Superphysics Superphysics
Section 8


by David Hume Icon
9 minutes  • 1888 words
Table of contents

Thus, we have accounted for three phenomena which seem pretty remarkable.

  1. Why distance weakens the conception and passion.
  2. Why distance in time has a greater effect than that in space.
  3. Why distance in past time has still a greater effect than that in future.

We must now consider three phenomena, which seem to be the reverse of these:

  1. Why a very great distance increases our esteem and admiration for an object.
  2. Why such a distance in time increases it more than a distance in space.
  3. Why a distance in the past increases it more than that in the future.

I hope the curiousness of the subject will excuse my dwelling on it for some time.

For the first phenomenon, the mere view and contemplation of any successive or extended greatness:

  • enlarges the soul
  • gives it a sensible delight and pleasure.

A wide plain, the ocean, eternity, and a succession of several ages are all entertaining objects.

  • These exceed anything that is not great, no matter how beautiful.

When any very distant object is presented to the imagination, we naturally reflect on the interposed distance. ◦ We conceive something great and magnificent, receive the usual satisfaction. • The admiration directed to the distance, naturally diffuses itself over the distant object, as the fancy: ◦ passes easily from one idea to another related to it ◦ transports to the second idea all the passions excited by the first idea. • The object does not need to be actually distant from us to cause our admiration. ◦ It is enough that it conveys our view to any considerable distance by the natural association of ideas. • A great traveler our room will pass for a very extraordinary person as a Greek medal in our cabinet is always esteemed a valuable curiosity. ◦ Here the object conveys our views to the distance, by a natural transition. ◦ The admiration arising from that distance returns back to the object by another natural transition.

• Every great distance produces an admiration for the distant object.
    ◦ A distance in time has a more considerable effect than a distance in space.
• Ancient busts and inscriptions are more valued than Japanese tables.
    ◦ We more venerate the old Chaldeans and Egyptians, than the modern Chinese and Persians.
    ◦ We take more fruitless pains to dear up the former’s history and chronology, than it would cost us to travel and be informed of the former’s character, learning and government.
• I shall make a digression to explain this phenomenon.

• Any opposition which does not entirely discourage and intimidate us, has rather a contrary effect.
    ◦ It inspires us with a more than ordinary grandeur and magnanimity.
• In collecting our force to overcome the opposition, we:
    ◦ invigorate the soul
    ◦ give the soul an elevation it would never have otherwise.
• Compliance renders our strength useless.
    ◦ It makes us insensible of it.
    ◦ But opposition awakens and employs it.

• This is also true in the universe.
• Opposition enlarges the soul.
    ◦ When full of courage and magnanimity, the soul seeks opposition.
    ◦ Among the tamer beasts, he longs to have a slavering boar or a tawny lion come down from the mountain.

• Whatever supports and fills the passions is agreeable to us.
    ◦ What weakens and enfeebles them is uneasy.
• Opposition has the first effect and compliance the second effect.
    ◦ No wonder the mind desires opposition and is averse to compliance, in certain dispositions.

• These principles have an effect on the imagination and the passions.
    ◦ To be convinced of this. we only need to consider the influence of heights and depths on that faculty.
• Any great elevation of place communicates a kind of pride or sublimity of imagination.
    ◦ It gives a fancied superiority over those that lie below.
    ◦ Vice versa, a sublime and strong imagination conveys the idea of ascent and elevation.
• Hence we associate the idea of whatever is good with that of height, and evil with lowness.
    ◦ Heaven is supposed to be above, and hell below.
    ◦ A noble genius is called an elevate and sublime one.
        ▪ He spurns the dank soil in winged flight.
    ◦ On the contrary, a vulgar and trivial conception is stiled indifferently low or mean.
    ◦ Prosperity is denominated ascent, and adversity descent.
    ◦ Kings and princes are supposed to be placed at the top of human affairs
    ◦ Peasants and day-labourers are said to be in the lowest stations.
• These methods of thinking and self-expression, are not of little consequence as they may appear at first sight.

• There is no natural nor essential difference between high and low.
    ◦ This distinction only arises from the gravitation of matter which produces a motion from the one to the other.
• The very same direction, which in this part of the globe is called ascent, is called descent in our antipodes.
    ◦ This proceeds only from the contrary tendency of bodies.
• The tendency of bodies continually operating on our senses, must produce a like tendency in the fancy, from custom.
    ◦ The idea of the weight of any ascending object gives us a propensity to transport it from its ascended situation to the place immediately below it, until we come to the ground.
        ▪ This equally stops the body and our imagination.
• For a like reason, we feel a difficulty in mounting.
    ◦ We are reluctant to pass from the lower to the higher situation, as if our ideas acquired a kind of gravity from their objects.
• As a proof of this, we find that in the cadency of the harmony in music or poetry, the idea of facility communicates to us that of descent, in the same way as descent produces a facility.

