The Principles of Psychology - Vol. 1

By William James | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV.*.
THE PERCEPTION OF TIME

IN the next two chapters I shall deal with what is sometimes called internal perception, or the perception of time, and of events as occupying a date therein, especially when the date is a past one, in which case the perception in question goes by the name of memory. To remember a thing as past, it is necessary that the notion of 'past' should be one of our 'ideas.' We shall see in the chapter on Memory that many things come to be thought by us as past, not because of any intrinsic quality of their own, but rather because they are associated with other things which for us signify pastness. But how do these things get their pastness? What is the original of but experience of pastness, from whence we get the meaning of the term? It is this question which the reader is invited to consider in the present chapter. We shall see that we have a constant feeling sui generis of pastness, to which every one of our experiences in turn falls a prey. To think a thing as past is to think it amongst the objects or in the direction of the objects which at the present moment appear affected by this quality. This is the original of our notion of past time, upon which memory and history build their systems. And in this chapter we shall consider this immediate sense of time alone.

If the constitution of consciousness were that of a string of bead-like sensations and images, all separate,

"we never could have any knowledge except that of the present instant. The moment each of our sensations ceased it would be gone for ever; and we should be as if we had never been. . . . We should be wholly

____________________
*
This chapter is reprinted almost verbatim from the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. xx. p. 374.

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