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really different conscious acts. But it cannot be denied
that an experience — a sensation, an intellectual cogni-
tion, or an emotion — often recalls a similar state that
occurred amid completely different surroundings at a
very distant period. There is, for instance, no con-
nexion of contiguity between the present perception of a
photograph seen for the first time and a friend's face
whom I have not met for twenty years. We must
therefore, it is argued, admit as an ultimate fact this
tendency of the mind to reproduce past experiences
connected with the present by likeness alone. More-
over, cases described as contiguous associations are
merely particular forms of similarity — likeness in space
or time. When, for example, a bridge recalls the image
of a house that used to stand hard b}^ the association
is said to be one of a partial resemblance between the
present and past mental states. The mind is at present
in a state like that in which it was before.

Herbert Spencer makes similarity the sole ultimate
principle : " The fundamental law of association is that each
(mental state), at the moment of presentation, aggregates
with its like in past experience. . . . Besides this there is no
other ; but all further phenomena of association are inci-
dental." Similarly Hbffdmg: " Every association by contiguity
presupposes an association by similarity, or at least an

1 Porter, op. cit. § 247. - " Psychology," Encyd. Brit.


immediate recognition. When the apple before me carries
my thoughts to Adam and Eve, this is because first — perhaps
so quickly that I am hardly conscious of it — I have thought
of the apple on the tree of knowledge. The association by
similarity lying at the root of association by contiguity may
easily escape our attention. But it is a link which cannot be
dispensed with." (Op. cit. p. 158.)

Hamilton originally accepted the analysis of Maas, and
enounced as the one comprehensive principle of Association
the Law of Redintegration or Totality : Thouf^lits suggest each
other which have previously constituted parts of the same entire or
total act of cognition.^ Moreover he traced the recognition of
this principle back to St. Augustine,^ and even to Aristotle.
Subsequently, however, in his work On Reid, Note D,-'"'' -
Hamilton abandoned this view, and acknowledged both
Similarity and Contiguity as irreducible. He thus formulates
the two principles : (i) The Law of Repetition, or of
Direct Remembrance : — Thoughts co-identical in modification
{i.e. similar as acts of the mind) but differing in time, tend to
suggest each other. (2) The Law of Redintegration, of
Indirect Remembrance, or of Reminiscence : — Thoughts
once co-identical in time, are however different as mental modes,
again suggestive of each other, and that in the mutual order which
they originally held. The terms Direct and Indirect mark the
fact that a mental state immediately or directly recalls its
like in the past, and mediately the unlike states formerly
contiguous to this restored element. This latest position of
Hamilton is akin to that of St. Thomas, as will be seen later.

Criticism. — It seems to us that similarity and
contiguity, though they are usually allied in their
operation, contain each a separate element of its own.
On the one hand, it is a fundamental irreducible law
that present mental states tend to awaken represen-
tations of their lihe in past life. On the other, these
reproduced representations usually call up nnlihe
adjacent elements, which formerly co-exited along
with them. The second fact cannot be really resolved
into the first, nor the first into the second. We may
of course manage to include both forms of suggestion
in one verbal statement, but their radical difference
will still remain. Though the adjectives " similar " or
"same" may be used to mark agreement of date as

3 Mctaph. Vol. IL p. 238. ^ Confessions, \. c. 19.


well as likeness of quality, we must not forget that
coincidence in time is something essentially different from
affinity in nature.

Physiological hypothesis. — It is suggested that the
physiological counterpart of the law of suggestion by
contiguity lies in the tendency of groups of cerebral nerve
elements which have acted together in the original experience
to do so again whenever any portion of the group is stimulated.
The hypothesis seem3 plausible though, of course, there is no
direct evidence on the point.

