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The Power of the Image

Emotion, Expression, Explanation


Edited By András Benedek and Kristof Nyiri

We think primarily in images, and only secondarily in words, while both the image and the word are preceded by the bodily, the visceral, the muscular. This holds even for mathematical thinking. It is the entire motor system, including facial expressions and bodily gestures, that underlies not just emotions but also abstract thought. Communication, too, is a primordially visual task, spoken and written language only gradually supplementing and even supplanting the pictorial. Writing liberates, but also enslaves; after centuries of a dominantly verbal culture, today the ease of producing and accessing digital images amounts to a homecoming of the visual, with the almost limitless online availability of our textual heritage completing the educational revolution of the 21st century.
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Image and Time in the Theory of Gestures


Kristóf Nyíri

As I indicated in my paper “Visualization and the Horizons of Scientific Explanation”, in the subsection “The Visual and the Motor”,1 as well as in the section “Visual Thinking” in my paper “Images in Conservative Education”,2 towards the end of the nineteenth century there emerged a psychological position according to which it is the whole body, the entire motor system, including facial expressions and bodily gestures, that underlies not just emotions, but also abstract thought. Meaning, both emotional and cognitive, should be conceived of as primordially grounded, and ultimately embodied, in the motor dimension. This psychological perspective was definitely conducive to inspiring the late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century interest in the language of gestures, an interest that is today once more vivid.

One can speak about gestures, and about languages of gestures, in at least four, partly of course overlapping, senses. First, as referring to the natural language of deaf-mutes, today forming the basis of a great number of officially recognized sign languages, such as ASL (American Sign Language), or DGS (Deutsche Gebärdensprache). Secondly, in the sense of the hypothesis – an hypothesis to which observations on the language of deaf-mutes, too, might lead – that the original language of humankind was a language of gestures preceding vocal language. Thirdly, the past few decades have witnessed the emergence of increasingly extended research on the interplay of talk and spontaneous gesture. And fourthly, we are acquainted with various cultures of handed-down, conventional gestures, such...

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