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ed, has the same effect with hope, to magnify every circumstance that tends to conviction. Shakespeare, who shows more knowledge of human nature than any of our philosophers, hath in his Cymbeline * represented this bias of the mind; for he makes the person who alone was affected with the bad news, yield to evidence that did not convince any of his companions. And Othello t is convinced of his wife's infidelity from circumstances too flight to move any person less interested.
If the news interest us in so low a degree as to give place to reason, the effect will not be altogether the fame : judging of the probability or improbability of the story, the mind fettles in a rational conviction either that it is true or not. But, even in that case, the mind is not allowed to rest in that degree of conviction which is produced by rational evidence : if the news be in any degree favourable, our belief is raised by hope to an improper height; and if unfavourable, by fear.
This observation holds equally with respect to future events : if a future event be either much wished or dreaded, the mind never fails to augment the probability beyond truth.
That easiness of belief with respect to wonders and prodigies, even the most absurd and ridiculous, is a strange phenomenon ; because nothing L 2
* Act 2. Sc. 6.
+ Act. 3. Sc. 8.
can be more evident than the following proposition, that the more fingular any event is, the more evidence is required to produce belief: a familiar event daily occurring, being in itself extremely probable, finds ready credit, and therefore is vouched by the slightest evidence; but to overcome the improbability of a strange and rare event, contrary to the course of nature, the very strongest evidence is required. It is certain, however, that wonders and prodigies are swallowed by the vulgar, upon evidence that would not be sufficient to ascertain the most familiar occurrence. It has been reckoned difficult to explain that irregular bias of mind; but we are now made acquainted with the influence of palsion upon opinion and belief: a story of ghosts or fairies, told with an air of gravity and truth, raiseth an emotion of wonder, and perhaps of dread; and these emotions imposing upon a weak mind, impress upon it a thorough conviction contrary to reason.
Opinion and belief are influenced by propensity as well as by passion. An innate propensity is all we have to convince us, that the operations of nature are uniform : influenced by that pro. pensity, we often rashly think, that good or bad weather will never have an end ; and in natural philosophy, writers, influenced by the same pro. pensity, stretch commonly their analogical rea. sonings beyond just bounds.
Opinion and belief are influenced by affection as well as by propensity. The noted story of a fine lady and a curate viewing the moon through a telescope, is a pleasant illustration : I perceive, says the lady, two shadows inclining to each other; they are certainly two happy lovers : Not at all, replies the curate, they are two steeples of a cathedral.
APPENDIX TO PART v.
Methods that Nature hath afforded for computing
Time and Space.
THIS subject is introduced, because it affords
1 several curious examples of the influence of passion to bias the mind in its conceptions and opinions; a lesson that cannot be too frequently inculcated, as there is not perhaps another bias in human nature that hath an influence so universal to make us wander from truth as well as from justice.
I begin with time ; and the question is, What was the measure of time before artificial measures were invented; and what is the measure at prefent when these are not at hand? I speak not of months and days, which are computed by the moon and fun; but of hours, or in general of the time that passes between any two occurrences L 3
when there is not access to the fun. The only natural measure is the succession of our thoughts; for we always judge the time to be long or short, in proportion to the number of perceptions and ideas that have passed during that interval. This measure is indeed far from being accurate ; because in a quick and in a slow succeslion, it must evidently produce different computations of the same time : but, however inaccurate, it is the only measure by which we naturally calculate time; and that measure is applied on all occafions, without regard to any casual variation in the rate of succeslion.
That measure would however be tolerable, did it labour under no other imperfection beside that mentioned: but in many instances it is much more fallacious; in order to explain which distinctly, an analysis will be necessary. Time is computed at two different periods; one while it is passing, another after it is past : these computations shall be considered separately, with the errors to which each of them is liable. Beginning with computation of time while it is passing, it is a common and trite observation, That to lovers absence appears immeasurably long, every minute an hour, and every day a year: the same computation is made in every case where we long for a distant event; as where one is in expectation of good news, or where a profligate heir watches for the death of an old ich miser. Opposite to these are instances not
fewer in number : to a criminal the interval between sentence and execution appears wofully short : and the same holds in every case where one dreads an approaching event ; of which even a school-boy can bear witness: the hour allowed him for play, moves, in his apprehension, with a very swift pace; before he is thoroughly engaged, the hour is gone. A computation founded on the number of ideas, will never produce estimates so regularly opposite to each other; for our wishes do not produce a slow succeflion of ideas, nor our fears a quick succession. What then moves nature, in the cases mentioned, to desert her ordinary measure for one very different ? I know not that this question ever has been resolved; the false estimates I have suggested being fo common and familiar, that no writer has thought of their cause. And, indeed, to enter upon this matter without preparation, might occasion some difficulty: to encounter which we luckily are prepared, by what is said upon the power of passion to bias the mind in its perceptions and opinions. Among the circumstances that terrify a condemned criminal, the short time he has to live is one ; which time, by the influence of terror, is made to appear itill shorter than it is in reality. In the same manner, among the distresses of an absent lover, the time of separation is a capital circumstance, which for that reason is greatly magnified by his anxiety and impatience : he imaL 4