Superphysics Superphysics
Section 10


by David Hume Icon
9 minutes  • 1859 words

I think we would be a little inattentive to run over the human mind without once considering that love of truth, which was the first source of all our inquiries.

We should: ◦ bestow a few reflections on curiosity ◦ show its origin in human nature.

It is such a peculiar an affection. ◦ It would have been impossible to have treated of it under any previous heading, without danger of obscurity and confusion.

• Truth is of two kinds, consisting in:
    ◦ the discovery of the proportions of ideas or
    ◦ the conformity of our ideas of objects to their real existence.
• The former species of truth, is not desired merely as truth, and that it is not the justness of our conclusions, which alone gives the pleasure.
• These conclusions are equally just, when we discover the equality of two bodies by a pair of compasses, as when we learn it by a mathematical demonstration.
    ◦ In the one case, the proofs are demonstrative.
    ◦ In the other case, the proofs are only sensible.
    ◦ Yet the mind acquiesces with equal assurance in the one as in the other.
• In an arithmetical operation, both the truth and the assurance are of the same nature, as in the most profound algebraic problem.
    ◦ In it, the pleasure is very inconsiderable, if it does not degenerate into pain.
    ◦ This is a proof that our satisfaction from the discovery of truth, does not proceed from its mere discovery, but only as endowed with certain qualities.

• The first and most considerable circumstance needed to render truth agreeable, is the genius and capacity employed in its invention and discovery.
    ◦ What is easy and obvious is never valued.
    ◦ Even what is difficult is but little regarded if we come to know it without:
        ▪ difficulty
        ▪ any stretch of thought or judgment.
• We love to trace the demonstrations of mathematicians.
    ◦ But we receive small entertainment from a person who barely informs us of the proportions of lines and angles, even if we have the utmost confidence in his judgment and veracity.
        ▪ In this case, it is enough to have ears to learn the truth.
• We are never obliged to fix our attention or exert our genius.
    ◦ This is the most pleasant and agreeable of all the other exercises of the mind.

• The exercise of genius is the principal source of the satisfaction we receive from the sciences.
    ◦ I doubt if it alone is sufficient to give us any considerable enjoyment.
• The truth we discover must also be of some importance.
    ◦ It is easy to multiply algebraic problems to infinity.
    ◦ There is no end in the discovery of the proportions of conic sections.
        ▪ Few mathematicians take any pleasure in these researches.
        ▪ They turn their thoughts to what is more useful and important.
• How does this utility and importance operate on us?
    ◦ In the search of such truths, many philosophers have:
        ▪ consumed their time
        ▪ destroyed their health
        ▪ neglected their fortune.
    ◦ These truths they have esteemed important and useful to the world.
    ◦ But it appeared from their whole conduct and behaviour, that they did not have:
        ▪ any public spirit
        ▪ any concern for mankind’s interests.
• They would entirely lose all relish for their studies if they were convinced that their discoveries:
    ◦ were of no consequence
    ◦ had consequences entirely indifferent to them.
        ▪ This is a contradiction.

• To remove this contradiction, we must consider that there are certain desires and inclinations which:
    ◦ go no farther than the imagination
    ◦ are rather the faint shadows and images of passions, than any real affections.
• A man who surveys a city’s fortifications, considers their strength and advantages, natural or acquired.
    ◦ He observes the disposition and contrivance of the bastions, ramparts, mines, and other military works.
    ◦ He will receive a suitable pleasure and satisfaction in proportion as all these are fitted to attain their ends.
        ▪ This pleasure:
            • arises from the utility, not the form of the objects.
            • is only a sympathy with the inhabitants who benefit from the fortifications.
    ◦ Though it is possible, that he may have no kindness for them or may even hate them, as a stranger or enemy.

• It may be objected that:
    ◦ such a remote sympathy is a very slight foundation for a passion
    ◦ so much industry and application, as we frequently observe in philosophers, can never be derived from so inconsiderable an original.
• But the pleasure of study conflicts:
    ◦ chiefly in the mind’s action
    ◦ the exercise of the genius and understanding in the discovery or comprehension of any truth.
• If the truth’s importance is needed to complete the pleasure, our enjoyment is not brought by any considerable addition.
    ◦ The truth’s importance is only needed in order to fix our attention.
• When we are careless and inattentive, the understanding has no effect on us.
    ◦ It is unable to convey any of that satisfaction from understanding.

• The mind’s action is the principal foundation of that pleasure.
    ◦ Besides this, we also need a degree of success in:
        ▪ the attainment of the end, or
        ▪ the discovery of that truth.
• Where the mind pursues any end with passion, we:
    ◦ acquire a concern for the end itself
    ◦ are uneasy if we are disappointed with its pursuit.
        ▪ Even if that passion is not derived originally from the end, but merely from the action and pursuit.
        ▪ Yet by the natural course of the affections, this proceeds from the relation and parallel direction of the passions above-mentioned.

