Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
MEMORY AND RECOLLECTION.
Memory and Recollection are treated by philosophers, as important departments only of the principle of association. This, as we shall see, is demanded by sound philosophical analysis. The two terms above named are often used interchangeably, and never distinguished but by the following circumstances. In the process denominated memory, notions, or conceptions of facts and events, are spontaneously recalled to the mind. In that called recollection, these intellectual states are recalled by an effort of will.
STATES OF MIND IN MEMORY AND RECOLLECTION.
There are three distinct mental operations connected with each of these processes of mind.
1. Some feeling or state of mind which has formerly co-existed with the perception or apprehension of the object recalleda feeling or state spontaneously recurring, or revived by some object of present thought, perception, or sensation.
2. A simple apprehension of the object or event itself,an apprehension attended with no belief or judgment whatever pertaining to the object.
3. A recurrence, in thought, of the circumstances of time and place connected with the perception or apprehension of the object.
THE ABOVE STATEMENT VERIFIED.
That objects of memory and recollection are not recalled directly and immediately, but are suggested, in the manner above described, is obvious from two considerations.
1. From universal consciousness. Those who are least accustomed to analyze the operations of their own minds, as well as philosophers, have noticed the fact. Hence the common affirmations: "this reminds me of," or "this suggests to my mind such and such occurrences,"clearly showing, not merely that such events are suggested, but that the objects of them are conscious of it.
2. When we wish to recollect any events, or in the common phrase, to recall them; we do not attempt to do this directly, but by directing the attention to various objects, at present before the mind, that they may suggest those which we wish to recall. Memory and recollection are, in this respect, subject to precisely the same law; and the law which governs each is the same which governs the entire phenomena of association. The above remark is so obviously true, that philosophers, as stated above, almost universally treat of these subjects in the same connection, memory being considered as one department only of association.
DISTINCT AND EASY RECOLLECTION.
Taking this position for granted, or as having been already proved, it will follow, as a necessary consequence, that the ease and distinctness with which any objects or events will be recalled to the mind, will always be proportioned, to the depth and intensity of the impressions formerly received from them, and to the number of objects and events with which such impressions have heretofore co-existed, or may hereafter co-exist. This conclusion we also find to be confirmed by universal experience. When you hear the declaration, "such and such events I shall never forget," suppose you ask the reason for such an affirmation. The answer will invariably be, "it made such a deep impression upon my mind." On the other hand, if a person is asked for the reason why he recalls with such difficulty any particular event, he will uniformly answer, "it made such a feeble impression upon my mind." Assuming that the state of the sensibility is the regulating principle of suggestion, the fact is self-evident, that the ease with which any particular event will be recalled, depends not only upon the depth and intensity of the impression which it formerly made, but upon the number of objects or events with which such impression may have coexisted, and will hereafter co-exist.
DISTINCT IMPRESSIONS, ON WHAT CONDITIONED.
One inquiry, of no small importance in mental science, here claims our attention, to wit, the circumstances under which impressions received from objects of thought or perception are rendered deep and distinct. Among these I notice the three following, as the most important:
1. Attention. In former chapters it has been shown that attention is the condition of distinct perception, in respect to the phenomena of both sense and consciousness. In walking, for example, we do not remember the particular act of volition, which directed each particular step. Yet we know that we must have been conscious of such acts. The eye runs carelessly over a particular landscape, and nothing but the most general outline is remembered, while we know that each particular part must have been seen by us. For the want of attention, however, these objects were not distinctly perceived. Of course no distinct and vivid impression was made upon the mind, and consequently they are not remembered. The manner in which attention influences memory is two-fold. It not only impresses deeply and distinctly on the mind particular scenes, each taken as a whole, but all the parts of such scenes. Hence the whole of such scenes will be recalled by the perception or suggestion of any particular part, which may be met with in other scenes. That memory, however, does not depend primarily upon attention, but upon the impression made by objects of attention, is evident from the fact, that the ease with which any particular event is recalled, is not proportioned to the degree of attention devoted to it, but to the vividness of the impression received from it.
2. The impression made upon the mind by a particular event and consequently the ease with which it will be recalled, depends upon the circumstances in which the event occurredcircumstances external to the mind; such for example, as its occurrence at a time and place unexpected; in connection with other events deeply interesting to us, etc.
3. The impression which events make on the mind, depends upon the state of the mind itself, when they occur. Offices of kindness, when we little need them, make a comparatively slight impression upon the mind. They are accordingly forgotten with comparative ease. But the stranger who watched over us when we were sick, in a strange land, we never forget; for the obvious reason that such occurrences are deeply impressed upon the mind. Who is not aware that the impression made upon the mind in reading a book, listening to a discourse, or witnessing any scene, and consequently the ease and distinctness with which they are recalled, depends greatly upon the state of mind at the time?
