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Perception, Memory, And Imagination

( Originally Published 1899 )

CONSCIOUSNESS, apperception, and attention have been defined and explained. They are general functions of the intellect, entering as they do more or less into all mental activity. It remains to examine the special functions of perception, memory, imagination, conception, judgment, and reasoning. The treatment of each must necessarily be brief.

Perception is the act of getting knowledge of individual objects present to the senses. It is the initial stage in all apperception. It tells us simply what a thing is as present before us; gives us its form, color, texture, material, weight, surface, parts, movements summing all up in a mental picture whose wider relations and fuller meanings are discovered by apperception proper or by comparison and reasoning. An object is lying by my paper as I write. Through perception I discover a handle, its shape, and the material out of which it is made; a long blade is attached at one end and two small blades at the other. Though I may not know its name, I have the picture of a knife clearly defined in my mind. The knowledge of any or of all of the parts together is called perception, and yet you readily see that more or less of my past experience has gone into the building up of the picture and given it the meaning it now possesses; in so far as this is true, there is a suggestion of apperception that is, a perception to which has been added a meaning greater than that which lies in the object unrelated to any past experience. A second look at the knife shows me that it is mine; that it is a valuable knife; that it is of modern make; that it is fit for certain kinds of work only; all this and much more is apperceived. I once saw a lady alight from a train and fall into the arms of a company awaiting her. All were in tears and were dressed in deep black. Perception gave me this knowledge. Apperception told me that there were sorrow and mourning and death and broken hearts and vacant chairs. On the wall is a small painting. Through perception I get the form of a house, of leafless trees, of broken fences, of alter-.nations of dark and light colors stretching away over and beyond the house, of a round white spot above, of blotches of white paint covering the roof of the house and hiding the earth from view. Through apperception I know that it is winter, that it is midnight and cold and lonely and desolate. Perception, in a word, tells us what things present are and apperception tells what they mean. The educated and the uneducated perceive things about alike, but the educated and the experienced apperceive far more in everything they meet than the others.

The laws of association and dissociation apply to perception as well as to apperception. Perception locates objects in time and space, giving them relations to one another and to the self. The process of distinguishing objects from one another and of noting the various elements that compose them and the characteristics peculiar to them, together with their resemblances, is of the utmost importance in the child's life. Its value in the intellectual life depends primarily upon its ac-curacy and, secondarily, upon its rapidity and many-sidedness. Sluggishness of action and narrowness of vision must ever debar the child from attaining to a wide knowledge of things. The mental side of all knowledge gained directly through the senses is perception, and much of the discussion concerning their functions and their culture should be reviewed here.

To show how apperception affects perception, several figures, some of them reproductions, are given on the opposite page. They will be found valuable as well as entertaining in experimenting with the children. As soon as the children find themselves deceived in the figures they will be-come very wary, and proceed with such caution that many of them can not readily be misled again. Notice the particular temperaments most generally making mistakes. Take now several small wooden balls or cubes of varying sizes, two or three of each being of the same size, and test the children's ability to distinguish among them. Some of the smaller balls or cubes should be skillfully loaded inside with shot, so as to be equal in weight to the next larger size. See what effect the suggestiveness of size has upon the estimate of weight. Your own experience will suggest to you a number of tests serving a similar purpose.

Memory is the act of recalling the picture of a past experience. The experience must come back approximately as it occurred, and the self must recognize it as having been an experience of its own in a certain more or less definite time and place. Its value depends also upon its accuracy, its rapidity, and its comprehensiveness. Without memory there could be no progress in knowledge-getting. However valuable the presentative activities already described may be, if memory be wanting their cultivation and development are impossible. They reciprocally affect each other. Perception makes little advancement if memory is not following closely behind.

As each experience helps to an understanding of the next, the place of memory is easily enough seen. This particular function is so important that the question naturally arises whether memory ought to be made to serve any other purpose. If a past experience contains one or more elements similar to those of the present experience, the law of suggestion is usually potent enough to provoke its spontaneous recall and application to the new experience without any special effort of the mind. If you will watch the children at their plays, you will see how fully this law controls. Watch them at their house games, and see how much more readily many of them learn details than do their elders. See also how quickly an experience in one line is used by the child to help him in understanding another when their similarity seems very slight even to you. Under such demands note how little repetition is necessary to enable many children to recall the aids that unlock the meaning to the new experience. Children seldom worry about remembering things. They remember them only as they creep into their consciousness by the laws already named. They do little feeling around in the past until they grow older or until the task is set before them. This great function of memory being so evident, the advantage of certain lines of sequence in the everyday experiences of the child needs no further argument. Art is thus made possible.

