Tip-of-the-Tongue Phenomena: An Introductory Phenomenological Analysis











Steven Ravett Brown

University of Oregon

May 5, 1999


The issue of meaningful yet unexpressed background - to language, to our experiences of the body - is one whose exploration is still in its infancy. There are various aspects of "invisible," implicit, or background experiences which have been investigated from the viewpoints of phenomenology, cognitive psychology, and linguistics. I will claim that James, as explicated by Gurwitsch and others, has analyzed the phenomenon of fringes in such a way as to provide a structural framework from which to investigate and better understand those ideas or concepts that are unexpressed, particularly those experienced in the sense of being sought-after. I will consider Johnson’s conception of the image-schematic gestalt (ISG) as a way of bridging the descriptive gap between phenomenology and cognitive psychology. Starting from an analysis of the fringes, I will turn to a consideration of the of tip-of-tongue (TOT) state, as a kind of feeling-of-knowing (FOK) state, from a variety of approaches, focusing mainly on cognitive psychology and phenomenology. I will then integrate a phenomenological analysis of these experiences, from the James/Gurwitsch structural viewpoint, with a cognitive/phenomenological analysis in terms of ISGs; and further integrate that with a cognitive/functional analysis of consciousness. I will employ this synthesis of three viewpoints to explore the thesis that the TOT state and similar experiences may relate to the gestalt nature of schemas as well as to particular cues, and may thus be experienced as an aspect of the continuum to the general background to all our conscious experiences.








Steven Ravett Brown

1961 Agate Street

Eugene, OR 97403-1437


In this essay I concern myself with an aspect of consciousness which seems extremely difficult to conceptualize: the absence of, or background to, experiences, particularly of experiences relating to a kind of active searching that is apperceived as a "gap that is intensely active" (James, 1950, p. 251): the tip-of-tongue (TOT) experience, related to a more general feeling-of-knowing (FOK). I will try to show that James's concept of fringes, as developed by Gurwitsch (1964), Galin (1994), and Mangan (1993), might indicate how phenomenological descriptions of the TOT, and by extension similar experiences, could be expressed in terms of the model of the structure of consciousness worked out by Gurwitsch. This model, I will argue, presents us with a means of interrelating, under one phenomenologically oriented structural schema, disparate aspects of consciousness to experiences of which we are barely conscious and, to a certain extent, to unconscious processes. I will argue that such states may be generated from the recognition and matching of more general or abstract image-schematic gestalts (ISGs) already present, where an ISG is, roughly, a "a recurring level of organized unity" in Johnson’s (Johnson, 1987) sense (see below). In addition, I will suggest that at least one aspect of the function of conscious awareness, namely its control function, as explored by Libet (1985), Flanagan (1997), and Baars (1993), may be employed to speculate about the phenomenological/ cognitive integration of detailed mechanisms underlying TOT states.

While the FOK phenomenon and the related TOT experience are interesting in their own rights, I will investigate them as they relate to the general study of the description and nature of consciousness. That is, in this essay I will use these phenomena to investigate some aspects of the nature of consciousness through the light they cast on the point at which consciousness disappears; the point where experience becomes non-experience and vice versa. We do not directly experience forgotten memories, but phenomena that we do experience can become such memories, and the reverse. The explication of that juncture, the threshold between the conscious and the subconscious, may help clarify the general description and analysis of consciousness.

There is a vast literature on memory and recall in the fields of experimental and cognitive psychology, and the FOK and TOT states have been extensively investigated from this perspective. This literature, however, deals with these phenomena primarily experimentally, as objectively measured behavior. I will argue that an investigation of these kinds of phenomena might benefit from information from such a variety of sources, each area serving to amplify and if need be correct the others. Phenomenologists can profit from the research of psychologists, and by the same reasoning, researchers in cognitive psychology might be usefully informed by the results of phenomenological investigations.

I will, therefore, first consider James's concept of the fringe, as analyzed by Gurwitsch, Galin, and Mangan. Given the structure of the field of consciousness, as Gurwitsch represents it, we shall find that fringes fit into a general scheme encompassing all our conscious experiences. I will next critique Galin’s and Mangan’s approaches to explicating the fringe, and present Johnson’s concept of the image-schematic gestalt. I will then review some of the current research into the TOT and FOK phenomena, and indicate how these results might also be explained using Johnson’s concept of embodied ISGs. I will proceed to Gendlin’s (1995) examples, and elucidate how experienced absences and disappearances, as recounted by Gendlin, might be profitably described with the James/Gurwitsch structural model of consciousness, particularly with the concept of the fringes, and will speculate on the relationship of this phenomenological model to the cognitive descriptions of embodied ISGs. I will then suggest a model in which consciousness, roughly defined as second-order awareness, that is, our awareness not only of phenomena, but that we are aware of these phenomena, plays an active role, as a control system, in the production and resolution of TOT states.

The Fringe

For James, consciousness consists, roughly, of "substantive parts," (James, 1950, p. 243), and "transitive parts": "thoughts of relations, static or dynamic" (p. 243). James also mentions states such as: "Attitudes of expectancy… a sense of the direction from which an impression is about to come" (p. 251). And more significantly for our present discussion: "What is the strange difference between an experience tasted for the first time and the same experience recognized as familiar?" (p. 252).

James explicates the term "fringes" as follows:

What is that shadowy scheme of the ‘form’ of an opera, play, or book, which remains in our mind and on which we pass judgment when the actual thing is done? (p. 255)…. Let us use the words psychic overtone, suffusion, or fringe, to designate the influence of a faint brain-process upon our thought, as it makes it aware of relations and objects but dimly perceived…. the fringe… is part of the object cognized, -substantive qualities and things appearing to the mind in a fringe of relations…. Knowledge about a thing is knowledge of its relations… Of most of its relation we are only aware in the penumbral nascent way of a ‘fringe’ of unarticulated affinities about it (p. 258-9).

James provides us with several concrete examples of fringes. For example, he distinguishes the meanings of "man" in, "What a wonderful man Jones is!" from its meaning in, "What a wonderful thing Man is!" (p. 472) as a result of the differences between the fringes associated with those two sentences.

In order to further analyze the concept of the fringe, we need to understand Gurwitsch’s (Gurwitsch, 1964) model of the field of consciousness. Gurwitsch notes similarities in his thought to James's, but finds a lack of overall organization in James's analysis. Gurwitsch concludes that throughout the field of consciousness one must take into account "the relationship of material relevancy or pertinence to what at the moment occupies the focus" (p. 22). He partitions conscious experiences into three domains: theme, thematic field, and margin.

