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The Part Played By Past Experience


you have seen or heard or felt; of things you have thought of before and

which now recur to you; of things you remember, such as names, dates,

places, events; of things that you do not remember as a part of your

past at all, but that belong to it nevertheless--these are the things

which form a large part of your mental stream, and which give content to
/> your thinking. You may think of a thing that is going on now, or of one

that is to occur in the future; but, after all, you are dependent on

your past experience for the material which you put into your thinking

of the present moment.

Indeed, nothing can enter your present thinking which does not link

itself to something in your past experience. The savage Indian in the

primeval forest never thought about killing a deer with a rifle merely

by pulling a trigger, or of turning a battery of machine guns on his

enemies to annihilate them--none of these things were related to his

past experience; hence he could not think in such terms.

THE PRESENT INTERPRETED BY THE PAST.--Not only can we not think at all

except in terms of our past experience, but even if we could, the

present would be meaningless to us; for the present is interpreted in

the light of the past. The sedate man of affairs who decries athletic

sports, and has never taken part in them, cannot understand the wild

enthusiasm which prevails between rival teams in a hotly contested

event. The fine work of art is to the one who has never experienced the

appeal which comes through beauty, only so much of canvas and variegated

patches of color. Paul says that Jesus was unto the Greeks,

foolishness. He was foolishness to them because nothing in their

experience with their own gods had been enough like the character of

Jesus to enable them to interpret Him.

THE FUTURE ALSO DEPENDS ON THE PAST.--To the mind incapable of using

past experience, the future also would be impossible; for we can look

forward into the future only by placing in its experiences the elements

of which we have already known. The savage who has never seen the

shining yellow metal does not dream of a heaven whose streets are paved

with gold, but rather of a happy hunting ground. If you will analyze

your own dreams of the future you will see in them familiar pictures

perhaps grouped together in new forms, but coming, in their elements,

from your past experience nevertheless. All that would remain to a mind

devoid of a past would be the little bridge of time which we call the

present moment, a series of unconnected nows. Thought would be

impossible, for the mind would have nothing to compare and relate.

Personality would not exist; for personality requires continuity of

experience, else we should be a new person each succeeding moment,

without memory and without plans. Such a mind would be no mind at all.


past experience in determining our present thinking and guiding our

future actions, that the place of an individual in the scale of creation

is determined largely by the ability to profit by past experience. The

scientist tells us of many species of animals now extinct, which lost

their lives and suffered their race to die out because when, long ago,

the climate began to change and grow much colder, they were unable to

use the experience of suffering in the last cold season as an incentive

to provide shelter, or move to a warmer climate against the coming of

the next and more rigorous one. Man was able to make the adjustment;

and, providing himself with clothing and shelter and food, he survived,

while myriads of the lower forms perished.

The singed moth again and again dares the flame which tortures it, and

at last gives its life, a sacrifice to its folly; the burned child fears

the fire, and does not the second time seek the experience. So also can

the efficiency of an individual or a nation, as compared with other

individuals or nations, be determined. The inefficient are those who

repeat the same error or useless act over and over, or else fail to

repeat a chance useful act whose repetition might lead to success. They

are unable to learn their lesson and be guided by experience. Their past

does not sufficiently minister to their present, and through it direct

their future.