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Mental Imagery

First published Tue Nov 18, 1997; substantive revision Fri Sep 12, 2014
Mental imagery (varieties of which are sometimes colloquially refered to as visualizing, seeing in the mind's eye, hearing in the head,
imagining the feel of, etc.) is quasi-perceptual experience; it resembles perceptual experience, but occurs in the absence of the appropriate
external stimuli. It is also generally understood to bear intentionality (i.e., mental images are always imagesof something or other), and
thereby to function as a form of mental representation. Traditionally,visual mental imagery, the most discussed variety, was thought to be
caused by the presence of picture-like representations (mental images) in the mind, soul, or brain, but this is no longer universally accepted.
Very often, imagery experiences are understood by their subjects as echoes, copies, or reconstructions of actual perceptual experiences from
their past; at other times they may seem to anticipate possible, often desired or feared, future experiences. Thus imagery has often been
believed to play a very large, even pivotal, role in both memory (Yates, 1966; Paivio, 1986) and motivation (McMahon, 1973). It is also
commonly believed to be centrally involved in visuo-spatial reasoning and inventive or creative thought. Indeed, according to a long
dominant philosophical tradition, it plays a crucial role in all thought processes, and provides the semantic grounding for language. However,
in the 20th century vigorous objections were raised against this tradition, and it was widely repudiated. More recently, it has once again
begun to find a few defenders.

1. Meanings and Connotations of Mental Imagery


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1.1 Experience or Representation?

1.2 The Relation to Perception

1.3 The Intentionality of Imagery

Supplement: Other Quasi-Perceptual Phenomena

2. Pre-Scientific Views of Imagery


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2.1 Early Greek Ideas about Imagery

Supplement: Ancient Imagery Mnemonics

Supplement: Plato and his Predecessors

2.2 Aristotle and Imagery

Supplement: From the Hellenistic to the Early Modern Era

2.3 Images as Ideas in Modern Philosophy

2.3.1 Descartes

2.3.2 Hobbes

2.3.3 Empiricism and its Critics

3. Imagery in the Age of Scientific Psychology


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3.1 Early Experimental Psychology

Supplement: Founders of Experimental Psychology: Wilhelm Wundt and


William James

Supplement: Edward B. Titchener: The Complete Iconophile

Supplement: The Perky Experiment

3.2 The Imageless Thought Controversy

Supplement: European Responses: Jaensch, Freud, and Gestalt Psychology

Supplement: The American Response: Behaviorist Iconophobia and Motor


Theories of Imagery

3.3 Imagery in Twentieth Century Philosophy

4. Imagery in Cognitive Science


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4.1 The Imagery Revival

4.2 Mnemonic Effects of Imagery

Supplement: Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories of Memory

Supplement: Conceptual Issues in Dual Coding Theory

4.3 The Spatial Properties of Imagery

Supplement: Mental Rotation

Supplement: The Problem of Demand Characteristics in Imagery


Experiments

4.4 The Analog-Propositional Debate

4.4.1 Pylyshyn's Critique, and Description Theory

4.4.2 The Defense of Analog Imagery

Supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery, and its Problems

4.5 Beyond Pictures and Propositions

4.5.1 Enactive Theories of Perception and Imagery

Supplement: Representational Neglect

4.6 The Return of the Imagery Theory of Cognition?

Bibliography

Academic Tools

Other Internet Resources

Related Entries

1. Meanings and Connotations of Mental Imagery


Mental imagery is a familiar aspect of most people's everyday experience (Galton, 1880a,b, 1883; Betts, 1909; Doob, 1972; Marks, 1972,
1999). A few people may insist that they rarely, or even never, consciously experience imagery (Galton, 1880a, 1883; Faw, 1997, 2009; but
see Brewer & Schommer-Aikins, 2006), but for the vast majority of us, it is a familiar and commonplace feature of our mental lives. The
English language supplies quite a range of idiomatic ways of referring to visual mental imagery: visualizing, seeing in the mind's eye,
having a picture in one's head, picturing, having/seeing a mental image/picture, and so on. There seem to be fewer ways to talk about
imagery in other sensory modes, but there is little doubt that it occurs, and the experiencing of imagery in any sensory mode is often referred
to as imagining (the appearance, feel, smell, sound, or flavor of something). Alternatively, the quasi-perceptual nature of an experience may
be indicated merely by putting the relevant sensory verb (see, hear, taste, etc.) in actual or implied scare quotes.
Despite the familiarity of the experience, the precise meaning of the expression mental imagery is remarkably hard to pin down, and
differing understandings of it have often added considerably to the confusion of the already complex and fractious debates, amongst
philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists, concerning imagery's nature, its psychological functions (if any), and even its very
existence. In the philosophical and scientific literature (and a fortiori in everyday discourse), the expression mental imagery (or mental
images) may be used in any or all of at least three different senses, which are only occasionally explicitly distinguished, and all too often
conflated:

{1} quasi-perceptual conscious experience per se;


