How to Use Your Mind
by Harry D. Kitson
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Reverting to our discussion of memory, we come upon another question: In memorizing material like the poem of our example, should one impress the entire poem at once, or break it up into parts, impressing a stanza each day? Most people would respond, without thought, the latter, and, as a matter of fact, most memorizing takes place in this way. Experimental psychology, however, has discovered that this is uneconomical. The selection, if of moderate length, should be impressed as a whole. If too long for this, it should be broken up as little as possible. In order to see the necessity for this let us examine your experiences with the memorization of poems in your early school days. You probably proceeded as follows: After school one day, you learned the first stanza, then went out to play. The next day you learned the second one, and so on. You thought at the end of a week that you had memorized it because, at the end of each day's sitting, you were able to recite perfectly the stanza learned that day. On "speaking day" you started out bravely and recited the first stanza without mishap. When you started to think of the second one, however, it would not come. The memory balked. Now what was the matter? How can we explain this distressing blank? In psychological terms, we ascribe the difficulty to the failure to make proper associations between stanzas. Association was made effectively between the lines of the single stanzas, but not between the separate stanzas. After you finished impressing the first stanza, you went about something else; playing ball, perhaps. When you approached the poem the next day you started in with the second stanza. There was then no bridge between the two. There was nothing to link the last line of the first stanza,

"And things are not what they seem,"

with the first line of the next stanza,

"Life is real, life is earnest."

This makes clear the necessity of impressing the poem as a whole instead of by parts.

According to another classification, there are two ways of memorizing—by rote and by logical associations. Rote memorizing involves the repetition of material just as it stands, and usually requires such long and laborious drill that it is seldom economical. True, some matter must be memorized this way; such as the days of the week and the names of the months; but there is another and gentler method which is usually more effective and economical than that of brutal repetition. That is the method of logical association, by which one links up a new fact with something already in the mind. If, for example, you wish to remember the date of the World's Fair in Chicago, you might proceed as follows: Ask yourself, What did the Fair commemorate? The discovery of America in 1492, the four hundredth anniversary occurring in 1892. The Fair could not be made ready in that year, however, so was postponed a year. Such a process of memorizing the date is less laborious than the method of rote memory, and is usually more likely to lead to ready recall. The old fact already in mind acts as a magnet which at some later time may call up other facts that had once been associated with it. You can easily see that this new fact might have been associated with several old facts, thus securing more chances of being called up. From this it may be inferred that the more facts you have in your mind about a subject the more chances you have of retaining new facts. It is sometimes thought that if a person stores so much in his memory it will soon be so full that he cannot memorize any more. This is a false notion, involving a conception of the brain as a hopper into which impressions are poured until it runs over. On the contrary, it should be regarded as an interlacing of fibers with infinite possibilities of inter-connection, and no one ever exhausts the number of associations that can be made.

The method of logical association may be employed with telling effect in the study of foreign languages. When you meet a new word scrutinize it carefully for some trace of a word already familiar to you either in that language or in another. This independent discovery of meanings is a very great aid in saving time and in fixing the meaning of new words. Opportunities for this method are especially frequent in the German language, since so many German words are formed by compounding other words. "Rathausmarkt" is a long and apparently difficult German word, and one's first temptation is to look it up in the lexicon and promptly forget it. Let us analyze it, however, and we shall see that it is only a compound of already familiar words. "Rat" is already familiar as the word for counsel ("raten" to give advice); "haus" is equally familiar. So we see that the first part of the word means council-house; the council-house of a city is called a city hall. "Markt" is equally familiar as market-square, so the significance of the entire word stands, city-hall-square. By such a method of utilizing facts already known, you may make yourself much more independent of the lexicon and may make your memory for foreign words much more tenacious.

We approach a phase of impression the importance of which is often unsuspected; namely, the intention with which memorizing is done. The fidelity of memory is greatly affected by the intention. If, at the time of impression, you intend to retain only until the time of recall, the material tends to slip away after that time. If, however, you impress with the intention to retain permanently the material stays by you better. Students make a great mistake when they study for the purpose merely of retaining until after examination time. Intend to retain facts permanently, and there will be greater likelihood of their permanence.


Readings: Adams (1) Chapter III. Seashore (16) Chapter II. Swift (20) Chapter VII. Watt (21).

Exercise I. Cite examples from your own experience showing the effects of the following faults in making impressions. a. First impression not clear. b. Insufficient number of repetitions. c. Use of rote method instead of method of logical association. d. Impressions not distributed. e. Improper use of "part" method.

Exercise 2. After experimentation, state what is your most effective sense avenue for the impression of foreign words, facts in history, the pronunciation of English words.

Exercise 3. Make a preliminary draft of your next theme; lay it aside for a day or two; then write another on the same subject; combine the two, using the best parts of each; lay this aside for a day or two; then read it aloud, making such changes as are prompted by the auditory presentation. Can you find elements of worth in this method, which will warrant you in adopting it, at least, in part?



Our discussion up to this point has centred around the phase of memory called impression. We have described some of the conditions favorable to impression and have seen that certain and accurate memory depends upon adherence to them. The next phase of memory—Retention—cannot be described in psychological terms. We know we retain facts after they are once impressed, but as to their status in the mind we can say nothing. If you were asked when the Declaration of Independence was signed, you would reply instantly. When asked, however, where that fact was five minutes ago, you could not answer. Somewhere in the recesses of the mind, perhaps, but as to immediate awareness of it, there was none. We may try to think of retention in terms of nerve cells and say that at the time when the material was first impressed there was some modification made in certain nerve cells which persisted. This trait of nerve modifiability is one factor which accounts for greater retentive power in some persons than in others. It must not be concluded, however, that all good memory is due to the inheritance of this trait. It is due partly to observance of proper conditions of impression, and much can be done to overcome or offset innate difficulty of modification by such observance.

We are now ready to examine the third phase of memory—Recall. This is the stage at which material that has been impressed and retained is recalled to serve the purpose for which it was memorized. Recall is thus the goal of memory, and all the devices so far discussed have it for their object. Can we facilitate recall by any other means than by faithful and intelligent impressions? For answer let us examine the state of mind at time of recall.

We find that it is a unique mental state. It differs from impression in being a period of more active search for facts in the mind accompanied by expression, instead of a concentration upon the external impression. It is also usually accompanied by motor expressions, either talking or writing. Since recall is a unique mental state, you ought to prepare for it by means of a rehearsal. When you are memorizing anything to be recalled, make part of your memorizing a rehearsal of it, if possible, under same conditions as final recall. In memorizing from a book, first make impression, then close the book and practise recall. When memorizing a selection to be given in a public speaking class, intersperse the periods of impression with periods of recall. This is especially necessary in preparation for public speaking, for facing an audience gives rise to a vastly different psychic attitude from that of impression. The sight of an audience may be embarrassing or exciting. Furthermore, unforeseen distractions may arise. Accordingly, create those conditions as nearly as possible in your preparation. Imagine yourself facing the audience. Practise aloud so that you will become accustomed to the sound of your own voice. The importance of the practice of recall as a part of the memory process can hardly be overestimated. One psychologist has advised that in memorizing significant material more than half the time should be spent in practising recall.

There still remains a fourth phase of memory—Recognition. Whenever a remembered fact is recalled, it is accompanied by a characteristic feeling which we call the feeling of recognition. It has been described as a feeling of familiarity, a glow of warmth, a sense of ownership, a feeling of intimacy. As you walk down the street of a great city you pass hundreds of faces, all of them strange. Suddenly in the crowd you catch sight of some one you know and are instantly suffused with a glow of feeling that is markedly different from your feeling toward the others. That glow represents the feeling of recognition. It is always present during recall and may be used in great advantage in studying. It derives its virtue for our purpose from the fact that it is a feeling, and at the time of feeling the bodily activities in general are affected. Changes occur in heart beat, breathing; various glandular secretions are affected, the digestive organs respond. In this general quickening of bodily activity we have reason to believe that the nervous system partakes, and things become impressed more readily. Thus the feeling of recognition that accompanies recall is responsible for one of the benefits of reviews. At such a time material once memorized becomes tinged with a feelingful color different from that which accompanied it when new. Review, then, not merely to produce additional impressions, but also to take advantage of the feeling of recognition.

We have now discussed memory in its four phases and have seen clearly that it operates not in a blind, chaotic manner, but according to law. Certain conditions are required and when they are met memory is good. After providing proper conditions for memory, then, trust your memory. An attitude of confidence is very necessary. If, when you are memorizing, you continually tremble for fear that you will not recall at the desired moment, the fixedness of the impression will be greatly hindered. Therefore, after utilizing all your knowledge about the conditions of memorizing, rest content and trust to the laws of Nature. They will not fail you.

