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Meaning and Motoricity

Essays on Image and Time

Kristof Nyiri

There is an intrinsic connection between the notions of image and time. Visual images can strike us as incomplete, as ambiguous, unless they are moving ones, happening in time. However, time cannot be conceptualized except by metaphors, and so ultimately by images, of movement in space. The philosophy of images and the philosophy of time are interdependent. This book argues for the reality of time and for visual images as natural carriers of meaning. The experience of the passage of time, of the reality of time, is embodied and made visible in the bodily gestures of time, and indeed in all our gestures. Meaning, both emotional and cognitive, is grounded in the motor dimension. By implication, no meaningful philosophy of time can neglect the aspect of motor imagery.
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1. Visualization and the Horizons of Scientific Realism


Galileo’s often-quoted formula, according to which the universe is written in the language of mathematics, continues with the elucidation, “its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it”.1 Above the doorway of Plato’s Academy, some two millennia earlier, there was engraved, as tradition has it, the inscription “Let no-one ignorant of geometry enter here” – rendered not infrequently, and not without justification, as “Let no one ignorant of mathematics enter here”: since for the Greeks it was precisely geometry that constituted the essence of mathematics. And for Plato in a sense all branches of mathematics, and indeed all branches of thought, had to do with shapes. He chose the words idea and eidos to designate abstract mental contents. These words, which he used alternately, mean “form” or “shape”. Both idea and eidos come from the verb idein, “to see”; from eidos there descends the word eidolon, “the visible image”.2 In the writings of Archimedes and Apollonius eidos, along with schēma, again with the meaning “figure” or “shape”, emerged as parts of the mathematical lexicon.3 History shows mathematics to be inherently bound up with visuality. In fact any dimension of abstract reasoning does essentially rely on the perceptual, in particular on the visual: mental processes invariably involve the component of imagery.

As a fairly recent, succinct summary by Kosslyn et al. puts it: “Mental imagery occurs when perceptual information is accessed from memory, giving...

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