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In these cafes, the fact that I wish to establish is fo ftriking, that it has never been called in queftion; but in moft cafes, the impreffion which the objects of imagination make on the mind is fo momentary, and is fo immediately corrected by the furrounding objects of perception, that it has not time to influence our conduct. Hence we are apt to conclude on a fuperficial view, that imagination is attended with no belief; and the conclufion is surely just in most cases, if by belief we mean a permanent conviction which influences our conduct. But if the word be used in the ftrict logical fenfe, I am inclined to think, after the moft careful attention to what I experience in myself, that the exercise both of conception and imagination is always accompanied with a belief that their objects exift *. When
* As the foregoing reafoning, though fatisfactory to myself, has not appeared equally fo to fome of my friends; I fhould wish the reader to confider the remarks which I now offer, as amount. ing rather to a query, than to a decided opinion.
May I take the liberty of adding, that one of the arguments which I have ftated, in oppofition to the common doctrine concerning imagination, appears to me to be authorised, in fome measure, by the following reafoning of Dr. Reid's on a different subject? In confidering those sudden bursts of paffion, which lead us to wreak our vengeance upon inanimate objects, he endeavours to fhew, that we have, in such cases, a momentary belief that the object is alive. "I confefs," fays he, "it feems to me impof"fible, that there should be refentment against a thing, which, at
that very moment, is confidered as inanimate; and confequently "incapable either of intending hurt, or of being punished."There muft, therefore, I conceive, be fome momentary notion "or conception, that the object of our refentment is capable of "punishment."
When a painter conceives the face and figure of an absent friend, in order to draw his picture, he believes for the moment that his friend is before him. The belief, indeed, is only momentary; for it is extremely difficult, in our waking hours, to keep up a fteady and undivided attention to any object we conceive or imagine; and, as foon as the conception or the imagination is over, the belief which attended it is at an end. We find that we can recal and difmifs the ob
In another paffage, the fame author remarks, that "men may "be governed, in their practice, by a belief, which, in fpecu"lation, they reject."
“I knew a man," (fays he,) "who was as much convinced as "any man, of the folly of the popular belief of apparitions in the "dark: yet he could not fleep in a room alone, nor go alone into
a room in the dark. Can it be faid, that his fear did not imply "a belief of danger? This is impoffible. Yet his philofophy "convinced him, that he was in no more danger in the dark when " alone, than with company. Here an unreasonable belief, which "was merely a prejudice of the nursery, stuck fo fast as to govern "his conduct, in oppofition to his fpeculative belief as a philofo"pher, and a man of sense.”
"There are few perfons who can look down from the battle"ment of a very high tower without fear; while their reafon con. "vinces them, that they are in no more danger than when stand❝ing upon the ground."
These facts are easily explicable, on the fuppofition, that when ever the objects of imagination engrofs the attention wholly, (which they may do, in oppofition to any fpeculative opinion with refpect to their non-existence,) they produce a temporary belief of their reality-Indeed, in the laft paffage, Dr. Reid feems to admit this to be the case; for, to say that a man who has a dread of apparitions, believes himself to be in danger when left alone in the dark, is to fay, in other words, that he believes (for the time) that the objects of his imagination are real.
jects of these powers at pleasure; and therefore we learn to confider them as creations of the mind, which have no separate and independent existence.
The compatibility of fuch a speculative disbelief, as I have here supposed, of the existence of an object, with a contrary momentary belief, may perhaps, be more readily admitted, if the following experiment be confidered with attention.
Suppose a lighted candle to be fo placed before a concave mirror, that the image of the flame may be feen between the mirror and the eye of the observer. In this case, a perfon who is acquainted with the principles of optics, or who has feen the experiment made before, has fo ftrong a fpeculative conviction of the non-existence of the object in that place where he sees its image, that he would not hesitate to put his finger to the apparent flame, without any apprehenfion of injury.
Suppose, however, that in such a case it were poffible for the obferver to banish completely from his thoughts all the circumftances of the experiment, and to confine his attention wholly to his perception; would he not believe the image to be a reality; and would he not expect the fame confequences from touching it, as from touching a real body in a state of inflammation? If thefe queftions be answered in the affirmative, it will follow; that the effect of the perception, while it engages the attention completely to itself, is to produce belief; and that the speculative disbelief, according to which our conduct in ordinary cafes is regulated, is the refult of a recollection of the
various circumftances with which the experiment is accompanied.
If, in fuch a cafe as I' have now fuppofed, the appearance exhibited to us is of fuch a nature, as to threaten us with any immediate danger, the effect is the fame as if we were to banifh from our thoughts the circumstances of the experiment, and to limit our attention folely to what we perceive for here the be lief, which is the firft effect of the perception, alarms our fears, and influences our conduct, before reflexion has time to operate. In a very ingenious optical deception, which was lately exhibited in this city, the image of a flower was prefented to the fpectator; and when he was about to lay hold of it with his hand, a ftroke was aimed at him by the image of a dagger. If a person who has seen this experiment is asked, in his cooler moments, whether or not he believes the dagger which he faw to be real, he will readily answer in the negative; and yet the accurate ftatement of the fact undoubtedly is, that the firft and the proper effect of the perception is belief; and that the difbelief he feels, is the effect of fubfequent reflexion.
The fpeculative difbelief which we feel with refpect to the illufions of imagination, I conceive to be analogous to our fpeculative disbelief of the exiftence of the object exhibited to the eye in this optical deception; as our belief that the illufions of imagination are real, while that faculty occupies the mind exclufively, is analogous to the belief produced by the optical deception while the attention is limited to our perception,
perception, and is withdrawn from the circumstances in which the experiment is made *.
Thefe obfervations lead me to take notice of a circumstance with respect to the belief accompanying perception, which it appears to me neceffary to state, in order to render Dr. Reid's doctrine on that subject completely fatisfactory. He has fhewn, that certain fenfations are, by a law of our nature, accompanied with an irresistible belief of the existence of certain qualities of external objects. But this law extends no farther than to the prefent existence of the quality; that is, to its existence while we feel the correfponding sensation. Whence is it then, that we ascribe to the quality, an existence independent of our perception? I apprehend we learn to do this by experience alone. We find that we cannot, as in the case of imagination, difmifs or recal the perception of an external object. If I open my eyes, I cannot prevent myself froin feeing the profpect which is before me. I learn, therefore, to afcribe to the objects of my fenfes, not only an existence at the time I perceive them, but an in. dependent and a permanent existence.
It is a strong confirmation of this doctrine, that in fleep, when (as I fhall endeavour afterwards to fhew) the influence of the will over the train of our thoughts is fufpended, and when, of confequence, the time of
It may appear to fome readers rather trifling to add, and yet to others the remark may not be altogether fuperfluous, that it is not my intention to infinuate by the foregoing illuftrations, that the relation between perception and imagination has the most diftant analogy to that between the perception of the object, and the perception of its optical image.