Seeing with the Mind

The image I choose the Blind Man, which is represented as a blindfolded man is being able to walk with sticks and see with his hands, takes place in Rene Descartes’ essay named La Dioptrique (‘On optics’). Since the blindfolded man sees with his hands, he does not need the help of his sleepy guide dog. This image has been seen firstly in Descartes’book Discours de la Methode in 1637. RenéDescartes (1596–1650) is a philosopher, mathematician and one of the major opticians of the seventeenth century. This essay aims to discuss and give place to the analysis of Descartes’ Blind Man image shown above. Briefly, first, I will be mentioning the subject of sticks being a medium that guides him namely make him see, then how this seeing process works like a natural process of seeing and the system of camera obscura since camera obscura is an optical tool to observe things. Following, the geometry from a perspective of Descartes, cartesian system and the positioning of sticks. Lastly, how blind man seeing with sticks similar to the natural seeing process, and where the brain stands at this discussion.

Descartes has doubts about the process of seeing, and this interrogation has been taken place in his essay La Dioptrique(‘On optics’) at 1637. At one point of his essay, Descartes invokes the hypothetical example of a blind man using a stick to help him navigate, proclaiming ‘one might almost say that they see with their hands’ (Paterson, 2016). Here, ‘seeing with their hands’ is the part that takes anyone’s attention; how is possible a literally blind man able to use sticks and being able to see things? Descartes mentions that the man habitually uses sticks as an extension of his senses. In order to make us understand the subject more easily, he gives examples from daily life: “It sometimes doubtless happened to you, while walking in the night without a light through places which are a little difficult, that it became necessary to use a stick in order to guide yourself;and you have then been able to notice that you felt, through the medium of the stick, the diverse objects around you and that you were even able to tell whether they were trees, or stones, or sand…” (Descartes, 2001) When we look at Descartes’ theory of visual-spatial perception; simple situation perception: “Our awareness of the direction in which our eye or head is turned enables us to determine where the object is located relative to our body, just as a blind man touching an object with a stick can tell what direction it lies in because he knows the direction in which his hand is turned.” Therefore, through the medium of the stick, a blindfolded human being is able to see as well.

Referring to the discussion of a blind man seeing through the medium of the stick, camera obscura can be likened to have a similar process of seeing, it is seen as a tool (optical device) which takes place in that seeing the process. It is like a projection of the outside world. A camera obscura in a fixed position is a tool that enables people to observe things. At this point, as French philosopherMerleau-Ponty (1908–1961), observes blind man’s stick has ceased to be an object, a tool for him, and is no longer perceived for itself; its point has become an area of sensitivity, extending the scope and active radius of touch (Ponty). It can be said that how camera obscura is a tool that a human use to observe things, the tool that the blind man uses to see is his sticks.

From another perspective, Descartes is a mathematician as well so it can be found out that he has established crucial relationships with geometry: CartesianCoordinate System which was found by René Descartes. Already, Descartes’s LaDioptrique of the blind man holding two crossed sticks seems to have beenenvisaging the Cartesian geometrization of vision (Tunstall, 2011). In the exploration of things, the Cartesian system is like a verification system which specifies each point in the universe and on x,y,z system. For the blind man case, holding two sticks AE, CE, whose length I suppose him not to know, and knowing [savoir] only the distance between his two hands A and C, and the size of the angles ACE and CAE, can from that, as though by a natural geometry, know [connaître] where E is (Wolf-Devine, 1993). One of the interesting things about the previous passage is Descartes’ “use of the verbs savoir andconnaître. The verb savoir (connoting an intellectual kind of knowledge) is used to describe the blind man’s knowledge of the distance between his hands and the angles made by the sticks, while connaître (meaning ‘to be acquainted with’) is used to describe his knowledge of where the point E is, as though he is trying through this use of the different verbs to arrive at the sort of directness and immediacy associated with the verb connaître, starting from intellectual and perhaps implicitly mathematical knowledge.” Additionally, Descartes refers to natural geometry only in his discussion of the blind man, whereas in the case of vision, he says that the length of the line and the size of the angles ‘make us know’ (connaître) where the point E is. (Wolf-Devine, 1993)

