Image or sensation?

Willard C. Gore

TWO recent articles on 'Organic Images,' [1] one by Professor Titchener, the other by Doctor Lay, have suggested a re-opening of the question as to the distinction between image and sensation. Professor Titchener criticizes in general the presumption that all sensations can be imaged, and throws considerable doubt in particular upon the existence of organic images in anything like the profusion and spontaneity with which they have been credited. He pleads for a more refined and systematic study of organic images, such as they are, with special reference to what organic sensations can be imaged, their mode of production, the significance of individual differences, the effects of practice, etc. He expresses a belief 'that organic images are always rather the exception than the rule'; 'that no single mind has any large variety of them,' mass results to the contrary obtained by questionnaires notwithstanding. I gather the impression that the organic image will bear watching; that on closer scrutiny it may, in some instances at least, turn out to be nothing but a sensation which has palmed itself off on a too credulous introspection as an image.

This article has called forth a rejoinder from Doctor Lay, who, without dissenting from the main contentions of Professor Titchener, brings into court a collection of introspective evidence reaffirming the existence of a large variety of organic imagery; e. g., images of fatigue, nausea, slaking of thirst, rested feeling, oppression, relaxation, cork-cutting feeling, great height feeling, etc. "Hunger is the

(435) only organic sensation," testifies Doctor Lay, "whose image I have at present any doubt about; and this is probably because I have not experienced that sensation for so long a time that I have quite forgotten what it feels like."

There seem to be three criteria of imagery working more or less clearly in Doctor Lay's account. The one that is most clearly stated refers only to imagery of any kind not organic and may here be passed over without further comment. The other two, as I understand them, could be fairly made to read as follows:
1. The criterion of an organic image is bound up in its own 'feel.' It is recognized per se and without the mediation of any context. It is an emergence into consciousness of a 'disposition,' and is a matter of immediate apprehension. Just as the tone of a French horn, to borrow one of Doctor Lay's illustrations, is recognized for what it is without the intervention of any other form of consciousness, so an organic image has a quality of its own which is just as specific and immediate, an 'image-like timbre.' 2. The criterion of an image is, also, its incompleteness, its reduced character, its absence of definite localization, as compared with a perceptual or sensational experience.

To these two articles might, fairly enough, be allowed the claim that they represent positive scientific interests in discovering and investigating psychical data, and are not concerned especially with terms or distinctions. Yet it is pretty clear that they do afford at least an occasion for re-opening the question of classification. They have little, if anything, in common with the epistemological distinction between image, on the one hand, and sense impressions, on the other, which makes out the image to be a more or less inadequate, invalid copy of sense impressions. Nor do they appear to fall back on the biological or anatomical distinction between image and sensation which ascribes the image to centrally initiated excitations, and the sensation to peripherally initiated excitations. One is led to ask what would be the nature of a classificatory distinction which should be through and through a psychological affair.

I have no desire to crowd unwelcome constructions upon these articles. The thesis I have to present as affording a basis for a psychological distinction between image and sensation is simply this: that both image and sensation are abstractions, in varying degrees, from the stream of consciousness. More definitely, they are abstractions not in the sense of being necessarily unreal or arbitrary (though they may be unreal and arbitrary on occasion), but in the sense of being in contrast with the more usual flow of experiences -- the flow of experiences in which is borne along the miscellaneous traffic of objects, persons, plans, ideas, satisfactions, disappoint-

(436)-ments, etc., and to which the descriptive term 'stream of consciousness' answers so closely. Image and sensation are also abstractions within as well as from the stream of consciousness, not merely because they are, of course, aspects of consciousness, but because they exhibit a characteristic property of consciousness, the selective, analytic property, which finds its most obvious expression in abstract tion, discrimination, isolation.

To take up the matter of sensation first. The more any content of consciousness is isolated, the more sensational in quality it becomes. Pure sensation would mark the limit of abstraction. True it is a limit which is never actually attained, but that need not prevent one from using the terms sensation and sensational to describe perfectly real and recognizable phases of consciousness. Even the loose and popular usage of these terms is in keeping with the definition. Such and such a piece of news is sensational, or such and such an event created a sensation. That is to say, it was an unexpected, startling break in the usual course of happenings; or it may have been something willfully perverted, torn loose from its setting, in order to stimulate the sensational form of excitement.

