Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training

The majority of our readers remember the familiar story of Houdin, who so cultivated the faculty of Perception that he was able to pass by a shop-window and afterward state in detail every object in the window. He acquired this power by gradual development, beginning with the observation of a single article in the window, then two, then three and so on. Others have followed his method with great success. Speaking of Houdin’s wonderful Perception, Halleck says: “A wide-awake eagle would probably see more of a thing at one glance than would a drowsy lizard in a quarter of an hour. Extreme rapidity of Perception, due to careful training, was one of the factors enabling Houdin and his son to astonish everybody and to amass a fortune. He placed a domino before the boy, and instead of allowing him to count the spots, required him to give the sum total at once. This exercise was continued until each could give instantaneously the sum of the spots on a dozen dominoes. The sum was given just as accurately as if five minutes had been consumed in adding.” Houdin, in his Memoirs relating the above facts regarding his own methods, states with due modesty, that many women far excel him in this respect. He says: “I can safely assert that a lady seeing another pass at full speed in a carriage will have had time to analyze her toilette from her bonnet to her shoes, and be able to describe not only the fashion and quality of the stuffs, but also say if the lace be real or only machine made.”

There are a number of games played by children which tend to the cultivation of the Perception, and which might well be adapted for the use of older people. These games are based on the general principle of the various participants taking a brief view of a number of objects displayed in one’s hand, on a table, in a box, etc., and then stating what he or she has seen. There will be noticed a wonderful difference in the degree of Perception manifested by the various participants. And, equally interesting will be the degrees of progress noted after playing this game over several times, allowing time for rest between the series of games. It is a fact well known in police circles that thieves often train boys in this way, following this course by another in which the lads are expected to take in the contents of a room, the windows, locks, etc., at a glance. They are then graduated into spies looking out the details of the scenes of future robberies.

In our volume of this series, devoted to the consideration of the Memory, we have related a number of exercises and methods, similar to those given above, by which the Perception may be cultivated. Perception plays a most important place in memory, for upon the clearness of the percepts depends to a great degree the clearness of the impressions made upon the memory. So close is the connection between Memory and Perception that the cultivation of one tends to develop the other. For instance, the cultivation of the Memory necessitates the sharpening of the Perception in the direction of obtaining clear original impressions; while the cultivation of Perception naturally develops the Memory by reason of the fact that the latter is used in testing and proving the clearness and degree of Perception. This being the case, those who find that the exercises and methods given above are too arduous may substitute the simple exercise of remembering as many details as possible of things they see. This effort to impress the memory will involuntarily bring into action the perceptive faculties in the acquirement of the original impressions, so that in the end the Perception will be found to have developed.

Teachers and those having to do with children should realize the great value of the cultivation of Perception in the young, and thus establishing valuable habits of observation among them. The experience and culture thus acquired will prove of great value in their after life. As Brooks well says on this subject: “Teachers should appreciate the value of the culture of the perceptive powers, and endeavor to do something to afford this culture. Let it be remembered that by training the powers of observation of pupils, we lead them to acquire definite ideas of things, enable them to store their minds with fresh and interesting knowledge, lay the foundation for literary or business success, and thus do much to enhance their happiness in life and add to the sum of human knowledge.”