|The Engineering of Vision from Constructivism to Computer
(Ph.D. Dissertation, Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester, 1993).
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Illustrations for Chapter 2: Visual Thinking
and Chapter 3: Mapping Space
The dissertation presents a social history of modern ideas about vision. It assumes that vision is not a timeless concept; rather, each period understands vision differently depending on how it is used. In the twentieth century, vision acquired new social roles as the medium of mass communication and the instrument of labor, and, as any other productive tool, it was subjected to engineering, rationalization and automation. Such new disciplines as applied experimental psychology, advertising design, communication engineering, film, and robotics continue to search for ways to exploit vision productively. In the process, they generate new knowledge about vision, at the same time reducing it to a few disjoint and limited models. The dissertation chapters follow the development of four such models: vision as a code, vision as a means of logical reasoning, vision as a way to capture spatial information, and vision as information processing.
Methodologically, I treat the ideas about vision as integrally related to the functions of vision in modernity, its uses in the workplace, on the battlefield, in the classroom. Historically, I describe two stages of the engineering of vision. In the early part of the century this engineering focuses on human communication (the human as the subject of mass propaganda and mass entertainment). The second stage begins after WW II with the shift toward the information society, when the processing of information takes precedence over industrial production. Human vision becomes the key instrument of post-industrial labor as the channel of communication between human and machine.
Thus, the dissertation begins with the scene of heated debates among Soviet constructivists in the early 1920s on how to rationalize vision as means of mass communication. It ends with the recent research by cognitive scientists and engineers at MIT and NASA on more efficient human-machine interfaces such as virtual reality. This is the history of modern vision -- the history of its engineering.