fractals, rorschach, tarot and meaning making

fract-feb-14-harlequin.pnga few weeks ago, i posted some musings about how fractals might be used in psychological research. how could we use fractals to literally illustrate – turn into a picture – some of our mental and emotional patterns?

some of the commenters interpreted this as a type of rorschach test. that was actually not what i had intended – but i completely understand why it was interpreted that way, and always like goinMRI (magnetic resonance imaging)g with what my readers suggest anyway, so let’s look at this for a moment.

using a fractal to illustrate mental and emotional patterns would be similar to taking an MRI – or girl in motionperhaps to taking a snapshot of someone in motion. it’s an image of an already existing, intrinsically meaningful process. we preserve it for posterity – to record, to remember, to instruct, to illustrate, and perhaps simply to provide enjoyment through the beauty of it.

the purpose of a rorschach test is different. in a rorschach test, someone is presented with a meaningless blotch of something – an inkblot – inkblot (rorschach)and is then invited to talk about what this inkblot might be about. the image is not intrinsically meaningful. the meaning is added by the person who views it. the purpose of using these inkblots is to gain insight into the mental and emotional processes of the person looking at it – how they perceive “the world” (which is typically a reflection of their inner world).

these types of tests are called projective tests and are somewhat controversial. thehouse-tree-person drawingre are quite a few of them. i personally quite like the house-tree-person test, which involves a person taking a short period of time to make a simple drawing of a house, a tree and a person. this drawing is then interpreted; in my preferred version it is interpreted by the person drawing it, perhaps with a bit of assistance by the therapist who suggested the test.

some people, and i include myself here, would even say that using tarot cards is often a type of projectarot-strength-ancestral.jpgtive measure. the image on the card inspires us to reflect on the image of our life as we carry it inside of us.

of course the word “test” in connection with this is a bit ambiguous. using projective tools such as the rorschach, house-tree-person, the tarot or the TAT (thematic apperception test) to actually determine someone’s mental and emotional state would be irresponsible in my opinion.

one of the reasons is that just like a fractal, it really is just a snapshot. a snapshot can be suggestive of someone’s true nature but there is absolutely no assurance that it actually does reflect that nature. (insofar that there is even a thing such as “true nature” – but that’s material for another post).

(image acknowledgements: MRI by hotcactuspepper, girl in motion by TwistedHalo, house-tree-person by alexandre van de sande

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

8 thoughts on “fractals, rorschach, tarot and meaning making

  1. Jan Karlsbjerg

    Using a fractal to illustrate mental and emotional patterns would be similar to taking an MRI – or girl in motionperhaps to taking a snapshot of someone in motion. it’s an image of an already existing, intrinsically meaningful process.

    A couple of things here: An MRI is like an x-ray picture, a static picture of a person’s brain (similar in concept to a long exposure photo, I believe). A Functional MRI (FMRI), on the other hand, is a fast snapshot of a person’s brain, and so it can capture differences in activity depending on what the person is doing or thinking about. And so an FMRI is more similar to capturing a picture of a person in motion.

    More importantly, what you did with the fractal picture in your first post about this was not an “illustration of mental and emotional patters”. You didn’t present the picture and tell us: “This is how I felt last night after dinner”.

    Rather, you interpreted the fractal picture. You told us what you thought it looked like, what you thought it illustrated. And everything about that that was subjective.

    By the way, even the colors in the picture are chosen by a human. They are color-representations of numerical values. The fractal program will calculate numerical values for each (X,Y) coordinate, and then the programmer’s preference determines the color representations, e.g. for values 0-10: white, 11-40: grey, 41-100: pink, 101-10000: Blue, >10000: Black.

    The fractal image is in no way random (the program will produce an identical picture every time you run it with identical parameters), and it is dependent on a lot of human choices (the program’s parameters), but it doesn’t “illustrate you” the same way an FMRI of your brain or a picture of you in motion would. Right?

    Finally (yeah, I promise, I’ll stop writing in a minute :-)), from what I’ve read about the Rorschach test, the inkblots aren’t entirely meaningless in the strictest sense of the word, and they’re certainly not random. There’s a standardized set of pictures, and to some degree, the evaluation of the person depends on whether he/she recognizes the same things in the picture that others traditionally see in it. I think a therapist might think about a test person: “Will she see the house or the rabbits in card number 7?”, a thought that wouldn’t be meaningful if the inkblots were without meaning.