• The passions of hunting and philosophy are two passions most nearly resembling each other.
    ◦ The pleasure of hunting conflicts in the motion, attention, difficulty, and uncertainty of actions of the mind and body.
    ◦ These actions must be attended with an idea of utility, for them to have any effect on us.
• A man of the greatest fortune and the farthest from avarice takes a pleasure in hunting patridges and pheasants.
    ◦ He feels no satisfaction in shooting crows and magpies because he considers:
        ▪ patridges and pheasants fit for the table
        ▪ crows and magpies as useless.
• The utility or importance of itself causes no real passion.
    ◦ It is only needed to support the imagination.
    ◦ The same person who overlooks a ten times greater profit in any other subject, is pleased to bring home six woodcocks or plovers, after having hunted them for several hours.
• To make the parallel between hunting and philosophy more complete, we may observe that in both cases the end of our action may be despised.
    ◦ Yet in the heat of the action, we acquire such an attention to this end, that we are:
        ▪ very uneasy under any disappointments
        ▪ sorry when we:
            • miss our game or
            • fall into any error in our reasoning.

• If we want another parallel to these affections, we may consider the passion of gaming.
    ◦ It affords a pleasure from the same principles as hunting and philosophy.
• The pleasure of gaming does not arise from interest alone.
    ◦ Since many leave a sure gain for this entertainment.
• It is not derived from the game alone.
    ◦ Since the same persons have no satisfaction, when they play for nothing.
• It proceeds from both these causes united.
    ◦ Though separately, they have no effect.
• It is here, as in certain chemical preparations, where the mixture of two clear and transparent liquids produces a third opaque and coloured liquid.

• Our interest in any game engages our attention, without which we can have no enjoyment.
• Once our attention is engaged, the difficulty, variety, and sudden reverses of fortune, further interests us.
    ◦ Our satisfaction arises from that concern.
• Human life is so tiresome a scene.
    ◦ Men generally are of such indolent dispositions.
    ◦ Whatever amuses them gives them a sensible pleasure, though by a passion mixed with pain.
        ▪ This pleasure is increased by the nature of the objects which are sensible and of a narrow compass.
            • They are:
                ◦ entered into with facility
                ◦ agreeable to the imagination.

• The same theory that accounts for the love of truth in mathematics and algebra may be extended to morals, politics, natural philosophy, and other studies.
    ◦ In these, we consider the real connections and existence of ideas, not their other abstract relations of ideas.
• The love of knowledge displays itself in the sciences.
    ◦ Besides this, there is a certain curiosity implanted in human nature.
    ◦ This curiosity is a passion derived from a quite different principle.
• Some people have an insatiable desire of knowing the actions and circumstances of their neighbours.
    ◦ Even if:
        ▪ their interest is in no way concerned in them
        ▪ they must entirely depend on others for their information.
            • In this case, there is no room for study or application.
• Let us search for the reason of this phenomenon.

• It has been proved at large, that the influence of belief is at once to:
    ◦ enliven and infix any idea in the imagination
    ◦ prevent all kinds of hesitation and uncertainty about it.
• Both these circumstances are advantageous.
    ◦ By the vivacity of the idea we:
        ▪ interest the fancy
        ▪ produce the same pleasure arising from a moderate passion, in a lesser degree.
• The vivacity of the idea gives pleasure.
    ◦ Its certainty prevents uneasiness by:
        ▪ fixing one particular idea in the mind
        ▪ keeping it from wavering in the choice of its objects.
• The following is a conspicuous quality of human nature that is common to the mind and body.
    ◦ A change that is too sudden and violent is unpleasant to us.
    ◦ No matter how objects may be indifferent in themselves, their alteration gives uneasiness.
• It is the nature of doubt to:
    ◦ cause a variation in the thought
    ◦ transport us suddenly from one idea to another
• Consequently, it must bring pain.
    ◦ This pain chiefly takes place, where interest, relation, or the greatness and novelty of any event interests us.
    ◦ We do not have the interest nor curiosity to know every matter of fact.
    ◦ It is enough for the idea to strike us with such force and concern us so nearly, to give us an uneasiness in its instability and inconstancy.
• A stranger, who first arrives at any town, may be entirely indifferent about knowing the inhabitants’ history and adventures.
    ◦ But he acquires the same curiosity as the natives, as he:
        ▪ becomes more acquainted with them
        ▪ has lived any considerable time among them.
• When we read the history of a nation, we may have an ardent desire to clear up any doubt or difficulty that occurs in it.
    ◦ But we become careless in such researches when the ideas of these events are obliterated.

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