DIVERSITY OF POWERS OF MEMORY, AS DEVELOPED IN DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS.
Assuming the principle, that those things of which we have formed distinct conceptions, and which have deeply moved and affected our sensibility, will be easily and distinctly remembered, the diverse kinds of memory, as they appear in different individuals, may be readily explained.
The philosopher is, above all things, interested in universal truths and general principles, and in facts which illustrate such truths and principles. With names, and minor circumstances of time and place, he has little or no interest. These, of course, he seldom recalls; while general principles and facts connected with, and illustrative of general principles, he never forgets. Here we have the peculiarities of what may be called philosophical memory.
With general principles, however, the mass of men are very little interested. Events, as mere events, with all their circumstances of time, place, etc., are the things which chiefly interest them. In such cases, general principles, if understood at all, will readily pass from the mind, while facts and events, with all their adventitious circumstances, will leave their permanent impress upon it. Here we have the characteristics of what is called local memory.
The third and only other kind of memory which it is necessary to notice, is called artificial memory, a method of connecting things easily remembered with those which are recalled with greater difficulty, that the latter may be recalled by means of the former. The manner in which the principle of suggestion operates in this instance, may be readily explained. The two objects are brought into the relation of co-existence with one and the same state of mind; and the familiar object, by exciting that state, recalls the one less familiar. The inexpediency of resorting to such associations, excepting upon trivial subjects, is so obvious as not to need any particular remarks.
A few topics of a somewhat miscellaneous character, connected with our present inquiries will close this chapter.
A READY AND RETENTIVE MEMORY.
The distinction between what is called a ready, and a retentive memory, next demands attention. A philosophical memory is known to be the most retentive and least ready. General principles are regarded by the philosopher, as above all price. These of course he never forgets. For the same reason, facts and events, connected with, and, illustrative of general principles leave an impress equally permanent upon his mind. The memory of such a person however, will not, in ordinary circumstances, be ready; for the obvious reason, that when he wishes to recall any particular fact, he finds it necessary first to recall the general principle with which it was associated. For the same reason, local memory will be more ready, but less retentive. The qualities in objects with which such persons are interested, exist alike in such an infinite variety of objects, that when this quality is met with, a great multitude of similar objects will be at once suggested. They will generally be those however, which have been most recently seen. Persons possessing local memory merely, will excel in common conversation, and in what may be called loose and rambling composition. Philosophical memory, displays itself in the laboratory, the hall of science, on the bench, in the lecture room, and pulpit.
VAST AND DIVERSE POWERS OF MEMORY.
The degree in which this faculty is developed in different individuals, may now be readily accounted for. It is owing, as I suppose, to two circumstancesnatural diversities in which the power is possessed by different individuals, and the accidental direction of the power. Themistocles knew every citizen of Athens by name. Cyrus and Hannibal had each a similar knowledge of every soldier in his respective army. Their original endowments made them capable of such acquisitions. They made such acquisitions, because they considered them necessary to the end they designed to accomplish.
IMPROVEMENT OF MEMORY.
But for the faculty under consideration, the past would be to us, as if it had not been. No advantages could be derived from experience of our own or that of others. Existence, at each successive moment, must be commenced anew. The same errors and follies, which formerly occurred, must be repeated, without the possibility of improvement. Through this faculty, the past furnishes the chart and compass for the future. The progress of improvement is onward, with perpetually accumulating force. The question, therefore, How can this faculty be improved? presents itself, as of special importance. The following suggestions may not be out of place on this point:
1. The first thing to be kept distinctly in mind, in all plans for the permanent improvement of memory, is the principle on which its ready and retentive action depends; to wit, deep and distinct impression. All our plans for the accomplishment of the object under consideration, should be formed with direct reference to this one principle.
2. As impressions depend very much upon distinctness of conception, in all efforts to improve this faculty, we should habituate ourselves to form distinct conceptions of objects, especially of those which we wish to recollect. In this manner the impression will not only be deep and permanent, but the notion associated with it being distinct, will, when recalled, possess a corresponding distinctness.
3. In thought, the object should be located in distinct relation to the circumstances of time and place with which it is associated. In this manner the impression and conception will not only be rendered deep and distinct, but each circumstance referred to, as it recurs in connection with other thoughts and perceptions will, by exciting the feelings under consideration, recall the object associated with it.
