James J. Jenkins
There is a striking difference between the notion of memory that most of us have and the notion of language as it has been described in this book. Most of us think of memory as a lower mental function, a sort of simple machine we have in our heads that copies parts of the world and stores those copies to be found again later. On the other hand, most of us now think of language as a complicated, productive system of great power, a system that can produce new products appropriate to any situation in which we find ourselves, a system that is often compared to thought itself in terms of depth and complexity.
Language as a many-leveled, hierarchical system can be related to memory as a process. A human being is a very flexible psychological machine: he is capable of being either a very simple machine or a very complex one. I assume that a person learns a great deal about the world and the demands that it makes on him in particular situations. He then sets himself to act as a machine of appropriate nature for each situation, as he sees it. What he remembers depends on what kind of machine he is at the time.
The best and simplest way to illustrate this thesis is through the example of language. We agree that language is complexly and hierarchically structured, but memory functions change with the level of language used and with the demands of the situation.
Let us begin with the work of the first great scientific student of memory, Hermann Ebbinghaus. For over five years, Ebbinghaus worked on a vast set of experiments studying his own