By this time you have seen that memory is not a mysterious mental faculty with which some people are generously endowed, and of which others are deprived. All people of normal intelligence can remember and can improve their ability if they desire. The improvement does not take the form that some people expect, however. No magic wand can transform you into a good memorizes You must work the transformation yourself. Furthermore, it is not an instantaneous process to be accomplished overnight. It will come about only after you have built up a set of habits, according to our conception of study as a process of habit formation.

A final word of caution should be added. Some people think of memory as a separate division or compartment of the mind which can be controlled and improved by exercising it alone. Such a conception is fallacious. Improvement in memory will involve improvement in other mental abilities, and you will find that as you improve your ability to remember, you will develop at the same time better powers to concentrate attention, to image, to associate facts and to reason.


Reading: See readings for Chapter VI.

Exercise I. Compare the mental conditions of impression with those of recall.



Nearly everyone has difficulty in the concentration of attention. Brain workers in business and industry, students in high school and college, and even professors in universities, complain of the same difficulty. Attention seems in some way to be at the very core of mental activity, for no matter from what aspect we view the mind, its excellence seems to depend upon the power to concentrate attention. When we examine a growing infant, one of the first signs by which we judge the awakening of intelligence is the power to pay attention or to "notice things." When we examine the intellectual ability of normal adults we do so by means of tests that require close concentration of attention. In judging the intelligence of people with whom we associate every day, we regard one who is able to maintain close attention for long periods of time as a person of strong mind. We rate Thomas Edison as a powerful thinker when we read that he becomes so absorbed in work that he neither eats nor sleeps. Finally, when we examine the insane and the feeble-minded, we find that one form which their derangements take is an inability to control the attention. This evidence, added to our own experience, shows us the importance of concentration of attention in study and we become even more desirous of investigating attention to see how we may develop it.

We shall be better able to discuss attention if we select for analysis a concrete situation when the mind is in a state of concentrated attention. Concentrate for a moment upon the letter O. Although you are ostensibly focussing all your powers of attention upon the letter, nevertheless you are really aware of a number of things besides: of other words on the page; of other objects in the field of vision; of sounds in the room and on the street; of sensations from your clothing; and of sensations from your bodily organs, such as the heart and lungs. In addition to these sensations, you will find, if you introspect carefully enough, that your mind also contains a number of ideas and imaginings; thoughts about the paragraph you just read or about one of your lessons. Thus we see that at a time when we apparently focus our attention upon but one thing, we really have a large number of things in our mind, and they are of a great variety. The mental field might be represented by a circle, at the centre of which is the object of attention. It may be an object in the external world perceived through one of the senses, or it may be an idea we are thinking about, such, for example, as the idea of infinity. But whether the thing attended to is a perception or an idea, we may properly speak of it as the object of attention or the "focal" object. In addition to this, we must recognize the presence of a large number of other objects, both sensory and ideational. These are nearer the margin of the mental field, so we call them "marginal."

The distinctive thing about a state of mind such as that just described is that the focal object is much clearer than the marginal objects. For example, when you fixated the letter O, it was only in the vaguest sort of fashion that you were aware of the contact of your clothing or the lurking ideas of other lessons. As we examine these marginal objects further, we find that they are continually seeking to crowd into the centre of attention and to become clear. You may be helped in forming a vivid picture of conditions if you think of the mind as a stream ever in motion, and as it flows on, the objects in it continually shift their positions. A cross-section of the stream at any moment may show the contents of the mind arranged in a particular pattern, but at the very next moment they may be arranged in a different pattern, another object occupying the focus, while the previous tenant is pushed to the margin. Thus we see that it is a tendency of the mind to be forever changing. If left to itself, it would be in ceaseless fluctuation, the whim of every passing fancy. This tendency to fluctuate comes with more or less regularity, some psychologists say every second or two. True, we do not always yield to the fluctuating tendency, nevertheless we are recurrently tempted, and we must exercise continuous effort to keep a particular object at the focus. The power to exert effort and to regulate the arrangement of our states of mind is the peculiar gift of man, and is a prime function of education. Viewed in this light, then, we see that the voluntary focusing of our attention consists in the selecting of certain objects to be attended to, and the ignoring of other objects which act as distractions. We may conveniently classify the latter as external sensations, bodily sensations and irrelevant ideas.

Let us take an actual situation that may arise in study and see how this applies. Suppose you are in your room studying about Charlemagne, a page of your history text occupying the centre of your attention. The marginal distractions in such a case would consist, first, in external sensations, such as the glare from your study-lamp, the hissing of the radiator, the practising of a neighboring vocalist, the rattle of passing street-cars. The bodily distractions might consist of sensations of weariness referred to the back, the arms and the eyes, and fainter sensations from the digestive organs, heart and lungs. The irrelevant ideas might consist of thoughts about a German lesson which you are going to study, visions of a face, or thoughts about some social engagement. These marginal objects are in the mind even when you conscientiously focus your mind upon the history lesson, and, though vague, they try to force their way into the focus and become clear. The task of paying attention, then, consists in maintaining the desired object at the centre of the mental field and keeping the distractions away. With this definition of attention, we see that in order to increase the effectiveness of attention during study, we must devise means for overcoming the distractions peculiar to study. Obviously the first thing is to eliminate every distraction possible. Such a plan of elimination may require a radical rearrangement of study conditions, for students often fail to realize how wretched their conditions of study are from a psychological standpoint. They attempt to study in rooms with two or three others who talk and move about continually; they drop down in any spot in the library and expose themselves needlessly to a great number of distractions. If you wish to become a good student, you must prepare conditions as favorable as possible for study. Choose a quiet room to live in, free from distracting sounds and sights. Have your room at a temperature neither too hot nor too cold; 68 deg. F. is usually considered favorable for study. When reading in the library, sit down in a quiet spot, with your back to the door, so you will not be tempted to look up as people enter the room. Do not sit near a group of gossipers or near a creaking door. Having made the external conditions favorable for study, you should next address yourself to the task of eliminating bodily distractions. The most disturbing of these in study are sensations of fatigue, for, contrary to the opinion of many people, study is very fatiguing work and involves continual strain upon the muscles in holding the body still, particularly those of the back, neck, arms, hands and, above all, the eyes. How many movements are made by your eyes in the course of an hour's study! They sweep back and forth across the page incessantly, being moved by six muscles which are bound to become fatigued. Still more fatigue comes from the contractions of delicate muscles within the eyeball, where adjustments are made for far and near vision and for varying amounts of light. The eyes, then, give rise to much fatigue, and, altogether, are the source of a great many bodily distractions in study.

Other distractions may consist of sensations from the clothing. We are always vaguely aware of pressure of our clothing. Usually it is not sufficiently noticeable to cause much annoyance, but occasionally it is, as is demonstrated at night when we take off a shoe with such a sigh of relief that we realize in retrospect it had been vaguely troubling us all day.

In trying to create conditions for efficient study, many bodily distractions can be eliminated. The study chair should be easy to sit in so as to reduce fatigue of the muscles supporting the body; the book-rest should be arranged so as to require little effort to hold the book; the light should come over the left shoulder. This is especially necessary in writing, so that the writing hand will not cast a shadow upon the work. The muscles of the eyes will be rested and fatigue will be retarded if you close the eyes occasionally. Then in order to lessen the general fatigue of the body, you may find it advantageous to rise and walk about occasionally. Lastly, the clothing should be loose and unconfining; especially should there be plenty of room for circulation.

In the overcoming of distractions, we have seen that much may be done by way of eliminating distractions, and we have pointed out the way to accomplish this to a certain extent. But in spite of our most careful provisions, there will still be distractions that cannot be eliminated. You cannot, for example, chloroform the vocalist in the neighboring apartment, nor stop the street-cars while you study; you cannot rule out fatigue sensations entirely, and you cannot build a fence around the focus of your mind so as to keep out unwelcome and irrelevant ideas. The only thing to do then is to accept as inevitable the presence of some distractions, and to realise that to pay attention, it is necessary to habituate yourself to the ignoring of distractions.

