Organic Images

E. B. Titchener

I WISH, in this note, to enter a plea for a more systematic study than has yet been made of the images of organic sensations and their complexes. It seems to have been taken pretty much for granted that the human mind is capable of images of all sensations. [1] Sully says outright that 'revival under the form of an image holds good of all classes of percepts or sense-impressions. [2] Ladd, whom I understand to deny the specificity of organic sensations other than the kinaesthetic, [3] appears to agree. [4] James does not raise the ques

(37)-tion. He begins his chapter on Imagination with the words: 'Sensations, once experienced, modify the nervous organism, so that copies of them arise again in the mind after the original outward stimulus is gone' and his discussion does not take us farther into the body than the voluntary muscles. [5] In writing on emotion, however, he uses the phrases 'either the vivid feeling of the manifestations, or the idea of them': a phrase that seems to point towards an imaging or ideation in k.ind of the bodily 'expression' of emotion. [6] Lay asserts that 'we have mental imagery from all the senses; that is, some of us are conscious of it'; and his list of types includes images of pain, organic and emotive images. [7] Stetson remarks that 'perhaps in early child life, all sense presentations are remembered equally well,' but that later on attention is predominantly directed upon visual memory. 'There is no doubt,' he goes on, 'that attention to a single sense tends to develop memory images of that sort. [8] The presumption that all sensations can be imaged appears to run through the general questionaries, from Galton down.

I have lately been led to take a somewhat different view of the scope of mental imagery. My present belief, acquired inductively, may most easily be put in teleological form, as follows. I think that we have free images in the higher sense departments, where such images are needed. We must have images of sight and hearing, it conversation and the various other forms of intercourse are to go on. [9] The stimuli act 'from a distance,' and are at any given time present only in small part. Images are therefore essential, as filling out the gaps in actual stimulation. Contrariwise, images are not needed at the lower end of the scale, for the organic sensations sensu stricto. We have our own bodies always with us; and the organic sensations will, consequently, be renewed or revived or reestablished when necessity arises; there is no biological sanction for the existence of images of these sensations. One might, therefore, expect to find a great variety of free imagery, say, in vision; and no free imagery at all, say, for hunger and thirst. Between these extremes, one would expect to find all sorts of intermediate stages. There may be sensations whose images can be evoked separately and voluntarily, like the images of visual sensations; there may be

(38) others whose images appear separately, but only involuntarily. There may be sensations or sense complexes which occur, voluntarily or involuntarily, not in separation but merely in total situations. Thus the choking or strangling which is characteristic of certain forms of anger might be incapable of separate recal in kind, but might be imaged along with the other sense components of the emotion when anger is recalled as a total experience. It seems to me to be important that these distinctions, and others like them, should be borne in mind, in the study of imagery; in other words, that the study should be systematized. It seems to me, too, to be extremely important that the image should be differentiated from the renewal or reestablishment or reinstatement of a sensation. Certain writers upon the subject -- not all! -- actually take the renewal or revival of peripheral sensations as evidence of the existence of imagery in the particular sense department. They take, e.g., the 'lip feeling' of the word 'bubble' as evidence of motor imagery. But the lip feeling is, of course, a present sensation; not the image of a sensation. The lip feeling and the image of the lip feeling are as different as the sight of a red square and the image of a red square. They can be introspectively distinguished; they belong to different mental categories. If the lip feelin occurs as such, the chances are that the image of it does not occur.

I have no doubt, in my own case, of the existence of visual and auditory images, -- free images, capable of separate voluntary arousal. I have no doubt, from the reports of others, of the existence of free kinaesthetic images, verbal or others. From my own introspection, I find it extremely difficult to say whether I have this images or not. I can very easily reestablish, in present sense experience, a kinaesthetic complex; the least cue of present 'muscular sensation' brings up the whole. But I doubt whether I have free kinaesthetic images; whether there is not a faint but real renewal of the sensations in all my kinaesthetic 'memory.' In the sphere of cutaneous sensations, I can imagine pressures, and, I think, warmths; I do not think that I image colds. Taste images, if I have them at all, are extremely rare. Smell Images seem to occur only sporadically and involuntarily. I notice with smells, however, something of what I have just mentioned with regard to kinaesthetic complexes. The least hint of a real smell may be amplified and changed by attention into anything I like. I can smell out, from the scent of a good cigar, a large number of flower perfumes: I seem to myself ready to image these perfumes. If, on the other hand, I try without any olfactory cue to recall the smell of violets, I get to the verge of the smell, tingle with expectation of it; but I do not attain it. The organic sensations proper I can readily reestab-

