Contributions to Thought Psychology of the Image



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Contributions to Thought




Psychology of the Image

Introduction to Psychology of the Image

When we refer to the “space of representation” some readers may think of a kind of “container” in whose interior are certain “contents” of consciousness. If they further believe that those “contents” are images, and that those images operate as mere copies of perception, we will have a few difficulties to sort out before we are able to come to agreement. Indeed, those who think in this way position themselves within the perspective of a naive psychology—a branch of the natural sciences—that begins without examination from a vision oriented toward the study of psychological phenomena in terms of materiality.

It is useful to clarify from the outset that our position regarding the theme of consciousness and its functions does not share this assumption. For us, the consciousness is intentionality. Clearly, intentionality does not exist in natural phenomena and is totally alien to the studies of the sciences occupied with the materiality of phenomena.

It is our aim in this work to give an account of the image as an active way for the consciousness to be in the world—a way of being that cannot be independent of spatiality, and in which the numerous functions fulfilled by the image depend upon the position that it assumes in this spatiality.


Chapter 1: The Problem of Space in the Study
of Phenomena of Consciousness

1.1 Background

Through the years there has been no lack of psychologists who, having located the sensation-producing phenomena in an “external” space, have spoken of representations as if they were simply copies of what was perceived. It seems especially odd, then, that when dealing with the facts of representation, they have not concerned themselves with clarifying “where” these phenomena take place. They have described the facts of consciousness, linking them to the passage of time (without explaining that passage), and they have interpreted the sources of these events as determinant causes (located in an external space). No doubt they thought that in this way they had exhausted the primary questions (and answers) that had to be dealt with in order to give a foundation to their science. They believed that the time in which both internal and external phenomena take place is an absolute time. Similarly, they maintained that since space is often distorted in images, dreams, and hallucinations, it can only hold for “external” reality and not for the consciousness.



Various psychologists have concerned themselves with trying to understand whether representation is proper to the soul, the brain, or some other entity. In this context we cannot forget Descartes’s celebrated letter to Christina of Sweden in which, as a way of explaining how thought and will are able to set the human machine into motion, he mentions a “point of union” between the soul and the body.

It is strange to think that it is precisely this philosopher who, while bringing us so much closer to a comprehension of the immediate and indubitable data of thought, nonetheless failed to take note of the theme of the spatiality of representation as a datum independent of the spatiality that the senses obtain from their external sources. Certainly, as the founder of geometrical optics and the creator of analytic geometry, he was very familiar with the problems related to locating phenomena precisely in space. He had all the necessary elements (both his methodological doubt and his concern with the placement of phenomena in space), but failed to take that additional small step that would have allowed him to grasp the idea of the location of representation in various “points” of the space of consciousness.

Almost three hundred years passed before the concept of representation became independent of naive spatial representation and acquired its own meaning. This was thanks to the reevaluation or, more correctly, the re-creation of the idea of intentionality, an idea that had previously been noted by the scholastic philosophers in their studies of Aristotle. The credit for this re-creation belongs principally to Franz Brentano, and numerous references to the problem of intentionality can be found in his work. Though Brentano did not fully develop these notions, his efforts nonetheless laid the foundation for subsequent advances.

It was the work of one of Brentano’s disciples, however, that finally allowed an adequate statement of the problem and so permitted an advance toward solutions that, in my view, will end up revolutionizing not only the discipline of psychology (apparently the appropriate field for the development of these themes) but many others as well.

In Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, Husserl studied the “regional idea of the thing in general” as that self-identical something that is maintained in the midst of the innumerable changes of this or that determined form, and that makes itself known in the corresponding infinite series of noemata, also of a determined form.

The thing is given in its ideal essence of res temporalis in the necessary “form” of time. It is given in its ideal essence of res materialis in its substantial unity, and in its ideal essence of res extensa in the “form” of space. This is so notwithstanding the infinitely varied changes of form or, given a fixed form, the changes of place, which can also be infinitely varied or “mobile.” Thus, Husserl says, we apprehend the idea of space and the ideas included in it. In this way, the problem of the origin of the representation in space is reduced through phenomenological analysis to the different expressions in which space exhibits itself as an intuitive unity.1

