Francis Galton.

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and infirm, but it is out of place among members of a thriving
resolute community during the fifty or more years of their middle
life. Those who have been born in a free country feel the atmosphere
of a paternal government very oppressive. The hearty and earnest
political and individual life which is found when every man has a
continual sense of public responsibility, and knows that success
depends on his own right judgment and exertion, is replaced under a
despotism by an indolent reliance upon what its master may direct,
and by a demoralising conviction that personal advancement is best
secured by solicitations and favour.


It is needless for me to speak here about the differences in
intellectual power between different men and different races, or
about the convertibility of genius as shown by different members of
the same gifted family achieving eminence in varied ways, as I have
already written at length on these subjects in _Hereditary Genius_
and in _Antecedents of English Men of Science_. It is, however, well
to remark that during the fourteen years that have elapsed since the
former book was published, numerous fresh instances have arisen of
distinction being attained by members of the gifted families whom I
quoted as instances of heredity, thus strengthening my arguments.


Anecdotes find their way into print, from time to time, of persons
whose visual memory is so clear and sharp as to present mental
pictures that may be scrutinised with nearly as much ease and
prolonged attention as if they were real objects. I became
interested in the subject and made a rather extensive inquiry into
the mode of visual presentation in different persons, so far as
could be gathered from their respective statements. It seemed to me
that the results might illustrate the essential differences between
the mental operations of different men, that they might give some
clue to the origin of visions, and that the course of the inquiry
might reveal some previously unnoticed facts. It has done all this
more or less, and I will explain the results in the present and in
the three following chapters.

It is not necessary to trouble the reader with my earlier tentative
steps to find out what I desired to learn. After the inquiry had
been fairly started it took the form of submitting a certain number
of printed questions to a large number of persons (see Appendix E).
There is hardly any more difficult task than that of framing
questions which are not likely to be misunderstood, which admit of
easy reply, and which cover the ground of inquiry. I did my best in
these respects, without forgetting the most important part of
all - namely, to tempt my correspondents to write freely in fuller
explanation of their replies, and on cognate topics as well. These
separate letters have proved more instructive and interesting by far
than the replies to the set questions.

The first group of the rather long series of queries related to the
illumination, definition, and colouring of the mental image, and
were framed thus: -

"Before addressing yourself to any of the Questions on the
opposite page, think of some definite object - suppose it is
your breakfast-table as you sat down to it this morning - and
consider carefully the picture that rises before your mind's eye."

1. _Illumination_. - Is the image dim or fairly clear? Is its
brightness comparable to that of the actual scene?

2. _Definition_. - Are all the objects pretty well defined at the
same time, or is the place of sharpest definition at any one moment
more contracted than it is in a real scene?

3. _Colouring_. - Are the colours of the china, of the toast,
bread-crust, mustard, meat, parsley, or whatever may have been on
the table, quite distinct and natural?

The earliest results of my inquiry amazed me. I had begun by
questioning friends in the scientific world, as they were the most
likely class of men to give accurate answers concerning this faculty
of visualising, to which novelists and poets continually allude,
which has left an abiding mark on the vocabularies of every language,
and which supplies the material out of which dreams and the
well-known hallucinations of sick people are built.

To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of
science to whom I first applied protested that mental imagery was
unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in
supposing that the words "mental imagery" really expressed what I
believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of
its true nature than a colour-blind man, who has not discerned his
defect, has of the nature of colour. They had a mental deficiency of
which they were unaware, and naturally enough supposed that those
who affirmed they possessed it, were romancing. To illustrate their
mental attitude it will be sufficient to quote a few lines from the
letter of one of my correspondents, who writes: -

"These questions presuppose assent to some sort of a proposition
regarding the 'mind's eye,' and the 'images' which it sees.... This
points to some initial fallacy.... It is only by a figure of speech
that I can describe my recollection of a scene as a 'mental image'
which I can 'see' with my 'mind's eye.' ... I do not see it ... any
more than a man sees the thousand lines of Sophocles which under due
pressure he is ready to repeat. The memory possesses it, etc."

