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From: How to Use Your Mind

In our discussion of the nervous basis underlying study we observed
that nerve pathways are affected not only by what enters over the
sensory pathways, but also by what flows out over the motor pathways.
As the nerve currents travel out from the motor centres in the brain to
the muscles, they leave traces which modify future thoughts and
actions. This being so, it is easy to see that what we give out is
fully as important as what we take in; in other words, our
_expressions_ are just as important as our _impressions_. By
expressions we mean the motor consequences of our thoughts, and in
study they usually take the form of speech and writing of a kind to be
specified later.

The far-reaching effects of motor expressions are too infrequently
emphasized, but psychology forces us to give them prime consideration.
We are first apprised of their importance when we study the nervous
system, and find that every incoming sensory message pushes on and on
until it finds a motor pathway over which it may travel and produce
movement. This is inevitable. The very structure and arrangement of the
neurones is such that we are obliged to make some movement in response
to objects affecting our sense organs. The extent of movement may vary
from the wide-spread tremors that occur when we are frightened by a
thunderstorm to the merest flicker of an eye-lash. But whatever be its
extent, movement invariably occurs when we are stimulated by some
object. This has been demonstrated in startling ways in the
psychological laboratory, where even so simple a thing as a piece of
figured wall-paper has been shown to produce measurable bodily
disturbances. Ordinarily we do not notice these because they are so
slight, sometimes being merely twitches of deep-seated muscles or
slight enlargements or contractions of arteries which are very
responsive to nerve currents. But no matter how large or how small, we
may be sure that movements always occur on the excitation of a sense
organ. This led us to assert in an earlier chapter that the function of

the nervous system is to convert incoming sensory currents into
outgoing motor currents.

So ingrained is this tendency toward movement that we do not need even
a sensory cue to start it off; an idea will do as well. In other words,
the nervous current need not start at a sense organ, but may start in
the brain and still produce movement. This fact is embodied in the law
of ideo-motor action (distinguished from sensory-motor action), "every
idea in the mind tends to express itself in movement." This motor
character of ideas is manifested in a most thorough-going way and
renders our muscular system a faithful mirror of our thoughts. We have
in the psychological laboratory delicate apparatus which enables us to
measure many of these slight movements. For example, we fasten a
recording device to the top of a person's head, so that his slightest
movements will be recorded, then we ask him while standing perfectly
still to think of an object at his right side. After several moments
the record shows that he involuntarily leans in the direction of the
object about which he is thinking. We find further illustration of this
law when we examine people as they read, for they involuntarily
accompany the reading with movements of speech, measurable in the
muscles of the throat, the tongue and the lips. These facts, and many
others, constitute good evidence for the statement that ideas seek
expression in movement.

The ethical consequences of this are so momentous that we must remark
upon them in passing. We now see the force of the biblical statement,
"Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that
which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man." Think what
it means to one's character that every thought harbored in the mind is
bound to come out. It may not manifest itself at once in overt action,
but it affects the motor pathways and either weakens or strengthens
connections so that when the opportunity comes, some act will be
furthered or hindered. In view of the proneness to permit base thoughts
to enter the mind, human beings might sometimes fear even to think. A
more optimistic idea, however, is that noble thoughts lead to noble
acts. Therefore, keep in your mind the kind of thoughts that you wish
to see actualized in your character and the appropriate acts will
follow of their own accord.

But it is with the significance of expressions in study that we are at
present concerned, and here we find them of supreme importance. We
ordinarily regard learning as a process of taking things into the mind,
and regard expression as a thing apart from acquisition of knowledge.
We shall find in this discussion, however, that there is no such sharp
demarcation between acquiring knowledge and expressing knowledge, but
that the two are intimately bound together, expressions being properly
a part of wise and economical learning.

When we survey the modes of expression that may be used in study, we
find them to be of several kinds. Speech is one. This is the form of
expression for which the class-recitation is provided. If you wish to
grow as a student, utilize the recitation period and welcome every
chance to recite orally, for things about which you recite in class are
more effectively learned. Talking about a subject under all
circumstances will help you learn. When studying subjects like
political economy, sociology or psychology, seize every opportunity to
talk over the questions involved. Hold frequent conferences with your
instructor; voice your difficulties freely, and the very effort to
state them will help to clarify them. It is a good plan for two
students in the same course to come together and talk over the
problems; the debates thus stimulated and the questions aroused by
mental interaction are very helpful in impressing facts more vividly
upon the mind.

Writing is a form of expression and is one thing that gives value to
note-taking and examinations. Its value is further recognized by the
requirements of themes and term-papers. These are all mediums by which
you may develop yourself, and they merit your earnest cooperation.

Another medium of expression that students may profitably employ is
drawing. This is especially valuable in such subjects as geology,
physiology and botany. Students in botany are compelled to do much
drawing of the plant-forms which they study, and this is a wise
requirement, for it makes them observe more carefully, report more
faithfully and recall with greater ease. You may secure the same
advantages by employing the graphic method in other studies. For
example, when reading in a geology text-book about the stratification
of the earth in a certain region, draw the parts described and label
them according to the description. You will be surprised to see how
clear the description becomes and how easily it is later recalled.

Let us examine the effects of the expressive movements of speech,
writing and the like, and see the mechanism by which they facilitate
the study process. We may describe their effects in two ways:
neurologically and psychologically. As may be expected from our
preliminary study of the nervous system, we see their first effects
upon the motor pathways leading out to the muscles. Each passage of the
nerve current from brain to muscle leaves traces so that the resulting
act is performed with greater ease upon each repetition. This fact has
already been emphasized by the warning, Guard the avenues of

Especially is it important at the first performance of an act,
because this determines the path of later performances. In such studies
as piano-playing, vocalizing and pronunciation of foreign words, see
that your first performance is absolutely right, then as the expressive
movements are repeated, they will be more firmly ingrained because of
the deepening of the motor pathways.

