Here are some possibilities:
(1.) blackness or a grey haze,
(2.) nothing at all (not even blackness),
(3.) a field of shifting colors,
(4.) afterimages on a background field of black or gray,
(5.) patterns of color, not obviously related to external stimulus, on a field of black or gray,
(6.) visual imagery of objects, maybe like a dream or a daydream or a faint perception or a hallucination?
What do you think?
Last week I asked visitors here and a number of people around UCR. The responses were wonderfully various, and some of them quite detailed, but if I had to summarize or force them into boxes I'd say I got these results:
(1) black/grey (possibly shifting or undulating): 4 respondents;
(2) usually nothing, not even blackness: 1 respondent;
(3) colors: 4 or 5 respondents;
(4) afterimages: 1 or 2 respondents;
(5) patterns of color against a black or grey background: 5 respondents;
(6) visual imagery of objects or scenes: 1 respondent, but 3 others mentioned that they sometimes have this experience or they have it after a while.
Now what's interesting to me in this is the variability in the responses. Do people really experience such radically different things when they close their eyes? I don't think we can dismiss these differences as differences merely in the language used to convey basically the same idea (except maybe between 3 and 5, though even there only in some cases). Could some people simply be wrong about such an apparently easily observable matter?
To bolster some of the less popular responses:
On (2): Many researchers think we don't have conscious experience at all without attention -- for example, when we're not attending to the refrigerator hum in the background, we don't have any auditory experience of it at all. Others disagree. (I've written about this here and posted on it here.) If we go with those who deny experience outside of attention, and if we think that when our eyes are closed we normally aren't visually attending to anything, that lends some credence to (2). Of course, on this view, when I ask you what your visual experience is, and then you close your eyes, your attentional state is atypical and you'll probably experience something. But this may be quite unrepresentative of our visual experience when we're listening to music with eyes closed or when we're trying to fall asleep, etc.
On (1): This response can be buttressed by a related argument. Maybe paying attention to visual experience with one's eyes closed does something to bring out or enliven that experience, with afterimages and shifting colors, but normally, when we're not really attending, its more like a plain black or grey field.
On (4): Early introspective psychologists like Purkinje, Helmholtz, and Titchener, seemed to think afterimages consistuted a major part of one's eyes-closed visual experience. They studied this stuff intensively, so I don't think we should simply dismiss their reports.
Okay, I've managed to completely bewilder myself! Any thoughts about how (and whether) we can make progress on this question? Maybe it's not, strictly speaking, an especially important question. But it's a basic question -- one that's surprisingly hard to find good discussions of, this late in our study of the mind and visual experience.
Friday, August 18, 2006
Here are some possibilities: