Organic Images

Willard Lay

I am glad to find myself in accord with most of what Professor Titchener says, especially as to the uselessness of the results gained by the questionary in the matter of organic images, and as to the need of more careful and systematic investigation in this subject. To his disbelief in the genuineness of the organic images of the 80 or 89 per cent. of the students examined by French, I can add my own in the results of Ribot, [1] who says that almost all of his 100 subjects recalled fatigue, sometimes almost to hallucination, and the same for nausea; and 75 recalled thirst and 45 hunger.

My own conviction is that organic images are as conceivable as any other kind, have been experienced by myself, and may, presumably, be experienced by others; that the visual or auditory are no more necessary than the organic, because there have been scientific men and members of the British Royal Academy who have had no mental images at all.[2] The problem as to the kinds and amounts of organic images revivable does not, indeed, seem to me to be different from that of any other kinds of images, even visual or auditory. I believe that all images, of whatever kind, are the emergence into consciousness of some disposition. This disposition in turn is the result or effect of impressions that have or have not been in consciousness at the time they were received. I do not know any adequate cause for their appearance in consciousness. I see no reason why, if the attention be turned to it, the image of any previously experienced sensation should not form some subsequent state of consciousness. To me the real problem is, what is the organic image?

It has seemed to me that the criterion of an image of any kind not organic is a feeling which I can not at present differentiate from a faint organic sensation -- the organic sensation accompanying general bodily activity, such as pushing or tugging, of which feeling

(69) the focus seems to be somewhere in the center of the trunk. A `sensation of any kind seems to me to be followed by this internal feeling, faint for sensations of ordinary intensity, strong and locally more concentrated for strong sensations. In my own case it seems '.to be in attendance upon the faintest sensation and to be noticeably absent in everything that I call an image. It is my only criterion 'and I know that it has deceived me; but it is generally correct. This is in spite of the fact that the attention can be so exclusively devoted to an image of any sense department that the sensation itself, whether of the same sense department as the image or not, drops for a brief time entirely out of consciousness.

The distinction between organic sensations and images seems to me at the present writing to be clearest with sexual images. In my own case the image has the specific quality of the organic sensation, but it is clearly not the localized sensation. For the localized sensation is invariably accompanied by cutaneous sensations. Of course, I know no way to prove, even to myself, that this state of consciousness is an image and is not a real sensation, e. g., of swelling glands, localized circulation and visceral muscle movements. This might very well be, and I can not say, because I have no mental pictures of the anatomy of the hypodiaphragmatic region; but I think it is not, because it does not seem to be so intimately a part of my body as the sensation does. It is a state of consciousness having the organic quality and the characteristically image-like timbre.

I should like to place on record a description of some of my own organic images. Just before writing these words I very vividly imagined the pain of hitting my finger with a hammer (I do not know that the sensation has occurred these ten years ! ); and of tearing my finger nail to the quick. In the following list of organic sensations which I take from Ebbinghaus, [3] and which I have just now reread, I have italicized those that occur to me this evening with special clearness: hunger, satiety, thirst, slaking, discomfort, nausea, fatigue, lassitude, rested feeling, oppression, suffocation, buoyancy, cork-cutting feeling, sponge-tearing feeling, sharp knife feeling, great height feeling, restlessness, relaxation, depression, languor, mental lucidity, sleepiness, dullness of which the cork cutting feeling seems the clearest. It might be said that this is because I had with it auditory images of the little squeak that a steel knife makes in cutting a cork, and motor images of my hand holding the knife and cutting the end from a cork with a sawing motion; but the unpleasant quality came first! Images of certain other organic sensations are to me clearer than those of Ebbinghaus's

(70)list, e.g., the organic sensation (thrill) somewhere near the diaphragm and the infinitesimal ache in the sole of the foot which are experienced a half a second or so after slipping on some moderately rough surface like a sanded floor, but without falling; and the painful thrill higher up in the thorax connected with the shrill, grating squeak of a slate pencil on a slate. This last is unaccompanied by visual images.

Hunger is the only organic sensation 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; and I have not an adequate motive to fast long enough to get the sensation. The skipping of a single meal is not enough.

