Reply to Professor Angell's Criticism of Analytic Psychology
G. F. Stout
I FEEL very grateful to Professor Angell for the kind things he has said in the last number of the PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW about my book on Analytic Psychology. I am also very grateful to him for raising a discussion concerning the relation of thought and imagery. My general impression is that he has not fully understood what I mean in speaking of imageless apprehension ; but I am quite willing to blame my own faulty exposition for this, and I am glad to have the opportunity of explaining myself.
Perhaps it may be as well to begin by referring to a point which Professor Angell raises incidentally. He holds that any complete act of perception depends on the revivability of old imagery, and he says that he cannot convince himself just how far I accede to this doctrine. As a matter of fact, I do not accede to it at all, if by the word ' imagery' is meant ideas in the proper sense. I admit that sensations, qua sensations, may be modified and made more complex by previous conjunction with each other ; but I deny that this implies ideal revival in the proper sense. Perhaps it will be better to give a concrete instance, rather than trust to general argumentation. In the Zeitschrift f. Psychologie and Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, Bd. XV., Heft 1, 2 (20 Aug. 1897), Dr. Wolff gives a most interesting description and analysis of certain phenomena presented by the well-known case of Voit. Voit is quite unable to name objects or their properties unless they are actually present to his senses. Thus if he is asked, " What color is a meadow ? " he cannot answer, if he does not see the meadow. Similarly, he cannot tell how many legs a horse has, unless he sees the horse. Yet he understands language so far as to be able to do what he is told appropriately and accurately. Nor is his inability merely an inability to find words : when a number of colored tablets are laid before him, and among these a green tablet, and when he is asked, " What color are the leaves of trees?" he cannot answer by pointing to the green tablet, but remains totally helpless. When the questioner points to the green tablet and asks, " Are the leaves of trees like this ? " Voit can only reply, " Perhaps ;" and he makes the same answer when the question refers to the blue, yellow, or red tablets. What holds good of sight extends also to the other senses in
( 73) an even greater degree. Voit is quite unable to assign any of the sensible qualities of objects named to him. He cannot so recall the image of the object as to bring to consciousness its visual, audible, tactual or other characteristics. Now, the remarkable point is this : in spite of his inability to recall, by way of mental representation, the appearance of an object, he can none the less systematically search for anything named to him, and, in so far as he accurately perceives, he can accurately describe it. On being asked the color of trees, he goes to the window and looks for a tree. As soon as he sees one he says, " Green." Merely to see green objects of any kind is of no assistance to him. But when he sees the leaves themselves, he recognizes their color and names it. He was asked what the color of blood is. After a period of bewilderment, in which he looked helplessly about the room, he finally pressed a pustule, which happened to be on his hand, until the blood came. He then answered, " Red." We come next to a point which is directly and vitally relevant to the question before us. Voit could not, on merely seeing an object, name any other of its sensible qualities than those immediately presented to sight. If he were shown a piece of sugar, he could name it and say it was white ; but even with the sugar in full view he could not tell how it tasted merely by seeing it. He sought to get hold of the sugar and put it into his mouth. Only when he succeeded in doing this could he find the word " Sweet." Again, when a mirror was brought before him, and someone passed his fingers up and down it, Voit could not tell whether the surface was rough or smooth until he had touched it himself.
The grand lesson of this case is to be found in the conjunction of great impairment (if not total absence) of ideational activity with almost unimpaired perceptual activity. When Voit saw a thing, he knew how to make proper use of it. He sat on a chair when he saw it, and carried a glass to his mouth and drank when he saw the glass with liquor in it. Now, my view is that Voit's sensation had a practical meaning for him, although he could not translate this meaning into mental imagery. The meaning did not lie in the mere existence of the sensation as such ; and as it did not lie in the presence of images, it could consist only in imageless apprehension. It will be seen that, for me, imageless apprehension is not something confined to the higher phases of mental process, but that it pervades perceptual consciousness also. My general theory is that meaning is correlative with activity. Wherever distinct sensations are connected in the unity of a single action by one conative impulse which fulfills itself in the successive phases of the
( 74) process, there we have something besides the specific items of sensation. Wherever there is appetitive continuity, or continuity of interest, the principle of retentiveness works in a characteristic way. The successive phases of the process leave behind them traces or dispositions which persist and unite in a single cumulative disposition. Thus where the process which possesses conative continuity is purely perceptual, it involves on the one hand a succession of external stimuli ; but at each stage the effect on consciousness of the external stimulus is conditioned by its interaction with the cumulative disposition left behind by previous phases of the process. Thus, in listening to a tune, the effect of the note or notes we hear at any moment depends on the cumulative disposition left behind by the process as a whole. This modification which the note receives from its connection with the whole is a rudimentary form of meaning or imageless apprehension. It may be called primary meaning, and contrasted with acquired meaning. Acquired meaning occurs on the repetition of the process, and depends on the re-excitement of the cumulative disposition left behind by the prior occurrence of the process. When, after hearing a tune once, we hear it again, at a certain point we instantaneously ' catch' what it is; in other words, the acquired meaning of the notes we have heard comes before consciousness.
