Yesterday, I stumbled upon the term ‘aphantasia’, which describes not being able to visualize / being born with a blind mind’s eye.
In an article by Bill Faw (‘Conflicting Intuitions May Be Based on Differering Abilities: Evidence from Mental Imaging Research‘), it is implied that William James suffered, in lack of a better word, from ‘aphantasia’ based on a specific passage from ‘Principles of Psychology‘):
“[James 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’” (The Religious Life: The Insights of William James).
Which could be summed up as an ability of not being able to “see” the phenomenal world.
I remember noticing a passage in Brent’s biography on Peirce in which Peirce reflects on having extreme difficulty conveying his thoughts. Akin to a semi-severe mental handicap.
Which led me to wonder if it’s been hypohesized that Peirce’s unique thinking style and way of expressing thoughts might be related to his suffering from ‘aphantasia’ (in addition to the proposed ‘rigeminal neuralgia’ and substance abuse.
It’s been suggested that people suffering from ‘aphantasia’ metaphorically think in a low-level language (to borrow a descriptive term from computer science), assembler, where “normal” people process information in a high-level language, which might perhaps explain Peirce’s ability to formulate mathematical concepts, e.g. confidence intervals, ahead of his time / his contemporaries (Peirce describing ‘likelohood’ & ‘confidence’ in roughly 1880 & Neyman & Fisher in 1937).
It’d be great to have your views on this.
Originally posted in the Facebook group ‘Charles S. Peirce Society‘.
References / perspectives
I borrowly heavily from E.P.F Wohlfart‘s research/essay: The People Who Think Without Pictures.
Bill Faw: Conflicting Intuitions May Be Based On Differing Abilities: Evidence from Mental Imaging Research. (2008).
Sir Fran Francis Galton: Statistics of Mental Imagery (1880).
Zeman, Dewar, Della Sala: Lives without imagery — Congential aphantasia (2015)
British Journal of Psychology: ‘Individual differences in reported visual imagery and memory performance‘ (2011)
Mental imagery and creativity: A meta-analytic review study (2003)