Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/70

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

babies pass through a succession of hobbies in their various games and sports, and methods of speech and conduct, likes and repulsions, and so forth, which are successively and almost completely forgotten. The whole process of education, public and private, is based throughout on the imperfections and uncertainties of memory. If it were possible for youths to retain what they read, or hear, or see, our schools and colleges might be closed, or, at least, remain open but one month in a year. With children, as with adults, life is but a series of unrememberable experiences; to live is to forget.

All boasted human learning is a temporary treasure, a loan rather than a permanent gift, which must be watched and tended every moment lest it slip from our possession. Truly has it been said that scholarship consists not in knowledge but in knowing where knowledge can be found: he is the learned man who knows not the contents of books but what the best books in any specialty are. School and academy and university graduates, who after years of active and it may be eminent professional life look over the examination-papers of alma mater and the catechisms of their childhood, find invariably that outside of the special lines of their lives they are unable to answer correctly and with certainty the simplest questions, and must conclude that all the wisdom of the world is with sophomores and school-children. Even special departments are, through the limitations of human capacity, so minutely specialized that one soon despairs of remembering anything more than what belongs to the daily routine in the pursuit of a specialty; an original author in science must continually refer to the books he has written, lest he forget his own discoveries.

 

Some experiments that I have made with the memory, the full details of which are to be published elsewhere, give results that are of the highest significance in their bearings on the study of human testimony. These experiments were modeled in part on the familiar "Russian game," so called, which is sometimes practised by the young as an amusement, and which consists in telling some short story to a party, who at once repeats it, or all that he remembers, or thinks he remembers, to another party, and so on through a series of half a dozen or more individuals. In order to make the experiment a fair one, and of value in the study of memory, the story designed as a test should be short and simple, and should be written out and clearly stated to the individual who stands second in the series. The second individual takes a third individual into another room, writes out the story from his recollection and reads it, the third party does the same by the fourth, and so on. When all the stories are compared, at the close of the experiment, this general result is invariably reached:

1. No two of the stories agree. All have departed more or less widely not only from the original, but from the account which they themselves directly received from the person next to them in the series.