About Perceiving Representations

The project ‘Perceiving Representations: A Study of Structural Commonalities between Language, Pictures and Music’, will conduct a unified examination of our perception of three quite different forms of representation: language, pictures and music.

Illustration: pixabay.com (CC0 1.0)


The perception of objects that stand for something other than themselves gives rise to an intriguing puzzle. When perceiving a representation—e.g. hearing a bit of speech, seeing a picture or hearing a piece of music—this other thing—e.g. a meaning, an image, or a tone—is experienced too. How can we explain that perceiving some visual or auditory stimuli lets us experience something other than that very stimuli?

The project will undertake a unified and comparative study of this research question with regard to three different types of representations: Speech, pictures and music.

Tradition has it that these forms of representation differ significantly and, therefore, that a common approach to their nature is not forthcoming. However, recent work within several disciplines on the perception of pictorial and linguistic representations casts doubt on this traditional conviction. This affords an extraordinary opportunity to study linguistic, mimetic and musical forms of representation in tandem. The project will examine the hypothesis that there is a common structure to the perception of speech, pictures and music.

This will provide a novel framework for addressing the key issue as to how representation works: How do representations relate to their contents and their objects, and in what ways can they differ in detail and nature from them?

Research objectives

  • To analyse the components of perceptual experiences of representations in order to gain insight into the variety of ways in which representation may be achieved;
  • to expand our conception of which types of objects may be seen or heard in representations, and to study how they may differ in nature and detail from the representation itself and what it represents;
  • to renew the traditional outlook on language, pictures and music as unrelated forms of representation, and to demonstrate interactions across the disciplinary borders between aesthetics and the philosophy of mind.


The project involves a number of national and international collaborators.


The project is funded by a Young Research Talents Grant from The Research Council of Norway.



Tags: Philosophy, Perception, Representation
Published Sep. 16, 2019 5:13 PM - Last modified June 24, 2022 11:22 AM