Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/539

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521
EDUCATION AS A SCIENCE.

and incapacitates the mind for feeling them. The quiescence and stillness of the emotions enables the mind to give its full energies to the intellectual processes generally; and of these, the fundamental is perception of difference. Now, the more mental force we can throw into the act of noting a difference, the better is that difference felt, and the better it is impressed. The same act that favors discrimination favors retention. The two cannot be kept separate. No law of the intellect appears to be more certain than the law that connects our discriminating power with our retentive power. In whatever class of subjects our discrimination is great—colors, forms, tunes, tastes—in that class our retention is great. Whenever the attention can be concentrated on a subject in such a way as to make us feel all its delicate lineaments, which is another way of stating the sense of differences, through that very circumstance a great impression is made on the memory; there is no more favorable moment for engraving a recollection.

The perfection of neutral excitement, therefore, is typified by the intense rousing of the forces in an act or a series of acts of discrimination. If by any means we can succeed in this, we are sure that the other intellectual consequences will follow. It is a rare and difficult attainment in volatile years; the conditions, positive and negative, for its highest consummation cannot readily be commanded. Yet we should clearly comprehend what these conditions are; and the foregoing attempt has been made to seize and embody them.

Pleasure and pain, besides acting in their own character—that is, directing the voluntary actions, have a power as mere excitement, or as wakening up the mental blaze, during which all mental acts, including the impressing of the memory, are more effective. The distinction must still be drawn between concentrated and diffused excitement, between excitement in, and excitement away from, the work to be done. Pleasure is the most favorable adjunct, if not too great. Pain is the more stimulating or exciting; under a painful smart the forces are very rapidly quickened for all purposes, until we reach the point of wasteful dissipation. This brings us round again to the Socratic position, the preparing of the learner's mind by the torpedo or the gad-fly.

The full compass of the operation of the painful stimulant is well shown in some of our most familiar experiences as learners. In committing a lesson to memory, we con it a number of times by the book: we then try without the book. We fail utterly, and are slightly pained by the failure. We go back to the book, and try once more without it. We still fail, but strain the memory to recover the lost trains. The pains of failure and the act of straining stimulate the forces; the attention is aroused seriously and energetically. The next reference to the book finds us far more receptive of the impression to be made; the weak links are now reënforced with