by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. Boldface and bracketed commentary are mine. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos.]
Charles Sanders Peirce
Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce
Volume 1: Principles of Philosophy
Book 3: Phenomenology
Chapter 2: The Categories in Detail
§7: Shock and the Sense of Change [1.335-1.336]
We are not directly aware of the internal elements of our inner experience. Rather, we learn about these inner states in how we behave externally toward the things in the world. Thus every element of experience is in the first place applied to an external object, and only secondarily and indirectly is it understood internally speaking. With regard to sense experience, it is perception that is the means by which we sense things. For example, when a train is speeding by us, we have an experience that enables us to hear the train’s whistle at one moment at a certain pitch and at another moment at a different pitch, on account of the Doppler effect. But we do not directly sense or perceive the change in pitch. Rather, on a more cognitive level we experience the change. In fact, experience is primarily a matter of detecting variation, and we can even define it as the constraint or compulsion to think differently than we currently are. But this means that it requires effort and resistance, and thus experience is a sort of secondness.
[Every element of experience is firstly applied to an external object. This means that we are not directly aware of the internal elements of our inner experience, but they are revealed to us indirectly in the way these inner states influence our treatment and perception of external objects.]
[Peirce notes that some philosophers argue that all experience consists in sense-perception. Peirce seems to take a related view, but I am not exactly sure how to characterize it. He says that probably every element of experience is firstly applied to an external object. I do not know what that means, but he gives an example. A man who gets up on the wrong side of the bed will attribute wrongness to every object he perceives, and this is the way he experiences his bad temper. So maybe Peirce is saying that the man has this internal experience of bad temper, but he experiences it in the way that he attributes wrongness to whatever object he perceives. However, the man does not directly perceive his own bad attitude. That point is clear and interesting, but I am not sure how it illustrates the idea that “every element of experience is in the first instance applied to an external object”. Perhaps he means simply that we are not directly aware of the internal elements of our inner experience, but they are revealed to us indirectly in the way these inner states influence our treatment and perception of external objects.]
Some writers insist that all experience consists in sense-perception; and I think it is probably true that every element of experience is in the first instance applied to an external object. A man who gets up out of the wrong side of the bed, for example, attributes wrongness to almost every object he perceives. That is the way in which he experiences his bad temper. It cannot, however, be said that he perceives the perversity which he wrongly attributes to outward objects.
[By means of our perceptions we sense things. When a train speeds by, our perceptions allow us to sense the whistle at one note when it is near us and to sense it at a lower note as it speeds away. However, we do not directly sense change. But we do experience it, and this experience happens at more of a cognitive level. Experience is a matter of detecting changes, and it can be understood as the compulsion or the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking. This means that resistance and effort are inherent to experience.]
[We can say that we perceive the objects before us. But what we experience is not things but rather events. And we do not perceive events either. (Peirce says that in order to perceive events we would need what Kant calls the “synthesis of apprehension”. I am not sure what Peirce means here. I thought the synthesis of apprehension was the synthesis of momentary apprehensions in our intuition into small coherent chunks. Is Peirce saying that we do not have this capacity?) Peirce then refers us again to his train whistle illustration, which we saw already in previous sections. In section 1.304, the train whistle’s sound was an example of a phaneron (a phenomenon) with a pure qualitative feeling that can be understood apart from the actual experience of it. He wrote in that section: “Among phanerons there are certain qualities of feeling, such as the color of magenta, the odor of attar, the sound of a railway whistle, the taste of quinine, the quality of the emotion upon contemplating a fine mathematical demonstration, the quality of feeling of love, etc. I do not mean the sense of actually experiencing these feelings, whether primarily or in any memory or imagination. That is something that involves these qualities as an element of it. But I mean the qualities themselves which, in themselves, are mere may-bes, not necessarily realized” (150). In section 1.305, he again used the train whistle example, and this time to make roughly the same point, namely, that we are to conceive of the quality of feeling apart from the experience of it and apart from the many sorts of conditions surrounding that experience. But here he also has us think of the train whistle sound as going on eternally and unvarying. This is because in order to conceive it as a pure qualitative feeling, we cannot think of it as having temporal determinations. He writes, “Suppose I begin by inquiring of you, Reader, in what particulars a feeling of redness or of purple without beginning, end, or change; or an eternally sounding and unvarying railway whistle; or a sempiterne thrill of joyous delight – or rather, such as would afford us delight, but supposed to be in that respect quite neutral – that should constitute the entire universe, would differ from a substance?” (151). Then in section 1.332 he used the train whistle again, but this time to illustrate the