Sizing Up Mental Objects

Sizing Up Mental Objects

Jan Koenderink

EEMCS, Delft University of Technology


To devotees of the exact sciences mental objects are spooky entities to which any objective existence has to be denied. For instance, mental things are (obviously) imponderable. Even though indeed weightless – in the sense that the very concept of mass is inapplicable to them – mental objects may doubtless possess geometrical properties. So “pictorial objects” seen “in” pictures have shapes even if there doesn’t exist an actual (physical) “object” of which the picture is an effigy. The dragon in a picture certainly has a shape, even if (as indeed appears likely) dragons don’t exist in the physical world. If mental objects indeed possess geometrical properties, can one measure these? For (to cite Lord Kelvin) “to measure is to know”, a statement which is even more interesting when read in reverse (no doubt Lord Kelvin implied symmetry). Many would answer in the negative, for them this does not even count as a “measurement problem” in the proper sense! In this talk I will consider various geometrical properties through fully operational definitions, literally by “sizing them up” although the necessary implements (yardsticks, compasses, etc.) have to be applied in pictorial (mental!) space. Thus the gauges are no less spooky than the objects. However, the fit (or coincidence) of two spooky entities to each other is an objective fact, no less than the equilibrium of a pair of scales or the coincidence of the limits of an object to the marks on a rule. Eddington’s understanding of physical quantities in terms of “pointer readings” thus effortlessly extends to the mental realm. This enables the application of formal geometrical methods to pictorial space.

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