{2} hypothetical picture-like representations in the mind and/or brain that give rise to {1};
{3} hypothetical inner representations of any sort (picture-like or otherwise) that directly give rise to {1}.
Far too many discussions of visual mental imagery fail to draw a clear distinction between the contention that people have quasi-visual
experiences and the contention that such experiences are to be explained by the presence of representations, in the mind or brain, that are in
some sense picture-like. This picture theory (or pictorial theory) of imagery experience is deeply entrenched in our language and our folk
psychology. The very word image, after all, suggests a picture. However, although the majority of both laymen and experts probably
continue to accept some form of picture theory, many 20th century philosophers and psychologists, from a variety of theoretical traditions,
have argued strongly against it, and, in several cases they have developed quite detailed alternative, non-pictorial accounts of the nature and
causes of imagery experiences (e.g., Dunlap, 1914; Washburn, 1916; Sartre, 1940; Ryle, 1949; Shorter, 1952; Skinner, 1953, 1974; Dennett,
1969; Sarbin & Juhasz, 1970; Sarbin, 1972; Pylyshyn, 1973, 1978, 1981, 2002a, 2003a, 2005; Neisser, 1976; Hinton, 1979; Slezak, 1991,
1995; Thomas, 1999b, 2009). Others, it should be said, have developed and defended picture theory in sophisticated ways in the attempt to
meet these critiques (e.g., Hannay, 1971; Kosslyn, 1980, 1983,1994; von Eckardt, 1988, 1993; Tye, 1988, 1991; Cohen, 1996). However,
despite these developments, much philosophical and scientific discussion about imagery and the cognitive functions it may or may not serve
continues to be based on the often unspoken (and even unexamined) assumption that, if there is mental imagery at all, it must consist in inner
pictures.
Consider, for example, the title of the book The Case for Mental Imagery, by Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis (2006). In fact the book is an
extended and quite polemical defense of the much disputed view that visual mental imagery consists in representational brain states that are,
in some significant and important ways, genuinely picture-like (see supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery, and its Problems).
That is to say, the contents suggest that the title should be understood as intending "imagery" in sense {2}. However, it would also be very
natural (and, very possibly, in accord with the authors' intentions compare Kosslyn, Ganis & Thompson, 2003) to understand the title as
implying that the book's deeper purpose is to refute the view that imagery, even in sense {1}, does not really exist (or, at least, that the concept
of imagery will find no place in a properly scientific ontology). Although this denialist view of imagery has few, if any, supporters today, it is
well known that not so very long ago, in the era of Behaviorist psychology, it had great influence. The book's title thus (intentionally or
otherwise) invites us to conflate the (now) very controversial view that mental images are picture-like entities, with what is, today, the virtual
truism that people really do have quasi-perceptual experiences, and that our science of the mind owes us some account of them.
Another way in which the expression mental imagery (together with many of its colloquial near-equivalents) may be misleading, is that it
tends to suggest only quasi-visual phenomena. Despite the fact that most scholarly discussions of imagery, in the past and today, do indeed
focus mainly or exclusively upon the visual mode, in fact, quasi-perceptual experience in other sensory modes is just as real, and, very likely,
just as common and just as psychologically important (Newton, 1982). Contemporary cognitive scientists generally recognize this, and
interesting studies of auditory imagery, kinaesthetic (or motor) imagery, olfactory imagery, haptic (touch) imagery, and so forth, can be
found in the recent scientific literature (e.g., Segal & Fusella, 1971; Reisberg, 1992; Klatzky, Lederman, & Matula, 1991; Jeannerod, 1994;
Bensafi et al., 2003; Yoo et al., 2003; Kobayashi et al., 2004; Djordjevic et al., 2004, 2005). Although such studies are still vastly
outnumbered by studies of visual imagery, imagery has become the generally accepted term amongst cognitive scientists for quasiperceptual experience in any sense mode (or any combination of sense modes).

