17 October 2007

"It's Not a Picture, Daddy."

This will likely be my last post here for a few days. I hope its a good one.

On my Vermont travels this weekend, my friend and I stopped at a gorge, where the Black River cuts deep through the mountainside just down the road from Woodstock.

We weren't the only ones with cameras to have stopped there. It was a beautiful day for sight-seeing (site-seeing? -- either homonym works) and the bridge over this gorge was crowded.

I saw a father trying to encourage the inner sighte-seer in his daughter. He asked her, "Isn't this a wonderful picture? The colorful trees and the water...."

She interrupted his exposition to say: "It's not a picture, Daddy."

That's an insightful little girl. She has a great career in philosophy ahead of her. Dad was using the term "picture" non-literally of course, but the child's mind grasped the difference between being 'really here' and the mediation of somebody else's photo, painting, etc.

She is the connection between my post Monday on the Vermont trip and my post yesterday on the philosophical question: What is reality? The reality/picture distinction is that between the artificially framed view someone else has chosen for me, and the unframed view -- or, more strictly, the naturally framed view my nervous system provides.

Hollywood can imagine a "matrix" for her in which she only thinks she's standing at a gorge, and Descartes can imagine an evil demon who tricks her into thinking she's at the gorge. But even within those artfully constructed worlds, the reality/representation distinction reasserts itself. Within the matrix, there would still be a here-now experience of the gorge on the one hand and various partial representations of it on the other, so such hypotheses don't shed the sort of doubt upon that valuable distinction that their creators sometimes think they do.

If you had a home at that scene, you'd have realty near the reality, which would put your "i" in the middle of it.


Henry said...

The distinction between the reality and the picture isn't a neat one. Suppose that the father, extending his arms and using his index fingers, had "drawn" a frame in the air, creating an "artificially framed view," to use your phrase. Or suppose that he looked at the trees and the water through a camera lens, which itself created an artificially framed view. Would we call those "pictures"? It makes no difference, I think.

Christopher said...

The artificial framing of photography is temporal as well as spatial. The photo says to us, "this is what this gorge and its river looked like from a particular spot, at a specific moment."

Remember Heraclitus and that observation about the second step!

Your analogs don't reproduce the temporal framing, so I wouldn't call them pictures in the relevant sense, no.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.