In the accomplishment of this end it will be necessary to apply the principles of habit formation already described. Start out by making a strong determination to ignore all distractions. Practise ignoring them, and do not let a slip occur. Try to develop interest in the object of attention, because we pay attention to those things in which we are most interested. A final point that may help you is to use the first lapse of attention as a reminder of the object you desire to fixate upon. This may be illustrated by the following example: Suppose, in studying a history lesson, you come upon a reference to the royal apparel of Charlemagne. The word "royal" might call up purple, a Northwestern University pennant, the person who gave it to you, and before you know it you are off in a long day-dream leading far from the history lesson. Such migrations as these are very likely to occur in study, and constitute one of the most treacherous pitfalls of student life. In trying to avoid them, you must form habits of disregarding irrelevant ideas when they try to obtrude themselves. And the way to do this is to school yourself so that the first lapse of attention will remind you of the lesson in hand. It can be done if you keep yourself sensitive to wanderings of attention, and let the first slip from the topic with which you are engaged remind you to pull yourself back. Do this before you have taken the step that will carry you far away, for with each step in the series of associations it becomes harder to draw yourself back into the correct channel.

In reading, one frequent cause for lapses of attention and for the intrusion of unwelcome ideas is obscurity in the material being read. If you trace back your lapses of attention, you will often find that they first occur when the thought becomes difficult to follow, the sentence ambiguous, or a single word unusual. As a result, the meaning grows hazy in your mind and you fail to comprehend it. Naturally, then, you drift into a channel of thought that is easier to follow. This happens because the mental stream tends to seek channels of least resistance. If you introspect carefully, you will undoubtedly discover that many of your annoying lapses of attention can be traced to such conditions. The obvious remedy is to make sure that you understand everything as you read. As soon as you feel the thought growing difficult to follow, begin to exert more effort; consult the dictionary for the meanings of words you do not understand. Probably the ordinary freshman in college ought to look up the meaning of as many as twenty words daily.

Again, the thought may be difficult to follow because your previous knowledge is deficient; perhaps the discussion involves some fact which you never did comprehend clearly, and you will naturally fail to understand something built upon it. If deficiency of knowledge is the cause of your lapses of attention, the obvious remedy is to turn back and study the fundamental facts; to lay a firm foundation in your subjects of study.

This discussion shows that the conditions at time of concentrated attention are very complex; that the mind is full of a number of things; that your object as a student is to keep some one thing at the focus of your mind, and that in doing so you must continuously ignore other mental contents. In our psychological descriptions we have implied that the mind stands still at times, permitting us to take a cross-section and examine it minutely. As a matter of fact, the mind never stands still. It continually moves along, and at no two moments is it exactly the same. This results in a condition whereby an idea which is at one moment at the centre cannot remain there unless it takes on a slightly different appearance from moment to moment. When you attempted to fix your attention upon the letter O, you found a constant tendency to shift the attention, perhaps to a variation in the intensity of the type or to a flaw in the type or in the paper. In view of the inevitable nature of these changes, you see that in spite of your best efforts you cannot expect to maintain any object of study inflexibly at the centre of attention. The way to do is to manipulate the object so that it will appear from moment to moment in a slightly different light. If, for example, you are trying to concentrate upon a rule of English grammar long enough to memorize it, do not read it over and over again, depending solely upon repetition. A better way, after thoroughly comprehending it, is to think about it in several relations; compare it with other rules, noting points of likeness and difference; apply it to the construction of a sentence. The essential thing is to do something with it. Only thus can you keep it in the focus of attention. This is equivalent to the restatement of another fact stressed in a previous chapter, namely, that the mind is not a passive thing that stands still, but an active thing. When you give attention, you actively select from a number of possible objects one to be clearer than the rest. This selection requires effort under most conditions of study, but you may be cheered by the thought that as you develop interest in the fields of study, and as you develop habits of ignoring distractions, you will be able to fixate your attention with less and less effort. A further important fact is that as you develop power to select objects for the consideration of attention, you develop simultaneously other mental processes—the ability to memorize, to economize time and effort and to control future thoughts and actions. In short, power to concentrate attention means power in all the mental processes.


Exercise I. "Watch a small dot so far away that it can just be seen. Can you see it all the time? How many times a minute does it come and go?" Make what inference you can from this regarding the fluctuation of attention during study.

Exercise 2. What concrete steps will you take in order to accommodate your study to the fluctuations of attention?

Exercise 3. The next time you have a lapse of attention during study, retrace your steps of thought, write down the ideas from the last one in your mind to the one which started the digression. Represent the digression graphically if you can.

Exercise 4. Make a list of the things that most persistently distract your attention during study. What specific steps will you take to eliminate them; to ignore the unavoidable ones?



If you were asked to describe the most embarrassing of your class-room experiences, you would probably cite the occasions when the instructor asks you a series of questions demanding close reasoning. As he pins you down to statement of facts and forces you to draw valid conclusions, you feel in a most perplexed frame of mind. Either you find yourself unable to give reasons, or you entangle yourself in contradictions. In short, you flounder about helplessly and feel as though the bottom of your ship of knowledge has dropped out. And when the ordeal is over and you have made a miserable botch of a recitation which you thought you had been perfectly prepared for, you complain that "if the instructor had followed the book," or "if he had asked straight questions," you would have answered every one perfectly, having memorized the lesson "word for word."

This complaint, so often voiced by students, reveals the fundamental characteristic which distinguishes the mental operation of reasoning from the others we have studied. In reasoning we face a new kind of situation presenting difficulties not encountered in the simpler processes of sensation, memory, and imagery, and when we attempt to substitute these simple processes for reasoning, we fail miserably, for the two kinds of processes are essentially different, and cannot be substituted one for the other.

Broadly speaking, the mental activities of study may be divided into two groups, which, for want of better names, we shall call processes of acquisition and processes of construction. The mental attitude of the first is that of acquirement. "Sometimes our main business seems to be to acquire knowledge; certain matters are placed before us in books or by our teachers, and we are required to master them, to make them part of our stock of knowledge. At other times we are called upon to use the knowledge we already possess in order to attain some end that is set before us." "In geography, for example, so long as we are merely learning the bare facts of the subject, the size and contours of the different continents, the political divisions, the natural features, we are at the acquisitive stage." "But when we go on to try to find out the reasons why certain facts that we have learned should be as they are and not otherwise, we pass to the constructive stage. We are working constructively when we seek to discover why it is that great cities are so often found on the banks of rivers, why peninsulas more frequently turn southward than northward." You readily see that this constructive method of study involves the setting and solving of problems as its distinguishing feature, and that in the solution of these problems we make use of reason.

A little reflection will show that though there is a distinct difference between processes of acquisition and of construction, nevertheless the two must not be regarded as entirely separate from each other. "In acquiring new facts we must always use a little reason, while in constructive work, we cannot always rely upon having all the necessary matter ready to hand. We have frequently to stop our constructive work for a little in order to acquire some new facts that we find to be necessary. Thus we acquire a certain number of new facts while we are reasoning about things, and while we are engaged in acquiring new matter we must use our reason at least to some small extent." The two overlap, then. But there is a difference between them from the standpoint of the student, and the terms denote two fundamentally different attitudes which students take in study. The two attitudes may be illustrated by contrasting the two methods often used in studying geometry. Some students memorize the theorem and the steps in the demonstration, reciting them verbatim at class-hour. Others do not memorize, but reason out each step to see its relation to the preceding step, and when they see it must necessarily follow, they pass on to the next and do the same. These two types of students apparently arrive at the same conclusions, but the mental operations leading up to the Q.E.D. of each are vastly different. The one student does his studying by the rote memory method, the other by the road of reasoning. The former road is usually considered the easier, and so we find it most frequently followed. To memorize a table, a definition, or a series of dates is relatively easy. One knows exactly where one is, and can keep track of one's progress and test one's success. Some people are attracted by such a task and are perfectly happy to follow this plan of study. The kind of mind that contents itself with such phonographic records, however, must be acknowledged to be a commonplace sort of affair. We recognize its limitations in ordinary life, invariably rating it lower than the mind that can reason to new conclusions and work independently. Accordingly, if we wish to possess minds of superior quality, we see that we must develop the reasoning processes.

When we examine the mental processes by which we think constructively, or, in other words, reason, we find first of all that there is recognition of a problem to be solved. When we start to reason, we do it because we find ourselves in a situation from which we must extricate ourselves. The situation may be physical, as when our automobile stops suddenly on a country road; or it may be mental, as when we are deciding what college to attend. In both cases, we recognize that we are facing a problem which must be solved.