Husserl places us in the field of eidetic reduction, and though innumerable insights may be drawn from his works, our interest here is oriented toward themes that are proper to a phenomenological psychology rather than to phenomenological philosophy. Thus, even though we will repeatedly abandon the epoché of the Husserlian method, these transgressions will find their justification in the need to create a more accessible explanation of our point of view. On the other hand, if post-Husserlian psychology has failed to consider the problem that we will refer to as “space of representation,” this indicates nothing more than the need for some of its theses to be reconsidered. In any event, it would be excessive to accuse us of a naive relapse into the world of the “natural mind.”2

Moreover, we are not concerned with “the problem of the origin of the representation of space” but, on the contrary, with the problem of the origin of the “space” that accompanies any representation and in which all representation is given. Since the “space” of representation is not independent of representations, how could we understand such a space other than as the consciousness of the spatiality of any representation? And even if the direction of our study involves observing representation introspectively (and hence, naively) and also introspectively observing the spatiality of the act of observing, still, nothing prevents us from attending to the acts of consciousness that refer to spatiality. This could later be developed into a phenomenological reduction or, without denying the importance of that reduction, it could be postponed, in which case the most that could be said is that this description is incomplete.

Finally, as regards antecedents in the attempt to describe the spatiality of the phenomena of representation, we should note that Binswanger has also made a contribution, though without having reached an understanding of the profound significance of “where” the representations are given.3

1.2 Distinctions Among Sensation, Perception, and Image

Defining sensations in terms of afferent nervous processes that begin in a receptor and travel to the central nervous system, or the like, is something proper to physiology rather than psychology, and such descriptions are not useful for our purposes.

There have also been attempts to define sensation as any experience, out of the total number of perceptual experiences that could exist within a determined modality, as given by the formula (UT-LT)/DT where UT denotes the upper threshold, LT the lower threshold, and DT the differential threshold. This way of presenting things does not allow us to grasp the function of the element that is being studied, and in general the same objection holds for all approaches that share an atomistic background. On the contrary, this approach appeals to a structure (e.g., perception) in order to isolate the “constitutive” elements of this ambit, and from there it then attempts to explain, in a circular way, that same structure.

We can provisionally understand sensation as the register obtained upon detecting a stimulus from the external or internal environment that produces a variation in the tone of operation of the affected sense. But the study of sensation must go further, since we observe that there are sensations that accompany the acts of thinking, remembering, apperception, and so on. In every case there is a variation in the tone of operation of a sense or, as with coenesthesia, a combination of senses, but of course thinking is not “felt” in the same way or mode as an external object. Therefore, the sensation appears as a structuring carried out by the consciousness in its activity of synthesis, but analyzed in a particular way in order to describe its original source, that is, in order to describe the sense from which the impulse originated.

As for perception, there have been various definitions, such as: “Perception is the act of becoming aware of external objects, their qualities or relationships, and unlike memory and other mental processes, perception follows directly from sensory processes.” However, we understand perception as a structuring of sensation that is performed by the consciousness in reference to a sense or combination of senses.

The image has been described as “an element of experience arising from a central point, and possessing all the attributes of sensation.” We prefer to understand the image as a structured and formalized representation of the sensations or perceptions that originate, or have originated, from the external or internal environment. The image, then, is not a “copy” but a synthesis; an intention, not the mere passivity of the consciousness.4



1.3 The Idea of “Consciousness-Being-in-the-World” as a
Descriptive Touchstone in Facing the Interpretations
of Naive Psychology

We must revive the idea that all sensations, perceptions, and images are forms of consciousness, and that it would therefore be more correct to speak of “consciousness of sensation,” “consciousness of perceptions,” and “consciousness of the image.” Here we are not taking an apperceptive stance in which there are both psychological phenomena and an awareness of them. Rather, we are saying that it is consciousness itself that modifies its own way of being, or better, that consciousness is nothing but a way of being—being emotional, for example, or being expectant, and so on.

When imagining an object, the consciousness does not stand apart, uncommitted and neutral toward this operation; the consciousness in this situation is a commitment referred to the imagined. Even in the aforementioned case of apperception, we would still have to speak of consciousness in an apperceptive attitude.

It follows that there is no consciousness but consciousness of something, and that this something is referred to a type of world—naive, natural, or phenomenological; “external” or “internal.” Our understanding is not helped, then, by studying the state of fear of danger, for example, in a kind of descriptive schizophrenia in which we take as given that we are investigating a type of emotion that does not implicate other functions of the consciousness. In reality, things are not like this at all.

