The Power Of A Mood

WE have already seen that when I thought of a cat I thought of a hearth-rug (which is one of the ideas that can come out of that magic box), but I might apparently equally well have thought of whiskers, milk, claws, or mice. One of such ideas was sure to form the next stepping-stone in my chain of ideas or flow of thought. This chain of thoughts presents an unbroken succession. Each idea is succeeded by another, like the links in a chain. As in time things follow one after another, only two moments with their contents being linked directly together, so in the flow of mental activity images follow one after another, only two being directly connected.

There is some kind of a choice at every step in the process of thought, and it is instructive to observe to what widely seperate goals every parting of the ways may lead, since every idea calls up such a great variety of associations.

When I used to look at the banyan tree outside my window I saw and heard the throngs of crows and squirrels; and now any thought of a banyan tree will at once bring within its circle a vision of this particular tree, with its spreading branches and hanging roots, the fern-pots beneath it, the audacious crows and the chattering, shrieking, striped brown squirrels. But at once thoughts of other kinds of trees also enter into the circle of attention, though further from the centre; the tall, straight palm, the wrinkled oak, the slender poplar, the sad, shorn willow of central England, the trim pine among the northern snows.

Then again, as I view the spreading branches of the banyan tree and its many trunks, bearing the weight of giant arms ten centuries old, my mind runs back to the history which it might tell—of the floods of the river running near, of the building of houses and the making of roads, and, far back in the past, of the breezy jungle growth, the jackals and the tigers, the birds and the monkeys and the countless ants and scorpions and snakes which have nestled in its hollows and lived among its branches in the centuries past.

If my mood changes again I might notice its vast extent— a mountain of wood—and think how an army might shelter beneath it, how it would give timber to build ten houses or make a thousand roaring fires. Thus the banyan tree calls up different kinds of thoughts according to my mood.

The manner in which anyone's thought will turn at the parting of the ways which occurs at every step in thought depends upon his mood. Consider this idea of the tree. It has many thoughts attached to it, such as those mentioned above, or those represented in the following diagram—

3. Age, size, value, etc. TREE 4. Bush, hedge, plant, etc.

6. Crows, squirrels, insects, etc.

If I were a farmer my thought might pass along line 7 to an idea of fruit. Fruit would then become the centre of another circle of ideas, those belonging to lines 1 to 6 having been passed by, almost or entirely unnoticed. The mind might then pass on to the idea of market, a thought which has no direct connexion with the tree, and the tree is now forgotten as the moving attention pursues its course.

If I were a merchant my thought might find itself somewhere on line 3, interested in lumber, which is directly connected with the thought of the tree, and from that it might pass on to the current prices of timber, and on to financial and banking questions and other matters still more remote.

A naturalist might pass along line 6; a huntsman or a pleasure-seeker along line 1. Almost all would lose sight of the tree at the third step of thought.

It is marvellous to what an extent the future depends upon the choice I make at every moment as to my next step in thought. The following diagram illustrates how slight is the parting of the ways of thought, but how wide asunder the paths soon go—

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