After recognition of the problem, our next step is to start vigorous efforts to solve it. In doing this, we cast about for means; we summon all the powers at our disposal. In the case of the automobile, we call to mind other accidents and the causes of them; we remember that once the spark-plug played out, so we test this hypothesis. At another time some dust got into the carburetor, so we test this. So we go on, calling up possible causes and applying appropriate remedies until the right one is found and the engine is started. In bringing to bear upon the problem facts from our past experience, we form a series of judgments. In the case of the problem as to what college to attend, we might form these judgments: this college is nearer home; that one has a celebrated faculty; this one has good laboratories; that one is my father's alma mater. So we might go on, bringing up all the facts regarding the problem and fitting each one mentally to see how it works. Note that this utilization of ideas should not consist merely of fumbling about in a vague hope of hitting upon some solution. It must be a systematic search, guided by carefully chosen ideas. For example, "if the clock on the mantle-piece has stopped, and we have no idea how to make it go again, but mildly shake it in the hope that something will happen to set it going, we are merely fumbling. But if, on moving the clock gently so as to set the pendulum in motion, we hear it wobbling about irregularly, and at the same time observe that there is no ticking of any kind, we come to the conclusion that the pendulum has somehow or other escaped the little catch that connects it with the mechanism, we have been really thinking. From the fact that the pendulum wobbles irregularly, we infer that it has lost its proper catch. From the fact that there is no ticking, we infer the same thing, for even when there is something wrong with the clock that will prevent it from going permanently, if the pendulum is set in motion by force from without it will tick for a few seconds before it comes to rest again. The important point to observe is that there must be inference. This is always indicated by the word therefore or its equivalent. If you reach a conclusion without having to use or at any rate to imply a therefore, you may take it for granted that you have not been really thinking, but only jumping to conclusions."

This process of putting facts in the form of judgments and drawing inferences, may be likened to a court-room scene where arguments are presented to the judge. As each bit of evidence is submitted, it is subjected to the test of its applicability to the situation or to similar situations in the past. It is rigidly examined and nothing is accepted as a candidate for the solution until it is found by trial (of course, in imagination) to be pertinent to the situation.

The third stage of the reasoning process comes when some plan which has been suggested as a possible solution of the difficulty proves effective, and we make the decision; the arguments support or overthrow each other, adding to and eliminating various considerations until finally only one course appears possible. As we said before, the solution comes inevitably, as represented by the word therefore. Little active work on our part is necessary, for if we have gone through these other phases properly the decision will make itself. You cannot make a wrong decision if you have the facts before you and have given each the proper weight. When the solution comes, it is recognized as right, for it comes tinged with a feeling that we call belief.

Now that we have found the reasoning process to be one of problem-solving, of which the first step is to acknowledge and recognize the difficulty, the second, to call up various methods of solution, and the third, to decide on the basis of one of the solutions that comes tinged with certainty, we are ready to apply this schema to study in the hope that we may discover the causes and remedies for the reasoning difficulties of students. In view of the fact that reasoning starts out with a problem, you see at once that to make your study effective you must study in problems. Avoid an habitual attitude of mere acquisition. Do not memorize facts in the same pattern as they are handed out to you. In history, in general literature, in science, do not read facts merely as they come in the text, but seek the relations between them. Voluntarily set before yourself intellectual problems. Ask yourself, why is this so? In other words, in your study do not merely acquire, but also construct. The former makes use mostly of memory and though your memorizing be done ever so conscientiously, if it comprise the main part of your study, you fail to utilize your mind to its fullest extent.

Let us now consider the second stage of the reasoning process as found in study. At this stage the facts in the mind are brought forward for the purpose of being fitted into the present situation, and the essential thing is that you have a large number of facts at your disposal. If you are going to reason effectively about problems in history, mathematics, geography, it is absolutely indispensable that you know many facts about the subjects. One reason why you experience difficulty in reasoning about certain subjects is that you do not know enough about them. Particularly is this true in such subjects as political economy, sociology and psychology. The results of such ignorance are often demonstrated in political and social movements. Why do the masses so easily fall victims to doubtful reforms in national and municipal policies? Because they do not know enough about these matters to reason intelligently. Watch ignorant people listening to a demagogue and see what unreasonable things they accept. The speaker propounds a question and then proceeds to answer it in his own way. He makes it appear plausible, assuring his hearers it is the only way, and they agree because they do not have enough other facts at their command to refute it. They are unable, as we say, to see the situation in several aspects. The mistakes in reasoning which children make have a similar basis. The child reaches for the moon, reasoning—"Here is something bright; I can touch most bright things; therefore, I can touch this." His reasoning is fallacious because he does not have all the facts. This condition is paralleled in the class-room when students make what are shamefacedly looked back upon as miserable blunders. When one of these fiascos occurs the cause can many times be referred to the fact that the student did not have enough facts at his command. Speaking broadly, the most effective reasoning in a field can be done by one who has had the most extensive experiences in that field. If one had complete acquaintance with all facts, one would have perfect conditions for reasoning. Thus we see that effectiveness in reasoning demands an extensive array of facts. Accordingly, in your courses of study you must read with avidity. When you are given a list of readings in a course, some of which are required and some optional, read both sets, and every new fact thus secured will make you better able to reason in the field.

But good reasoning demands more than mere quantity of ideas. The ideas must conform to certain qualitative standards before they may be effectively employed in reasoning. They must arise with promptness, in an orderly manner, pertinent to the matter in hand, and they must be clear. In securing promptness of association on the part of your ideas, employ the methods described in the chapter on memory. Make many logical associations with clearness and repetition. In order to insure the rise of ideas in an orderly manner, pay attention to the manner in which you acquire them.

Remember, things will be recalled as they were impressed, so the value of your ideas in reasoning will depend upon the manner in which you make original impressions. A further characteristic of serviceable ideas is clarity. Ideas are sometimes described as "clear" in opposition to "muddy." You know what is meant by these distinctions, and you may be assured that one cause for your failures in reasoning is that your ideas are not clear. This manifests itself in inability to make clear statements and to comprehend clearly. The latter condition is easily illustrated. When you began the study of geometry you faced a multitude of new terms; we call them technical terms, such as projection, scalene, theory of limits. These had to be clearly understood before you could reason in the subject. And when, in the progress of your study, you experienced difficulty in reasoning out problems, it was very likely due to the fact that you did not master the technical terms, and as soon as you encountered the difficulties of the course, you failed because your foundation laying did not involve the acquisition of clear ideas. Examine your difficulties in reasoning subjects and if you find them traceable to vagueness of ideas, take steps to clarify them.

Ideas may be clarified in two ways: by definition and by classification. Definition is a familiar device, for you have had much to do with it in learning. The memorization of definitions is an excellent practice, not as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of effective reasoning. Throughout your study, then, pay much attention to definitions. Some you will find in your texts, but others you will have to make for yourself. In order to get practice in this, undertake the manufacture of a few definitions, using terms such as charity, benevolence, natural selection. This exercise will reveal what an exacting mental operation definition is and will prove how vague most of your thinking really is.

A large stock of definitions will help you to think rapidly. Standing as they do for a large group of experiences, definitions are a means of mental economy. For illustration of their service in reasoning, suppose you were asked to compare the serf, the peon and the American slave. If you have a clean-cut definition of each of these terms, you can readily differentiate between them, but if you cannot define them, you will hardly be able to reason concerning them.

The second means of clarifying ideas is classification. By this is meant the process of grouping similar ideas or similar points of ideas. For example, your ideas of serf, peon and slave have some points in common. Group the ideas, then, with reference to these points. Then in reasoning you can quickly place an idea in its proper group.

The third stage of the reasoning process is decision, based on belief, and it comes inevitably, provided the other two processes have been performed rightly. Accordingly, we need say little about its place in study. One caution should be pointed out in making decisions. Do not make them hastily on the basis of only one or two facts. Wait until you have canvassed all the ideas that bear importantly upon the case. The masses that listen top eagerly to the demagogue do not err merely from lack of ideas, but partly because they do not utilize all the facts at their disposal. This fault is frequently discernible in impulsive people, who notoriously make snap-judgments, which means that they decide before canvassing all the evidence. This trait marks the fundamental difference between superficial and profound thinkers. The former accept surface facts and decide immediately, while the latter refuse to decide until after canvassing many facts.

In the improvement of reasoning ability your task is mainly one of habit formation. It is necessary, first, to form the habit of stating things in the form of problems; second, to form habits by which ideas arise promptly and profusely; third, to form habits of reserving decisions until the important facts are in. These are all specific habits that must be built up if the reasoning processes of the mind are to be effective. Already you have formed some habits, if not habits of careful looking into things, then habits of hasty, heedless, impatient glancing over the surface. Apply the principles of habit formation already enunciated, and remember that with every act of reasoning you perform, you are moulding yourself into a careless reasoner or an accurate reasoner, into a clear thinker or a muddy thinker. This chapter shows that reasoning is one of the highest powers of man. It is a mark of originality and intelligence, and stamps its possessor not a copier but an originator, not a follower but a leader, not a slave, to have his thinking foisted upon him by others, but a free and independent intellect, unshackled by the bonds of ignorance and convention. The man who employs reason in acquiring knowledge, finds delights in study that are denied to a rote memorizer. When one looks at the world through glasses of reason, inquiring into the eternal why, then facts take on a new meaning, knowledge comes with new power, the facts of experience glow with vitality, and one's own relations with them appear in a new light.



