In article <20OCT93.firstname.lastname@example.org> email@example.com writes:
> Several people on the net appear to have
gross misconceptions about
>research on imagery by psychologists. Some recent comments would suggest that
>the topic has been ignored. Although this might have been true decades ago,
>there a wealth of research has been and continues to be done on mental imagery.
>Some of that research includes efforts to measure and understand subjective
>experiences of imagery. In addition to Kosslyn, whose name was mentioned, you
>might want to look up Paivio, Richardson, The Journal of Mental Imagery, issues
>of any of the mainstream cognitive journals (Journal of Experimental
>Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition; Memory & Cognition), imagery and
>related terms on PsycLIT or some other periodical database, imagery on the
>on-line catalogue of a decent university library, and so on.
Thank you for being willing to take the time to provide these references. (Actually, I don't know whether I should thank you or not. Sitting in the library looking through books and journals in psychology was not really the way I'd planned to spend my afternoon!) I was aware that interest in imagery has been central to cognitive psychology, but I hadn't known how much literature there is.
There are certainly some very interesting studies on various topics, but I did not get any sense of a general direction to the research. Are there some big fundamental problems that image theorists are hoping to eventually be able to solve?
The other thing I noticed has been has been a standard complaint of mine about scientific psychology in general --- that psychologists seem to think the way to proceed is to study cognition, or behavior, or affect in isolation. (Even worse, in days gone by, have been the arguments about which one of these is the *correct* area to study.)
In NLP (which, of course, does not claim to be an approach to scientific psychology) the interest is in the interaction of these three areas, and this seems to me to be where the truly interesting and important questions lie. Because if one looks at human beings from the point of view of a zoologist, they have truly bizarre behavioral patterns. Most of us spend most of our day engaged in activities which have no obvious connection with basic biological needs --- food, warmth, sex, companionship, play. (For instance, I just spent an afternoon in the library intently staring at little marks on pieces of paper.) And in many cases, we don't even seem to enjoy these activities all that much. And it seems to me that one has to wonder what it is about our nervous systems that leads us to such peculiar behavior.
It seems apparent that cognition has a lot to do with this. But this is mostly not cognition in the sense of logical inference, which is something that we humans do rarely and not very well. (To study human cognition and concentrate on logical inference is like studing dogs and concentrating on the behavior of walking on the hind legs.)
(In fact, most of the times when humans engage in inference, they have a strong predilection towards illogical inference. Usenet provides a marvelous laboratory for observing the patterns of inference that humans actually prefer. The most basic pattern, in my opinion is the use of labels. By pinning a label on a particular thing or happening, we know what attitude to take towards it. Lots of arguments on usenet involve what label to pin on something: ``This is/is not science. This is/is not violence. This is/is not abuse. This is/is not blaming the victim.'' The other very conspicuous pattern is reasoning by analogy.)
The cognition that determines my behavior over the course of the day, starting with getting out of bed in the morning and ending with reluctantly putting down a magazine and turning out the light at night, is on a much more basic level than logical inference, and in my own personal experience has a lot to do with images, as well as with things I say to myself and with feelings (mostly very little ones, much too small to be called emotions).
For instance, I think about what to do in the evening and various possibilities come to mind. One is to go to a little jazz club that I enjoy, and for a moment I have an image of that club and find that attractive. I compare that to other possibilities, and have various considerations about these. (``I haven't been there in quite a while.'' ``Tonight would be a good night to go, because I won't want to go on the weekend.'')
How does my brain go about making these comparisons? NLP claims that (at least for many people) what happens is that one compares the images corresponding to these various possibilities. (Or does one actually run a very quick mini-scenario of what the experience will be like in going to the jazz club, versus staying at home and being productive, versus etc?) And then the brain sends a signal in ``kinesthetic'' form --- a small feeling that impells one towards action: ``I really feel like going to the jazz club.''
(I put the word ``kinesthic'' in quotes, because NLP uses the term to refer to all body sensations --- including tactile, proprioceptive, as well as kinesthetic in the strict sense of the word, and also including ``feelings'' --- emotions. NLP tries very hard to treat the three main ``representation systems'' --- visual, auditory, and kinesthetic --- as on a par, and I yet I can't help but notice that in several respects the kinesthetic system is very different from the visual and auditory ones.)
If the brain often makes choices by comparing images, how is this comparison made? What makes one image attractive and one not? If one really thinks about it (or at least when I do) it is hard to believe that the brain can do this, often extremely quickly, on the basis of the actual content of the images.
NLP claims that the mind ``codes'' images (as well as other representations of the world) in terms of ``submodalities'' --- such sensory qualities as size, brightness, distance, location (which is to say, do I see the image directly in front of me, or is a little above my eye level, or to the left or the right?), color, three dimensionality. And that by changing these submodalities, one can change the emotional impact of the image, sometimes dramatically. (The submodality code differs from individual to individual, but for most people an image that is bright, large, and close will be more compelling than one that is dim, far, and distant. But I've known people for whom it was sometimes the reverse.)
Well, this has been rather rambling and I see that I've now hit the 150 line mark. I really want to explain more about this idea of submodalities and find out whether it's been given any scientific attention to all. But I think I'd better continue later in a separate posting.
``If alexandrian fires were to consume all the thousands of metres of library space devoted to the archive of behaviorist and pavlovian journals from the 1920s to the 1960s, I doubt that much of more than historical interest would be lost.'' --Steven Rose, The Making of Memory