At the other extreme of usage is the discriminating procedure of the analytic psychologist. His analysis of consciousness into states of consciousness and, further, into the elements thereof, leads him inevitably to sensations and the study of sensations. The more he seeks to isolate a phase of consciousness, to dissect it out of its context, to expose its true and pure essence, the more clearly does the sensational quality appear. For example, few persons, I imagine, whose attention has not been especially called to the matter, discriminate brightness, saturation, and color tone in the ordinary perceptual experiences of color. By a skillfull management of revolving discs, isolating and contrasting certain factors, a laboratory psychologist enables one to discriminate all three. Is there any doubt that just in proportion as any of these newly discriminated qualities comes to consciousness through analysis (through breaking up the original perceptual experience of color and setting off by itself quality or content indifferently observed before, if observed at all) to that degree is the quality or content felt as sensational? To take another example. Under usual conditions the stimulus of the contraction of a muscle occurs at the same time with cutaneous and other sensory stimuli and is bound up with perceptual and ideational processes. It is a question whether most individuals know what special muscular sensation really is. The method is to anesthetize the cutaneous areas likely to be affected by the contraction of a given muscle and then to cause this muscle to contract by an electric stimulus. Again. is there any doubt that the consciousness so

(437) aroused will be sensational in proportion to its isolation? It is a specific muscular or kinesthetic sensation.

The process by which a phase of consciousness gets a sensational value as a laboratory datum or artifact is similar to that by which sensation appears as a psychic reality in everyday, extralaboratory experience. If it be true that the sensational quality characterizes the more isolated phases of any experience, then it is clear that it locates the more discrepant and problematic features of a given situation. The discrepant and problematic features so located by sensation are isolated, not in the sense of being irrelevant, but in the sense of standing over against some desired or customary activity. They are obstacles in one form or another. Hence, they have all of the felt reality, all of the immediate presence, which goes with the sensational quality. It is an organic break or strain that comes to consciousness in the imperative form of a sensation. Laboratory technique is, in this respect, the counterpart of the vicissitudes of life. Both give rise to isolated and to problematic elements in experience, which are located in and through the manifold of sense impressions. It is not merely that the laboratory furnishes various culture media, so to speak, for the development of various types of sensations. It does this and more. It carries on a sort of experimental morphology, creating the very structure of that which it may even boast to study as structural, and thus affording a clear, if unintentional, demonstration of how sensations arise, and what they stand for functionally in actual experience.

To return now to the image. Our thesis was that both image and sensation are abstractions, in varying degrees, from the 'stream of consciousness.' Pure sensation would be the limit. What degree of abstraction is marked by the image? My answer would be that the image is the content abstracted from past experiences in the form in which these are usually brought to consciousness to serve as means of dealing with problematic features located by sensations. At the same time, this abstracted content has a perceptual or ideational setting which helps to constitute it as an image. In other words, the image quality, the image 'timbre,' is a product both of the act of abstracting the content and of the setting or context that persists.

The image, even more than the sensation, is peculiarly the creation of the psychologist. It is born of the interest in the ongoings of the mind itself. It is the fruit of the impulse to observe, describe, and collect specimens of mental activity. But the image is more than a strip of birch bark, a pressed plant or a bird skin. The process of collecting it, of abstracting it, has given it a new characteristic. It is something different from an idea or an ideal, a rea-

(438)-son or a volition, because it is an aspect of any one of these, as the case may be, set off for the sake of appreciating its qualities per se, and the very act of consciously setting it off gives it a setting which helps to determine its character anew. Could you rule out the ideational and perceptual setting, your image would leave off being an image. It would become sensational in quality and value. Dreams, hallucinations never involve images, so far as I know, but sensational or perceptual realities. Of course I refer to the dream as it is dreamt, not to the dream in contrast to the waking reality. Here again the same point is in evidence. The difference between the dream as dreamt and the dream image is a magnification of the difference between thinking and the waking image. Just as the dream image is what it is because of its context in a world of present reality of which it was once felt to be a part, so the waking image is what it is because of the ideational and perceptual context of which it too was once a part.

This account of the image does but scant justice to the 'esthetic image' or to the 'working image,' coinages which I gratefully borrow from Professor Mead, though I am not sure my usage of them would be consistent with his. I have had in mind, rather, what might be called the 'cognitive image.' Yet all three types represent varying degrees of abstraction. The 'esthetic image,' if I may generalize from introspection, is an ideational content freed or loosed from reference to problematic realities, yet not thus abstracted for the sake of examining its content for its own sake, as is the case with the 'cognitive image,' but for the sake of realizing pleasurable activities, some of them, it may be, of an organic nature, to which the image is the indirect, but, at the time, the most available, if not the only available, stimulus. What some one has happily termed the 'reminiscent image' would be an instance. The 'working image,' I should say, stands for the least degree of abstraction of content from reference to problematic conditions. It is difficult to distinguish between the 'working image' and what is usually meant by the terms idea, plan, aim, hypothesis, consideration, etc. On the whole, working image' seems to be a more inclusive term than any of the latter terms from the standpoint of content and reference. It applies to an underlying stratum, so to speak, out of which these have developed. But the fact that these have developed out of this stratum makes the interest in it somewhat more remote, somewhat more geological. The image, then, whether 'working,' 'esthetic' or 'cognitive,' represents varying kinds and degrees of interest in setting apart the content of ideational processes.

