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Q: I don't have any mental images. Is there something wrong with me?
A: I don't know! Some people claim not to have them. That is not an unusual claim. However, it seems to me that if you really have no mental images -- of any kind -- you will not be able to do any of the the On-line experiments provided on the Introduction to Mental Images page. These include tests for After-images, Memory, Imagination, Imagination/Memory, and Projected images. It would be very unusual, if not extraordinary, to be unable to do any of the these experiments. Do not worry if you have difficulty with some of the tests. In general, a few mistakes, or a few areas with which you have difficulty, is not an indication of abnormality. On the other hand, quite a number of people have posted on the Discussion Board that they have no mental images and that their lives are diminished because of it. The primary complaint in this regard seems to be the inability to create imagination or memory images of specific things at will. If you fall into this category, one thing to keep in mind is that if you can "count corners" or rotate numbers or letters in your head (see Imagination/Memory Online Experiments), then you can at least perform some imagery-related tasks. Perhaps 5% of the population falls into the low-imagery area. Whether being in the low imagery area constitutes having something "wrong" with you is a matter for discussion.
Q: Is it normal to "see" memories of childhood?
My husband and I were discussing memory. He told me that he remembers things in general feelings, impressions or in fuzzy pictures sometimes. It is in no way very clear. Example: He remembers, when he was about 10, his grandmother (vaguely) sitting in a chair in front of her t.v. But that’s about all. He doesn’t remember the color of the chair, what she had on or anything else in the room.
I ‘see’ my memories sort of like a movie. I have very detailed memory ‘movies’ as far back as when I was 2-3 years old. Using his example, I can not only ‘see’ my grandmother at a much younger age than he can. I can tell you what she was doing, what she had on, what the room smelled like, what it sounded like, how she moved in the room, what she said and how she said it. What was on the counter next to her, her plants etc. It’s just like me seeing her do whatever it was all over again.
He thinks that I remember things in an unusual way and most people don’t ‘see’ things again. Or as in as much detail as I do. I told him I think everyone remembers my way. And he just has a very poor memory.
What is going on? Is one way of remembering "normal"? Do I have a photographic memory?
A: Some people have visual memories and some people don't. It's a simple as that -- from the phenomenological perspective. Cognitive Science (and this site!) is largely concerned with what lies at the "deeper" level of the human mind -- or mechanisms by which the mind functions. You are right to insist on your experiences as valid. Your husband's suspicions point to the central question still debated: Is it even POSSIBLE that the ultimate mechanism of mind involves images?
This sort of debate was central to early psychology. William James had the theory, which I support, that there is no such thing as a universal "human imagination". That is to say, every human mind is constructed differently. It is perfectly possible for you to remember one way (as an "imagist") and your husband (in "linguistic" mode) to remember another way. Tests done on many famous people in the early 1900s showed that people remember in both modes. Neither of you can be certain of old, unverifiable memories. Extensive tests in this area show that most people substantially "fill in" memories. A "photographic" memory is no less "filled in" than any other sort.
See Chapters 1 and 2 of my Advanced Pages. Search for James in chapter 2.
Q: How does imagery create a sense of horror in films?
A: This is not a real area of expertise for me. But here is my answer: Imagery alone cannot be what creates the sense of horror. To be sure, some forms of visual input, as Hume noted in his famous example of the butcher shop, appear to be intrinsically repugnant to us. But horror films, just as other films, must deliver their message through a narrative (verbal) structure that attempts to tell the truth about the nature of our moral universe. Aquinas distinguished between physical evil (e.g., death through disease or natural disaster) from moral or psychological evil. We can explain existence of psychological evil through free will. But how do we explain physical evil? Does God simply have it out for us? Does he inflict physical evil on us for his own amusement? Or is he simply unable to stop physical evil? In either case it does not look good for God. Horror films appear to me to be a way to wrestle with this problem. The sense of horror, then, is created through a combination of factors: images that are intrinsically repugnant and a narrative structure that reminds us of an apparently inexplicable and unfair (i.e., horrifying) feature of our universe.
To a certain extent, I believe horror films attempt to "resolve" the problem of physical evil by linking it to moral or psychological evil. I think the literature on horror films states there is an invariable "rule" to be followed in good horror films: death, pain, or destruction only comes to those who somehow deserve it. There should be some mistake that the person commits, or some flaw they have, that permits evil to befall them. This "corrects" the apparently random nature of physical evil that many philosophers have had difficulty reconciling with an omniscient and omnipotent God. If we lose this moral narrative, we lose meaning in the film. We have, for example, mere meaningless gore, which some people confuse with horror.