Every total field of consciousness consists of three domains, each domain exhibiting a specific type of organization of its own. The first domain is the theme, that which engrosses the mind of the experiencing subject, or as it is often expressed, which stands in the ‘focus of his attention.’ Second is the thematic field, defined as the totality of those data, co-present with the theme, which are experienced as materially relevant or pertinent to the theme and form the background or horizon out of which the theme emerges as the center. The third includes data which, though co-present with, have no relevancy to, the theme and comprise in their totality what we propose to call the margin [my Italics] (p. 4).

When Gurwitsch refers to "data," he should be taken as referring to "not only material things perceived, as well as remembered or imagined, but also mathematical relations, musical compositions, and theoretical implications" (p. 4), in fact, to all possible experiences, including emotions.

Thus, if one stands in front of a building, then walks around it, one is "presented with a multiplicity of perceptual appearances… experienced as perceptual presentations of one and the same thing, namely, the building… we are at the same time aware of our bodily condition… all the data in question are experienced simultaneously" (p. 2). The theme, in this case, is the building, a singular object, as it appears at this moment, while the thematic field might encompass the past and anticipated perspectives of the building, and/or the inside, which we remember or imagine. The margin (which I believe does in fact relate to the theme) might include the sound of a car passing in the street behind one’s back, perhaps creating an impression that the building is noisy. In addition, the theme and in fact all the aspects of the field of consciousness possess gestalt qualities: "The unity of the theme thus proves unity by Gestalt-coherence throughout." (p. 139), including the properties and implications of the figure-ground phenomena. The fringes are aspects of this structure. As Gurwitsch states,

James also traces the difference between ‘knowledge about’ and ‘acquaintance’ to the presence or absence of fringes. Every topic or theme is surrounded by fringes, a halo of relations, references, and pointings… (p. 309).

Gurwitsch, then, presents us with a general structure of experiences as gestalts organized both by the "saliency of a group of data so that this group emerges and segregates itself from the [experiential] stream" (p. 31), and by experienced intensity.

Now we will combine the ideas above with Johnson’s (Johnson, 1987) conception of embodied schemas. Johnson states that an image schema is "a recurrent pattern, shape, and regularity in, or of… ongoing ordering activities" (p. 29). That is, an image schema is a "dynamic analog representation of spatial relations and movements in space… derived from perceptual and motor processes" (Gibbs & Colston, 1995, p. 349), which "operate as organizing structures of experience…image schemas are at once visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile" (p. 349). They originate from our earliest experiences of the world, and are the "primary means by which we construct or constitute order" (Johnson, 1987, p. 30). Gibbs and Colston (Gibbs & Colston, 1995) speak of this process in terms of the metaphorical projection of an image schema such that its "internal structure is projected onto new domain[s]" (p. 349), and describe these processes of constitution and projection in detail.

Johnson (Johnson, 1987) traces the concept of the image schema from Kant’s idea of the schema or schematic structure, proposed to account for ideas or concepts at a level more abstract than that of mental images. Thus, "schemata have a generality that raises them a level above the specificity of particular rich images" (p. 24), where a "rich image" is literally a mental image of, say, a particular triangle. As Turner (Turner, 1996) puts it, "to recognize several events as structured by the same image schema is to recognize a category" (p. 16). The idea (schema) of a triangle, then, is not simply a mental picture of a triangle, and thus is both more general and, at least in part (as Gibbs and Colston state, above), non-imagistic. By the same arguments, the mental contents of any particular image schema cannot consist wholly of mental images of any particular instance of that schema. In addition, the question of whether to characterize many image schemas as "mental" is an open one. Lakoff and Johnson (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999) maintain that "it is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought… the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness is what shapes and structures all conscious thought" (p. 10). But to describe something as an "unconscious thought" is still to remain in the domain of the mental, rather than, for example, characterizing it as "behavior" or "neural impulses," and I think that the gestalt, a mental concept, is a very useful way to characterize image schemas, image-schematic gestalts, metaphors, and blends (see also Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, e.g., pp. 95-117, for an extended argument supporting this point).

Most image schemas tend to be more general than those of geometric figures. Gibbs and Colston (Gibbs & Colston, 1995) mention "over two dozen" (p. 347) different image schemas acquired in childhood, such as the balance and container image schemas (I will follow the convention of referring to specific image schemas in small caps), whose meaning/function are, roughly, generalizations of the conventional meanings of these terms. Thus, the container image schema has three aspects: an interior, an exterior, and a boundary that separates them. It is hypothesized that this image schema arises from our early experiences of containers and containment, such as our bodies, rooms, bottles, and so forth. As Johnson (1987) states, "our encounter with containment and boundedness is one of the most pervasive features of our bodily experience… we move in and out of rooms, clothes… and numerous kinds of bounded spaces" (p. 21). Despite the compelling explanation and, it would seem, virtual inevitability of the formation of such image schemas, at this point evidence for their formation in young children is still accumulating. Gibbs and Colston are attempting, with some success, both to compile and to provide experimental evidence that supports Johnson’s (and others’, e.g., Lakoff Lakoff, 1990, p. 272) arguments for their existence and early acquisition. Despite this somewhat frustrating current situation involving the acquisition of image schemas, however, I believe that the evidence (see also Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, pp. 74-93) is sufficient to accept their existence.

These primary image schemas are elaborated as we mature, combine with each other and with other experiences. Thus, image schemas may become "image-schematic gestalts" (ISGs) (Johnson, 1987, p. 62). Combinations of image schemas can incorporate not only other image schemas, but "rich" images, including content other than visual, as well. Lakoff’s "idealized cognitive models" (Lakoff, 1990, p. 68-70) are similar structures. I will refer to them by the former term. An image-schematic gestalt (ISG) representing a car, for example, might possess relationships, structures, and features including the following: it moves, is used for transportation, it contains or encloses its passengers, it has wheels, windows, doors; the aural image (sound) of its engine, of its doors closing; the smell of its interior; the kinesthetic feel of turning the steering wheel; idiosyncrasies of its operation (hard to start in rain), and more, evoking other images, situations, vehicles, and so forth. Some of these are general characteristics (rigidity of roof), some are image schemas (containment), some are very specific images. That this structure is a gestalt is indicated by the fact that if one of these aspects were to change, probably many others would also have to change. For example, if the car was broken into and something was stolen, we probably would in the future conceive of it less as a container, or at least as a more permeable container: less solid than previously. Thus, this image-schematic gestalt is a gestalt in the senses elaborated on above, including the possession of integrity and wholeness.

