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Man is the eyes of things.—Hindu Proverb.

THAT far-seeing genius, Goethe, once said that he regarded himself as the center of all phenomena, a sort of focus to which converged everything in the universe, out of which came--Goethe. He also claimed that the real standard for all things in life was simply the mass of sensations that were appreciable to the human senses.

In other words, Goethe understood perfectly the now widely recognized--and widely ignored--educational principle that all mental activity is based upon the perceptions--upon the things we see and hear and feel and taste and smell.

As well might you try to build a house without wood or bricks or stone or mortar, as to try to think without a good "stock in trade" of impressions, images, and memories gathered by the senses and the perceptions.

Blurred Mental Pictures.

One of the never failing marks of the common mind, the untrained, inefficient mind, is that the mental pictures it contains are confused, blurred, inexact. A person with such a mind will tell you that an auto car just passed him on the road. "Was it a big, red car?" you ask. Well, he does not quite know. It might have been red, and yet he guesses it was black; possibly it was gray. How many people were in it? Three or four or five --four, he thinks. Ask him to give you an outline of a book he has read or a play he has seen, and he is equally helpless. And so on.

Such a person is the typical inefficient. You will find thousands of these inefficients filling unimportant places in shops and offices. And even the trivial duties of such positions they are unable to perform properly. They cannot read a line of shorthand notes and be sure of its meaning; they cannot add a column of figures and be certain of the result without repeated checking’s. Such unfortunates are the "flotsam and jetsam" of the commercial world--the unfit who, in the struggle for existence, must necessarily be crowded out by those whose mental processes are more positive and more exact.

The extent to which the perceptions can be developed is almost incredible. I know personally a bank teller who can detect a counterfeit coin without a glance at it, judging only by weight, feeling, and ring. Another man of my acquaintance makes a large salary merely by his ability to judge tea through its flavor--a "tea taster." I know an orchestra conductor who, in the full fortissimo of his sixty piece band, will detect a slight error of any one performer. I could give many other instances within my own experience of remarkable powers of trained perception.

The Perceptions Are Easily Trained.

For the encouragement of those who are aware that they do not get the best possible service from their senses and perceptions--that they do not see all there is to be seen, hear exactly and distinctly and so on--for the benefit of these I may say at once that the senses and perceptions are easily trained. A month or two of discipline such as I am about to describe will show most marked and gratifying development. In most cases a few months' training is all that is necessary; for the habit of close observation is soon formed, and once formed no further thought is required. The matter takes care of itself.

The Perceptions of Children.

First of all, a word about the senses and perceptions of children. Just here is one of the grievous defects of our defective school system. It practically ignores the fact that the child develops, not through reasoning, but through observation and activity. The child observes everything. His senses are active and acute. Childhood is the time to accumulate observations and experiences; later they will form the material for thought and general development.

The child should be encouraged to perceive and to remember. All the methods which I am about to describe are applicable to children of less than ten years old. The more elaborate and far ranging the mass of perceptions are, memories which the child carries over from infancy and childhood into youth and adult age, the greater, other things being equal, will be his intellectual possibilities.

Most of Us Are Sensorily Starved.

Most of us are grossly deficient in mental images. At a test made not long ago in Boston eighty per cent, of the children had no idea what a beehive was like, over half of them had no conception of a sheep, and over nine tenths had no notion of the appearance or nature of growing wheat. Of course they knew of other things which the country bred child would not know; but fancy the loss in the imagination of one to whom the following lines arouse no vision of a pure, rustic matutinal scene:--

"The breezy call of incense-breathing morn, the swallow twittering from the straw-built shed, the cock's shrill clarion or the echoing horn no more shall rouse them from their lowly bed."


