Perplexities of Consciousness, Chapter Three:

Galton's (Other) Disaster

Eric Schwitzgebel

in draft

In the 1870s, Francis Galton asked people to describe their visual imagery experiences when recalling their breakfast table as they sat at it in that morning.  Apparently ordinary people gave very different reports, spanning the full range from claiming that imagery was entirely unknown to them to saying that their imagery was as clear and detailed, or even more so, than ordinary vision.  Since then, a long history of attempts to correlate differences in subjective report of imagery experience with performance on presumably imagery-facilitated tasks (like mental rotation, mental unfolding, visual memory, and visual creativity) has largely failed.  Given the ease with which most people can be brought to uncertainty about the character of their imagery experience (its richness of detail, its stability, its coloration, etc.), and given the history of debates in psychology and philosophy about the phenomenal character of imagery (e.g., the "imageless thought" debate, the Locke-Berkeley debate about abstract ideas), it shouldn't be too surprising that people's reports about their imagery experience don't reliably reflect real differences in their underlying experience.  Hence, the disaster of Galton's subjective methodology.

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