InLa Dioptrique, Descartes draws an analogy between the action of light on the eye and the movement of a blind man’s stick as it probes the surfaces of objects in its path and goes on to discuss the formation of images in the back of the eye (O’Riley, 1998). “A blind man with crossed sticks who is able to feel an object to the right with his left hand and one to the left with his right hand and a person who sees objects in their true situations ‘although the picture which they print in the eye has a wholly contrary situation’”. The blind man is not confused by the crossed sticks because he can direct his attention out from his hands. (Wolf-Devine, 1993) Briefly, when the blind man of whom it has spoken above touches some object with his sticks, the crossed sticks in the blindfolded man’s hands refer to the inversion of the retinal images. Descartes maintains that the man is still able to ‘perceive’objects in their correct relation (O’Riley, 1998). And, this is very much related with the process of seeing physically; in general, terms, so the rays from the object form an inverted image in the eye, then the image in the brain is reversed and the image is reversed, and visualization occurs.

Going back to geometry; there is axonometric projection is needed to be addressed related to the subject. Considering the perception of spatial depth, with the correct use of dimensions, angles, and distances the whole image can be produced. We do not see the object, but we know it is like this, we know the qualities of object. And, the understanding of perspective drawing: There is the illusion related from nature of the eye, our eyes cannot produce the exact image without brain, so it is like an illusion of eye. What we must do to grasp the image at this point is thinking and using our minds. Here, there is one thing that should be mentioned: René Descartes is regarded also as the father of modern philosophy for defining a starting point for existence, “I think; therefore I am.” (Editors, 2014) So, it might be said that blind man sees better than seeing man because he sees through his mind not eyes. We can see through our minds. It is in the mind, not the eye, that really “sees”.

Considering the point on the natural process of seeing, the mind needs to perceive certain images transmitted by the objects to the brain. And again, when we look at what Descartes argue on truth, mathematics, and visuality we seethe discussion of the ‘eye of the mind’ and the ‘eye of the body’. Thereis now a solution to this paradox, which is to distinguish between the”eye of the mind” and the “eye of the body” (Descartes1908, Rule V, p. 380). This “eye of the mind” sees more clearly. Going back to Descartes’ verb savoir (connoting an intellectual kind of knowledge), the “intellectual eye” sees all more clearly the more the body’s eyes remain blind.

In conclusion, as shown in the essay, the main point is to analyze the Blind Man image of Descartes by introducing of the ideas behind its creation. Respectively I have tried to mention the sticks the blind man holds, how they make him see as happened in the working system of camera obscura. Later, pointing out Descartes’ geometry, cartesian system, axonometric projection, and perspective projection accordingly the positioning of sticks. In the end, my purpose was to correlate the entire discussion to the brain. This is a process of seeing with the mind.


Descartes, R. (2001). Discourse on Method, Optics, Geometry, and Meteorology. (P. J. Olscamp, Çev.) Hackett Publishing.

Editors, B. (2014, April 1). The website: 

Krämer, S. (2012). The ‘eye of the mind’ and the ‘eye of the body’: Descartes and Leibniz on truth, mathematics, and visuality. In: Barth F.G., Giampieri-Deutsch P., Klein HD. (eds) Sensory Perception. Vienna.

O’Riley, T. (1998). Representing Illusions: space, narrative and the spectator. PhD, Chelsea College of Art & Design.

Paterson, M. (2016). Seeing with the Hands: Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes. Edinburgh University Press.

Ponty, M. (tarih yok). Phenomenology of Perception.

Tunstall, K. E. (2011). Blindness and Enlightenment: An Essay: With a new translation of Diderot’s ‘Letter on the Blind’ and La Mothe Le Vayer’s ‘Of a Man Born Blind’. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Wolf-Devine, C. (1993). Descartes’ theory of visual spatial. Southern Illinois University; 1st edition.

the end of the third semester

Since the last stage, I did not make a big change on the project. It still has the same narrative with some small new touches.

A crucial point I did not mention in detail before: the diversity of experience. The two ‘arms’ of the design have diverse experiences, they are not identical.

  • One of them has more alternatives in terms of the introduced options for visitors to choose.
  • One is more enclosed compared to the other one, so it makes visitors to experience both the closeness and openness.
  • Thanks to the curvilinear forms I used, visitors hava chance to experience the spaces which has different heights and the transitions among them.
  • Unlike the curvilinear form of the whole design, the slab with its angular forms makes visitors to walk in different textured surface.
  • In connection with the previous item, by the help of the use of different textured concrete in construction and the of course curvilinear forms, visitors will experience the upside (ceiling) to become down (slab). There is a drawing about it below.
  • The variety of slope of the ramps cause visitors to change their speed so this creates diversity in experience.