1.1 Experience or Representation?

In the introduction to this entry, in order to avoid making a premature commitment to the picture theory, and in accordance with definitions
given by psychologists such as McKellar (1957), Richardson (1969), and Finke (1989), mental imagery was characterized as a form of
experience (i.e., as {1}). However, this itself is far from unproblematic. Evidence for the occurrence of any experience is necessarily
subjective and introspective, and, because of this, those who have doubts about the validity of introspection as a scientific method, may well
be led to question whether there is any place for a concept such as imagery within a truly scientific world view. J.B. Watson, the influential
instigator of the Behaviorist movement that dominated scientific psychology (especially in the United States) for much of the 20th century,
questioned the very existence of imagery for just these sorts of reasons (Watson, 1913a, 1913b, 1928 see supplement; see also: Thomas,
1989, Berman & Lyons, 2007). Although few later Behaviorist psychologists (or their philosophical allies) expressed themselves on the
matter in quite the strong and explicit terms sometimes used by Watson, the era of Behaviorist psychology is characterized by a marked
skepticism about imagery (if not its existence, at least its psychological importance) amongst both psychologists and philosophers. Imagery
did not become widely discussed again among scientific psychologists (or philosophers of psychology) until around the end of the 1960s,
when Behaviorism began to be displaced by Cognitivism as the dominant psychological paradigm. Most informed contemporary discussions
of imagery, amongst both philosophers and psychologists, are still very much shaped by this recent history of skepticism about imagery
(or iconophobia, as it is sometimes called), and the subsequent reaction against it.
By contrast with their Behaviorist predecessors, most cognitive psychologists today hold that imagery has an essential role to play in our
mental economy. Many may share some of the reservations of their Behaviorist predecessors about the place of introspection and subjectivity
in science, but they take the view that imagery must be real (and scientifically interesting) because it is explanatorily necessary: The results of
many experiments on cognitive functioning, they hold, cannot be satisfactorily explained without making appeal to the storage and
processing of imaginal mental representations. The belief that such mental representations are real is justified in the same sort of way that
belief in the reality of electrons, or natural selection, or gravitational fields (or other scientifically sanctioned unobservables) is justified:
Imagery is known to exist inasmuch as the explanations that rely upon imaginal representations are known to be true. From this perspective,
some theorists recommend that the term imagery should not be understood to refer to a form of subjective experience, but, rather, to a
certain type of underlying representation (Dennett, 1978; Block, 1981a, Introduction; Block, 1983a; Kosslyn, 1983; Wraga & Kosslyn,
2003; Kosslyn, Thompson & Ganis, 2006). Such representations are mental in the sense now commonplace in cognitive science: i.e., they
are conceived of as being embodied as brain states, but as individuated by their functional (and computational) role in cognition. As Block
(1981a, 1983a) points out, an advantage of defining mental imagery in this way (i.e., as an unspecified form of representation, as{3} rather
than {2}) is that it does not beg the controversial question of whether the relevant representations are, in any interesting sense, picture-like.
However, if it is not because they are picture-like, what is it that makes these mental representations mental images? Presumably the idea is
that a mental representation deserves to be called an image if it is of such a type that its presence to mind (i.e., its playing a role in some
currently occurring cognitive process) can give rise to a quasi-perceptual experience of whatever is represented. But this move relies upon
our already having a grasp of the experiential conception of imagery, which must, therefore, be more fundamental than the representational
conception just outlined. Furthermore, to define imagery in the way that Block, Kosslyn etc. suggest, as first and foremost a form of
representation (as explanans rather than explanandum), is to beg more basic and equally controversial questions about the nature of the mind
and the causes of quasi-perceptual experiences. A number of scientists and philosophers, coming from a diverse range of disciplinary and
theoretical perspectives, do not accept that imagery experiences are caused by the presence to mind of representational tokens (e.g., Sartre,
1940; Ryle, 1949; Skinner, 1953, 1974; Sarbin, 1972; Thomas, 1999b, 2009; O'Regan & No, 2001; Bartolomeo, 2002; Bennett & Hacker,
2003; Blain, 2006).
It should be admitted, however, that focusing too narrowly on the experiential conception of imagery has its own potential dangers. In
particular, it may obscure the very real possibility, foregrounded by the representational conception, that importantly similar underlying
representations or mechanisms may sometimes be operative both when we consciously experience imagery and sometimes when we do not.
Some evidence, such as Paivio's (1971, 1983a, 1991a) work on the differential memorability of words with different imagery values
(see section 4.2, below), suggests that this is indeed the case.
In practice, both the experiential and the representational conceptions of imagery are frequently encountered in the literature of the subject.
Unfortunately, it is often hard to tell which is intended in any particular case. Even where they are not actually conflated, confusion can arise
when one conception is favored over the other without this ever being made sufficiently clear or explicit. Although it would be pedantic and
potentially confusing to insist on explicitly drawing the distinction everywhere, where it seems important or helpful to do so this entry will
refer to imagery experiences (or quasi-perceptual experiences) on the one hand, and imagery representations (orimagery processes) on the
other.

1.2 The Relation to Perception


There are further potential problems, however, with the brief characterization of imagery given in our introduction. Not only does what is
said there duck the difficult (and rarely considered) task of specifying what dimensions and degrees of similarity to perception are necessary
for an experience to count as imagery; it also elides the controversial question of whether, despite the surface resemblance, imagery is a sui
generis phenomenon, conceptually quite distinct from true perceptual experience, or whether imagery and perception differ only in degree
rather than in kind.

Some, such as Hume (1740), hold that percepts (impressions in his terminology) and images (ideas) do not differ in kind, but only in their
degree of vivacityor vividness. This view has frequently been criticized, however (Reid, 1764 II.5, VI.24; Savage, 1975; Warnock, 1976;
McGinn, 2004). A related view, explicitly defended by some (e.g., Jastrow, 1899; Savage, 1975; Thomas, 1997a, 2014), and implicit in much
of the other relevant literature, is that imagery, regardless of its subjective vividness, lies at one end of a continuum or spectrum stretching
from veridical, highly stimulus-driven and stimulus-constrained perception at one end, to pure imagery (where the content of the
experience is generated entirely by the subject, and is quite independent of any current stimulus input) at the other. Several varieties of
imaginative preceptual experience may be taken to fill in the continuum between these extremes: mistaken or illusive perceptions (imagining,
for instance, that the bush seen indistinctly in the darkness is a bear), and various types of non-deceptive seeing as or seeing in (such as
imagining a cloud to have the shape of a camel, weasel, or whale; seeing a Laughing Cavalier in paint on canvas; seeing someone's sadness in
their eyes; or seeing the notorious duck-rabbit figure as a duck [or rabbit]).

