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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Perceiving Representations: A Study of Structural Commonalities between Language, Pictures and Music

Alternative title: Å sanse representasjonsobjekter: En studie av strukturelle fellestrekk mellom språk, bilder og musikk

Awarded: NOK 9.2 mill.

Some of the things we perceive let us experience something other than themselves. They stand for something or represent something. The project will study the perception of representations, aiming to explain how representations let us see or hear something other than the object we have sensory contact with. By contrast to earlier studies? separate treatments of pictures, music and language, the project focuses on structural commonalities between all of these three forms of representation. This will help to illuminate what representation is. The project?s line of inquiry is facilitated by the idea that representations in pictures, language and music have a content. This differs from the representational object and what it represents. The idea is that when one, say, sees one of van Gogh's sunflower paintings, one sees something yellow not only on the canvas, but also in the picture: one sees yellow sunflowers. But not sunflowers as they are seen in a vase at home. According to art critics, one sees the nature and life cycle of sunflowers; their essence. This gives reason to think that the colour one experiences when seeing sunflowers in a picture differs from the colours on the canvas and the colours of physical sunflowers. It is an experienced colour 'the colour of the essence of sunflowers' and this is indeterminate between several physical colours. In addition to clarifying the nature of contents, such as this experienced colour, the project will study the indeterminacy characteristic of the relationship between contents and, respectively, representational objects and what they represent. Studying this indeterminacy will shed light on several issues. It will provide a novel understanding of what precise representation consists in. It will illuminate the relationship between vision and audition, as well as that between language, speech and thought. And it will contribute an explanation of aesthetic response to representations. Since 2018, we have published 3 academic papers on depiction of movement, the relationship between music and dance, and individuation of the sense of smell. The conference 'Refined Audition' was organised in October 2019 and gathered researchers from philosophy, psychology and musicology working on auditory experiences of music and language. From 2019-2021, we have also organized the regular meetings of Oslo Mind Group. We are planning a workshop in 2022 on representation and perception of movement. Unfortunately, the project has been delayed by about a year.

The project examines a relatively new puzzle in the philosophy of perception, a puzzle concerning the perception of representations: How can we explain that some of the objects we see or hear let us experience something other than that very object? The project's approach to the puzzle offers scientific renewal on two scores. Firstly, it undertakes a unified study of three forms of representation - language, pictures and music - that have traditionally been considered too diverse in nature to be fruitfully studied together. Secondly, by building on the principal investigator's work on picture perception, a 'content', which differs both from the representation itself and what it represented, is postulated as an element in perception of representations. This allows forming and investigating the hypothesis that there is a common structure to the perception of speech, pictures and music. A perplexing feature of representations is that there are certain discrepancies between the representation itself and what the representation lets us experience. For instance, what is seen in pictures may be a man but no man in particular, although the shapes and colours on the picture surface render the appearance of one particular man. What is heard in speech may be divided into words that express unspecific concepts like 'cup', although the speech sound is highly concrete and specific, and not divided into units. And what is heard in music can move from one tone to another, although the musical sounds do not themselves move; there is just one sound after another. These types of 'unspecificity' are well-known but difficult to explain, both phenomenologically, conceptually and empirically. By investigating the hypothesised common structure to the perception of speech, pictures and music, the project explores an unprecedented and promising way to analyse and explain these issues.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam