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The Stuff Of Memory

What are the forms in which memory presents the past to us? What are the

elements with which it deals? What is the stuff of which it consists?

IMAGES AS THE MATERIAL OF MEMORY.--In the light of our discussion upon

mental imagery, and with the aid of a little introspection, the answer

is easy. I ask you to remember your home, and at once a visual image of

the familiar house, with its well-known rooms and their characte

furnishings, comes to your mind. I ask you to remember the last concert

you attended, or the chorus of birds you heard recently in the woods;

and there comes a flood of images, partly visual, but largely auditory,

from the melodies you heard. Or I ask you to remember the feast of

which you partook yesterday, and gustatory and olfactory images are

prominent among the others which appear. And so I might keep on until I

had covered the whole range of your memory; and, whether I ask you for

the simple trivial experiences of your past, for the tragic or crucial

experiences, or for the most abstruse and abstract facts which you know

and can recall, the case is the same: much of what memory presents to

you comes in the form of images or of ideas of your past.

IMAGES VARY AS TO TYPE.--We do not all remember what we call the same

fact in like images or ideas. When you remembered that Columbus

discovered America in 1492, some of you had an image of Columbus the

mariner standing on the deck of his ship, as the old picture shows him;

and accompanying this image was an idea of long agoness. Others, in

recalling the same fact, had an image of the coast on which he landed,

and perchance felt the rocking of the boat and heard it scraping on the

sand as it neared the shore. And still others saw on the printed page

the words stating that Columbus discovered America in 1492. And so in an

infinite variety of images or ideas we may remember what we call the

same fact, though of course the fact is not really the same fact to any

two of us, nor to any one of us when it comes to us on different

occasions in different images.

OTHER MEMORY MATERIAL.--But sensory images are not the only material

with which memory has to deal. We may also recall the bare fact that it

rained a week ago today without having images of the rain. We may recall

that Columbus discovered America in 1492 without visual or other images

of the event. As a matter of fact we do constantly recall many facts of

abstract nature, such as mathematical or scientific formulae with no

imagery other than that of the words or symbols, if indeed these be

present. Memory may therefore use as its stuff not only images, but also

a wide range of facts, ideas and meanings of all sorts.