Figure 1.2_1
The Duck-Rabbit
Others, however, notably Reid (1764 II.5), Sartre (1936), Wittgenstein (1967 621 ff.), McGinn (2004) and Ichikawa (2009), argue that there
is a sharp conceptual and phenomenological distinction to be drawn between imagery and perception proper. After all, it is argued, our
imagination, unlike our perception, is under the control of our will (and experienced as such). Provided I know what an elephant looks like, I
can choose to imagine one wherever and whenever I want to, but I cannot choose to see an elephant unless one actually happens to be
[1]
present. By contrast, if an elephant is present before my open eyes, I cannot help but see it, whether I will or no. McGinn (2004) restates this
argument with considerably more rigor and detail than his predecessors did, and, in addition, sets out eight further arguments that, he thinks,
point to the same conclusion, viz, that mental imagery is a phenomenon radically conceptually different in kind from perception. If true, this
would appear to imply that all extant scientific theories about the nature and mechanisms of imagery (see 4.4-4.5, below), and (to the best
of my knowledge) all obsolete theories too (see 2-3 below) must be false, as all of them depend on the assumption that mental images and
percepts differ in degree rather than kind, and that there is a large degree of overlap between the respective mechanisms that give rise to each.
However, although all or most of the differences between images and percepts pointed out by McGinn (and Reid, Sartre and Wittgenstein),
are probably real enough, the claim that any of them reflect true differences in kind, rather than degree, is on much shakier ground. Taking on
McGinns (and Ichikawa's) arguments in detail, Thomas (2014), defends the notion of a spectrum or continuum of imaginative phenomena
that encompasses not only veridical perception and mental imagery, but also such things as dreams, hallucinations, pareidolia, and various
other types of both deceptive and non-deceptive imaginative perceiving.
Sartre (1940) and Wittgenstein (1967 627, 632) also argue that (in sharp contrast to perception) we can derive no new information about
the world from our imagery: No image can contain anything except what the imager put there, which must already have been in his or her
mind. However, not only observation, but also inference can lead to knowledge, and it has been argued that mental imagery can and does
support certain types of inference that give us genuinely new knowledge about the real world (Kosslyn, 1980, 1983; Taylor, 1981, Georgiou,
[2]
2007; Thomas, 2014). McGinn, however, (2004 p. 19ff) argues that although Sartre and Wittgenstein overstate their point, there is a genuine
and important insight underlying what they say: The information we can derive from our imagery is of a different sort, and is derived in a
different way, from that which we get from perception.

1.3 The Intentionality of Imagery


On a more consensual note, with only rare exceptions (e.g. Wright, 1983; Martin, 2008 p. 160) nearly all serious discussions of imagery take
it for granted that it bears intentionality in the sense of being of, about, or directed at something (Harman, 1998): A mental image is always
an image ofsomething or other (whether real or unreal), in the same sense that perception (whether veridical or not) is always
perception of something (see Anscombe, 1965). It is in virtue of this intentionality that mental imagery may be (and usually is) regarded as a
species of mental representation that can, and often does, play an important role in our thought processes.

It is also generally accepted that imagery is, for the most part, subject to voluntary control. Although it is true that images often come into the
mind unbidden, and sometimes it is hard to shake off unwanted imagery (for instance, a memory of some horrible sight that one cannot get
out of one's mind), most of us, most of the time can quite freely and voluntarily conjure-up and manipulate imagery of whatever we may
please (provided, of course, that we know what it looks like).
There are quasi-perceptual experiences, such as afterimages, that are not subject to this sort of direct voluntary control, and indeed, that do
not seem to bear intentionality, but these are usually (at least implicitly) understood to be phenomena of a distinctly different type from
mental imagery proper (see supplement).
Further discussion of phenomena akin to, or sometimes confused with, mental imagery:
Supplement: Other Quasi-Perceptual Phenomena

2. Pre-Scientific Views of Imagery


It seems likely that mental imagery has been discussed for as long as humans have been trying to understand their own cognitive processes. It
receives attention in the oldest extended writings about cognition that have come down to us the works of Plato and Aristotle and there is
reason to believe it was discussed by yet earlier Greek thinkers. Plato's and particularly Aristotle's writings have undoubtedly had an
enormous and continuing influence on how cognition in general and imagery in particular are conceptualized within both the Western and the
Muslim cultural traditions. However, there is reason to think that the phenomenon of imagery, if not this tradition of theorizing about it, is not
culture bound. Children as young as three have been found to be aware their imagery, and of its subjective nature (Estes, 1994), and
researchers have been able to gather introspective reports and descriptions of mental imagery from members of non-Western cultures ranging
from pre-literate tribal Africa (Doob, 1972) to modern Japan (where, indeed, the empirical psychological study of imagery seems to have
been taken up with some enthusiasm Oyama & Ichikawa, 1990). Imagery is also said to play a significant role in traditional Hindu and
Buddhist spiritual practices (Samuels & Samuels, 1972; Ricard, 2006), and apparent references to the phenomenon of imagery can be found
[3]
in the works of classical Chinese thinkers such as Confucius (e.g. Analects 9:10 & 15:5). There might well be important insights to be
gleaned from the study of these various cultures' conceptions of imagery, but the available literature on this is very sparse (but see Ricard,
2006, and the discussion that is printed following it). Thus, of necessity, what follows will focus on the Western philosophical and scientific
th
tradition. In any case, the seeds of the controversies about imagery that erupted in the 20 century were sown not in Africa or the Orient, but
in Greece.

2.1 Early Greek Ideas of Imagery


The following supplements discuss Greek conceptions of imagery prior to the work of Aristotle:
Supplement: Ancient Imagery Mnemonics
Supplement: Plato and his Predecessors