WHY are these images used? Good question. Why should we want to be made uncomfortable? If, as I suggested above, the images alone are not directly responsible for our sense of horror, why use them over and over? Why not simply tell the story without the images? Many good horror films achieve their effect without explicit imagery. Is it because the "hard wired" effect of certain images, causing fright or a sense of panic, can then become linked to the moral/metaphysical narrative, which has a similar effect (e.g., horror or fear due to a narrative that implies that physical evil might befall anyone in a an unfair universe)? Thus, the overall effect of the film is greater. Perhaps we watch horror films in an effort to learn to control this panic? Do we watch in an attempt to reconcile ourselves to physical evil? Do we watch in the hope that the narrative of the unfair universe is NOT true? This makes me think I have not even scratched the surface. What I have said above may be totally wrong. I hope to provide some links in the future that will give you some better answers.
Q: What do you mean by a location in the perceptual field?
A: I mean that memory images are (generally) not understood to be located "out there" in our perceptual visual space (as would an hallucination); rather, they are simply present to us as an "inner" memory without any specific location in our current visual space (environment). This is particularly the case when we remember with our eyes closed (e.g., "I recall the day at the beach..."). We can also remember "how object X looked" and imagine/remember its appearance in our present visual field: e.g., "I can just see how that vase would look over there..." This is what I call a projected image.
Q: What is happening when I see a "face" in a cloud?
A: It depends on whether you "try" to make this happen or not.
I would refer to this type of phenomenon as a species of projected images. A projected image relies on memory OR imagination. There can be projected images with or without simultaneous visual input (imagine a "my chair over there" vs. imagine "a monster over there").
Sometimes "faces" appear to us in clouds or shadows cast on physical objects. Often, this appears to happen automatically. I cannot prove it, and I know of no research to support it, but I suspect that this represents the operation of an innate mechanism: the so-called "facial recognition mechanism." The experience of having the face suddenly disappear when you shift your position or blink your eyes may support the idea that there is an automatic mechanism. Obviously, quick, automatic facial recognition would have tremendous survival value, so the hypothesis that this has developed through evolution is not far-fetched. A search of the internet may reward you on this topic. I believe some brain pattern research has been done on this mechanism. Currently, computer security systems can recognize faces. The methods used by security systems may or may not have anything in common with brain mechanisms.
Ink blot tests rely on this phenomenon, but add the additional thesis that what you imagine is somehow connected to unconscious desires, etc.
Another example of the visual system attempting to organize input data comes from pre-sleep imagery generation. See the information on hallucinogenic images under Experiential Introduction to Imagery on the Introductory pages. Also see Richardson's discussion of hallucinogenic imagery types.
In my view, various levels of the cognitive system may be involved in what, from the experiential/presentational point of view, may be similar phenomena. I may "see" a face automatically, but this may lead spontaneously from to memory, then to imagination, and at the deepest level, to thought. At each stage more of the cognitive system is brought to bear on "the same" subject matter. (There is an important issue here. Is it really "the same" image if it is caused, or mediated by, a different processes? See my Overview of my approach to mental images.)
These types of projected images must be kept distinct from "pure" memory or imagination images (which are not "located" in space). When we locate an image in space, this requires "a different" part of the cognitive system (related to navigation/3-D awareness/survival in our environment).
Bear in mind that my research is based largely on phenomenological considerations -- a method, to be honest, that has lost favor recently. We can hypothesize about mechanisms, but the "proof" of them is another matter. When identifying "mechanisms" one must always ask this: suppose you found data that certain parts of the brain are active when we imagine a face in a shadow? So what? You must also ask yourself: what is going on in a person's mind at that very moment. Are they trying to imagine a face, just relaxing, recalling a face, projecting a specific face? These are all different processes from the subject's point of view, even if the same areas of the brain are activated. And these differences are important to a complete description of the processes going on.
Q: Are there seven (maybe seven maybe a different number,) stories that make any film is made up of? By that I mean, are there seven plots (i.e. (hypothetically, because I cannot remember the movies) Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, etc.) and all films are just a combination of these?
A: Yes, it is a common "truism" about literature and movies that there are only a few plots. Sometimes the point is made another way: it is said that all movies are just combinations of other movies. That would be misleading, in my view. What is meant is that all movies conform to basic plot structures that are EXEMPLIFIED in various other ARCHETYPES of basic plots. Romeo and Juliet is not a basic plot, but an example of a basic plot archetype.
In my view "a basic plot" has a very simple structure and must be distinguished from "story" and "theme." A basic plot, in my view, mentions no character names, no specific times or locations, and no specific details about the actions that move the plot forward. Hence, there are only a few basic plots such as:
1. Boy meets girl. Boy is rejected by, or cannot get girl.. Boy gets girl in the end.
2. Hero confronts ethical dilemma. Hero makes wrong choice. Hero suffers. Hero corrects choice. Hero is rewarded in end.
These are the "comic" (or "happy," successful outcome) versions. Reverse the outcome for tragedy. That accounts for 4 basic plot structures.
Stories, on the other hand, e.g., Romeo and Juliet, are the SPECIFIC people, and settings in which the plots occur. Themes are the issues the author deals with: e.g., love, free will, truth, good and evil, how God relates to man, etc.
