Rorschach Revealed

By: Matthew Battles
July 30, 2009


WHAT DO YOU think it means? The New York Times reported yesterday that some psychologists were feeling panicky about physician James Heilman’s decision to upload the canonical Rorschach inkblots to Wikipedia along with their most-frequently assigned descriptions. Apparently, some practicioners fear that patients will use the information to game the test, which typically is performed in a battery with other personality measurements.

In a time when information wants to be free, is there no place for esoterica, for the secrets of professional guilds and cognoscenti? Perhaps not. But the case of the open-source inkblots exposes the cultural significance of Hermann Rorschach’s test as the chief icon of middlebrow psyche, which wants to reveal itself in Gladwellesque blinks, moments of confrontation with everyday mystery. Revelation is that simple! And that safe.

According to Heilman’s captions in Wikipedia, most people see bats or birds in the blots. I see alien endoskeletons, pelvises from the stars. Interesting — but I’m sorry, our time is up.



What do you think?

  1. I think it’s the most-frequently assigned descriptions (i.e., “normal” interpretations) that makes the Rorschach test middlebrow; it’s actually an inspired idea, like the parlor games invented by the Surrealists. Of course, they also invented “brainstorming,” and look how middlebrow that activity is now.

  2. Yeah, what is sacred goes in and out of focus, and in and out of bounds, as we relive and rewrite the texts. And haven’t you always wanted to see them? You know you have!

    Anyway what I thought was REALLY great about the whole thing was that Rorschach was obsessed with an inkblot game that was apparently popular among mittelevropean schoolchildren: drip, blot, then try to see an animal or plant. His mates left the game behind as they grew up, but he never did, and as an adult he found himself in a field where he could attempt to undergird it with science and reason. “Klecksography” ( is the cooly pathologized name for the grown-up game.

    How many of our fundamental assumptions developed from someone who never grew up, who held onto childhood essentials and somehow, perhaps subconsciously, intuited that if we perfected them as keys, a door would appear?

  3. Rich stuff, you two! I’m grateful for the perception of the inkblot as domesticated from an original wildness. Can it be rescued as a feral practice? Maybe the wikipedia entry will help in that regard.

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