Perception and Memory.
1. Perceptions are no imprints, we have said, are not to be thought of as seal-impressions on soul or mind: accepting this statement, there is one theory of memory which must be definitely rejected.
Memory is not to be explained as the retaining of information in virtue of the lingering of an impression which in fact was never made; the two things stand or fall together; either an impression is made upon the mind and lingers when there is remembrance, or, denying the impression, we cannot hold that memory is its lingering. Since we reject equally the impression and the retention we are obliged to seek for another explanation of perception and memory, one excluding the notions that the sensible object striking upon soul or mind makes a mark upon it, and that the retention of this mark is memory.
If we study what occurs in the case of the most vivid form of perception, we can transfer our results to the other cases, and so solve our problem.
In any perception we attain by sight, the object is grasped there where it lies in the direct line of vision; it is there that we attack it; there, then, the perception is formed; the mind looks outward; this is ample proof that it has taken and takes no inner imprint, and does not see in virtue of some mark made upon it like that of the ring on the wax; it need not look outward at all if, even as it looked, it already held the image of the object, seeing by virtue of an impression made upon itself. It includes with the object the interval, for it tells at what distance the vision takes place: how could it see as outlying an impression within itself, separated by no interval from itself? Then, the point of magnitude: how could the mind, on this hypothesis, define the external size of the object or perceive that it has any — the magnitude of the sky, for instance, whose stamped imprint would be too vast for it to contain? And, most convincing of all, if to see is to accept imprints of the objects of our vision, we can never see these objects themselves; we see only vestiges they leave within us, shadows: the things themselves would be very different from our vision of them. And, for a conclusive consideration, we cannot see if the living object is in contact with the eye, we must look from a certain distance; this must be more applicable to the mind; supposing the mind to be stamped with an imprint of the object, it could not grasp as an object of vision what is stamped upon itself. For vision demands a duality, of seen and seeing: the seeing agent must be distinct and act upon an impression outside it, not upon one occupying the same point with it: sight can deal only with an object not inset but outlying.
2. But if perception does not go by impression, what is the process?
The mind affirms something not contained within it: this is precisely the characteristic of a power — not to accept impression but, within its allotted sphere, to act.
Besides, the very condition of the mind being able to exercise discrimination upon what it is to see and hear is not, of course, that these objects be equally impressions made upon it; on the contrary, there must be no impressions, nothing to which the mind is passive; there can be only acts of that in which the objects become known.
Our tendency is to think of any of the faculties as unable to know its appropriate object by its own uncompelled act; to us it seems to submit to its environment rather than simply to perceive it, though in reality it is the master, not the victim.
As with sight, so with hearing. It is the air which takes the impression, a kind of articulated stroke which may be compared to letters traced upon it by the object causing the sound; but it belongs to the faculty, and the soul-essence, to read the imprints thus appearing before it, as they reach the point at which they become matter of its knowledge.
In taste and smell also we distinguish between the impressions received and the sensations and judgements; these last are mental acts, and belong to an order apart from the experiences upon which they are exercised.
The knowing of the things belonging to the Intellectual is not in any such degree attended by impact or impression: they come forward, on the contrary, as from within, unlike the sense-objects known as from without: they have more emphatically the character of acts; they are acts in the stricter sense, for their origin is in the soul, and every concept of this Intellectual order is the soul about its Act.
Whether, in this self-vision, the soul is a duality and views itself as from the outside — while seeing the Intellectual-Principal as a unity, and itself with the Intellectual-Principle as a unity — this question is investigated elsewhere.
3. With this prologue we come to our discussion of Memory.
That the soul, or mind, having taken no imprint, yet achieves perception of what it in no way contains need not surprise us; or rather, surprising though it is, we cannot refuse to believe in this remarkable power.
The Soul is the Reason-Principle of the universe, ultimate among the Intellectual Beings — its own essential Nature is one of the Beings of the Intellectual Realm — but it is the primal Reason-Principle of the entire realm of sense.
