A puzzle about visualization

Visual imagination (or visualization) is peculiar in being both free, in that what we imagine is up to us, and useful to a wide variety of practical reasoning tasks. How can we rely upon our visualizations in practical reasoning if what we imagine is subject to our whims? The key to answering this puzzle, I argue, is to provide an account of what constrains the sequence in which the representations featured in visualization unfold—an account that is consistent with its freedom. Three different proposals are outlined, building on theories that link visualization to sensorimotor predictive mechanisms (e.g., efference copies, forward models ). Each sees visualization as a kind of reasoning, where its freedom consists in our ability to choose the topic of the reasoning. Of the three options, I argue that the approach many will find most attractive—that visualization is a kind of off-line perception, and is therefore in some sense misrepresentational—should be rejected. The two remaining proposals both conceive of visualization as a form of sensorimotor reasoning that is constitutive of one’s commitments concerning the way certain kinds of visuomotor scenarios unfold. According to the first, these commitments impinge on one’s web of belief from without, in the manner of normal perceptual experience; according to the second, these commitments just are one’s (occurrent) beliefs about such generalizations. I conclude that, despite being initially counterintuitive, the view of visualization as a kind of occurrent belief is the most promising
Keywords imagination  mental imagery  simulation  visualization  sensory imagination
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DOI 10.1007/s11097-011-9197-z
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