WE have considered and perhaps practised some simple experiments intended to make the imagination vivid and accurate. We have also applied the imagination to learning various things which may be new to us. Let us now consider how to use imagination to help us to remember various things when we want to remember them.
There are plenty of memories in the world which remember a vast number of things, yet are of little use to their owners because they do not deliver rust what is needed or wanted it a given time.
An instance of this was very cleverly depicted by Charles Dickens in his novel Nicholas Nickleby. The following are the words of Mrs. Nickleby when Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, happened to be the subject of conversation:
"I think there must be something in the place, for, soon after I was married, I went to Stratford with my poor dear Mr. Nickleby, in a post-chaise from Birmingham—was it a post-chaise though ? Yes, it must have been a post-chaise, because I recollect remarking at the time that the driver had a green shade over his left eye;—in a post-chaise from Birmingham, and after we had seen Shakespeare's tomb and birthplace we went back to the inn there, where we slept that night, and I recollect that all night long I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full length, in plaster-of-Paris, with a laydown collar tied with two tassels, leaning against a post and thinking; and when I woke in the morning and described him to Mr. Nickleby, he said it was Shakespeare just as he had been when he was alive, which was very curious indeed. Stratford—Stratford. Yes, I am positive about that, because I recollect I was in the family way with my son Nicholas at the time, and I had been very much frightened by an Italian image boy that very morning. In fact, it was quite a mercy, ma'am, that my son didn't turn out to be a Shakespeare, and what a dreadful thing that would have been !"
And this was one of her memories about dining:
" It's very odd now, what can have put that in my head ! I recollect dining once at Mrs. Bevan's, in that broad street round the corner by the coachmaker's where the tipsy man fell through the cellar flap of an empty house nearly a week before the quarter-day, and wasn't found till the new tenant went in—and we had roast pig there. It must be that, I think, that reminds me of it, especially as there was a little bird in the room that would keep on singing all the time of dinner—at least, not a little bird, for it was a parrot, and he didn't sing exactly, for he talked and swore dreadfully; but I think it must be that. Indeed I am sure it must."
But suppose we have a person of good memory, whose mind has not been allowed to drift, as presumably that of Mrs. Nickleby had done throughout her life, and the conversation turns to the subject of elephants. Then perhaps that mind in an instant will say to itself, without words: " The elephant is a large, vegetarian, mammalian, quadruped animal, inhabiting Ceylon, India and Africa." And in a moment more that mind will slide its fingers along each word of that definition, and at once a great deal of information will become available on each point.
Such a memory is like a dictionary having more cross-references than it would be possible ever to obtain in a printed book; furthermore, a dictionary which will always open at the word or idea which you want.
It sometimes happens in practice that a student has to remember a number of things which he may put in any order he chooses, as, for example, lists of foreign words. But more frequently a certain predetermined order is required, as in learning historical series of events, or in committing to memory heads of a lecture or book. This occurs often in practical life, where one may require in the morning to remember a number of things to be attended to during the day.
In this case it is obvious that the subjects will not fall into an order serially connected in the way which we have already illustrated, so we must devise some means whereby the items will suggest each other in their order. Generally these things have no immediate or direct association. If, then, an effort is made to remember them together, it usually fails— for there can be no leap in consciousness; each idea must follow another directly connected with it by one of the roads I have described.
I will take as an example a gentleman of long ago who was going into town and wanted to carry out the following items of business—
(1) To purchase some barley at the market;
(2) To hire a labourer for some building alterations;
(3) To keep in mind the proverb that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (since former experience had taught him the value of that maxim);
(4) To buy some aromatic spices at a grocer's;
(5) To call to see a lawyer about a friend's suit in Chancery;
(7) To collect some money due.
Many people would write these items down, but it is far better that we should remember our own business, as we all know that notebooks weaken the memory.
In this case, we have to remember the following ideas in succession; barley, labourer, bird, spices, Chancery, velvet, debt. The best method for this purpose is to insert one or two intermediaries where there is no direct association.
I have not troubled to print the associations or Roads of Thought, as the reader or student will easily see them if he wishes to do so.
I must mention that this process is not artificial. It actually occurs in the mind—though generally sub-con-sciously—when two unrelated things are remembered in sequence.
In practice, the extremes, say barley and labourer, are considered; an effort is made to work forwards from barley and, as it were, backwards from labourer, until the two meet. It is then found that there is rarely any necessity for more than two intermediaries.
Having formed our connexions, we may repeat the series a few times, and presently the intermediaries can be dropped out of mind and the series will be remembered without them, as they are only a temporary aid to bring the pairs of ideas together.
