Your Mind and How to Use It

Chapter VII

Memory

Psychologists class as “representative mental processes” those known as memory and imagination, respectively. The term “representation” is used in psychology to indicate the processes of re-presentation or presenting again to consciousness that which has formerly been presented to it but which afterward passed from its field. As Hamilton says: “The general capability of knowledge necessarily requires that, besides the power of evoking out of unconsciousness one portion of our retained knowledge in preference to another, we possess the faculty of representing in consciousness what is thus evoked.”

Memory is the primary representative faculty or power of the mind. Imagination depends upon memory for its material, as we shall see when we consider that faculty. Every mental process which involves the remembrance, recollection, or representation of a sensation, perception, mental image, thought, or idea previously experienced must depend upon memory for its material. Memory is the great storehouse of the mind in which are placed the records of previous mental experiences. It is a part of the great subconscious field of mental activity, and the greater part of its work is performed below the plane of consciousness. It is only when its results are passed into the field of consciousness that we are aware of its existence. We know memory only by its works. Of its nature we know but little, although certain of its principal laws and principles have been discovered.

It was formerly customary to class memory with the various faculties of the mind, but later psychology no longer so considers it. Memory is now regarded as a power of the general mind, manifesting in connection with every faculty of the mind. It is now regarded as belonging to the great subconscious field of mentation, and its explanation must be sought there. It is utterly unexplainable otherwise.

The importance of memory cannot be overestimated. Not only does a man’s character and education depend chiefly upon it, but his very mental being is bound up with it. If there were no memory, man would never progress mentally beyond the mental state of the newborn babe. He would never be able to profit by experience. He would never be able to form clear perceptions. He would never be able to reason or form judgments. The processes of thought depend for material upon the memory of past experiences; this material lacking, there can be no thought.

Memory has two important general functions, viz.: (1) The _retention_ of impressions and experiences; and (2) the _reproduction_ of the impressions and experiences so retained.

It was formerly held that the memory retained only a portion of the impressions and experiences originally noted by it. But the present theory is that it retains every impression and experience which is noted by it. It is true that many of these impressions are never reproduced in consciousness, but experiments tend to prove, nevertheless, that the records are still in the memory and that appropriate and sufficiently strong stimuli will bring them into the field of consciousness. The phenomena of somnambulism, dreams, hysteria, delirium, approach of death, etc., show that the subconscious mind has an immense accumulation of apparently forgotten facts, which unusual stimuli will serve to recall.

The power of the memory to reproduce the retained impressions and experiences is variously called remembrance, recollection, or memory. This power varies materially in various individuals, but it is an axiom of psychology that the memory of any person may be developed and trained by practice. The ability to recall depends to a great extent upon the clearness and depth of the original impression, which in turn depends upon the degree of attention given to it at the time of its occurrence. Recollection is also greatly aided by the law of association, or the principle whereby one mental fact is linked to another. The more facts to which a given fact is linked, the greater the ease by which it is recalled or remembered. Recollection is also greatly assisted by use and exercise. Like the fingers, the memory cells of the brain become expert and efficient by use and exercise, or stiff and inefficient by lack of the same.

In addition to the phases of retention and reproduction, there are two important phases of memory, viz.: (3) Recognition of the reproduced impression or experience; and (4) localization of the impression, or its reference to a more or less definite time and place.

The recognition of the recalled impression is quite important. It is not enough that the impression be retained and recalled. If we are not able to recognize the recalled impression as having been experienced before, the recollection will be of but little use to us in our thought processes; the purposes of thought demand that we shall be able to identify the recalled impression with the original one. Recognition is really re-cognition–re-knowing. Recognition is akin to perception. The mind becomes conscious of the recalled impression just as it becomes conscious of the sensation. It then recognizes the relation of the recalled impression to the original one just as it realizes the relation of the sensation to its object.

The localization of the recalled and recognized impression is also important. Even if we recognize the recalled impression, it will be of comparatively little use to us unless we are able to locate it as having happened yesterday, last week, last month, last year, ten years ago, or at some time in the past; and as having happened in our office, house, or in such-and-such a place in the street, or in some distant place. Without the power of localization we should be unable to connect and associate the remembered fact with the time, place, and persons with which it should be placed to be of use and value to us in our thought processes.

