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requires a considerable degree of reflexion, to enable the person himself by whom the transition was made, to ascertain what were the intermediate ideas. A curious instance of such a sudden transition is mentioned by Hobbes in his Leviathan.
" In a company,” (fays he,) " in which the conversation “ turned on the civil war, what could be conceived “ more impertinent, than for a person to ask abruptly, " What was the value of a Roman denarius ? On a “ little reflexion, however, I was easily able to trace " the train of thought which suggested the question : “ for the original subject of discourse naturally intro- duced the history of the King, and of the treachery “ of those who surrendered his person to his enemies; “ this again introduced the treachery of Judas Iscariot, “ and the sum of money which he received for his u reward. And all this train of ideas,” says Hobbes, “passed through the mind of the speaker in a twink
ling, in consequence of the velocity of thought.” It is by no means improbable, that if the speaker himself had been interrogated about the connexion of ideas, which led him aside from the original topic of discourse, he would have found himself, at first, at a loss for an answer.
In the instances which have been last mentioned, we have also a proof, that a perception, or an idea, which passes through the mind, without leaving any trace in the memory, may yet serve to introduce other ideas connected with it by the laws of association. Other proofs of this important fact shall be mentioned afterwards.
When a perception or an idea passes through the mind, without our being able to recollect it next moment, the vulgar themselves ascribe our want of memory to a want of attention. Thus, in the instance already mentioned, of the clock, a person, upon observing that the minute hand had just paffed twelve, would naturally fay, that he did not attend to the clock when it was ftriking. There seems, therefore, to be a certain effort of mind upon which, even in the judgment of the vulgar, memory in some measure depends ; and which they distinguish by the name of attention.
The connexion between attention and memory has been remarked by many authors. 66 Nec dubium “ est,” (says Quinctilian, speaking of memory,)
quin plurimum in hac parte, valeat mentis intentio,
et velut acies luminum a prospectu rerum quas in. " iuetur non averfa." The same observation has been made by Locke *, and by most of the writers on the subject of education.
But although the connexion between attention and memory has been frequently remarked in general terms, I do not recollect that the power of attention has been mentioned by any of the writers on pneumatology, in their enumeration of the faculties of the mind t; nor has it been considered by any one, so
* “ Memory depends much on attention and repetition." Locke's Effay, b. i. chap. x.
+ Some important observations on the subject of attention occur in different parts of Dr. Reid's writings ; particularly in his Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, p. 62. ; and in his Essays on the Active Powers of Man, p. 78, et seq.-To this ingenious far as I know, as of sufficient importance to deserve a particular examination. Helvetius, indeed, in his very ingenious work, De l'Esprit, has intitled one of his chapters, De l’inegale capacitè d'Attention ; but what he considers under this article, is chiefly that capacity of patient inquiry, (or as he calls it, une attention suivie,) upon which philosophical genius seeins in a great measure to depend. He has also remarked *, with the writers already mentioned, that the impression which any thing makes on the memory, depends much on the degree of attention we give to it; but he has taken no notice of that effort which is absolutely essential to the lowest degree of memory. It is this effort that I propose to confider at present ;-notthofe different degrees of attention which imprint things more or less deeply on the mind, but that act or effort without which we have no recollection or memory whatever.
author we are indebted for the remark, that attention to things external, is properly called obfervation ; and attention to the subjects of our consciousness, reflexion. He has also explained the causes of the peculiar difficulties which accompany this last exertion of the mind, and which form the chief obstacles to the progress of pneumatology. I shall have occasion, in another part of this work, to treat of habits of inattention in general, and to suggest some practical hints with respect to the culture both of the powers of observation and reflexion. The view which I propose to take of attention at present, is extremely limited ; and is intended merely to comprehend such general principles as are necessary to prepare
the reader for the chapters which are to follow. *« C'est l'attention, plus ou moins grande, qui grave plus ou “ moins profondément les objets dans la memoire."
With respect to the nature of this effort, it is perhaps impossible for us to obtain much fatisfaction. We often speak of greater and less degrees of at, tention; and, I believe, in thefe cases, conceive the mind (if I may use the expression) to exert itself with different degrees of energy. I am doubtful, however, if this expression conveys any distinct meaning. For my own part, I am inclined to suppose, (though I would by no means be understood to speak with confidence,) that it is essential to memory, that the perception or the idea that we would wish to remember, should remain in the mind for a certain space of time, and should be contemplated by it exclusively of every thing else ; and that attention consists partly (perhaps entirely) in the effort of the mind, to detain the idea or the perception, and to exclude the other objects that solicit its notice.
Notwithstanding, however, the difficulty of ascer. taining, in what this act of the mind consists, every person must be satisfied of its reality from his own consciousness; and of its essential connexion with the power of memory. I have already mentioned several instances of ideas passing through the mind, without our being able to recollect them next moment, These instances were produced, merely to illustrate the meaning I annex to the word attention ; and to recall to the recollection of the reader, a few striking cases, in which the possibility of our carrying on a process of thought, which we are unable to attend to at the time, or to remember afterwards, is acknow. ledged in the received systems of philosophy. I shall now mention some other phenomena, which appear
to me to be very similar to these, and to be explicable in the same manner ; although they have commonly been referred to very different principles.
The wonderful effect of practice in the formation of habits, has been often, and justly, taken notice of, as one of the most curious circumstances in the human constitution. A mechanical operation, for example, which we at first performed with the utmost difficulty, comes, in time, to be so familiar to us, that we are able to perform it without the smallest danger of mistake; even while the attention appears to be completely engaged with other subjects. The truth seems to be, that in consequence of the association of ideas, the different steps of the process present themselves successively to the thoughts, without any recollection on our part, and with a degree of rapidity proportioned to the length of our experience ; so as to save us entirely the trouble of hesitation and reflexion, by giving us every moment a precise and steady notion of the effect to be produced *.
In the case of some operations which are very familiar to us, we find ourselves unable to attend to, or to recollect, the acts of the will by, which they were preceded; and accordingly, some philosophers of great eminence have called in question the existence
* I do not mean by this observation, to call in question the effects which the practice of the mechanical arts has on the muscles of the body. These are as indisputable as its effects on the mind. A man who has been accustomed to write with his right hand, can write better with his left hand, than another who never practised the art at all ; but he cannot write so well with his left hand as with his right. The effects of practice, therefore, it should seem, are produced partly on the mind, and partly on the body.