‘In my mind’s eye, Horatio.’ – imagination in oral communication

Imagination, or the mind’s eye, plays an important role in communicating ideas orally. For individual members of a live audience it’s meaning enabling 1 or sense making; it’s the visualisation of possibilities when processing complex thoughts and ideas.

‘The phrase mind’s eye’ 2 3 refers to the human ability for visualisation, i.e., for the experiencing of visual mental imagery; in other words, one’s ability to ‘see’ things with the mind’ 4 – to imagine. 5 6 7 8

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven 9
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
My father! – methinks I see my father.

Where, my lord?

In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

I saw him once. He was a goodly king.

Hamlet’s imagination or mind’s eye creates an internal or ‘mental image’ of his father, in an effort to make sense of the dilemma in his own mind of the events emerging; his mother’s marriage to his father’s brother in close proximity to his father’s funeral.

The imagination or mind’s eye of each individual member of your audience creates an internal or ‘mental image’ as a way of processing complex thoughts and ideas communicated to them orally. It’s a way of taking ownership of new information.

In oral communication, responsibility for the triggers that propagate these mental images lies with the performer. They, in what they say and how they say it; how they translate thoughts and ideas into oral words,10 enable the process of meaning attribution 11 to occur. If you don’t create an environment where meaning is possible the thoughts and ideas being communicated orally won’t bear12 outcomes.

The internal visual created in the audience’s mind’s eye is unique to them. For communication to be successful, as a performer of an oral message, you need to access the mind’s eye of each individual member in the audience. ‘I saw him once. He was a goodly king’. Horatio doesn’t see what Hamlet sees.

‘For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or  revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.’ 13

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  1. Enabling – verb – gerund or present participle: 1. [to] give (someone) the authority or means to do something; make it possible for. “the evidence would enable us to arrive at firm conclusions”.
  2. Hamlet (1600-02), Act 1, scene 2, line 186.
  3. mind’s eye – is a place (in the brain) where a perceptual experience (neurological activity) creates an image; that place where, as humans, we can see with the mind.

    Physical basis – the biological foundation of the mind’s eye is not fully understood. Studies using fMRI have shown that the lateral geniculate nucleus and the V1 area of the visual cortex are activated during mental imagery tasks.[1] Ratey writes:

    The visual pathway is not a one-way street. Higher areas of the brain can also send visual input back to neurons in lower areas of the visual cortex. […] As humans, we have the ability to see with the mind’s eye – to have a perceptual experience in the absence of visual input. For example, PET scans have shown that when subjects, seated in a room, imagine they are at their front door starting to walk either to the left or right, activation begins in the visual association cortex, the parietal cortex, and the prefrontal cortex – all higher cognitive processing centers of the brain.[2]

    The rudiments of a biological basis for the mind’s eye is found in the deeper portions of the brain below the neocortex, or where the center of perception exists. The thalamus has been found to be discrete to other components in that it processes all forms of perceptional data relayed from both lower and higher components of the brain. Damage to this component can produce permanent perceptual damage, however when damage is inflicted upon the cerebral cortex, the brain adapts to neuroplasticity to amend any occlusions for perception. It can be thought that the neocortex is a sophisticated memory storage warehouse in which data received as an input from sensory systems are compartmentalized via the cerebral cortex. This would essentially allow for shapes to be identified, although given the lack of filtering input produced internally, one may as a consequence, hallucinate – essentially seeing something that isn’t received as an input externally but rather internal (i.e. an error in the filtering of segmented sensory data from the cerebral cortex may result in one seeing, feeling, hearing or experiencing something that is inconsistent with reality).

    Not all people have the same internal perceptual ability. For many, when the eyes are closed, the perception of darkness prevails. However, some people are able to perceive colorful, dynamic imagery. The use of hallucinogenic drugs increases the subject’s ability to consciously access visual (and auditory, and other sense) percepts. The Mental Imagery article goes into more detail.

    Furthermore, the pineal gland is a hypothetical candidate for producing a mind’s eye; Rick Strassman and others have postulated that during near-death experiences (NDEs) and dreaming, the gland might secrete a hallucinogenic chemical N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) to produce internal visuals when external sensory data is occluded.[3] However, this hypothesis has yet to be fully supported with neurochemical evidence and plausible mechanism for DMT production.

    The hypothesized condition where a person lacks a mind’s eye is called aphantasia. The term was first suggested in a 2015 study.[4]

  4. mind’s eye – Wikipedia
  5. imagine – verb. ME. from Latin imaginary – form an image of, represent, imaginary picture to oneself. I. verb trans. 1. Form a mental image or concept of, picture to oneself (something non-existent or not present to the senses). ME. 2. Create as a mental conception, conceive; assume. LME.
  6. Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through slight, hearing or other senses. Imagination is the work of the mind that helps create. Imagination helps to provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world, and plays a key role in the learning process. Imagination is the faculty through which we encounter everything. The things that we touch, see and hear coalesce into definite forms through the processes of our imagination. Wikiquote.
  7. ‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. Albert Einstein. Wikiquote.
  8. Imagination or inner life – Hamlet has the most active imagination of all Shakespeare’s characters. That he coined the phrase “In my mind’s eye” is therefore not surprising—his inner life is vivid, and he surveys it often. http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/my-minds-eye.
  9. ‘I’d rather have met my fiercest enemy in heaven, Horatio than have lived through that terrible day!’
  10. oral words – words designed specifically for communicating orally; words with a ‘higher meaning to moment ratio’. Jane Hirshfield.
  11. attribution – noun. LME. 2. something ascribed in estimation or opinion, as a quality, appellation, meaning, etc. L15-M18. 4. ascription of a quality etc. as belonging or proper to a person or thing. M17.
  12. bear – verb.trans. Produce, give birth to.
  13. C S Lewis, in Selected Literary Essays, 1969.

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