Sohee Park Stephen M. Kosslyn Harvard University
I am myself a good draughtsman, and have a very lively interest in pictures, statues, architectures and decoration, and a keen sensibility to artistic effects. But I am an extremely poor visualizer, and find myself often unable to reproduce in my mind's eye pictures which I have most carefully examined.
. . . I can seldom call to mind even a single letter of the alphabet in purely retinal terms. I must trace the letter by running my mental eye over its contour in order that the image of it shall have any distinctness at all.
William James ( II: 53, 61)
Although the theories in William James Principles of Psychology have had an enormous impact on certain fields within psychology (e.g., the study of emotion), James's ideas about the sensory-perceptual aspects of the mind have been largely neglected. We argue in this chapter that James's approach to the study of imagery is surprisingly contemporary, and attempt to note areas illuminated by James within this field that have yet to receive their due in contemporary research.
Considering the great emphasis on perception and psychophysics at the time of his writing, and also the fact that he studied in Germany where these areas were being investigated with vigor and enthusiasm, it seems unlikely that James was uninterested in sensory-perceptual processes. James devotes one chapter of his Principles to sensation, one to imagination, and two to perception. His treatment of these areas is sophisticated and elegant, yet his influence on contemporary work appears to be negligible. This is in contrast to Helmholtz, whose work on vision and audition has influenced us directly and whose hypotheses we attempt to test and refine to this day. Perhaps this relative lack of influence is due to James's being perceived pri