It will be said that in all such cases the presence of some specific item of sensation is necessary; and that similarly, in higher processes, the presence of some specific image is necessary. Now, I do not feel sure that this is absolutely and always true. But I have no desire to contest the point. Certainly, if imageless apprehension occurs otherwise than as apprehension of the meaning of a given sensation or image, it must be admitted that it plays no important part in our mental life. What lam concerned to maintain is that apprehension of meaning is a specific mode of consciousness, and that it cannot be resolved into the presence of the sensation or image to which the meaning attaches. This explanation clears away, I think, a very large part of the difference between Professor Angell and myself. Of course, in discussing the meaning of words, it is everywhere presupposed that the word itself is present ; and in the case of internal thought the word can be nothing but a mental image. In reading, it is for me invariably a visual perception simultaneously combined in a most intimate manner with an internally articulated sound. What I contend is that, for the most part, no other imagery is requisite except the word itself; but that the word carries with it an understanding of its meaning ; and that this understanding is no mere quasi-mechanical ' function ' of the word, but a
(75) specific mode of being conscious, varying in a specific way according to the nature of the object thought of. The curious point is that Professor Angell seems to me to say in so many words the same thing. 'º When the process is that of apprehending a sentence, I find in my own case the imagery involved is frequently constituted by a matrix of vague, shifting auditory word images, in which some significant word is likely to be most prominent, and which is accompanied by a tingling sense of irradiating meaning, which, if the sentence comes to a full stop, is likely to work itself out in associated images of a fairly definite type " (PHIL. REV., Vol. VI., p. 648). The presence of this 'tingling sense of irradiating meaning' is exactly what I wish to emphasize. 'Irradiating' is a particularly good word. In view of this passage, I am inclined to believe that Professor Angell's criticism is largely due to his supposition that, when I speak of imageless apprehension, I have in view a total state of consciousness rather than a partial constituent of a total state which contains as another constituent some sensation or image. What I am really concerned to deny is that when A means B for consciousness, it does so by actually recalling an image of B ; or that, if no image is recalled, A can mean B only in the sense of being substituted for it. Mere substitution is no true account of the matter, just because the `tingling sense of irradiating meaning' is involved.
Take another sentence from Professor Angell. He speaks of a “feeling of placid conviction that at any moment the explicit associates which give it meaning could, if necessary, be summoned before us " (p. 649). Now, the question is, if we do not already mean these associates or, in some sense, actually apprehend them before they come into consciousness, how can we have ‘placid conviction' about them? The fact is, that meaning must be regarded as a primordial fact of all consciousness which rises above the level of a sensation reflex. So far from being dependent on ideas, it is in the scale of evolution prior to the development of ideational consciousness. All more specific modes of reproduction than the general re-excitement of a total disposition left behind by previous process, are merely stages in the evolution of meaning towards definiteness and explicitness. It unfolds into them as the seed unfolds into the plant.
So much byway of making clear my personal views. Something remains to be said on Professor Angell's introspective analysis of his own experience. I find this very interesting, and I in no way question its accuracy. But I must say that in my own case I do not find that, for the most part, mental imagery of any kind arises in my mind at the close of sentences and paragraphs. Certainly I read through
( 76) Professor Angell's discussion and dictated the answer without any such imagery being present except in an occasional way. I gather, too, that a large body of competent observers agree with me in this respect. Among others I may name Victor Egger, the author of La parole intérieure. On the other hand, Steinthal's experience appears at least partially to agree with Professor Angell's. In any case it will be seen that the main question is left untouched by considerations of this sort, and this on Professor Angell's own showing,—for the ' tingling sense of irradiating meaning' precedes, according to him, the emergence of associated images.
G. F. STOUT.