Thus it has dealings with both orders — benefited and quickened by the one, but by the other beguiled, falling before resemblances, and so led downwards as under spell. Poised midway, it is aware of both spheres.
Of the Intellectual it is said to have intuition by memory upon approach, for it knows them by a certain natural identity with them; its knowledge is not attained by besetting them, so to speak, but by in a definite degree possessing them; they are its natural vision; they are itself in a more radiant mode, and it rises from its duller pitch to that greater brilliance in a sort of awakening, a progress from its latency to its act.
To the sense-order it stands in a similar nearness and to such things it gives a radiance out of its own store and, as it were, elaborates them to visibility: the power is always ripe and, so to say, in travail towards them, so that, whenever it puts out its strength in the direction of what has once been present in it, it sees that object as present still; and the more intent its effort the more durable is the presence. This is why, it is agreed, children have long memory; the things presented to them are not constantly withdrawn but remain in sight; in their case the attention is limited but not scattered: those whose faculty and mental activity are busied upon a multitude of subjects pass quickly over all, lingering on none.
Now, if memory were a matter of seal-impressions retained, the multiplicity of objects would have no weakening effect on the memory. Further, on the same hypothesis, we would have no need of thinking back to revive remembrance; nor would we be subject to forgetting and recalling; all would lie engraved within.
The very fact that we train ourselves to remember shows that what we get by the process is a strengthening of the mind: just so, exercises for feet and hands enable us to do easily acts which in no sense contained or laid up in those members, but to which they may be fitted by persevering effort.
How else can it be explained that we forget a thing heard once or twice but remember what is often repeated, and that we recall a long time afterwards what at first hearing we failed to hold?
It is no answer to say that the parts present themselves sooner than the entire imprint — why should they too be forgotten? —[there is no question of parts, for] the last hearing, or our effort to remember, brings the thing back to us in a flash.
All these considerations testify to an evocation of that faculty of the soul, or mind, in which remembrance is vested: the mind is strengthened, either generally or to this particular purpose.
Observe these facts: memory follows upon attention; those who have memorized much, by dint of their training in the use of leading indications [suggestive words and the like], reach the point of being easily able to retain without such aid: must we not conclude that the basis of memory is the soul-power brought to full strength?
The lingering imprints of the other explanation would tell of weakness rather than power; for to take imprint easily is to be yielding. An impression is something received passively; the strongest memory, then, would go with the least active nature. But what happens is the very reverse: in no pursuit to technical exercises tend to make a man less the master of his acts and states. It is as with sense-perception; the advantage is not to the weak, the weak eye for example, but to that which has the fullest power towards its exercise. In the old, it is significant, the senses are dulled and so is the memory.
Sensation and memory, then, are not passivity but power.
And, once it is admitted that sensations are not impressions, the memory of a sensation cannot consist in the retention of an impression that was never made.
Yes: but if it is an active power of the mind, a fitness towards its particular purpose, why does it not come at once — and not with delay — to the recollection of its unchanging objects?
Simply because the power needs to be poised and prepared: in this it is only like all the others, which have to be readied for the task to which their power reaches, some operating very swiftly, others only after a certain self-concentration.
Quick memory does not in general go with quick wit: the two do not fall under the same mental faculty; runner and boxer are not often united in one person; the dominant idea differs from man to man.
Yet there could be nothing to prevent men of superior faculty from reading impressions on the mind; why should one thus gifted be incapable of what would be no more than a passive taking and holding?
That memory is a power of the Soul [not a capacity for taking imprint] is established at a stroke by the consideration that the soul is without magnitude.
And — one general reflection — it is not extraordinary that everything concerning soul should proceed in quite other ways than appears to people who either have never enquired, or have hastily adopted delusive analogies from the phenomena of sense, and persist in thinking of perception and remembrance in terms of characters inscribed on plates or tablets; the impossibilities that beset this theory escape those that make the soul incorporeal equally with those to whom it is corporeal.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53