19.078 visual imagination and memory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 2005 09:50:19 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 78.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005 09:44:29 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: visual imagination and memory

Stephen Woodruff surprises me by being surprised that anyone else should
have little to no visual imagination, i.e. the ability to see something in
the mind's eye. I had assumed that the condition -- let us not strive for
an entry in the manual of diseases, say under "Visual Imagination
Deprivation Syndrome (VIDS)" -- was common, since I've had it, i.e. not had
one, all my life.

As a young fellow I was tested for abilities, all scores off the chart (I'm
sure they drew the coloured bar chart for the effect on my anxious parents)
except for the "spatial relationships" score, which was nil. I had to sit
the exam again for that reason, as the low score was assumed to be an
error. It didn't help that during the resit my history teacher, who was
invigilating, spent the time moving around the room with a fat textbook
trying to swat flies, but I think that even watched over by a quieter
authority I would have repeated my limp performance in space -- most of the
tasks requiring me to match unfolded boxes with folded up ones. The
Principal of the school called me and my parents in for a chat. We sat down
nervously and were solemnly informed (I kid you not), "I'm afraid he'll
never be able to be a sheet-metal worker". Naturally I didn't even try for
that sort of job afterwards.

Subsequently I have actually been impeded in building things, mostly
bookshelves but also the sort of stuff one gets into as a dweller in houses
with domestic inclinations, desire to customize and occasional need for
variety in recreational activities (e.g. by turning a closet-like bedroom
into a usable space by building a bunkbed with desk &c underneath). I have
to draw diagram after diagram, be constantly referring to them etc. One
good thing about this is that when the thing is done, it's a revelation,
literally, of what I have had in mind but have been unable to see.

One thing I have assumed, and continue to assume, is that visualization
tools will make an enormous difference to the humanities because those who
have been thus deprived of the ability to see things in the mind now
suddenly can picture ideas. And those who have never thought of doing so --
those with still open minds, that is -- will be forcibly struck with what
our nifty machines can do.

A related effect. I have been working on the modelling of personification
by recording instances of it, weighting what seem the causitive factors,
iterating the process until consistency is achieved and representing the
result graphically, with Excel. I realized that the visual representation,
independent of the quality of the model producing it, is actually a better
representation than anything we've had before -- because it does not force
us to conceptualize the trope as either/or, as the old technology of
capitalization does. It shows us, in the process of modelling, that
personification is a matter of how sensitively one reads. Now that, I
think, is something rather important.

And note this well: because of the above, aesthetics, art history and art
criticism suddenly come within our ken and have much to tell us. But
doubtless some of you realized this almost before it happened.


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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London
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Received on Mon Jun 06 2005 - 04:58:49 EDT

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