Much the same result followed inquiries made for me by a friend
among members of the French Institute.

On the other hand, when I spoke to persons whom I met in general
society, I found an entirely different disposition to prevail. Many
men and a yet larger number of women, and many boys and girls,
declared that they habitually saw mental imagery, and that it was
perfectly distinct to them and full of colour. The more I pressed
and cross-questioned them, professing myself to be incredulous, the
more obvious was the truth of their first assertions. They described
their imagery in minute detail, and they spoke in a tone of surprise
at my apparent hesitation in accepting what they said. I felt that I
myself should have spoken exactly as they did if I had been
describing a scene that lay before my eyes, in broad daylight, to a
blind man who persisted in doubting the reality of vision. Reassured
by this happier experience, I recommenced to inquire among
scientific men, and soon found scattered instances of what I sought,
though in by no means the same abundance as elsewhere. I then
circulated my questions more generally among my friends and through
their hands, and obtained the replies that are the main subject of
this and of the three next chapters. They were from persons of both
sexes, and of various ages, and in the end from occasional
correspondents in nearly every civilised country.

I have also received batches of answers from various educational
establishments both in England and America, which were made after
the masters had fully explained the meaning of the questions, and
interested the boys in them. These have the merit of returns derived
from a general census, which my other data lack, because I cannot
for a moment suppose that the writers of the latter are a haphazard
proportion of those to whom they were sent. Indeed I know of some who,
disavowing all possession of the power, and of many others who,
possessing it in too faint a degree to enable them to express what
their experiences really were, in a manner satisfactory to themselves,
sent no returns at all. Considerable statistical similarity was,
however, observed between the sets of returns furnished by the
schoolboys and those sent by my separate correspondents, and I may
add that they accord in this respect with the oral information I
have elsewhere obtained. The conformity of replies from so many
different sources which was clear from the first, the fact of their
apparent trustworthiness being on the whole much increased by
cross-examination (though I could give one or two amusing instances
of break-down), and the evident effort made to give accurate answers,
have convinced me that it is a much easier matter than I had
anticipated to obtain trustworthy replies to psychological questions.
Many persons, especially women and intelligent children, take
pleasure in introspection, and strive their very best to explain
their mental processes. I think that a delight in self-dissection
must be a strong ingredient in the pleasure that many are said to
take in confessing themselves to priests.

Here, then, are two rather notable results: the one is the proved
facility of obtaining statistical insight into the processes of
other persons' minds, whatever _à priori_ objection may have been
made as to its possibility; and the other is that scientific men, as
a class, have feeble powers of visual representation. There is no
doubt whatever on the latter point, however it may be accounted for.
My own conclusion is, that an over-ready perception of sharp mental
pictures is antagonistic to the acquirement of habits of
highly-generalised and abstract thought, especially when the steps
of reasoning are carried on by words as symbols, and that if the
faculty of seeing the pictures was ever possessed by men who think
hard, it is very apt to be lost by disuse. The highest minds are
probably those in which it is not lost, but subordinated, and is
ready for use on suitable occasions. I am, however, bound to say,
that the missing faculty seems to be replaced so serviceably by other
modes of conception, chiefly, I believe, connected with the
incipient motor sense, not of the eyeballs only but of the muscles
generally, that men who declare themselves entirely deficient in the
power of seeing mental pictures can nevertheless give life-like
descriptions of what they have seen, and can otherwise express
themselves as if they were gifted with a vivid visual imagination.
They can also become painters of the rank of Royal Academicians.