2.2 Aristotle and Imagery


Where Plato regarded images as irremediably deceptive, Aristotle, although he certainly recognized their potential for leading us astray (De
Anima 428a-b), saw them as playing an essential and central role in human cognition, one closely akin to that played by the more generic
notion of mental representation in contemporary cognitive science. Indeed, he developed what amounts to the first comprehensive cognitive
theory, a theory that has been enormously influential over the subsequent ages, and continues (mostly indirectly) to shape much scientific and
philosophical thought about the mind even today. He was clearly aware of, and very possibly influenced by, the mnemonic imagery
techniques in use in Greece (see supplement), to which he alludes in at least four passages in his extant writings (Topica 163b28, De
Anima 427b18, De Memoria 452a1216, De Insomniis458b2022).
Aristotle's Greek word, that is commonly and traditionally translated as "[mental] image" is phantasma (plural: phantasmata), a term used
by Plato to refer to reflections in mirrors or pools (or the liver), amongst other things, but which Aristotle seems to reserve to appearances in
the psyche. Aristotle describes phantasmata as being analogous to paintings or wax impressions (De Memoria 450a-b), and as a residue of
the actual [sense] impression (De Insomniis 461b; cf.Rhetorica 137a 28) or a movement resulting from an actual exercise of a power of
sense (De Anima 429a 13). Some modern scholars, it should be noted, have questioned the translation of "phantasma" as "image," in part
because Aristotle does not always seem to think of phantasmata as inner pictures, and also because he seems to think of them as playing a
role in perception itself (Nussbaum, 1978; Schofield, 1978; Birondo, 2001). As Hume distinguished impressions fromideas, contemporary
colloquial English distinguishes between percepts and the mental images that we experience when we fantasize, daydream, or recall some
experience from memory. Aristotle's concept of phantasma seems to collapse this distinction. It has thus been suggested
that"phantasma" would be better translated as "appearance" (Lycos, 1964) or "presentation" (Beare, 1906) rather than as "image". However,
contemporary scientific theories of imagery (see sections4.4 and 4.5) also, for the most part, do not make a sharp distinction in kind between
mental images and percepts, and are virtually unanimous in holding (as, indeed, did Hume) that both are varieties of a single species.
In any case, it is abundantly clear that, in many even if not all cases, Aristotle uses "phantasma" to refer to what we now call a mental
image. Phantasmata have several functions paralleling those ascribed to imagery by modern folk psychology (and some scientific

psychology). In particular, they are central to Aristotle's theory of memory (De Memoria et Reminiscentia; see Sorabji, 1972) and to his
theory of thought. Not only does remembering essentially involve the recall of imagery of past experiences, but, he tells us, "It is impossible
to think without an image [phantasma]," (De Memoria 450a 1; cf. De Anima 431a 1520 & 432a 812). Phantasmata also play a key role in
his account of desire and motivation (e.g. De Anima 431a see Nussbaum, 1978): When some desirable object is not actually present to our
senses, exerting its pull on us directly, our motivation to strive to obtain it is driven by our awareness of its (memory or fantasy) image. (This
idea is still found in modern, scientific theories of desire (McMahon 1973; Kavanagh et al., 2005; Andrade et al., 2009).) Aristotle also
apparently held that linguistic meaning derives from imagery, spoken words being but the symbols of the inner images (De
Interpretatione 16a 59; De Anima 420b 2932; see Modrak, 2001). Today, few theorists of language take this notion seriously (but see
Paivio, 1986, 2007; Prinz, 2002), but it was almost universally accepted until relatively recent times (Wollock, 1997; and see section
3.3 below).
Very arguably, Aristotle's views about imagery (phantasmata) cannot be fully understood in isolation from his views about imagination
(phantasia), which he defined as (apart from any metaphorical sense of the word) the process by which we say that an image [phantasma] is
presented to us (De Anima 428a 14). Aristotle has been accredited with the very invention of the concept of imagination (Schofield, 1978),
and certainly it seems fair to say that the roots of most subsequent discussions of the concept can be traced back to his work (even though, for
him, it did not have the strong association with creativity and aesthetic insight that it has since acquired, mostly through the influence of the
Romantic movement) (Watson, 1988; White, 1990; Thomas, 1999a). Unfortunately, however, Aristotle's remarks about phantasia, suggestive
and influential though they are, are scattered widely amongst the surviving texts, and the only extended discussion of the concept (in De
Anima III.3) is particularly difficult to interpret, not only because the text that has come down to us seems to be more than usually corrupt
(Nussbaum, 1992), but also because of the richness and density of its arguments and its peculiarly oblique approach to the ostensible subject
matter. After over two millennia of discussion, scholars still do not agree about crucial aspects of Aristotle's conception of phantasia, and thus
[4]
about his view of the fundamental nature of imagery.
Further discussion of the aftermath and influence of Aristotle's work on imagery:
Supplement: From the Hellenistic to the Early Modern Era

2.3 Images as Ideas in Modern Philosophy


It can hardly be denied that the concept of the idea was central to much of modern philosophy.Ideas were mental representations, and very
frequently, though not necessarily always, they were (explicitly or implicitly) conceived of as mental images. Even if some authors did
not themselvestake ideas to be images, it is likely that many of their readers would have taken them to be doing so. Thus, claims about the
nature of ideas, and the cognitive and epistemological roles they could or could not play, were often conditioned by whether or not a
philosopher did conceive of ideas as images, and by what imagery was taken to be.

