Mind Self and Society
Supplementary Essay I The Function of Imagery in Conduct
a) Human behavior, or conduct, like the behavior of lower animal forms, springs from
impulses. An impulse is a congenital tendency to react in a specific manner to a certain
sort of stimulus, under certain organic conditions. Hunger and anger are illustrations of
such impulses. They are best termed "Impulses," and not "instincts,"
because they are subject to extensive modifications in the life-history of individuals,
and these modifications are so much more extensive than those to which the instincts of
lower animal forms are subject that the use of the term "instinct" in describing
the behavior of normal adult human individuals is seriously inexact.
It is of importance to emphasize the sensitivity to the appropriate stimuli which call out the impulses. This sensitivity is otherwise referred to as the "selective character of attention," and attention on its active motor side connotes hardly anything beyond this relationship of a preformed tendency to act to the stimulus which sets the impulse free. It is questionable whether there is such a thing as passive attention. Even the dependence of sensory attention upon the intensity of stimuli implies general attitudes of escape or protection which are mediated through such stimuli or through the pain stimuli which attend intense stimulation. Where through the modification arising out of experience -- e.g., the indifference to loud noises which Workmen attain in factories-the response of the individual to these intense stimuli lapses, it is at least not unreasonable to assume that the absence of power to hold so-called "passive attention"
(338) is due to the dissociation of these stimuli from the attitudes of reflexive
avoidance and flight.
There is another procedure by which the organism selects the appropriate stimulus, where an impulse is seeking expression. This is found in the relation to imagery. It is most frequently the image which enables the individual to pick out the appropriate stimulus for the impulse which is seeking expression. This imagery is dependent on past experience. It can be studied only in man, since the image as a stimulus or a part of the stimulus can only he identified by the individual, or through his account of it given in social conduct. But in this experience of the individual or of a group of individuals, the object to which the image refers, in the same sense in which a sensory process refers to an object, can be identified, either as existing beyond the immediate range of sensory experience or as having existed in what is called the "past." In other words, the image is never without such reference to an object. This fact is embodied in the assertion that all our imagery arises out of previous experience. Thus, when one recalls the face of one whom he has met in the past, and identifies it through actual vision of the face, his attitude is identical with that of a man who identifies an object seen uncertainly at a distance. The image is private or psychical only in the situation in which the sensory process may be private or psychical. This situation is that in which readjustment of the individual organism and its environment is involved in the carrying-out of the living process. The private or psychical phase of the experience is that content which fails to function as the direct stimulus for the setting-free of the impulse. In so far as the contents from past experience enter into the stimulus, filling it out and fitting it to the demands of the act, they become a part of the object, though the result of the reaction may lead us to recognize that it failed, when our judgment is that what looked hard or soft or near or far proves to be quite otherwise. In this case we describe the content so estimated as private or psychical. Thus contents which refer to objects not present in the field of stimulation and which do not
(339) enter into the object, i.e., images of distant objects in time and space which
are not integral parts of the physical surroundings as they extend beyond the range of
immediate perception, nor of the memory field which constitutes the background of the self
in its social structure, are psychical.
This definition of the private and psychical stands, therefore, on an entirely different basis from that which identifies the private or psychical with the experience of the individual, as his own, for in so far as the individual is an object to himself in the same sense as that in which others are objects to him, his experiences do not become private and psychical. On the contrary, he recognizes the common characters in them all, and even that which attaches to the experience of one individual as distinguished from others is felt to represent a contribution which he makes to a common experience of all. Thus what one man alone, through keener vision, detects would not be regarded as psychical in its character. It is that experience which falls short of the objective value which it claims that is private and psychical. There are, of course, experiences which are necessarily confined to a particular individual, and which cannot in their individual character be shared by others; e.g., those which arise from one's own organism, and affective experiences -feelings-which are vague and incapable of reference to an object, and which cannot be made common property of the community to which one belongs (such mystical experiences are in part responsible for the assumption of a spiritual being -- a God-who can enter into and comprehend these emotional states). But these states either have, or are assumed to have, objective reference. The toothache from which a man suffers is no less objective because it is something that cannot be shared, coming as it does from his own organism. One's moods may helplessly reach out toward something that cannot be attained, leaving him merely with the feelings and a reference which is not achieved; but there is still an implication of something that has objective reality. The psychical is that which fails to secure its reference and remains therefore the experience
(340) simply of the individual. Even then it invites reconstruction and interpretation,
so that its objective character may be discovered; but until this has been secured, it has
no habitat except the experience of the individual and no description except in terms of
his subjective life. Here belong the illusions, the errors of perception, the emotions
that stand for frustrated values, the observations which record genuine exceptions to
accepted laws and meanings. From this standpoint the image. in so far as it has objective
reference, is not private or psychical. Thus the extended landscape reaching beyond our
visual horizon, bounded perhaps by nearby trees or buildings; the immediate past that is
subject to no question-these stand out as real as do the objects of perception, as real as
the distance of neighboring houses, or the polished cool surface of a marble table, or the
line of the printed page on which the eye in its apperceptive leaps rests but two or three
times. In all these experiences sensuous contents which we call "imagery"
(because the objects to which they refer are not the immediate occasions of their
appearance) are involved, and are only rendered private or psychical by having their
objectivity questioned in the same manner in which the sensuous contents which answer to
immediate excitements of end-organs may be questioned. As the perceptual sensuous
experience is an expression of the adjustment of the organism to the stimulation of
objects temporally and spatially present, so the images are adjustments of the organism to
objects which have been present but are now spatially and temporally absent. These may
merge into immediate perceptions, giving the organism the benefit of past experience in
filling out the object of perception; or they may serve to extend the field of experience
beyond the range of immediate perception, in space or time or both; or they may appear
without such reference, although they always imply a possible reference, i.e., we hold
that they could always be referred to the experiences out of which they arose if their
whole context could be developed.