The facts I am now about to relate are obtained from the returns of
100 adult men, of whom 19 are Fellows of the Royal Society, mostly
of very high repute, and at least twice, and I think I may say three
times, as many more are persons of distinction in various kinds of
intellectual work. As already remarked, these returns taken by
themselves do not profess to be of service in a general statistical
sense, but they are of much importance in showing how men of
exceptional accuracy express themselves when they are speaking of
mental imagery. They also testify to the variety of experiences to
be met with in a moderately large circle. I will begin by giving a
few cases of the highest, of the medium, and of the lowest order of
the faculty of visualising. The hundred returns were first
classified according to the order of the faculty, as judged to the
best of my ability from the whole of what was said in them, and of
what I knew from other sources of the writers; and the number
prefixed to each quotation shows its place in the class-list.


(From returns, furnished by 100 men, at least half of whom are
distinguished in science or in other fields of intellectual work.)

_Cases where the faculty is very high_.

1. Brilliant, distinct, never blotchy.

2. Quite comparable to the real object. I feel as though I was
dazzled, _e.g._ when recalling the sun to my mental vision.

3. In some instances quite as bright as an actual scene.

4. Brightness as in the actual scene.

5. Thinking of the breakfast-table this morning, all the objects in
my mental picture are as bright as the actual scene.

6. The image once seen is perfectly clear and bright.

7. Brightness at first quite comparable to actual scene.

8. The mental image appears to correspond in all respects with
reality. I think it is as clear as the actual scene.

9. The brightness is perfectly comparable to that of the real scene.

10. I think the illumination of the imaginary image is nearly equal
to that of the real one.

11. All clear and bright; all the objects seem to me well defined at
the same time.

12. I can see my breakfast-table or any equally familiar thing with
my mind's eye, quite as well in all particulars as I can do if the
reality is before me.

_Cases where the faculty is mediocre_.

46. Fairly clear and not incomparable in illumination with that of
the real scene, especially when I first catch it. Apt to become
fainter when more particularly attended to.

47. Fairly clear, not quite comparable to that of the actual scene.
Some objects are more sharply defined than others, the more familiar
objects coming more distinctly in my mind.

48. Fairly clear as a general image; details rather misty.

49. Fairly clear, but not equal to the scene. Defined, but not
sharply; not all seen with equal clearness.

50. Fairly clear. Brightness probably at least one-half to
two-thirds of original. [The writer is a physiologist.] Definition
varies very much, one or two objects being much more distinct than
the others, but the latter come out clearly if attention be paid to

51. Image of my breakfast-table fairly clear, but not quite so
bright as the reality. Altogether it is pretty well defined; the
part where I sit and its surroundings are pretty well so.

52. Fairly clear, but brightness not comparable to that of the
actual scene. The objects are sharply defined; some of them are
salient, and others insignificant and dim, but by separate efforts I
can take a visualised inventory of the whole table.

53. Details of breakfast-table _when the scene is reflected on_ are
fairly defined and complete, but I have had a familiarity of many
years with my own breakfast-table, and the above would not be the
case with a table seen casually unless there were some striking
peculiarity in it,

54. I can recall any single object or group of objects, but not the
whole table at once. The things recalled are generally clearly
defined. Our table is a long one; I can in my mind pass my eyes all
down the table and see the different things distinctly, but not the
whole table at once.

_Cases where the faculty is at the lowest_.

89. Dim and indistinct, yet I can give an account of this morning's
breakfast-table; split herrings, broiled chickens, bacon, rolls,
rather light-coloured marmalade, faint green plates with stiff pink
flowers, the girls' dresses, etc. etc. I can also tell where all the
dishes were, and where the people sat (I was on a visit). But my
imagination is seldom pictorial except between sleeping and waking,
when I sometimes see rather vivid forms.

90. Dim and not comparable in brightness to the real scene. Badly
defined with blotches of light; very incomplete.

91. Dim, poor definition; could not sketch from it. I have a
difficulty in seeing two images together.

92. Usually very dim. I cannot speak of its brightness, but only of
its faintness. Not well defined and very incomplete.

93. Dim, imperfect.

94. I am very rarely able to recall any object whatever with any
sort of distinctness. Very occasionally an object or image will
recall itself, but even then it is more like a generalised image
than an individual image. I seem to be almost destitute of
visualising power, as under control.