2.3.1 Descartes
The Oxford English Dictionary records a clear example of the word 'idea' being used in the sense ofmental image as far back as 1589, but
philosophical confusion over whether or not ideas are images goes back at least to the father of Modern Philosophy, Descartes. Certainly
the clear and distinct ideas that play such a prominent role in the Meditations (1641), and in Descartes' epistemology more generally,
are not conceived to be mental images. We are told that we can attain clear and distinct ideas of such things as God and the human
mind (Meditation 4, 53). Neither of these are things of which we have perceptual, let alone quasi-perceptual, experience. But Descartes insists
that even our ideas of perceptible things are, inasmuch as they are clear and distinct, not perceptual or imaginative. His perceptual and
imaginative grasp of the nature of a piece of wax, he tells us, can never match the clarity and distinctness of the idea of the wax that can
potentially be attained by purely mental scrutiny (Meditation 2, 31).
However, we also find in Descartes' work another conception of idea as something that is quasi-perceptual (and, indeed, pictorial)
and is formed in the imagination. These ideas may not be capable of providing the sure epistemological foundation that Descartes thinks the
clear and distinct ideas of the intellect can give us, but they are real nonetheless, and probably play a larger role in ordinary, non-philosophic
thinking. Although they are alluded to in many of Descartes works, these imagistic ideas are explained most fully in the Treatise of Man,
[5]
where he propounds his speculative physiological theory of visual perception in some detail. The nervous system is described as working by
a form of hydraulics, with the nerve fibres (including those that make up the brain) functioning as hollow pipes carrying a fluid called animal
[6]
spirit. In the center of the brain is the pine-cone-shaped pineal gland, slight movements of which, Descartes believed, were somehow able
directly to affect, and be affected by, the thoughts of the immaterial soul. Figure 2.3.1_1, taken from the Treatise, shows his model of visual
perception: As a result of the formation of optical images on the retinae of the eyes, the nerves produce another image, isomorphic to the
[7]
retinal image (but re-inverted, so as to be upright), that is picked out on the surface of the gland by the flow of animal spirits through its
[8]
pores. Thus points a, b, and c on the surface of the gland correspond to pointsA, B, and C of the arrow which is being observed. The tracing
of the image on its surface causes the gland to move in a subtle and complex fashion that (in some unexplained way) causes a conscious
visual experience of the arrow in the soul (Descartes 1664 see particularly pp. 83ff. in Hall's translation).

Figure 2.3.1_1
Diagram from Descartes' Treatise of Man (1664), showing the formation of inverted retinal images in the eyes, and the transmission of these
images, via the nerves so as to form a single, re-inverted image (an idea) on the surface of the pineal gland.
At the same time that the flow of animal spirits is causing visual experiences by moving the pineal, elsewhere in the brain it is causing visual
memories to be laid down by its action upon the nerve fibres themselves. These changes to hydraulic structure of the brain allow for mental
images of memory and imagination to arise by the recreation of formerly experienced flow patterns of spirits at the pineal surface. Descartes
[9]
explicitly tells us that the surface of the pineal gland is the seat of imagination [l'imagination] and that the images traced there are ideas
[ides] (Descartes 1664 p. 86 in Hall's translation; see also Descartes 1648 p. 27 in Cottingham's translation).
At least one of Descartes' followers, de la Forge, suggested that the term ide [idea] should be applied only to concepts in the intellect, and
coined the expression espces corporelles [corporeal species] to refer to the pictorial images of the imagination (Clarke, 1989). However,
this was clearly not Descartes' own practice. Indeed, in the Third Meditation we are told that, strictly speaking, the word 'idea' should only be
applied to thoughts that are as it were the images of things (Meditation 3, 37). On the other hand, in his letter to Mersenne of July 1641 he
seems to say just the opposite: ideas are in our minds (presumably our immaterial souls), and in so far as images are in the corporeal
imagination they should not properly be called ideas at all (Cottingham et al., 1991 pp. 185; see also Meditation 3, 40). The thought here
seems to be that all ideas as such are in our minds, although some of them are caused or occasioned by the presence of an image on the pineal
surface. It is beyond the scope of this entry to determine what was truly Descartes' considered view. What is clear, however, is that Descartes'
readers would have readily been able to find a concept of the idea as a picture-like image in his writings.
In his Optics (1637, discourses 4 & 6), Descartes likens the images of his theory to engravings: flat, perspective projections of visual scenes.
It is notable, however, that this comparison is made in the course of an argument to the effect that the representations in the brain that cause
our perceptual and imaginative experiences need not actually resemble their objects: the resemblance between an engraving and what it
depicts is, after all, very partial and imperfect. What matters, for Descartes, is that the conscious soul is appropriately affected by the
movements that the process of image formation causes in the pineal gland. Thus it is the functional role of the image, not its actual physical
nature, that is important. In this regard, Descartes' view is very close (at least in terms of functional architecture) to the contemporary quasipictorial theory of Kosslyn (1980, 1994, 2005; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006 see section 4.4.2 and supplement: Quasi-Pictorial
Theory ). In both cases, it is claimed that although the material image in the brain is, in fact, picture-like, what actually makes it
a mental image (or an idea) is not its two-dimensional neural instantiation, but its functional role in conveying visuo-spatial information to
higher cognitive powers.

2.3.2 Hobbes
As a materialist, Hobbes, unlike Descartes, does not distinguish between images formed in the brain and ideas in the mind. In fact, although
Hobbes sometimes uses the word 'idea' as a synonym for 'image,' it occurs rather infrequently in his writings, and he prefers to use 'image' (or
'imagination') or other synonyms such as 'phantasm' or 'appearance.'
Images, however, are undoubtedly central to his cognitive theory. Thought or Mentall Discourse, according to Hobbes, is nothing but a
trayne of imaginations, an associatively connected succession of images passing through the mind, whether it be undirected (as in
daydreaming or idle woolgathering) or more focused and purposive because it is regulated by some desire, and designe, by some
[10]
overarching Passionate Thought (Leviathan I.3 (Hobbes, 1651)).