To take up the problem as regards organic images. Images or sensations? This, again, I should say, would depend upon the

(439) degree of abstraction. If the consciousness of stimuli coming from the viscera has little or no meaning no reference beyond itself; if, as Professor Titchener says, 'we have our own bodies always with us; and the organic sensations will, consequently, be renewed or revived or reestablished when necessity arises,' then there is not only 'no biological sanction for the existence of images of these sensations,' as Titchener further holds, but no psychological sanction either. It seems to me one might logically follow this clue a little further. Most of us have our eyes and ears always with us. They are surely as much bodily organs as our viscera. Sensations arising from them will consequently be renewed or revived or reestablished when necessity arises; therefore there is no biological sanction for the existence of images of these sensations. Of course this inference runs counter to the implication in Professor Titchener's article to the effect that sensations arising from eyes and ears will not be renewed, revived or reestablished, when necessity arises. The stimuli 'act from a distance.' 'We must have images of sight and hearing,' to quote again, 'if conversation and various forms of intercourse are to go on.' Granted, but is this not also true to some extent, even if to a more limited extent, in the case of stimuli proceeding from bodily or organic disturbances?

In an emotional experience, consciousness of bodily disturbances figures conspicuously. But is it not clear that this consciousness of bodily disturbances refers beyond the bodily processes themselves, just as consciousness of retinal or aural or even of olfactory disturbances refers beyond the bodily processes themselves, and in that degree loses the sensational reality it may be conceived to have when no object is involved? 'Exarsere ignes animo,' related Aeneas, as he described how it was with him when he saw the form of Helen crouching in the temple of Vesta whilst Troy was in flames. If these symptoms of kindling vengeance were nothing more than organic sensations, merely informing him how his circulatory system was behaving itself, it is clear that Helen would have been in no particular dancer. and that his alma parens would hardly have needed to appear on the scene.

Dr. Irons argues that the plausibility of the James theory of emotion vanishes 'when it is pointed out that, though consciousness of bodily disturbance almost always involves emotion, in and for itself this consciousness is not emotional at all.' [2] The force of the criticism is apparent; also, I think, its weakness. The critics have abstracted the consciousness of bodily disturbances to such a degree (making it consciousness 'in and for itself') that what they have on their hands is plainly sensational, not emotional. They have been

(440) misled, I should infer, by the new emphasis which Professor James placed upon the function of the consciousness of bodily disturbances in emotion, and by the tendency to isolate this phase of consciousness somewhat for the sake of clearness and emphasis, into a failure to recognize what James himself does not always make perfectly evident, that the emotion depends quite as much upon the perceptual and ideational context of this consciousness of bodily disturbances, upon the reaction made by habits or disposition, upon the whole attitude taken, as upon the instinctive, organic, bodily processes themselves.

Consciousness of organic processes may become images in so far as these processes are abstracted as means from ends, and examined apart, for the sake of making out their qualities, without at the same time losing sight of their perceptual and ideational context. Professor James' usage of the terms resident and remote images is open, as I understand it, to such an interpretation, and can be applied in the ease of organic images. They are images for two reasons. (1) Because, however kinesthetic and organic, they are means of acquiring and defining control over a volitional process. They have no raison d'Ítre in and of themselves. They do not stand out as sensational. They are merged more or less in the larger experience they are helping to bring to pass. (2) Because the psychologist has called attention to them, exposed them, abstracted them, as the 'cues' of volition. They had else been nearer the 'fringe,' and their transition from 'resident' to 'remote' had escaped observation.

I find that in my own case I get the most unmistakable forms of organic imagery in the partial recall of certain emotional experiences. The attempt to get an organic image in a more isolated form is in most instances either flatly impossible, or else passes over into a distinctly sensational content. For example, the image of the cork-cutting feeling sometimes tends to lose itself in a definitely localized shiver.

My attention was called to the apparent difference between Professor Titchener and Doctor Lay in the matter of forming organic images. Professor Titchener himself raises the question as to the significance of individual differences and the effects of practice. Doctor Lay testifies to his ability to reinstate a fairly ]arge variety of organic experiences in the form of images. With Professor Titchener, however, the tendency seems to be more marked in the direction of reinstating such experiences in a sensational form. Why is it that some persons can readily experience a varied assortment of feelings of organic processes in that reduced, indefinitely localized condition which causes them to be identified as

(441) images? Why is it that others find such feelings so readily assimilating to the particular organs themselves, or so closely bound up with actual muscular contractions, as to cause them to be identified as sensational To what extent may practice, training affect either capacity? For example, is it probable that facility in forming organic images is due to the gradual inhibition of the consciousness of the motor apparatus involved in producing the excitation; in other words, to the development of a technique for reinstating a portion of a previous experience which should finally depress its wires below the threshold of consciousness and thus produce the effect of spontaneity and indefinite localization! That is to say, is facility in forming organic images itself an instance of the process of developing control through passing from a 'resident' to a 'remote' image, the 'remote' image in this case being the organic image?



  1. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol., I, Nos. 2 and 3, pp 36-40, 68-71.
  2. Mind, N. S., Vol. 3, p. 78.

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