4. Knowledge, in order to be retained permanently, must be systematized and reduced to general permanent principles. Otherwise, it will be exclusively subject to the law of local association which is so temporary in respect to retention.
5. To converse with others, and to write down our thoughts which we wish to retain, contribute to permanency and distinctness of recollection. Knowledge, by this means, is rendered distinct, the corresponding impression deep and permanent, and the whole subject of thought, most likely to be systematically arranged. All these circumstances tend to render memory distinct and permanent.
6. Memory also, to be improved, must be trusted, but at the same time, not overburdened, as is the case when everything is communicated to it, without the aid of a judicious diary of important thoughts and occurrences. That faculty which is not exercised will not be developed and improved. Memory is not exempt from this law. At the same time, to overburden a faculty is a sure way to palsy its energies. Nothing but reflection and judgment, properly exercised, can fix upon the line where memory should and should not be trusted, without the aid of written records of our thoughts, and thus secure a proper development of this faculty.
MEMORY OF THE AGED.
One of the first indications of the approaching feebleness of age, is the failure, in a greater or less degree, of the power of memory. A characteristic precisely the opposite is also sometimes presented in the experience of aged persons,a wonderful revival of the memory of the occurrences of early life. A lady of my acquaintance, for example, aged about ninety years, had occasion to amuse some of her great-grandchildren one day. She thought she would, as a means to this end, relate to them the substance of a story, related in verse, which she had read when quite young. She had never committed it to memory, and doubtless had thought little of it for more than half a century. As she commenced the story, the entire poem came fresh to her recollection. She could repeat it all, word for word. These two facts in the experience of the aged,the failure of memory, on the one hand, and its wonderful revival, on the other, need to be accounted for.
In respect to phenomena of the first class, two reasons may be assigned for their existence:
1. The failure of the faculty of perception and attention. As a consequence, distinct notions are not formed of objects of present thought and perception. Nor do they affect the mind as they formerly did. For these reasons, the peculiar feelings which have co-existed with former thoughts and perceptions, and would, if revived, suggest them, are not revived.
2. In the failing of the perceptive faculty, there is a corresponding change in the correlation of the sensibility to objects of thought and perception. Hence not the same feelings precisely are now excited by objects of thought and perception, as formerly, and consequently former intellectual states are not reproduced.
In respect to the second class, I would remark, that every one is aware, that amid the hurrying scenes of ordinary life, such crowds of associations rush upon the mind, at one and the same time, that no one entire scene of the past, is often distinctly recalled. On the other hand, when we are in a state of temporary isolation from the varying tide of events which is floating by and around us, then, is the time when our recollections of the past become full and distinct. Now the aged are in a state of isolation of a more permanent character. Hence, when a past scene is recalled, the mind is in a state of comparative freedom from all diverting and distracting associations. Consequently, the scene, in its entireness, is brought into full and distinct remembrance.
DURATION OF MEMORY.
If the law of association illustrated in the preceding chapter be admitted as true, it will follow, as a matter of course, that memory is absolutely indestructible. Thought can never perish. If the impression with which any thought has co-existed, should, at any period, however remote, be in any form revived, the thought itself may be recalled. If any element of a given impression be reproduced, no reason can be assigned, why a thought which co-existed with it, myriads of ages ago, should not thereby be recalled, as well as the one which co-existed with it but yesterday.
Numberless facts also, which lie around us in society, fully confirm the principle under consideration as a law of memory. The ease of the aged lady referred to above, presents a fact of this kind. The most striking one that now recurs to my recollection is given by Coleridge. It is the case of a German girl who had always labored as a domestic. While Coleridge was on a visit to Germany, and in the vicinity of her residence, she sickened, and if I mistake not, died. During her sickness, she began to utter sentences in languages unknown to all her attendants. Learned men, from a neighboring university, were called in. It was then found that she was reciting, with perfect correctness, entire passages from the Hebrew, Greek, Arabic and Syriac scriptures, and also from the writings of the ancient Fathers. The occurrence was, by many, regarded as miraculous. A young physician in attendance, however, determined to trace out her past history, for the purpose of finding a clue to the mystery. He found at last, that when quite small, the young woman had lived in the family of an aged clergyman of great learning, who was in the daily habit of reading aloud in his study from the writings above referred to. As the child was at work in a room contiguous, she was accustomed to stop, from time to time, and listen to those strange sounds, the meaning of not one of which did she understand. There was the clue to the mystery. Those sounds were imperishably impressed upon the memory. Hence their repetition, under the circumstances named. Cases of a similar nature might be adduced to any extent. They point with solemn interest to the nature of the immortal powers within, as well as to facts of portentous moment in the future development of those powers.