The Case for Mental Imagery

The Case for Mental Imagery

The Case for Mental Imagery

The Case for Mental Imagery

Synopsis

When we try to remember whether we left a window open or closed, do we actually see the window in our mind? If we do, does this mental image play a role in how we think? For almost a century, scientists have debated whether mental images play a functional role in cognition. In The Case for Mental Imagery, Stephen Kosslyn, William Thompson, and Giorgio Ganis present a complete and unified argument that mental images do depict information, and that these depictions do play a functional role in human cognition. They outline a specific theory of how depictive representations are used in information processing, and show how these representations arise from neural processes. To support this theory, they seamlessly weave together conceptual analyses and the many varied empirical findings from cognitive psychology and neuroscience. In doing so, they present the conceptual grounds for positing this type of internal representation and summarize and refute arguments to the contrary. Their argument also serves as a historical review of the imagery debate from its earliest inception to its most recent phases, and provides ample evidence that significant progress has been made in our understanding of mental imagery. In illustrating how scientists think about one of the most difficult problems in psychology and neuroscience, this book goes beyond the debate to explore the nature of cognition and to draw out implications for the study of consciousness. Student and professional researchers in vision science, cognitive psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience will find The Case for Mental Imagery to be an invaluable resource for understanding not only the imagery debate, but also and more broadly, the nature of thought, and how theory and research shape the evolution of scientific debates.

Excerpt

In this book we make the case that mental images depict information and that these depictions play a functional role in human cognition. We have not only tried to summarize the conceptual grounds for positing this species of internal representations but also appealed to many and varied sorts of empirical discoveries. in addition, we have outlined a specific theory of how depictive representations are used in information processing and how they arise from neural processing. We have summarized this theory not to defend our specific formulation but rather to provide an existence proof that such a class of theory can be developed and supported.

This book required us to review the arguments that no [images] of any sort are used in mental processing (e.g., in problem solving, memory, and creativity). We have done our best to present these arguments as clearly and forcefully as possible, making the strongest case we could against depictive images before presenting our refutations. If this book succeeds, it will do so in part because we profited from the labors of many critics and were able to use their writings to guide our defense. Although it may appear awkward to thank those who have caused us so much work over so many years, we recognize that science depends on a dialectic in which only when thesis and antithesis are developed can there be an ultimate synthesis—and thus we wish to express our appreciation to the critics whom we cite in the following pages.

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