A further example of an ISG might be the one, above, referring to the building (from the Gurwitsch example). It might possess relationships, structures, and features including the following: it is square (an aspect of the ISG which might incorporate an image schema of containment), made of bricks, has classrooms, combined with a visual image of the building, idiosyncrasies of its appearance (e.g., a gargoyle), an aural image of a door closing, and more, all evoking other images, situations, people, and so forth. Some of these are very general characteristics, many describable by metaphor, some are specific images: features. Again, the gestalt nature of the ISG is indicated by the observation that if one of these characteristics were to change, probably many others would also have to change. For example, if the building had a broken cornice, we might think it less solid (which might affect our perception of its brickwork). It is important to note that we can understand the general schematic structure, the "form" (James, 1950, p. 255) of the building, to be this ISG, without all of the specific features. In addition, ISGs are not just passive patterns, but are, like image schemas, actively constituted patterns.

What, then, of ISGs for which that process does not complete itself: gestalts that, for one reason or another, do not constitute themselves sufficiently? I suggest that when we are searching for an idea what it is we are searching from is an ISG which is not complete. Thus, when we remember, after an effort, that it was Dickens who wrote Oliver Twist, at that instant we place the novel, remembering, for example, context, background, and our own literary history. We must bear in mind that in a TOT state, when we attempt to recall a word, phrase, name, and so forth, we are not operating on that word in isolation, merely as part of a sentence, but within a contextual situation, as part of a general context and image-schematic gestalt. Given this, a conception like Johnson’s dynamic ISGs seems extremely appropriate. Baars (Baars, 1993) also treats the TOT state similarly, as an "incomplete goal context" (p. 235).

Now I would like to offer some more specific suggestions as to how these areas might be bridged. I will assume that in order to experience a gestalt as a unitary phenomenon, there must be a certain minimum "amount" of its contents, including its most salient structural interrelationships, present to consciousness. Next we will assume, given the results of Libet Libet, 1985 and similar studies, that a major function of consciousness is inhibitory. That is, Libet found that "conscious control can be exerted… to select or control volitional outcome. The volitional process… can be consciously 'vetoed'" (pp. 536-537). Flanagan (Flanagan, 1997) similarly states that "Conscious processes… have the power to inhibit (or veto) the motor response being readied, if the agent so desires" (p. 363).

The implications for FOK and TOT states, then, are as follows. Normal remembering utilizes retrieval processes that are largely automatic. However, when there is difficulty remembering, we must consciously activate memory: we make an "effort to remember," which must at least in part (otherwise there would be no effect of or purpose to the conscious effort) consist of inhibiting that normal automatic memory retrieval, that is, inhibiting the normal pathways from activation. Since those are inhibited, I suggest that retrieval of both the normal and the less normal are more equally likely, and thus retrieval is "spread-out," so to speak, to include a broader scope of material, where the width (or variability) of the searches is relative to the degree of inhibition, which correlates with the conscious effort.

This conscious remembering entails the "mental efforts" of both concentration and control. Concentration is associated with the inhibition described above. Control, in this context, is associated mainly with activation. That is, when we control the induction of memory, we consciously activate a variety of phenomenal contexts through various techniques to resolve the TOT state. If we are attempting to remember a person's name, for example, we might run, systematically or not, through alternative locations in which we may have met them, clothing they were wearing, or names (e.g., "going through the alphabet letter by letter" (Burke, MacKay, Worthley, & Wade, 1991, p. 549). We are controlling the content of the phenomenal field in this manner, and thereby generating a broad variety of contexts. A possible problem with this strategy is that the retrieval broadening might produce associations, false memories, which cannot integrate as they should, but interfere with the true memories, although some false memories do pass this criterion and are erroneously accepted (e.g., see Burke et al, p. 549, for a model employing a "transmission deficit" explanation for this phenomenon). The interference prevents memory retrieval, and the conscious inhibition promotes the broadening that encourages such retrieval and thus the interference: we are caught in a feedback process that interferes with itself. Then we must stop this process: "think about something else," and the memories will, hopefully, be recovered, since we are now in normal automatic retrieval mode, with a change: there are now additional memories resulting from the above processes, which may serve to complete the gestalt, retrieving the memories we originally wished to regain. I will term the above the conscious inhibition (CI) hypothesis. This hypothesis, then, is a suggestion as to how a phenomenological and a cognitive model might be integrated to explain some aspects of TOTs, i.e., how consciousness of retrieval problems is necessary to resolve those problems. The two types of analyses complement each other.

We might hypothesize that a TOT state is experienced as an ISG with a gap – which might result, for example, from an incomplete metaphorical mapping. The "intense activity" cited by James (James, 1950, p. 251) then, is an attempt (through, say, a combination of the inhibitory and excitatory mechanisms described above) to bridge or fill in this gap, not with the general schematic structure (the "form"), which we do possess, but with specifics, themselves image-schematic substructures, which when fitted into the gap, create a seamless whole. They match the previously incomplete schematic structure in such a way that there are no further gaps, no apparent contradictions, and the pattern provided completes the pattern already present in the ISG and its components. We may find those missing specifics by searching either for another general ISG matching the one with the gap, and using the latter to fill in the gap, or by attempting to construct an ISG to fill the gap. We may then encounter a "subschema," for example, the person’s name and some of its associations, that fits this gap, or perhaps an ISG matching the "form "of the person, through association and/or construction.

For example, if we are searching for a person’s name, we have some idea about the person whose name it is, but that idea is not complete. When we find the name, not only is that symbol supplied (e.g., as a result of the above processes), but the symbol provides us with a multitude of associations - its own schematic substructure - that "fill out" not only the gap occupied by the name but related gaps in the ISG. We place the person. We have matched and completed the previously unfinished ISG of that person. Our experience is one of "feeling" that this is indeed the correct person, and now we remember exactly what they looked like, when we met them, and so forth, some or all of which we did not remember until we remembered their name. This is a description of recreating the meaning of a symbol which is embedded in a meaningful context. It is not necessary, initially, I will claim, to search through "vast amounts of unconscious information," as Mangan (Mangan, 1993, p. 105) states, but to induce (according to the CI hypothesis) similar patterns, ISGs in memory, and find one which is congruent with the one in which the current "intensely active" gap is embedded. Further, conceptualizing the field of consciousness, not only in terms of ISGs but in structural terms such as the James/Gurwitsch model, provides a framework within which ISGs can interrelate. This framework contributes further information that can help detail the connections between schematic groupings, retrievals, and predictions of interactions of ISGs.

