Imaging the Invisible

In Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People, Robert and Michèle Root-Bertstein allude to the importance of “imaging” for people like scientists, engineers and innovators and claim its importance for people in all professions but do not mention any others.  Imaging is especially true for analysts of data of any sort, any information based upon facts or even numbers because these intangible values have an essence that may be visualized.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle held eidos, etymologically related to the word “idea,” is a form or essence of something generated for sensuous apprehension.  He discusses such wisdom in the Metaphysics and claims it is knowledge about certain causes and principles.  While perception alone cannot answer such questions, our conceptualization of theoretical knowledge nonetheless takes shape in our minds in sensuous form as such forms or essences. 


In a way, when an analyst articulates the solution to a problem, they divine the eidos as an act of creation, using concepts, figures and language to render this form or essence.  In this divine science, Aristotle tells us, God establishes the causes of all things and is the first principle.  While certainly humans cannot assume the role of God, this creative spark of humans manifests eidos in the form of an image. 


Visions stem from thought.  When I looked at the illustrations to Hélène Cixous and Jacques Derrida’s Veils, I mistook the drawings with the hand, drapes, and what appears to be an eye for Bernini’s St. Teresa of Avila.  The story of the sculpture revolves around a mystic saint thrown into a state of ecstasy as she is transported up to heaven on a bed of clouds.  According to St. Ignatius of Lyola the Catholic Church espoused a movement of religious art, which deemed to make religious experience seem as real as possible.  What has always interested me most about the sculpture is the emphasis on different textural values.  The expression of thought takes shape in tangible form.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1647-52.jpeg

Cixous and Derrida tell us the image is the site of becoming.  It is the place where thought emerges.  It is a place invested with meaning and therefore also the medium through which judgment takes place.  Daniel Kahneman relates in Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases how many judgments are guided by false intuitive decisions. How then does an analyst ensure the mental model, or schema, he builds in his mind approximates the truth of reality? The eidos clearly represents one facet of that knowledge formation, for it is how we picture things, but the model requires grounding in inferential-based, objective tacit awareness.


Judgment lends itself to the experience of tangibility.  The tactile sense is an expression of causality.  Kahneman shows that inferences from causes to consequences are made with greater confidence than as by inferences from consequences to causes.  In other words, in order to understand a given problem at hand, the analyst must begin with the data to generate an experience of something in reality.  Every time the image is subject to revision by new data, that tangible realization will change. 


Mental models are usually conceived in abstract schemas, typically in the form of geometry, but may also take shape as pictures, which function as symbols.  Should an analyst learn from pictures of art, they would see how the mind transforms a literal idea into figurative expression.  When we articulate our perceptions of a picture in both writing and in speech, the image functions as a platform for things becoming embodied.  The figurative operations of language makes us “touch” upon the values a model represents.  Our awareness is both cognitive on that logical level of conceptualization as well as affective on the level of experience.  In the words of Nelson Goodman in Ways of Worldmaking, “Comprehension and creation go on together.”