Visual imagery and the limits of comprehension

Dissertation, New School for Social Research (1994)
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I examined the proposition that there are psychological limits on what scientific problems can be solved, and that these limits may be based on a failure to be able to produce imagable, observation-based models for any possible solution, a position suggested by philosopher Colin McGinn in an argument attempting to prove that the mind-body problem is unsolvable. I examined another likely candidate for an unsolvable problem -- the ultimate origin of the universe (i.e., what might have preceded the Big Bang or any other starting point; why there should be something rather than nothing) -- by exploring the reasoning of physicists about this problem and measuring visual imagery frequency and vividness, with the expectation that those who most believed the problem unsolvable would be more frequent/vivid imagers and therefore more affected by the apparent impossibility of producing an imagable solution. Eight physicists were interviewed and imagery frequency and vividness measurements performed using Cohen & Saslona's IDQ-IHS and Marks's VVIQ, respectively. All subjects considered the problem unsolvable within today's physics and all but one thought the problem still meaningful, though none were optimistic about a solution. The one subject who dismissed the problem had the lowest imagery frequency score, and there was also a significant rank order correlation (r = 0.83, p < .02) between degree of belief in problem unsolvability (extended to include viewing the problem as meaningful and not already solved) and a composite imagery frequency/vividness score, though the sample was too small to control for some possible confounding factors.

Author's Profile

Marc Krellenstein
Northeastern University


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