Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Optical delusion?

Here's today's "Dinette Set" cartoon:

Note the logo on our bearded pedant's shirt ("Fale University"), as well as the text on the wall behind him: ("Optical Delusion Fair: Ignorant Public Welcome"). Hmm, I do believe we pedants are being tweaked. Which is fine, of course, but I can't just let it go without piling on some more pedantry in response.

Naturally we here at DR are all over aspect perception. Still, I had never really paid that much attention to the differences between pure figure/ground cases (like this one) and cases like the duckrabbit. For example, it does indeed seem that at least some of the former cases might be perceived in what we might call a "figure/figure" way ("two weirdos kissing a vase"), while no such option is possible for the duckrabbit. That is, I can imagine, after having had the aspects flip back and forth for a bit, seeing the drawing in an indeterminate way, as neither duck nor rabbit. Even this would probably take a conscious effort, to keep the perception from resolving into one or the other figure.

But it's very hard to imagine seeing it as both a duck and a rabbit at the same time. Wouldn't they be taking up the same space? How would you feed "it"? Where would you aim your hand? Toward its "mouths", which are located at the back of each other's head? I'm sorry, that's trying too hard. (Note: this is of course different from seeing it as a "duckrabbit", on the one hand, or as indeterminate in the above sense, on the other). And even if it were possible to do this, this wouldn't "refute" Wittgenstein's use of the example, as people sometimes try to do (an advantage of the "quietist" reading of Wittgenstein is to bring out how pointless it is to try to do this). Wittgenstein's point, as I see it, is to introduce the notion of aspect, by investigating the experience of "aspect-dawning", i.e. when we suddenly see (what we can't help calling) the "same thing" in a different way (pp. 196-7, in Part II):
The change of aspect. "But surely you would say that the picture is altogether different now!"
But what is different: my impression? my point of view?—-Can I say? I describe the alteration like a perception; quite as if the object had altered before my eyes.

"Now I am seeing this", I might say (pointing to another picture, for example). This has the form of a report of a new perception.The expression of a change of aspect is the expression of a new perception and at the same time of the perception's being unchanged.

I suddenly see the solution of a puzzle-picture. Before, there were branches there; now there is a human shape. My visual impression has changed and now I recognize that it has not only shape and colour but also a quite particular 'organization'.—-My visual impression has changed;-—what was it like before and what is it like now?—-If I represent it by means of an exact copy—and isn't that a good representation of it?—-no change is shewn.

And above all do not say "After all my visual impression isn't the drawing; it is this —— which I can't shew to anyone."—-Of course it is not the drawing, but neither is it anything of the same category, which I carry within myself.

The concept of the 'inner picture' is misleading, for this concept uses the 'outer picture' as a model; and yet the uses of the words for these concepts are no more like one another than the uses of 'numeral' and 'number'. (And if one chose to call numbers 'ideal numerals', one might produce a similar confusion.)
In context, Wittgenstein's proximal target is of course, as it is in other parts of the book as well, the (Cartesian) idea of an "inner picture", as well as the Cartesian subject one would have to be in order to "look at" such a thing.

Yet I can't help thinking of the idea of aspect perception as much more central to the entire book than do most readers – for example, as directly related to the concept of "perspicuous representation" (or "presentation"), which in §122 he describes as "of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things." The way we look at things. Given Wittgenstein's aims throughout the book, how could aspect perception not be central for them?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Actually, first the Carnival, then the comix. Some interesting-looking stuff this time. And do check out the comix, especially this one, which really cracked me up (the whole page, not just the philosophy one at the top).

Or you can just click through to the comix. It's up to you and your conscience.

[Update [3/29]: Kate Beaton link fixed]