We see from James's descriptions of fringe phenomena an indication of the possibility of conceptualizing TOT and other FOK states in these terms. That is, his description of fringes, containing "the halo of felt relations" (James, 1950, p. 256), seems a description of an ISG, just as "the gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another" (p. 251) seems a description of an incomplete ISG. "If the wrong names are proposed to us this singular gap acts immediately so as to negate them" (p. 251), seems to describe what happens if part of one ISG, hypothesized as completing another, does not fit the other ISG.

Now we shall start to investigate some of the current conceptualizations of fringe phenomena, especially as they relate to TOT states.

Some Concepts of the Fringe - Mangan and Galin

Mangan (Mangan, 1993) characterizes fringe experiences as intrinsically "transitive" and "peripheral" (p. 98), and claims that "rightness… tells consciousness the degree to which a content… fits with its nonconscious context" (p. 99). Rightness then becomes "a goodness-of-fit metric" (p. 105), and consciousness "must somehow take into account vast amounts of unconscious information that it cannot itself contain" (p. 105). However, while Mangan claims that the fringe "condenses context information" (p. 99) in consciousness, an alternative explanation might be that the aspects of the fringe that Mangan is concerned with correspond more closely to Johnson’s "image-schematic gestalt." One can, I suggest, experience an ISG in a sense both abstract and transitive, as "regularities in ongoing ordering activities." An ISG, then, could indicate context without the necessity of condensing or summarizing, merely by outlining, presenting a general shape (James's "form").

Despite its phenomenological limitations (e.g., Galin, 1994, p. 387-389), I think that Mangan’s analysis points us in the right direction. The fringes are seen as related (through "rightness") in a very explicit, if limited, way to the thematic field. In addition, characterizing TOT phenomena as "fringes" does provide a conceptual perspective from a structural context, one which situates these experiences in relationship to the entire field of consciousness.

Galin characterizes Mangan’s conception of the fringe as a "radical condensation" or "summary" of "a very large web of nonconscious information" (Galin, 1994, p. 386). He also states that "Mangan focused primarily on the feeling of "rightness’" (p. 386). Galin analyzes the fringes in order to categorize them phenomenologically. According to him, whether an experience may be considered a fringe does not depend on thematicity (in Gurwitsch’s sense), but on its content and characteristics. Galin suggests that the fringes do not contain "topic-relevant features" (p. 391), but instead that those experiences can be divided into evaluative categories. He continues by stating that fringes "present condensations or global indices of other non-conscious knowledge" (p. 392) and that "A summary is needed because the whole map is too big for the limited representational capacity of awareness" (p. 393). Although Galin does categorize fringe experiences, instead of attempting to integrate the fringes into the whole of the field of consciousness, as Gurwitsch does, the fringes, for Galin, seem to be almost isolated phenomena. This enables him to classify their contents, but hinders an analysis of them as dynamic aspects of the totality of one’s experiences, except in the most general terms.

In addition, I find Galin’s account somewhat in conflict with James's description of fringes as containing "substantive qualities and things… in a fringe of relations" (James, 1950, p. 258). Thus, while fringes indeed seem, at least in part, to be relational in Galin’s sense, those relations must be composed not merely of "global indices," but of relations between experiences which because of their specificity require content which must be, in part, particular features. This explanation is more in line with a conception of fringes as aspects of ISGs. In addition, when one speaks of "an object’s global meaning," one cannot, I maintain, do so without referring to a multitude of specifics (e.g., the example of the opera, above).

Both Galin and James make the important point that "vague" experiences are real, and essential, not just glossed-over "clear" experiences. "It is, in short, the re-instatement of the vague to its proper place in our mental life which I am so anxious to press" (James, 1950, p. 254). Galin states that the "fringe experience could be described as ‘definite.’…. For example, the feeling of knowing in the tip-of-the-tongue experience is very intense, not dim, and it is also very specific…. Neither is it fleeting" (Galin, 1994, p. 388). These statements emphasize that fringes, gaps, TOT states, can (but need not) be both vague and powerful. That is, the TOT experience, as such, is definite and sometimes intense, yet in it is a core of vagueness or indefiniteness: there is, after all, an experienced gap that we are attempting to fill. But because of its intensity, it may be the focus, the theme of the field of consciousness.

However, fringes must possess content, i.e., features: how else could one conceptualize the "’form’ of an opera" (James, 1950, p. 255), for example, and know that it is not only an opera, but a particular opera? Several operas are structured around the death of a lover, but one must introduce some specifics to differentiate, say, Tosca from La Boheme (see also the example with Columbus, below). Nonetheless, the fringe may be difficult to clarify, necessarily so, as it principally functions to modify a theme and to bridge a gap between distinct contents, so its features cannot be the primary focus of our attention. Furthermore, the fringe does not necessarily involve temporal relationships, but may well involve the experience of general characteristics (e.g., the "form") co-present with other experiences. Thus, in characterizing fringes as, in part, an experience of form, James could hardly have better stated the case for fringes as ISGs.

Another example may further clarify some broad characteristics of fringes. Gurwitsch uses James's example of two sentences referring to Columbus: "Columbus discovered America in 1492," and "He was a daring genius" (Gurwitsch, 1964, p. 316). In speaking of the second sentence, which also refers to Columbus, Gurwitsch states, quoting James,

The ‘object’ [the meaning of the second sentence, above] may still involve the topic because of the specification of the meaning of the world ‘he’ by means of a fringe…. Here this reference is experienced through a fringe of ‘sameness-with-some-thing-else’, ‘in which a substantive mental kernel-of-content can appear enveloped’…. Fringes may well contribute towards shaping the ‘object’ of thought, that is, the meaning of the proposition through which the thought is expressed (p. 316-17).

In essence, one can employ three levels of description to characterize fringes. First, a general structural description, by which the fringes are understood as being particularly situated in the field of consciousness: usually on the horizon (that is, as part of the less salient aspects) of our experiencings, perhaps vaguely or faintly, but in a relationship to the theme that fades if a transition is made to non-thematic areas.

Second, the fringes contain (as features or aspects) a variety of types of contents, e.g., various ISGs, and either as aspects of those ISGs or in addition to them, fairly specific features, any of which may both specify the content of the fringes themselves and refer to the present theme (which itself may be a general or specific ISG) and/or to other past or possible themes, establishing the transitions to and from these and the present theme. Since the theme, the focus of consciousness, is also a gestalt, the fringes may function as connectives between gestalts, perhaps even initiating figure-ground phenomena such as reversals.