The physical correlate of the law oi similarity is supposed
in the same way to consist of a certain " sympathetic " power
of a present neural excitation to re-awaken to activity nervous
elements formerly excited in a similar way. The neural
tremor accompanying the original cognition left it is assumed
in the cerebral substance, an abiding disposition to repeat
itself; and the present similar excitation — presumably in
different cellular matter — it is supposed, may by a sort of
sympathetic influence evoke a rehearsal of the old movement.
This we confess seems to us much less satisfactory. In what
sense is the cerebral neural tremor corresponding to the
retinal image of a six-inch photograph peculiarly like that
excited by the original — a six-foot man — seen three months
ago ? How is this " sympathetic affinity " to be conceived ?
It seems to us that suggestion by similarity — where this
cannot be reduced to contiguity — involves the higher supra-
sensuous activity of the mind, to which the appropriate
cerebral action is unimaginable. Hence the difficulty.

Co-operative Associations. — The terms compound,
or complex associations, are used to designate those
forms of suggestion where two or more distinct lines of
connexion co-operate in the reproduction of a mental
state, or series of mental states. The word co-operative
appears to us to describe more accurately the nature
of this process in which several separate strands join
together to intensify the force of association. The
phrase, conflicting associations, will then designate with
precision those contrasted phenomena in which the
lines of suggestive force are divergent. Instances of

co-operative association are abundant ; in fact, we
rarely find suggestion acting along a solitary isolated
path. The recollection of a poem may be effected
partly by auditory associations of rhyme and metre,



partly by the succession of connected thoughts, and
partly by the visual picture of the page on which the
verses were printed. Most familiar acquisitions such
as walking, speaking, writing, brushing our hair, playing
the piano, are the result of the co-operation of parallel
series of tactual, motor, and visual or auditory series
of associated sensations ; and the great assistance
which local associations afford in resuscitating forgotten
events where the other links have become attenuated is
well known.

Conflicting Associations. — Conflicting or obstruc-
tive associations illustrate the incidental disadvantages
which we so frequently find attached to the working
of a generally useful law. Just as a desired recollection
may be facilitated by several convergent associations of
similarity or contiguity, so may it be impeded by their
divergence. A verse, or a word, which is connected in
a poem or speech with more than one context, frequently
tends to shunt us off the right track. The aim of the
riddle or conundrum is this very result. The recol-
lection of a name of which we possess the first letter
may be similarly obstructed ; and the accidental pre-
sence of any strong counter-association connected with
a present idea, may temporarily interfere with our
power of reminiscence. The best method of procedure
in such cases, experience teaches us, is to secure a new
unprejudiced start by turning away from the subject
altogether for awhile, until the vivacity of the connexion
between the obstructive word or idea and the divergent
series has diminished, or until we can hit upon some
independent line of suggestion when the pursuit may
be resumed with better prospects of success. The
sudden revivals of lost ideas, whilst we are immersed
in a new occupation, after a vainly protracted search,
are in this way explained. Psychologically misleading
associations were in the ascendant during our futile
struggles, and physiologically the perturbed state of the
brain rendered the reproduction of the neural correlate
of the desiderated representation impossible. But the
subsequent readjustment gave rise to the particular set
of conditions psychical and physical which made resus-


citation feasible, and which, either automatically or
influenced by a lingering semi-conscious volition, dis-
interred the lost thouglit.

Secondary Laws. — In addition to these primary
laws of association or suggestion, there are certain
other general conditions determining the efficiency
of memory and recollection. Some, or all of these,
have been variously expressed under such titles as,
the law of preference, the secondary laws of suggestion,
and general conditions of acquisition and reproduction.
However they be described, they serve to explain
the varying force of associations not accounted for
by the other group. The leading principles in this
secondary class are: (i) Vividness of impression;
(2) Frequency of repetition; and (3) Recentness.

