Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Visuality, Intentionality and Architecture

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Visuality, Intentionality and Architecture

Article excerpt

Visuality, intentionality and architecture Review of: John Searle: Seeing things as they are. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015

'Reality is not dependent on experience, but conversely.'1

An architecture student (or an architect) who tried, in the 1980s, to acquire philosophical education in order to understand better the problems of architectural theory, would have found the perspectives that dominated contemporary philosophy departments both counter-intuitive and perplexing. Both analytic and continental philosophers insisted on the importance of language as a vehicle of thought, and not merely a vehicle of communication; the idea that all thinking is verbal and inseparable from language was widely shared among philosophers who otherwise disagreed about almost everything else.2 Nothing could be more baffling for an architect whose work is predominantly visual and based on the operations of visual imagination than the idea that one can think only in words. Prominent analytic philosophers whose works dominated the 1980s, however, rejected the possibility of visual imagination (Daniel Dennett) or simply denied that it counted as thinking (Michael Dummett).3 An architect who read in Willard van Orman Qu e's immensely influential essay 'On What There Is' that the idea of the Parthenon is invisible, would have thought that something must have gone very wrong.4 For psychologists, visual imagination became a legitimate mental process du g he 1970s s esul f R ge Shep d's ground-breaking experiments with mental rotation, but many analytic philosophers held out much longer in their faith in the verbal nature of human thinking. I know of a case of a philosophy student who (as late as the 1990s) mentioned visual imagination to his professor and was asked, in response, whether he was also hearing voices.

In this context, it is hard to overemphasize the importance of J h Se le's highly influential book Intentionality that came out in 1983 and hugely contributed to the rejection of the faith in the verbal nature of human thinking.5 Searle insisted that thinking does not necessarily depend on language-babies and animals also think-but nevertheless, his discussion of visuality was limited to one chapter. His latest book, Seeing Things as They Are p ese s Se le's he y f hum perception and completes the discussion of human visual thinking that was announced in Intentionality more than thirty years ago. Se le's d scuss covers a series of topics h h e bee w dely deb ed m g h s s e e s ce E s G mb ch's Art and Illusion; he does not, however, discuss architecture or three-dimensional arts and my intention in this essay is to try to provide an architectural contextualization of his latest book.

Direct realism

The most significant aspect of the book is its strong realist position: direct realism that Searle advocates implies that we perceive objects directly, not their representations or mental images.6 Contrary to this, representative realism would be the view that we do not perceive things directly, but their images-for, instance, that we see mental images or sense data created by the neurobiological processes in the brain. Se le's response to this view is that '[t]he subjective visual experience cannot itself be seen, because it is itself the seeing of anything'.7 The standard argument in favour of representative realism relies on the comparison of true perceptions and hallucinations. It starts with the observation that perception in a hallucination is not true, but all the same one is conscious of seeing something; the experience in the hallucinatory case is indistinguishable from the experience in true perception. In other words, whatever we say about the hallucinatory case, we have to say the same in the case of true perception: experience is the same and even though you do not see the object in the case of a hallucination, you do see something. In the twentieth century this 'something' was commonly called 'sense data'. …

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