Third, we may describe the specific contents of particular fringes: the specification of the meaning and the relation, for example, of "source" (Galin, 1994, p. 391), in the sentences referring to Columbus, where, roughly speaking, the word "he" (abstracted for the purpose of this example as an isolate unit) contains features of the ISG associated in this context with the word "Columbus" and, in addition, the relation which refers back to the previous sentence (which may be, as Galin states, a summary or condensed form) as the source of those features.

We have, then, a description of certain aspects of consciousness which, borrowing Gurwitsch’s overall structure, has a center or focus, the theme, while co-present with the theme are experiences relevant to it, the thematic field, which contain and imply James's "halo of felt relations," Gurwitsch’s "background or horizon," Johnson’s ISGs: the fringes, pointing toward other experiences. The fringes, then, which are co-present with and include experiences other than just feelings of pointing or relation, usually fade into vagueness toward the "margin," those experiences which have minimal relevance toward the current theme, although, per Galin, the fringes may on some occasions actually be the theme. What I have been attempting to establish is that the fringes do normally correspond with much of what Gurwitsch terms the horizon, and that the fringes must contain features in the sense of possessing images (e.g., James's "substantive qualities and things"), although those images may be vague or faint. Thus, as coherent structured complexes, the fringes may be characterized as image-schematic gestalts (or at their simplest, as schemas) in Johnson’s sense. When conceived as situated within the general structure of consciousness as modeled by James/Gurwitsch, the ISGs experienced as fringes are understood in terms of their dynamic transitions not only to other gestalts, but to other areas of the field of consciousness.

TOT/FOK Phenomena - Current Research

The above exposition has provided us with a phenomenologically oriented approach to understanding fringe phenomena and to a type of phenomenological description (belonging to a form of phenomenology I will term "cognitive phenomenology") of the structure of consciousness. This structural analysis can now be applied to cognitively oriented studies of the particular phenomenon known as the tip-of-the-tongue, or TOT, state, a subclass of the feeling-of-knowing (FOK) experience. Before I do so, however, I need to more precisely explicate how these phenomena are experienced. James (James, 1950) was perhaps the first to characterize this type of experience systematically:

Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name… There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of a wraith of a name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction…. If the wrong names are proposed to us this singular gap acts immediately so as to negate them…. And the gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps…. There are innumerable consciousnesses of emptiness, no one of which taken in itself has a name, but all different from each other (p. 251-2).

James has vividly described the general class of states known as TOT states, characterized by an "intensely active" gap which is experienced during the (mental) search for an item believed to be previously known.

The area in cognitive psychology that investigates this type of phenomenon is known as "metacognition." Thus, Nelson and Narens (1994) write of the investigation of "knowledge of one’s own knowledge" (Nelson & Narens, 1994, p. 10). In their article, "monitoring processes" (p. 15) are classified into, roughly, "ease-of-learning (EOL) judgments," "judgments of learning (JOL)," and "feeling-of-knowing (FOK) judgments" (p. 16). It is these latter of which TOT states are a subclass.

Burke et al initially describe the TOT state exclusively in cognitive terms: "It involves a selective failure of word retrieval: A TOT word is in the lexicon of the afflicted person but is temporarily inaccessible" (Burke et al., 1991, p. 542). They follow this, however, with a phenomenological description: "The accompanying sense of imminent retrieval has been characterized as 'something like the brink of a sneeze'" (p. 547). They employ a connectionist theory, the Node Structure theory (NST), to explain the phenomenon in terms of the flow of information between semantic and phonological nodes. Their article, however, aside from a brief mention of retrieval strategies in phenomenological terms (e.g., "thinking of contextual information," p. 549), has no implication that conscious intervention exerts any influence on one's retrieval processes. That is, the NST does not explicitly include any effects of consciousness on the TOT state or its resolution, in contrast with the CI hypothesis.

Smith characterizes the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon in this way: "people sometimes find themselves in a ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ (TOT) state, a discomfiting experience in which a seemingly well-known term appears to be blocked from conscious awareness" (Smith, 1994, p. 27). He reviews studies of TOT experiences going back to the Brown and McNeill (Brown & McNeill, 1966) study cited by Mangan. Interestingly enough, Mangan’s explanation of the TOT as a "recognition of rightness" (Mangan, 1993, p. 103) seems to be contradicted by more recent findings. To recapitulate, Mangan’s thesis is that "rightness," a fringe phenomenon, compensates for "consciousness’ articulation limitations" of its "vast unconscious context" (p. 105) by acting as a "goodness-of-fit metric… a global, summary signal" (p. 105). However, Smith found that TOT some TOT states were useful predictions of recall, as Mangan surmised, but some were not (e.g., "an incomplete storage of a target’s name could cause an inferentially based illusory TOT" [p. 39]). Sometimes TOT states occurred although the information was not present ("negative TOT states" [Smith, 1994, p. 45]), some were mediated by other information, some not. TOT feelings may indicate that "inferential mechanisms… rather than trace access may often be responsible for metamemory judgments" (Smith, 1994, p. 44). This study makes it clear that attempts, like Mangan’s, to provide explanations for TOT states in terms of global operations on memory are almost certainly incorrect. These results seem more consistent with the hypothesis that TOT states are associated with incomplete ISGs, which might be completed by means of a variety of potentially fallible inferential processes.

However, there is a possible similarity between Mangan's "global signal" and phenomenological implications of the CI hypothesis. That is, given conscious focusing on retrieval and the resulting hypothesized inhibition of the most highly activated pathways, a more "global" memory activation would result, in the sense described above: greater and more variable retrieval of memories. This might give rise to feelings of greater content than normal, of summarization, and of the necessity of structuring the increased information, which might be interpreted as a glimpse and summarization of "vast" memory stores.

Miner and Reder (1994) have also investigated FOK and TOT states, and believe that a "person uses a heuristic based on cues in the question to quickly determine whether a memory search is warranted. Feeling of knowing… does not require careful inspection of the memory traces" (Miner & Reder, 1994, p. 65). They state that FOK states may be conceived of "as a rapid, metacognitive stage that precedes retrieval attempts and becomes particularly salient only when retrieval fails…. A monitoring process…" (p. 65). This conclusion is interesting in the light of both the CI hypothesis and Johnson’s work: it seems unlikely that such a monitoring process, in order to be rapid, could summarize a "vast" amount of data; rather, such a process might well be served by some sort of ISG matching procedure, and that the initial "metacognitive stage" could very well be the awareness of the initiation of active inhibition implied by the CI hypothesis. The matching stage, then, would follow the stage of broadened retrieval consequent to the CI hypothesis. Miner and Reder’s result is probably too straightforward, given the phenomenological and other data considered in the rest of this essay, but it does serve the purpose of weighing against, again, any simple "condensation" or "summarizing" explanations.