RETENTION.

The retention of a mental impression in the memory depends very materially upon the clearness and depth of the original impression. And this clearness and depth, as we have previously stated, depend upon the degree of attention bestowed upon the original impression. Attention, then, is the important factor in the forming and recording of impressions. The rule is: _Slight attention, faint record_; _marked attention, clear and deep record_. To fix this fact in the mind, the student may think of the retentive and reproductive phases of memory as a phonographic record. The receiving diaphragm of the phonograph represents the sense organs, and the recording needle represents the _attention_. The needle makes the record on the cylinder deep or faint according to the condition of the needle. A loud sound may be recorded but faintly, if the needle is not properly adjusted. And, further, it must be remembered that the strength of the reproduction depends almost entirely upon the clearness and depth of the original impression on the cylinder; as is the record, so is the reproduction. It will be well for the student to carry this symbol of the phonograph in his mind; it will aid him in developing his powers of memory.

In this connection we should remember that attention depends largely upon interest. Therefore we would naturally expect to find that we remember interesting things far more readily than those which lack interest. This supposition is borne out in actual experience. This accounts for the fact that every one remembers a certain class of things better than he does others. One remembers faces, another dates, another spoken conversation, another written words, and so on. It will be found, as a rule, that each person is interested in the class of things which he most easily remembers. The artist easily remembers faces and details of faces, or scenery and details thereof. The musician easily recalls passages or bars of music, often of a most complicated nature. The speculator easily recalls the quotations of his favorite stocks. The racing man recalls without difficulty the “odds” posted on a certain horse on a certain day, or the details of a race which was run many years ago. The moral is: _Arouse and induce an interest in the things which you wish to remember_. This interest may be aroused by studying the things in question, as we have suggested in a preceding chapter.

VISUALIZATION IN MEMORY.

Many of the best authorities hold that original impressions may be made clear and deep, and the process of reproduction accordingly rendered more efficient, by the practice of _visualizing_ the thing to be remembered. By visualizing is meant the formation of a _mental image_ of the thing in the imagination. If you wish to remember the appearance of anything, look at it closely, with attention, and then turning away from it endeavor to reproduce its appearance as a mental picture in the mind. If this is done, a particularly clear impression will be made in the memory, and when you recall the thing you will find that you will also recall the clear mental image of it. Of course the greater the number of details observed and included in the original mental image, the greater the remembered detail.

PERCEPTION IN MEMORY.

Not only is attention necessary in forming clear memory records, but careful perception is also important. Without clear perception there is a lack of detail in the retained record, and the element of association is lacking. It is not enough to merely remember the thing itself; we should also remember _what_ it is, and all about it. The practice of the methods of developing perception, given in a preceding lesson, will tend to develop and train the retentive, reproductive, recognitive, and locative powers of the memory. The rule is: _The greater the degree of perception accorded a thing, the greater the detail of the retained impression, and the greater the ease of the recollection_.

UNDERSTANDING AND MEMORY.

Another important point in acquiring impressions in memory is this: _That the better the understanding of the subject or object, the clearer the impressions regarding it, and the clearer the recollection of it_. This fact is proved by experiment and experience. A subject which will be remembered only with difficulty under ordinary circumstances will be easily remembered if it is fully explained to the person, and accompanied by a few familiar illustrations or examples. It is very difficult to remember a meaningless string of words, while a sentence which conveys a clear meaning may be memorized easily. If we understand _what a thing is for_, its uses and employment, we remember it far more easily than if we lack this understanding. Elbringhaus, who conducted a number of experiments along this line, reports that he could memorize a stanza of poetry in about one tenth the time required to memorize the same amount of nonsense syllables. Gordy states that he once asked a capable student of the Johns Hopkins University to give him an account of a lecture to which he had just listened. “I cannot do it,” replied the student; “it was not logical.” The rule is: _The more one knows about a certain thing, the more easily is that thing remembered_. This is a point worth noting.

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