AI Images of Philosophers & Philosophy (guest post)


Simone Nota, a philosophy PhD student at Trinity College Dublin, has been using AI image generators to create philosophy-related images.

“The Future of Philosophy” (detail) by Simone Nota

AI Images of Philosophers & Philosophy
by Simone Nota

I have recently been toying with AI image generators (DALL-E 2 and Midjourney) to create pictures of philosophers and philosophical ideas. Some pictures are serious, some are funny, but most are kind of both!

While I am far from being an artist (at best a playful experimenter!), here’s a brief description of the process that leads to the creation of these pictures. It all starts with an idea, which is usually embodied in the texts of some great philosophers, and which lends itself to be represented pictorially. For example, Jeremy Bentham once described natural human rights as “nonsense on stilts”. Recalling that passage, I wondered what nonsense on stilts would look like, and prompted the AI Midjourney to “imagine” it. The result looks quite like some of the paintings of the French surrealist painter Yves Tanguy.

“Nonsense on Stilts” by Simone Nota

This was one of my lucky attempts, where a simple prompt was instantly turned into a decent picture by the (extremely powerful) AI.

Other prompts required a bit of fine-tuning on my part. For example, it took more than 20 attempts to get Wittgenstein’s ladder right. I wanted the ascent on the ladder to be treacherous, yet rewarding, ending as it does with clarity. I also wanted the picture to include Wittgenstein, or his spirit, in some form. I had to strike a fine balance in the description to get even some of this, but I was quite satisfied with the result.

“Wittgenstein’s Ladder” by Simone Nota

I’ve created many other images—ranging from a portrait of a happy Schopenhauer (!)…

“Schopenhauer, Finally Happy” by Simone Nota

to one of Elena Corner, the first woman to be awarded a philosophy degree.

“Elena Lucrezia Corner, First Woman to Be Awarded a PhD in Philosophy” by Simone Nota

I’ve included some other pictures below, and you can find more on my personal website and the platform DeviantArt.

If you have any recommendations on what I should “ask” the AIs next, make a request in the comments here (or drop me an email at snota [at] tcd [dot] ie).

“Kierkegaard’s Leap of Faith” by Simone Nota

 

“Transcendental Idealism” by Simone Nota

 

“Descartes Deceived by the Evil Demon” by Simone Nota

 

“Plato and Aristotle Just Chillin'” by Simone Nota

 

“G.E. Moore’s Hand” by Simone Nota

 

“Parmenides at the Gates of Night and Day” by Simone Nota

 

“Chalmers Surrounded by Zombies” by Simone Nota

 

“Berkeley Dissipating the Metaphysical Dust” by Simone Nota

And, because Thanksgiving in the United States is coming up…

“Russell Is a Turkey” by Simone Nota

Suggestions and discussion welcome.


Related: “Sendakian Portraits of Philosophers Created by AI

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Chomsky Stan
7 days ago

These are so cool! I’m trying to generate pictures of Chomsky on DallE and it always tells me that the request violates their policies. Any idea why? (Even requests like “Noam Chomsky, oil painting” don’t work)Report

Simone Nota
Simone Nota
Reply to  Chomsky Stan
5 days ago

Thanks 🙂 Have you tried on Midjourney too?Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Chomsky Stan
5 days ago

Dall-E has a specific set of rules that block any attempt to generate images of specific, politically controversial people, as well as certain images of sex or blood. I think some of the blocking is very crude – I seem to recall that any prompt that includes the string of letters “trump” might be blocked.

It would be a little surprising to me if “Chomsky” is in the same list. I was actually able to get it to generate some really nice Art Deco statues of Angela Merkel, so not all political figures are off limits, but I would not be surprised if their list is very US-centric.Report

Gideon Rosen
7 days ago

I’ve been playing around with these and one thing I’ve noticed (on the basis of an unscientific sample) is that when one types in a generic prompt like “Philosopher juggling bananas” the generic philosopher is always male. A nice case study in algorithmic injustice if the result holds up.Report

Malte
Malte
Reply to  Gideon Rosen
6 days ago

For what it’s worth, Dall-E2 gives me a quite diverse cast for generic “philosopher” prompts so far.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Gideon Rosen
5 days ago

This was very much a known issue for their earlier versions (which I think some of the free implementations are based on). I think the newest versions of Dall-E 2 have a crude hack where, behind the scenes, it just adds words for racial and gender diversity to prompts that it thinks would benefit from them.Report