Koriat (1994) also finds that the FOK phenomenon is not summary in Mangan’s sense: "FOK depends on the accessibility of partial information regardless of its correctness (Koriat, 1994, p. 131). He continues, "Both the accuracy and inaccuracy of FOK judgments can be explained by assuming that FOK judgments merely monitor the overall accessibility of partial information regarding the target in question" (p. 134-135). He also cites data indicating a possible role for ISGs in FOK states relating to individual words:

Subjects can also gain accurate information about some of the word’s semantic attributes…. For example, subjects unable to recall the translation of a so-called Somali word were accurate in judging its connotative meaning with regard to the three dimensions of the semantic differential (p. 116).

Thus, although specific features could not be recalled, general aspects of meaning, even for specific words, could be. These general aspects were not summaries, since they related to individual words, but they were, in a sense, the form of the word: the semantic gap in an ISG that the word filled.

An earlier article by Burke et al (Burke et al., 1991) concerns itself almost exclusively with linguistic TOTs. This article is based on a model employing a network of phonological/semantic nodes, and the TOT state is explained by weakened connections among those nodes. This model is consistent with the CI hypothesis, but the latter explains the "pop-up" phenomenon with which Burke et al's model has difficulty (e.g., p. 550, p. 562). That is, spontaneous resolution of the TOT state is expected to be more likely, given the CI model, after conscious effort at recall, because of the broadening of retrieval possibilities. In addition, there is no mention in this article of anything like a "summarizing" function, which would in any case be extremely difficult to account for given the type of distributed memory in Burke et al's model.

Finally, an article by Metcalfe (Metcalfe, 1994) brings us full circle back to phenomenology. Metcalfe hypothesizes that the FOK state relates to judgments "based on a novelty/familiarity detector" (p. 147), in which a "quick assessment of the familiarity of the cue is made" (p. 147). She is arguing against Koriat’s hypothesis about the amount and accessibility of information, and finds that in case of prefrontal lobe damage, there are indications that such people "are selectively impaired in making feeling-of-knowing judgments" (p. 151). Her hypothesis is that the prefrontal lobes, among other functions, control "an ability to reliably, immediately, and automatically detect familiarity or novelty prior to associative memory storage… impairment in such an ability may have a profound impact on the real world memory functioning, the phenomenology… the awareness, and the motivation…" (p. 155). The CI hypothesis does not make any predictions about the existence of a "novelty/familiarity" detector, but given such a detector and its impairment in persons with prefrontal lobe damage, the CI hypothesis would predict that TOTs would be less readily resolved, since conscious awareness and focusing is necessary for the inhibitory effect. Spontaneous resolutions of memory impairments which would normally give rise to a TOT state, then, would be less likely with such a syndrome, under this hypothesis.

It is clear from the above that FOK and TOT states are not simple, either causally or phenomenologically. No single feeling, of rightness, familiarity and so forth is sufficient to describe them, nor has any single hypothesis so far been sufficient to account for them. Thus, phenomenological analyses such as James's and Gurwitsch’s, and causal hypotheses such as mine involving ISGs and the CI hypothesis where tip-of-the-tongue and other fringe feelings and activities must encompass a variety of relationships and features, are necessary to link the various levels of observations.

Gendlin’s Phenomenological Analyses - First Example

Now we can use the above tools to explicate some of the more puzzling phenomena relating to the TOT experience involving absences, gaps and backgrounds. James and Gurwitsch have presented us with a general framework which organizes experiences from the focal area, the noematic nucleus, to the edges of the subconscious, the fringes and horizon. The metacognitive studies afforded experimental evidence aimed toward delimiting the boundaries and mechanisms of these phenomena, and the CI hypothesis suggests a link between the cognitive and phenomenological domains. However, I think that some specific, thoroughly elaborated phenomenological examples of real-world TOT events are necessary to enable us to further investigate specific aspects of the transition of experiences from conscious to unconscious domains.

Gendlin provides us with just such occurrences. The first example he presents is one of a nonverbal TOT experience:

You see someone you know coming down the other side of the street, but you don’t remember who it is. This is totally different than seeing a stranger. The person gives you a very familiar feeling. You cannot place the person, but in your body there is a gnawing feeling…. It is … [Gendlin’s ellipsis], a whole sense in your body. Your body also knows how you feel about the person… your … [Gendlin’s ellipsis] has a very distinct quality… Any other person would give you a different body-sense (Gendlin, 1995, p. 71).

There several points of interest in this account. First, the feeling of recognition, of familiarity, is one described as characteristic of the TOT experience. Gendlin’s account is consistent with much of what we have seen in the cognitive studies, above. Metcalfe's hypothesis of judgments "based on a novelty/familiarity detector" (Metcalfe, 1994, p. 147), is consistent with the above narrative, while Miner and Reder (Miner & Reder, 1994) indicate that cues in the situation may trigger the FOK state. The "gnawing feeling" of Gendlin’s is similar to James's "intensely active" (James, 1950, p. 251) gap. Notice, however, that there is no feeling of "rightness" (i.e., Mangan’s hypothesis); the person has not been identified. Yet you (in the narrative) feel that you have seen this person previously. Note the organization of the theme and thematic field in this instance. The theme is the experience of the person you see, walking down the street: their height, clothes, walk, coloring, and so forth. It may be that the feeling of familiarity is part of this theme, or that feeling may, with the person’s surroundings, details of their clothing, and so forth, be a part of the thematic field peripheral to the theme. As an aspect of the theme/thematic field, even towards the horizon, it is still an aspect of the gestalt (i.e., "the unity [the meaningful organization]" [Johnson, 1987, p. 62]). This experience of the person walking down the street thus "colors" our perception and thoughts of that person. Because of that feeling of recognition accompanied by the "…," the "gap," we will probably pay more attention to the details of their appearance than we normally would, because we want to fill the "…". Given this unity, the ability of small changes in one part of the field of consciousness to affect other parts, I do not think it farfetched to claim that the theme/thematic field complex, fading to a horizon of speculative impressions, images of similar people, clothing, scenes, and so forth, is one gestalt. The "…" and the recognition of the "…" is (usually) a fringe experience, part of the horizon; in any case, it is relational, and it possesses feeling and other features.