Adams (1) Chapter IV.

Dearborn (2) Chapter V.

Dewey (3) Chapters III and VI.

Exercise I. Illustrate the steps of the reasoning process, by describing the way in which you studied this chapter.

Exercise 2. Try to define the following words without the assistance of a dictionary: College, university, grammatical, town-meeting.

Exercise 3. Prepare a set of maxims designed to help a student change from the "rote memory" method of study to the "reason-why" (or "problem") method.



In our discussion of the nervous basis underlying study we observed that nerve pathways are affected not only by what enters over the sensory pathways, but also by what flows out over the motor pathways. As the nerve currents travel out from the motor centres in the brain to the muscles, they leave traces which modify future thoughts and actions. This being so, it is easy to see that what we give out is fully as important as what we take in; in other words, our expressions are just as important as our impressions. By expressions we mean the motor consequences of our thoughts, and in study they usually take the form of speech and writing of a kind to be specified later.

The far-reaching effects of motor expressions are too infrequently emphasized, but psychology forces us to give them prime consideration. We are first apprised of their importance when we study the nervous system, and find that every incoming sensory message pushes on and on until it finds a motor pathway over which it may travel and produce movement. This is inevitable. The very structure and arrangement of the neurones is such that we are obliged to make some movement in response to objects affecting our sense organs. The extent of movement may vary from the wide-spread tremors that occur when we are frightened by a thunderstorm to the merest flicker of an eye-lash. But whatever be its extent, movement invariably occurs when we are stimulated by some object. This has been demonstrated in startling ways in the psychological laboratory, where even so simple a thing as a piece of figured wall-paper has been shown to produce measurable bodily disturbances. Ordinarily we do not notice these because they are so slight, sometimes being merely twitches of deep-seated muscles or slight enlargements or contractions of arteries which are very responsive to nerve currents. But no matter how large or how small, we may be sure that movements always occur on the excitation of a sense organ. This led us to assert in an earlier chapter that the function of the nervous system is to convert incoming sensory currents into outgoing motor currents.

So ingrained is this tendency toward movement that we do not need even a sensory cue to start it off; an idea will do as well. In other words, the nervous current need not start at a sense organ, but may start in the brain and still produce movement. This fact is embodied in the law of ideo-motor action (distinguished from sensory-motor action), "every idea in the mind tends to express itself in movement." This motor character of ideas is manifested in a most thorough-going way and renders our muscular system a faithful mirror of our thoughts. We have in the psychological laboratory delicate apparatus which enables us to measure many of these slight movements. For example, we fasten a recording device to the top of a person's head, so that his slightest movements will be recorded, then we ask him while standing perfectly still to think of an object at his right side. After several moments the record shows that he involuntarily leans in the direction of the object about which he is thinking. We find further illustration of this law when we examine people as they read, for they involuntarily accompany the reading with movements of speech, measurable in the muscles of the throat, the tongue and the lips. These facts, and many others, constitute good evidence for the statement that ideas seek expression in movement.

The ethical consequences of this are so momentous that we must remark upon them in passing. We now see the force of the biblical statement, "Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man." Think what it means to one's character that every thought harbored in the mind is bound to come out. It may not manifest itself at once in overt action, but it affects the motor pathways and either weakens or strengthens connections so that when the opportunity comes, some act will be furthered or hindered. In view of the proneness to permit base thoughts to enter the mind, human beings might sometimes fear even to think. A more optimistic idea, however, is that noble thoughts lead to noble acts. Therefore, keep in your mind the kind of thoughts that you wish to see actualized in your character and the appropriate acts will follow of their own accord.

But it is with the significance of expressions in study that we are at present concerned, and here we find them of supreme importance. We ordinarily regard learning as a process of taking things into the mind, and regard expression as a thing apart from acquisition of knowledge. We shall find in this discussion, however, that there is no such sharp demarcation between acquiring knowledge and expressing knowledge, but that the two are intimately bound together, expressions being properly a part of wise and economical learning.

When we survey the modes of expression that may be used in study, we find them to be of several kinds. Speech is one. This is the form of expression for which the class-recitation is provided. If you wish to grow as a student, utilize the recitation period and welcome every chance to recite orally, for things about which you recite in class are more effectively learned. Talking about a subject under all circumstances will help you learn. When studying subjects like political economy, sociology or psychology, seize every opportunity to talk over the questions involved. Hold frequent conferences with your instructor; voice your difficulties freely, and the very effort to state them will help to clarify them. It is a good plan for two students in the same course to come together and talk over the problems; the debates thus stimulated and the questions aroused by mental interaction are very helpful in impressing facts more vividly upon the mind.

Writing is a form of expression and is one thing that gives value to note-taking and examinations. Its value is further recognized by the requirements of themes and term-papers. These are all mediums by which you may develop yourself, and they merit your earnest cooperation.

Another medium of expression that students may profitably employ is drawing. This is especially valuable in such subjects as geology, physiology and botany. Students in botany are compelled to do much drawing of the plant-forms which they study, and this is a wise requirement, for it makes them observe more carefully, report more faithfully and recall with greater ease. You may secure the same advantages by employing the graphic method in other studies. For example, when reading in a geology text-book about the stratification of the earth in a certain region, draw the parts described and label them according to the description. You will be surprised to see how clear the description becomes and how easily it is later recalled.

Let us examine the effects of the expressive movements of speech, writing and the like, and see the mechanism by which they facilitate the study process. We may describe their effects in two ways: neurologically and psychologically. As may be expected from our preliminary study of the nervous system, we see their first effects upon the motor pathways leading out to the muscles. Each passage of the nerve current from brain to muscle leaves traces so that the resulting act is performed with greater ease upon each repetition. This fact has already been emphasized by the warning, Guard the avenues of expression.

Especially is it important at the first performance of an act, because this determines the path of later performances. In such studies as piano-playing, vocalizing and pronunciation of foreign words, see that your first performance is absolutely right, then as the expressive movements are repeated, they will be more firmly ingrained because of the deepening of the motor pathways.

The next effect of acts of expression is to be found in the modifications made in the sensory areas of the brain. You will recall that every movement of a muscle produces nervous currents which go back to the brain and register there in the form of kinaesthetic sensations. To demonstrate kinaesthetic sensations, close your eyes and move your index finger up and down. You can feel the muscles contracting and the tendons moving back and forth, even into the back of the hand. These sensations ordinarily escape our attention, but they occupy a prominent place in the control of our actions. For example, when ascending familiar stairs in the dark, they notify us when we have reached the top. We are still further impressed with their importance when we are deprived of them; when we try to walk upon a foot or a leg that has gone "to sleep"; that is, when the kinaesthetic nerves are temporarily paralyzed we find it difficult to walk. But besides being used to control muscular actions, they may be used in study, for they may be made the source of impressions, and impressions, as we learned in the chapter on memory, are a prime requisite for learning. Each expression becomes, then, through its kinaesthetic results, the source of new impressions, when, for example, you pronounce the German word, anwenden, with the English word "to employ," in addition to the impressions made through the ear, you make impressions through the muscles of speech (kinaesthetic impressions), and these kinaesthetic impressions enter into the body of your knowledge and later may serve as the means by which the word may be revived. When you write the word, you make kinaesthetic impressions which may later serve as forms of revival. So the movements of expression produce sensory material that may serve as tentacles by means of which you can later reach back into your memory and recall facts.

We shall now consider another service of expressions which, though little regarded, nevertheless is of much moment. When we make expressive movements, much nervous energy is generated; much more than during passive impression. Energy is sent back to the brain over the kinaesthetic nerve cells, and the greater the extent of the movement, the greater is the amount of new energy sent to the brain. It pours into the brain and diffuses itself especially throughout the association areas. Here it excites regions which could not be excited by a more limited amount of energy. This means, in psychical terms, that new ideas are being aroused. The obvious inference from this fact is that you may, by starting movements of expression, actually summon to your assistance added powers of mind. For example, when you are called upon to recite in class, your mind seems to be a complete blank—in a state of "deadlock." You may break this "deadlock" and start brain-action by some kind of movement. It may be only to clear your throat, to ejaculate "well," or to squirm about in the seat, but whatever form the movement takes, it will usually be effective in creating the desired nervous energy, and after the inertia is once overcome the mental stream will flow freely. The unconscious application of this device is seen when a man is called on suddenly to make a speech for which he has not prepared. He usually starts out by telling a story, thus liberating nervous energy to pour back into the brain and start thinking processes. With increasing vehemence of expression, the ideas come more and more freely, and the result is a speech which surpasses the expectations of the speaker himself. The gesticulations of many speakers have this same function, being frequently of great service in arousing more nervous energy, which goes back to the brain and arouses more ideas.