Vividness. — Assuming the action of the other laws
to remain constant, the deeper, the more intense, or the
more vigorous the original impression, the more perma-
nent is its retention, and the easier its reproduction.
The vividness of an impression is itself dependent
objectively on the inherent attractiveness or force of the
stimuli, and subjectively upon the energy of our voluntary
attention. The novelt}', beauty, or overwhelming power
of a single experience may give it life-long permanence ;
and deep interest or intense application of attention
may largely compensate for the absence of the other
conditions of reproduction. To awaken and sustain
interest must therefore be always a chief aim of the
teacher, as whatever is learned by this motive is both
acquired with greater facility and retained with greater

Frequency. — The influence of repetition need not
be dwelt on. By reiteration, especially at short
intervals, the feeble association created by the first
contiguous occurrence of two events becomes gradually
converted into an almost irresistible suggestive force,


and a frail link of similarity is changed into an iron
bond. It is by repetition that in the last resort all other
imperfections of memory must be made good.

Recentness. — The third law is also familiar. The
shorter the time that has elapsed and the fewer the
intervening impressions, the more easily a past thought
or series of thoughts is recollected. Consequently it is
important that the first lessons in a new subject be
repeated at brief intervals, otherwise the effect of each
impression will have completely faded away before the
next effort. The co-operation of one or more of these:
laws with one or more of the others will account for
variations in the suggestiveness or suggestibility of
particular mental states.

Order of reproduction. — Of two associated terms,
such as a name and its object, a sign and the thing:
signified, a means and its end, one ma}^ have far more
power of recalling the other than vice versa. This may
be due either to the customary movement of our atten-
tion in a regular order, as in the case of repeating the
alphabet, or to the direction whither our interest
naturally tends, as where symbols or means point to
the ultimate object. It may also be due to the circum-
stance that one of the terms has been met with more
frequently, or more recently than the other, or to the
fact that it is connected with a larger number of
co-operative threads of association now present.

Retention. — The problem of the conservation of
experiences has been as keenly discussed as that of
reproduction. That cognitions do de facto persist
in some form, whilst not realized in consciousness,
is indeed only a hypothesis, but yet one which is
irresistibly forced upon us. We have continuous
evidence that we can recall familiar past events,
and we are consequently convinced that they have
dwelt within us during the interval. The theory
offered by Aristotle and the schoolmen on this


subject was summed up in the phrase which
describes the memory as thesaurus specienim. By
species, as we have already stated, the scholastic
philosophers understood modifications which reflect
in a psychical manner external objects, and which
have been excited in the soul by the action of these
objects. These species or cognitional acts were
classed as sensuous or intellectual according as they
pertained to intellect or sense, and the mediaeval
psychologists taught that when experiences have
disappeared from consciousness the soul is endowed
with the capacity of retaining these modifications
as faint dispositions or habits. But the retention is
not solely mental ; the organism co-operates. The
soul is not a detached spirit, but an informing
principle dependent on the body which it animates.
Consequently the latter co-operates in conservation
and reproduction, just as in the original perception.
The physical impression, like the mental act, must
persist in a habitual manner ready to be recalled
into activity on an appropriate occasion.^

Ultra-Spiritualist theory.— Modern writers who
have departed from this view have commonly erred by

^ Cf. St. Augustine [Epist. ix. ad Neb. n. 3). " Itaque, ea quar
ut ita dicam, vestigia sui motus animus figit in corpore, possuni
et manere, et quemdam quasi habitum facere, quae latenter, cum
agitata fuerint, et contractata secundum agitantis et contractantis-
voluntatem ingerunt nobis cogitationes, et somnia." Also
St. Thomas : " Dicit (Aristoteles) manifestum esse quod oportet
intelligere aliquam talem passionem a sensu esse factam in anima
et in organo corporis animati, cujus quidem animas memoriam
dicimus esse quemdam quasi habitum, quae quidem passio est quasi
quaedam pictura. . . . Dicit autem in anima et in parte corporis;
quia cum hujusmodi passio pertineat ad partem sensitivam quae
est actus organici corporis, hujusmodi passio non pertinet ad solam
animam sed ad conjunctum." {Covim. De Memoria, i. 1. 3.)


accounting for memory as a property of the soul alone
or of the body alone. Sir William Hamilton looks on
all physiological hypotheses on the subject as unphilo-
sophical, and as affording no insight into the nature of
memory, and he asserts that " all of them are too
contemptible even for serious criticism."^ This remark
is perfectly just if the physical theory hy itself be
advanced as an adequate explanation of memory, that
is, apart from any retention by the permanent mind ;
but otherwise it is untenable.

