Mental Pictures

“It is impossible to think without a mental picture.” --Aristotle (“On Memory and Recollection”.) Agree? Disagree?
Comments on this have been made by Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Wittgenstein, and Ryle. What’s yours?

Yes, It would be impossible to form a picture for the millions of thoughts which pass thro’ everyday, remembering that most of those thoughts are unconcious. If ‘sits and thinks - concentrates’ then prob yes otherwise I think not.


“Mental picture” in this sense is not the same as a picture, like the one represented by your avatar, for example. The mental version is ‘imagery’ only in the sense that memory is provoked and there’s a response according to how you’ve stored and categorized the subject mentally, through your experiences. Like a mental impression of a tart, juicy apple can make your mouth water. It’s such a fast process that you may not even be aware of the image “apple” in your mind until the mouth watering starts. Hearing a song (a form of “mental imaging”, too) might bring about fond feelings of an old girlfriend, etc.

I would think those born blind would’nt have mental picures, no visual refference to base their thoughts on.

Deleuze wrote that ‘philosophy is concept creation’. Conceptualisations invariably have a visual element, don’t they? Deleuze himself was always drawing diagrams to go with his writing.

Yeah, I agree - but I’d generalize “mental picture” to “sensory simulation”. I also think there’s a difference between visualizing and conceptualizing. Every concept seems to come with some sort of visual representation.

Forgive my absence. I’ve not been well. “Sensory simulation” or percept does seem to be a more accurate description of what goes on “in the head”. When I read I silently sound out words. I do the same when I type or write. The philosophic problem that seems to emerge from considerations of such information is that many see physical information, such as electrical goings on in neurons and mental information, such as symbolic representations of percepts as not comparable without categorical error. In “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul” (1994), Francis Crick notes that transduction occurs in the brain. Transduction simply means that input energy and output energy need not be identical e.g., I can see a visual image of the surface of Mars that was transmitted by sound intensities and received and translated into intensities of shades of dots. The informational data is transduced.

In persons born blind or deaf their remaining senses tend to compensate for those they don’t have. Helen Keller was born a deaf mute. She was taught by use of her unimpaired sense of touch.

I should have mentioned this when I thought of it. You beat me to it. I still remember the movie. I think Pattie Duke was the star. When she finally realized what her instructor was trying to communicate to her, Helen ran outside in the pouring rain and hugged a tree and then felt everything in ‘sight’. Her head had to be filled with images that she created without actually seeing them.

Sorry to hear you have not been well J.

A classic movie!!! Other strange aspects of the “mental pictures” include synaesthesia, a condition in which one sense describes another.,e.g. color becomes a scent or sound can be “seen”. This is not just a psychedelic drug experience. Russian research shows that some people can detect images from their backs! I personally get a "taste’ from shampoo and x-rays.

For Deleuze, certainly, the production, consumption and recording of images takes on a special significance… Not just that philosophy is concept creation, but that there are non-philosophical, non-verbal modes of thought: think of the movies, right, a series of images which convey meaning, the interference of sound and language only arising secondarily when we reconstruct the scene.

Incidentally, in synasthesia we see a really fascinating, nearly schizo scrambling of input/output connections–the decoding and re-encoding of flows of percepts, affects, from pure experience to pure information and back. The partial image is disjoined from (say the eye’s) recording-machine, and this partial image-- nothing more than a pre-significant surface-- is plunged into the depths of the unconscious, transformed by desire, and finally re-connected to a different (say the ear’s) recording-machine entirely…

In modern society, thinking visually or thinking in images has become a deep and troubling theme. What is the ground of the significant surface of the images? “Philosophy” tends to distrust the image, in its apparent and deceiving depth, in its shadow-like resemblance to reality… but perhaps “philosophy” is nothing more than an image of thought, contrived to finally prevent people from thinking entirely, perhaps convinced that all thoughts had already been thought…

Excellent post, man! You know your subject. Can you offer personal ideas about how the “image inside the head” relates to the “image ouside the head”?

One can say in the manner of Semiology that we only think in signs.

Another quote that is famous from Aristotle is this:“Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.”-On Interpretation

I guess,instead of using the word ‘images’,we can substitute it with ‘signs’;which can be taken as a science of signs(semiology).

“Although there are many different visual images (in the brain), each of which analyzes visual input in different and complex ways, so far we can locate no single region in which neural activity corresponds exactly to the vivid picture of the world we see in front of our eyes.” (Crick 1994). Parenthesis mine.
But that was 1994. 13 years have elapsed since Crick made that statement. In arenas of expanding scientific research 13 is the new half-century. Surely, someone has come up with something more reasonable by now than looking for a correspondence between the “picture in the head” and the “picture outside the head” in single brain processing regions. IMHO, this needs to be done if only to show Cartesians that the human psyche is not comprised of magic pixie dust entrapped in a meat machine–an idea that brings out the worst in religion and politics.
I don’t think Dennett did it; but I can be persuaded otherwise. My good friend and oftentimes mentor, J.P. notes that the Crick statement “belies belief in the Cartesian theater or in a homunculus”–you know, the observor inside the system.

Does “semiology” allow the concept of physical “information”?

First,you must ask yourself in a non-traditional manner that what do you mean by "concept?"Most people define “concept” as merely as this:a mental construct from a general notion or signs.

To me,on the otherhand,I must concede that “concept” is just a sign of representing something combined by all other particular or characteristic signs that have its own independant existence of the present.

To answer to your question on “physical information” by conceptualizing (to perceive) is to say that whatever object that is a physical one is something to be an icon of resemblance.

I think with a mental picture, but supposedly there are two dimensions to how people think - some people think more verbally or audially or whatever it is. so maybe that’s just me. also, some people actually think they think in words. i suspect they’re just not sensitive enough to their own thought processes, but i can’t really tell how they think. maybe they DO think in words. well, no, then they’d never be able to solve a maze, for example…

my only other thought is that aristotle would have to be using the word ‘picture’ kinda loosely, i’d say thinking is pseudo-visual

Please forgive my unavoidable absence. I’m fighting major devils–not here, of course. :smiley:
My mind is replete with words and pictures. Where philosophy has problems with this is how to describe this mental content without going to the default position of saying mind and matter ( as physical) are two different categories and showing how the one describes the other is a categorical error (Descartes). The problem is how to hold a verb still enough to see it as a noun. I think all of us have difficulty here by wanting to fill our personal, substantiating memory cache’s with treasures that cannot deteriorate.
I wish I could describe the how and why of plush subjectivity in the teeth of objective changes. If you can do so, I’ll gladly wash your feet.