Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg



Previous: Appendix I. The Various Usages of The Term "Soul" in The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg Up: The Human Mind Next: End Notes

Appendix II. Association of Ideas in the Memory

By simple introspection, we may recognize various laws which govern the association of ideas in the memory. Two general types may be observed. One is simultaneous association, featuring composite sense -perceptions connected by simultaneous experience or the recall of kindred objects or events. The other type is successive association, like trains of thought wherein idea follows idea along the line of least mental resistance, or as when ideas flow together again after a disjunction. Space-time concepts indeed produce the "generals" of the corporeal memory, and form innumerable fields within that memory into which new ideas are fitted on transecting or tangential planes which never interfere with each other (Cp SD 2851). Infants, children and adults also learn to place perceptions into such space-time fields by experiencing distances and recognizing spaces through intervening objects (SD 2333e, 3666e). Contiguity in space and time is widely accepted as the sole "primary" law of association, and this is thought to account for the existence of certain pathways by which nerve energy passes between areas in the brain. The "secondary" laws of association "have to do with the relative strength of associative bonds or with the relative efficiency of such pathways."37 Thus we may observe a law of frequency, a law of recency (last thing observed), a law of intensity (or vividness), and laws of emotional set or emotional congruity (or state of mind). It has also been admitted that there are basic groups of associations, such as rational, imaginative, emotional, and inhibited. Although referring vaguely to "dynamic," "organismic," or "emotional" conditionings of the nerve paths, psychologists often fall back on a purely mechanistic explanation of memory associations, and usually speak of these associations as based in time and space. Indeed, the human mind is often regarded only as a set of "processes" in the nervous system, and associations of ideas would then have merely physical causes.

In recent times much attention has also been given to the theory that more or less subconscious instincts and urges (which we supposedly have inherited from animal ancestors) lurk within us as festering sores until they can emerge disguised in sublimated forms of expression as rational thoughts, social graces and esthetic symbols. The Writings clarify the problem of associated ideas by the doctrine concerning the relation of spirits and men. The mind in its unconscious depths is rooted in the spiritual world. The influx of spirits is felt by man as affections or cupidities. Thus the missing conjunctive factor in our mental life is an affection or delight which forms the vital connection between isolated perceptions, concepts, ideas, and states. This affection is what gives continuity, order and purpose to thought and to recollection, and links the objective sensual idea with the Rational, thus with the spiritual field of affection and thought. The general law of recollection is described as follows:

"The truths with man, no matter what they may be, or of what nature, enter into his memory by means of affection, that is, by means of a certain delight which is of love. Without affection or without a delight which is of love nothing can enter into man, for in these is his life. The things that have entered are reproduced whenever a similar delight recurs, together with many other things which have been associated or have conjoined themselves with them. In the same way, when the same truth is reproduced by oneself or by some one else, then the affection or joy which there was when it entered is in like manner excited, for they cohere conjoined" (AC 4205: 2). "Nothing can possibly enter into man's memory and remain there unless there is a certain affection or love which introduces it. If there is no affection . . . there will be no observation. It is this affection with which the thing that enters connects itself and, being connected, remains; as is evident from the fact that when a similar affection or love returns, the thing itself recurs and is presented to view along with other things that had previously entered by virtue of a similar affection or love, and this in a series. From this comes man's thought, and from this thought his speech. In like manner also, when the thing itself returns, if this be effected by objects of the senses, or by objects of the thought, or by some one else's conversation, the affection with which the thing had entered is also reproduced. This is the teaching of experience, and on reflection every one may be confirmed in it" (AC 3336: 2, 4301: 3,4). Associations of ideas are composed even of opposite and dissimilar things which have to be separated after death (SD 2851 f). The arrangement of ideas is effected by the ruling affections, and unrelated things are removed and set aside, as forgotten (AC 5278, 8885). Swedenborg testified that a man will have a clearer apperception of things the more associated ideas are adjoined:

"While I have been thinking, the material ideas of my thought have appeared as it were in the midst of a kind of wave, and it was observed that this wave was nothing else than such things as were adjoined to that object in the memory, and that thus the full thought is apparent to spirits, while nothing else then comes to man's apprehension than that which is in the midst and appears as material. I have compared that surrounding wave to spiritual wings by which the thing thought of is elevated out of the memory. From this the man has perception of a subject. That in that surrounding wave there were innumerable things harmonizing with the subject thought of, was made evident to me from this, that the spirits who were in a more subtle sphere thereby found out everything that I had ever known on that subject. . . . When I thought of a person whom I know, then the idea of him such as it appears when his name is mentioned, was presented in the midst; but round about, like an undulating volatile something, was everything I had known and thought about him from childhood; whereby the whole of him, such as he was in my thought and affection, appeared among the spirits in an instant. Moreover, when I have been thinking about any city, the spirits, from that surrounding undulating sphere, knew all that I had seen and known about it. The case was the same with matters of science. . . Such the thought appeared among spirits when I was a little withdrawn from the things of sense. But when the thought was in the things of sense, no such undulating sphere appeared; but all was then material and not unlike external sight" (AC 6200 f).

Previous: Appendix I. The Various Usages of The Term "Soul" in The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg Up: The Human Mind Next: End Notes


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com