On December 10, 1903, I paid close attention to my images for an aggregate of 22 minutes on three different occasions between 7:48 and 8:18 P.M., while smoking. In the first test I endeavored to confine myself to olfactory images and got 38 out of 63; in the second I tried touch and got 47 out of 57; in the third I tried motor images and got 10 out of 53. There were 1 pain image and 8 organic images in these 173. Seven of these were thermal images, two of them being of cold and the other five of heat. They were as follows: In the 'touch' series there occurred an image of the heat felt by my hand when lightly touching a coil of the steam-radiator. In the 'motor' series I imaged, second, the feeling caused by the spray of the surf one day last summer. This came first as a cutaneous image, but was followed by an image of its coolness. The third was an image of the cold shock of a shower bath after my swim in the surf, the fourth was another image of cold, followed immediately by an auditory image of the wind whistling through the bathing house; the fifth was the heat image of the hot and stuffy interior of another bathing-house; the sixth, an image of the warm water touching my feet, in a bay where I went to swim several times last summer; and the seventh was an image of an internal chilly sensation experienced by me at the end of a second swim taken on the same day. The pain image above referred to was the image of the aching of some part of my cheek caused by biting a very tart apple. In all these it is to be noted that I was not trying to get organic images; these experiences came spontaneously into consciousness. Of only one of them can I say that it was accompanied by an actual sensation.

I think it might be argued that images even of visual and auditory sensations are not 'essential in filling out the gaps in actual stimulation.' I think that my filling out that is necessary is accomplished by the disposition which, as a separate event, is

(71) not in consciousness. Thus I may hear the tone of a French horn, and know it for a French horn, and yet have in consciousness no visual image of the shape of this instrument, nor any auditory or articulatory image of the words 'French horn.' But the sound has a quality which I recognize as that of a French horn. That quality is in my own case an organic sensation or image [4] which seems to me to have all the specificity to apply to, or to serve as a medium of recognition for, that particular class of auditory sensations.

Thus in the ordinary affairs of life, i.e., in my own daily work in the school-room, I am not conscious of images, with the possible exception of the periods devoted to the study of English literature, where, in reading such poems as the 'Ancient Mariner,' the images suggested by the lines do appear, and, of course, if I stop to pay any attention to them, my efficiency as a teacher is impaired. My mental activity is entirely sensational. My thoughts are spoken. It would be undesirable to have any thoughts in consciousness that could not be spoken. Consciousness is entirely made up of the sights and sounds (made by myself and others) and other sensations. Any images there may be for me then are not images (if I may be pardoned a bull), but dispositions. When I write a note under these circumstances, I do it without conscious reflection and have, as a general rule, none of the auditory images that accompany the writing of a letter at my own desk at home. It happens that four days in the week I read the Bible to 200 boys. I remember that images have occurred to me, chiefly auditory, I believe, during the reading and that I have hesitated at those times. The attention, diverted for a fraction of a second, has arrested the reading aloud for about a second. Thus it seems to me that the imaging power in many of its manifestations, is in reality awakened only by accident and in a comparatively small number of people, who are naturally introspective; that attention may be called to it; and I am sure that, in my own case, a ten years' practice in turning attention to the image has developed my abilities in this direction to a considerable extent. I fully believe that I can recall the image of any organic sensation that I have had frequently enough to be crystallized (so to speak) into a disposition, but that it requires a greater frequency for organic sensations to form that disposition than for other sensations.



  1. 'Recherche sur la memoire affective,' Revue Philosophique, October, 1894, and 'La Psychologie des Sentiments,' Ch. XI., 2.
  2. Galton, 'Inquiries into Human Faculty.' Also compare James, 'Psychology,' II., 53, who says that he is a good draughtsman but an extremely poor visualizer.
  3. 'GrundzŁge der Psychologie,' I, p. 405.
  4. I say organic sensations or images because I confess that these feelings of relation (the familiarity feel and others) are so slight in intensity that they may be called images. That they are organic sensations or images of some kind seems likely from the fact that frequently I am positively confident: that I have recognized the sensation in question, and that I shall soon have the proof of that recognition, the name; and yet there is a short period of time when the feeling of confidence persists without the name.

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