Cynthia Freeland
7 days ago

Why is Russell a turkey? Am I missing something? Genuinely interested, plus, it’s American Thanksgiving here tomorrow. I like your Parmenides image the most. You may want to take a look at Thomas Wartenberg’s forthcoming book Thoughtful Images: Illustrating Philosophy Through Art. (As may other readers here.) It’s forthcoming soon from OUP; here’s a link. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/thoughtful-images-9780197650547?cc=us&lang=en&Report

a turkey
Reply to  Cynthia Freeland
6 days ago

yes, you are missing something. Russell appeals to an unfortunate turkey relfecting on its safety in his discussion of the problem of induction …Report

Simone Nota
Simone Nota
Reply to  Cynthia Freeland
5 days ago

Thanks. I confess that the Parmenides pic is my favourite one too! (As for your question on Russell, I agree with the turkey who previously commented on your post.)Report

Aníbal Santamaría
7 days ago

Do Delleuze’s rizome, please!Report

Dean Williams
6 days ago

These are great, and it’s nice to see someone putting in prompts that don’t involve samurai berserkers or futuristic cities with spaceships. I’m on Midjourney. This one was “philosophy and the mirror of nature” from the Rorty book. Cheers.Report

A490A1DB-FE5B-4839-A77E-22AE41A3242F.jpeg
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Dean Williams
6 days ago

I have found the AI image generators to misuse and misrepresent mirrors pretty dramatically. This example is neutral, as there is no attempt at a reflection of anything depicted elsewhere in the image. Also it is an attractive image. But in general I have found mirrors to strain the AI image generation in the same way that logical inference and number strain its language processing.Report

Curtis Franks
Reply to  Curtis Franks
6 days ago

Here is one from DALL-E 2 that worked (after a dozen failures).

“How many ducks are in this image?”
–“Two. One in the room and one in the mirror.”
“Isn’t the image in the mirror just a reflection? How many ducks are there, really?”
–“Right. I guess there’s just one, standing on the floor.”
“What about the one in the mirror?”
–“Like you said before, it’s just an image.”
“Aren’t they both just images? It’s a picture, after all.”
–“I see. I guess it’s a pair o’ ducks.”Report

DALL·E 2022-10-27 14.54.01 - A duck standing on the floor, looking at its own relfection in a wall-mounted mirror. Watercolor..png
K.R.Thorisson
Reply to  Curtis Franks
5 days ago

This is a great example of contextual framing – or what the Cyc folks called “worlds”: do knights kill dragons? Yes. Do dragons exist? No. You can’t kill something that doesn’t exist.

But let me ask: Is that dialog between you and DALL-E 2 after it created that picture ?Report

Curtis Franks
Reply to  K.R.Thorisson
5 days ago

No. That would have been amazing, though.Report

Simone Nota
Simone Nota
Reply to  Curtis Franks
5 days ago

A friendly tip: try to insert “digital art” after your DALL-E 2 prompt: it works very well with birds (esp. chickens) in my experience!Report

Patrick Ip
6 days ago

These are good. Wonder how u balance AI and human thoughts. This is itself a philosophical problem.

Instead of philosophers, u may try current problems in reality, like:
War, religion hatred, truth in politics, east and west, conscience, time and space, illness and virus, human in nature and in space, future in the past,Report

Harley
6 days ago

“I think, therefore, I am”Report

Linda Bourassa
6 days ago

I would like to see something like “leap of faith”. In this case, releasing “oneself” to fall backwards (back first) into a black hole. Really enjoy your work and philosophical orientation. Trust universe will show me more of your uniquely inspired creations. Blessings to you and yours 💞. From comments below, ability to achieve inspired “true” reflectivity will be huge to more comprehensive AI (imhumbleo)🤟Report

Thomas Wartenberg
6 days ago

This is not exactly the same thing, but I’ve written a book, Thoughtful Images, about illustrations of philosophy by artists. It will be published by Oxford in January. You can find it here:
https://www.amazon.com/Thoughtful-Images-Illustrating-Philosophy-Through/dp/0197650546/ref=sr_1_2?crid=4WZN00Y78GVU&keywords=thoughtful+images&qid=1669308838&sprefix=thoughtful+images%2Caps%2C79&sr=8-2
I thought you and others might be interested in it.Report

Simone Nota
Simone Nota
Reply to  Thomas Wartenberg
5 days ago

Thanks – very interested, actually!Report

Cariston
6 days ago

Try “Roger Scruton as a wine bottle with a brain”, or “I drink, therefore I am”Report

Ben
Ben
5 days ago

Do a ‘Heidegger in the clearing’ [Lichtung]Report

James Beebe
4 days ago

Very cool imagesReport