Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

In proof of the above, the authorities give many instances recorded in scientific annals. Coleridge relates the well-known case of the old woman who could neither read nor write, who when in the delirium of fever incessantly recited in very pompous tones long passages from the Latin, Greek and Hebrew, with a distinct enunciation and precise rendition. Notes of her ravings were taken down by shorthand, and caused much wonderment, until it was afterwards found that in her youth she had been employed as a servant in the house of a clergyman who was in the habit of walking up and down in his study reading aloud from his favorite classical and religious writers. In his books were found marked passages corresponding to the notes taken from the girl’s ravings. Her subconscious memory had stored up the sounds of these passages heard in her early youth, but of which she had no recollection in her normal state. Beaufort, describing his sensations just before being rescued from drowning says: “Every incident of my former life seemed to glance across my recollection in a retrograde procession, not in mere outline, but in a picture filled with every minute and collateral feature, thus forming a panoramic view of my whole existence.”

Kay truly observes: “By adopting the opinion that every thought or impression that had once been consciously before the mind is ever afterwards retained, we obtain light on many obscure mental phenomena; and especially do we draw from it the conclusion of the perfectibility of the memory to an almost unlimited extent. We cannot doubt that, could we penetrate to the lowest depths of our mental nature, we should there find traces of every impression we have received, every thought we have entertained, and every act we have done through our past life, each one making its influence felt in the way of building up our present knowledge, or in guiding our every-day actions; and if they persist in the mind, might it not be possible to recall most if not all of them into consciousness when we wished to do so, if our memories or powers of recollection were what they should be?”

As we have said, this great subconscious region of the mind–this Memory region–may be thought of as a great record file, with an intricate system of indexes, and office boys whose business it is to file away the records; to index them; and to find them when needed. The records record only what we have impressed upon them by the attention, the degree of depth and clearness depending entirely upon the degree of attention which we bestowed upon the original impression. We can never expect to have the office boys of the memory bring up anything that they have not been given to file away. The indexing, and cross-references are supplied by the association existing between the various impressions. The more cross-references, or associations that are connected with an idea, thought or impression that is filed away in the memory, the greater the chances of it being found readily when wanted. These two features of attention and association, and the parts they play in the phenomena of memory, are mentioned in detail in other chapters of this book.

These little office boys of the memory are an industrious and willing lot of little chaps, but like all boys they do their best work when kept in practice. Idleness and lack of exercise cause them to become slothful and careless, and forgetful of the records under their charge. A little fresh exercise and work soon take the cobwebs out of their brains, and they spring eagerly to their tasks. They become familiar with their work when exercised properly, and soon become very expert. They have a tendency to remember, on their own part, and when a certain record is called for often they grow accustomed to its place, and can find it without referring to the indexes at all. But their trouble comes from faint and almost illegible records, caused by poor attention–these they can scarcely decipher when they do succeed in finding them. Lack of proper indexing by associations causes them much worry and extra work, and sometimes they are unable to find the records at all from this neglect. Often, however, after they have told you that they could not find a thing, and you have left the place in disgust, they will continue their search and hours afterward will surprise you by handing you the desired idea, or impression, which they had found carelessly indexed or improperly filed away. In these chapters you will be helped, if you will carry in your mind these little office boys of the memory record file, and the hard work they have to do for you, much of which is made doubly burdensome by your own neglect and carelessness. Treat these little fellows right and they will work overtime for you, willingly and joyfully. But they need your assistance and encouragement, and an occasional word of praise and commendation.

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