This, in fragments, was initially posted as comments to a FaceBook post.
This will be a “brief” note on diversity with mental imagery competencies. At age 22 (now 80) I discovered that I lacked mental imagery in ALL sensory modes. I have yet to discover one other person so lacking. An old study showed 3% lacked visual imagery, 7% lacked auditory imagery. This led to informal research into mental imagery, as I earned two PhDs, in physics and educational psychology. 23 years teaching multiple sections of Intro Psychology revealed a vast variation of imagery competencies in the student population. It also revealed the almost universal assumption the everyone has similar imagery experiences to oneself.
I am a champion of mental imagery and was part of its resurgence as legit research decades ago, after suppression by behaviorism. However, colleagues in the study of mental imagery were rather brutal in their attacking my claims of lacking imagery. They even claim that it is impossible to not have mental imagery. My mind is neither visual or verbal, the only two categories imagery scientists permit.
The Kossyln’s, et. al. 2006 book, The Case for Mental Imagery (referenced in the Facebook post, above) – which I have yet to read, appears to make little reference to the vast diversity of mental imagery. The “mental imagery DEBATE”, the theme of the book, IMO appears “esoteric” and a rehashing of the early, highly controversial conflict about imagery. I speculate that the leaders of the non-imagery, behaviorist view included persons lacking visual imagery.
Without light, I have a definable visual field that is usually mottled gray. It can take on temporary fine textures but no representations. Occasional swirls of color. I have no control of what appears in my visual field. I discovered what I was missing when I had a brief, brilliant visual image when in graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1957. I have had three in my life. Closed eyes under LSD was overwhelming with fine grain abstract, multiple colors and very rapid changing visual images. I couldn’t keep my eyes closed for more than a second or two.
I am a rare type of savant. But my disabilities and compensatory abilities don’t lie in accepted categories. I have many close and intimate friends who are very strong imagers. I like visual apps that facilitate my work; but find most inadequate. I believe I have visual information in my subconscious, but lack a visual working consciousness. Also, lacking auditory imagery blocks my ability to become fluent in second languages.
Strong mental imagery is both an asset and a handicap. Visual memories are powerful anchors resisting some conceptual imagination. Some persons are strongly “traditional” because of persistent visual remembrances. I have none, which frees me to be more future oriented. My futures imagination is also not limited by imagery. Futuristic visuals, from history, are astounding in what they don’t imagine changing from the present of the artist.
Many persons have weak and not very useful visual imagery, but still experience the handicaps of imagery. The role of imagery in reading with comprehension, descriptive vs conceptual literature, is profound – but ignored by researchers in reading. I am a very strong supporter of a new digital visual language – but its design cannot be dominated by strong visualizers.
There should not be competition between visual imagers and “conceptualizers”. Visual imagery mentation is mammalian, and foundational. Symbolic conceptualization and languaging are new and uniquely human. Evolution has yet to adequately integrate the two. Functional autistics (Temple Grandin) attest to “visual thinking”. Doug Hofstadter’s [Surfaces and Essences] detailed exploration of analogy-in-thinking, demonstrates analogy-beyond-visuals.
I am strongly aware that persons with powerful mental imagery experience what I will never experience. Their perspectives are highly valued. I am also aware, from their reports, that persons with powerful visual imagery have masked processes that I experience first hand.
In my terminology, the “conceptual” relates to patterns within patterns, where the components are often sensory images. Visualizers attempt to represent these patterns with visual images. However, humans can use (subconsciously) relationship patterns that are not fundamentally visual. Symbolic systems utilize visuals in representation, but transcend the visual. My lack of visual imagery (beyond perceptual visual imagery) provides me “access” to some conceptuals-without-visuals. But, these processes are subconscious, where I am “informed” of parts in my experientials.
The diversity of humans is far vaster than we individually imagine, which is a powerful asset for our survival/thrival, if acknowledged.