The Principles of Psychology - Vol. 1

By William James | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI. .
MEMORY

IN the last chapter what concerned us was the direct intuition of time. We found it limited to intervals of considerably less than a minute. Beyond its borders extends the immense region of conceived time, past and future, into one direction or another of which we mentally project all the events which we think of as real, and form a systematic order of them by giving to each a date. The relation of conceived to intuited time is just like that of the fictitious space pictured on the flat back-scene of a theatre to the actual space of the stage. The objects painted on the latter (trees, columns, houses in a receding street, etc.) carry back the series of similar objects solidly placed upon the latter, and we think we see things in a continuous perspective, when we really see thus only a few of them and imagine that we see the rest. The chapter which lies before us deals with the way in which we paint the remote past, as it were, upon a canvas in our memory, and yet often imagine that we have direct vision of its depths.

The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours, or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures. Can we explain these differences?


PRIMARY MEMORY.

The first point to be noticed is that for a state of mind to survive in memory it must have endured for a certain length of time. In other words, it must be what I call a substantive state. Prepositional and conjunctival states of mind are not remembered as independent facts--we cannot recall

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