Mental Association and the Memory-Continuum.
24. Great confusion has been occasioned, as we have seen incidentally, by the lax use of the term “ association, ” and this confusion has been increased by a further laxity in Association h f h, , . xl ., ,
b, ,5im”, ,. the use 0 the term association by Sl1'1'l13I°1ty. ny nor In so far as the similarity amounts to identity, as in 21112; assimilation, we have a process which is more fundamental than association by contiguity, but then it is not a process of association. And when the reviving presentation is only partially similar to the presentation revived, the nature of the association does not appear to differ from that operative when one “ contiguous ” presentation revives another. In the one case we have, say, a b x recalling a b y, and in the other a b e recalling d e f. Now anybody who will reflect must surely see that the similarity betweena b x and a b y, as distinct from the identity of their partial constituent a b, cannot be the means of recall; for this similarity is nothing but the state of mind-to be studied presently-which results when a b x and a b y, having been recalled are in consciousness together and then compared. But if a b, having concurred with y before and being now present in a b x, again revives y, the association, so far as that goes, is manifestly one of contiguity, albeit as soon as the revival is complete, the state of mind immediately incident may be what Bain loved to style “ the flash of similarity.” So far as the mere revival itself goes, there is no more similarity in this case than there is when a b c revives d ef. For the very a b e that now operates as the reviving presentation was obviously never in time contiguous with the d e f that is revived; if all traces of previous experiences of a b c were obliterated there would be no revival. In other words, the a b e now present must be “automatically associated, ” or, as we prefer to say, must be assimilated to those residua of a b o which were “ contiguous ” with d e f, before the representation of this can occur. And this, and nothing more than this, we have seen, is all the “ similarity ” that could be at work when a b x “ brought up ” a b y.
On the whole, then, we may assume that the only principle of association we have to examine is the so-called association by contigiziiiy, which, as ordinarily formulated, runs: nexp”wb, e Any presentations whatever, which are in consciousness together or in closing succession, cohere in such a way that when one recurs it tends to revive the rest, such tendency increasing with the frequency of the conjunction. It has been often contended that any investigation into the nature of association must be fruitless* But, if association is thus a first principle, it ought at least to admit of such a statement as shall remove the necessity for inquiry. So long, however, as we are asked to conceive presentations originally distinct and isolated becoming eventually linked together, we shall naturally feel the need of some explanation of the process, for neither the isolation nor the links are clear-not the isolation, for we can only conceive two presentations separated by other presentations intervening; nor the links, unless these are also presentations, and then the difficulty recurs. But, if for contiguity we substitute continuity and regard the associated presentations as parts of a new continuum, the only important inquiry is how this new whole was first of all integrated. To ascertain this -point we must examine each of the two leading divisions of contiguous association-that of simultaneous po, ,, ,, ¢, ,, n presentations and that of presentations occurring ofMemory- in closing succession. The last, being the clearer, may C°"““"'""- be taken first. In a series of associated presentations A B C D E, such as the movements made in writing, the words of a poem learned by heart, or the simple letters of the alphabet themselves, we find that each member recalls its successor but not its predecessor. Familiar as this fact is, it is not perhaps easy to explain it satisfactorily. Since C is associated both with B and D, and apparently as intimately with the one as with the other, why does it revive the later only and not the earlier? B recalls C; why does not C recall B? We have seen that any 1 So Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, pt. i. § 4 (Green and Grose's ed., p. 321); also Lotze, Metaphysik, 1st ed., p. 526. Contlguily
reproduction at all of B, C or D depends primarily upon its having been the object of special attention, so as to occupy at least momentarily the focus of consciousness. Now we can in the first instance only surmise that the order in which they are reproduced is determined by the order in which they were thus attended to when first presented. The next question is whether the association of objects simultaneously presented can be resolved into an association of objects successively attended to. Whenever we try to recall a scene we saw but for a moment there are always a few traits that recur, the rest being blurred and vague, instead of the whole being revived in equal distinctness or indistinctness. On seeing the same scene a second time our attention is apt to be caught by something unnoticed before, as this has the advantage of novelty; and so on, till we have “lived ourselves into ” the whole, which may then admit of simultaneous recall. Bain, who is rightly held to have given the best exposition of the laws of association, admits something very like this in saying that “coexistence is an artificial growth formed from a certain peculiar class of mental successions.” But, while it is easy to think of instances in which the associated objects were attended to successively, and we are all perfectly aware that the surest-not to say the only-way to fix the association of a number of objects is by thus concentrating attention on each in turn, it seems hardly possible to mention a case in which attention to the associated objects could not have been successive. In fact, an aggregate of objects on which attention could be focused at once would be already associated. The exclusively successional character of contiguous association has recently been denied, and its exclusively simultaneous character maintained instead. It is at once obvious that this opposition of succession and simultaneity cannot be pressed so as to exclude duration altogether and reduce the whole process to an instantaneous event. Nor is there any ground for saying that there is a fixed and even distribution of attention to whatever is simultaneously presented: facts all point the other way. Still, though we cannot exclude the notion of process from consciousness, we may say that presentations attended to together become pro tanto a new whole, are synthesized or complicated. Such primary synthesis leads not to an association of ideas, but rather to the formation of one percept, which may become eventually a free idea. The disconcerted preperception which sets this free may likewise liberate a similar or contrasting idea, but it will not resolve either complex into the severai “ ideas ' of its sensory or motor constituents, with which only the psychologist is familiar. The actual recurrence of some of these constituents may again reinstate the rest, not, however, as memories or as “ thoughts, " but only as tied ideas in a renewed perception. Again, it has become usual to distinguish the association of contiguous experiences and the so-called association of similars or opposites as respectively external and internal forms of association. The new terminology is illuminating: the substitution of forms for laws marks the abandonment of the old notion that association was by “adhesion” of the contiguous and “ attraction ” of the similar. We are thus left to find the cause of association in interested attention; and that, we may safely say, is an adequate, and apparently the sole adequate, cause for the two commonly recognized forms of external association, the so-called simultaneous and the successive. But these two are certainly not co-ordinate; and if our analysis be sound, the former-for which we would retain the Herbartian term complication-yields us not members of an association but a member for association. So far, then, we should have but one form of association, that of the successive contents of localized attention: and but one result, the representation or memory-continuum,2 in contrast to the primary- or presentation-continuum, whence its constituents arise. Turning now to the distinction of external and internal, it at once strikes the unprejudiced mind that “ internal association " is something of an anomaly, since the very notion of association implies externality. Also, on closer inspection what we find is not an association of similars or opposites as such, but-something quite distinct-a similarity or contrast of associates; of ideas, that is to say, which are contiguous members of the memory (or experience) continuum, or of ideas which have become contiguous through its reduplication.
The only case, then, that now remains to be considered is that-to take it in its simplest form-of two primary presentations A and X, parts of different special continua or distinct.e. non-adjacent-parts of the same, and occupying the focus of consciousness in immediate succession. This constitutes 2 Experience-continuum would perhaps be a better name, since it is only a preliminary to a true memory record, as we shall presently see.,