This paper takes its point of departure from the migration of images and imaging technologies between the arts and sciences. It investigates the inner connections between images and their traditional “others,” such as concepts, words, and numbers. Instead of inquiring into images as static entities, I focus on what images do, that is, on their operational functioning.
Drawing on Ernst Cassirer’s notion of symbolic function, I seek to develop a notion of images as differential tools that play an integral role in exploration, knowledge, and discovery, no matter whether they are used for artistic or scientific purposes. The main strengths of Cassirer’s approach reside in its dynamic and relational outlook, and, just as important,
in its insistence on the integral and generative role of mediating structures in all aspects of human knowledge and culture. What I hope to show is that, if we adopt the thesis of media playing an integral role in knowledge and being, we are led to develop a differential and pluralist approach. Further, I argue that the differential mode of operation is the inner link between measurement methods, commonly considered as quantitative and calculative, and imaging methods, usually classified as qualitative and observational.
The differential approach reveals new and inner connections between images, words, and numbers by reconfiguring them as operational tools that stand in a “measured” relation to their objects. In conclusion, I argue that the pluralism that results from the proposed approach is not a relativism. The differential approach to mediation recasts the notion of objectivity and paves the way for a positive account of human intervention as a requirement for discovery.