[Humanist] 31.742 "the electric sense of analogy"?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Apr 3 16:22:27 CEST 2018

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 742.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2018 14:02:46 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the electric sense of analogy

In his essay "Going beyond the information given" (1957), Jerome Bruner
identifies two aspects of creativity: "the inventive activity involved in
constructing highly generic and widely appropriate coding systems" and "the
development of a readiness to utilize appropriately already acquired coding
systems." About the latter he remarks that, "James long ago called this 'the
electric sense of analogy'..." (p. 12). Bruner does not give a reference. As
far as I have been able to discover, William James -- I am assuming Bruner
is not referring to Henry! -- never used this phrase. It is not in the
Harvard University Press authoritative edition of 1983 (with a fine
introduction by George Miller) nor in the two-volume edition published by
Henry Holt in 1890.

For obvious reasons James both refers to electricity as a phenomenon of 
nature and uses it metaphorically many times in Principles. The closest 
passages I can find to Bruner's quotation are these:

> When an idea stings us in a certain way, makes as it were a certain
> electric connection with our Self, we believe that it is a reality.
> When it stings us in another way, makes another connection with our
> Self, we say, let it be a reality.
(p. 1172)

and so by association,

>  ...the whole feeling of reality, the whole sting and excitement of
> our voluntary life, depends on our sense that in it things are really
> being decided from one moment to another, and that it is not the dull
> rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago."
(p. 429)

So, am I right in thinking that Bruner set down a product of his creative
remembering that has subsequently been quoted as James' own phrase,
wonderful and apt as it is?

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor emeritus, Department of
Digital Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western
Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews

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