Page images
PDF
EPUB

no accumulation of improvement. The effect of any variation is not transmitted, and is not thus pregnant of still further change.

As regards the second of the two classes of actions above referred to—those, namely, which are not recurrent or habitual, and at no point of which is there a memory of a past present like the one which is present now—there will have been no accumulation of strong and well-knit memory as regards the action as a whole, but action, if taken at all, will be taken upon disjointed fragments of individual actions (our own and those of other people) pieced together with a result more or less satisfactory according to circumstances.

But it does not follow that the action of two people who have had tolerably similar antecedents and are placed in tolerably similar circumstances should be more unlike each other in this second case than in the first. On the contrary, nothing is more common than to observe the same kind of people making the same kind of mistake when placed for the first time in the same kind of new circumstances. I did not say that there would be no sameness of action without memory of a like present. There may be sameness of action proceeding from a memory, conscious or unconscious, of like antecedents, and a presence only of like presents without recollection of the same.

The sameness of action of like persons placed under like circumstances for the first time, resembles the sameness of action of inorganic matter under the same combinations. Let us for the moment suppose what we call non-living substances to be capable of remembering their antecedents, and that the changes they undergo are the expressions of their recollections. Then I admit, of course, that there is not memory in any cream, we will say, that is about to be churned of the cream of the preceding week, but the common absence of such memory from each week's cream is an element of sameness between the two. And though no cream can remember having been churned before, yet all cream in all time has had nearly identical antecedents, and has therefore nearly the same memories, and nearly the same proclivities. Thus, in fact, the cream of one week is as truly the same as the cream of another week from the same cow, pasture, &c, as anything is ever the same with anything; for the having been- subjected to like antecedents engenders the closest similarity that we can conceive of, if the substances were like to start with.

The manifest absence of any connecting memory (or memory of like presents) from certain of the phenomena of heredity, such as, for example, the diseases of old age, is now seen to be no valid reason for saying that such other and far more numerous and important phenomena as those of embryonic development are not phenomena of memory. Growth and the diseases of old age do indeed, at first sight, appear to stand on the same footing, but reflection shows us that the question whether a certain result is due to memory or no must be settled not by showing that combinations into which memory does not certainly enter may yet generate like results, and therefore considering the memory theory disposed of, but by the evidence we may be able to adduce in support of the fact that the second agent has actually remembered the conduct of the first, inasmuch as he cannot be supposed able to do what it is plain he can do, except under the guidance of memory or experience, and can also be shown to have had every opportunity of remembering. When either of these tests fails, similarity of action on the part of two agents need not be connected with memory of a like present as well as of like antecedents, but must, or at any rate may, be referred to memory of like antecedents only.

Returning to a parenthesis a few pages back, in which I said that consciousness of memorywould be less or greater according to the greater or fewer number of times that the act had been repeated, it may be observed as a corollary to this, that the less consciousness of memory the greater the uniformity of action, and vice versa. For the less consciousness involves the memory's being more perfect, through a larger number (generally) of repetitions of the act that is remembered; there is therefore a less proportionate difference in respect of the number of recollections of this particular act between the most recent actor and the most recent but one. This is why very old civilisations, as those of many insects, and the greater number of now living organisms, appear to the eye not to change at all.

For example, if an action has been performed only ten times, we will say by A, B, C, &c, who are similar in all respects, except that A acts without recollection, B with recollection of A's action, C with recollection of both B's and A's, while J remembers the course taken by A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I—the possession of a memory by B will indeed so change his action, as compared with A's, that it may well be hardly recognisable. We saw this in our example of the clerk who asked the policeman the way to the eating-house on one day, but did not ask him the next, because he remembered; but C's action will not be so different from B's as B's from A's, for though C will act with a memory of two occasions on which the action has been performed, while B recollects only the original performance by A, yet B and C both act with the guidance of a memory and experience of some kind, while A acted without any. Thus the clerk referred to in Chapter X. will act on the third day much as he acted on the second—that is to say, he will see the policeman at the corner of the street, but will not question him.

When the action is repeated by J for the tenth time, the difference between J's repetition of it and I's will be due solely to the difference between a recollection of nine past performances by J against only eight by I, and this is so much proportionately less than the difference between a recollection of two performances and of only one, that a less modification of action should be expected. At the same time consciousness concerning an action repeated for the tenth time should be less acute than on the first repetition. Memory, therefore, though tending to disturb similarity of action

« EelmineJätka »