In the latter case the images are spoken of as existing in the
(341) mind. It is important to recognize that the location of the the stuff of the imagery, for imagery in the mind is not due to the same stuff goes into our perceptions and into the objects beyond immediate perception) which exist beyond our spatial and temporal horizons. It due rather to the control over the appearance of the imagery in the mental processes which are commonly called those of "association," especially in the process of thinking in which we readjust our habits and reconstruct our objects.
The laws of association are now generally recognized as simple processes of redintegration, in which the imagery tends to complete itself in its temporal, spatial, or functional (similarity) phases. It has been found most convenient to deal with these tendencies as expressions of neural co-ordinations. The association of ideas has been superseded by associations of nerve elements. Thus the sight of a room recalls an individual whom one has met there. The area of the central nervous system affected on the occasion of the encounter being partially affected by the sight of the room on the later occasion is -aroused by this stimulation and the image of the acquaintance appears. As a piece of mechanism this is not different from the perception of distance or solidity which accompanies our visual experiences through the imagery of past contacts filling out the immediate visual experience, except that the image of the acquaintance does not fit into the visual experience so as to become a part of the perception. In the case of a hallucination this does take place, and only the attempt to establish contact with the acquaintance proves that one is dealing with an image instead of a perceptual fact. What is still unexplained in such a statement of association is the fact that one image appears rather than countless others which have also been a part of the experience of the room. The customary explanation derived from frequency and vividness and contrast Proves inadequate, and we must fall back upon the impulses seeking expression, in other words, upon interest, or in still other terms, upon attention. The so-called "selective nature" of consciousness is as
(342) necessary for the explanation of association as for that of attention and shows itself in our sensitivity to the stimuli which set free impulses seeking expression, when those stimuli arise from objects in the immediate field of perception or from imagery. The former answer to adjustment of the organism to objects present in space and time, the latter to those which are no longer so present but which are still reflected in the nervous structure of the organism. The sensitizing of the organism holds for both classes of stimulation. Imagery thus far considered no more exists in a mind than do the objects of external sense perception. It constitutes a part of the field of stimulation to which our attitudes or impulses seeking expression sensitize us. The image of the stimulus we need is more vivid than others. It serves to organize the perceptual attitude toward the object which we need to recognize, as embodied in Herbart's phrase, "apperception-mass." The sensuous content of the imagery may be relatively slight, so slight that many psychologists have taught that much of our thinking is imageless; but though the adjustment of the organism to the carrying-out of the response involved in the whole act may be the most readily recognized, and thus this part of the imagery be regarded as the most important, there is no reason to question the presence of the sensuous content which serves as stimulation.
The dominant part which the doctrine of association of ideas has played in explaining conduct finds its ground in the control over the imagery which thought exercises. In thinking, we indicate to ourselves imagery which we may use in reconstructing our perceptual field, a process which will be the subject of later discussion. What I wish to point out here is that imagery so controlled has been regarded as subject to the same principles of redintegration as those by which we bring it into the process of thought. The latter principles are the relations of the significant vocal gestures or signs to that which they signify. We speak of words as associated with things, and carry over this relation to the connections of images with each other, together with the reactions they help to mediate. The principle of the
(343) association of words and things is in large measure that of habit-forming. It has no import for the explanation of the sort of habit to be formed. It has no relation to the structure of experience through which we adjust ourselves to changing conditions. The child makes habits of applying certain names to certain things. This does not explain the relations of things in the child's experience or the type of his reactions to them, but this is just what the associational psychologist assumes. A habit fixes a certain response, but its habitual character does not explain either the inception of the reaction or the ordering of the world within which the reaction takes place. In this preliminary account of mind we recognize, first, contents which are not objective, that is, do not go to constitute the immediate perceptual world to which we react-which are then termed "subjective imagery"; and, second, the thought-process and its contents, arising through the social process of conversation with the self as another, whose function in behavior we have to investigate later. It is important to recognize that the self, as one among other individuals, is not subjective, nor are its experiences as such subjective. This account is introduced to free imagery as such from an all inclusive predicate of subjectivity. Certain images are there just as are other perceptual contents, and our sensitivity to them serves the same function as does our sensitivity to other perceptual stimulations, namely, that of selecting and building out the objects which will give expression to the impulses [MS].
