Superphysics Superphysics
Section 9b

The Vibration of the Mind

by David Hume Icon
12 minutes  • 2467 words

With regard to the passions, the human mind is not like a wind-instrument which loses the sound after the breath ceases. ◦ It rather resembles a stringed instrument. ◦ After each stroke, the vibrations still retain some sound which gradually and insensibly decays.

The imagination is extremely quick and agile. ◦ But the passions are slow and restive.

This is why, when any object is presented that affords a variety of views to the one, and emotions to the other, the fancy may change its views very quickly. ◦ Each stroke will not produce a clear and distinct note of passion. ◦ Instead, the one passion will always be mixed and confounded with the other. • As the probability inclines to good or evil, the passion of joy or sorrow predominates in the composition. ◦ Because the nature of probability is to cast a: ▪ superior number of views or chances on one side ▪ superior number of returns of one passion, or ▪ superior degree of that passion, since the dispersed passions are collected into one. • In other words, the grief and joy are intermingled with each other through the contrary views of the imagination. ◦ Their union produces hope and fear.

• On this, we may start a very curious question on the contrariety of passions.
• Where the objects of contrary passions are presented at once, sometimes:
    ◦ both passions exist successively and by short intervals
    ◦ they destroy each other
    ◦ none of them takes place
    ◦ both of them remain united in the mind.
• All these happen besides the increase of the predominant passion which commonly arises at their first shock.
• How can we explain these variations?
    ◦ What general principle we can reduce them to?

• When the contrary passions arise from entirely different objects, they take place alternately.
    ◦ The lack of relation in the ideas:
        ▪ separate the impressions from each other
        ▪ prevent their opposition.
• Thus, when a man experiences the loss of a lawsuit and the joyful birth of a son, the mind runs from the agreeable to the calamitous object.
    ◦ Its speed in transition cannot:
        ▪ temper the one affection with the other
        ▪ remain between them in a state of indifference.

• The mind more easily attains that calm situation, when the same event:
    ◦ is of a mixed nature
    ◦ contains something adverse and prosperous in its different circumstances.
• In that case, both passions mingle with each other through the relation.
    ◦ They:
        ▪ become mutually destructive
        ▪ leave the mind in perfect tranquility.

• But suppose, in the third place, that the object is not a compound of good or evil, but is probable or improbable.
    ◦ In this case, the contrary passions will both be present in the soul at once.
    ◦ Instead of destroying and tempering each other, they will:
        ▪ subsist together
        ▪ produce a third affection by their union.
• Contrary passions are incapable of destroying each other, except when their contrary movement:
    ◦ meet exactly by chance
    ◦ are opposite in their direction and in the sensation they produce.
• This exact chance meeting:
    ◦ depends on the relations of those ideas they are derived from.
    ◦ is more or less perfect, according to the degrees of the relation.
• In the case of probability, the contrary chances are so far related, that they determine concerning the existence or non-existence of the same object.
    ◦ But this relation is far from being perfect.
    ◦ since some of the chances lie on the side of existence
    ◦ and others on that of non-existence; which are objects altogether incompatible.
• It is impossible by one steady view to survey the:
    ◦ opposite chances
    ◦ events dependent on them
• The imagination needs to run alternately from the one to the other.
• Each view of the imagination produces its peculiar passion which decays away by degrees.
    ◦ This passion is followed by a sensible vibration after the stroke.
• The incompatibility of the views keeps the passions from shocking in a direct line.
    ◦ Yet their relation is sufficient to mingle their fainter emotions.
• This is how hope and fear arise from grief and joy’s:
    ◦ different mixtures
    ◦ imperfect union and conjunction.

• Contrary passions succeed each other alternately when they arise from different objects.
    ◦ They mutually destroy each other when they proceed from different parts of the same object.
    ◦ They both subsist and mingle together when they are derived from the contrary and incompatible chances or possibilities, on which any one object depends.
• The influence of the relations of ideas is plainly seen in this whole affair.
    ◦ If the objects of the contrary passions are totally different, the passions are like two opposite liquors in different bottles which have no influence on each other.
    ◦ If the objects are intimately connected, the passions are like an alkali and an acid which destroy each other when mingled.
    ◦ If the relation is more imperfect and consists in the contradictory views of the same object, the passions are like oil and vinegar which never perfectly unite and incorporate.

