Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/607

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY.



MARCH, 1880.



THE ASSOCIATION OF IDEAS.
By WILLIAM JAMES, M.D.,
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PHYSIOLOGY IN HARVARD COLLEGE.

THE manner in which trains of imagery and consideration follow each other through our thinking, the restless flight of one idea before the next, the transitions our minds make between things wide as the poles asunder, transitions which at first sight startle us by their abruptness, but which, when scrutinized closely, often reveal intermediating links of thought of perfect naturalness and propriety—all this magical, imponderable streaming has from time immemorial excited the admiration of every living man whose attention happened to be caught by its omnipresent mystery. And it has furthermore challenged the race of philosophers to try to banish something of the mystery by formulating the process in somewhat simpler terms.

Two great philosophic efforts to this end have been made. The one is called the associationist philosophy of England, the other the Herbartian system of Germany. Professor Bain’s books are generally regarded as the most successful expression of the first movement. Volkmann’s “Psychology” is perhaps the most finished utterance of the last. These schools differ as to their theoretic basis (the one being ontological and the other phenomenal), but they agree in almost all besides; especially in the attempt to show how all the different kinds of mental activity (such as memory, judgment, reasoning, self-consciousness, desire, etc., etc., which were formerly classed as distinct and original “faculties”) may be explained as resultants of the manner in which, by the working of two or three simple elementary laws of revival between images, these latter are grouped into certain characteristic forms.

In fact, the easiest way of describing the entire industry of these