• The imagination finds an opposition in its internal qualities and principles in running from low to high.
    ◦ The soul seeks opposition when elevated with joy and courage.
    ◦ It eagerly throws itself into any scene of thought or action where its courage meets matter to nourish and employ it.
• It follows that everything which invigorates and enlivens the soul, whether by touching the passions or imagination, naturally:
    ◦ conveys to the fancy this inclination for ascent
    ◦ determines it to run against the natural stream of its thoughts and conceptions.
• This aspiring progress of the imagination suits the mind’s present disposition.
    ◦ This difficulty sustains and increases its vigour, instead of extinguishing it.
• This is why virtue, genius, power, and riches are associated with height and sublimity, as poverty, slavery, and folly are conjoined with descent and lowness.
• Milton represents descent to be adverse with the angels.
    ◦ Angels cannot sink without labour and compulsion.
• If we were like his angels, this order of things would be entirely inverted.
    ◦ The very nature of ascent and descent is derived from the difficulty and propensity.
    ◦ Consequently, every one of their effects proceeds from that origin.

• All this is easily applied to why a considerable distance in time produces a greater veneration for the distant objects than a like removal in space.
    ◦ The imagination moves with more difficulty in passing from one portion of time to another, than in a transition through the parts of space.
    ◦ Because space or extension appears united to our senses, while time or succession is always broken and divided.
• This difficulty interrupts and weakens the fancy, when joined with a small distance.
    ◦ But it has a contrary effect in a great removal.
• The mind, elevated by the vastness of its object, is still further elevated by the difficulty of the conception.
    ◦ It is obliged every moment to renew its efforts in the transition from one part of time to another.
    ◦ It feels a more vigorous and sublime disposition than in a transition through the parts of space, where the ideas flow with easiness and facility.
    ◦ In this disposition, the imagination, passing from the consideration of the distance to the view of the distant objects, gives us a proportional veneration for it.
    ◦ This is why all the relics of antiquity:
        ▪ are so precious in our eyes
        ▪ appear more valuable than what is brought even from the remotest parts of the world.

• The third phenomenon I have remarked will be a full confirmation of this.
    ◦ Not every removal in time produces veneration and esteem.
• We are not apt to imagine our posterity will excel us, or equal our ancestors.
    ◦ This phenomenon is the more remarkable, because any distance in futurity does not weaken our ideas so much as an equal removal in the past.
    ◦ Though a removal in the past, when very great, increases our passions beyond a like removal in the future.
        ▪ Yet a small removal has a greater influence in reducing them.

Effort of the Imagination

In our common way of thinking we are placed in a middle station between the past and future.

Our imagination finds a difficulty in running along the past, and a facility in following the future, the difficulty conveys the notion of ascent, and the facility of descent.

Hence we imagine our ancestors to be mounted above us, and our posterity to lie below us.

Our fancy arrives at the past with effort, but easily reaches the future. This effort:

  • weakens the conception if the distance is small.
  • enlarges and elevates the imagination, when attended with a suitable object.

On the other hand, the facility assists the fancy in a small removal.

  • But it takes off from its force when it contemplates any considerable distance.

I will summarize this subject of the will to set it more distinctly before the reader’s eyes.

A passion is a violent and sensible emotion of mind, when presented with:

  • any good or evil is presented, or
  • any object which excites an appetite.

The affections mean the same with the passions. But affections: ▪ operate more calmly ▪ cause no disorder in the temper.

• Tranquillity leads us to a mistake concerning them.
    ◦ It causes us to regard them as conclusions only of our intellectual faculties.
• The causes and effects of these violent and calm passions are pretty variable.
    ◦ They depend on every individual’s peculiar temper and disposition.
• The violent passions generally have a more powerful influence on the will.
    ◦ The calm passions are able to control the violent ones  in their most furious movements, when:
        ▪ corroborated by reflection
        ▪ seconded by resolution.
• A calm passion may easily be changed into a violent one by:
    ◦ a change of temper or the object’s circumstances and situation.
    ◦ the borrowing of force from any attendant passion
    ◦ custom, or
    ◦ exciting the imagination.
        ▪ This makes this whole affair more uncertain.
• On the whole, this struggle of passion and of reason:
    ◦ diversifies human life
    ◦ makes men so different from each other and from themselves in different times.
• Philosophy can only account for a few of the greater and more sensible events of this war.
    ◦ It must leave all the smaller and more delicate revolutions, as dependent on principles too fine and minute for her comprehension.

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