Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training

The best authorities agree in the idea that the Perception may be best cultivated by acquiring the habit of examining things in detail. And, that this examination in detail is best manifested by examining the parts going to make up a complex thing, separately, rather than examining the thing as a whole. Halleck says regarding this point: “To look at things intelligently is the most difficult of all arts. The first rule for the cultivation of accurate perception is: Do not try to perceive the whole of a complex object at once. Take the human face for example. A man holding an important position to which he had been elected offended many people because he could not remember faces, and hence failed to recognize individuals the second time he met them. His trouble was in looking at the countenance as a whole. When he changed his method of observation, and noticed carefully the nose, mouth, eyes, chin and color of hair, he at once began to find recognition easier. He was no longer in danger of mistaking A for B, since he remembered that the shape of B’s nose was different, or the color of his hair at least three shades lighter. This example shows that another rule can be formulated: Pay careful attention to details…. To see an object merely as an undiscriminated mass of something in a certain place is to do no more than a donkey accomplishes as he trots along.”

Brooks says regarding the same point: “To train the powers of observation we should practice observing minutely. We should analyze the objects which we look at into their parts, and notice these parts. Objects present themselves to us as wholes; our definite knowledge of them is gained by analysis, by separating them into the elements which compose them. We should therefore give attention to the details of whatever we are considering; and thus cultivate the habit of observing with minuteness…. It is related of a teacher that if, when hearing a class, some one rapped at the door, he would look up as the visitor entered and from a single glance could tell his appearance and dress, the kind of hat he wore, kind of necktie, collar, vest, coat, shoes, etc. The skillful banker, also, in counting money with wondrous rapidity, will detect and throw from his pile of bills the counterfeits which, to the ordinary eye, seem to be without spot or blemish.”

One of the best methods of developing and cultivating the faculty of Perception is to take up some study in which the perceptive faculties _must be_ employed. Botany, physics, geology, natural history give splendid exercise in Perception, providing the student engages in actual experimental work, and actual observation, instead of confining himself to the textbooks. A careful scientific study and examination of _any kind of objects_, in a manner calculated to bring out the various points of resemblance and difference, will do most to develop the Perception. Training of this kind will develop these powers to a high degree, in the case of small children.

Drawing is also a great help to the development of Perception. In order to draw a thing correctly we must of necessity examine it in detail; otherwise we will not be able to draw it correctly. In fact, many authorities use the test of drawing to prove the degree of attention and Perception that the student has bestowed upon an object which he has been studying. Others place an object before the pupil for a few minutes, and then withdraw it, the pupil then being required to draw the object roughly but with attention to its leading peculiarities and features. Then the object is again placed before the pupil for study, and he is then again required to draw from memory the additional details he has noticed in it. This process is repeated over and over again, until the pupil has proved that he has _observed_ every possible detail of interest in the object. This exercise has resulted in the cultivation of a high degree of perception in many students, and its simplicity should not detract from its importance. Any person may practice this exercise by himself; or, better still, two or more students may combine and endeavor to excel each other in friendly rivalry, each endeavoring to discover the greatest number of details in the object considered. So rapidly do students improve under this exercise, that a daily record will show a steady advance. Simple exercises in drawing are found in the reproduction, from memory, of geography maps, leaves of trees, etc.

Similar exercises may be found in the practice of taking a hasty look at a person, animal or building, and then endeavoring to reproduce in writing the particular points about the person or thing observed. This exercise will reveal rapid progress if persisted in. Or, it may be varied by endeavoring to write out the contents of a room through which one has walked.