The causes of the particular succession of our ideas, and the control
which the mind has in regulating this succession, is a subject no less
interesting than important; for if by any act of choice the mind has the
power of regulating its own thoughts and feelings, then man is a free
agent and an accountable being; but if the conceptions and the emotions
depend entirely upon the constitution of things, and thus, either
directly or indirectly, on the will of the Creator, then man can not be
accountable for that over which he can have no control.

In the preceding chapter has been illustrated the effect which the
co-existence of desire has in regard both to our sensations and our
conceptions, tending to make those which are fitted to accomplish the
object desired very vivid and prominent, while others, to a greater or
less extent, disappear.

The mind is continually under the influence of some desire. It
constantly has some plan to accomplish, some cause to search out, or
some gratification to secure. The present wish or desire of the mind
imparts an interest to whatever conception seems calculated to forward
this object. Thus, if the mathematician has a problem to solve, and this
is the leading desire of the mind, among the various conceptions that
arise, those are the most interesting which are fitted to his object,
and such immediately become vivid and distinct. If the painter or the
poet is laboring to effect some new creation of his art, and has this as
the leading object of desire, whatever conceptions seem best fitted to
his purpose are immediately invested with interest, and become distinct
and clear. If the merchant, or the capitalist, or the statesman has some
project which he is toiling to accomplish, whatever conceptions appear
adapted to his purpose soon are glowing and defined, in consequence of
the interest with which desire thus invests them.

From this it appears that the nature of the desire, or governing purpose
of the mind, will in a great measure determine the nature and the
succession of its conceptions. If a man has chosen to find his chief
happiness in securing power and honor, then those conceptions will be
the most interesting to his mind that best fall in with his object. If
he has chosen to find happiness in securing the various gratifications
of sense, then those conceptions that most coincide with this desire
will become prominent. If a man has chosen to find his chief enjoyment
in doing the will of God, then his conceptions will, to a great extent,
be conformed to this object of desire. The current of a man’s thoughts,
therefore, becomes the surest mode of determining what is the governing
purpose or leading desire of the mind.

But there are seasons in our mental history when the mind does not seem
to be under the influence of any governing desire; when it seems to
relax, and its thoughts appear to flow on without any regulating
principle. At such times the vividness of leading conceptions, which
otherwise is determined by _desire_, seems to depend upon our past
experience. Those objects which, in past experience, have been
associated with emotion, are those which the mind selects, and which
thus begin to glow in the distinct lineaments with which emotion at
first invested them.

In past experience, all conceptions which were attended with emotion
were most distinct and clear, and therefore, when such conceptions
return united with others, they are the ones which are most interesting,
and thus most vivid and distinct. Thus, in our musing hours of idle
reverie, as one picture after another glides before the mind, if some
object occurs, such as the home of our youth, or the friend of our early
days, the emotions which have so often been united with these objects in
past experience cause them to appear in clear and glowing lineaments,
and the stronger have been the past emotions connected with them, the
more clearly will they be defined. It appears, then, that there are two
circumstances that account for the apparent _selection_ which the mind
makes in its objects of conception. The first is the feeling that
_certain conceptions are fitted to accomplish the leading desire of the
mind_; and the second is, that _certain objects in past experience have
been attended with emotion_.

But there is another phenomenon in our mental history which has a direct
bearing on the nature and succession of our conceptions. When any
conception, through the influence of desire or emotion, becomes the
prominent object, immediately other objects with which this has been
associated in past experience begin to return and gather around it in
new combinations. Thus a new picture is presented before the mind, from
which it again selects an object according as desire or emotion
regulates, which, under this influence, grows vivid and distinct. Around
this new object immediately begin to cluster its past associates, till
still another scene is fresh arrayed before the mind.

In these new combinations, those objects which are least interesting
continually disappear, while those most interesting are retained to form
a part of the succeeding picture. Thus, in every mental picture, desire
or emotion seems to call forth objects which start out, as it were, in
bold relief from all others, and call from the shade of obscurity the
companions of their former existence, which gather around them in new
and varied combinations.

Almost every object of thought in past experience has been connected
with a great number of other objects, and so great has been the variety
of its former combinations, that it would be impossible to predict, with
any degree of certainty, _which_ of its past associates will be summoned
to aid in forming the new mental scenes which are destined to arise. Yet
experience has enabled us to detect some _general laws_, which appear to
regulate these combinations.

The _first_ is, that those objects are most likely to attend each other
which in past experience were united, while some strong emotion was
existing with them. If, for example, a retired lake had been the scene
of death to a beloved friend, the conception of this object would be
almost invariably associated with the image of the friend that had
perished beneath its waters, and also with the scene of his death. In
like manner, if some friend had expired at a certain hour of the day, or
on a particular day of the year, the return of these seasons would
probably be associated with the sorrowful scenes connected with them in
past experience.

The _second_ law of association is, that _long continued_ or _frequently
repeated_ attention to objects that are connected at the time of this
attention will secure the connected return of these objects.
_Attention_, it may be recollected, is desire united with our
conceptions, thus rendering them more vivid.

It seems to produce the same effect if this attention is long continued
or if it is frequently repeated. Thus, if the mind has dwelt for a long
time on a beautiful picture, has noticed all its proportions, its
shading, its outline, and its colors with minute attention, one object
in this picture can not recur to the mind without bringing with it the
other objects that were associated at the time of this close attention.
The frequent repetition of a sentence is a case where _oft repeated_
though short attention to certain words has the effect of recalling them
to the mind in the connection in which they were placed during this
repeated attention.

