Visualizing Mind – HU Seminar




on speculative graphics and epistemology



A Bologna Lab Seminar in the studies program “Vielfalt der Wissensformen” (Diversity of Knowledge Forms) Helmholtz Zentralinstitut für Kulturtechnik – Humboldt Universität zu Berlin – M.2 Methode und Analyse – Winter Semester 2017/18

Dr. Alan Prohm



Visualizing Mind – a seminar on speculative graphics and epistemology

The ancient desire to know (or master or expand) the mind through visualizing it finds encouragement today in exciting new insights and technologies. At the same time that contemporary cognitive neuroscience has given dramatically new form to our understanding of mind, and hence of ourselves, new technologies and regimes of visualization have emerged to render these forms visible in unprecedented ways. This seminar asks: What is emerging at this stunning convergence of mind science and visualization technologies?

What can we learn by “seeing” the organ we think with? What projects and practices have emerged in history and different cultures to attempt this? What about mind could possibly allow it to be visualized, and what can the status of such a visualization be? How do thought, language and image relate in this enterprise? What makes a visualization good and what impact can a good or bad visualization have? In this course we will study the visualization of mind as a topic in visual culture, a genre connecting ancient Hindu and Buddhist diagramming practices, classical and renaissance memory architectures, the metaphors of poets, the sketches and constructions of artists, the models of philosophers and psychologists, the architectures of conceptual gamers, and the latest science-fiction visions of our mind today, challenged and expanded by new augmented and virtual realities. In surveying this field of projects and practices, we will also be studying visualization as a topic in the history of science, as an instrument of knowledge production increasingly central to developments in many fields. In the study of mind, and of different minds, we find visualization encountering its greatest epistemological challenge, and consider the radical claim that self-knowledge, the aim of all philosophy, can only be achieved through self-perception, that the evolution of mind lies in the hands of its visualizers.

This course is meant for all students of ideas, science, art, design, media, programming, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and visual culture. Course sessions will consist of lectures, readings, critical analysis of visualizations, sketching and concept proposals for visualization projects. Invited guests will deepen our encounter both with mind and with practices of visualization. Final work will be gathered in a collective publication. Visualization skills (analog or digital) are very welcome but not a requirement. Lectures are in English, readings and discussions in English and German.



Following is a view of the secure Moodle Page for the course. Links were to online resources and selected text excerpts. Links here only open for Moodle users.

  • The Earnest

  • The Earnest – Image Schemas and Mental Space Theory

    •  MarkJohnson_TheBodyintheMind_1987_Preface File
    •  MarkJohnson_TheBodyintheMind_1987_Constraints on Reasoning File
    •  Paper: Mandler and Pagán on Defining Image Schemas 2014 File
    •  GillesFauconnier_MentalSpaces_1985_1994_Foreword File
    •  GillesFauconnier_MentalSpaces_1985_Spacebuilders File
    •  GillesFauconnier_Mappings in Thought and Language_1997 File
    •  PeterGärdenfors_TheGeometryofMeaning_2014_Conceptual Spaces File
    •  PeterGaerdenfors_Geometry of Meaning_2014_Modelling Meanings in Robots File
    •  BernardBaars_TheaterofConsciousness_1997_Theater Metaphor and Diagramming File
  • The Earnest: States of the Art in Neuroscience

  • Your Assignments





    the phenomenological situation

    The basic challenge for any attempt to visualize mind: develop a visualization scheme for the basic terms and relations of phenomenological theory, e.g. using above procedure; recommended text Don Ihde Experiential Phenomenology; sample solutions from the Neurognostics project.

    the object – ontological interlude

    Fundamental challenge to this project, giving material form to an immaterial “thing”, how to picture a thought; strategies for “dematerializing” the visualization scheme, and for representing indeterminacy, uncertainty, changeability, vagueness and relativity.

    the act of reading





    Useful test case for attempting a “comprehensive” visualization of mental processes; the act of reading involves all of conscious experience within the narrowed frame of a fully text-focussed intentionality; demonstrates this comprehensiveness according to four vectors or dimensions of the reading process.

    the imagewater – interlude on mediality

    Fundamental challenge part 2: representing the environment of thought and meaning; further strategies for materializing the immaterial indeterminately; speculations on what kind of stuff the “mind stuff” might really be.

    the wandering viewpoint

    the tubular loom

    Sample solutions to the challenge of a comprehensive visualization based on reading: the first applying procedure 1 to Wolfgang Iser’s The Act of Reading, the second applying procedure 2 to the recurrent literary metaphor (e.g. Ezra Pound) of the mind as a loom on which the text is woven in reading.

    Dismissal:            concluding caveats

                                   destructions for use

    Healthy reminders of the essential impossibility of this undertaking; of the ultimate arbitrariness and partiality of any thinking of thought in a medium other than thought

    Additional Resources