ Speak of what is to happen tomorrow, and he will lend you attention.
        ▪ The breaking of a mirror gives us more concern when at home, than the burning of a house abroad, some hundred leagues distant.

• Distance in space and time has a considerable effect:
    ◦ on the imagination
    ◦ consequently, on the will and passions, yet the consequence of a removal in space are much inferior to those of a removal in time.
• 20 years are certainly a small distance of time compared to what history and even the memory of some may inform them of
    ◦ Yet I doubt if 1,000 leagues, or even the greatest distance this globe can admit of, will so remarkably:
        ▪ weaken our ideas
        ▪ reduce our passions.
• A West-Indian merchant will tell you that he is concerned with what happens in Jamaica.
    ◦ Though few extend their views so far into the future, as to dread very remote accidents.

• The cause of this phenomenon lies in the different properties of space and time.
• Without having recourse to metaphysics, anyone may easily observe that space or extension consists of a number of co-existent parts:
    ◦ disposed in a certain order
    ◦ capable of being at once present to the sight or feeling.
• On the contrary, time or succession never presents to us more than one at once.
    ◦ It is impossible for any two of them ever to be co-existent.
• These qualities of the objects have a suitable effect on the imagination.
    ◦ The parts of extension are susceptible of a union to the senses.
    ◦ They acquire a union in the fancy.
    ◦ The appearance of one part does not exclude another.
    ◦ The transition or passage of the thought through the contiguous parts is rendered more smoother and easier by that means.
• On the other hand, the incompatibility of the parts of time in their real existence:
    ◦ separates them in the imagination
    ◦ makes it more difficult for the imagination to trace any long succession or series of events.
• Every part must appear single and alone.
    ◦ It cannot regularly enter the fancy without banishing what has been immediately precedent.
• By this means any distance in time causes a greater interruption in the thought than an equal distance in space.
    ◦ Consequently, weakens more considerably the idea, and consequently the passions which depend on the imagination, according to my system.

There is another phenomenon of a like nature with the foregoing: the superior effects of the same distance in futurity above that in the past. ◦ This difference with respect to the will is easily accounted for. • None of our actions can alter the past. ◦ It is not strange that it should never determine the will. • But with respect to the passions this question is yet entire and well worth the examining.

• Besides the propensity to a gradual progression through the points of space and time, we have another peculiarity in our method of thinking which concurs to produce this phenomenon.
    ◦ We always follow the succession of time in placing our ideas
    ◦ From the consideration of any object, we pass more easily to the object which follows immediately after it than to that which went before it.
• We may learn this from the order of historical narrations.
    ◦ Only an absolute necessity can oblige a historian to:
        ▪ break the order of time in his narration
        ▪ give the precedence to an event which was really posterior to another.

• A person’s present situation is always that of the imagination.
    ◦ It is from thence we proceed to conceive any distant object.
• When the object is past, the thought’s progression in passing to it from the present is contrary to nature, as proceeding from:
    ◦ one point of time to the preceding point, and
    ◦ from that to another preceding point, opposing the natural course of the succession.
• On the other hand, when we think of a future object, our fancy:
    ◦ flows along the stream of time
    ◦ arrives at the object by a natural order, passing from one point of time to a point immediately posterior to it.
• This easy progression of ideas:
    ◦ favours the imagination
    ◦ makes it conceive its object in a stronger and fuller light than when we are:
        ▪ continually opposed in our passage
        ▪ obliged to overcome the difficulties arising from the natural propensity of the fancy.
• Therefore, a short span in the past has a greater effect in interrupting and weakening the conception, than a much greater span in the future.
    ◦ Time’s influence on the will and passions is derived from this effect on the imagination.

There is another cause which: ◦ contributes to the same effect ◦ proceeds from the same quality of the fancy ▪ This quality determines us to trace the succession of time by a similar succession of ideas. • When from the present instant, we consider two points of time equally distant in the future and the past, their relation to the present is almost equal when abstractedly considered. ◦ The future will sometimes be present, so the past was once present. • If we could remove this quality of the imagination, an equal distance in the past and in the future, would have a similar influence. ◦ This true when the fancy: ▪ remains fixed and surveys the future and the past from the present instant ▪ changes its situation and places us in different periods of time. • When we put ourselves in a point in time between between the present instant and the future object, we find: ◦ the future object approach to us ◦ the past retire and become more distant. • When we put ourselves in a point in time between the present and the past, the past approaches to us and the future becomes more distant. ◦ But from the property of the fancy above-mentioned, we rather choose to fix our thought on the point of time between the present and the future, than on that between the present and the past. • We advance rather than retard our existence. ◦ We proceed from past to present and from present to future, following what seems the natural succession of time. ◦ Through this, we conceive: ▪ the future as flowing every moment nearer us ▪ the past as retiring. • Therefore, an equal distance in the past and in the future does not have the same effect on the imagination. ◦ Because we consider the one as continually increasing, and the other as continually diminishing. • The fancy: ◦ anticipates the course of things ◦ surveys the object in that condition to which: ▪ it tends ▪ is regarded as the present.

Any Comments? Post them below!