1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Imagination and Memory

(Part 46)

(G) Mental Association and the Memory-Continuum (cont.)

Imagination and Memory

Having thus attempted to ascertain the formation of the ideational continuum out of the memory-train, the question arises: How now are we to distinguish between imagining and remembering, and again, between imagining and expecting? It is plainly absurd to make the difference depend on the presence of belief in memory and expectation and on its absence in mere imagination; for the belief itself depends on the difference instead of constituting it. One real and obvious distinction, however, which Hume pointed out as regards memory, is the fixed order and position of the ideas of what is remembered or expected as contrasted with "the liberty" of the imagination to transpose and change its ideas. This order and position in the case of memory are, of course, normally those of the original impressions, but it seems rather naïve of Hume to tell us the memory, " is tied down to these without any power of variation," while imagination has liberty to transpose as it pleases, as if the originals sat to memory for their portraits, while to imagination they were but studies. Such correspondence being out of the question – as Hume takes care to state as soon as it suits him – all we have, so far, is this fixity and definiteness as contrasted with the kaleidoscopic instability of ideation. In this respect what is remembered or expected resembles what is perceived: grouping not only does not change capriciously and spontaneously, but resists any mental efforts to change it. But, provided these characteristics are there, we should be apt to believe that we are remembering, just as, mutatis mutandis, with like characteristics we might believe that we were perceiving: hallucination is possible in either case.

This fixity of order and position is, however, not sufficient to constitute a typical remembrance where the term is exactly used. But remembering is often regarded as equivalent to knowing and recognizing, as when on revisiting some once familiar place one remarks, "How well I remember it!" What is meant is that the place is recognized, and that its recognition awakens memories. Memory includes recognition; recognition as such does not include memory. In human consciousness, as we directly observe it, there is, perhaps, no pure recognition: here the new presentation is not only assimilated to the old, but the former framing of circumstance is reinstated, and so preface distinguished from the present. It may be there is no warrant for supposing that such redintegration of a preceding field is ever absolutely nil, still we are justified in regarding it as extremely vague and meager, both where mental evolution is but slightly advanced and where frequent repetition in varying and irrelevant circumstances has produced a blurred and neutral zone. The last is the case with a great part of our knowledge; the writer happens to know that bos is the Latin for "ox" and bufo the Latin for "toad," and may be said to remember both items of knowledge, if "remember" is only to be synonymous with "retain." But if he came across bos in reading he would think of an ox and nothing more; bufo would immediately call up not only "toad" but Virgil’s Georgics, the only place in which he has seen the word, and which he never read but once. In the former there is so far nothing but recognition (which, however, of course rests upon retentiveness); in the latter there is also remembrance of the time and circumstances in which that piece of knowledge was acquired. Of course in so fare as we are aware that we recognize we also think that remembrance is at any rate possible, since what we know we must previously have learned, -- recognition excluding novelty. But the point here urged in that there is an actual remembrance only when the recognition is accompanied by a reinstatement of portions of the memory-train continuous with the previous presentation of what is now recognized. Summarily stated, we may say that between knowing and remembering on the one hand and imagining on the other the difference primary turns on the fixity and completeness of the grouping in the former; in the latter there is a shifting play of images more or less "generic," reminding one of "dissolving views." Hence the first two approximate in character to perception, and are rightly called recognitions. Between them, again, the difference turns primarily on the presence or absence of temporal signs. In what is remembered these are still intact enough to ensure a localization in the past of what is recognized; in what is known merely such localization is prevented, either because of the obliviscence of temporal connexions or because the reduplications of the memory-train that have consolidated the central group have entailed their suppression. There is further the difference of degree, viz., that remembrances have more circumstantiality, so to say, than mere recognitions have: more of the collateral constituents of the original concrete field of consciousness are reinstated. But of the two characteristics of memory proper – (a) concreteness or circumstantiality, and (b) localization in the past – the latter is the more essential. It sometimes happens that we have the one with little or nothing of the other. For example, we may have but a faint and meager representation of a scene, yet if it falls into and retains a fixed place in the memory-train we have no doubt that some such experience was once actually ours. On the other hand, as in certain so-called illusions of memory, we may suddenly find ourselves reminded by what is happening at the moment of a preceding experience exactly like it – some even feel that they know from what is thus recalled what will happen next; and yet, because we are wholly unable to assign such representation a place in the past, instead of a belief that it happened, there arises a most distressing sense of bewilderment, as if one were haunted and had lost one’s personal bearings. [Footnote 63-1] It has been held by some psychologists [Footnote 63-2] that memory proper includes the representation of one’s past self as agent or patient in the event or situation recalled. And this is true as regards all but the earliest human experience, at any rate; still, whereas it is easy to see that memory is essential to any development of self-consciousness, the converse is not at all clear, and would involve us in a needless circle.


63-1 Any full discussion of these very interesting states of mind belongs to metal pathology.

63-1 As, e.g., James Mill (Analysis of the Human Mind, ch. x.), who treated this difficult subject with great acuteness and thoroughness.

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