Physiological basis proved. — That there is a subsidiary
concomitant process of organic conservation, on which the
mind is at least partially dependent, is rendered probable by
a multitude of facts, (i) In youth, while the organism is
most plastic, we are capable of acquiring easily the most
enduring habits and recollections. (2) The faculty becomes
impaired in later life as the organism grows less pliable.
(3) Injuries of the brain, fevers, and cerebral diseases,
frequently act in a striking manner on memory whilst the
other cognitional faculties remain unaffected. Determinate
periods of life, special kinds of experience, classes of words,
particular languages, certain parts of speech, and even indi-
vidual letters, have been suddenly erased by physical
derangements of the cerebrum. (4) Moreover, these losses
have often been suddenly restored on the recurrence of
abnormal cerebral conditions. (5) Finally, in ordmary experi-
ence health, vigour, and freshness of the brain are found to
be most important conditions of the acquisition of krttrvv ledge.

Hamilton's own theory is that of Herbart and many
German spiritualist philosophers. He explains memory,
in accordance with the doctrine of latent or uncon-
scious mental modifications, as a result of the self-
energy of the mind. Presentations or cognitions are
not passive impressions, but spontaneous activities of
the soul, exerted on the occasion of external stimuli.
As modes of a subject one and indivisible they cannot
be destroyed — a part of the ego must be detached or
annihilated if a cognition once existent be again
extinguished. The real problem with Hamilton, then,
is not that of remembrance, but of obliviscence ; and
this he explains as due to the gradual enfeeblement and

6 Metaphysics, Vol. II. p. 211.




obscuration of former states owing to the rise of
successive activities into the limited sphere of con-
sciousness. This dehtescence or subsidence of the old
energies is continuous, but they are never completely

Regarding this doctrine we have room here only
to point out the erroneous idea involved in conceiving
a past act of perception as persisting in a merely
lowered degree of activity. In such a view conscious-
ness would be but an accident of cognition. This error
is traceable to the literal interpretation of metaphorical
language regarding the surface of consciousness. A
cognition cannot whilst retaining its reality as a cog-
nition, sink into unconsciousness, just as a balloon or a
diving-bell descends into denser or more profound
strata. The true conception of retention is the old one,
per modum hahitus. An act of knowledge when it has
passed out of thought is no longer an activity or energy;
as an act it has perished, but during its existence it
wrought an effect on the soul in the shape of a habit or
disposition, which on the recurrence of suitable con-
ditions is capable of giving rise to a representation of
the former state.

Purely Physical theory. — Far more seriously
erroneous, however, is the theory which, exaggerating
the capacity of the organic factor, would explain
memory in purely materialistic fashion. Dr. Bain,
Mr. Spencer, Dr. Maudsley, and M. Ribot, are well-
known representatives of this view. Memory is in this
hypothesis, ''per se a biological fact — by accident a
psychological fact." ^ To each cognitive act, sensuous
or intellectual, there corresponds a definite disturbance
of some group of nerve-fibres and nerve-cells in the
brain. Such a cluster of neural elements vibrating or
acting together in any way retain a tendency to act in a
similar way again. Lines of least resistance are formed,
and every repetition of a conscious act with its re-
grouping of the appropriate collection of cells gives
greater stability to the cerebral registration. These
organic modifications are, however, according to the
' Ribot, Diseases of the Memory, p. lo.


more recent exponents, to be viewed, not so much in
the Hght of mechanical impressions stamped upon the
substance of the brain, as "dynamical affinities" or
alliances, created between separate centres of activity
by means of which simultaneous re-excitations of the
original groupings may be secured. The revival of the
old neural tremor affords then, it is supposed, an
abundantly sufficient explanation of the phenomenon
of recollection. *' Memory is, in fact, the conscious
phase of this physiological disposition, when it becomes
active or discharges its functions on the recurrence of
the particular mental experience." ^