When we are afraid of a danger, for example, the whole consciousness is in a state of danger. And even though we might recognize other functions (such as perception, reasoning, or memory), it is as if they were now operating saturated by the situation of danger, with everything referred to the danger. In this way, consciousness is a global way of being-in-the-world and a global behavior in front of the world. And if psychological phenomena are spoken of in terms of synthesis, we must know to which synthesis we are referring and what is our starting point in order to understand what separates our concepts from others that also speak of “synthesis,” “globality,” “structure,” and so on.5

At the same time, having established the character of our synthesis, nothing prevents us from going deeper into whatever form of analysis will allow us to better clarify and illustrate our exposition. But these analyses will always be understood in a larger context, and the object or the act under consideration cannot be made independent of that context, nor can it be isolated from its reference to something. The same holds for the psychic “functions,” which are working conjointly according to the way of being of the consciousness at the moment we are considering it.

Is the point, then, that there are sensations, perceptions, and images acting even during full vigil, when, for example, we are dealing with a mathematical problem that occupies our entire interest? Is this so even during the exercise of mathematical abstractions in which we must avoid every type of “distraction”? Indeed, we are saying that such abstractions would not be possible if these mathematicians did not have sensory registers of their mental activity, or if they did not perceive the temporal succession of their thought processes, or if they did not imagine thanks to mathematical signs or symbols (symbols defined by convention and later memorized). Finally, if our mathematizing subjects wish to work with meanings, they must recognize that these are not independent of the expressions that are formally presented to them through their sight or their representation.

But we go even further than that in maintaining that other functions are working simultaneously, or in saying that the state of vigil, in which these operations are being carried out, is not isolated from other levels of activity of the consciousness, is not isolated from other types of operations that are more fully expressed in semi-sleep or sleep. And it is this simultaneity of work of distinct levels that allows us to speak of “intuitions,” “inspirations,” or “unexpected solutions” that at times suddenly burst into logical discourse, adding their own schemas, in this case within the context of doing mathematics. Scientific literature is filled with examples of problems whose solutions have appeared in activities far removed from those of logical discourse, illustrating precisely the involvement of the whole consciousness in the search for solutions to such problems.

We do not support this position on the basis of neurophysiological schemes that uphold these claims on the basis of the activity registered by an electroencephalograph. Nor do we support it by appealing to the action of some supposed “subconscious,” “unconscious” or any other epochal myth based on dubiously formulated scientific premises. We base our approach on a psychology of the consciousness that acknowledges diverse levels of work and operations of varying importance in each psychic phenomenon, all of which are always integrated in the action of a global consciousness.

1.4 The Internal Register Through Which the Image
Is Given in Some “Place”

Pressing the keys on the keyboard I have in front of me causes the appearance of graphic characters that I can see on the monitor connected to it. The movements of my fingers are associated with particular letters, and automatically, following my thoughts, the phrases and sentences flow out. Now, suppose that I close my eyes and stop thinking about the previous discussion in order to concentrate on the image of the keyboard. In some way I have the keyboard “right in front of me,” represented by a visual image that is almost as if copied from the perception I was experiencing before I closed my eyes.

Opening my eyes, I get up from my chair and take a few steps across the room. Again I close my eyes, and upon remembering the keyboard, I imagine it somewhere behind me. If I wanted to observe the image exactly as the keyboard presented itself to my perception, I would have to place it in a position “in front of my eyes.” To do that, I must either mentally turn my body around or “move” the machine through the “external space” until it is located in front of me. Now the machine is “in front of my eyes,” but this produces a spatial dislocation, because if I open my eyes I will see a window in front of me. In this way, it becomes evident that the location of the object in the representation is placed in a “space” that may not coincide with the space in which the original perception was given.

Furthermore, I can go on to imagine the keyboard located in the window in front of me, or I can imagine the whole ensemble closer to or farther away from me. I can even expand or shrink the size of the whole scene or some of its components. I can distort these bodies, and finally, I can even change their colors.

But I also discover some impossibilities. I cannot, for example, imagine those objects without color, no matter how hard I try to make them “transparent,” since it is precisely color or “shade” that will define the edges or differences of the transparency. Clearly, I am confirming that extension and color are not independent contents, and hence I cannot imagine color without extension. It is precisely this point that makes me reflect that if I am unable to represent color without extension, then the extension of the representation also denotes the “spatiality” in which the represented object is placed. It is this spatiality that interests us.


