Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Project title: Concepts of visual perception in Greek scientific thought from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jochen Althoff, Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening
The connection between man and nature is filled with concepts never fully explored. Through his senses, man has always tried to quench his thirst of understanding the intrinsic aspects of nature that surrounds him. The sense of sight has long been perceived as one of the dominant senses, and as such, it was a rather common topic of interest for early Greek thinkers. The scope of this interest is presented in both philosophical and medical writings from the 5th century BC and continuing through the centuries. In order to gain a more comprehensive notion of the human body in this context, one must, with equal diligence, turn to both philosophical and medical sources. The former ones offer theories of how the human body functions, while the latter ones describe ailments that hinder such functioning, as well as their consequences.
It is precisely these theories that form the main subject of the present study, focusing on different textual accounts of the visual organ, together with its functions and the overall process of visual perception. After reading source materials many questions arise, and they can be divided into three main inquiries: How did philosophers and physicians explain the process of seeing, how did they describe the structure of the visual organ and how did they interpret perception of colours?
Furthermore, another important aspect of the present study will be to offer answers to the questions of scientific writing. Mainly, the author-audience correlation must be examined. Were the above mentioned texts written by a group of people or individuals? Who was their intended audience – were they written for laymen or other experts? These questions can be answered by means of linguistic and rhetorical analysis, so that it can become evident what modes of argument were employed in order to communicate certain ideas, and how this knowledge was transferred.
Answers to these questions are to be found in various philosophical and medical sources from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century AD, marking two crucial milestones in the history of science – the Presocratics and Galen. In order to gain a broader insight, lexical analysis of other literary genres will be included as a form of contrast. It will be significant to see how vision-based terminology differs among genres. These sources will be diachronically and contextually analyzed regarding their respective backgrounds.
The aim of this study is to offer a comprehensive examination of visual perception theories and their scientific discourse, taking into account different points of view during a several century time span, as well as correlations with other cultures, as much as such task is possible.