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Psychometric Experiments
unlike the rest, or if the illumination is temporarily strong, it will assert
itself unduly in the result. The cases seem to me exactly analogous. I get
over my photographic difficulty very easily by throwing the sharp portrait
a little out of focus, by eliminating such portraits as have exceptional
features, and by toning down the illumination to a standard intensity.
When we attempt to trace the first steps in each operation of our
minds, we are usually baulked by the difficulty of keeping watch, without
embarrassing the freedom of its action. The difficulty is much more than
the common and well-known one of attending to two things at once. It is
especially due to the fact that the elementary operations of the mind are
exceedingly faint and evanescent, and that it requires the -utmost
painstaking to watch them properly. It would seem impossible to give the
required attention to the processes of thought, and yet to think as freely as
if the mind had been in no way preoccupied. The peculiarity of the
experiments I am about to describe  is that I have succeeded in evading
this difficulty. My method consists in allowing the mind to play freely for
a very brief period, until a couple or so of ideas have passed through it,
and then, while the traces or echoes of those ideas are still lingering in the
brain, to turn the attention upon them with a sudden and complete
awakening; to arrest, to scrutinise them, and to record their exact
appearance. Afterwards I collate the records at leisure, and discuss them,
and draw conclusions. It must be understood that the second of the two
ideas was never derived from the first, but always directly from the
original object. This was ensured by absolutely withstanding all
temptation to reverie. I do not mean that the first idea was of necessity a
simple elementary thought; sometimes it was a glance down a familiar
line of associations, sometimes it was a well-remembered mental attitude
or mode of feeling, but I mean that it was never so far indulged in as to
displace the object that had suggested it from being the primary topic of
I must add, that I found the experiments to be extremely Previous page Top Next page