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The meaning and origin of the expression: In my mind's eye

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My mind's eye

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'In my mind's eye'?

One's visual memory or imagination.

What's the origin of the phrase 'In my mind's eye'?

Mind's eyeThe concept of us having an 'eye in our mind' is ancient and dates back to at least the 14th century, when Chaucer used it in The Man of Law's Tale, circa 1390:

"It were with thilke eyen of his mynde, With whiche men seen, after that they been blynde."

Many philosophers have considered the nature of consciousness and our ability to form images in our mind. René Descartes formed the notion that we have some sort of inner self in our mind that watches our stream of consciousness as though it were viewing a play in a theatre. Modern neuroscience discounts that idea of duality.

The first actual mention of mind's eye comes before Descartes, in 1577, when Hubert Languet used it in a letter. This was subsequently printed in The Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney and Hubert Languet, 1845:

"What will not these golden mountains effect ... which I dare say stand before your mind's eye day and night?"

Cobbe family portrait of William ShakespeareThe term probably became known through the work of Shakespeare. He uses it in the best-known of all plays - Hamlet, 1602, in a scene where Hamlet is recalling his father:

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

HORATIO:
Where, my lord?

HAMLET:
In my mind's eye, Horatio.

See other phrases and sayings from Shakespeare.

See also: Mind's ear

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