b) Of imagery the only thing that can be said is that it does not take its place among our distant stimuli which build up the surrounding world that is the extension of the manipulatory area. Probably Hume's distinction of vividness is legitimate here, though the better statement is to be found in its efficiency in carrying out the function of calling forth the movement toward the distant object and receiving the confirmation of contact experience. It is true that characters in the distance experience presumably come in from imagery and do call out the response. Thus the contours of a familiar face may be filled in
(344) by imagery, and lead to approach to the individual and the grasp of the hand, which ultimately assures us of his real existence in the present experience. Hallucinations and illusions also call out these responses and lead to the results which correct the first impression. If we find that we have met a stranger instead of the supposed friend, we identify, perhaps, the part of the distance experience which was imagery as distinct from what is called "sensation." We speak of imagery as "psychically present." What do we mean by this? The simplest answer would be that the imagery is the experience of the individual organism that is the percipient event in the perspective. If by this we mean that there is an experience in the central nervous system which is the condition of the appearance of the imagery, the statement has a certain meaning. But it is confessed that the disturbance in the central nervous system is not what we term the "imagery," unless we place some inner psychical content in the molecules of the brain, and then we are not talking about the central nervous system which is a possible object in the field [of perception].
Imagery is, of course, not confined to memory. Whatever may be said about its origin in past experience, its reference to the future is as genuine as to the past. Indeed, it is fair to say that it only refers to the past in so far as it has a future reference in some real sense. It may be there without immediate reference to either future or to past. We may be quite unable to place the image. The location of imagery in a psychical field implies the self as existent and cannot be made the account of its locus in a theory which undertakes to show how the self arises in an experience within which imagery must be assumed as antecedent to the self. Here we are thrown back on the vividness as a reason for the organism not responding to it as it does to the distant stimulus which we do not call imagery Perhaps there is some other character which is not expressed in the term "vividness." But it is evident that if the imagery had the quality which belongs to the so-called "sensuous experience" we should react to it, and its entrance into sensuous experience as above noted
(345) indicates that it is not excluded by its quality. In our own sophisticated experience the controlling factor seems to be its failure to fit into the complex of the environment as a continuous texture. Where as filling or as hallucination it does so enter, there is no hesitancy on the part of the organism in reacting to it as to sensuous stimuli, and it is there in the same sense in which the normal stimuli are there, i.e., the individual acts to reach or avoid the contacts which the images imply. It is then its failure to become a part of the distance environment which is responsible for its exclusion. That it is not the imagery of hardness that constitutes the stuff of what we see, I have already insisted. Here again it is the functional attitude of the organism in using the resistance which the distance stimulus is responsible for, that constitutes the stuff of the distant object, and the image does not call out this attitude. Imagery has to be accepted as there but as not a part of the field to which we respond in the sense in which we respond to the distance stimuli of sense experience, and the immediate reason for not so responding seems to lie in its failure to fall into the structure of the field except as filling, when it is indistinguishable. The light that we get upon its character Comes from the evidence that Its contents have always been in former experiences, and from the part which the central nervous system seems to play in its appearance. But the part played by the central nervous system is largely inference from the function which memory and anticipation have in experience. The present includes what is disappearing and what is emerging. Toward that which is emerging our action takes us, and what is disappearing provides the conditions of that action. Imagery then comes in to build out both stretches. We look before and after, and sigh for what is not. This building-out process is already in operation in building up the present, in -so far as the organism endows its field with present existence [MS].
c) Imagery is an experience that takes place within the individual, being by its nature divorced from the objects that would give it a place in the perceptual world; but it has representa-
(346) -tional reference to such objects. This representational reference is found in the relation of the attitudes that answer to the symbols of the completion of the act to the varied stimuli that initiate the acts. The bringing of these different attitudes into harmonious relation takes place through the reorganization of the contents of the stimuli. Into this reorganization enter the so-called "images" of the completion of the act. The content of this imagery is varied. It may be of vision and contact or of the other senses. It is apt to be of the nature of the vocal gestures. It serves as a preliminary testing of the success of the reorganized object. Other imagery is located at the beginning of the act, as in the case of a memory image of an absent friend that initiates an act of meeting him at an agreed rendezvous. Imagery may be found at any place in the act, playing the same part that is played by objects and their characteristics. It is not to be distinguished, then, by its function.
What does characterize it is its appearance in the absence of the objects to which it refers. Its recognized dependence upon past experience, i.e., its relation to objects that were present, in some sense removes this difference; but it brings out the nature of the image as the continued presence of the content of an object which is no longer present. It evidently belongs to that phase of the object which is dependent upon the individual in the situation within which the object appears [MS].