relation between sensation and feeling. We perceive a loud train whistle for some extended period of time. Insofar as the perception is unexpected, it gives us a shock. So we might be shocked both at the abrupt beginning and abrupt end. And when in the perception our inner qualitative feeling (firstness) is altered, then it was caused by a sensation. So our inner qualitative feeling changed at the beginning of the whistle and at the end, so there was a sensation at those points. But even as the sensation dies down in between, the qualitative feeling maintained itself. Now in this section Peirce will use the example of a train whistle to make a different point. In fact, we are not thinking of the whistle blaring right near us, but rather this time the train is speeding by, and we hear the Doppler effect, causing its pitch to lower as the train speeds away. Here we have perceptions by which we have sensations of the whistle. Peirce here emphasizes that we do not sense the actual change in the notes. We sense one note. Then we sense the lower note. However, we do still experience the change, only it is on a more cognitive level. So to be clear, we experience the change (cognitively) but we do not sense it (perceptually). Thus “It is the special field of experience to acquaint us with events, with changes of perception.” And as we noted in section 1.332, shock accompanies sudden changes in our perception, and this is a volitional phenomena. (This part is not very clear to me. It seems the idea is that as we become accustomed to the sound at one pitch, we in a way become volitionally resistant to any changes it might present us.) Peirce then reiterates that we experience changes (vicissitudes). To have such experiences, we must experience the changes in our perceptions. But experience is broader then perception, since we might experience more than what is given as the objects of our perception. (Peirce then makes an interesting claim, and I hope I get it right. He might be saying next that experience is actually our compulsion to think differently than we have been thinking, perhaps like a sort of difference-seeking.) He writes, “It is the compulsion, the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking that constitutes experience.” He then says that the only way we could have such a constraint or compulsion (pushing us to experience or think differently) there would need to be some resistance to our efforts, and thus there must be some effort expended in opposing those changes. In fact, it is the element of effort in experience that gives experience its particular character. He then says that we quickly yield to the effort (against the resistance to experience and think differently). I am not sure what is meant there, but it is perhaps that we quickly do in fact change our way of thinking or experience, and he also says this makes it go unnoticed. (I wonder if this is like how for example if we try meditating, and we want to control our thoughts, but soon enough we yield to random associations, and we lose focus on our consciousness. Were we to have had that focus, we would have noticed the efforts exerted in order to distract us. But we were distracted in that act and so we did not notice the efforts. I am guessing.)]
We perceive objects brought before us; but that which we especially experience – the kind of thing to which the word “experience” is more particularly applied – is an event. We cannot accurately be said to perceive events; for this requires what Kant called the “synthesis of apprehension,” not however, by any means, making the needful discriminations. A whistling locomotive passes at high speed close beside me. As it passes the note of the whistle is suddenly lowered from a well-understood cause. I perceive the whistle, if you will. I have, at any rate, a sensation of it. But I cannot be said to have a sensation of the change of note. I have a sensation of the lower note. But the cognition of the change is of a more intellectual kind. That I experience rather than perceive. It is [the] special field of experience to acquaint us with events, with changes of perception. Now that which particularly characterizes sudden changes of perception is a shock. A shock is a volitional phenomenon. The long whistle of the approaching locomotive, however disagreeable it may be, has set up in me a certain inertia, so that the sudden lowering of the note meets with a certain resistance. That must be the fact; because if there were no such resistance there could be no shock when the change of note occurs. Now this shock is quite unmistakable. It is more particularly to changes and contrasts of perception that we apply the word “experience.” We experience vicissitudes, especially. We cannot experience the vicissitude without experiencing the perception which undergoes the change; but the concept of experience is broader than that of perception, and includes much that is not, strictly speaking, an object of perception. It is the compulsion, the absolute constraint upon us to think otherwise than we have been thinking that constitutes experience. Now constraint and compulsion cannot exist without resistance, and resistance is effort opposing change. Therefore there must be an element of effort in experience; and it is this which gives it its peculiar character. But we are so disposed to yield to it as soon as we can detect it, that it is extremely difficult to convince ourselves that we have exerted any resistance at all. It may be said that we hardly know it except through the axiom that there can be no force where there is no resistance or inertia. Whoever may be dissatisfied with my statement will do well to sit down and cipher out the matter for himself. He may be able to formulate the nature of the oppositional element in experience, and its relation to ordinary volition better than I have done; but that there is an oppositional element in it, logically not easily.
Peirce, C.S. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol 1: Principles of Philosophy. In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce [Two Volumes in One], Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge, Massachusetts: 1965 .