Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


Dress rehearsal for Buenos Aires lecture: Necker’s Cube, Rubin’s Vase, The Devil’s Turning Fork, the Duck/Rabbit and the Cat/Coffee pot revisited. On Pseudo-dilemmas of the Lifeworld and the Picture

Göran Sonesson (Centre for Cognitive Semiotics, Lund University)

This paper is concerned with the possibility of dilemmas being embodied in visuality itself. There may of course be dilemmas in choosing to visualize something rather than not, dilemma in picking the way to visualize something. Strictly speaking, for there to be dilemmas in the visual world, the world given to us in perception must have a logical structure. That this is the case, in some way or another, has been suggested by numerous thinkers, from positivists such as Carnap and the early Wittgenstein to thinkers with more complex agendas such as Husserl and Peirce. To limit ourselves to the former two, there is an essential difference between their ways of imputing logic to the world of our experience. To Peirce, all experience is made up of rhemes, dicents, and arguments. Husserl also posit something he calls antepredicative experience: a percept made up of properties ascribed to an object and assembled together with others to form some kind of implicit reasoning. The difference it that to Husserl, there is no statement function in experience. This is exactly why the experience is ante-predicative. On the other hand, not only would a picture have a statement function in this sense, since it delimits parts of the perceived world and puts emphasis on some parts of it, but also a part of the visual world marked out in some sense (such as a theatre scene or a shop window) could acquire the same function. Perhaps only a picture, however, can be used to construct a percept that requires a choice between options that are or seem mutually exclusive. Four cases can be distinguished: In perspective reversal, the object is preserved as such, but the point of view from which it is seen is reversed (“The Necker cube”). In object reversal, what was seen as the background is now seen as the figure, and vice-versa (”The duck-rabbit”). In the third category, object incoherence, the figure as a whole seems unambiguous, and it is only when you attend to the details, that you discover, that no such object can exist in the world outside the picture (”The devil’s turning fork”). In the fourth case, mereological incoherence, the whole as such seems perfectly coherent with a possible depicted object, but it is seen to consist of parts, which do not make any such whole in the real world (“Le chafetière”). Even so, this would only be the equivalent of a proposition containing mutually exclusive properties, but the dilemma is supposed to be an argument. Even though the picture may have a statement function, it would seem to lack the stepwise organization that characterises an argument. The question then becomes whether we could regain this characteristic by means of introducing a temporal dimension, that is, moving pictures. But the dilemma would then seem to emerge as a narrative device.