Since "any other person would give you a different body-sense" (Gendlin, 1995, p. 71), the body-sense is individuated, although its features may be vague or general. In fact, it is at least in part because of this individuation that the fringe can be specifically relational, that it can, eventually, recall to you the actual individual who now walks down the street. Just as James describes an instance of a fringe as "the ‘form’ of an opera" (James, 1950, p. 255), this specific feeling of familiarity might be characterized as the form or image-schematic gestalt of a person. The fringe draws us toward and draws from the horizon: the vague, unresolved possibilities from which this as yet not fully individuated person stands out. To fill this gap, one attempts to call forth and/or create ISGs that might fit: "Can I have seen them at the office? Who dresses like that? Walks like that?" It would not even occur to us, normally, that they might be, for example, in costume; our preconceptions would bias us against that ISG. The office, or the clothing they might be wearing in other settings, then, is an ISG in itself. We are waiting for specific people or other associations ("subschemas") to occur to us, evoked by those settings, where the settings are broader and more flexible as a result of conscious inhibition. If those evocations in turn fit into the first ISG, the who-is-walking-down-the-street ISG, we know we "have it" because we feel it; there is a sensation of "clicking in" that fitting the last piece of a puzzle gives us when we finally see the picture clearly revealed. We start to remember, as a consequence of that fit, "Yes, she works in that office, at that desk; he wears those hats all the time…".

What does the CI hypothesis have to say about the phenomenology, i.e., the experience of TOTs and the attempt to recall them? Without conscious awareness of the lack of retrieval and the subsequent conscious focusing on that retrieval, the CI hypothesis would predict one likelihood for retrieval, whereas it would predict another (greater) likelihood as a consequence of conscious focusing on the area to be retrieved. In addition, the CI hypothesis predicts that the latter circumstance would result, because of the inhibition of normal retrieval processes, in a broadening of the retrieval contents. As long as focusing continues, there will be interference from irrelevant memories which makes the formation of a coherent ISG more difficult. This latter interference explains the necessity for relaxing the focusing. When focusing is discontinued, the retrieval biasing returns to something like its normal state, but the period of broadened retrieval will have altered the biasing and the content of normally retrieved memories to some extent. This explains the "pop-up" phenomenon, where relaxation after the recall effort results in retrieval. Thus, the kinds of experiences expected would be of a richer, shifting field of memories, a more "spread-out" conceptual domain, one which is probably experienced as more chaotic, less organized with respect to the target memories, as a consequence of both the broadening of retrieval and the subsequent interference of those broadened memories with each other, until integration of the memories into a single ISG occurs.

One could speculate that the broadened contents resulting from conscious inhibition, the interference and fluctuations of those contents, could explain the feeling of the "…" in the fringe oscillating between the foreground and the background: James's "pulses of change" (James, 1950, p. 247). If the background to the definite experience of seeing the as-yet unknown person walking down the street are vague unresolved possibilities, broadened and "smeared," in effect, across normal categories by CI, a gestalt-reversal could bring these possibilities forward to the theme, so that the theme itself would now be the "...," the broadened but unresolved retrievals, backgrounded by the familiar, yet unknown person. And this gestalt-reversal (see below) could be an important piece in the dynamics and the identification of the TOT state. First, the positioning of a vague and unresolved set of ISGs at the focus of consciousness could be a phenomenological signal for the TOT. Second, the broadening of the contents of the field of consciousness should result in a dynamic and changeable set of themes replacing any single theme; and third, as various aspects of the theme, thematic field, and horizon left the focus, becoming less salient and intense, so too our search for subschemas that fit should gain variety.

The organization of the field of consciousness as modeled by James/Gurwitsch provides us with an additional dimension, then, in understanding the TOT phenomenon. The feeling of recognition does not merely feel like a "...," it is not merely "in your body," nor does it just relate in some fashion to your experiences of other people. This feeling, through its changes in salience and intensity brought about by the conscious inhibition of normal retrieval processes, in relation to other experiencings, other aspects of the field of consciousness, can literally restructure the field, reverse foreground and background, draw out hidden depths. It is this emphasis on both the necessary role of consciousness, and its characterization as an interacting dynamic system which is, I believe, the strength of this model.

Gendlin’s Phenomenological Analyses - Second Example

Gendlin’s second example has to do with a poet attempting to find a way to write the next line of a poem.

Consider a poet, stuck in midst of writing an unfinished poem. How to go on? The already written lines want something more, but what?... The poem goes on, there, where the lines end. The poet senses what that edge there needs (wants, demands, projects, entwirft, implies…). But there are no words for that…. The poet’s hand rotates in the air. The gesture says that (Gendlin, 1995, p. 71-72).

The poet "senses what that edge there needs," but even after possible lines come, "the blank still hangs there, still implying something more precise" (p. 72). Note, however, that Gendlin indicates that the poet does not know exactly what is to be expressed. This class of phenomena, while similar to TOT phenomena, is not identical, and has not, as far as I know, been systematically studied in cognitive psychology. In TOT phenomena, one believes that one knows the missing word, phrase, or meaning, but that one cannot remember it. In Gendlin’s example, however, the uncertainty is greater. Here the poet does not believe that the phrase is something that had once been found and now must be remembered; the poet must create something that is not quite there and never was. The poet knows approximately what must be created, but cannot quite satisfactorily accomplish the creation at this point.

Instead of speaking of ISGs, Gendlin uses the terms "implicit intricacy" (Gendlin, 1991, p. 37), or "the implicit" (Gendlin, 1995, p. 73), as something which is "ubiquitous" (p. 74) in thinking and speaking. Throughout this article (Gendlin, 1991), he gives many examples of this intricacy, which bears some resemblance to Polanyi’s (Polanyi, 1966) "tacit knowing." That is, Polanyi refers to tacit knowledge as knowing "more than we can tell" (p. 4). Similarly, in speaking of finding a sought-after word, Gendlin states,

The coming of a word implicitly involves thousands of connections to other words that can or cannot be used and phrased along with it. They are implicitly at work when one word comes. What is the nature of this implicit working?… what ‘implicit’ means remains implicit." (Gendlin, 1995, p. 72).

I do think that there may be a problem with his conception of the "implicit working" (p. 72), in that he refers to it largely in terms of "connections to other words." This is a very limited sense of what goes on with the fringes, which does not seem to take into account general relationships or forms of meaning; in short, it may not do justice to the full implications of the ISG concept. However, in an earlier writing (Gendlin, 1991), he speaks of "patterns" (e.g. p. 157-161), and these do seem to be characterized similarly to ISGs: "The patterns… carry forward a vast world, which they also seem to hide. Yet they hide it only if we assume that what is not form must be a disorder" (p. 158). This passage is also reminiscent of James's "immense horizon" (James, 1950, p. 256). Thus, it is not difficult to find in Gendlin, one way or another, clear relationships to others’ work in both cognitive psychology and phenomenology.

