“There is an art of study. We were told in youth to study. We were never told how to study, or, in other words, how to get ideas. Committing to memory words, sentences, and rules, is not getting ideas. … If you commit to memory a great many words and sentences, you are simply over training a part or function of your mind. …
“Words are not ideas. They are only the signs or means by which, through the sense of sight or sound, a printed word or spoken word may represent an idea to the mind. …
“The more that is committed to memory, the greater the burden placed on the department of memory. … The memory is useful only to hold what is grasped by the spirit. No amount of book-learning can teach a man to sail a boat well. He must educate himself. When he learns through practice and many failures that the rudder must be kept in a certain position to counteract the force of the wind, his memory at last holds what such practice has taught him. … Did you learn to dance by first committing to memory the rules for the guidance of your steps? No, you received the idea from someone else who could dance. You absorbed that idea or thought.
“Every person, to learn quickly, must learn to throw himself in a certain mood of mind. That is the mood of serenity and repose.” ~Prentice Mulford
Memorizing is not Studying
If you are learning to be a carpenter, memorizing the names of the tools used by a carpenter may be helpful. Yet even after you have memorized all those names, you still don’t know how to be a carpenter. A parrot could have done the same, yet there is no chance that it will become a carpenter. There are times when memorizing is useful, and it is often a good first step to learning a new skill, but practice and experience are necessary for almost every skill except winning a spelling bee. And even with a spelling bee, memorizing the spelling of many words doesn’t mean you will be able to handle the pressure of being on stage or competing with other spellers.
Words are not Ideas
Many people would take offense at this claim by Mulford, but with few exceptions, he is correct. I think the only time a word could be said to be an idea is when something new is discovered or invented and they are trying to give it a name. Even then, once the thing has a name, the name is not the thing, not the idea, but a way of communicating the idea. That communication only works, however, if everyone agrees on what the word means. There are a lot of communication failures because different people have different ideas of what a word means. A simple example is that greed, which used to be a negative thing to almost all people, has somehow become a positive attribute to many.
The function of words is to form an image in the mind. It is that image which is the idea, not the word that represents it. Continue reading “Art of Study is Not Just Memorizing”