Helge Malmgren, MD, PhD
Department of Philosophy, Göteborg University, Sweden
Poster presentation at ”Tucson III”:
Toward a Science of Consciousness
Tucson, AZ, April 27-May 2, 1998
© 1998, 2002 Helge Malmgren, Linnea Malmgren
Hermann Rorschach and the kinaesthetic response
Dreams, hallucinations and movement responses
How can movement be a determinant?
Seeing a movement is a case of practical knowledge
Seeing motor space
Ecological optics and the movements of others
Inner and outer space
Moving towards the Other
The most original, and probably the most debated, of Hermann Rorschach’s ideas is that of movement as a determinant. In his book,2 Rorschach defines the movement responses as
From Rorschach’s definition also follows that ”a stone
falling from a roof” is ordinarily not a movement interpretation. And even
when a human being is seen as moving, the response need not always be determined
by any kinaesthetic-feeling component. The alternative name for movement
responses, ”kinaesthetic responses”, is therefore to be preferred. Importantly,
”a standing man” is as a rule a kinaesthetic response, although the man
is not seen, or felt, as actually moving.
1 The best source concerning the pre-history of the Rorschach test is Ellenberger (1954, 1993).
2 Rorschach (1972) p. 25 (translation HM).
Rorschach’s dissertation was partly inspired by the investigations of the Norwegian philosopher and psychologist John Mourly Vold, who had performed extensive and systematic studies of the influence of tactile and kinaesthetic stimuli on the contents of dreams. He found, for example, that people who have had their feet tied very often dream of walking, climbing and so on. These dreams usually involve the dreamer herself, but sometimes another person is instead seen climbing, and sometimes the dream just contains a ”climbable” object.4 Mourly Vold himself also extended his research and theorising to cases of hallucinations.5
Both Mourly Vold and Rorschach point out the similarity
between these optic-kinaesthetic and kinaesthetic-optic hallucinations
or dreams on the one hand, and everyday cases of connections between kinaesthetic,
somatosensory and visual experiences on the other. Rorschach gives several
such everyday examples: when moving a limb in the dark, we
often vividly visualise it; many people visualise an object better if they
”draw it in the air”; we tend to feel the postures and movements of people
which we see depicted on the scene and in paintings. He ascribes an important
role to ”association” in the genesis of such inter-sensory connections,
including those underlying many cases of reflex hallucinations. However,
Rorschach believes that associative principles cannot explain all reflex
hallucinations; indeed, he reserves the term ”reflex hallucinations in
the narrow sense” for the non-associative cases.6
For these, an innate coupling seems to be required.
3 Rorschach (1912), p. 374, 364.
4 Mourly Vold (1900), p. 838 f; cf Mourly Vold (1910/12), quoted in Rorschach (1912), p. 371f.
5 Mourly Vold (1900).
6 Rorschach (1912), p. 397; cf also Mourly Vold (1900), p. 861.
How is this difficult conceptual situation to be remedied? One possible way out is to move away, in theory and/or in praxis, from Rorschach’s statement that movement or kinaesthesia is a determining factor, and instead simply use ”Movement” as a kind of content category. However, it then becomes difficult to draw a non-arbitrary line between those seen movements which are ”Movement” interpretations and those which are not — not to speak about the corresponding problem for seen non-moving objects. At least, no clear reason remains to draw the lines where Rorschach once draw them.
A second option is to try to rethink the concept of a
determinant. Perhaps we could relax the criterion that it must be a stimulus
property? There are indeed strong evidence in Rorschach’s own text that
when speaking about the determining factors behind the responses, he was
actually thinking of the mental processes by means of which we try
to make our percepts fit the stimulus properties. And Exner clearly steps
away from stimulus properties when he uses the presence of emphatic
identification as the basic criterion for the scoring of ”Movement”.