Gendlin also mentions the "novelty-making function of implicit intricacy" (Gendlin, 1995, p. 72), and posits some sixteen functions of "the implicit." I am not going to list them all here, but a few highlights might be indicative:

1 Something implicit lets us know that we forgot something.

2 It also lets us know when we have remembered.

3 It lets us know when a new step of thought is implied.

4 It functions to reject otherwise good proposals if they leave the … hanging there, still implying something more precise.

… 9 It lets us know when ‘the right’ phrases have come… (p. 73-74)

Gendlin’s first point relates directly to what TOT research is aimed at investigating. However, while researchers map the variety of results of the FOK states, few are explicitly concerned with why and how we have those states. Why do we have a "feeling of knowing"? Why do we not merely either remember something, or not? How can we have a FOK about something we have forgotten? One answer to the first question might simply be that persistence in searching for something forgotten is useful. However, if we have truly forgotten something, then only the experience of an absence within a memory can alert us to the necessity of completing that structure. Either we have experienced that memory as "complete" in some sense, and can compare its present "incompleteness" to that memory of it as a complete structure, or we directly experience the memory as incomplete. In either case, I suggest that the hypothesis of incomplete ISGs provides the beginning of an answer to both of these questions. If an ISG is a unitary structure, a gestalt, then missing parts will not merely drop out, leaving the rest intact. The structure (i.e., structure and content) will usually be altered if any part of it is altered or missing. We may have forgotten the part, the subschema, but the ISG as a whole is remembered, I claim, in particular relationships to other ISGs. What is necessary to induce an awareness of forgetting is some memory of the original structure which can be compared to the present structure. Once this comparison has been made and we are aware of forgetting, that awareness and the attempt to consciously remember will, through the inhibition of normal retrieval biases, broaden the scope of the partially remembered ISG.

Gendlin’s second point is related, then, to the first. When we have remembered something, the structure is not only complete (more accurately, as complete as it was originally) but corresponds to our memory of the previous structure and its relationships with other ISGs.

His third point implies interesting and complex interactions between current and future ISGs. That is, it may be that when we form an ISG and experience it, during the process, as something in transition, that this is due to an analogous effect to the CI effect. That is, focusing on a goal of some sort: the next line of a poem, an idea in an essay we wish to express and are as yet unable to, may result in the same kind of inhibitory effect from the conscious act as hypothesized with retrieval. Here the creation of a new gestalt may be facilitated through the inhibition of the old. In addition, there are cases in which we are aware that our understanding of something is incomplete; however, in many cases, our understanding is incomplete yet we are unaware of this lack. This is an area in which phenomenology and cognitive studies might very profitably interact in future investigations.

Gendlin’s next point also relates to the creative process. When we have reached our goal, we are almost never satisfied with our first attempts. What does this imply in terms of the refinement of our perceptions of our goals, of the current ISG, and of the interactions of those entities? If we reject a solution because it does not "fit," how similar is that process to the rejection of a passage because it is not "good enough"? Again, conceptualizing the problem in terms of matching ISGs and a variant of the CI hypothesis may provide insight into research directions.

Finally, when the "right" solution presents itself, why do we have the feeling of "rightness"? Why is this feeling sometimes wrong, and perhaps more interestingly, why is it sometimes felt to be absolutely, unerringly correct, to the extent that we will cling to it despite contrary evidence? Although this may relate to the feeling of "clicking in" when ISGs interlock, the varieties of this experience need further investigation.


I am claiming, then, that the concept of the ISG, combined with the cognitive and phenomenological implications of the CI hypothesis, offers a perspective which bridges those of cognitive psychology and phenomenological descriptions. When placed in the context of a model like Gurwitsch’s of the overall structure of consciousness, these descriptive/cognitive viewpoints give us the means of "reaching through," of utilizing, our conscious experiences to gain insights into the barely conscious processes in the fringes, and further, to the unconscious processes described in cognitive psychology. I used the tip-of-tongue phenomena, for the most part, to explore this area because they are literally instances when we attempt to create a bridge or path from our conscious experiences to these unconscious processes, and because these phenomena have been investigated from virtually all of the various perspectives that I am attempting to unite.

In summary, what does the CI hypothesis have to say about the experience of TOTs and the attempt to recall them? Again, this is not so much a hypothesis concerning the cause of TOTs as it is about their experiencing and resolution. Thus, without conscious awareness of the lack of retrieval and the subsequent conscious focusing on that retrieval, the CI hypothesis would predict one likelihood for retrieval, whereas it would predict another (greater) likelihood as a consequence of conscious focusing on the area to be retrieved. In addition, the latter circumstance would result, because of the inhibition of normal retrieval processes, in a broadening of the retrieval contents. Thus, the kinds of experiences expected would be those of a richer, shifting field of memories, a more "spread-out" conceptual domain, one which is probably experienced as more chaotic, less organized with respect to the target memories until integration of the memories into a single ISG occurs, as a consequence of both the broadening of retrieval and the subsequent interference of those broadened memories with each other. This latter interference explains the necessity for relaxing the focusing: as long as that continues, there will be interference from irrelevant memories which makes the formation of a coherent ISG more difficult. When focusing is discontinued, the retrieval biasing returns to something like its normal state, but the period of broadened retrieval will have altered the biasing and the content of normally retrieved memories to some extent. This explains the "pop-up" phenomenon, where relaxation after the recall effort results in retrieval.

The CI process may also explain the difficulties in performing the creative act consciously. That is, if roughly the same processes hold in the search for the "next line of the poem" as in memory retrieval in the TOT phenomenon, then one would expect conscious focusing in the creative act to result in the same kind of flexible, shifting, yet indeterminate results, which would only "jell" after this focusing had been relaxed. This is indeed, roughly speaking, the informal conception of how creativity works.

This essay has been intended only as a theoretical introduction to the CI hypothesis, focusing on only one of its implications, that involving TOT phenomena. Aside from the general confirmation of this hypothesis, which at this point has only indirect evidence in its support, questions about the specific implications of this effect are legion. What are the boundary conditions, i.e., under what circumstances is conscious inhibition greatest or least? Is the resulting retrieval broadening progressive with the length of focusing? What effect do the similarities of categories focused on to the memories desired to retrieve have on the above parameters?



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