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Observations placeholder

Théodule-Armand Ribot - Intensity and Duration



Type of Spiritual Experience



Théodule-Armand Ribot (18 December 1839 – 9 December 1916), French psychologist, was born at Guingamp, and was educated at the Lycée de St Brieuc. He is known for Ribot's Law regarding retrograde amnesia.  His thesis for his doctors' degree, republished in 1882, Hérédité: étude psychologique (5th ed., 1889), was his most important and best known book.  He was a follower of Schopenhauer and wrote on Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosophie de Schopenhauer (1874; 7th ed., 1896).

He is on the site because - although the following was not derived by any spiritual input - it provides an interesting bit of extra information on the concepts of intensity and duration.  It is found in his monographs on Les Maladies de la mémoire (1881; x3th ed., 1898); De la volonté (1883; 14th ed., 1899); De la personnalité (1885; 8th ed., 1899); and La Psychologie de l'attention (1888), which supplied useful data to the study of mental illness.

A description of the experience

Les Maladies de la mémoire - Ribot

Intensity is a condition of a very variable character. Our states of consciousness are constantly struggling to replace each other; but victory can also result from the strength of the winner or the weakness of other wrestlers. We know - and this is a point that Herbart's school has very well clarified - that the brightest state can continuously decrease, until it falls below the threshold of consciousness, that is, until one of its living conditions is missing. It is well reasoned to say that consciousness at every possible level, however small it may be, admits in it infinite modalities - those states that Maudsley calls subconscious.

1 - But there is no reason to say that this decrease has no limit, although it escapes us.

2 - Little attention has been paid to duration as a necessary condition of consciousness. Yet it is crucial. Here, we can reason on precise data.

The work carried out over the past thirty years has determined the time required for the various perceptions:

  • sound = 0"16 to 0"14;
  • tact = 0"21 to 0"18;
  • light = 0"20 to 0"22;
  • for the simplest act of discernment, the one closest to the reflex = 0"02 to 0"04.

Although the results vary according to the experimenters, according to the persons, according to the circumstances and the nature of the psychological acts studied, it is at least established that each psychological act requires an appreciable duration and that the supposed infinite speed of thought is only a metaphor.

This being said, it is clear that any nervous action whose duration is shorter than that required by psychological action cannot awaken consciousness.


The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts, symbols and science items




Activities and commonsteps