The great secret of a true development of the perceptions is discrimination--the realization of differences. To the savage a sound is a sound; to the musician it is excruciating discord or exquisite harmony. To the musician a little depression in the ground, a bent twig, a turned leaf--they are nothing; to the savage they mean food, an enemy, safety, or danger. In the printed pages the unlettered boor sees only foolish black marks on white paper; but in those black marks the man of education sees that which makes his heart beat faster, his eyes swim with tears--which tells him secrets of life the clodhopper will never, never know. The differences are in the trained or untrained perceptions.

Most of the exercises which I shall describe are quite simple--many, perhaps, will seem trivial. But remember, as a great educator has said: "The . . . point in education is the power to attend to things which may be in themselves indifferent by arousing an artificial feeling of interest."

So the first exercise is quite simple--simple, but not easy. Try it and see.

Take any object you like--a book, a pen, a pair of scissors. Lay it on the table before you. Then take pencil and paper and describe it. Simply tell what you see. Can you? I doubt it. Tell its dimensions, weight, color, form, markings, lettering, origin, uses, possibilities, shortcomings. See how fully you can write about the object. The result will probably not please you. You will find that you have not nearly the powers of expression which you supposed you possessed. But--it is good training; and with practice your powers will grow rapidly.

You can do the same thing out of doors. Look at a mountain peak, the ocean, a horse, a bird. If you think for a moment there is nothing to write about these things read up "Poem in the Valley of Chamouni," Byron's splendid passage beginning "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll," the superb poem in the book of Job describing the horse, Shelley's "Skylark," and so on. James Whitcomb Riley has said: "There is ever a song somewhere, my child." And to find the material for the song it is necessary only to look with refined and educated perception--to look trying to see all the various sides, all the many phases of the object looked at.

In the same way you should study also many other natural objects--autumnal tints, frost marks, snowflakes, trees, both their general form and the shape of their leaves, all the common flowers. Last of all, and in many respects most practically important of all, make it a habit to observe closely the human face. Try to recognize and discriminate the signs of education, refinement, intellect, in the face, as distinguished from the stigmata of ignorance, coarseness, and brutality.

Another good exercise for the training of the sight is this: Procure a number of ordinary marbles, say three dozen; one dozen each of red, of white, and of blue. Then mix them together in a receptacle. Now grasp a handful of the marbles, give one glance at them and throw them back again. Then note down how many of each color there were in the hand. At first you will find this difficult. In a short time, however, you will be able to distinguish at a glance between, say, three red, five white, and seven blue--and three red, six white, and six blue—with corresponding development of the powers of perception in all other directions.

A very simple and very good exercise for the development of the faculty of sight is the following:--

Procure about a dozen white paste-board cards, say three by five inches in size. Then with a small brush or with a pen draw upon each a number of small black circles. The circles should be solid black, about one quarter inch in diameter. On the first card draw one, on the second two, and so on, until the last, on which you will make twelve. Group them so far as possible in a circle.

Now to use them: Hold the cards face downward and shuffle them. Then take up the top one, give one brief glance at it, and try to perceive how many black circles there are upon it. Don't try to count during your brief glance. Don't squint, scowl, or strain the eyes. Merely glance, and then try to remember and count what you saw.

At first you will probably find it difficult to discriminate between five circles and six; after a time, however, you will be able to decide instantly upon any number of circles up to fifteen, twenty or even more.

Training the Ear to Hear.

Few people know how to hear. Of most it might well be said "ears and they hear not." I do not mean that in most people the organ of hearing is in any way defective, but that as a result of inattention and lack of practice they do not get clear, vivid impressions from the sounds which impinge upon their auditory apparatus.

One of the best methods of training the hearing faculty is to listen attentively to the varied sounds of the country. The humming of insects, the cry of the robin, thrush, catbird, blackbird, swallow,--all these and the many other sounds peculiar to the country should be carefully studied.

The sounds incidental to city life are less picturesque and in a sense less varied than those of the country; and yet, if we speak only of the musical advantages of the city, there alone we have material for a splendid auditory training. Concerts, the opera, social music, the phonograph, even the hand organs on the street provide opportunities for a training of the ear. These opportunities may be utilized in various ways.

