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Inquiries into Human Faculty
number and nimbleness of our mental associations, and we also learn that
they are very far indeed from being infinite in their variety. We find that
our working stock of ideas is narrowly limited and that the mind
continually recurs to the same instruments in conducting its operations,
therefore its tracks necessarily become more defined and its flexibility
diminished as age advances.
When I am engaged in trying to think anything out, the process of
doing so appears to me to be this: The ideas that lie at any moment within
my full consciousness seem to attract of their own accord the most
appropriate out of a number of other ideas that are lying close at hand, but
imperfectly within the range of my consciousness. There seems to be a
presence-chamber in my mind where full consciousness holds court, and
where two or three ideas are at the same time in audience, and an
antechamber full of more or less allied ideas, which is situated just beyond
the full ken of consciousness. Out of this antechamber the ideas most
nearly allied to those in the presence-chamber appear to be summoned in
a mechanically logical way, and to have their turn of audience.
The successful progress of thought appears to depend— first, on a
large attendance in the antechamber; secondly, on the presence there of no
ideas except such as are strictly germane to the topic under consideration;
thirdly, on the justness of the logical mechanism that issues The
summons. The thronging of the antechamber is, I am convinced,
altogether beyond my control; if the ideas do not appear, I cannot create
them, nor compel them to come. The exclusion of alien ideas is
accompanied by a sense of mental effort and volition whenever the topic
under consideration is unattractive, otherwise it proceeds automatically,
for if an intruding idea finds nothing to cling to, it is unable to hold its
place in the antechamber, and slides back again. An animal absorbed in a
favourite occupation shows no sign of painful effort of attention; on the
contrary, he resents interruption that solicits his attention elsewhere.
The consequence of all this is that the mind frequently Previous page Top Next page