Drawings I have produced for the final presentation of my project:

site plan & site section (larger image)

plan: it indicates that the visual continuity (grafting) is not interrupted by any vertical element. (larger image)

sections (larger image)

sections (larger image)

axonometric drawing which expresses the texture difference (larger image)

east elevation (larger image)

north elevation (larger image)

So far…

I am reporting that I have abandoned the design I worked on so far!

I am only half-joking about this, but there are significant changes. Let’s look at the new ideas, how is the current state of design, and how was the second pre-jury.

As I get the last criticism before the jury, I was thinking about why I insist on working this project with rectangular forms. This doubts made me think that the project really needed to have curvilinear forms as it had on the climax of the design. You can review the previous step from here to clarify the idea.

Narration of up-to-date Project: In such a homogeneous place like Tuz Gölü, I have observed that visitors look for variation and changes. By considering this, I wanted to design something dynamic and something unexpected, which visitors do not expect to see on the lake. At this place, I used a form which acts like various architectural elements, which is able to carry itself, and which becomes a structure itself.

I grafted the condition visual continuity -there is situation we see further spaces from the beginning- among spaces from Göreme. The curvilinear forms were positioned to provide this visual continuity. So, the form and the what is grafted from Göreme could work together.

I wanted visitors to approach the design from the extension parts of design, because there are diversified experiences and given clues with curves about what will come out further. Thanks to this situation, when visitors arrive the climax, where the form be upside down, they will remember the clues I gave before.

About the tectonic of my design, in order to create such a twisted forms, the concrete will be a great choice. Also, the use of different textures of concrete, for instance making one surface of concrete polished and other one is mat, diversifies the visitors experience. Jury suggested that I can study this texture differention with concrete on a smaller scale by providing actual concrete or I can study it by using different kinds of molds.

Another thing Jury recommended me to try to have a better understanding of how such concrete surfaces structurally work. Design has curvilinear surfaces so the building system is not like a post-lintel system since they do not have vertical and horizontal structural elements. They all continuous structural elements but it has some parts that need to be stronger. Thickness change on concrete according to where the moment increase, provides both reinforce the structure and enrich the expression of this building.

The way I draw the things was found successful to a degree. However, in plan drawing, there is a wall which lead the continuity to interrupt. If I took a section from there, it could be seen if this wall is a problem or a  nice thing, Jury commented. Plus, the jury specified that they were expecting a site plan too because mine was not good enough.

As a general overview: Jury found the way I represent my project, in an orderly manner, well done, the language of the project is very impressive, and the composition is very rich. They told me that I am building a very strong structure which is not shy about anything so, it would be good if the heights increase a little.


One suggestion led me to begin to design this term’s project over again. Since I had this decision,  I have been searching about how to use this curvilinear forms deservedly. I found some structures inspiring me. One of them is: Longchamp store stairs by Thomas Heatherwick (below). There is a curvilinear form which acts like both a staircase and a ceiling to a space. It fits the ish condition we worked on previously this semester. Note: The ish term was expressing the multipurpose of elements.

The other one: Le Galilee office buildings (above)It gave me an idea that I can use an element both as a wall and a ceiling by curling it up. So, I can literally say I have changed my mind and the design. The new one is about to come.

If you are interesting, you can also check the site on below to see the twisted buildings around the world.


First Attempt

On my first attempt to attain what is suggested in pre-jury, I produced the design you see above. By keeping the twisted form, that is found strong, constant, I worked on two extension ‘arms’ of the form. This twisted form is the climax point, which offers visitors different experience, during their circulation in the design. While approaching the climax from these two ‘arms’ there is visual continuity but the physical dispersionby introducing more than one way. Also, I did not want visitors to access the climax directly, I wanted them to experience the ‘arms’ then arrive there. However, there is still something I think negative; the arms are the identical to each other somehow. That is to say that as the arms disperse further from the climax, I introduced some angled forms and the experience of walking in high, then, I brought visitors to the end which has rectangular form in both arms.