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Dr. Akhter Ahsen

Ahkter Ahsen from Image Psychology web

Akhter Ahsen, Ph.D.

Dr. Ahsen is still one of the most influential theorists on mental imagery. Dr. Ahsen authored numerous journal articles and published more than 30 books, receiving accolades from around the world. He was also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Psychological Society.

Since the 1950s, through his research and development of eidetic images and techniques, Dr. Akhter Ahsen advanced the imagery movement and its application beyond the clinical and educational areas by incorporating art, literature, and mythology as well. Ahsen’s work proposed that the function of the science of imagery is to re-enact experience for therapeutic, education and spiritual betterment.

Ahsen’s prolific writings on imagery and the eidetic covered a broad range of research, theory and application, including psychotherapy, the psychological experiment, education, sociology, literature, art, and mythology. In the 1980s he defined Image Psychology as an experiential system of complex mental structures and dynamic image formations that demonstrate various functions and operations of the mind and body. Even before the recent surge of interest in imagery, Ahsen’s work had already begun to appear as a system that demonstrated deep imagery structures having function from achieving enlightenment on the one hand to healing symptomatology on the other.

Dr. Ahsen’s method has been called phenomenological in studying what appears in consciousness using a natural attention process; analytical in the tradition of classical depth psychology; experimental in the sense that the image is a repeatable nucleus for systematic study; holistic in its holographic unity of ISM (Image-Soma-Meaning) at various levels; literary in its poetic emphasis; and social in its binding of personal and cultural history with mythology in the same stroke. (See below for further explanation of ISM)

Contributions by Ahsen:

Two Schools of Eidetic Theory: Typographical and Structural:

The eidetic image was first studied in Germany in the early 1900s and was thought to be found only in children or the gifted. This particular type of eidetic research later became known as the typographical school and is frequently associated with eidetic memory recall or photographic memory. However, through his research, Dr. Ahsen discovered that the eidetic also has a universal phenomenon that occurs at all stages of a person’s development. With this discovery, Ahsen established the structural school of eidetic theory, which links the spontaneous or structural eidetic scientifically to the Greek notion of eidos (pure ideas) and the eide (pure essence).

ISM (Image-Soma-Meaning) Triple Code Model

Prior to his breakthrough research, psychology only recognized a dual code model as Image and Meaning (I-M), but Dr. Ahsen found that an eidetic image is more than simply a visual experience that has a meaning attached. There is an additional component — the Soma (a somatic response as an emotion or body sensation) — that exists in-between image and meaning. Without the emotion or sensory experience, the image would have no relevance in the physical world we inhabit and there would be no physical signals to the triggers in the brain that inhibit performance and block one’s intrinsic genetic manifestations. Ahsen’s I-S-M (Image-Soma-Meaning) Triple Code Model grounds the eidetic image in its importance to consciousness.

Journal of Mental Imagery

The Journal of Mental Imagery (JMI), an international forum for the study of images and Eidetic Imagery research, and the International Imagery Association were established by Dr. Ahsen in the mid-1970s. Under his editorship of the JMI along with a distinguished editorial board, the Journal received acclaim around the world from theoreticians, clinicians, and researchers investigating images and Eidetic Imagery in the intricate backdrop of psychological, cultural, social, and political issues. The JMI was the only forum for more than two decades for original and innovative imagery research dedicated to the study of consciousness.

Ahsen Connects Eidetic Imagery, Neurology, Consciousness, Literature, Art, Mythology:

Eidetic theory proposes that consciousness originates in a peaceful experience of Nature and remains harmonious despite conflicts that appear to divide it, which is reflected in the breadth and creativity of the eidetic spectrum. To establish there is an eidetic connection which shows up in the commonalities of consciousness, Ahsen sought out renowned minds such as: Wilder Penfield, (Neurosurgery); Karl Pribram, (Neuropsychology); Ernest R. Hilgard, (Psychology); J. H. Matthews, (Literary Criticism); Salvador Dali, (Surrealistic Art); Kenneth Burke, (Literary Criticism); Joseph Campbell (Mythology). In this process, Ahsen shed light on how the above fields of study and eidetic imagery connect as follows:


Since the early 1970s, Ahsen described his broad theoretical base along the lines of Wilder Penfield’s neurological experiments regarding repeatable evocations in the brain; Ilya Prigogine’s work in chemistry regarding chaotic structures as a requisite process for arriving at a final structure; Karl Pribram’s holographic two-process model of brain functioning; and the fractal theory of Bernard Mandelbrot. Eidetics is in perfect harmony with this new science, as it studies relationships among parts, searches out the unseen connections, and discovers order in chaos, predictability in unpredictability, and simplicity in complexity.

