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Memory Devices

Many devices have been invented for training or using the memory, and
not a few worthless systems have been imposed by conscienceless fakers
upon uninformed people. All memorizing finally must go back to the
fundamental laws of brain activity and the rules growing out of these
laws. There is no royal road to a good memory.

THE EFFECTS OF CRAMMING.--Not a few students depend on cramming for much
of their learning. If this method of study would yield as valuable
permanent results, it would be by far the most sensible and economical
method to use; for under the stress of necessity we often are able to
accomplish results much faster than when no pressure is resting upon us.
The difficulty is, however, that the results are not permanent; the
facts learned do not have time to seek out and link themselves to
well-established associates; learned in an hour, their retention is as
ephemeral as the application which gave them to us.

Facts which are needed but temporarily and which cannot become a part of
our body of permanent knowledge may profitably be learned by cramming.
The lawyer needs many details for the case he is trying, which not only
are valueless to him as soon as the case is decided, but would
positively be in his way. He may profitably cram such facts. But those
facts which are to become a permanent part of his mental equipment, such
as the fundamental principles of law, he cannot cram. These he must have
in a logical chain which will not leave their recall dependent upon a
chance cue. Crammed facts may serve us during a recitation or an
examination, but they never really become a part of us. Nothing can take
the place of the logical placing of facts if they are to be remembered
with facility, and be usable in thinking when recalled.

REMEMBERING ISOLATED FACTS.--But after all this is taken into
consideration there still remain a large number of facts which refuse to
fit into any connected or logical system. Or, if they do belong with
some system, their connection is not very close, and we have more need
for the few individual facts than for the system as a whole. Hence we
must have some means of remembering such facts other than by connecting
them with their logical associations. Such facts as may be typified by
the multiplication table, certain dates, events, names, numbers,
errands, and engagements of various kinds--all these need to be
remembered accurately and quickly when the occasion for them arises. We
must be able to recall them with facility, so that the occasion will not
have passed by before we can secure them and we have failed to do our
part because of the lapse.

With facts of this type the means of securing a good memory are the same
as in the case of logical memory, except that we must of necessity
forego the linking to naturally related associates. We can, however,
take advantage of the three laws which have been given. If these methods
are used faithfully, then we have done what we can in the way of
insuring the recall of facts of this type, unless we associate them with
some artificial cue, such as tying a thread around our finger to
remember an errand, or learning the multiplication table by singing it.
We are not to be too ready to excuse ourselves, however, if we have
forgotten to mail the letter or deliver the message; for our attention
may have been very lax when we recorded the direction in the first
place, and we may never have taken the trouble to think of the matter
between the time it was given into our keeping and the time we were to
perform the errand.

MNEMONIC DEVICES.--Many ingenious devices have been invented to assist
the memory. No doubt each one of you has some way of your own of
remembering certain things committed to you, or some much-needed fact
which has a tendency to elude you. You may not tie the traditional
string around your finger or place your watch in the wrong pocket; but
if not, you have invented some method which suits your convenience
better. While many books have been written, and many lectures given
exploiting mnemonic systems, they are, however, all founded upon the
same general principle: namely, that of association of ideas in the
mind. They all make use of the same basis for memory that any of us use
every time we remember anything, from the commonest event which occurred
last hour to the most abstruse bit of philosophy which we may have in
our minds. They all tie the fact to be remembered to some other fact
which is sure of recall, and then trust the old fact to bring the new
along with it when it again comes into the mind.

Artificial devices may be permissible in remembering the class of facts
which have no logical associates in which we can relate them; but even
then I cannot help feeling that if we should use the same care and
ingenuity in carefully recording the seemingly unrelated facts that we
do in working out the device and making the association in it, we should
discover hidden relations for most of the facts we wish to remember, and
we should be able to insure their recall as certainly and in a better
way than through the device. Then, also, we should not be in danger of
handing over to the device various facts for which we should discover
relations, thus placing them in the logical body of our usable
knowledge where they belong.

Next: Problems In Observation And Introspection

Previous: What Constitutes A Good Memory

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