Seeing, visualizing, and believing: Pictures and cognitive penetration

In John Zeimbekis & Athanassios Raftopoulos (eds.), The Cognitive Penetrability of Perception: New Philosophical Perspectives. Oxford University Press. pp. 298-327 (2015)
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Visualizing and mental imagery are thought to be cognitive states by all sides of the imagery debate. Yet the phenomenology of those states has distinctly visual ingredients. This has potential consequences for the hypothesis that vision is cognitively impenetrable, the ability of visual processes to ground perceptual warrant and justification, and the distinction between cognitive and perceptual phenomenology. I explore those consequences by describing two forms of visual ambiguity that involve visualizing: the ability to visually experience a picture surface as flat after it has caused volumetric nonconceptual contents, and the ability to use a surface initially perceived as flat to visualize three-dimensional scenes. In both cases, the visual processes which extract viewer-centered volumetric shapes have to rely solely on monocular depth cues in the absence of parallax and stereopsis. Those processes can be cognitively penetrated by acts of visualizing, including ones that draw on conceptual information about kinds. However, the penetrability of the visual processes does not weaken their ability to provide perceptual warrant and justification for beliefs. The reason is that picture perceptions—whether they are stimulus -driven or based on acts of visualizing—are different to object perceptions both phenomenologically and in terms of their functional roles as states. Thus, although the penetrability of the visual processes does mean that subjects can have visual experiences with contradictory contents, perceptual belief is adopted at most towards one set of contents, and questions of warrant and justification are raised only for those contents. A rule-proving exception is provided by trompe-l’oeils.



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