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Photo by Samantha Moss

There are two ways to respond to the digital age as we advance more and more towards visual modes of communication. A Fork in the Road: Two Ways to Greet the Digital Age is the second lecture by Trent University President and featured speaker in the Gilbert Ryle Lecture Series, Dr. Leo Groarke.

In this lecture, he spoke about the differences between the two paths. One path is catastrophic, the end of rational discourse, and the end of civilization, while the other path in the fork in the road is seen as an opportunity.

“Images are tremendously powerful,” said Groarke. “Images allow us to better understand and appreciate the reality that the people are dealing with, and all sorts of circumstances.”

The lecture shed light on how the digital is changing the way people work with one another, and how that change is much more towards the visual world than the verbal we were used to. As we become more interested in visuals and pictures, and in communicating and arguing in those ways, it becomes interesting to ask if there are other ethos where visual is key. And to that, Dr. Groarke argues, informal logic can and should be re-configured to develop a theory of visual argument.

Through a series of examples, the lecture made its stand on the importance of visual images in reasoning, argument, and persuasion, and made a point as to how arguments work in the real world.

It was also brought to attention that, even though visual argument had been ignored, it was not something that just came with the digital age. According to Dr. Groarke, it’s been around forever, but it didn’t have the means to become a part of, or to become in itself, a mode of argument. One of the places we find all sorts of visual argumentation is in a painting, which, Dr. Groarke said, in the actual historical context had been put together to convince, reason, and argue.

The lecture explored the ways in which words are approached differently from the way we would approach a picture. When dealing with pictures as argument, there are two generally two responses: either the pictures are totally ignored, or, just the opposite, pictures are put on a pedestal, said Dr. Groarke.

However, what he argued is that either of these responses stems from the fact that we do not spend enough time studying pictures. If we actually studied visual arts, then the structured mode of communication would become apparent, and we would see all sorts of patterns that repeat themselves, [as well as] how they are composed, said Groarke.

Through series of visual presentations, Dr. Groarke tried to stress that the structure in the visual was not just completely random, but rather characterized by patterns, and because there are patterns, one can start understanding them and studying them. Visual literacy can be achieved.

He also challenged one of the standard claims that visuals can’t negate. He presented a multi-modal slide featuring a visual and word that are in opposition to one another, and showed how that opposition in the picture is the sign of negation, with the extension:

“Visual triumphs the verbal.” Although not relevant in all cases, this was the truth in most.

The main theme of the lecture was that there are two different ways in which we can respond to digital age: either we can see it as a disaster for civilization, culture, and understanding of the world – or we can view it as an “opportunity”, which is the way Dr. Groarke responded to it.

Like words, images can be misused, he said. The reason we need to study images, and, in a way, move the whole education system towards a more balanced way in looking at words and images is precisely subtle, showed the lecture.

“So, we can distinguish those cases where images are being exploited, are fallacious, or are being used to give poor argument from cases where that is not the case,” he said. “The sky is not falling!” Dr. Groarke’s lecture series, Words, Pictures, Arguments… examined the role of visual images in reasoning, argument, and persuasion.

The first lecture was Multimodal Arguing: The Drift Away from Words, the second lecture A Fork in the Road: Two Ways to Greet the Digital Age, and the final lecture was titled Twelve Pinocchios: How Do Cartoons Argue?

The series considered, in images, situations in which our traditional emphasis on words as the proper vehicle for knowledge and discovery were being challenged by digital communication, which makes it easier and easier to communicate with images.

About the Ryle Lecture Series:
The Gilbert Ryle Lecture Series was established by the Philosophy Department at Trent in 1977 in honour of the late Gilbert Ryle. This year’s lectures are supported by the Franklin L. Matchette Foundation, Office of the President, Office of the Dean of Arts and Science, Lady Eaton College, and friends, alumni, and faculty of the department of Philosophy.

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Ugyen Wangmo is a self trained media personal, steadfast to ‘right to information’. She has about six years of media experience through a variety of roles as Reporter, Editor, Stringer, and Freelance writer. She graduated from Trent with a degree in Chemistry and Biology. When not nosing around for leads to write a thing or two about, she indulges in books, fashion, and dance.