However, Exner has dropped the specifically kinaesthetic component, because
of the methodological problems involved in assessing the presence and importance
of the ”kinaesthetic memory experiences” which Rorschach postulated. This
means that in Exner’s system, ”Gloomy mood” can be classified as a movement
7 Rorschach (1921), p. 22.
8 Exner (1993), p. 103.
The associationist doctrine that kinaesthetic experiences are necessarily involved in our knowledge of our own movements has since long been abandoned. In psychology the turning point was the research on ”imageless thought” by Ach and other psychologists of the Würzburg school around 1900, research which was partly inspired by phenomenology and which was followed up and deepened by the Gestalt psychologists. Within analytical philosophy, the theory of kinaesthetic impressions seems to have lived on until the later Wittgenstein gave it a final blow.10
Can we define ”kinaesthetic response” without postulating kinaesthetic impressions? Let us first remember that according to Rorschach, a subject who gives a movement response often shows a tendency to imitate the seen movement. He thinks that this should be regarded as a sign that the essential kinaesthetic experiences are present. An alternative, non-associationist description is that both the tendency to move and the kinaesthetic imagery (if either is present) are contingent expressions of the subject’s practical, perceptually based apprehension of which movement is performed. ”Practical apprehension” is here simply the intentional component of practical (procedural) knowledge. As Ryle says, we know how to swim without being able to describe it; as modern psychologists say, we have non-declarative, procedural knowledge of swimming. Subtract the conditions of truth and justification from this knowledge; what remains is the act of practical apprehension. And if such an act is based on perception, we have a perceptual, practical apprehension of a movement — a practical perception.
Thus, a kinaesthetic response in the Rorschach can be
defined as a practical perception of a motor activity — a response in which
the subject sees how to do what another person does. Some refinements
are needed, however.
9 Ellenberger (1993), p. 230. Rorschach died less than a year after the publication of his book.
10 Wittgenstein (1953).
When one sees what to do, or what is being done, which is the role of vision in the process? Not all such knowledge depends on the visual identification of the subject’s own movements, either concurrently or at any earlier time. The fact that very young infants know how to turn their eyes towards objects, and how to grasp for them, clearly illustrates the point. This point can also be expressed by saying that innate visuo-motor couplings play an essential role in perception-action chains. The well-known research of Meltzoff and Moore and others on imitation in very young infants is another example.11 The main conclusion to draw from this research is that the infant often has practical, perceptual knowledge about which act is being performed, although it does not see, and has never seen, itself perform the same act.12
There is an obvious connection here with the theory of
the body schema as formulated by Merleau-Ponty.13
A major part of our knowledge of our own body has a practical character;
for example, we know in the practical sense where to scratch the
skin when it itches. Such knowledge is independent of vision not only because
it works without visual input, but also in the sense that what is known
it is not primarily a visual position. The body schema is
nothing but this fundamental system of practical knowledge. According to
Merleau-Ponty the body schema — as a system of practical apprehensions
— is essentially involved when one imitates another person. He also makes
the point that imitation does not presuppose that the subject can see his
It is therefore, in a certain sense, immediate.
11 Meltzoff & Moore (1995).
12 The methods and results of Meltzoff and Moore have been subject to criticism. See for example Heimann (in press). My main conclusion is however not threatened by this criticism. Cf. also Wyrwicka (1996).
13 Merleau-Ponty (1962). For my choice of the term ”body schema” rather than ”body image” cf Gallagher (1995).
14 Merleau-Ponty (1962) pp. 352.
Gibson’s concept of affordance is naturally interpreted in terms of practical knowledge. In other words, what happens to an animal when it sees a plant as having the affordance being edible can be described by saying that the visual system makes the organism prepared to eat the plant. And Gibson’s point that perception of affordances is usually direct can be read as saying that there is no need for any cognitive representation to intervene between the ambient optic array and the practical apprehension of an affordance.15
There are a number of social affordances.16 An approaching enemy can, and should, be seen as somebody to flee from, while an approaching conspecific of the opposite sex may sometimes be seen as somebody to mate. There are also affordances of being somebody to co-operate with in specific ways.