95. No power of visualising. Between sleeping and waking, in illness
and in health, with eyes closed, some remarkable scenes have
occasionally presented themselves, but I cannot recall them when
awake with eyes open, and by daylight, or under any circumstances
whatever when a copy could be made of them on paper. I have drawn
both men and places many days or weeks after seeing them, but it was
by an effort of memory acting on study at the time, and assisted by
trial and error on the paper or canvas, whether in black, yellow, or
colour, afterwards.

96. It is only as a figure of speech that I can describe my
recollection of a scene as a "mental image" which I can "see" with
my "mind's eye." ... The memory possesses it, and the mind can at
will roam over the whole, or study minutely any part.

97. No individual objects, only a general idea of a very uncertain

98. No. My memory is not of the nature of a spontaneous vision,
though I remember well where a word occurs in a page, how furniture
looks in a room, etc. The ideas not felt to be mental pictures, but
rather the symbols of facts.

99. Extremely dim. The impressions are in all respects so dim, vague,
and transient, that I doubt whether they can reasonably be called
images. They are incomparably less than those of dreams.

100. My powers are zero. To my consciousness there is almost no
association of memory with objective visual impressions. I recollect
the breakfast-table, but do not see it.

These quotations clearly show the great variety of natural powers of
visual representation, and though the returns from which they are
taken have, as I said, no claim to be those of 100 Englishmen taken
at haphazard, nevertheless, to the best of my judgment, they happen
to differ among themselves in much the same way that such returns
would have done. I cannot procure a strictly haphazard series for
comparison, because in any group of persons whom I may question
there are always many too indolent to reply, or incapable of
expressing themselves, or who from some fancy of their own are
unwilling to reply. Still, as already mentioned, I have got together
several groups that approximate to what is wanted, usually from
schools, and I have analysed them as well as I could, and the general
result is that the above returns may be accepted as a fair
representation of the visualising powers of Englishmen. Treating
these according to the method described in the chapter of statistics,
we have the following results, in which, as a matter of interest, I
have also recorded the highest and the lowest of the series: -

_Highest_. - Brilliant, distinct, never blotchy.

* * * * *

_First Suboctile_. - The image once seen is perfectly clear and

_First Octile_. - I can see my breakfast-table or any equally
familiar thing with my mind's eye quite as well in all particulars
as I can do if the reality is before me.

_First Quartile_ - Fairly clear; illumination of actual scene is
fairly represented. Well defined. Parts do not obtrude themselves,
but attention has to be directed to different points in succession
to call up the whole.

_Middlemost_. - Fairly clear. Brightness probably at least from
one-half to two-thirds of the original. Definition varies very much,
one or two objects being much more distinct than the others, but the
latter come out clearly if attention be paid to them.

_Last Quartile_. - Dim, certainly not comparable to the actual scene.
I have to think separately of the several things on the table to
bring them clearly before the mind's eye, and when I think of some
things the others fade away in confusion.

_Last Octile_. - Dim and not comparable in brightness to the real
scene. Badly defined, with blotches of light; very incomplete; very
little of one object is seen at one time.

_Last Suboctile_. - I am very rarely able to recall any object
whatever with any sort of distinctness. Very occasionally an object
or image will recall itself, but even then it is more like a
generalised image than an individual one. I seem to be almost
destitute of visualising power as under control.

_Lowest_. - My powers are zero. To my consciousness there is almost
no association of memory with objective visual impressions. I
recollect the table, but do not see it.

I next proceed to colour, as specified in the third of my questions,
and annex a selection from the returns classified on the same
principle as in the preceding paragraph.


_Highest_. - Perfectly distinct, bright, and natural.

_First Suboctile_. - White cloth, blue china, argand coffee-pot,
buff stand with sienna drawing, toast - all clear.

