What might a theory of mental imagery look like, and how might one begin formulating such a theory? These are the central questions addressed in the present paper. The first section outlines the general research direction taken here and provides an overview of the empirical foundations of our theory of image representation and processing. Four issues are considered in succession, and the relevant results of experiments are presented and discussed. The second section begins with a discussion of the proper form (...) for a cognitive theory, and the distinction between a theory and a model is developed. Following this, the present theory and computer simulation model are introduced. This theory specifies the nature of the internal representations (data structures) and the processes that operate on them when one generates, inspects, or transforms mental images. In the third, concluding, section we consider three very different kinds of objections to the present research program, one hinging on the possibility of experimental artifacts in the data, and the others turning on metatheoretical commitments about the form of a cognitive theory. Finally, we discuss how one ought best to evaluate theories and models of the sort developed here. (shrink)
Much indirect evidence supports the hypothesis that transformations of mental images are at least in part guided by motor processes, even in the case of images of abstract objects rather than of body parts. For example, rotation may be guided by processes that also prime one to see results of a specific motor action. We directly test the hypothesis by means of a dual-task paradigm in which subjects perform the Cooper-Shepard mental rotation task while executing an unseen motor rotation in (...) a given direction and at a previously learned speed. Four results support the inference that mental rotation relies on motor processes. First, motor rotation that is compatible with mental rotation results in faster times and fewer errors in the imagery task than when the two rotations are incompatible. Second, the angle through which subjects rotate their mental images, and the angle through which they rotate a joystick handle are correlated, but only if the directions of the two rotations are compatible. Third, motor rotation modifies the classical inverted V-shaped mental rotation response time function, favoring the direction of the motor rotation; indeed, in some cases motor rotation even shifts the location of the minimum of this curve in the direction of the motor rotation. Fourth, the preceding effect is sensitive not only to the direction of the motor rotation, but also to the motor speed. A change in the speed of motor rotation can correspondingly slow down or speed up the mental rotation. (shrink)
The concept of representation has become almost inextricably bound to the concept of symbol systems. the concepts is nowhere more prevalent than in descriptions of "internal representations." These representations are thought to occur in an internal symbol system that allows the brain to store and use information. In this paper we explore a different approach to understanding psychological processes, one that retains a commitment to representations and computations but that is not based on the idea that information must be stored (...) and manipulated in symbol systems. In particular, we suggest that the notion of a symbol system as currently understood construes psychological processes in terms of a specific type of computational system, in which a control function "reads," "interprets," and manipulates discrete entities called "symbols." We argue that other types of computational systems may provide a more appropriate characterization of psychological processes. One implication of our argument is the need to consider the constraints placed on computational theories in psychology by the nature of the computing device itself, the human brain. Perhaps surprisingly, this implication leads us to the conclusion that a "functionalist" conception of psychological processes (discussed below) does not entail that physiology is irrelevant to psychology, as has been maintained by prominent adherents of the symbol-systems approach. (shrink)
This commentary focuses on four major points: (1) “Tacit knowledge” is not a complete explanation for imagery phenomena, if it is an explanation at all. (2) Similarities and dissimilarities between imagery and perception are entirely consistent with the depictive view. (3) Knowledge about the brain is crucial for settling the debate. (4) It is not clear what sort of theory Pylyshyn advocates.
A particular research program on mental imagery is defended against certain sweeping methodological criticisms that have been advanced against it. The central claim is that the approach taken in the program is an appropriate response to the problem of doing empirical research in a theoretical vacuum, and that when it is viewed in this perspective, the criticisms are not merely unfounded, they are inappropriate. The argument for this claim is developed by first describing the program and then analyzing the methodological (...) rationale behind it. (shrink)