7. HYPOTHETICAL THINKING AND COMPARISON IN FOOTPRINTS LITERACY AND PICTORIAL SYMBOLS
In a sense, footprints literacy is a mode of visual knowledge in which there is reading but not writing; art is a type of visual knowledge that records visual thinking; philosophy is a type of conceptual knowledge that sometimes requires and sometimes rejects visual knowledge, and science is a type of knowledge that integrates visual, conceptual and formal thinking. However, all modes of knowledge and even the simplest perception, are theory-dependent, and therefore all modes of knowledge are also hypothesis-dependent (Popper, 1982, Gregory, 1980). This stems from the fact that every theory, whether explicit or implicit, is a system of connections regarding certain entities, and a hypothesis is the mechanism by means of which we try tentatively to extend the system of connections of the theory, from the known to the unfamiliar and unknown. From the very fact that the theory is a system of connections, it follows that the theory also dictates the types of hypotheses that can be derived from it. Hypothetical thinking is, then, the expression of the inductive dimension, the metaphorical-creative drive of human intelligence which is a derivative of the Open-endedness–Closed-endedness mindprint. In other words, hypothetical thinking is an expression of open–endedness, which is a more basic and general attribute that is revealed in matter, in life and in intelligence. Hence the poetic flavor of every creative process: whether it be artistic, philosophic, scientific, technological or any other. We shall now see that hypothetical thinking already existed on a quite high level in footprints literacy, many years before art, philosophy and science were created.
The reading of footprints is impossible without highly developed hypothetical thinking, since in that situation the animal that produced the footprints is not present, and the hunter-tracker has only a graphic indication of its existence. As a rule, hypothetical thinking is required only in those cases in which there is more than one possible cause or explanation for a certain phenomenon, and in the case of the reading of footprints many possible 'causes', or feet of living creatures, could be the origin of the footprints. Hypothetical thinking is a very complex kind of thinking, involving several cognitive activities, among them the capacity of making a comparison between a given sign that the tracker sees on the ground and preconceived images that he sees in his mind's eye. In fact there is no difference in principle between the reading of footprints and any scientific observation. In both cases we assume tentatively that a given empirical phenomenon is a special case of a much wider system of connections formulated in a system of images or symbols. The difference between the two cases is mainly in the level of connectivity and generality of the theories to which the empirical phenomenon is compared either in footprints literacy or in science. The process of comparison between a perceptual datum and images, like the comparison between an object and a class-name, is one of the basic characteristics of consciousness and a precondition for all kinds of knowledge and all thinking processes, and therefore Comparison–Imparison seems to be a mindprint. To what extent comparison is a basic matter in thinking processes, can be seen in hypothetical thinking particularly, which is impossible without comparison and is therefore eventually a derivative of it. From this point of view there is no difference between visual thinking and conceptual or formal thinking. In all of these cases, the hypothesis is the process in which a comparison is made between two entities, images, concepts etc., that are of two levels of order and produced at different times. Hypothetical thinking therefore always has a temporal aspect which is perhaps mainly the comparison of states of consciousness or knowledge at different times: usually, the past and the present. Occasionally this comparison also has implications for the future, and the hypothesis then has predictive value. In that case there are at least three possibilities. Either a certain entity is given and the symbol or class-name is looked for, of which the entity is a special case; as for example when an unknown animal is discovered and it has to be characterized as to the genus and species to which it belongs. Or on the contrary, when a new symbol or class-name is created on one level of generality or another, and the particulars are searched for that are special cases of that class; as for example when for theoretical reasons the conclusion is reached that there must be a particle x, and only then is an active search initiated for a particle that has the attributes defined in advance. The third possibility is a special variant of the first, and is the case when a certain symbol is given and the super-symbol is looked for of which it is a sub-symbol. Footprints literacy is precisely an example of this. That is, a given footprint constitutes a sub-symbol that indicates the foot of a certain animal, and the tracker's problem is to search his imagination for a particular image of an animal, such that the footprint is a sub-symbol of it. In the three cases we make a comparison of the entities from the two levels with regard to the measure of symmetry and asymmetry in their attributes. Comparison is always followed by affirmation or denial regarding the identity or level of variance between the compared entities and comparison is therefore always intertwined with another mindprint: negation–affirmation. Eventually comparison is an attempt at the tentative connection of the two or more entities which are not from the same level. Failure to find a concordance between the entities from the two levels is liable to shake the theory, or lead to the creation of a theory that proposes a new and more coherent system of connections.
