Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/350

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I suspect we have in this and similar trials a very simple mental dynamometer which may find its place in education." It appears to me, on the contrary, that tests of the kind should be as little used as may be. Memory will always have an unfair predominance in competitive examinations; but tests which are purely mnemonic, the judgment being in no way whatever called upon, ought not to be introduced, and should be discarded as soon as possible where already in use.[1]

It is worthy of notice that the growth of the mind is often accompanied by an apparent loss of power in particular respects; and this fact is exceedingly important, especially to all who desire to estimate the condition of their own mind. The mental phenomenon called (not very correctly) absence of mind is often regarded by the person experiencing it, and still more by those who observe it in him, as a proof of failing powers. But it often, if not generally, accompanies the increase of mental power. Newton displayed absence of mind much more frequently and to a much more marked degree when his powers were at their highest than in his youth, and not only did instances become much less frequent when he was at an advanced age, but the opposite quality, sensitiveness to small annoyances, began then to be displayed. Even an apparent impairment of the memory is not necessarily indicative of failing mental powers, since it is often the result of an increased concentration of the attention on subjects specially calling for the exercise of the highest forms of mental power—as analysis, comparison, generalization, and judgment. I have already noted that profound thinkers often refrain from exercising the memory, simply to avoid the distraction of their thoughts from the main subject of their study. But this statement may be extended into the general remark that the most profound students, whether of physical science, mathematics, history, politics, or, in fine, of any difficult subject of research, are apt to give the memory less exercise than shallower thinkers. Of course, the memory is exerted to a considerble degree, even in the mere marshaling of thoughts before theories can be formed or weighed. But the greater part of the mental action

    ticated instances fully as remarkable as those here referred to. For instance, there is a case of an American Indian who could repeat twenty or thirty lines of Homer which had been read once to him, though he knew nothing of the Greek language. The power of repeating backward a long passage after it has been but once read is somewhat similar to that of repeating unconnected numbers, letters, or words This power has been possessed to a remarkable degree by persons in no way distinguished by general ability

  1. It may perhaps occur to the reader that I who write may object to mnemonic tests, because they would act unfavorably if they were applied to my own mental qualities. The reverse is, however, the case. I can recall competitive examinations in which I had an undue advantage over others because my memory chances to be very retentive in one particular respect: In its general nature my memory is about equal, I imagine, to the average, perhaps it is better than the average for facts, and rather below the average for what is commonly called learning "by heart:" but it is singularly retentive for the subject-matter of passages read overnight.