Saturday, December 24, 2011

Visual Literacy : Final Reflection : Summer 2005

Final Reflection Essay by Lance Miller for Visual Literacy, a course taught as part of the Whole Systems Design Masters Program at Antioch University in Seattle.

This summer our group in Visual Literacy explored visual phenomenon and visual thinking. I make this distinction between phenomenon and thinking to point to phenomenon external to the receiver and thinking with neural activity that emulates visualization.

An interesting entry point for discussion was the assertion that language paralyzes thought. Thinking in a visual modality, rather than in a linguistic modality, was offered as a way to avoid the stated paralysis.

In my exploration of visual modalities in thinking, I think I’ve understood the sentence “language paralyzes thought, and visual creativity can go beyond language to discover new creativity or thoughts” as an instance of English language. It states that there is something outside the bounds of linguistics that is neurological activity that utilizes visual parameters. The meaning, use and even the possibility of cogent discussion on this neural activity are important clarifications I need.

Book on Logical Philosophy

My need to understand such a meta level assertion led me back to a dependable source of inspiration – Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tracticus Logico-Philosophicus (TLP). When I discovered Wittgenstein, in 1994, I was involved in a religion my family had been in for four generations. This religion forbade the use of icons and imagery to convey religion. Text and hermeneutic extrapolation using historical records was the method of religious experience. Wittgenstein’s Tracticus Logico-Philosophicus freed me from the crude self-referencing affirmation of revealed truth and validity that had empowered this religion’s hold on my thinking.

TLP opened up the stuff of life, the non-deterministic unfolding of the present, and a more rigorous thinking for me. After discovering Wittgenstein, I hitchhiked for twenty-five hundred miles, and drove ten thousand miles on a summer long vision quest that delivered me into opportunities to go to Antarctica and Alaska. Along the way I read Umberto Eco, Gregory Bateson, and all of Wittgenstein’s published works.

The Freedom of Rationality

A key feature of this new adventurism was the ability to explore reality with language and rationality. I mention the encounter with Wittgenstein’s works not just for indulgent autobiography, but to demarcate my life by a line on which I became far more rational, and creative. Previous to this time all things creative –music and writing especially, were elusive crafts that escaped my serious attempts at mastery. After reading Umberto Eco’s “A Theory of Semiotics” I started developing an understanding of repetition and change as relational in creating music. I saw the use of the two in creating signals that communicate. Other relative opposites are words like unique and banal, and music can mix these as a means to communicate. Ad hoc frameworks like these came easily after stumbling into a rational analytic philosophy with language as the prime thought process.

Irrational is __________

When I step out of a rational language space, I mentally experience______. The exception is when I play music. In the case of music, when I step out of rational language space, I mentally experience…music. But the music is has a relational management system built into it via harmonic rhythm, overtone scales, and spatial corporeality expressed in reverb. Music is a rational language space in its own right.

Universe of Ratios, Universe of Relations

When I speak of rational, I imply its root, synonym, and derivative terms. I especially imply ratio. For me, all things add up to one universe by a gathering of things into relative ratios. A few caveats I should mention on rationalism: I know that my senses only see a tiny fraction of these things, and my ratio summation of the universe is always incomplete. Our choice in things to see, the lines of demarcation to see separate things, and even the ratios we choose as metrics are ad hoc socially constructed artifacts. For me, the discovery of systemic thinking and a love for it is simply an extension of my vision quest into the rational.

A Ratio of Perspectives, Participation, and Collective Experience

One of the biggest lessons I learned while in Visual Literacy Studio was the variance in perceptions and avenues of articulation. From classroom discussions and online dialogue I saw that people experience art, color, brightness, and combinations of sensory input very differently. In the last residency we had an excellent discussion on imagination, which is the mental creation of a new thing that is doable, as opposed to fantasy, which is the mental creation of the impossible. I believe we need, and will always need, more imagination to guide society away from pathologies. People need inspiration and varying degrees of stimulation to encourage imagination. I have learned that what I need to free my mind and create new and great things is not the same as what others need. I want to respect these needs unlike mine, I want to encourage the needs unlike mine. We are creating tomorrow today, and a greater pleasantness for that tomorrow will require an inspired and imaginative humanity.

Creative use of visual stimulation, painting, and visual thinking may be just what many will need for that process.


Wittgenstein L. (1922). Tracticus Logico-Philosophicus. Great Britain: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

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