    I don’t see much difference between asking about a person’s reflections over a fractal picture or an inkblot picture. Both types of pictures were produced in intrisically non-figurative manners, but both types of pictures are also subject to human (therapist) selection and to some degree also to a history of interpretations. Some fractal depictions even have well-known names (for example the Seahorse) which raises the explicit expectation that a test person would recognize a particular figure in the pictures).

  2. alexandre van de sande

    I just stopped by to thank you to giving me credit for the HTP picture, but was stuck on your article.

    Your point on comparing Tarot and Rorschach is very interesting. My mother was a psychologist by diploma but a astrologer/tarot player by profession for many years. I always felt that the tarot/astrology sessions where great moments of therapy because we were using abstract concepts to talk about fears and dreams for the future, and that was way more important (to talk about) than either the “previsions” where accurate or not.

  3. isabella mori

    well, jan, nothing much gets past you 🙂

    first of all, thanks for correcting me on the MRI vs. fMRI point. i was being sloppy there.

    second, let me quote from the original post:

    “among others, fractals are used to illustrate and understand living systems that at first glance look chaotic, like weather systems, or the stock market.

    or the human experience? i’ve never seen that done before – and would love to try it. i don’t quite know how but a start could be to look at an image like this one and wonder – what could it be illustrating?”

    this is different from asking the question, “what do you/i think this illustrates?”

    i’m going to go out on a limb here – and possibly, with your mathematical background, you might correct me on it but i’ll do it anyways:

    what i was trying to do was similar to looking at an equation with one or more unknowns and then seeing what happens if you substitute one of the unknowns with any number.

    it is highly unlikely that this would be the correct number but making the substitution and going through the process of checking it will tell us something about how the equation might be solved correctly.

    it’s an abductive process – and yes, i know, that’s often seen as a questionable process – but as you know, one used frequently in the early beginnings of trying to understand something.

    and yes, it was subjective – i certainly didn’t claim otherwise.

    i like the point that you make about the fractal not being random. of course it’s not. is human behaviour random or just infinitely complex?

    is the concept of randomness even applicable to human behaviour? (i wonder what wittgenstein would say about that) at any rate, it appears that human behaviour is much more random than the fractals i can produce on my fractal software.

    but then, we are just talking about snapshots. the fMRI is also just a snapshot of a particular instance in a particular location of the brain. could a fractal be a snapshot of a particular instance of a human experience under particular circumstances?

    you say, “i think a therapist might think about a test person: ‘will she see the house or the rabbits in card number 7?'”.

    well, there are different way of looking at and using projective tests (or personality and similar tests for that matter – don’t get me started on that!) in the perspective that i take, when i do therapy, i take care NOT to ask myself such questions. i need to leave room for a client to see whatever they see, including nothing.

    the power of suggestion in therapy is absolutely staggering – and if i suggest too much to my clients, how will we ever find out what’s really going on?

    ah, i could go on and on here, but i will follow your wise example and stop writing, too 🙂

  4. isabella mori

    sodade, thanks for your comment!

    the way i see it, the similarity between making mandalas and making fractals came about with the ability to do this via special software.

    traditionally, drawing or making mandalas by hand is a meditative process. i wouldn’t call making a fractal with the help of a computer program meditative (unless you are the kind of person who wants to make all her actions meditative).

    the esthetic effect, of course, can be similarly pleasing. it’s all about visual patterns …

  5. isabella mori

    hi alexandre, and welcome! you’re actually the first person i’ve credited for their photography who makes a comment!

    thanks for your comment. if i read you correctly, you seem to be pointing out that it’s more important to deal with what’s close to our hearts (fears, dreams) than trying to “figure things out”. i’ll need to keep that in mind if/when i start serious work on this fractal project.

  6. alexandre van de sande

    That’s probably because I set google to send me an email when someone talks about me or something I done somewhere.. Leads to interesting conversations

    I was in fact digressing on the Tarot analogy. By comparing it to a psychological exercise (the same with mandalas, astrology and tons of other examples), you are able to see an aspect of “fortune-telling” that makes it so powerful, useful and lasting without falling on pit traps of either actually believe or not on “fortune-telling”. It becomes another tool for talking about the present. It’s very clever thought..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *