Unblinking Eye


[Media, Consciousness, Ontological Antitheses, Life as Art, Paradigms, Memes, Pattern Language, Nature of Art]

  •           Presentational immediacy             Causal efficacy       
               Space                                          Time
               Sign                                             Symbol                  
               Form                                           Meaning                   
  • “...one of the first things that a student of etymology...discovers for himself is that every modern language, with its thousands of abstract terms and its nuances of meaning and association, is apparently nothing, from beginning to end, but an unconscionable tissue of dead, or petrified, metaphors.” (Barfield, Poetic Diction, p. 63.)
  • “…all truly strict and exact thought is sustained by the symbolics and semiotics on which it is based. Every “law” of nature assumes for our thinking the form of a universal “formula”—and a formula can be expressed only by a combination of universal and specific signs.  Without the universal signs provided by arithmetic and algebra, no special relation in physics, no special law of nature would be expressible.  It is, as it were, the fundamental principle of cognition that the universal can be perceived only in the particular, while the particular can be thought only in reference to the universal.” (Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, I, p. 86.)
  • Demonic Poster RemnantSamuel Alexander, in his discussion of “perspectives” in space-time, calls attention to the fact that “…Space, when we apprehend it through the senses…is not presented to us as simultaneous.” (Space, Time, and Deity, I, p. 72) Perceived space is of various times, and perceived time may be of many spaces.  Space is not known except as an extension of durations, and time is only known as a duration of extensions. The universe as it is in an instant is only apprehended conceptually, that is to say, symbolically.
  • Erwin Panofsky introduces his series of lectures, Studies in Iconography, with a methodological analysis of art which hinges on the distinction between form and meaning.  He further divides form into factual and expressional, and meaning into essential and secondary, but it is his initial distinction between form and meaning that interests us here.  “Primary or Natural Subject matter…is apprehended by identifying pure forms, that is: certain configurations of line or colour, or certain peculiarly shaped lumps of bronze or stone, as representations of natural objects….” (p. 5) Meaning is apprehended through images, stories, allegories, and symbolical values. (p. 14)
  • “Observation has become almost entirely indirect…. The sense-data on which the propositions of modern science rest are, for the most part, little photographic spots and blurs, or inky curved lines on paper.  …The problem of observation is all but eclipsed by the problem of meaning.  And the triumph of empiricism in science is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense-data are primarily symbols.” --Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, 3rd ed., pp. 20-21.
  • What appealed initially to scientists and artists alike was photography’s factual nature, its precision and objectivity; few in the early days perceived that, like any image or word, the photograph was inherently symbolic, possessed of meaning, and subject to interpretation.  As bare fact, the photograph contains uninterpreted analog data—once that data is interpreted the photograph takes on meaning, becomes a symbol for a past or future moment in the space-time continuum which may be either remembered or imagined.  As symbol, the photographic image unites the perception of time and space in a single locus. Wynn Bullock sensed something like this when he said:  “I immediately began…to think that you couldn’t have space without time, because if you have no time, there’s no time for space. And if you have no space, there’s nothing for time.  They co-existed, but they were independent—they had independent significance.” (Hill & Cooper, p. 323)
  • In order to fully understand the nature of symbolism, we must examine Whitehead’s exposition of the two pure modes of perception, one of which is essentially perception in space, and the other in time. Whitehead designates them “presentational immediacy” and “causal efficacy.”  “The pure mode of presentational immediacy gives no information as to the past or the future. It merely presents an illustrated portion of the presented duration. It thereby defines a cross-section of the universe: but does not in itself define on which side lies the past, and on which side the future.”  (Process and Reality, p. 168)  This definition comes with the sense of time, of consecutiveness, of the efficaciousness of things not immediately present. Causal efficacy “…produces the sense of derivation from an immediate past, and of passage to an immediate future…a sense of influx of influence from other vaguer presences in the past.” (ibid., p. 178)
  • Whitehead analyzed perception into two modes: presentational immediacy and causal efficacy. Presentational immediacy is perception of what is immediately present without reference to anything in the past or anything that may lie in the future (neither memory nor awareness of potentiality).  It’s pure mode is rarely attained.  Causal efficacy is the pure “mode of inheritance of feeling from past data” and the precondition for awareness of future potentialities. Neither pure mode in itself can be called consciousness as we know it, but these two pure modes together constitute symbolic reference; essentially conscious perception.  (Above quote from the glossary of Donald W. Sherburne, A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality.  See also Whitehead, Process and Reality, Part II, Chapter VIII.)
  • “The living symbol formulates an essential unconscious factor, and the more widespread this factor is, the more general is the effect of the symbol, for it touches a corresponding chord in every psyche. Since, for a given epoch, it is the best possible expression for what is still unknown, it must be the product of the most complex and differentiated minds of that age.” (Jung, Psychological Types, par. 820.)
  • “Since every scientific theory contains an hypothesis, and is therefore an anticipatory description of something still essentially unknown, it is a symbol.  Furthermore, every  psychological expression is a symbol if we assume that it states or signifies something more and other than itself...” (ibid., par. 817)


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