The device of stimulating ideas by expressive movements may be utilized in theme- or letter-writing. It is generally recognized that the difficult thing in such writing is to get a start, and the too common practice is to sit listlessly gazing into space waiting for "inspiration." This is usually a futile procedure. The better way is to begin to write anything about the topic in hand. What you write may have little merit, either of substance or form. Nevertheless, if you persist in keeping up the activity of writing, making more and more movements, you will find that the ideas will begin to come in greater profusion until they come so fast you can hardly write them down.

Having tried to picture the neural effect of expression, we may now translate them into psychological terms, asking what service the expressions render to the conscious side of our study. First of all, we note that the expressions help to make the acts and ideas in study habitual. We find ourselves, with each expression, better able to perform such acts as the pronunciation of foreign words. Second, they furnish new impressions through the kinaesthetic sense, thus being a source of sense-impression. Third, they give rise to a greater number of ideas and link them up with the idea dominant at the moment. There is a further psychological effect of expression in the clarification of ideas. It is a well-attested fact that when we attempt to explain a thing to someone else, it becomes clearer in our own minds. You can demonstrate this for yourself by attempting to explain to someone an intricate conception such as the nebular hypothesis. The effort involved in making the explanation makes the fact more vivid to you. The habit of thus utilizing your knowledge in conversation is an excellent one to acquire. Indeed, expression is the only objective test of knowledge and we cannot say that we really know until we can express our knowledge. Expression is thus the great clarification agency and the test of knowledge. Before leaving this discussion, it might be well to remark upon one phase of expression that is sometimes a source of difficulty. This is the embarrassment incident to some forms of expression, notably oral. Many people are deterred from utilizing this form of expression because of shyness and embarrassment in the presence of others. If you have this difficulty in such excess that it hinders you from free expression, resolve at once to overcome it. Begin at the very outset of your academic career to form habits of disregarding your impulses to act in frightened manner. Take a course in public speaking. The practice thus secured will be a great aid in developing habits of fearless and free oral expression.

This discussion has shown that expression is a powerful aid in learning, and is a most important feature of mental life. Cultivate your powers of expression, for your college education should consist not only in the development of habits of impression, but also in the development of habits of expression. Grasp eagerly every opportunity for the development of skill in clear and forceful expression. Devote assiduous attention to themes and all written work, and make serious efforts to speak well. Remember you are forming habits that will persist throughout your life. Emphasize, therefore, at every step, methods of expression, for it is this phase of learning in which you will find greatest growth.


Exercise I. Give an example from your own experience, showing how expression (a) stimulates ideas, (b) clarifies ideas.



"I can't get interested in Mediaeval History." This illustrates a kind of complaint frequently made by college students. It is our purpose in this chapter to show the fallacy of this; to prove that interest may be developed in an "uninteresting" subject; and to show how.

In order to lay a firm foundation for our psychologizing, let us examine into the nature of interest and see what it really is. It has been defined as: "the recognition of a thing which has been vitally connected with experience before—a thing recognized as old"; "impulse to attend"; "interest naturally arouses tendencies to act"; "the root idea of the term seems to be that of being engaged, engrossed, or entirely taken up with some activity because of its recognized worth"; "interest marks the annihilation of the distance between the person and the materials and results of his action; it is the sign of their organic union."

In addition to the characteristics just mentioned should be noted the pleasurableness that usually attends any activity in which we are "interested." A growing feeling of pleasure is the sign which notifies us that we are growing interested in a subject. And it is such an aid in the performance of work that we should seek earnestly to acquire it in connection with any work we have to do.

The persons who make the complaint at the head of this chapter notice that they take interest easily in certain things: a Jack London story, a dish of ice cream, a foot-ball game. And they take interest in them so spontaneously and effortlessly that they think these interests must be born within them.

When we examine carefully the interests of man, and trace their sources, we see that the above view is fallacious. We acquire most of our interests in the course of our experience. Professor James asserts: "An adult man's interests are almost every one of them intensely artificial; they have been slowly built up. The objects of professional interest are most of them in their original nature, repulsive; but by their connection with such natively exciting objects as one's personal fortune, one's social responsibilities and especially by the force of inveterate habit, they grow to be the only things for which in middle life a man profoundly cares."

Since interests are largely products of experience, then, it follows that if we wish to have an interest in a given subject, we must consciously and purposefully develop it. There is wide choice open to us. We may develop interest in early Victorian literature, prize-fight promoting, social theory, lignitic rocks, history of Siam, the collection of scarabs, mediaeval history.

We should not be deceived by the glibness of the above statements into assuming that the development of interest is an easy matter. It requires adherence to certain definite psychological laws which we may call the laws of interest. The first may be stated as follows: In order to develop interest in a subject, secure information about it. The force of this law will be apparent as soon as we analyze one of our already-developed interests. Let us take one that is quite common—the interest which a typical young girl takes in a movie star. Her interest in him comes largely from what she has been able to learn about him; the names of the productions in which he has appeared, his age, the color of his automobile, his favorite novel. Her interest may be said actually to consist, at least in part, of these facts. The astute press agent knows the force of this law, and at well-timed intervals he lets slip through bits of information about the star, which fan the interest of the fair devotee to a still whiter heat.

The relation of information to interest is still further illustrated by the case of the typical university professor or scientist. He is interested in certain objects of research—infusoria, electrons, plant ecology,—because he knows so much about them. His interest may be said to consist partly of the body of knowledge that he possesses. He was not always interested in the specific, obscure field, but by saturating himself in facts about it, he has developed an interest in it amounting to passionate absorption, which manifests itself in "absent-mindedness" of such profundity as to make him often an object of wonder and ridicule.

Let us demonstrate the application of the law again showing how interest may be developed in a specific college subject. Let us choose one that is generally regarded as so "difficult" and "abstract" that not many people are interested in it—philology, the study of language as a science. Let us imagine that we are trying to interest a student of law in this. As a first step we shall select some legal term and show what philology can tell about it. A term frequently encountered in law is indenture—a certain form of contract. Philological researches have uncovered an interesting history regarding this word. It seems that in olden days when two persons made an agreement they wrote it on two pieces of paper, then notched the edges so that when placed together, the notches on the edge of one paper would just match those of the other. This protected both parties against substitution of a fraudulent contract at time of fulfillment.

Still earlier in man's development, before he could write, it was customary to record such agreements by breaking a stick in two pieces and leaving the jagged ends to be fitted together at time of fulfillment. Sometimes a bone was used this way. Because its critical feature was the saw-toothed edge, this kind of contract was called indenture (derived from the root dent—tooth, the same one from which we derive our word dentist).

The formal, legal-looking document which we today call an indenture gives us no hint of its humble origin, but the word when analyzed by the technique of philology tells the whole story, and throws much light upon the legal practices of our forbears. Having discovered one such valuable fact in philology, the student of law may be led to investigate the science still further and find many more. As a result still he will become interested in philology.

By this illustration we have demonstrated the first psychological law of interest, and also its corollary which is: State the new in terms of the old. For we not only gave our lawyer new information culled from philological sources; we also introduced our fact in terms of an old fact which was already "interesting" to the lawyer. This is recognized as such an important principle in education that it has become embodied in a maxim: Proceed from the known to the unknown.

A classic example of good educational practice in this connection is the way in which Francis W. Parker, a progressive educator of a former generation, taught geography. When he desired to show how water running over hard rocky soil produced a Niagara, he took his class down to the creek behind the school house, built a dam and allowed the water to flow over it. When he wished to show how water flowing over soft ground resulted in a deltoid Nile, he took the class to a low, flat portion of the creek bed and pointed out the effect. The creek bed constituted an old familiar element in the children's experience. Niagara and the Nile described in terms of it were intelligible.

Naturally in modern educational practice it is not always possible to have miniature waterfalls and river bottoms at hand, still it is possible to follow this principle. When, in studying Mediaeval History, you read a description of the guilds, do not regard them as distant, cold, inert institutions devoid of significance in your life. Rather, think of them in terms of things you already know: modern Labor Unions, technical schools, in so far as the comparison holds good. Then trace their industrial descendants down to the present time. By thus thinking about the guilds, hitherto distant and uninteresting, you will begin to see them suffused with meaning, alight with significance, a real part of yourself. In short, you will have achieved interest.