The next effect of acts of expression is to be found in the
modifications made in the sensory areas of the brain. You will recall
that every movement of a muscle produces nervous currents which go back
to the brain and register there in the form of kinaesthetic sensations.
To demonstrate kinaesthetic sensations, close your eyes and move your
index finger up and down. You can feel the muscles contracting and the
tendons moving back and forth, even into the back of the hand. These
sensations ordinarily escape our attention, but they occupy a prominent
place in the control of our actions. For example, when ascending
familiar stairs in the dark, they notify us when we have reached the
top. We are still further impressed with their importance when we are
deprived of them; when we try to walk upon a foot or a leg that has
gone "to sleep"; that is, when the kinaesthetic nerves are temporarily
paralyzed we find it difficult to walk. But besides being used to
control muscular actions, they may be used in study, for they may be
made the source of impressions, and impressions, as we learned in the
chapter on memory, are a prime requisite for learning. Each expression
becomes, then, through its kinaesthetic results, the source of new
impressions, when, for example, you pronounce the German word,
_anwenden_, with the English word "to employ," in addition to the
impressions made through the ear, you make impressions through the
muscles of speech (kinaesthetic impressions), and these kinaesthetic
impressions enter into the body of your knowledge and later may serve
as the means by which the word may be revived. When you write the word,
you make kinaesthetic impressions which may later serve as forms of
revival. So the movements of expression produce sensory material that
may serve as tentacles by means of which you can later reach back into
your memory and recall facts.

We shall now consider another service of expressions which, though
little regarded, nevertheless is of much moment. When we make
expressive movements, much nervous energy is generated; much more than
during passive impression. Energy is sent back to the brain over the
kinaesthetic nerve cells, and the greater the extent of the movement,
the greater is the amount of new energy sent to the brain. It pours
into the brain and diffuses itself especially throughout the
association areas. Here it excites regions which could not be excited
by a more limited amount of energy. This means, in psychical terms,
that new ideas are being aroused. The obvious inference from this fact
is that you may, by starting movements of expression, actually summon
to your assistance added powers of mind. For example, when you are
called upon to recite in class, your mind seems to be a complete
blank--in a state of "deadlock." You may break this "deadlock" and
start brain-action by some kind of movement. It may be only to clear
your throat, to ejaculate "well," or to squirm about in the seat, but
whatever form the movement takes, it will usually be effective in
creating the desired nervous energy, and after the inertia is once
overcome the mental stream will flow freely. The unconscious
application of this device is seen when a man is called on suddenly to
make a speech for which he has not prepared. He usually starts out by
telling a story, thus liberating nervous energy to pour back into the
brain and start thinking processes. With increasing vehemence of
expression, the ideas come more and more freely, and the result is a
speech which surpasses the expectations of the speaker himself. The
gesticulations of many speakers have this same function, being
frequently of great service in arousing more nervous energy, which goes
back to the brain and arouses more ideas.

The device of stimulating ideas by expressive movements may be utilized
in theme- or letter-writing. It is generally recognized that the
difficult thing in such writing is to get a start, and the too common
practice is to sit listlessly gazing into space waiting for
"inspiration." This is usually a futile procedure. The better way is to
begin to write anything about the topic in hand. What you write may
have little merit, either of substance or form. Nevertheless, if you
persist in keeping up the activity of writing, making more and more
movements, you will find that the ideas will begin to come in greater
profusion until they come so fast you can hardly write them down.

Having tried to picture the neural effect of expression, we may now
translate them into psychological terms, asking what service the
expressions render to the conscious side of our study. First of all, we
note that the expressions help to make the acts and ideas in study
habitual. We find ourselves, with each expression, better able to
perform such acts as the pronunciation of foreign words. Second, they
furnish new impressions through the kinaesthetic sense, thus being a
source of sense-impression. Third, they give rise to a greater number
of ideas and link them up with the idea dominant at the moment. There
is a further psychological effect of expression in the clarification of
ideas. It is a well-attested fact that when we attempt to explain a
thing to someone else, it becomes clearer in our own minds. You can
demonstrate this for yourself by attempting to explain to someone an
intricate conception such as the nebular hypothesis. The effort
involved in making the explanation makes the fact more vivid to you.
The habit of thus utilizing your knowledge in conversation is an
excellent one to acquire. Indeed, expression is the only objective test
of knowledge and we cannot say that we really know until we can express
our knowledge. Expression is thus the great clarification agency and
the test of knowledge. Before leaving this discussion, it might be well
to remark upon one phase of expression that is sometimes a source of
difficulty. This is the embarrassment incident to some forms of
expression, notably oral. Many people are deterred from utilizing this
form of expression because of shyness and embarrassment in the presence
of others. If you have this difficulty in such excess that it hinders
you from free expression, resolve at once to overcome it. Begin at the
very outset of your academic career to form habits of disregarding your
impulses to act in frightened manner. Take a course in public speaking.
The practice thus secured will be a great aid in developing habits of
fearless and free oral expression.

This discussion has shown that expression is a powerful aid in
learning, and is a most important feature of mental life. Cultivate
your powers of expression, for your college education should consist
not only in the development of habits of impression, but also in the
development of habits of expression. Grasp eagerly every opportunity
for the development of skill in clear and forceful expression. Devote
assiduous attention to themes and all written work, and make serious
efforts to speak well. Remember you are forming habits that will
persist throughout your life. Emphasize, therefore, at every step,
methods of expression, for it is this phase of learning in which you
will find greatest growth.


Exercise I. Give an example from your own experience, showing how
expression (a) stimulates ideas, (b) clarifies ideas.



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