But memory serves another great purpose in furnishing to the self its past experiences in order that it may reason about them and discover the principles and laws involved in them, their likenesses and differences, their nature and value. You have noticed how difficult it is for some children to see the similarity or dissimilarity of two things you are talking about, particularly as they are compelled to hold one of them in the memory. The vagueness of details in the memory picture and its disposition to slip away entirely were constantly defeating you. Induction and deduction are both impossible without memory. The more readily a child recalls experiences having common elements, the more accurately and the more rapidly does he discover a body of laws and principles. Such discoveries react upon the mind, multiplying with wonderful rapidity the child's power of retention and recollection. Science and philosophy are thus assured.

Memory also serves a great end in a prudential way. Half of the misfortunes of childhood come because the child forgets what he has experienced or what has been told him. Out of memory caution quickly develops and control becomes possible. The memory of yesterday's bumping pre-vents another tumble downstairs to-day; of this morning's sting, the handling of another wasp; of father's displeasure, the loss of the hatchet; of last night's sore throat, exposure to cold. Not always promptly, nor with all children, do these results follow, but sooner or later they come and grow into a system with untold benefits to the individual and to society.

The pleasures of memory are not excelled by those of the imagination, of which poets so profusely sing. Childhood hours mother's lullaby, the fragrance of the apple blossoms, the songs of the robin, the stories round the old hearthstone, the Thanksgiving dinner, the midnight visit of Kris Kringle, the little red schoolhouse in the neck of the woods, the jingle of sleigh bells, the thrill of love's first dream, the visit to Aunt Mary's, the old singing school, the old oaken bucket, the cows winding slowly o'er the lea, the night when troth was plighted, the day when we first entered a home of our own are but a few of the multitude of beautiful visions which ever and anon drive out the care of to-day and fill the soul with happiness. Even the sorrows and struggles of the past have a halo about them that makes their remembrance dear to every heart.

In efforts at expressing thought by symbols, particularly by language, memory serves another great function. Facts, events, dates, names, places, persons, forms, colors, movements, principles, laws, must be recalled in an orderly way that the mind may carry on a connected line of thought; words with which to express the idea appropriately must also reappear at the exact time needed. Happy is the child to whom all these come spontaneously. But, generally speaking, special effort is necessary for their recall, and memory takes the form of recollection.

Recollection is memory under control and direction of the will. By utilizing the laws of association and suggestion, the will rebuilds a former experience, slowly or rapidly as the degree of familiarity may permit. By this it must not be understood that memory proper, as spontaneous, reproduces a past experience without any mental effort whatever, but simply that such effort is reduced to a minimum. Every mental state is an activity, as has been explained, memory not excepted. In recollection will and effort come into prominence in consciousness as factors. Ability to recall a part or all of an experience at will is invaluable in any occupation or prfession the youth may enter.

Discover whether your children are recalling spontaneously or with evident effort; how many remember places better than names, facts better than principles; what they see better than what they hear; what interests them better than what does not; what is recent as compared with what is remote; what they understand as compared with what they do not. Find out what effect physical depression or fear has upon memory; whether they remember names better than dates, and the cause of it; what is the effect of repetition. Do they remember poetry better than prose? If so, why? Find out also whether you are not making life a burden to them in requiring them to " commit to memory " many things that would remain with them with little effort if given later on, and whether there are not many things which they could easily appropriate now that you are with-holding for the future.

If your inquiries are pursued far enough, you will have material sufficient to keep you thinking for a long time. Your conclusions will prove about as follows:

The more clearly a child understands a subject,

The more it affects his personal interests and needs,

The more vivid the original impression,

The more definitely it is related to his other knowledge,

The more carefully the natural sequence is followed in approaching it,

The less will be the effort necessary for its recall. Repetition and writing as memory aids will probably take a subordinate place in your methods, though not losing their value entirely. Correct habits in knowledge-getting will seem more desirable than a great amount of knowledge itself.

Imagination is the third great notion or picture-forming activity of the intellect. Its function is to embody the ideal in concrete forms. Perception gives us the idea of an object. Imagination reverses the process. It starts with the idea and expresses it in some individual form. It is creative. It produces new forms. These may be constructed in a mere mechanical way, with little or no definite purpose in view, or in accord with the highest ideals of the human soul. In their origin they may be almost exclusively emotional or as exclusively intellectual. They range all the way from the laying of a few sticks together in a certain way to the carving of the Apollo Belvidere; from the potato-masher to the linotype; from "Ba, ba, black sheep " to the book of Job; from the rude hut to the towering cathedral; from the crude sketches of the simple-minded peasant to the noble frescoes of the Vatican. Out of imagination rises the beautiful world of art, inspiring and refining the race. It touches every side of life, and makes progress possible.