Chapter 2: Location of What Is Represented


in the Spatiality of Representation

2.1 Different Types of Perception and Representation

Psychologists through the ages have made extensive lists dealing with perceptions and sensations, and today, with the discovery of new neuroreceptors, they have begun to talk about thermoceptors and baroceptors, as well as internal detectors of acidity, alkalinity, and so forth.



To the sensations corresponding to the external senses we will add those that correspond to diffuse senses such as the kinesthetic (movement and corporal posture) and coenesthetic (register of temperature, pain, and so on—that is, the register of the intrabody in general) which, even when explained in terms of an internal tactile sense, cannot be reduced to that.

For our purposes what has been noted above should suffice, without claiming that this in any way exhausts the possible registers that correspond to the external and internal senses or the multiple perceptual combinations possible between them.

It is important, then, to establish a parallel between representations and perceptions that are generically classified as “internal” or “external.” It is unfortunate that the term “representation” has so frequently been limited to visual images.6 Moreover, spatiality seems almost always to be referred to the visual, even though auditory perceptions and representations also reveal the sources of stimuli localized in some “place.” This is also the case with touch, taste, smell, and, of course, with those senses referred to the position of the body and the phenomena of the intrabody.7

2.2 The Interaction of Images Referred to
Different Perceptual Sources

In the earlier example of automatism we were dealing with the connection between the flow of words and the movement of the fingers, which when striking the keys triggered graphic characters on the monitor. This clearly illustrates a case where precise spatial positions are associated with kinesthetic registers. If spatiality did not exist for these registers, such an association would be impossible. But it is also interesting to verify how thought in the form of words is translated into the movement of the fingers, linked to particular positions of the keys. Moreover, such “translation” is quite common, and frequently occurs with representations based on perceptions originating in different senses.

For example, all we need to do is close our eyes and listen to different sounds in order to observe that our eyes tend to move in the direction of the auditory perception. Moreover, if we imagine a piece of music, we can observe how our mechanisms of vocalization tend to adapt, especially to high- and low-pitched sounds. This phenomenon of “subvocalization” is independent of whether the piece of music has been imagined as sung or hummed, or whether the representation involves an entire symphony orchestra. The reference to the representation of high-pitched sounds as “high” and low-pitched sounds as “low” is the telltale sign that confirms the existence—in association with the sounds—of spatiality and positioning in the system of vocalization.

There are also other interactions between images that correspond to different senses. In relation to this question, it could be that ordinary language offers greater insight than scholarly treatises. Consider such cases as “sweet” love and the “bitter” taste of defeat, “hard” words, “gloomy” thoughts, “great” men, the “fire” of desire, and “sharp” minds.

In light of all this, it should not seem strange that many of the allegorizations that occur in dreams, folklore, myths, religions, and even daily reverie are based on translations from one sense to another, and hence from one system of images to another. So for example, a raging fire may appear in a dream from which the subject awakens with a bad case of heartburn; or the subject, having dreamed of being mired in quicksand, may wake to find his legs entangled in the sheets. What seems most appropriate, then, in dealing with these phenomena is to base our interpretations on an exhaustive investigation of the immediately given rather than adding new myths that claim to interpret these dramatizations.

2.3 Representation: Capacity for Transformation

In our example we saw how the representation of the keyboard could be altered in its color, shape, size, position, perspective, and so on. It is also clear that we could completely “recreate” the object in question, modifying it until it became unrecognizable. If, finally, our keyboard becomes a rock (as the prince becomes a frog), even if all the characteristics in our new image are those of a rock, for us that rock will remain “the transformed keyboard.” Such recognition is possible thanks to the memories and the history that we keep alive in our new representation. This new image will involve a structuring that is no longer simply visual. And it is precisely this structuring in which the image is given that allows us to establish memories, climates, and affective tones related to the object in question, even when it has disappeared or been drastically modified. Conversely, we can observe that the modification of the general structure will produce variations in the image (when recalled or superimposed on the perception).8

We find ourselves, then, in a world in which the perception seems to inform us of its variations, while the image, in stimulating our memory, launches us to reinterpret and modify the data coming from that world. Accordingly, to every perception there is a corresponding representation that unfailingly modifies the “data” of “reality.” In other words, the structure perception-image is a behavior of the consciousness in the world, whose meaning is the transformation of this world.9




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