One of the best and most practical, perhaps, is to habitually require of one's self a knowledge of the melody of popular selections. How many people, not distinctly musical, know the air of the "Soldiers' Chorus" from "Faust," the "Toreador's Song" from "Carmen," or the overture to "Tannhauser"? And yet these are things that we hear every day on the street organs.

A very fine exercise for the development of the hearing faculty is merely to listen to the ticking of a watch. A method which I have found very practical and helpful is the following:--

Place the watch upon the table at which you are sitting. Now turn toward it the left ear. Can you hear it? Yes, plainly. Move a foot, two feet, three, four, from the table. Can you hear the watch? Yes. Now increase the distance, foot by foot, until you can no longer hear the watch. Now listen! listen! Concentrating the attention upon the sound until, out of the silence, or of a confusion of sounds, there comes to you the clear, rhythmical ticking of the tiny mechanism. All this time you are sitting with your left ear turned toward the watch. The same practice should, of course, be gone through with the right ear.

This exercise is valuable not only in cultivating the power of hearing, but also in developing concentration of the attention and will. It is merely another phase of the same method by which an orchestra conductor can, at will, select one instrument out of a band, and hear only that one to the exclusion of any other piece.

Training the Sense of Smell.

We hear much to the effect that, as an animal, man is inferior to the beasts of the field; but, like a great deal else that we hear, it is not true--at least not to any extent. The truth is that, merely as an animal, man is the masterpiece of creation. In actual strength, endurance, grace, and rapidity of motion, the best physical types of men compare favorably with any other animal of the same size and weight. This is a biological fact.

But in one respect, at least, he is distinctly inferior, and that is as regards the sense of smell. There are very few animals that are not better equipped than man in this respect.

For this inferiority there are many reasons, which we cannot discuss in this place.

I may remark, however, that in some people the sense of smell is developed to a surprising degree. I once knew a woman, well born and highly educated who, while blindfolded, could name any one of her friends who came within a foot or two of her. The same woman was also usually able to determine, by their odor, the owner- ship of articles belonging to those whom she knew well. I know another woman who can distinguish copper, brass, steel, and iron by their taste and odor. I may also add that what we call "taste" is also largely smell. The achievements of tea, coffee, tobacco, and whisky experts depend very largely upon delicacy of the olfactory sense.

A good method of training this sense is the following: Procure a number of small pasteboard or wooden boxes such as are used by druggists in the dispensing of pills or tablets. Any druggist will provide them for a trifle.

Then put into each box a small quantity of one of the following substances: cinnamon, cloves, red pepper, mustard, black pepper, ginger. A half dozen boxes are enough, selecting for them such of the above substances as are most readily procurable.

To practice this method, simply close your eyes, open a box at random and try to determine what the substance is by the odor. This method may be varied by having a number of small vials, each containing one of the fragrant oils, such as oil of cloves, wintergreen, lemon, verbena, lavender, peppermint, bergamot, nutmeg, and so on. It is a good plan also to take careful note of the distinctive odor of the various fragrant flowers so that they may afterward be recognized by the perfume which is peculiar to each.

Training for the Taste.

There are, in reality, only four savors or tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. As I have just remarked, what we call taste is very largely smell, or flavor. The best way to develop delicacy of the gustatory sense is to eat very simple food, and to put thereon very little or no seasoning in the form of salt, sugar, mustard, pepper, vinegar, or other condiment. Then, and then only, will one be able to appreciate the real flavor of the food. No one, for instance, who is in the habit of using pepper and other condiments, can really taste a strawberry.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize two things: first, that a training of the perceptive powers is the best possible investment one can make--even regarding the matter from its lowest view point--the monetary; second, that the exercises which I have suggested in this chapter, while they may seem very simple, almost trivial, will in every case where they are seriously practiced, add immensely not only to the powers of perception but to practical efficiency of every faculty of the mind.


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