The recall of such a series is made easier when the mood in which they were originally associated is revived, so when trying to revive an impression go back in imagination and put yourself into the mood in which you originally received it. You may have been to a lecture, which you now wish to remember. First recall the mood, the whole attitude of the attention, as it was at the time given to the lecturer, to the subject of the lecture and to its different parts in turn. It will be quite impossible for you to recall the succession of the ideas of the lecture if you are at the same time thinking of what you will have for dinner, what so-and-so has been saying about you, how you will carry out such-and-such a plan, what a cold day it is, or what a noise the people round about are making. A certain kind of indifference is essential for success in this practice.
The student practising the repetition of a series of ideas such as has been described is recommended to notice with the greatest care exactly what takes place in his mind when he comes to an obstacle in the process, and finds himself unable to remember the next link of the chain. At once the attention darts off in a new direction, taking up another line of ideas of its own. This indicates not so much lack of memory as a change of mood. If the new mood is overcome and the mind is forced by the will into the original one, the attention is bound to go in its original direction, for the mood determines the path of least resistance for it.
This device of intermediaries is excellent for remembering the sequence of ideas in a speech or lecture which you may propose to deliver.
So far I have written about associating two ideas together in the mind. It is also practical to associate an idea with an actual thing instead of with another idea. This is particularly useful with reference to the future, when you wish to do something in some place or at some time.
Sometimes a business man is asked to purchase some little thing in town for his wife, and bring it home in the evening. Very often, it must be confessed, he forgets. One device by which he may remind himself that there is something to be done is to tie a knot in his handkerchief, so that it will remind him of his commission when he pulls it out of his pocket. But it would be a better plan for him to associate the idea of the thing to be done with some object which he is sure to see during the day.
In practice, we are all being reminded all the time of many things by the objects which surround us. It is as if they were plastered all over with thoughts and those thoughts leapt out at us when we see the objects. To illustrate this fact, take out your watch and look at it for a few minutes, keeping y6ur thoughts still and attentive, and observe the little pictures that arise involuntarily in the mind. You will probably find an image of the person who gave you the watch or of the shop where you bought it, and pictures of any special incidents in which it has played a part. The numbers on the dial will remind you of the different duties and appointments of the hours throughout the day; while the qualities of the watch, the substances of which it is made and the accessories which are associated with it, radiate ideas in all directions, as do the ideas which we have mentioned in earlier chapters.
All the articles that we possess are similarly full of thoughts —the rooms, the houses, the streets that we enter, are saturated with them. There is thus a process, going on for the most part unconsciously, by which the mind of man, except at moments when it is under the active control of the will, is constantly influenced by his surroundings.
This process can be employed for remembering things that are to be done, so that at the right moment they will enter the mind, without our being put to the trouble of recalling them again and again before the appointed time. The memory may thus be cast forward, as it were, by our linking the idea we want with an object that we are sure to come across and notice, and in the process we shall be free of the waste of mental energy necessitated when the idea is kept half consciously in the mind throughout the interval.
Suppose, for example, you wish to remember to send a letter to Mr. Blank, when you arrive at the office. There is no need to worry the mind by continually thinking about the matter, nor to weaken it by taking a note. Simply make a clear picture of your office, project your thought there, as it were, with Mr. Blank sitting there conversing with you, and when you arrive at the spot the image will naturally rise up in your mind.
If during your journey by railway into town, you wish to consider some problem in electricity or in finance, fix your idea on the lighting apparatus or on the costly upholstery of the compartment; when you step into the train, these things will catch your eye and remind you of the problem.
It is possible thus to hang images on prominent signs, shop and house fronts, monuments and other noticeable things you are likely to pass, and to fix ideas on the books, pictures, furniture and clothing you are likely to use. There remains in the mind a kind of latent or subconscious expectancy which will notify you on the slightest signal from the determined object. When the memory is discharged this latent expectancy ceases, the association is broken, and the object is left free for future associations.
Various special ways of fixing ideas on objects will naturally occur to the student. If I need to remember, for example, that I want to send a clerk out to buy a new pair of compasses, I can associate the idea by making a picture of myself writing a letter A at my desk and noticing that that letter resembles a pair of compasses. As soon as I sit down to write I shall be reminded of the intention. This purpose must be forthwith discharged if the method is to be employed again, for unless we are faithful to our memory it will not long be faithful to us.
Or again, suppose I want to look up a certain question in chemistry. I know that when I go to my room for the morning's work, which consists chiefly in writing, I shall use my fountain pen, which is lying there. I picture myself picking up the pen and noticing the gold nib, which reminds me of alchemy, and that in turn revives the idea of chemistry. I know that when the time comes my memory will present me with the idea I want, because we have much confidence in each other—my memory and I.
This principle may be allied to the instinct by which one awakens oneself from sleep in the morning at a time predetermined before retiring for the night. I have had to do that frequently when travelling in India, and have found that confidence is justified. But I have noticed several times that when my watch was wrong the instinct awoke me by the wrong time of the watch, not at the proper time.
Was this article helpful?