Thursday, August 10, 2017

New online Wittgenstein book by Kristóf Nyíri

This looks interesting, in terms of both content and the decision to publish free and online. The title is Pictorial Truth: Essays on Wittgenstein, Realism, and Conservatism, and it's by Kristóf Nyíri. He writes:
I am really curious how the scholarly world will react e.g. to my view formulated in the Preface, that peer-reviewed publications by now might have become obsolete. 
Me too.


  1. An interesting book with much food for thought (a strikingly visual image there, to convey linguistic meaning in itself, just as "convey" also finds its meaning in a conjured picture and "conjured" evokes a magical realization, a trick of appearance).

    Does language then wholly depend on mental pictures, even at its most abstract? I would say, in my own case, that it does sometimes seem to. Yet even in this it cannot be all pictures for does "case" conjure a physical container here, for us to to find its meaning, or do we think of a worker attending to cases as with lawyers and case workers and these images enable ys to grasp what the word "case" means in this usage? Must we have THAT connection to get the meaning in THIS case? Does "case," as a situation or circumstance, depend for ITS meaning on still other visual pictures? And if so, how do we assure that two interlocutors have the same picture when they read or hear the same word? Must we have exactly the same or something at least fairly close?

    I think Nyiri has a point here (the apex of a blade? the end of an arrow? the locus of the smallest segment imaginable of a line?), but I'm not sure how far it can go, or how far we can carry it as an explication of linguistic semantics. I do acknowledge, though, that the more abstract a term (the more removed from a visualzation, a picture that I have seen and remember), the harder for me to grasp the meaning.

  2. I have aphantasia so not sure if that rules me out or the theory...

  3. If one has aphantasia and that means an absence of mental imagery, it surely counts against a theory of understanding that rests on having mental imagery. I have always been very visual and find it hard to imagine not being so and yet if your claim, and others I have seen on line, is true, then it is obviously possible to ave language and understa nding without mental imagery.

    Of course one question would be to what degree is such imagery missing. Is there absolutely none or merely less and less vivid imagery than others may have? I have always had problems with abstract thought, myself, doing best when I can visualize ideas, concepts and such. Mathematics always came hard for me as did formal logic though I am not totally inept in those arenas. But many, many people are way more capable in these arenas than I am or can hope to be (if my personal history is any guide). It's probably true that there are different types of intelligence but the existence of genuinely (as in fully) aphantastic individuals must at least undermine a claim that semantics (getting meaning via signs) is strictly a function of having mental images. That does not, of course, eliminate mental life, obviously, only in the case of aphanastic individuals it would be a considerably different mental life than the sort someone like me would be familiar with.

    On the other hand, this probably has implications for artificial intelligence since it suggests human type intelligence might be implementable on a machine platform absent the kind of mental imagery that such platforms seem, at this point, to be denied.

  4. yeah no not vague not there, people will say things like don't you have a picture of characters in books? or think of a white bear bear and nada.

  5. Have you read the Nyiri book posted above by Duncan? It really does raise some interesting questions in light of reports like yours.

    For me "getting" something has always involved image association, understanding just being how I connect various mental images I have in response to the words I hear or read. I can't easily imagine (understand?) how others can get meanings without this sort of phenomenon. Yet, given your report, obviously that notion of mine must be wrong.

    We are obviously exchanging information here using language which means we must be understanding one another. Using words that generate mutually familiar behaviors (as demonstrated by behavioral responses we each produce, in this case the words we choose to type out and post here) is one gauge of comprehension. For me behavioral responses are accompanied by mental imagery, but if that is not the case for you, what happens in your mind when you understand something?

    Do you also think about it in some non-pictorial fashion. Are you aware of understanding as some special kind of internal experience other than an image? Or are mental images completely irrelevant to instances of understanding another's word, gesture or symbol in your case?

    What field of endeavor are you engaged in by the way? (I assume you're not a graphic artist, say, but perhaps I am wrong on that score?)

  6. haven't read the book yet, just found out about it here.
    to the degree that getting something has conscious content it is about inner 'talk'.
    I'm a shrink and management consultant (mostly for labs, engineering/tech firms and the like), but I do a lot of drawing and some sculpture, love visual media of all sorts, but my relations with them aren't mediated by internal images.

  7. So you get meaning by "inner talk"? And such talk in your experience is not related to mental imagery? Intriguing. For me words I hear or speak have a kind of parallel track with mental picturing. It's not one to one, one picture for each denoting word, but a kind of ongoing flow. My behaviors, in response to words I hear occur in relation to the kinds of pictures I get when hearing them. Even where there is no act on my part to demonstrate comprhension, there are the thoughts as mental pictures that would accompany the acts if I took them. I understand semantics in suvpch terms and cannot fathom how it could occur in a mind that is mentally blind. And yet there is the testimony of others that it does and so, if correct, understanding must be a separate phenomenon than mental imaging. But how does that work? I can't see it.

  8. no not only but in terms of conscious content that's it I think (well if called on something might than be a conscious sense of certainty, etc)not sure why picturing would be necessary (I get that it's the evolutionary norm) I have all the other non-conscious bodily processes, inner-speech/reflection, and the world/umwelt of people, critters, and objects. May be the kind of mistake that leads people to think humans need say an inner representation/map of our environs to get around when just being embodied in the surround of the actual world is more than enough, no maps, no grammars, structures, etc, just networked patterns of bodily functions.

  9. What happens when you reflect? Do you hear words in your head or think them in some form? Is it like talking to oneself?

