The Felt Location of the "I"
— I suppose everybody has tried, first or last, to make out just where he feels himself to be situated in himself. When the finger is pinched, it is plainly enough not I that am pinched, but my finger; and the same is true of a hurt in any part of the body. Notwithstanding the fact that the great controlling nerve-centres are in the brain, I have never been able to discover that a headache felt any nearer me than a finger-ache. Perhaps the nearest approach I have known to a sense of closeness, or to a veritable me-ache, has been a sharp pain in the stomach, especially when, on one occasion, I was struck in that region by a base-ball bat which slipped from the hand of the striker.
But there is one point concerning our felt location which I think we all are sure of. It is the one brought out so deliciously by the dear little girl in Punch. “ You ought to tie your own apronstrings, Mabel! ” says one of those irresistible young women of Du Maurier’s. “ How can I, aunty ? ” is the reply. “I’m in front, you know ! ”
This is a shrewd observation in minute psychology. The spinal cord runs along the back, with all its ganglia; the weight of the brain is well behind ; yet we are not there. In other words, the curious thing is that we feel ourselves to be, not in the region where impressions are received and answered in the brain and spinal cord, but where they first meet the nerve-extremities. We seem to inhabit not the citadel, but the outer walls. At the point of peripheral expansion of the nerves of sense, where the outer forces begin to be apprehended by us as inner, — “ in front,” where the fingers feel, and the nose smells, and the eyes see, — there, if anywhere, we find ourselves to be.
I have often been interested to notice whereabouts on our bodily surface another animal looks to find us. The man, or even the little child, looks at the face. Is it because the voice issues thence? Yet it is the eyes, rather than the mouth, that is watched. Is it because the expression, the signal station for the changing moods, is there more than elsewhere ? A dog, also, invariably looks up into the face. So does a bird, notwithstanding the fact that the food comes from the hand. Why does he not consider the “ I,” so far as his needs are concerned, to lie in the part that feeds him ? But no; he cocks his head to one side, and directs his lustrous little eye straight to our own, in order to establish what communion he can with the very him of his master and friend.
It is hardly less pathetic than our own human efforts to pierce, by the searching penetration of the eyes, to the real personality of each other. We never succeed. We utter our imperfect articulate sounds to each other’s ears, but we do not look thither. It is still at the appealing and dumbly yearning eyes that we gaze, and go away baffled and sorrowful at last.