• The hypothesis on hope and fear carries its own evidence along with it.
• We shall be more concise in our proofs.
• A few strong arguments are better than many weak ones.

• Fear and hope may arise when:
    ◦ the chances are equal on both sides
    ◦ no superiority can be discovered in the one above the other.
• In this situation, the passions are the strongest, as the mind:
    ◦ has then the least foundation to rest on
    ◦ is tossed with the greatest uncertainty.
• Throw in a superior degree of probability to the side of grief, you immediately see that passion:
    ◦ diffuse itself over the composition
    ◦ tincture it into fear.
• Increase the probability and the grief and fear prevails more and more until it finally runs insensibly into pure grief as the joy continually diminishes.
    ◦ After you have brought it to this situation, reduce the grief by reducing the probability on that side.
    ◦ You’ll see the passion clear every moment, until it changes insensibly into hope.
    ◦ This hope again runs by slow degrees into joy as you increase the probability.
• Are these not plain proofs that fear and hope are mixtures of grief and joy?
    ◦ This is the same as the proof in optics that a coloured ray of the sun passing through a prism is a composition of two other rays.
    ◦ When you change the quantity of either, it will proportionably be more or less in the composition.
• I am sure that natural or moral philosophy cannot admit of stronger proofs.

• Probability is of two kinds:
    ◦ When the object is really uncertain in itself or is to be determined by chance.
    ◦ When the object is certain, but is still uncertain to our judgment.
        ▪ Our judgement finds proofs on each side of the question.
• Both these kinds of probabilities cause fear and hope.
    ◦ These passions can only proceed from the uncertainty and fluctuation they bestow on the imagination by that contrariety of views common to both.

• It is a probable good or evil, because probability is a wavering and inconstant method of surveying an object.
    ◦ Probability naturally causes a like mixture and uncertainty of passion.
• From whatever causes this mixture can be produced, fear and hope will arise, even though there is no probability.
    ◦ This must be a convincing proof of the present hypothesis.
• We find that an evil, barely possible, sometimes produces fear especially if it is very great.
    ◦ A man cannot think of excessive pains and tortures without trembling, if he is in the least danger of suffering them.
    ◦ The smallness of the probability is compensated by the greatness of the evil.
    ◦ The sensation is equally lively, as if the evil were more probable.
• One view or glimpse of the former, has the same effect as several of the latter.

• Possible and impossible evils cause fear.
    ◦ We tremble on the brink of a precipice, even if we know we are perfectly secure.
• This proceeds from the immediate presence of the evil, which influences the imagination in the same way as its certainty would do.
    ◦ But it is immediately retracted as it is encountered by reflecting on our security.
    ◦ It causes the same kind of passion, as when from a contrariety of chances contrary passions are produced.

Evils, that are certain, sometimes produce fear as the possible or impossible evils. • A man in a well-guarded prison, with no hopes of escape, trembles at the thought of the rack he is sentenced to. • This only happens when the certain evil is terrible and confounding. ◦ In this case, the mind continually rejects it with horror while it continually presses in on the thought. • The evil is there fixed and established. ◦ But the mind cannot endure to fix on it from which fluctuation and uncertainty there arises a passion of much the same appearance with fear.

• Fear or hope arises also from the kind of good or evil.
• Let us suppose that a man was told that one of his sons was suddenly killed.
    ◦ He would not settle into pure grief until he was sure which of his sons was killed.
    ◦ Here, there is an evil certain, but its kind is uncertain.
    ◦ Consequently, our fear on this occasion:
        ▪ has no joy
        ▪ arises merely from the fluctuation of the fancy between its objects.
• Each side of the question here produces fear, yet fear cannot settle.
    ◦ Instead, it receives a tremulous and unsteady motion from the imagination, resembling in its cause and sensation, the mixture and contention of grief and joy.