There is still another psychological law of interest: In order to develop interest in a subject, exert activity toward it. We see the force of this law when we observe a man in the process of developing an interest in golf. At the start he may have no interest in it whatever; he may even deride it. Yielding to the importunities of his friends, however, he takes his stick in hand and samples the game. Then he begins to relent; admits that perhaps there may be something interesting about the game after all. As he practises with greater frequency he begins to develop a warmer and still warmer interest until finally he thinks of little else; neglecting social and professional obligations and boring his friends ad nauseum with recitals of golfing incidents. The methods by which the new-fledged golfer develops an interest in golf will apply with equal effectiveness in the case of a student. In trying to become interested in Mediaeval History, keep actively engaged in it. Read book after book dealing with the subject. Apply it to your studies in Political Economy, English, and American History. Choose sub-topics in Mediaeval History as the subjects for themes in English composition courses. Try to help some other student in the class. Take part in class discussions and talk informally with the instructor outside of the classroom. Use your ingenuity to devise methods of keeping active toward the subject. Presently you will discover that the subject no longer appears cold and forbidding; but that it glows warm with virility; that it has become interesting.

It will readily be noticed that the two laws of interest here set forth are closely interrelated. One can hardly seek information about a subject without exerting activity toward it; conversely, one cannot maintain activity on behalf of a subject without at the same time acquiring information about it. These two easily-remembered and easily-applied rules of study will go far toward solving some of the most trying conditions of student life. Memorize them, apply them, and you will find yourself in possession of a power which will stay with you long after you quit college walls; one which you may apply with profit in many different situations of life.

We have shown in this chapter the fallacy of the assumption that a student cannot become genuinely interested in a subject which at first seems uninteresting.

We have shown that he may develop interest in any subject if he but employs the proper psychological methods. That he must obey the two-fold law—secure information about the subject (stating the new in terms of the old) and exert activity toward it. That when he has thus lighted the flame of interest, he will find his entire intellectual life illuminated, glowing with purpose, resplendent with success.

In concluding this discussion we should note the wide difference between the quality of study which is done with interest and that done without it. Under the latter condition the student is a slave, a drudge; under the former, a god, a creator. Touched by the galvanic spark he sees new significance in every page, in every line. As his vision enlarges, he perceives new relations between his study and his future aims, indeed, between his study and the progress of the universe. And he goes to his educational tasks not as a prisoner weighted down by ball and chain, but as an eager prospector infatuated by the lust for gold. Encouraged by the continual stores of new things he uncovers, intoxicated by the ozone of mental activity, he delves continually deeper until finally he emerges rich with knowledge and full of power—the intellectual power that signifies mastery over a subject.


Readings: James (8) Chapters X and XI. Dewey (3)

Exercise I. Show how your interest in some subject, for example, the game of foot-ball, has grown in proportion to the number of facts you have discovered about it and the activity you have exerted toward it.

Exercise 2. Choose some subject in which you are not at present interested. Make the statement:—"I am determined to develop an interest in—. I will take the following specific steps toward this end."



In our investigation of the psychology of study we have so far directed our attention chiefly toward the subjective side of the question, seeking to discover the contents of mind during study. We shall now take an objective view of study, examining not the contents of mind nor methods of study, but the objective results of study. In doing this, we choose certain units of measurement, the number of minutes required for learning a given amount or the amount learned in a stated period of time. We may do this for the learning of any material, whether it be Greek verbs or typewriting. All that is necessary is to decide upon some method by which progress can be noted and expressed in numerical units. This, you will observe, constitutes a statistical approach to the processes of study, such as is employed in science; and just as the statistical method has been useful in science, so it may be of value in education, and by means of statistical investigations of learning we may hope to discover some of the factors operative in good learning.

Progress in learning is best observable when we represent our measurements graphically, when they take the form of a curve, variously called "the curve of efficiency," "practice curve," "learning curve." We shall take a sample curve for the basis of our discussion, showing the progress of a beginner in the Russian language for sixty-five days (indicated in the figure by horizontal divisions). The student studied industriously for thirty minutes each day and then translated as rapidly as possible for fifteen minutes, the number of words translated being represented by the vertical spaces on the chart. Thus, on the tenth day, twenty-five words were translated, on the twentieth day, forty-five words.

In making an analysis of this typical curve, we note immediately an exceeding irregularity. At one time there is extraordinary improvement, but a later measurement registers pronounced loss. This irregularity is very common in learning. Some days we do a great amount of work and do it well, but perhaps the very next day shows marked diminution in our work.

The second characteristic we note is that there is extremely rapid progress at the beginning, the curve slanting up quite sharply. This is common in learning, and may be accounted for in several ways. In the first place, the easiest things come first. For example, when you are beginning the study of German, you are given mostly monosyllabic words to learn. These are easily remembered, hence progress is rapid. A second reason is that at the beginning there are many different respects in which progress can be made. For example, the beginner in German must learn nouns, case endings, declension of adjectives, days of the week; in short, a vast number of new things all at once. At a later period however, the number of new things to be learned is much smaller and improvement cannot be so rapid. A third reason why learning proceeds more rapidly at first is that the interest is greater at this time. You have doubtless many times experienced this fact, and you know that when a thing has the interest of novelty you work harder upon it.

If you will examine the learning curve closely, you will note that after the initial spurt, there is a slowing up. The curve at this point resembles a plateau and indicates cessation of progress if not retrogression. This period of no progress is regarded as a characteristic of the learning curve and is a time of great discouragement to the conscientious student, so distressing that we may designate it "the plateau of despond." Most people describe it as a time when they feel unable to learn more about a subject; the mind seems to be sated; new ideas cannot be assimilated, and old ones seem to be forgotten. The plateau may extend for a long or a short time, depending upon the nature of the subject-matter and the length of time over which the learning extends. In the case of professional training, it may extend over a year or more. In the case of growing children in school, it sometimes happens that an entire year elapses during which the learning of an apparently bright student is retarded. In a course of study in high school or college, it may come on about the third week and extend a month or more. Something akin to the plateau may come in the course of a day, when we realize that our efficiency is greatly diminished and we seem, for an hour or more, to make no progress.

Inasmuch as the plateau is such a common occurrence in human activity, we should analyze it and see what factors operate to influence it. It is interesting to note that the plateau generally occurs just before an abrupt rise in efficiency. This is significant, for it may mean that the plateau is necessary in learning, especially just before reaching the really advanced stages of proficiency. Accordingly, when you are experiencing a plateau in the mastery of some accomplishment, you may perhaps derive some comfort from the prospect of an approaching rise in efficiency. On the theory that it is a necessary part of learning, it has been regarded as a resting place. We are so constituted by nature that we cannot run on indefinitely; nature sometimes must call a halt. Consequently, the plateau may be a warning that we cannot learn more for the present and that the proper remedy is to refrain for a little while from further efforts in that line. We have possible justification for this interpretation when we reflect that a vacation does us much good, and though we begin it feeling stale, we end it feeling much fresher and more efficient.

But to stop work temporarily is not the only way to meet a plateau, and fatigue or ennui is probably not the sole or most compelling explanation. It may be that we should not regard the objective results as the true measure of learning; perhaps learning is going on even though the results are not apparent. We discovered something in the nature of unconscious learning in our discussion of memory, and it may be that a period of little objective progress marks a period of active unconscious learning.

Another meaning which the plateau may have is simply to mark places of greater difficulty. As already remarked, the early period is a stage of comparative ease, but as the work becomes more difficult, progress is slower. It is also quite likely that the plateau may indicate that some of the factors operative at the start are operative no longer. Thus, although the learning was rapid at the beginning because the material learned at that time was easy, the plateau may come because the things to be learned have become difficult. Or, whereas the beginning was attacked with considerable interest, the plateau may mean that the interest is dying down, and that less effort is being exerted.

If these theories are the true explanation of the plateau, we see that it is not to be regarded as a time of reduction in learning, to be contemplated with despair. The appropriate attitude may be one of resignation, with the determination to make it as slightly disturbing as possible. But though the reasons just described may have something to do with the production of the plateau, as yet we have no evidence that the plateau cannot be dispensed with. It is practically certain that the plateau is not caused entirely by necessity for rest or unconscious learning. It frequently is due, we must regretfully admit, to poor early preparation. If at the beginning of a period of learning an insecure foundation is laid, it cannot be expected to support the burden of more difficult subject-matter.

