Memory





No mind retains consciously everything that has ever impressed it. It is

necessary that it put aside what ceases to be of importance or value and

make way for new impressions. We found early in our study that the

subconscious never forgets, but harbors the apparently forgotten

throughout the years, allowing it to modify our thinking, our reactions.

But the conscious mind cannot be cluttered with the things of little

importance when the more essential is clamoring. So there is a

forgetting that is very normal. We forget numberless incidents of our

childhood and youth; we may forget the details of much that we have

learned to do automatically; but the subconscious mind is attending to

them for us.



Do you know how to skate? and if so, do you remember just how you did it

the first time? Probably all you recall is that you fell again and again

because your feet would slip away from where you meant them to be. When

you glide over the ice now it is as natural as walking, and as easy. You

cannot remember in detail at all how you first "struck out," nor the

position of your feet and arms and legs, which you felt forced to

assume. At the time there was very real difficulty with every

stroke--each one was an accomplishment to be attempted circumspectly, in

a certain definite way. All you remember now is, vaguely, a tumble or

two, soreness, and lots of fun.



We forget details we have intrusted to others as not a part of our

responsibility. We forget the things which in no way concern us, in

which we have no interest and about which we have no curiosity. And it

is well that we do so. If it were not for the ability to forget, our

minds would be like a room in which we have lived a lifetime, where we

have left everything that has been brought into it since our birth. It

would be piled ceiling high, with no room for us, and with difficulty

only could we find what we want. As we grow from babyhood to childhood,

from childhood to youth, from youth to maturity the room changes with

us. We put off childish things. They are stored away somewhere, in an

attic or basement, or destroyed. And day after day something new is

added, displacing something else. In the case of the mind all these

things are stored and cataloged in the subconscious, and forgotten,

until some need causes us to look into our catalog-index and see the

experience again, or some association calls it back, relating it to

something new. So our discussion of the subconscious involved also a

discussion of memory.



But what of the things we must use frequently and cannot find in our

minds? What of absent-mindedness and faulty memory? In such cases our

minds might be compared to a cluttered room full of things we need and

want to use every day, but in confusion. We know where many of them are,

the ones we care most about; but we have to rummage wildly to find the

rest. We have no proper system of arrangement of our belongings. You

laid down that book somewhere, absent-mindedly, and now you cannot tell

where. You were thinking of something else at the time, and inattention

proves a most common cause of poor memory. Perhaps you simply have more

books than the room can hold in an orderly way, and so you crowded that

one in some corner, and now have no recollection of where you put it.



Poor memory is the result of lack of attention, or divided attention at

the time the particular attention-stimulus knocked. You asked me to buy

a ribbon of a certain shade and a certain width when I went to town. I

was thinking of my dentist appointment. However, I heard your request,

answered it graciously, took the money you offered, still wondering if

the dentist would have to draw that tooth. And the chances are that I

forgot your ribbon. I was giving you only a passive and divided

attention.



Or I have more to do than I can possibly accomplish in the next six

hours. You ask me to buy the ribbon. I attend accurately for the moment,

think distractedly, "How can I do it all?--but I will"--and crowd the

intention into an already overburdened corner of my mind, fail to

associate it with the other thoughts already there, and return six hours

later without the ribbon. My sense of hurry, of stress, of the more

important thing to be done, or a reaction of impatience at the request,

forced back the ribbon thought and allowed it to be hidden by others. I

was really giving you only partial attention, or an emotion interfered

with attention; and I forgot.



Hence we find that a faulty memory may exist in an otherwise normal mind

when poor attention, or divided attention due to emotional stress or to

an overcrowded mind, which makes it impossible to properly assort its

material, interferes.



Again, we forget many things because they are unpleasant to remember. We

have no desire, no emotional stimulus to make us remember; or because

some of the associations with the forgotten incident are undesirable.

We forget many things because if we remembered them we would feel called

upon to do some unpleasant duty. You forgot your tennis engagement with

B, perhaps, because you were so engrossed in a pleasure at hand, or in

your work, that anything which interrupted was, under the circumstances,

undesirable. You may have wanted very much to play with him, but some

more pressing desire--to care well for your patient, or to continue the

present amusement--was stronger. Or you forgot because you did not want

to play with him and had no excuse to offer at the time. You wished to

forget. Perhaps he does not play a good game, or you do not like him, or

at least you like some one else much more, and he happened along; so you

forgot B. The unconscious mind saw to it that something else was kept so

prominently before your attention that it could not return to the less

desired.



Thus a forgetting may be purely the result of an emotional interference

which makes it, all in all, more pleasant to forget than to remember. If

we would help ourselves or our patients whose memories are faulty, and

who make them worse by their continual fretting over their disability,

we must train ourselves to be willing to forget all that does not in the

least concern our interests or those of the people about us, and does

not add anything desirable to our knowledge. Thus we may avoid

overcrowding the mind. But when we would remember let us give our whole

active attention at the moment of presentation of the new stimulus, and

immediately tie it up with something in past experience; let us

recognize what it is that we should remember, and call the reinforcement

of will, which demands that we remember whether we want to or not.

Sincere desire to remember will inspire early and frequent recalling,

with various associations, or hooks, until the impression becomes

permanent. The average patient's poor memory is made worse by his

agitation and attention to it, and his conviction that he cannot

remember. The fear of forgetting often wastes mental energy which might

otherwise provide keenness of memory. If the nurse ties up some pleasant

association with the things she wants the sick man to remember, and

disregards his painful effort to recall other things, then--unless the

mind is disordered--he will often find normal memory reasserting itself.



We shall consider this question of memory in more detail in a later

chapter of practical suggestions for the nurse.





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