However, it is not necessarily the case that Hobbes thought of his images, even those of visual appearances, as being picture-like.
[11]
Imagination, we are told, is nothing but decaying sense (Leviathan I.2). Because Hobbes regarded sensation as a sort of motion or
pressure arising in the brain (or heart) in response to an inward pressure arising for external objects, the sort of decaying he has in mind
seems unlikely to be that of a picture (or other representational object) crumbling to dust. Rather, it is that of a movement gradually running
out of impetus, a pendulum swing gradually decreasing in amplitude, or a gas under pressure gradually leaking away. Furthermore, Hobbes,
unlike Descartes, did not think of memory as being the result of structural changes in the brain, but rather as arising from the persistence, the
[12]
very slow dying away, of the internal motions that were originally set going by sense experience (Leviathan I.2). Hobbesian images,
therefore, are processes rather than entities. Although they are undoubtedly quasi-perceptual experiences (presumably, in the absence of an
immaterial soul, we are to suppose that they are experienced merely in virtue of their occurring within the brain) they may not be
mental pictures in any very robust sense.

2.3.3 Empiricism and its Critics


Unlike his predecessors, Locke did not concern himself with the nature or underlying mechanisms of mental imagery. Henceforth, at least
[13]
until the rise of cognitive science in the late 20th century, that would be seen as the concern of scientists rather than philosophers (and as it
turned out, the scientists did not have much to say about the matter either, until, once again, the era of cognitive science). Furthermore,
Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) uses the words 'image' and 'imagination' only rarely (White, 1990; Ayers, 1991 p.
[14]
45). However, he has a great deal to say about ideas, which are the vehicles of thought of his cognitive theory. Although what may be the
canonical definition of idea as whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking (Essay I.i.8), seems to be deliberately
noncommital about their nature, there are several passages in Locke's Essay that suggest that he thought of them, at least when they were of
visual origin, as being picture-like. Indeed, he explicitly refers to ideas as the pictures drawn in our minds (Essay II.x.5; see also II.x.7,
II.ix.8, II.xxv.6, II.xxxi.6, IV.xi.1), and draws an analogy between the way that ideas enter the mind and the formation of optical images
within a camera obscura (a dark room) (Essay II.xi.17).
It is thus hardly surprising that, according to Lowe (2005 p. 38), it remains orthodox to interpret Locke as holding that ideas are pictorial
mental images. This orthodoxy is defended by Ayers (1986, 1991) and White (1990) amongst others, but other recent Locke scholars, notably
Yolton (1956, 1970, 1984, 1985, 1996), Chappell (1994), and, more tentatively, Lowe (1995, 2005) challenge it, arguing that the explicit
comparisons of ideas with pictures are all limited merely to bringing out some or other specific aspect of the nature of ideas, and should not
be read asidentifying them with pictures. According to Yolton, there is no evidence that Locke thought of ideas as entities of any sort (Yolton
1970 p. 134), rather, To say that we know objects by means of ideas is to say no more than that objects become known through sensory
awareness (Yolton, 1985 p. 151). Lowe expresses what may be much the same underlying thought by suggesting that Locke may perhaps be
interpreted as holding an adverbial theory of ideas, whereby they are construed as ways (or modes) of experiencing rather than as mental
entities (Lowe, 1995 pp. 42 47, 2005 pp. 4748).
It is worth noting, however, that some recent philosophers have argued for just such an adverbial account of mental imagery itself,
construing images as modes of experiencing, rather than the presence to mind of inner entities (Rabb, 1975; Heil, 1982; Tye, 1984; Thomas,
1999b, 2009; Meijsing, 2006). Enactive theories of imagery (see section 4.5.1) can be viewed as fleshed out versions of this position
(Thomas, 1999b). Thus, even if Yolton and others are right to argue that Locke did not think of ideas (even visual ones) as pictures (imagery
in sense {2}), or even as inner entities of any sort (sense {3}), he might still have consistently viewed them as images in sense {1}, as quasi[15]
perceptual experiences. He certainly held that they arise from perception, and that we are conscious of them when we employ them in our
thinking (Essay II.i.23, I.i.8, II.xxvii.9).
Whatever Locke's true intentions may have been, many of his leading successors and critics, such as Berkeley and Reid, seem to have
understood him as believing that ideas are inner representational entities, and, when visual, are like inner pictures.
Few seem to doubt that Berkeley thought of ideas as being images (but see Pitcher, 1977; Kasem, 1989). Indeed, his famous and influential
attack (in The Principles of Human Knowledge (1734)) on the possibility of abstract or general ideas clearly derives most of its
persuasiveness from the assumption that ideas are like pictures:
For my self I find indeed I have a Faculty of imagining, or representing to myself the Ideas of those particular things I have perceived and of
variously compounding and dividing them. I can imagine a Man with Two Heads or the upper parts of a Man joined to the Body of a Horse. I
can consider the Hand, the Eye, the Nose, each by itself abstracted or separated from the rest of the Body. But then whatever Hand or Eye I
imagine, it must have some particular Shape and Colour. Likewise the Idea of Man that I frame to my self, must be either of a White, or a
Black, or a Tawny, a Straight, or a Crooked, a Tall, or a Low, or a Middle-sized Man. I cannot by any effort of Thought conceive the abstract
Idea above described. And it is equally impossible for me to form the abstract Idea of Motion distinct from the Body moving, and which is
neither Swift nor Slow, Curvilinear nor Rectilinear; and the like may be said of all other abstract general Ideas whatsoever. (Principles,
Introduction X).
Or again, a general idea of a triangle
must be neither Oblique nor Rectangle, neither Equilateral, Equicrural, nor Scalenon, but all and none of these at once? In effect, it is
something imperfect that cannot exist (Principles, Introduction XIII).

