Mental Imagery as the Adaptationist Views It

Consciousness and Cognition 5 (3):288-326 (1996)
Mental images are one of the more obvious aspects of human conscious experience. Familiar idioms such as “the mind's eye” reflect the high status of the image in metacognition. Theoretically, a defining characteristic of mental images is that they can be analog representations. But this has led to an enduring puzzle in cognitive psychology: How do “mental pictures” fit into a general theory of cognition? Three empirical problems have constituted this puzzle: The incidence of mental images has been unpredictable, innumerable ordinary concepts cannot be depicted, and images typically do not resemble things well. I argue in this paper that theorists have begun to address these problems successfully. I argue further that the critical theoretical framework involves thinking of mental images as information within a cognitive system that is fundamentally adaptive. The main outline of the adaptationist framework was evident in the school of thought known as American Functionalism, but adaptationism has formed a consistent pattern of theorizing across many authors and decades. I briefly describe Functionalism and then present seven basic claims about imagery that were common in the years before the predominance of behaviorism. I then show how these claims have reappeared and been further articulated in modern cognitive psychology. I end with a brief integration of some of the basic elements of an adaptationist theory of imagery
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DOI 10.1006/ccog.1996.0020
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