VIII. Memory and Association

The "law of association" asserts that no idea exists in the mind except in association to other ideas. While this is not generally recognized, it is commonly demonstrated in practice that there are associations in memory: unless we strain to focus upon a specific topic, the mind drifts from one topic to another as one memory evokes others, and a person can often be helped to remember something by mentioning something closely associated to it. So while it is arguable whether ideas absolutely must be associated to others, it is generally true that they happen to be so.

And so, it can be said that ideas generally "travel in groups" that are hooked to one another in various ways, though some of the connections may seem unusual. In theory, it may be possible to begin with one idea in the mind of a person, and then gradually unwind his entire stock of memories by linking one to another, as is often practiced in casual conversation. One thing reminds us of a second, the second of a third, and the third of a fourth - and we find ourselves wondering how we came to be speaking of the fourth topic.

Atkinson considers there to be three general classes of association of ideas in memory:

(EN: And as with all simplistic classifications, I doubt this list to be nearly comprehensive. Having traced the flow of thoughts and conversations, I recall a number of points of association that do not fit neatly into any of these categories.)

The pattern of associations in the mind is less like a chain than a web. To think of one thing makes a person think of many other things. For example, a yellow circle may cause us to recall a dozen other things that were approximately the same color or had a circular shape. While the mind seeks order and classification, it is not exclusive in doing so: things are placed in multiple categories.

Repetition in Memory

Another common observation about memory is that impressions become stronger by repetition. The standard method of memorizing things is to experience them repeatedly - whether it is memorization by rote (repeating a poem over and over, immediately) or separated buy a significant amount of time (reading the poem once per week).

Experiments have shown that repetition creates memory. Some people can remember things with only a few repetitions, but with enough repetitions even relatively dull people cannot avoid remembering it.

Advice for Developing Memory

You can develop a better memory, but only by putting effort into the development, because you will get out of memory only that which you place into it: create clear and detailed impressions and you will have clear, detailed, and strong memories.

To create a strong impression:

  • Give attention
  • Cultivate interest
  • Broaden and deepen perception
  • Attempt to understand it
  • Associate it to other things
  • Repeat it multiple times
  • The improve the recollection of memories:

  • Leverage associations between things in perception
  • Add associations when thinking about things
  • Practice memorization and recall daily
  • Learn to count upon your memory rather than writing notes