Ahsen noted that through progression of the image, new structuration occurs at the psychological and neurological levels and is reflected through effects involving neuroelectrical change. That the eidetic emerges at points of conflict is likened with the processes of nature. Just as no activity in nature comes into its final shape without being challenged by opposites and honed by even “irrelevant” situations, no true psychic resolution occurs without incipient struggle. Therefore, conflict is viewed not as a coming together of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies that represent an undesirable, unhealthy state but as a way of natural functioning in a complete condition of being.

Pribram states in his Languages of the Brain (1971, p. 47) that “Experientially initiated guided growth of new nerve fibers does take place and alters the spatial pattern of junctional relationships among neurons.” Ahsen recognizes the electrical-chemical-experiential relationship of the eidetic in this context:

In view of the evidence, the eidetic process appears to be a self-motivated single point of experience, like a neuron firing in an all-or-none fashion; the eidetic process also appears to be a junctional field, similar to the neural junctional field where many slow potentials interact. When an eidetic fires, it simultaneously generates consequences in the junctional field, changing its operative balance, transforming its overly fixed neurotic pattern into a flexible life-related behavior. Since the eidetic acts in a nuclear fashion and fires in an all-or-none fashion, its repetitive behavior effects a change in the experiential field by creating a new junctional balance and other profoundly important junctional changes. This change results in neuropsychological transformations. See Ahsen, “Eidetics: Neural Experiential Growth Potential for the Treatment of Accident Traumas, Debilitating Stress Conditions, and Chronic Emotional Blocking,” Journal of Mental Imagery, 1978, 2(1), pp. 8-9.


The term intentionality has a complex history, starting from Aquinas and Brentano and extending to Husserl and later existentialists such as Sarte…The main spread of the notion lies somewhere between the definition of intention as a specific function and as a more general state of mind as intentionality in which the self extends itself into objects and draws the objects inside, the original meaning given by Aquinas. In its origin, the intentionality notion was not as specific a function in the ego as conscious attention or, in the narrow sense, a product of memory, but an original gift of the self. There is one thing more which Aquinas explained for us, that the suffering of the eidos (pure ideas) in history is no insult to the eidos, but an offering within history so that the individual receives the eidos and much more.

In separating intention away from intentionality, Ahsen’s viewed intention as a narrower and more conscious process aimed at closing the gap between ambiguity and clear understanding of an event, but that intentionality is connected with the primordial needs of the organism in terms of past, present, and the future. Ahsen connected intentionality with the Greek view of Hyponoia, or “the underneath sense of being,” that refers to the images, impulses, and thoughts that resonate with a deep psychic reconciliation of philosophy, psychology, and myth, which is a notion antithetical to the notion of the unconscious or reason. The Greeks evolved a profound notion of memory that encompasses both the historical and the primordial. Defending his notions regarding what he calls “genetic memory,” Ahsen returned to the classical Greeks and restores to the psychological vocabulary the notions of Hyponoia, Eide and Eidos with his notion of the eidetic. These notions also have a clear experiential trend in Ahsen, showing a holographic connection with an underlying genetic gift that takes Hilgard’s Hidden Observer notion beyond subconscious observational qualities to Presence existing consciously and nonconsciously, meaning always present but at times not consciously seen.

Literature and Art:

Ahsen also viewed each eidetic as a microcosm of a fundamental story of struggle which moves from surface to deep levels with the image because it assembles and dissembles, peaks with high drama and reconciles paradoxes. At this level of engagement, irony participates at the phenomenological level of the image so that the process becomes, in his words, a virtual transformation theater. Story takes many forms when formalized by the adult – in theater, visual art, novel or poetry – but regardless of the form, Ahsen considered that it is an outgrowth of the literal play in the child. He theorizes that play underlies catharsis, since play works toward active resolution of a conflict or crisis, and succeeds because it carries a fresh new energy which is uplifting and expressive. Therein lies Ahsen’s connecting eidetic imagery with the dramatistics of Kenneth Burke as well as to Surrealism (J. H. Matthews and Salvador Dali).


Myth has been intimately connected with literature from the earliest times, as Ahsen acknowledged: “In myths, the arrangement of the visuals is always playful and like a story. Myth hides things in order to play them out in history…. Like literature, myths do not deny but affirm and, even if they involve fear, they do so only in order to affirm life and courage.” Yet, for him, myth also has two existences, the spirit existence and an individual’s or society’s temporal understanding or empathy into it or lack of knowledge about it – which interlock “in some kind of interaction between remembering and forgetting… exactly like the character in a play who goes through the motions of participation not knowing what really is happening until the very end.” So herein lies Ahsen connecting mythology (Joseph Campbell) with the eide, which the Greeks said was that part of the self which is essentially imagistic essence and desires to be seen, especially when the soul becomes visionary and is oriented toward the future.

In the introduction of Ahsen’s epic poem, Manhunt in the Desert, the epic dimensions of man, Joseph Campbell tells the story of his first encounters with Dr. Ahsen reading a few sections of Manhunt to him and how he said to Ahsen: “You did not write this; you received it.”


For more regarding Dr. Ahsen, go to Akhter Ahsen.com