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. (shrink)
Phenomenal reports were obtained immediately after participants retrieved information from long-term memory. Data were gathered for six basic forms of memory and for three forms of memory that asked for declarative information about procedural tasks . The data show consistent reports of mental imagery during retrieval of information from the generic perceptual, recollective, motor—declarative, rote—declarative, and cognitive—declarative categories; much less imagery was reported for the semantic, motor, rote, and cognitive categories. Overall, the data provide support for the theoretical framework outlined (...) in Brewer and Pani. (shrink)
With admirable clarity, Pylyshyn shows that there is little evidence that mental imagery is strongly constrained to be analog. He urges that imagery must be considered part of a more general symbolic system. The ultimate solution to the challenges of image theory, however, rest on understanding the manner in which mental imagery is both a symbolic and an analog system.
Theories that make action central to perception are plausible, though largely untried, for space perception. However, explaining object recognition, and high-level perception generally, will require reference to representations of the world in some form. Nonetheless, action is central to cognition, and explaining high-level perception will be aided by integrating an understanding of action with other aspects of perception.
Basic processes of perception should be cognitively impenetrable so that they are not prey to momentary changes of belief. That said, how does low level vision interact with knowledge to allow recognition? Much more needs to be known about the products of low level vision than that they represent the geometric layout of the world.
Shepard's article presents an impressive application of the mathematics of symmetry to the understanding of motion. However, there are basic psychological phenomena that the model does not handle well. These include the importance of the orientations of rotational motions to salient reference systems for the understanding of the motions. An alternative model of the understanding of rotations is sketched. [Shepard].