• From these principles, we may account for a phenomenon in the passions.
    ◦ At first sight, this phenomenon seems very extraordinary, that:
        ▪ surprise is apt to change into fear
        ▪ everything that is unexpected frightens us.
• The most obvious conclusion from this is, that human nature is generally timid.
    ◦ Upon the sudden appearance of any object. we immediately conclude it to be an evil.
    ◦ Without waiting until we can examine its nature, whether it be good or bad, are initially affected with fear.
• This is the most obvious conclusion.
    ◦ But on farther examination we find that this phenomenon is otherwise to be accounted for.
• The suddenness and strangeness of an appearance naturally excite a commotion in the mind, like everything we are unprepared for and not used to.
    ◦ This commotion naturally produces a very violent curiosity or inquisitiveness.
    ◦ From the strong and sudden impulse of the object, this curiosity:
        ▪ becomes uneasy
        ▪ resembles in its fluctuation and uncertainty, the fear or the mixed passions of grief and joy.
    ◦ This image of fear naturally converts into the thing itself.
        ▪ It gives us a real apprehension of evil, as the mind always forms its judgments more from its present disposition than from the nature of its objects.

Thus, all kinds of uncertainty have a strong connection with fear, even though they do not cause any opposition of passions by the opposite views and considerations they present to us. ◦ A person who has left his friend in any malady, will feel more anxiety than if he were present but incapable of giving him assistance and judging of the event of his sickness. ◦ In this case, the principal object of the fear is the life or death of his friend. ▪ It is equally uncertain to him when present as when absent. ▪ Yet the knowledge of a thousand little circumstances of his friend’s condition fixes the idea, and prevents that fluctuation and uncertainty so near allied to fear. • Uncertainty is as near allied to hope as to fear, since it makes an essential part of hope. ◦ It does not incline to hope because uncertainty alone: ▪ is uneasy ▪ has a relation of impressions to the uneasy passions.

• It is thus our uncertainty concerning any minute circumstance relating to a person encreases our apprehensions of his death or misfortune. Horace has remarked this phaenomenon.

• A bird watching over her fledgelings is more afraid of them being attacked by snakes.
    ◦ But she would not be any more capable of helping them if she stayed with them.

I carry further this principle of the connection of fear with uncertainty. ◦ Any doubt produces that passion, even though it presents nothing to us on any side but what is good and desirable. • A virgin on her bridal night goes to bed full of fears and apprehensions, though she expects only: ◦ the pleasure of the highest kind ◦ what she has long wished for. • The mind does not know on what passion to fix itself because of: ◦ the newness and greatness of the event ◦ the confusion of wishes and joys which so embarrass the mind. • A fluttering or unsettledness of the spirits arises which is uneasy. ◦ It very naturally degenerates into fear.

• Whatever causes any fluctuation or mixture of passions with any uneasiness, always produces fear, or at least a passion so like it, that they cannot be distinguished.

• I have examined hope and fear in their most simple and natural situation.
    ◦ I did not consider all their variations from the mixture of different views and reflections.
• Terror, consternation, astonishment, anxiety, and other passions of that kind, are nothing but different species and degrees of fear.
• It is easy to imagine how the sensation of a passion may be changed by a different:
    ◦ situation of the object, or
    ◦ turn of thought
• This may generally account for all the subdivisions of fear and the other affections.
• Love may show itself in the shape of tenderness, friendship, intimacy, esteem, goodwill, etc.
    ◦ These:
        ▪ are ultimately the same affections
        ▪ arise from the same causes, though with a small variation.
            • It is unnecessary to give any account of this variation.
• This is why I have confined myself to the principal passion.

• I waive the examination of the will and direct passions as they appear in animals to avoid prolonging this.
    ◦ Since animals are of the same nature and are excited by the same causes as humans.
• I leave this to the reader’s observation.
    ◦ At the same time, I want him to consider the additional force this bestows on the present system.

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