The Roads Of Thought

Controlofthesubject-matterandthedirectionofmove-ment of our thought is often called concentration. Let us try a preliminary experiment to see exactly what this means.

Sit down in some quiet place by yourself, and set before the mind an idea of some common object. Watch it carefully and you will soon find that it contains many other ideas, which can be taken out and made to stand around it—or perhaps you will find that they leap out incontinently and begin to play about.

Let us suppose that I think of a silver coin. What do I find on looking into this box? I see an Indian rupee, a British shilling, an American "quarter." I see coins round and square, fluted and filleted, small and large, thick and thin. I see a silver mine in Bolivia and a shop in Shanghai where I changed some silver dollars. I see the mint in Bombay (which I once visited) where coins of India are made; I see the strips of metal going through the machines, the discs punched out, the holes remaining.

Enough, I must call a halt, lest this fascinating conjurer go on for ever. That he could not do, however, but if I permit him he will open many thousands of boxes before he exhausts his powers. He will soon come to the end of the possibilities of the first box, but then he can open the others which he has taken from it.

It is the peculiarity to some minds—of the wandering and unsteady kind—to open another box before they have taken everything out of the first. That is not concentration, but mind-wandering. Concentration on an idea means that you will completely empty one box before you turn away from it to open another. The value of such practice is that it brightens up the mind and makes it bring forth ideas on a chosen subject quickly and in abundance.

There is a reason why a given box should become exhausted. It is that the ideas which come out of it do not do so at random but according to definite laws; they are chained to it, as it were, and only certain kinds can come out of a certain kind of box.

Suppose, for example, someone mentions the word "elephant" in your hearing. You may think of particular parts of the animal, such as its large ears or its peculiar trunk. You may think of its intelligence and its philosophical temperament, or of particular elephants that you have seen or read about. You may think of similar animals, such as the hippopotamus or the rhinoceros, or of the countries from which elephants come. But there are certain things you are not likely to think of, such as a house-fly, or a paper-knife, or a motor-boat.

There are certain definite laws which hold ideas together in the mind, just as gravitation, magnetism, cohesion and similar laws hold together material objects in the physical world.

For the purpose of this prelim nary experiment I will give a list of the four main Roads of Thought. Notice, first, that among your thoughts about an elephant there will be images of things that resemble it very closely, that is, of other animals, such as a cow, a horse, or a camel. The first law, of attraction between ideas is to be seen in this. "Ideas of similar things cling closely together, and easily suggest one another. We will call this first principle the law of Class. It includes the relations between an object and the class to which it belongs, and also that between objects of the same class.

The second is the law of Parts. When you think of an elephant you will probably form special mental pictures of its trunk, or ears, or feet, or when you think of its ears you may also think of other parts of it, such as the eyes.

The third law may be called Quality. It expresses the relation between an object and its quality, and also between objects having the same quality. Thus one may think of the cat as an artist, of the moon as spherical, etc., or if one thinks of the moon, one may also think of a large silver coin, because they have the quality of white, disc-like appearance in common.

The fourth law involves no such observation of the resemblances and differences of things, or an object and the class to which it belongs, or a whole and its parts, or an object and its prominent qualities. It is concerned with striking and familiar experiences of our own, and has more to do with imagination than logical observation.

If 1 have seen or thought of two things strongly or frequently together, the force of their joint impact on my consciousness will tend to give them permanent association in my mind. I therefore entitle the fourth principle the law of

Proximity. "

Thus, for example, if I think of a pen I shall probably think also of an inkpot, not of a tin of axle-grease. If I think of a bed I shall think of sleep, not of dancing. If I think of Brazil, I shall think of coffee and the marvellous river Amazon, not of rice and the Himalaya mountains.

Each one of us has an independent fund of experience made up of memories of such relationships seen, or heard of, or thought about, either vividly or repeatedly.

Within this law comes also familiar sequence, or contiguous succession, often popularly called cause and effect, as in exercise and health, over-eating and indigestion, war and poverty. It is proximity in time.

In connexion with Road I, I must mention a case which is often misunderstood—namely contrast. If two things contrast they must belong to the same class. You cannot contrast a cow with blotting paper, or a walking stick with the square root of two. But you can contrast an elephant and a mouse, blotting paper and glazed paper, the sun and the moon, and other such pairs. So contrasts belong to Road I.

The four Roads of Thought mentioned above are given in a general way for our present purpose. For greater precision of statement the four laws must be subdivided; I will do this in a later chapter.

I wish the student particularly to notice that some ideas arise through the mind's capacity for comparison, that is through a logical faculty, while others arise simply in imagination, without any reason other than that they have been impressed upon it at some previous time. Comparison covers the first three laws, imagination the fourth only.

To convince the student that these mental bonds between ideas really exist, let me ask him to try another small preliminary experiment, this time not upon his own mind, but upon that of a friend. Repeat to your friend two or three times slowly the following list of sixteen words. Ask him to pay particular attention to them, in order—

Moon, dairy, head, paper, roof, milk, fame, eyes, white, reading, shed, glory, cat, top, sun, book.

You will find that he is not able to repeat them to you from memory.

Then take the following series and read them to him equally carefully.

Cat, milk, dairy, shed, roof, top, head, eyes, reading, book, paper, white, moon, sun, glory, fame.

Now ask your friend to repeat the list, and you will find that he has a most agreeable feeling of surprise at the ease with which he can perform this little feat.

Now the question is: why in the first place was he not able to recall the series of ideas, while in the second case he could easily remember them, the words being exactly the same in both the sets ? The reason is that in the second series the ideas are in rational order, that is, each idea is connected with that which preceded it by one of the four Roads of Thought which I have mentioned. In the first series they were not so connected.

I must remark that the deliberate use of these Roads of Thought involves nothing forced or unnatural. It is usual for our attention to go along them, as I have already indicated. For instance, I knew a lady in New York named Mrs. Welton. One day when I was thinking of her, I found myself humming the tune of "Annie Laurie." Somewhat surprised, I asked myself why, and brought to light the first line of the song, which goes: "Maxwellton's braes are bonny. . . ."

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