Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clearing Blocks

Perceptual Cognition

Many philosophers have pointed to the relationship between perception and wisdom in order to emphasize the weakness in what was once thought of as the pure rational, analytic mind. Clever analysis can use statistics to prove the opposite of what they show. Even in terms of raw data, the ability to make something clear to vision offers immediate understanding of something the verbal/symbolic mind would take forever to wade through. In a wonderful book “Atlas of the Real World” pages and pages of statistics are transformed into maps that show exactly how the important relationships are distributed. It’s clear in an instant who is doing what and how much of it.

Since the maps enlarge the areas that utilize the most of the statistic in question, this example maps the metaphoric room taken up in the world of the Internet, how large a presence any given country has. Images offer insight directly to the part of the mind sensitive to the whole, the key relationships, proportions and balance. The possibilities for human cognitive development can expand exponentially as we learn to use the images and all the information and relationships they contain in the analysis of issues. Looking at issues visually is not only valuable for what a given image illuminates but also what questions are posed by seeing particular visual representations together. The co-mapping of different areas of information opens areas of insight by the immediate visual associations. This map from “Geographica” shows world fishing areas and offshore oil drilling together revealing potential hazards to the food supply.

Breaking loose of traditional ways of using informative images opens the way to invent new cognitive skills. Since mapping in the hippocampus is a foundation of the brain’s storage organization we can use it as a tactic to understand more elusive things and shed greater light on them. We all have the ability to map anything we want. Try mapping your facebook life as a universe with yourself as the sun and friends as planets positioning them in terms of emotional closeness to you. It gives you a more nuanced picture than lists and categories. If you alter the size of the planet according to importance of the person to you the understanding goes even deeper. Some may be important without being close. They could also be colored according to status and given orbiting planets of their own. Each visual relationship illuminates more and makes it clear how much was missing from the shorthand version made from words and lists. Images are far more comprehensive in what they can show than verbal descriptions. And mapping is just one form of visual representation.

How perception is organized offers a window into the organization of the mind itself.
What matters is immediately scanned and attention directed to what is most important.
What we see determines where we look. Research has shown that we can only process a certain amount of information given in units like numbers or labels. But when the information is organized into images we remember vastly more. Comparison and analysis of the implications of images together could bring some cohesion to the fragmented responses to serious world problems. The evolution of the mind depends on cultivating perceptual cognitive skills.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Visual Philosophy

Note- This essay was first posted on August 31, 2008 and has had by far the most readers, so I wanted to introduce it again to those who have come to my blog more recently. I hope some of you may have examples of ways that images present ideas that you could share in the comment section.

“A consciousness that proceeds by sight…is a greater power for knowledge than the consciousness of the thinker.” Sri Aurobindo, A Greater Psychology

When I first used the term “visual philosophy” a student in the class said, “Wait a minute, are you talking about aesthetics?” It was natural to think I was referring to philosophy about art and beauty because we don’t generally think of art and images in their capacity to express ideas, to evoke a philosophical stance through a visual depiction. Beyond simply communicating information, an image shows how to see the information. We equate seeing with understanding.
We are drowning in information and need the wisdom to know how to filter it. Insight sees the significance within the whole. Wisdom depends on perception. The metaphors of seeing attest to our underlying trust in what we ”see with our own eyes.” We “believe what we see”. As we enlarge our picture of reality, our understanding grows.
Observation lies beneath the methods of art and science. As science separates the world into smaller and smaller parts, art should be equally important in pulling the whole back together, to see the forest as well as the trees. Ideas expressed visually can include the multiple variables that we live with in actual experience, the influences from every direction that controlled experiments leave out. Artists enlarge the range of what we are able to see. By sensitizing people to significant pattern, capacity for insight is developed. Understanding how feeling represents the meaning of what we see tunes our intuition and our trust in its guidance. Educating the synthesizing power of imaginal (thinking in images) thinking may allow us to evolve a new level of intelligence. Arguing for the superiority of visual communication, Barbara Stafford writes “Perceptually combined information… avoids the intellectual limitations of linearity.” She believes that in the graphic world of the internet, artists will be more important in explaining reality, understanding the display of knowledge, allowing an immediate apprehension of connections.
Art reveals consciousness. It offers multiple windows on the deepest and broadest aspects of being human. This is a physical improvement in the most evolved parts of our brain. Like any other activity, the parts of the brain that are used are strengthened. More benefit comes from the self-understanding arising from what you choose to see. Perception is not passive. It’s always scanning for what will be useful to us. Joseph Campbell said, ”The eyes are the scouts of the heart.” We are drawn to what resonates with our own inner state, often mirroring it, sometimes compensating for it. Given that neuroscience has shown that feelings precede and direct thought, letting the eye make choices from the world of art could likely take us deeper into understanding our feelings than talking about them.
The mission of visual philosophy is to see more, to become aware of the complex web of relationships that visual intelligence deals with best, and to express meaning visually.
Knowledge of all kinds can be communicated with images. Even in regard to invisible realms and deep level patterns, artists can help us understand consciousness more fully by what they reveal of it.