_First Octile_. - All details seen perfectly.

_First Quartile_. - Colours distinct and natural till I begin to
puzzle over them.

_Middlemost_. - Fairly distinct, though not certain that they are
accurately recalled.

_Last Quartile_. - Natural, but very indistinct.

_Last Octile_. - Faint; can only recall colours by a special effort
for each.

_Last Suboctile_. - Power is nil.

_Lowest_. - Power is nil.

It may seem surprising that one out of every sixteen persons who are
accustomed to use accurate expressions should speak of their mental
imagery as perfectly clear and bright; but it is so, and many
details are added in various returns emphasising the assertion. One
of the commonest of these is to the effect, "If I could draw, I am
sure I could draw perfectly from my mental image." That some artists,
such as Blake, have really done so is beyond dispute, but I have
little doubt that there is an unconscious exaggeration in these
returns. My reason for saying so is that I have also returns from
artists, who say as follows: "My imagery is so clear, that if I had
been unable to draw I should have unhesitatingly said that I could
draw from it." A foremost painter of the present day has used that
expression. He finds deficiencies and gaps when he tries to draw
from his mental vision. There is perhaps some analogy between these
images and those of "faces in the fire." One may often fancy an
exceedingly well-marked face or other object in the burning coals,
but probably everybody will find, as I have done, that it is
impossible to draw it, for as soon as its outlines are seriously
studied, the fancy flies away.

Mr. Flinders Petrie, a contributor of interesting experiments on
kindred subjects to _Nature_, informs me that he habitually works
out sums by aid of an imaginary sliding rule, which he sets in the
desired way and reads off mentally. He does not usually visualise
the whole rule, but only that part of it with which he is at the
moment concerned (see Plate II. Fig. 34, where, however, the artist
has not put in the divisions very correctly). I think this is one of
the most striking cases of accurate visualising power it is possible
to imagine.

I have a few returns from chess-players who play games blindfolded;
but the powers of such men to visualise the separate boards with
different sets of men on the different boards, some ivory, some wood,
and so forth, are well known, and I need not repeat them. I will
rather give the following extract from an article in the _Pall Mall
Gazette_, 27th June 1882, on the recent chess tournament at Vienna: -

"The modern feats of blindfold play (without sight of board) greatly
surpass those of twenty years ago. Paul Morphy, the American, was
the first who made an especial study of this kind of display,
playing some seven or eight games blindfold and simultaneously
against various inferior opponents, and making lucrative exhibitions
in this way. His abilities in this line created a scare among other
rivals who had not practised this test of memory. Since his day many
chess-players who are gifted with strong and clear memory and power
of picturing to the mind the ideal board and men, have carried this
branch of exhibition play far beyond Morphy's pitch; and,
contemporaneously with this development, it has become acknowledged
that skill in blindfold play is not an absolute test of similarly
relative powers over the board: _e.g._ Blackburne and Zukertort can
play as many as sixteen, or even twenty, blindfold games at a time,
and win about 80 per cent of them at least. Steinitz, who beats them
both in match play, does not essay more than six blindfold at a time.
Mason does not, to our knowledge, make any _spécialité_ at all of
this sort."

I have many cases of persons mentally reading off scores when
playing the pianoforte, or manuscript when they are making speeches.
One statesman has assured me that a certain hesitation in utterance
which he has at times, is due to his being plagued by the image of
his manuscript speech with its original erasures and corrections. He
cannot lay the ghost, and he puzzles in trying to decipher it.

Some few persons see mentally in print every word that is uttered;
they attend to the visual equivalent and not to the sound of the
words, and they read them off usually as from a long imaginary strip
of paper, such as is unwound from telegraphic instruments. The
experiences differ in detail as to size and kind of type, colour of
paper, and so forth, but are always the same in the same person.

A well-known frequenter of the Royal Institution tells me that he

Online LibraryFrancis GaltonInquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development → online text (page 7 of 26)