JF Ptak Science Books
A Quick Note on an Interesting Image: is this the First Published Illustration of the Mental Imaging of an Active Thought?
I asked this question in the eigth post on this blog, back in February 2008, almost a million words ago, and it seems to me that the answer to this is "yes".1 Now that I've done a bit of reading here and there, this illustration may well be among the first that tries to describe how a thought "looks" in the head of a person doing arithmetical calculation. That is to say, of how the thought-image of this process "looks" to people. "Special" people, according to Galton, who was actually writing what was also probably sciences first paper on synesthesia. I'm returning to this post now because I'm offering the original of this paper for sale., here. Enjoy.
I was stumbling through my collection of Nature (A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science, London) magazine when I found a fantastic article by Francis Galton (“Visualized Numerals”, Thursday, January 15, 1880) concerning (in one aspect) the mental visualization of the act of doing mathematics. That is to say, what images people formed in their brains as they performed mathematical functions--this was even illustrated (!)
Fascinating! Scholars have pointed to this article as perhaps the earliest scientific effort on synesthesia , but what strikes me is how he tried to describe the intimate or logical function with the visualization of the act....I think that is what makes this effort so spectacular.
I'm not associating memory devices (like the memory palaces of Matteo Ricci or Robert Fludd’s spectacular creations from his Ars Memoriae, or the beautiful schematic of Civlio Camillo’s memory theater, for example which are more (basely speaking)
visual aids for restructuring already-completed thought patterns) with this question; l I'm not so sure that it applies. These are more issues of phylogenic memory, and concerned with memetics and semitoics rather than the actual formation of an idea.
People have certainly written on images in the mind before Galton--the question is if anyone has illustrated what they think this process looks like? I'm also not so sure if this directly relates to Aristotle's elements/colors affirmation or Pythagoras's numerals and colors or Scriabins music and color associations, or Cardano and his color/flavor and the planets associations....
I guess the question is—where does this image fall in the history of the illustration of abstract thought? I'm not including famous examples of the physical aspects of sight as with Descartes etc; just the image of what people see in their heads as they are formulating thoughts and ideas.
It would also be just plain wrong not to mention two things at this point—the works of Frances Yates , which is a gorgeous and insightful work on memory. And secondly, I need to acknowledge the work of Barbara Stafford (University of Chicago) who for decades has produced the most beautiful and the most interesting works on what scientific images *are*.
1. See Scientific American, May 2003, page 53, which cites the Galton Nature paper as the first of its kind. Also see Scheuren, Fritz (08/01/2003). "History corner". The American statistician (0003-1305), 57 (3), p. 189, which cites the SciAm article citing this. Also Ramachandran, Vilayanur S (01/01/2006). "Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes". Scientific American (0036-8733), 16 (3), p. 76. And also Sacks, Oliver, (07/28/2003). "THE MIND'S EYE A NEUROLOGIST'S NOTEBOOK". The New Yorker , 79 (20), p. 048. And lastly, Pinel, Philippe (06/01/2005). "Interactions between number and space in parietal cortex". Nature reviews. Neuroscience (1471-003X), 6 (6), p. 435.There are many others who classify the Galton paper as the "first" in its field.
For a good read in general on the basic papers in the history of synesthesia, see: Synaesthesia : classic and contemporary readings edited by Simon Baron-Cohen and John E. Harrison. Oxford, Blackwell: 1997, which includes the ground-breaking Galton paper.
Here's the entire article by Galton