Recognition. — The weak point of this theory when
put forward as a complete explanation of memory is that
it simply ignores the essence of the problem — the act of
recognition. Apart from the insuperable difficulty due to
the physiological law of metabolism — the fact of per-
petual change going on in the material substance of the
body — this hypothesis fails to distinguish between the
reproduction of states like former ones and the identification
of this similarity. The problem to be solved is how
some striking experience, such as the sight of Cologne
Cathedral, the death of my father, a friend's house on
fire, the first pony I rode, can be so retained during a
period of fifty years that, when an old man, I feel
absolute certainty of the perfect agreement in many
details between the representation of the event now in
my mind and the original perception. The circumstance
that the passage of a neural tremor through a system
of nerve-fibres may leave there an increased facility for
a similar perturbation in the future, in no way indicates
how this second excitation or its accompanying mental
state is to recognize itself as a representation of the first.
To account for the facts there is required a permanent
principle distinct from the changing organism, capable
of retaining the old states in some form or other, and
also in virtue of its own abiding identity, capable of
recognizing the resuscitated image as a representation
of the former cognition. Given such a principle, the
persistence of physiological "traces" or "vestiges"
8 Dr. Maudsley, The Physiology of the Mind, p. 513,


may facilitate its powers of reproduction, and may
serve to account for differences in individual endow-
ments ; but without such an abiding mind the plastic
properties of the nerve are useless to explain the

The fact of recognition is invariably overlooked in this
point of the controversy by the adversaries of mental reten-
tion. Thus Mr. Mark Baldwin asserts that a cognition is
"a mental product dependent upon a (cerebral) process, and
in the absence of this process it simply ceases to exist. The
true answer to the question, as to where the presentation is
in the time between perception and memory (reproduction) is
no where.'" (Op.cit.p. 156.)

To this it may be objected that it is by no means easy to
define precisely where the cognition is even when revived.
There is probably a commotion in some part of the cerebrum,
but obviously that is not the *' mental product." Secondly,
Mr. Baldwin is quite right in urging that the presentation no
longer exists in an actual condition. Certainly not, after the
Herbartian view, " sunk in sub-consciousness like a stone in a
lake." Still, the fact of recognition implies more than an
abiding modification of brain substance to connect the two
mental events. The act of recollection is not simply the
production of a mental state like the former due to the repe-
tition of a similar cerebral process. It is not merely " a really
new presentation " resembling the old image. It involves a
recognition of agreement between the present state and the
previous experience possible only if that experience has been
retained in some form or other by the agent who identifies
them ; and this agent is not merely an aggregate of cellular
matter. Whether we choose to speak of the retention as
accomplished through species, or " modifications," or " dispo-
sitions " wrought in the mind, the persistence of the effect of
the former mental act in the mind, and not merely in the
brain, is the only means by which we can rationally account
for the subsequent identification of the present with the past

Reminiscence. — Besides recognition, however,
the special form of active or voluntary memory termed
recollection, or reminiscence, refutes the materialistic hypo-
thesis. In this operation the mind controls and directs
the course of its ideas. The process involves reflexion,
comparison, and active intellectual cognizance of rela-
tions, whilst the free acceptance or rejection of selected


lines of thought constitutes its most essential feature.
Now, at the very most, the purely ph3'sical theory
might account for the awakening of representations ot
former experiences by the accidental action of some
external stimulus which sets the group of nerves engaged
vibrating in tlie old way. But if there be no such
external stimulus how is the recollection to be ex-
plained ? Undoubtedly, faint sense impressions coming
from without sometimes resuscitate involuntary memo-
ries, but our every-day life assures us that long past
occurrences are also deliberately recalled by the mind
itself. It tells us that we can employ the laws of
association to reproduce at choice special series of
events, and that according as they arise we can again
select particular individuals from these series to form
new starting-points. But clearly the mere persistence

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 19 of 63)