IMAGINE yourself to be standing with a party of friends in some Oriental market-place, or in a palace garden. Enter, a conjurer with a magic box. The strange man spreads a square of cloth upon the ground, then reverently places upon it a coloured box of basket-work, perhaps eight inches square. He gazes at it steadily, mutters a little, removes the lid, and takes out of it, one by one, with exquisite care, nine more boxes, which seem to be of the same size as the original one, but are of different colours.
You think that the trick is now finished. But no; he opens one of the new boxes and takes out nine more; he opens the other eight and takes nine more out of each—all with Oriental deliberation. And still he has not done; he begins to open up what we may call the third generation of boxes, until before long the ground is strewn with piles of them as far as he can reach. The nine boxes of the first generation and the eighty-one boxes of the second generation have disappeared from sight beneath the heaps. You begin to think that this conjurer is perhaps able to go on for ever— and then you call a halt, and open your purse right liberally.
I am taking this imaginary conjuring entertainment as a simile to show what happens in our own minds. Something in us which is able to observe what goes on in the mind is the spectator. The field of imagination in the mind itself may be compared to the spread cloth. Each idea that rises in the mind is like a magic box. Something else in us which is able to direct the ideas in the mind is the conjurer.
Really the spectator and the conjurer are one “something” which we arc, but I will not now attempt to define that something because our present object is not to penetrate the deep mysteries of psychology, but to see what we can do to make ourselves better conjurers, able to produce our boxes quickly —more boxes, better boxes, boxes which arc exactly of the kind needed for the business of thinking which at any given time we may wish to do.
Although all minds work under the same laws, they do so in different degrees of power and plenty. Some work quickly, others slowly; some have much to offer, others little. Several students may be called upon to write an essay on the subject of cats. Some of them will find their thoughts coming plentifully forward from the recesses of the mind, while others will sit chewing the ends of their pens for a long time before their thoughts begin to flow.
Some minds are brighter than others, and you want yours to be bright and strong. You want to think of many ideas and to think them well. You want to think all round any subject of your consideration, not only on one side of it, as prejudiced or timid thinkers do.
While you arc making the mind bright, however, care must be taken to avoid the danger that besets brilliant minds everywhere. The quick thinker who is about to write upon some social subject, such as that of prison reform or education, will find thoughts rapidly rising in his mind, and very often he will be carried awray by some of the first that come, and he will follow them up and write brilliantly along the lines of thought to which they lead.
But probably he will miss something of great importance to the understanding of the matter, because he has left the central subject of thought before he has considered it from every point of view.
As an example of this, a chess player, captivated by some daring plan of his own, will sometimes forget to look to his defences, and will find himself the subject of sudden disaster. Sometimes a duller mind, or at any rate a slower one, will be more balanced and will at last come nearer to the truth.
So, while you do want a quick mind, not one that is hard to warm up like a cheap motor-car engine on a cold winter’s morning, you do not want one that will start with a leap and run away with you, but one that will dwell long enough on a chosen subject to see it from every point of view, before it begins the varied explorations of thought in connexion with it that it should make upon different lines.
If I follow up the analogy of an engine, we require three things for the good working of our mental machinery— cleaning, lubrication, and control…..
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