Images of nanoscale objects, such as an atom or a molecule, in NanoArt, are changing both the way we see and what it means to see, raising a question about our knowledge of reality at the nanoscale. Seeing is typically regarded as an optical process, but nanoscale images actually originate from a space far smaller than the wavelengths of visible light, so cannot be viewed with the unaided eye, or even with the assistance of any optical instruments. The images of atoms and molecules need to be viewed through nanotechnology instruments such as a scanning probe microscope, that is, a scanning tunneling microscope and an atomic force microscope. None of these images, however, are equivalent to a photograph of an object at the human scale. The images with precise details of shapes and colors made by scanning probe microscopy are obviously representational, but artificial at the same time, for the objects smaller than the wavelength of light have no colors and shadows to make them look three-dimensional. Images of atoms and molecules look solid, but indeed, atoms and molecules consist of clouds of electrons in motion around nuclei. Once again, images of an atom cannot possibly look like an atom itself.
This paradox of nanoscale images originates from the process of nano-watching as follows. Ultrafine metal probe or tip of the scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic force microscopy is brought to within less than a nanometer from an atomic surface, and uses nanoscale forces to feel an atomic surface. During this process, software program collects continuous data about topographical variations of the surface in three dimensions, and then converts them into the codes of visual sensations with colors and shadows. In other words, nanoscale images are the result of a process of touching an object at the nanoscale and ultimately visualizing the haptic sensations. Thus it can be said that to touch is to know, and the images created by scanning probe microscopy imply a mathematical reconstruction of reality ― that is a haptic mimesis of reality.