John S. Miller/ Thoughts and Ideas / The Visual Mind: Art, Science, and Knowledge

In 1993 research psychologist John M. Kennedy began publishing papers focusing on his work with blind people who made drawings. He worked with individuals who had been blind from birth. Dr. Kennedy revealed that drawings made by blind people followed rules similar to those made by people who could see. The visual language of space and perspective seem to be hardwired within us. Can you picture that? So much of the way we think and even the way we talk about thinking is tied to vision. Do you see what I'm saying? Our eyes and minds are intimately bound together in our thinking and our thinking is dominated by imagery. We can imagine forms, things seen or things we intend to create, and mentally manipulate these visual models, problem solving within our heads long before or after we touch the objects with our hands.

The first record of human intelligence is art. Paintings found in caves in Southern Europe can be dated to over 30,000 years ago. These impressive compositions clearly demonstrate that the people who made them were keen observers and remembered what they saw. The artists who made the cave paintings memorized observed fact and carried these images within their heads, in many cases deep into the recesses of a cave. They then recreated their visions on 'canvases' of stone.

During the Renaissance, advancements in mathematics coincided with changes in art. Prior to this, images in paintings were sized according to a spiritual hierarchy rather than by relative location in space. The most important form was the largest form. The mathematics of geometry became a tool for the creation of pictorial geometry now known as Renaissance perspective. In these new images, objects relate to each other in pictorial space in a way that parallels observation. Things close to the observer are larger than those things that are farther away. It was within this new cultural environment that Galileo Galilei was able to establish a new standard for the advancement of knowledge based strictly on observation. The spatial relationships of the individual observer relative to other things in the world and universe became culturally significant. Galileo's drawings based on personal observations made while looking through his telescope changed our sense of our location in space. Prior to this time, discussions, and religious based philosophical musings dictated the specifics of knowledge. Art, mathematics, and the curiosity of Galileo established observable fact as the new standard of knowledge and modern science was born.