One distinguishing mark of social interactions is that the required action depends on what is predicted about the partner(s). Such a prediction of a partner’s behaviour can, in principle, be made using two very different mechanisms. One may use the same method as when judging the movements of an inanimate object, which essentially reduces to extrapolations from observed movements (as for example in intercepting a thrown ball). Or, which is usually much more effective, one may try to see from the partner’s perspective what the partner intends to do. A heavyweight fighter certainly stays upright longer if he tries to sense the other guy’s intentions than if he calculates time-to-contact with the approaching fist.
I suggest that the perception of social affordances involves
the translation of visual input into two motor patterns, since the
practical knowledge how to act depends on the practical knowledge how the
other person acts. Only because the fighter knows practically what
the other guy intends to do, can he avoid its consequences. If this description
is correct, manifest imitation is just the special case where the two seen
patterns are the same. The basic mechanism is much more general and has
high ecological validity apart from imitation.
15 Cf Redström (1998).
16 J. Gibson (1979), p. 42; see also Bruce, Green & Georgeson (1996), ch. 16.
A natural explanation of these phenomena is the biological one. It is very important for the survival of organisms that they have a low threshold for the perception of other living creatures, so that they will be able to flee from aggressors in time. In this perspective, the sensitivity to movements of the peripheral part of the retina can be classified among the relevant facts. Also, a low threshold for physiognomic perception helps intraspecific co-operation to work smoothly. The price to be paid is a lot of misplaced perceptions.
However, I suspect that this explanation may be too simple,
and that the ease with which physiognomic perception of inanimate objects
can be initiated reflects that it may have a even more fundamental
perceptual function than warning us about the possible presence of other
creatures. I will next speculate a little about the nature of our perception
17 Some (including the present author) can very easily put themselves in an attitude where almost everything is seen under such an aspect. For a marvellous description of how the world can seem to a person who is sensitive to physiognomic traits, cf Lingis (1996).
18 An interesting report on another case of high sensistivity in this respect can be found in the work of Franz From, who was a close collaborator of the famous Gestalt psychologist Edgar Rubin. Cf From (1971), pp. 66f.
19 Werner (1961).
20 Conrad (1960), pp. 385ff.
But what is then the status of distant space? Certainly, the horizon is not within one’s reach, so how can the perception of the horizon be analysed in terms of practical apprehension? The solution lies, I think, in Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of the role of the body schema in imitation. In the following excerpt he gives his most explicit definition of his concept of body schema:
In the meantime we have to rest content with saying that kinaesthetic interpretations are a kind of ”form” responses, although they are based on shape information of very specific kinds and use this information in a very special way. If an interpretation involving movement is instead based on the mechanisms which we ordinarily use in the identification of the shapes of close inanimate objects, it is a form response in the usual, narrow sense.
My final, philosophical suggestion is that the above analysis
of the way we perceive motor intentions allows for the possibility that
these perceptions are independent of our objectivating perceptions of close
spatial structures. This gives a clear sense in which the perception of
other subjects may be prior to the perception of objects: extracting the
invariants necessary for the former achievement need not presuppose extracting
the (lower-level) invariants needed for the latter. If combined with the
Gibsonian view that practical perception is usually direct, the analysis
also leads to the conclusion that our knowledge of other minds may be direct.
The latter thesis can then be seen to be compatible with a thoroughly naturalistic
24 Bohm (1972), p. 46.
25 Cf. Bruce, Green & Georgeson, pp. 328ff.
26 Gibson (1979), p. 294.
27 This, by the way, explains the fact — noted already by Rorschach — that kinaesthetic responses in the Rorschach test often bridge otherwise clear contour ”gaps”.
28 Incidentally, this conclusion is very similar to the main point in Malmgren (1976). Cf also Malmgren (1983).
Two dancing gorillas can be seen in this Rorschach-like picture. (Thanks to Linnea Malmgren!)
Is this two persons whose postures express discontent with the dance on the previous picture?
This picture also invites to interpretation in terms of an emotional expression.
1. One can see this as the roots of a tree.
2. Or as a the feet of a big bird, or a dinosaur.
If you now go back to the first interpretation, it may have aquired a ”physiognomic” character!