1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Oblivescence

(Part 43)

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


In actual fact, however, the memory-train is liable to change in two respects, which considerably modify its structure, viz., (1) through the evanescence of some parts, and (2) through the partial recurrence of like impressions, which produces reduplications of varying amount and extent in other parts. As regards the first, we may infer that the waning or sinking towards the threshold of consciousness which we can observe in the primary mental image continues in subconsciousness after the threshold is past. For the longer the time that elapses before their revival the fainter, the less distinct, and the less complete are the images when revived, and the more slowly they rise. All the elements of a complex are not equally revivable, as we have seen already; tastes, smells, and organic sensations, though powerful as impressions to revive other images, have little capacity for ideal reproduction themselves, while muscular movements, though perhaps of all presentations the most readily revived, do not so readily revive other presentations. Idiosyncrasies are, however, frequent; thus we find one person has an exceptional memory for sounds, another for colours, another for forms. Still it is general true that the most intense, the most impressive, and the most interesting presentations persist the longest. But the evanescence, which is in all cases comparatively rapid at first, deepens sooner or later into real or apparent oblivion. In this manner it comes about that parts of the memory-continuum lose all distinctness of features and, being without recognizable content, shrivel up to a dim and meager representation of life that has lapsed – a representation that just suffices, for example, to show us that "our earliest recollection" are not of our first experiences, or to save them from being not only isolated but discontinuous. Such discontinuity can, of course, never be absolute; we must have something represented even to mark the gap. Oblivion and the absence of all representation are thus the same, and the absence of all representation cannot psychologically constitute a break. The term "evolution" and "involution" have in this respect been happily applied to the rising and falling of representations. When we recall a particular period of our past life or what has long ceased to be a familiar scene, events and features gradually unfold and, as it were, spread out as we keep on attending. A precisely opposite process may be supposed to take place when they are left in undisturbed forgetfulness; with loss of distinctness in the several members of a whole or series, there is a loss of individuality and individual differences. And such loss is not a mere latency, as some psychologists, on metaphysical grounds [62-1] or from a mistaken use of physical analogies, have been led to suppose. There is no real resemblance between the action, or rather inaction, of a particle obedient to the first law of motion and the persistence of a presentation, [62-2] which is not even the psychical equivalent of an atom.


62-1 So, e.g., Hamilton (following H. Schmid), Lect. On Met., ii. p. 211 sq.

62-2 Cf. Lotze, Metaphysik, p. 518.

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