In its simpler and more mechanical form the imagination is largely inventive, the end being to construct something rather than to express or em-body an idea, or even to produce something to serve a specific purpose. Children will often labor for hours to build a mud dam or a block house, and then destroy it in an instant without a shadow of compunction. Their plays constantly call into requisition their imaginative powers, and the marvelous freedom with which they make, destroy, burn, kill, fly, die, come to life again, be-come rich, lose all their property, sail to the moon, administer medicine, become grandmothers, soldiers, sailors, merchants, showmen, monkeys, dogs, cats, horses, bears, sheep, fairies, griffins, cowboys, ghosts, or angels all in imagination is well known to everybody. There is just as much art in all this as there is in the pictures the child draws or the models he makes from clay. This process of modifying the things he is, the things he has, and the things he sees and hears, but fore-casts what he will be doing in youth and man-hood. The greater the skill which he attains in putting his experiences into new forms and in devising ways and means of doing things, the better will be his preparation for active life.

Read or tell a story to the children, and discover the differences in the pictures which they form of it. Some will note every detail, others scarcely any. Ask them to tell an original story. or act an original part, and note the differences among them. Give half of the girls dolls and the other half scraps of ribbons and dress goods; give half of the boys water-color paints and brushes and the other half sand pans; keep busy yourself, but watch them and see what they do. Give them curious toys, and discover who will find out first how to play with them. Give them all simple puzzles and see who will find their way out first. Show them pictures and give all a chance to tell what they see in them. Give them rings, colored sticks, colored beads, colored strips of paper, pencils, soft clay, needles and thread, etc., and see what they make out of them. Note particularly who are original and who follow others. - Find where all get their ideas for the new forms. Which are more imaginative, boys or girls? Note also who seem to take more pleasure in color than in form pictures. The study will have special value if you discover the causes of the differences among the children, and note the influence which a little suggestion from you may have.

The inquiries just suggested are intended more for the smaller children, but you will readily devise methods for making appropriate tests with older children. Compare the memoranda and discover how the imagination in the different ages varies. New themes now interest them. Images form more rapidly. Delicacy and fineness begin to characterize them. They bear the stamp of individuality. Ornamentation in some cases and utility in others show the trend of emotion or thought. Have them read The Building of the Ship, The Village Blacksmith, Maud Muller, Snow Bound, and tell you the stories in their own language. Ask them to describe a certain landscape, yesterday's thunderstorm, the old mill, and note the plainness of some and the rich coloring of others. You will find some extremely practical, others visionary and fanciful; some resourceful, others wholly lacking in originality and creative power.

In its highest sense as creative, imagination seeks to produce forms that will symbolize universal ideas, with little sensuous material to express great truths. Its test is its weight of meaning; its themes, the deepest emotions of the human heart. As the youth begins to think and to feel deeply, he begins to catch the deeper meannings of the creations of Nature and of art, and to long to express them himself. Lack of space forbids elaboration, but the development of the child's imagination from the purely mechanical to fancy and to the higher forms of creative activity is one of the most fruitful themes for inquiry and study.

Perception, apperception, and memory depend much upon imagination for the filling out of the details in the mental pictures they form. It is sometimes so active that the child is self-deceived, for it covers up the real elements in an object with the wealth of associated elements which it immediately images. Memory pictures are often most unreliable for the same reason and because of the inability of the child to distinguish between the old and the new elements present. On this account children are often punished for falsehoods for which they are not responsible, or at most not wholly to blame.

An imagination that simply understands and appreciates what another constructs is sometimes called passive. That which constructs is called active. The terms may help to a distinction, but it is easily seen that all imagination is active; that however suggestive and complete the creation of another may be, it is still necessary for the receiving mind to construct its own picture in order to get its meaning. The greatest painting in the world is but a varicolored canvas to him who knows not how to give it relief and life. Even Home, Sweet Home has scarcely more than rhythm to him who as he reads can not construct the pictures of the palaces and their gay throngs, the thatched cottages and the humble hearth-stones, the caroling birds and the lonely exile.

Like the other picture-forming activities, imagination everywhere obeys the laws of association and suggestion, often responding to the slightest stimulus, constructing and building, combining and recombining, " turning even airy nothingness to forms and shapes " of beauty and of use. It is to this rare faculty that we owe the wealth of figures that illuminate and vivify the world of literature.

The cultivation, direction, and control of the imagination of the child demand understanding and skill of the highest order. Into its upbuilding flows every current of his mental life. Upon its genius every ideal and every destiny depend.

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