The footprint temporarily preserves the pattern of the complement that produced it, and the footprint is thereby a way of coding or mapping the foot that produced it. The hunter-tracker is a gifted expert in solving jigsaw-puzzles; he knows how to decode the mark imprinted in the soil, by means of an educated guess at the foot whose shape is complementary to the pattern of the footprint he is reading. In this process the tracker is searching his brain for the pattern of the foot which is the opposite, or mirror image, of the pattern he sees on the ground. Moreover, for the purpose of connecting the given footprint and a foot of the specific kind that fits it, the tracker must compare the given footprint with the store of images of other footprints that he has in his memory, and he must also compare the shape of this footprint with the store of images of feet that he has in his memory. By a very subtle process of elimination he must select from this enormous plurality the type of foot that according to his best judgment is the most symmetrical or closest fit to the shape of the footprint. This choice is always accompanied by some level of uncertainty, and it constitutes only a hypothesis until data from reality confirm or disprove it. His hypothesis becomes a certain fact only if the tracks lead him to the animal that he expected or predicted would be the cause of the creation of the footprints. In the hunter's world, much more than in the academic world, the survival of the hunter-tracker is totally dependent upon the degree of precision of his hypotheses. Hypothetical thinking thus serves knowledge or survival, which are in a profound sense one and the same. We shall now see how hypothetical thinking is also at the foundation of figurative art.
Like the reading of footprints, the reading of a picture requires a complex hierarchy of hypotheses that classifies it according to many and varied classes and categories. The most important hypotheses of the observer regarding a picture are those by means of which he identifies the phenomenon before him as a picture, and the significance of that specific picture. That is, the observer's main hypotheses relate to the validity and relevance of the manner of reading or decoding of the pictorial symbol system in the picture. As the correct reading of the footprint is the most important aspect and the only point of treating the footprint as a sign, so the existence in principle of the possibility of a correct reading of the symbols in a picture is the main point of figurative art. In the case of footprints there is no possibility of the creator of the footprints making a mistake in the ‘writing’ of the footprint signs, and only the reader of the footprints could make a mistaken reading. However, for a correct reading of a picture to be possible, it is essential that the artist make no important mistake in drawing the signs of the picture. We recall that prehistoric art is the record of visual thinking, and that pictorial representation is the only means of turning it from a private experience into a public language. It seems that the main aim and the highest test of prehistoric art was communication between the creator of the visual message and the readers of that message. As in other cases of communication, here too one of the essential conditions for its occurrence is that the creator of the symbols and their reader have common expectations and hypotheses as to the correct way of reading or decoding the pictorial symbols. Unlike the case of footprints, the symbols of art are not a phenomenon produced automatically by some creature, but the achievement of the constructor of the symbols, involving abstraction and generalization in relation to the symbolized entities. When man first drew a bison, he created the symmetry between the contour of the animal and the animal itself. For this purpose he chose a certain aspect of the animal in relation to which he created a symmetrical pattern. The basic hypothesis of the creator of the symbol is that others too would be able to recognize the symmetry he had discovered, chosen, created or evoked. The expression preferred here by the reader depends of course upon his epistemological standpoint. Again, as in reading the footprints of a bison, in reading a figurative painting depicting a bison, the reader has to compare the symbols he sees with images that he has of animals in general, and of bisons in particular, in order to read the picture as the depiction of a bison. This subtle process of elimination is only likely to lead finally to the correct reading if the reader and the artist have common hypotheses concerning pictorial representation in general, and the pictorial representation of bisons in particular. The fact that for tens of thousands of years human beings represented things in a similar way, and the fact that we have no difficulty in reading figurative pictures from all periods and places, at least on an elementary level, is the firmest evidence that visual connectivity is indeed fundamentally universal. Therefore our hypotheses regarding the interpretation or correct reading of its products are also similar. We saw that one of the most important aspects of footprints literacy is hypothetical thinking, and this factor is present in the construction and reading of figurative symbols. But in figurative art much more complex hypothetical thinking is required than in the reading of footprints. This matter brings us to a short discussion of the differences between footprints and pictures.