(39)-lish, and almost as readily inhibit. When, however, I try to secure their images, I am almost invariably balked. Pain, though I have - had a large and varied experience of it, I cannot image. If I think of stubbing my toe, I get either a picture of the event or a real sympathetic shrinking and quivering, that makes me move my toe uneasily. If I think of the pain of a particular tooth, some toothpain that I know very well, I have either a verbal description or an .actual thrill in the tooth: I can find no pain-image. Neither, so far as my present introspection goes, have I any image of yawning, hunger, thirst, lust, tickling, nausea, dizziness, choking, stuffiness, 'sinking of the stomach,' and a number of other complexes that I am familiar with but have no name for. These things come to me either in surrogate images or as actual experiences.

It is notoriously unsafe, in this field, to generalise from one's own experience. And I am aware that there are marked individual differences as regards the lower forms of sensory images. I have found persons, trained in introspection, who assured me that they had, on occasion, 'dashing cold images, lust images, dizziness images. On the other hand, I have never found a competent observer who affirmed the existence of images of hunger and thirst. I believe, too, that organic images are always rather the exception than the rule; and I believe that no single mind has any large variety of them. There is a great discrepancy between my introspections and those of other trained observers (Lay, e. g., finds only 1.1 percent of organic imagery in his own case), on the one hand, and the mass-results of questionaries, on the other. Thus, of 116 Vassar students examined by French, 80 (or 69 per cent) "report that they can call up organic sensations in general, though many of them are unable to recall some of those suggested. Several note that they can not recall any image of organic sensation unless at the time they are inclined to have that sensation." [10] A statement of this kind is, I take it, practically worthless. The second sentence shows some power of introspection; but the 'several' students have evidently confused the renewal or reestablishment of an organic sensation with the appearance of its image. We have no warrant whatever for supposing that the remainder had advanced even thus far in introspection. It may quite well be the case that one and all of them have confused the weak or partial reinstatement of a certain sensation or sense complex with the occurrence of an organic image. The question asked is a question of very considerable introspective difficulty, and can not be settled by so rough a method. I regard this and similar statements in the literature as distinctly misleading; and it is largely for this reason that I venture to plead for more

(40) refined and systematic work. I should like to know precisely what organic sensations can be imaged; whether those that can be imaged are recalled alone or only in total context; whether they can be recalled at will, or occur only 'of themselves,' involuntarily; whether and to what extent their images enter into the ordinary text of consciousness in minds of a certain constitution; whether we all have that Anlage for organic imagery, and can evoke it by practice and attention: and so on. To problems of this kind the questionary method, as ordinarily applied, in not adequate.

E.B. Titchener
Cornell University.


  1. I write this note in some haste, and without an adequate review of the literature. This sentence may, therefore, be exaggerated; but it conveys my impression.
  2. Human Mind, II, 1892, 281.
  3. Psychology, Descriptive and Explanatory, 1894, 118f.
  4. Ibid, 234 f., 244.
  5. 'Principles', II 1890, 44.
  6. Ibid, 458.
  7. Psych. Rev. Mon. Suppl. VII, 1898, 4.
  8. Psych. Rev. III, 1896, 409 f.
  9. Even here, it is not safe to generalize to hastily. 'Nobody except the born blind and deaf, says Lay (op.cit., 4) 'would deny the existence of visual and auditory imagery. French, however, declares that he has 'never been able to discover any distinct and separate auditory images (Psych. Rev., IX, 1902, 51). The point is not important in my present argument.
  10. Psych. Rev., IX, 46, 54.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2