19.080 visual imagination

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 08:12:57 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 80.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: George Whitesel <whitesel_at_jsucc.jsu.edu> (5)
         Subject: Visual Imagination

   [2] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (9)
         Subject: Re: 19.078 visual imagination and memory

   [3] From: sramsay_at_uga.edu (57)
         Subject: Re: 19.078 visual imagination and memory

         Date: Tue, 07 Jun 2005 08:06:49 +0100
         From: George Whitesel <whitesel_at_jsucc.jsu.edu>
         Subject: Visual Imagination


       For what it may be worth, Aldous Huxley complained of much the same
handicap. All the best.


         Date: Tue, 07 Jun 2005 08:07:24 +0100
         From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.078 visual imagination and memory

Willard, I used to ask my students what,if anything, they "saw" while
reading a novel: the results were as varied as the students. Some claimed
to se a sort of inner movie; others saw nothing at all.

As far as I can tell, I sort of hear the words more than see them -- it's
the sound and the syntax and the grammar and the tone that is
interesting. I sort of see fuzzy and vague analogs to what is being
described if I slow down long enough and try to do it. But the
relationship between literature and visuals has been problematic at least
as long as people have so badly misread Horace's _ut pictura poesis_.

         Date: Tue, 07 Jun 2005 08:08:10 +0100
         From: sramsay_at_uga.edu
         Subject: Re: 19.078 visual imagination and memory

On Mon, Jun 06, 2005 at 09:50:19AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group (by way
of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
> Stephen Woodruff surprises me by being surprised that anyone else should
> have little to no visual imagination, i.e. the ability to see something in
> the mind's eye. I had assumed that the condition -- let us not strive for
> an entry in the manual of diseases, say under "Visual Imagination
> Deprivation Syndrome (VIDS)" -- was common, since I've had it, i.e. not had
> one, all my life.

If you and Stephen have "VIDS," then I surely have whatever its
   opposite happens to be.

I have always performed dismally on standardized tests. My SAT
scores were so low, I despaired of getting into college at one
point, and my GRE scores (the graduate version of the SATs in the
US) weren't any better. I'm sure I was excluded from the candidate
list for several US graduate schools because, despite superb
undergraduate grades, I was below the minimum requirement on test

As a schoolchild, however, my scores on differential aptitude and
spatial reasoning tests placed me into the upper reaches of the 99th
percentile. The conversation thankfully never occurred, but I image
that the meeting between the principal and my parents would have
proceeded as follows: "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, our testing
indicates that your son is, in all cases, a kind of imbecile, and
yet he appears to be the sort of sheet-metal prodigy such as occurs
only once in a generation."

I find it almost impossible to do even basic arithmetic without
picturing, in my mind's eye, a number line. In studying foreign
languages, I have managed to succeed only by bringing to mind the
actual image of the page of the textbook on which the verb paradigms
are represented. Recently, I had to wade through a rather abstruse
combinatorics problem for a program I was writing. My desk is still
covered with pages of graph paper upon which I attempted to
translate the problem into pictures and diagrams. In writing
software, I find that I conceive of all algorithms and data
structures as various sort of moving images that interact with one
another (I'm not speaking of the interface, but of the inner
workings of the program). I literally do not know any other way to
work through such problems, even though I think the task would seem
to most people to be distinctly non-visual.

On the other hand, I have never been able to draw and I have little
talent for design (I tell me students that I can teach them to make
a web page do absolutely anything except look good).

Stephen Woodruff's report is as baffling to me as I suspect mine is
to him, and yet both he and I manage to make our way through the
world. The fact that I make my living working with fairly abstract
and non-visual material indicates to me that we are all very
adaptive organisms who bend the world to our own peculiar way of


Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Georgia
email: sramsay_at_uga.edu
web: http://cantor.english.uga.edu/
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
Received on Tue Jun 07 2005 - 03:27:29 EDT

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