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Eidetic Theory & Research

Ernest R. Hilgard, the prominent psychologist and a past president of the American Psychology Association, extensively commented on Ahsen’s work in the area of eidetic imagery and saying the following as a prelude to imagination and the imagery potential in the context of eidetics:

“When imagination is goal-directed toward the production of pleasing, beautiful, useful, socially desirable effects, it is commonly called creative. Hence creative imagination ordinarily is meant to include an evaluative connotation that goes beyond mere originality. It might be said that the most original production would be nonsense, because it would be unrelated to anything else. A truly creative product is not nonsense; it solves a problem, results in an admired work of art, or literature, or music, or provides leadership to get something done that needs doing. Hence in creative imagination so described there are features of richness beyond the mechanics of image formation and memory retrieval. Any broad discussion of imagery must give attention to the sources and nature of the products of creative imagination.” “Imagery and Imagination on American Psychology,” Journal of Mental Imagery, 1981, 5,1, 1-18.

Hilgard later expands on this view in the same article saying: “In two major reviews by Ahsen (1977a) and Haber (1979) the problems concerning eidetics become more clearly defined and he quotes Ahsen in this respect:

“Allport’s excellent summary of the child’s need for eidetic re-enactment and the adolescent’s relative neglect of eidetic images is followed by a rather strange statement: ‘In later life there is no need for detailed images. In any case eidetic imagery is an anomaly in adult life. Its true function is performed only in the earlier years of mental development, when by preserving and elaborating sensory data it enhances the meaning of the stimulus situation for the child and enables him to perfect his adaptive responses’ (Allport, 1924, p. 119). This position contradicts the obvious clinical fact that many emotional issues of a person’s life remain unresolved and require later re-evaluation; and, therefore, the need to replay centrally important segments of imagery in an eidetic manner remains. Allport’s bungle shows a lack of exposure to clinical facts.”

Hilgard, following the above elucidation proceeded to describe Ahsen’s method in context of current research and practice of imagery:

Ahsen (1977a) classified the two methods of testing by the use of pictures as the search for the “typographic eidetic,” and of instructions simply to imagine as a search for the “structural eidetic.” Haber’s method represents the former; Ahsen’s as used in his Eidetic Parents Test (Ahsen, 1972), represents the latter (see also Ahsen, 1979).

In his response to the article titled “The Nature and Function of Eidetic Images” by Marks & McKellar, (Journal of Mental Imagery, 1982, 6,1, 1-28) Hilgard emphasized the need for an appropriate direction in the eidetic research (pages 59-60). “What apparently is needed is an extention of the kinds of studies that Haber (see Haber, 1979) did, but applicable to the realm of the structural, as stated by Ahsen (1977a). There are many techniques within the currently expanding cognitive psychology that are possible, but these were largely neglected in their review.

Takao Hatakeyama (Yamagata University, Japan) and Tadashi Onizawa (Iwate University, Morioka, Japan, 1982, p. 56-59) both agreed with Hilgard’s perspective on eidetic research saying:

“Another point we will consider is the “subtypes.” We think “scrying” can be regarded as EI, assuming that a crystal can be regarded as a kind of projection field. However, as a crystal seems to have ambiguous sensory elements, such as shadows and colors, it is similar to an inkblot in its function. Therefore, individuals who possess the crystal vision should be examined with EI tests. Next, all the “ghosts, spirits and apparitions” cannot be interpreted as the EI-origins. Similarly, all the “imaginary playmates” cannot. We think these phenomena are caused by imagination imagery. Though EI can be regarded as memory or imagination imagery which is projected outside, all the imagination imagery cannot be EI.”

Marks and McKellar compare EI with various imagery types, including hypnagogic imagery, and indicate that common mechanisms are involved. This assertion may be an important clue regarding the mechanisms of EI. Onizawa and Kato (1971) reported another case that resembles these types of imagery; this is, an after-image can be transformed into an imagination image which is vivid and bizarre, and occasionally can be projected outside the subjects. The characteristics which distinguish imagery types are, according to Marks and McKellar, lucidity and level of arousal. EI is considered to be lucid and elicited in a high arousal level, which is in conformity with pseudohallucination and probably with Onizawa and Kato’s phenomenon. Then one of the most hopeful methods to study the mechanisms may be a physiological one, especially EEG. Furst, Gardner, and Kamiya (1974) investigated four eidetic children and found that high-amplitude occipital alpha activity occurs during eidetic periods, and that these children have higher resting baseline alpha than their classmates. If this kind of research is accumulated, EI will hopefully not be enigmatic.

We must accumulate the empirical data to know in what sort of individuals and conditions or situations EI is evoked. To clarify the function of EI, we should know much more about the eidetic experiences in daily life (e.g., Hatakeyama, 1974, 1978; Onizawa and Eito, 1976).