We have enumerated a number of the explanations that have been advanced to account for the plateau, and have seen that it may have several causes, among which are necessity for rest, increased difficulty of subject-matter, loss of interest and insufficient preparation. In trying to eliminate the plateau, our remedy should be adapted to the cause. In recognition of the fact that learning proceeds irregularly, we see that it is rational to expect the amount of effort to be exerted throughout a period of learning, to vary. It will vary partly with the difficulty of subject-matter and partly with fluctuations in bodily and mental efficiency which are bound to occur from day to day. Since this irregularity is bound to occur, you may well make your effort vary from one extreme to the other. At times, perhaps your most profitable move may be to take a complete vacation. The vacation might cover several weeks, a week-end, or if the plateau is merely a low period in the day's work, then ten minutes may suffice for a vacation. As an adjunct to such rest periods, some form of recreation should usually be planned, for the essential thing is to permit the mind to rest from the tiresome activity.

If your plateau represents greater difficulty of subject-matter and loss of interest, your duty is plainly to work harder. In exerting more effort, make some changes in your methods of study. For example, if you have been accustomed to study a certain subject by silent reading, begin to read your lessons aloud. Change your method of taking notes, or change the hour of day in which you prepare your lesson. In short, try any of the methods described in this book, and use your own ingenuity, and the change in method may overcome the plateau.

If a plateau is due to our last-mentioned cause, insufficient preparation, the remedy must be drastic. To make new resolutions and to put forth additional effort is not enough; you must go back and relay the foundation. Make a thorough review of the work which you covered slightingly, making sure that every step is clear. This process was described in an earlier chapter as the clarification of ideas and is absolutely essential in building up a structure of knowledge that will stand. Indeed, as you take various courses you will find that your study will be much improved by periodical reviews. The benefits cannot all be enumerated here, but we may reasonably claim that a review will be very likely to remove a plateau, and used with the other remedies herein suggested, will help you to rid yourself of one of the most discouraging features of student life.


Reading: Swift (20) Chapter IV.

Exercise I. Describe one or more plateaus that you have observed in your own experience. What do you regard as the causes?



Did you ever engage in any exhausting physical work for a long period of time? If so, you probably remember that as you proceeded, you became more and more fatigued, finally reaching a point when it seemed that you could not endure the strain another minute. You had just decided to give up, when suddenly the fatigue seemed to diminish and new energy seemed to come from some source. This curious thing, which happens frequently in athletic activities, is known as second-wind, and is described, by those who have experienced it, as a time of increased power, when the work is done with greater ease and effectiveness and with a freshness and vigor in great contrast to the staleness that preceded it. It is as though one "tapped a level of new energy," revealing hidden stores of unexpected power. And it is commonly reported that with persistence in pushing one's self farther and farther, a third and fourth wind may be uncovered, each one leading to greater heights of achievement.

This phenomenon occurs not alone on the physical plane; it is discernible in mental exertion as well. True, we seldom experience it because we are mentally lazy and have the habit of stopping our work at the first signs of fatigue. Did we persist, however, disregarding fatigue and ennui, we should find ourselves tapping vast reserves of mental power and accomplishing mental feats of astonishing brilliancy.

The occasional occurrence of the phenomenon of second-wind gives ground for the statement that we possess more energy than we ordinarily use. There are several lines of evidence for this statement. One is to be found in the energizing effects of emotional excitement. Under the impetus of anger, a man shows far greater strength than he ordinarily uses. Similarly, a mother manifests the strength of a tigress when her young is endangered. A second line of evidence is furnished by the effect of stimulants. Alcohol brings to the fore surprising reserves of physical and psychic energy. Lastly, we have innumerable instances of accession of strength under the stimulus of an idea. Under the domination of an all-absorbing idea, one performs feats of extraordinary strength, utilizing stores of energy otherwise out of reach. We have only to read of the heroic achievements of little Joan of Arc for an example of such manifestation of reserve power.

When we examine this accession of energy we find it to be describable in several ways—physiologically, neurologically and psychologically. The physiological effects consist in a heightening of the bodily functions in general. The muscles become more ready to act, the circulation is accelerated, the breathing more rapid. Curious things take place in various glands throughout the body. One, the adrenal gland, has been the object of special study and has been shown, upon the arousal of these reserves of energy, to produce a secretion of the utmost importance in providing for sudden emergencies. This little gland is located above the kidney, and is aroused to intense activity at times, pouring out into the blood a fluid that goes all over the body. Some of its effects are to furnish the blood with chemicals that act as fuel to the muscles, assisting them to contract more vigorously, to make the lungs more active in introducing oxygen into the system, to make the heart more active in distributing the blood throughout the body. Such glandular activity is an important physiological condition of these higher levels of energy. In neurological terms, the increase in energy consists in the flow of more nervous energy into the brain, particularly into those areas where it is needed for certain kinds of controlled thought and action. An abundance of nervous energy is very advantageous, for, as has been intimated in a former chapter, nervous energy is diffused and spread over all the pathways that are easily permeable to its distribution. This results in the use of considerable areas of brain surface, and knits up many associations, so that one idea calls up many other ideas. This leads us to recognize the psychological conditions of increased energy, which are, first, the presence of more ideas, second, the more facile flow of ideas; the whole accompanied by a state of marked pleasurableness. Pleasure is a notable effect of increased energy. When work progresses rapidly and satisfactorily, it is accomplished with great zest and a feeling almost akin to exaltation. These conditions describe to some degree the conditions when we are doing efficient work.

Since we are endowed with the energy requisite for such efficient work, the obvious question is, why do we not more frequently use it? The answer is to be found in the fact that we have formed the habit of giving up before we create conditions of high efficiency. You will note that the conditions require long-continued exertion and resolute persistence. This is difficult, and we indulgently succumb to the first symptoms of fatigue, before we have more than scratched the surface of our real potentialities.

Because of the prominent place occupied by fatigue in thus being responsible for our diminished output, we shall briefly consider its place in study. Everyone who has studied will agree that fatigue is an almost invariable attendant of continuous mental exertion. We shall lay down the proposition at the start, however, that the awareness of fatigue is not the same as the objective fatigue in the organs of the body. Fatigue should be regarded as a twofold thing—a state of mind, designated its subjective aspect, and a condition of various parts of the body, designated its objective aspect. The former is observable by introspection, the latter by analysis of bodily secretions and by measurement of the diminution of work, entirely without reference to the way the mind regards the work. Fatigue subjectively, or fatigue as we feel it, is not at all the same as fatigue as manifested in the body. If we were to make two curves, the one showing the advancement of the feeling of fatigue, and the other showing the advancement of impotence on the part of the bodily processes, the two curves would not at all coincide. Stated another way, fatigue is a complex thing, a product of ideas, feelings and sensations, and sometimes the ideas overbalance the sensations and we think we are more tired then we are objectively. It is this fact that accounts for our too rapid giving up when we are engaged in hard work.

A psychological analysis of the subjective side of fatigue will make its true nature more apparent. Probably the first thing we find in the mind when fatigued is a large mass of sensations. They are referred to various parts of the body, mostly the part where muscular activity has been most violent and prolonged. Not all of the sensations, however, are intense enough to be localizable, some being so vague that we merely say we are "tired all over." These vague sensations are often overlooked; nevertheless, as will be shown later, they may be exceedingly important.

But sensations are not the only contents of the mind at time of fatigue. Feelings are present also, usually of a very unpleasant kind. They are related partly to the sensations mentioned above, which are essentially painful, and they are feelings of boredom and ennui. We have yet to examine the ideas in mind and their behavior at time of fatigue. They come sluggishly, associations being made slowly and inaccurately, and we make many mistakes. But constriction of ideas is not the sole effect of fatigue. At such a time there are usually other ideas in the mind not relevant to the fatiguing task of the moment, and exceedingly distracting. Often they are so insistent in forcing themselves upon our attention that we throw up the work without further effort. It is practically certain that much of our fatigue is due, not to real weariness and inability to work, but to the presence of ideas that appear so attractive in contrast with the work in hand that we say we are tired of the latter. What we really mean is that we would rather do something else. These obtruding ideas are often introduced into our minds by other people who tell us that we have worked long enough and ought to come and play, and though we may not have felt tired up to this point, still the suggestion is so strong that we immediately begin to feel tired. Various social situations can arouse the same suggestion. For example, as the clock nears quitting time, we feel that we ought to be tired, so we allow ourselves to think we are.

Let us now examine the bodily conditions to see what fatigue is objectively. "Physiologically it has been demonstrated that fatigue is accompanied by three sorts of changes. First, poisons accumulate in the blood and affect the action of the nervous system, as has been shown by direct analysis. Mosso ... selected two dogs as nearly alike as possible. One he kept tied all day; the other, he exercised until by night it was thoroughly tired. Then he transfused the blood of the tired animal into the veins of the rested one and produced in him all the signs of fatigue that were shown by the other. There can be no doubt that the waste products of the body accumulate in the blood and interfere with the action of the nerve cells and muscles. It is probable that these accumulations come as a result of mental as well as of physical work.

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