The _third_ law of association is, that objects which have _recently_
been associated in experience are, on this account, more likely to
recall each other than to recall those which were connected with them at
a more remote period of time. The passage of time, as a general fact,
seems to weaken the vividness of our conceptions, and to destroy the
probability of their associate recurrence. Thus a line of poetry may be
repeated, and the listener may be able, the moment after, to recall each
word, but the next day the whole may be lost.

The _fourth_ law of association is, that the recurrence of associated
objects depends, in a great measure, upon the _number_ of objects with
which it may have been connected in past experience. If it has existed
in combination with only _one_ object, that object will return
associated with it; but in proportion as the number of its associates
increases, the power of determining which will be its next companion
diminishes. As an example of this fact may be mentioned the first
hearing of a beautiful air by some particular person. The next time it
is heard, the idea of this performer will be associated with the sounds;
but after it has been sung by a great variety of persons, other
circumstances would determine what conceptions this air would recall. It
is very probable, in this case, that its notes would recall from among
the associated scenes the friend most beloved, or some interesting
circumstance that awakened emotion at the time the air was performed.

The principal circumstances which operate in recalling associated ideas
have now been pointed out. The next inquiry is, What are those objects
and events which ordinarily are most frequently united in our
_perceptions_, and therefore are most likely to return together in our

The most common connection of our ideas of perception are made by
contiguity in _place_. Objects are continually passing before the eye,
and they are not in single distinct objects, but in connected groups. Of
course, when we perceive any object, we must necessarily observe its
several relations to the things by which it is surrounded. If it is a
building which meets the eye, it is impossible to observe it without at
the same time perceiving the trees around it, the sky above it, and any
other objects which are parts of the picture of which this is the
prominent object. Of course, objects that are united in one complex
picture before the eye when we gain our knowledge of them by perception,
will ordinarily return together in our conceptions.

Our ideas, also, are very much connected by contiguity as it respects
_time_. When any two events occur at the same moment of time, or in such
near connection that the conception of one remains until the other
occurs, they ordinarily will recur together in our after conceptions of
them. As an example of this may be mentioned the associations of a
family who have been accustomed to close each Sabbath with music. As the
still hour of this sacred evening drew on, wherever any wanderer might
roam, it is probable that the notes of praise, so often connected with
this season, would perpetually steal over the mind, bringing many
another image of friends, and kindred, and home.

The mind of man is so constituted that no change can take place in any
material object without awakening the idea of some _cause_. An _effect_
is defined as “some change of state or mode of existence in matter or
mind.” A _cause_ is defined as “that without which no change would take
place in matter or mind, and with which it will take place.” As the
ideas of cause and effect are so constantly conjoined in all our acts of
perception, these ideas will return together in our conceptions. Thus,
if we see an instrument which has been the cause of pain, the idea of
this effect will be recalled by a conception of the cause; or if the
mind is dwelling on the memory of some beautiful painting or poetry, the
author of these works will probably recur to the mind in connection with
these conceptions.

We sometimes meet with persons of such peculiar habits and dispositions,
that, whenever they are encountered, the feelings are wounded or the
temper crossed by their ill-timed or ill-natured remarks. The
conceptions of such persons will ordinarily be attended by the memory of
some pains of which they have been the cause, and the mind will
involuntarily shrink from contact with them, as from the points and
thorns of a bramble-bush. Those events, therefore, or those objects
which have the relation of _cause_ and _effect_ existing between them,
will ordinarily be united as objects of conception.

The mind of man is continually noticing the _relations_ which exist
between the different objects of its conceptions. As no idea of relation
can be gained without comparing two or more things together, those
objects which are most frequently _compared_ will naturally be most
frequently associated together in our conceptions. It has been shown
that language is founded on that principle of the mind which enables us
to notice certain qualities in things abstracted from other qualities,
and to apply names to objects according as we find certain qualities
united in them. Of course, in the use of language, the mind is
continually led to notice the particulars in which objects resemble each
other, and also the particulars in which they differ; consequently the
mind, in learning and in applying names, is continually comparing
objects, both to discover the particulars in which they are alike and
those in which they differ, so that two objects are thus brought
together before the mind.

It is owing to this fact, therefore, that objects which resemble each
other, or which are very much contrasted in their qualities, are very
commonly united in our conceptions. If, for example, we see the
countenance of a stranger, some feature will be recognized as familiar.
Desire will be awakened to know where and in what other countenance we
have seen such a feature or such an expression. This particular feature
will thus become abstracted and vivid, and will soon recall that other
combination of features for which we are seeking, and of which this has
formed a part in our past experience. Thus two objects will be brought
before the mind at once, the person who is the stranger, and a
conception of another person whom this stranger resembles.

All our ideas of contrast are relative. One thing can not be conceived
of as very high or very low, as very large or very small, without a
previous comparison with some object to determine this relation. Our
ideas of poverty and riches, or of happiness and misery, are also
_relative_. A person is always considered poor or rich, happy or
miserable, by comparing his lot with that of others by whom he is
surrounded. As, therefore, all ideas of resemblance or of contrast are
gained by comparing two objects together, our conceptions often unite
objects that _resemble_ each other or that are _contrasted_ with each