§ 1. Introductory. — The hedonic tone of perception is determined by varying conditions. We may distinguish broadly the pleasure or displeasure which is directly due in the first instance to the perceptual process at the time of its occurrence, and that which arises from preformed associations.
Whatever obstructs or disables perceptual process at the time of its occurrence is disagreeable; whatever favours or furthers it is agreeable. Here it is important to distinguish two functions of perception: (1) the apprehension of objects, or mere attention; (2) the performance of actions which are guided by attention, but do not merely consist in the process of attending.
§2. Feeling-Tone of Attention, — The conditions of pleasure-pain in the process of attending, as such, have been well stated by Dr. Ward: "There is pleasure in proportion as a maximum of attention is effectively exercised, and pain in proportion as such effective attention is frustrated by distractions, shocks, or incomplete and faulty adaptations, or fails of exercise owing to the narrowness of the field of consciousness and the slowness and smallness of its changes."*
* Article on "Psychology" in Encyclopaedia Britannica, ninth edition, xx., p. 71.
The monotonous continuance or repetition of the same kind of presentation after its interest is exhausted, involves a restriction of mental activity which may be highly disagreeable, as in travelling along a road where the scenery is uniform in character, and the villages all similar and similarly situated. A certain amount of variety is necessary for the free play of attention. Where this is lacking, the mind will strive to find objects to exercise its activity upon, and fail disagreeably. On the other hand, a too rapid succession of varying external impressions may be equally unpleasing. The mind, while preoccupied with one object, is interrupted by the obtrusion of another, and yet another, so that attention is being perpetually warped. This gives rise to the pain of distraction, which may also occur when disconnected objects simultaneously claim attention, so that it cannot be efficiently exercised by any one of them. In attending to the same complex object, pleasure or displeasure may arise from the relation of its parts, which may or may not be adapted to what Kant calls "our faculty of knowing." Where the apprehension of the whole prepares and facilitates the apprehension of the parts, where the apprehension of one part prepares and facilitates the apprehension of another, and where the apprehension of the parts prepares and facilitates the apprehension of the whole, the total activity is pleasant, if it has a sufficiently varied field for its exercise. On the other hand, where at one stage of the process the mind is prepared for a certain kind of continuation and meets with another for which it is not preadjusted, the activity is unpleasant. As examples we may refer to "the pleasurableness of a rhythmic succession of sounds or movements, of symmetrical forms and curved outlines, of gentle crescendos and diminuendos in sound, and of gradual variations of shade in colour, and the painfulness of flickering lights, false time, false steps, false quantities, and the like. In all these, whenever the result is pleasurable, attention can be readily accommodated,— is, so to say, economically meted out; and whenever the result is painful, attention is surprised, balked, wasted."* To understand this, we must remember the essentially prospective nature of the attentive process. It is always a preadjustment for what is coming, and the preadjustment varies in its specific nature according to circumstances. If what actually occurs is that for which a specific preadjustment has been made, the mental activity proceeds smoothly and successfully without waste of energy. If on the other hand what actually occurs does not fit in with the preadjustment, there is a shock of disappointment and a waste of energy.
* Op. cit., p. 69.
The pleasure or displeasure experienced in observing movement on the part of other persons or things partly depends on the same conditions as those which determine the feeling-tone of our own motor activities. In discussing imitation, we saw that actions which by their intrinsic interest attract attention, produce in the observer a tendency to repeat them himself. This tendency is always present, even when it does not issue in overt imitation. The sight of external movement occasions the revival of corresponding motor experiences in the subject who is attending to it. This motor revival forms an integral part of the perceptual complex, not of course a distinct idea. The conditions of pleasure and displeasure which apply to motor process in general, apply also to the reproduced motor process involved in attending to a moving object. When it takes place with special ease and facility and fineness of adjustment, we call the external movement that excites it "graceful." But it is not merely the perception of movement that involves the revival of motor activity on the part of the subject. A slender column supporting an apparently disproportionate weight has a disagreeable effect on the spectator. It is as if he himself were supporting a burden to which he is not equal. The mere thought of Atlas bearing up the heavens on his shoulders makes one uncomfortable. The pleasing or unpleasing effect of geometrical forms is also to a large extent due to the motor activity involved in perceiving them. In part, this motor activity consists in actual movements, such as those of the eye following an outline; but in a great measure it arises from our mode of apprehending lines and surfaces as if they were in themselves active. We speak of a column "raising itself "into the air; of a path "winding"; and so on. Language of this kind marks a fundamental feature of perceptual process. The direction of lines and surfaces is apprehended as if it were a direction which the lines and surfaces themselves actively take and maintain. Hence, in apprehending them there is a sympathetic revival of motor activity in us, which may be pleasing or unpleasing.* When the geometrical outline is so irregular in its course as to defeat preadjustments on our part, and to demand abrupt changes for which we are unprepared, it is disagreeable. On the other hand, a gently flowing curve is agreeable. Of course, if the figure is too simple, it will be almost neutral in feeling-tone, but when it is at once complex and graceful, it may give rise to considerable pleasure. Marked displeasure occurs when sufficient regularity is present to create a preadjustment which other conditions disappoint. The experience is also unpleasant when, owing to the simplicity or monotonous repetition of the object, attention is not sufficiently occupied. In this case an active tendency is thwarted because it does not find adequate material for its exercise. Of course what is too simple or too complex for one person may not be too simple or too complex for another.
*This view is developed in full detail in Dr. Lipps' recent work Raumasthetik und geometrischoptische Tauschungen.