How often do we exclaim “I can’t believe my eyes!” The distrust of vision goes back to the earliest stages of developmental psychology in our childhood. Art historian Ernst Gombrich once wrote about the drawing habits of children and differentiated between knowing and seeing. But do we really know without seeing? It seems part of human nature to withdraw from the sensory world when reality threatens comprehensibility. A long time ago, the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer wrote Abstraction and Empathy, one such treatise on the subject of naturalistic and abstract art. While the language of that book dwells within fascist ideology, the book has continued to arouse interest on this very provocative topic.
Going into the 21st century, we find ourselves confronting a reality that demands we find the right questions to solve our problems. Kevin Kelly writes about the twelve technological forces that will shape our future in his book The Inevitable. He describes one of those as cognifying. Acts of disruption in technological innovation bear an impact more powerful than in the previous industrial world. But what role do human have? He argues we are in a race with machines. In the future a person will be paid as much as they are able to work with robots. He seems to leave the future in the hands of robots, but his last sentence of that chapter on cognifying is the bottom line: “Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.”
Which is; that goes to say the future lies in the hands of dreamers. Dreamers do not rely on what they already know, just as schools mistakenly teach kids to rely on remembered facts without teaching them how to exercise their perceptual skills to organize and interpret the data of sense perception. No doubt will one day AI be able to exercise perception to find those answers better than we can as human perception is not infallible. The dreamer must stand before reality and seek the questions, which we can leave up to AI to answer.
We find ourselves positioned in a reality that encases us somewhere between knowledge and illusion and eye and mind. How are we to posit the questions that allow us to short-circuit the brain with its expectations and logical confinements so that we let utilize our perceptions to explore what we seem to keep ourselves from seeing?
Rudolf Arnheim, gestalt psychologist of empirical aesthetics and author of Visual Thinking, a meditation on perception as a cognitive faculty of the mind, argues the sense data of our perceptions are transparent. He wrote:
Theorists, philosophers, and psychologists differ in the precision by which they define their concepts. Quantification allows for measuring and counting but is not necessarily closer to the truth of descriptions. Any level may be the appropriate one for one’s objective. What finally matters is how deeply one penetrates to the core of what one is looking for. – Rudolf Arnheim, Two Ways of Being Human
But if we look for what we pursue, thinking that we will be on some path of discovery, our knowledge stems rather from inside the mind.
To deconstruct a perception, just like a text, we need to maneuver between the inside and outside the object of representation. This is no different than wavering between reason and affect, as the philosopher Jacques Derrida argues based on his reading of Emmanuel Kant that reason itself is based on affect. We must constantly be asking ourselves what we are looking at inexhaustibly. The core of something does run very deep; Derrida calls this a lacunae. It is both summons an opening but also the limitless closure of an abyss.
The possibilities of perception are therefore limitless. They are also at the same time delimited by a liminal condition of a kind of “frame” or “framework,” which Derrida calls the parergon. The practical implication of this in the postindustrial world of data is the framework of knowledge value that serves innovation.
Much weight is placed on uniformity of knowledge value within organizations whereas in fact to strategically align a business in the globalized economy a multiplicity of perspectives is necessary. Leveraging knowledge value requires constant inquiry into strategies of interpretation in pursuit of solutions. Once we know our secret strategies we may better approach the world of information.