READING AND EXERCISE
Exercise:Draw a picture of the brain, showing roughly what takes place there
(a) when you read a book,
(b) listen to a lecture,
(c) take notes.
FORMATION OF STUDY-HABITS
As already intimated, this book adopts the view that education is a process of forming habits in the brain. In the formation of habits there are several principles that must be observed. Accordingly we shall devote a chapter to the consideration of habits in general before discussing the specific habits involved in various kinds of study.
Habit may be defined roughly as the tendency to act time after time in the same way. Thus defined, you see that the force of habit extends throughout the entire universe. It is a habit for the earth to revolve on its axis once every twenty-four hours and to encircle the sun once every year. When a pencil falls from your hand it has a habit of dropping to the floor. A piece of paper once folded tends to crease in the same place. These are examples of the force of habit in nonliving matter. Living matter shows its power even more clearly. If you assume a petulant expression for some time, it gets fixed and the expression becomes habitual.
The hair may be trained to lie this way or that. These are examples of habit in living tissue. But there is one particular form of living tissue which is most susceptible to habit; that is nerve tissue. Let us review briefly the facts which underlie this characteristic. In nerve tissue, impressibility, conductivity and modifiability are developed to a marked degree. The nerve-cells in the sense organs are impressed by stimulations from the outside world. The nervous current thus generated is conducted over long nerve fibers, through the spinal cord to the brain where it is received and we experience a sensation. Thence it pushes on, over association neurones in the brain to motor neurones, over which it passes down the spinal cord again to muscles, and ends in some movement. In the pathway which it traverses it leaves its impression, and, thereafter, when the first neurone is excited, the nervous current tends to take the same pathway and to end in the same movement.
It should be emphasized that the nervous current, once started, always tends to seek outlet in movement. This is an extremely important feature of neural action, and, as will be shown in another chapter, is a vital factor in study. Movement may be started by the stimulation of a sense organ or by an idea. In the latter case it starts from regions in the brain without the immediately preceding stimulation of a sense organ. Howsoever it starts you may be sure that it seeks a way out, and prefers pathways already traversed. Hence you see you are bound to have habits. They will develop whether you wish them or not.
Already you are “a bundle of habits”; they manifest themselves in two ways—as habits of action and habits of thought. You illustrate the first every time you tie your shoes or sign your name. To illustrate the second, I need only ask you to supply the end of this sentence: Columbus discovered America in. Speech reveals many of these habits of thought. Certain phrases persist in the mind as habits so that when the phrase is once begun, you proceed habitually with the rest of it. When some one starts “in spite,” your mind goes on to think “of”; “more or” calls up “less.” When I ask you what word is called up by “black,” you reply “white” according to the principles of mental habit. Your mind is arranged in such habitual patterns, and from these examples you readily see that a large part of what you do and think during the course of twenty-four hours is habitual. Twenty years hence you will be even more bound by this overpowering despot.