Muscle and Memory

“All perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.”

Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception: The New Version, p.5.

AP: For someone whose pictures are so well known, you yourself have remained elusive. Don’t you like to talk about photography?

LF: It’s not a pleasure to talk about one’s work, and I don’t know how to talk about it. Photography is a bit sacred to me. When you base your life on doing it—as I do—you don’t always want to know the mechanisms.

AP: Would it be possible to say, then, that you make your photographs instinctively?

LF: A photographer is stuck with that moment, so it almost inevitably is instinctive. You don’t think about it before or after you do it. A painter or writer can re-work something, but a photographer can’t really do it again. The sun goes behind a cloud and the whole thing changes. If you asked that question of an athlete, he wouldn’t be able to say how he makes the choices he makes in a game. Photography is quite similar to athletics—more so, maybe, than to art.

Allison, Sue S. “Q&A Lee Friedlander: A Reluctant Subject Lets Loose” American Photographer 12:3 1984 (52-54)

Reading these quotes as a disagreement of sorts (reasoning and intuition are the same for Arnheim, different for Friedlander and most other people) I recall C.S. Peirce’s passionate argument that intuition doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’m completely wrong in reading instinct and intuition as synonyms—especially given the comparison with athletics. Instinct is, in this context, a sort of “muscle memory.”

Friedlander’s insistence that “you don’t think about it” rings true to my experience, and yet, so does Arnheim’s claim that “reasoning is also intuition.” Peirce claimed that intuition didn’t exist because it was inevitably based on reason, or more precisely, inference. Inference, in Peirce’s view, was at work even during perception. (see “Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man” Selected Writings v.1). This is perhaps the root of the disjunction—for Peirce and Arnheim, perception is thinking

A child has, as far as we know, all the perceptive powers of a man. Yet question him a little as to how he knows what he does. In many cases, he will tell you that he never learned his mother-tongue; he always knew it, or he knew it as soon as he came to have sense. It appears then that he does not possess the faculty of distinguishing, by simple contemplation, between an intuition and a cognition determined by others.

There can be no doubt that before the publication of Berkeley’s book on Vision, it had generally been believed that the third dimension of space was immediately intuited, although at present, nearly all admit that it is known by inference. We have been contemplating the object since the very creation of man, but this discovery was not made until we began to reason about it. (Peirce, ibid. 14-15)

Nonetheless, it seems clear that “thinking” is a broad continuum. Obviously, when one rises in the middle of the night and searches for the bathroom in the dark one operates using a set of inferences based on both memory and perception—but can we call this “thinking” in its true sense? Do I genuinely contemplate the thing I stub my toe upon?

I emailed A&L Daily about the lack of Arnheim links. There was no response. I did discover a nice obit on Rhizome though. Perhaps the one that best sums it up is the response at — Ghandi’s grandson got the lead, followed closely by rapper Stack Bundles (“make a bitch go ooh“?); Arnheim was given last place.