City Metaphors

Oswald Mathias Ungers

Apparently, all thinking processes happen in two different ways. Each is claimed to be the only way in which thought processes occur in science, art and philosophy.
The first is commonly known as the empirical way of thinking. It is limited to the study of physical phenomena. The actual concern is with facts that can be measured and justified. This intellectual concern concentrates on separate elements and isolated facts, deriving from direct practical experience. Thinking is strictly limited to technical and practical processes as they are most strongly formulated in the theories and methodologies of pragmatism and behaviourism.
The other way of thinking seeks out phenomena and experiences which describe more than just a sum of parts, paying almost no attention to separate elements which would be affected and changed through subjective vision and comprehensive images anyway. The major concern is not the reality as it is but the search for an all-around idea, for a general content, a coheren thought, or an overall concept that ties everything togther. It is known as holism or Gestlalt theory and has been most forcefully developed during the age of humanism in the philosophical treatises of the morphological idealism.
Kant postulates that knowledge has its origin in two basic components : intuition and thought. According to Kant all our thinking is related to imagination, which means it is related to our senses, because the only way to describe an object is through imagination. The intellect is incapable of perceiving anything, and the senses cannot think. Only through a combination of both can knowledge arise. Imagination has to precede all thinking processes since it is nothing less than a synopsis, an overall ordering principle bringing order into diversity. If we accept that thinking is an imaginative process of a higher order, then, argues Kant, it means all sciences are based on imagination.
In more recent philosophical debates, Herman Friedman replaces Kant’s concept of imagination thought as the basic components of knowledge with the argument that the sense of sight – the vision – and the sens of touch – the haptic – are the two competing polarities, and that all intellectual activity happens either in an optical or haptic way. Friedman argues that the sense of touch is non-productive; it measures, is geometrical, and acts in congruity. The sense of sight, however, is productive; it interpolates, is integral, and acts in similarities. The sens of sight stimulates spontaneous reactions of mind; it is more vivid and more far-reaching than the sens of touch. The sense of touch proceeds from the specific condition to the general, the sense of vision from the general to the specific. The visionary process, whose data are based on imagination, starts out with an idea, looking at an object in the most general way, to find an image from which to descend to more specific properties.

In every human being there is a strong metaphysical desire to create reality structured through images in which objects become meaningful through vision and which does not, as Max Planck believed, exist because its measurable. Most of all, the question of imagination and ideas as an instrument of thinking and analyzing has occupied artists and philosophers. Only in more recent history this process of thinking has been undervalued because of the predominance of quantitative and materialistic criteria. It is obvious, however, that what we generally call thinking is nothing else than the aplication of imagination and ideas to a given set of facts and not just an abstract process but a visual and sensuous event. The way we experience the world around us depends on how we perceive it. Without a comprehensive vision the reality will appear as a mass of unrelated phenomena and meaningless facts, in other words, totally chaotic. In such a world it would be of equal importance; nothing could attract our attention; and there would be no possibility to utilize the mind.

As the meaning of a whole sentence is different from the meaning of the sum of single words, so is the creative vision and ability to grasp the characteristic unity of a set of facts, and not just to analyse them as something wich is put together by single parts. The consciousness that catches the reality through sensuous perception and imagination is the real creative process because it achieves a higher degree of order than the simplistic method of testing, recording, providing and controlling. This is why all traditional philosophy is a permanent attempt to create a wellstructured system of ideas in order to interpret, to perceive, to understand the world, as other sciences have done. There are three basic levels of comprehending physical phenomena: first, the exploration of pure physical facts; second, the psychological impact on our iner-self; and third, the imaginative discovery and reconstruction of phenomena in order to conceptualize them. If for instance, designing is understood purely technically, then it results in pragmatic functionalism or in mathematical formulas. If designing is exclusively an expression of psychological experiences, then only emotional values matter and it turns into a religious substitute. If, however, the physical reality is understood and conceptualized an an analogy to our imagination of that reality, then we pursue a morphological design concept, turning it into phenomena which, like all real concepts, can be expanded or condensed; they can be seen as polarities contradicting or complementing each other, existing as pure concepts in themselves like a piece of art. Therefore we might say, if we look at physical phenomena in a morphological sense, like Gestalten in their metamorphosis, we can manage to develop our knowledge witout machine or apparatus. This imaginative process of thinking applies all intellectual and spiritual areas of human activities though the approaches might be different in various fields. But it is always a fundamental process of conceptualizing an unrelated, divers reality through the use of images, metaphors, analogies, models, signs, symbols and allegories.

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Source :
O.M Ungers, Morphologie : City Metaphors, Köln, Walther König, 2011