    Granted you have immediate experiences including perceptual ones (somatic and of the five senses) but when these go away, when immediate perceptions recede into memory, how do you recall them? In some purely abstract way, symbolization in language divorced from imaging content, or do you have some sort of retention of the images and can bring them back if you think about them?

    If you get up from you computer or put aside whatever device you're using to respond here, do you recall what it looked like, even if only vaguely?

    One of the things I have been wondering is how much of this is really definitional. While understanding my own mental life as very visual (I tend to think in lots of pictures or it seems to me that that is what's happening), I recognize that no mental picture I have is ever as vivid as seeing an actual picture, hearing an actual sound, etc. Even my best attempts at seeing with my "mind's eye" is invariably hazy and vague, indistinct compared to seeing the actual thing.

    Still I am always running mental pictures through my head and tend to speak in visual terms. The words that move me most are the ones with clear-cut visual associations, the ones that conjure images I can recall from the past. I wonder if perhaps our mental lives are not so different in this sense, even if our means of talking about them are.

    There is a tendency to interpret what I am describing as "representing," thus implying both a thing seen and an internal representation of it that amounts to seeing it and, afterwards, remembering it. But that strikes me as just a manner of speaking, a linguistic artifact, you might say, the way we have learned to express ourselves about these things.

    Representing is something we do, not something we experience, and representations (not the legal kind, of course) are just those things we make or produce to serve as proxies for the things we see or hear, taste, feel or smell -- or recall or think about. So I would not say that representationism (the notion that the real world is seen by us as some sort of reflection in our minds only) must follow from the notion that thinking about things depends on having mental images. We may, in fact, simply have come to a different conclusion as to what counts as such an image! You take me to be talking about vivid pictures on a par with what we actually see when we look, and I take you to be denying the occurrence of any sort of visualizing at all, as if your mind has zero recollective content of things you have seen in the past. Could that really be the case? Perhaps it is no more the case than supposing by "mental pictures" I mean vivid reproductions of actual sights and sounds, etc., experienced in my past.

    I can accept that others' mental lives may differ considerably from mine (though too much difference should make itself felt in a failure to understand each other, when you think about it) but I am still finding it hard to grasp (a perfectly visual image that!) how understanding could ever occur in any of us without some capacity to recall the things our senses have given us.

  10. it's just me 'talking' to myself more or less as we talk to others, no images/representations, I recall as you might read a description in a novel or the like.

  11. So if someone asked you what a friend of yours looks like could you give a description? Assuming you could provide a linguistic description, do you have an idea, a recollection, of their face or do you just think about how you have answered a similar question about them in the past (assuming you had) and call up the same words? Or is some other mechanism at work to enable you to describe an image no longer before your eyes?

    Is it possible that you and I are just describing this aspect of our mental lives differently? I, for instance, calling the vague and fuzzy shadow of an image I am aware of when I think of person X and proceed to describe him or her, a mental image while you, experiencing the same phenomenon and realizing that it isn't as vivid, detailed or real as an actual visual image, deny its similarity to actual visual images?

    Could this apparent difference between us, in terms of how we describe our mental lives, just be a function of how we describe, and thus think about, the concept of mental imagery?

  12. would be a sort of laundry list of features, not unlike you might write down directions for someone, but no image (or concept really) fuzzy or otherwise.

  13. How do the "directions" mean anything to you if they don't connect with a web of mental "images"?

    Suppose you learned a totally foreign language from scratch with no other language in place first or at least nothing similar enough to the new language to support analogies with it. Where do you find the meanings of the words of that new language if there is nothing already in place into which to tramslate it? You start like Quine's field researcher seeing a native spot a rabbit and utter "gavagai." Does gavagai mean "look, a rabbit"? Or just "rabbit" as in "there goes one of those bunny creatures? Or is the native speaker saying "something is running there"? Or there's a bunch of rabbity parts? Or "a mammal" or "an animal"?

    To be a language there must be meanings (semantics) in the usage of each sign, or you just have lots of unconnected symbols. But what constitutes the semantics, the meaning?

    If you see a rabbit and recognize it, you must have a concept of something whose description the description you assocuate with the word "rabbit" fits. But what makes it fit? Is it reactions of the native to the sight of the rabbit and to hearing the word "rabbit" that holds the meaning for us, i.e., the meaning is just what ordinary language speakers do when confronted with the rabbit stimuli? They utter certain sounds, do certain things. Is that what we take the meaning of the word "rabbit" to be? But then what if they do nothing but utter the word or by way of response when another utters it?

    What if there is no overt behavior on the part of the language user to be discerned? What if I pass a road sign with the word rabbit printed on it (at a rabbit crossing perhaps?) but say and do nothing out of the ordinary even after reading it. If asked what it says I could answer something like "a rabbit" and, given the context, explain that the sign placers want drivers to look out for rabbits in the road so as not to hit them.

    How is any of this understood without ideas of rabbits and roads, cars and road kill and rules and so forth? And how are all these ideas, the words that express them, to have meaning without the possibility of mental pictures the words prompt in us and our interlocutors?

    Without some kind of mental imaging isn't it as if all these words were empty signs, like saying XYZ or ABC? How can words have meaning absent associations with something besides themselves?

    You still haven't responded to the possibility I raised that perhaps we just have a very different understanding of what "mental images" mean? Isn't it at least possible that the explanation of our apparently divergent understandings of the idea of mind pictures really reflects our different claims about our respective mental lives?