For an even more abstract outline of drama see Aristotle's list of SIX ELEMENTS that are constituents of drama. One element is plot. See http://www.gis.net/~tbirch/afrpage.html.
There is one element that is ALWAYS a part of drama: moral choice. See #5 under http://www.gis.net/~tbirch/amistakes.html.
Another truism about films and narrative is this: all basic plots, as well as most basic themes, are found in the Bible. Consider the film "The Matrix" and you will see what I mean.
Q: I am interested in the psychology of color. What information do you have?
A: Search Chapter 3 of the advanced pages (Mental Images and Philosophical Psychology) covers the metaphysics of after-images. Search for "color" or "after-image" in Chapter 3.
See the experiment in multiple, opposing, colors for one object in Introduction to Mental Images.
See question below: Can color be explained in strictly physical/scientific terms?
Q: Can color be explained in strictly physical/scientific terms?
A: The short answer to this question, in my view, is "no." However, this is, surprisingly, a very deep metaphysical issue. It is by no means obvious that the phenomenon of color simply falls outside of a scientific world view. Most ordinary people, most scientists, and even most philosophers would probably disagree with my view.
I owe my view entirely to my advisor, Charles Landesman, whose excellent book Color and Consciousness, I encourage anyone seriously interested in the topic to read. (A warning, however: the book, though accessible to most general readers, is difficult. It is directed primarily at professional philosophers.)
Among the primary reasons that one should deny that color is explainable in strictly physical/scientific terms are the following:
|1. "Color" does not appear in the physical equations governing the interactions of physical phenomena. The wavelength of various field vectors, are, of course, considered real physical parameters. Light rays, for example, are said to have wavelengths. But given the wavelength of light, there is no physical law describing the corresponding qualitative attribute in consciousness. A wavelength of such-and-such nanometers is not itself green according to any physical law. According to physical laws any given wavelength is just another quantity, undifferentiated from any other except in other physical attributes, such as energy, direction, and intensity.|
|2. A fact about our world is that we can set up correspondences between certain wavelengths impinging upon the retina and our behavior. For example, we might say, under certain conditions, "this is green." . But the wavelengths impinging upon a retina themselves have no color, not only for the reasons stated in (1) above, but because the very same subjective response can occur when a different set of wavelengths impinges upon the retina. This is a well-established fact not usually taught in high school. (The reason for this failure, in my view, is that to do so would undermine one of the agendas of contemporary education: promoting a simplistic "scientific" world view, at the expense of a more complicated world view.)|
|3. The physical properties of objects (the "microproperties" -- see Landesman's works) do not explain perceived color. The "color" of any object varies depending on such factors as: (1) the illuminating light source; (2) the "colors" of adjacent objects; and (3) the condition of the subject. Regarding this last point, see my experiment demonstrating dramatic color variation in one object.|
|4. There is a profound metaphysical difficulty, in
part hinging on the considerations listed above, with the
notion that any one thing, be it an object, a
wavelength, or some other set of physical properties,
actually has a color. That is to say, color is
not itself a physical attribute of anything. It
is an attribute that we impose on things -- a
property that seems to us to inhere in objects,
but actually does not inhere in the objects themselves.
Color is an appearance property of objects. That
is not to say that we cannot trace back the causal chain
in this appearance property to a set of physical
circumstances (angle of illumination, wavelength
mixtures, etc.) but this is only to say that these
physical circumstance cause our perception of
color. That is NOT to say that any one of these physical
circumstances actually have color. The
distinction is crucial: we must distinguish between the
causes of phenomena and the phenomena themselves. It is a
mistake to say, for example, "the elevated
temperatures caused the item to smoke; therefore,
elevated temperatures are smoke."
These considerations leave us with what many philosophers would consider an odd (and, for them, untenable, view): nothing has any color -- but colors nonetheless exist. That is to say, despite the fact that no one thing can be identified as having the property of being colored (e.g., "this, and this alone, has the property of being green"), we still see things as being colored. Color exists as a attribute we assign to things we see.
|5. To insist that things have colors (by themselves, or inherently, as it were) and to use this insistence as an explanation of color is to engage in circular reasoning. What defenders of the purely physical view should give us is an explanation of color. They cannot use the term "color" to define what it means for something to be colored. A purely physical view must start from metaphysically and epistemically neutral terms (such as "wavelength") and then demonstrate that these properties alone inevitably lead to a certain appearance in human consciousness.|
|6.Defenders of the physical explanation of color may attempt to support their view by observing that "color is an emergent property of the physical world." Emergent properties are those properties that suddenly and unexpectedly appear when certain other properties are present. Consciousness is often said to be an emergent property of the biological world (Nothing in the laws of biochemistry predicts consciousness -- it simply seems to appear when organisms reach a certain level of complexity.) But, again, this is not an explanation. This is merely an observation of the way our world works; it covers over something for which we have no explanation with a scientific-sounding term.|
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