Pylyshyn/Mental Imagery: BBS Call for Commentators

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Nov 5, 2001, 5:17:29 PM11/5/01
Below is the abstract of a forthcoming BBS target article

Mental Imagery: In search of a theory
Zenon W. Pylyshyn

This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain
Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing
Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in
the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

Commentators must be BBS Associates or nominated by a BBS Associate. To
be considered as a commentator for this article, to suggest other
appropriate commentators, or for information about how to become a BBS
Associate, please reply by EMAIL within three (3) weeks to:

The Calls are sent to 10,000 BBS Associates, so there is no expectation
(indeed, it would be calamitous) that each recipient should comment
on every occasion! Hence there is no need to reply except if you wish
to comment, or to nominate someone to comment.

If you are not a BBS Associate, please approach a current BBS
Associate (there are currently over 10,000 worldwide) who is familiar
with your work to nominate you. All past BBS authors, referees and
commentators are eligible to become BBS Associates. A full electronic
list of current BBS Associates is available at this location to help
you select a name:

If no current BBS Associate knows your work, please send us your
Curriculum Vitae and BBS will circulate it to appropriate Associates to
ask whether they would be prepared to nominate you. (In the meantime,
your name, address and email address will be entered into our database
as an unaffiliated investigator.)

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give
some indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring
your areas of expertise to bear if you were selected as a commentator.

To help you decide whether you would be an appropriate commentator for
this article, an electronic draft is retrievable from the online
BBSPrints Archive, at the URL that follows the abstract below.

Mental Imagery: In search of a theory

Zenon W. Pylyshyn
Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science
New Brunswick, New Jersey

ABSTRACT: It is generally accepted that there is something special
about reasoning that uses mental images. The question of how it is
special, however, has never been satisfactorily spelled out, despite over
thirty years of research in the post-behaviorist tradition. This article
considers some of the general motivation for the assumption that
entertaining mental images involves inspecting a picture-like object. It
sets out a distinction between phenomena attributable to the nature of
mind, to what is called the cognitive architecture, and ones that are
attributable to tacit knowledge used to simulate what would happen in a
visual situation. With this distinction in mind the paper then considers
in detail the widely held assumption that in some important sense images
are spatially displayed or are depictive, and that examining images uses
the same mechanisms that are deployed in visual perception. I argue that
the assumption of the spatial or depictive nature of images is only
explanatory if taken literally, as a claim about how images are physically
instantiated in the brain, and that the literal view fails for a number of
empirical reasons P e.g., because of the cognitive penetrability of the
phenomena cited in its favor. Similarly, while it is arguably the case
that imagery and vision involve some of the same mechanisms, this tells us
very little about the nature of mental imagery and does not support claims
about the pictorial nature of mental images. Finally I consider whether
recent neuroscience evidence clarifies the debate over the nature of
mental images. I claim that when such questions as whether images are
depictive or spatial are formulated more clearly, the evidence does not
provide support for the picture-theory over a symbol structure theory of
mental imagery. Even if all the empirical claims turned out to be true,
the view that many people take them to support, that mental images are
literally spatial, remain incompatible with what is known about how images
function in thought. We are then left with the provisional
counterintuitive conclusion that the available evidence does not support
rejection of what I call the "null hypothesis"; viz., that reasoning with
mental images involves the same form of representation and the same
processes as that of reasoning in general, except that the content or
subject matter of thoughts experienced as images includes information
about how things would look.

Please do not prepare a commentary yet. Just let us know, after having
inspected it, what relevant expertise you feel you would bring to bear
on what aspect of the article. We will then let you know whether it was
possible to include your name on the final formal list of invitees.

Call for Book Nominations for BBS Multiple Book Review

In the past, Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) had only been able
to do 1-2 BBS multiple book treatments per year, because of our
limited annual page quota. BBS's new expanded page quota will make
it possible for us to increase the number of books we treat per
year, so this is an excellent time for BBS Associates and
biobehavioral/cognitive scientists in general to nominate books you
would like to see accorded BBS multiple book review.

(Authors may self-nominate, but books can only be selected on the
basis of multiple nominations.) It would be very helpful if you
indicated in what way a BBS Multiple Book Review of the book(s) you
nominate would be useful to the field (and of course a rich list of
potential reviewers would be the best evidence of its potential

PSYCOLOQUY is a refereed electronic journal (ISSN 1055-0143)
sponsored by the American Psychological Association

Submissions are acknowledged automatically.

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