In effect, Berkeley is arguing that we can form ideas of things that we have never actually seen just inasmuch as we can form new mental
pictures by the sort of cutting and pasting operations we could perform with pictures on paper sticking the picture of a man's head onto a
picture of the body of a horse, for example but that, just as there is no way of drawing or creating a picture that inherently depicts the
[16]
general man or the general triangle, we can form no such general ideas in our minds. If ideas are images (and if mental images are pictures),
Berkeley's argument (which continues to influence today's discussions of imagery and mental representation (e.g., Fodor, 1975)) may very
well be sound. If they are not images at all, it makes little sense (and if mental images are not much like pictures, it is probably invalid).
As with Locke, Yolton (1996) argues that Hume did not understand the ideas of his cognitive theory to be mental images. However, there is a
great deal in Hume's writings (much more than in Locke's) to suggest otherwise. Indeed, A Treatise of Human Nature (Hume, 1740) opens by
explicitly identifying ideas with images: ideas are defined as the faint images of [sensory impressions] in thinking and reasoning
(Treatise I.i.1). It is conceivable that 'image' might mean nothing more than 'copy' here, but many other passages in both the Treatise and
the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) suggest that Hume intended it in a much stronger sense. For example, he refers to the
memory one might have of some site in the Holy Land, after having actually been there, as both a lively image and a lively idea of the
place (Treatise I.iii.9), clearly treating the two expressions as equivalent. Furthermore, ideas are constantly being described as having their
[17]
existence in, or being present to, the imagination or the fancy, and we are told that we need only the slightest philosophy to convince us
that nothing can ever be present to the mind but an image or perception, and that the senses are only the inlets, through which these images
[18]
are conveyed (Enquiry XII.1).
The passages just cited (and others like them) perhaps imply no more than that Hume thought of ideas as quasi-perceptual experiences (a
conclusion that Yolton might be able to accept), but the fact that Hume approvingly repeats Berkeley's argument against general ideas
(Treatise I.iii.1;Enquiry XII.1) suggest that he also thought of them as picture-like. This is also suggested by his choice of the word
'impression' to designate the percepts of which ideas are the images or copies. Clearly the word alludes to the wax impression model of
perception and memory that we find in Plato and Aristotle, and although Hume, no doubt, does not intend it to be understood too literally, the
fact that he thinks it an appropriate and innocuous metaphor remains telling.
Certainly when Thomas Reid came to develop his influential critique of the way of ideas, in effect a comprehensive rejection of the idea as
the vehicle of thought, he based many of his arguments upon the assumption that the philosophers he was criticizing understood ideas to be
[19]
picture-like images (Reid, 1764, 1785). Such images, Reid thinks, are simply not capable of playing the cognitive and epistemological roles
that his predecessors had assigned to them, and the assumption that they do so leads to many absurdities. Reid is not saying that we do not
have quasi-perceptual experiences, but he wants to deny that these are caused by representational mental entities that we experience in lieu of
some actually present physical object or scene.
When we come to Kant (1781/1787), we find that ideas have been displaced, as the vehicles of thought, by concepts. However, images still
have a significant role to play in his account of how our concepts connect to empirical reality. The imagination (einbildungskraft) must
synthesize the inchoate deliverances of the senses, the sensory manifold, into a coherent, meaningful image, a true representation that the
understanding can grasp and bring under some concept. Unfortunately, Kant was unable to give a satisfactory account of how the
imagination, even in concert with the understanding, can achieve this. We are told that it involves what he calls a schema, a representation of
a universal procedure of imagination in providing an image for a concept (1781/1787 B180). We are told that it is only through and in
accordance with a schema that images become possible (1781/1787 A 142). Unfortunately, however,
This schematism of our understanding, in its application to appearances and their mere form, is an art concealed in the depths of the human
soul, whose real modes of activity nature is hardly likely ever to allow us to discover, and to have open to our gaze. (1781/1787 B181).
Thus Kant, in attempting to grapple with problems about the nature of mental representation that the Empiricists had failed to solve, left the
process of image formation, and the nature of the image itself, deeply mysterious.

3. Imagery in the Age of Scientific Psychology


When psychology first began to emerge as an experimental science, in the philosophy departments of the German universities in the late 19th
century, and soon after in the United States, the central role of imagery in mental life was not in question. For these pioneering
experimentalists, such as Wilhelm Wundt in Germany and William James in America, mental images (often, following the established usage
of the Empiricist philosophical tradition, referred to as ideas) held just the same central place in the explanation of cognition that they had
held for philosophical psychologists of earlier times. Edward B. Titchener, a student of Wundt who established himself as a leading figure in
American psychology, was particularly interested in imagery, and an experiment performed by one of his students, C.W. Perky, has become
particularly well known. It is often assumed that it shows that there is no qualitative experiential difference between mental images and
percepts, but further experimental investigations have raised some doubts about this conclusion (see Supplement: The Perky Experiment).
However, developments within psychology at the beginning of the 20th century began to cast doubt on this long established consensus. A
group of psychologists working in Wrzburg, Germany, lead by another former student of Wundt's, Oswald Klpe, claimed to have found
empirical evidence that certain conscious thought contents are neither imaginal nor perceptual in character. Their results were challenged on
several grounds by Wundt, Titchener and others, and were certainly never definitively established. Nevertheless, the bitter dispute that
ensued, the so called imageless thought controversy, had a profound effect on the development of scientific psychology (and, very arguably,
philosophy too). Most psychologists became, in effect, profoundly disillusioned with the whole notion of mental imagery, and either avoided

seriously considering the topic, treated it dismissively, or, in some extreme cases, denied the existence of the phenomenon outright. These
attitudes noticeably influenced other disciplines, including philosophy. Although the psychological study of imagery revived with the rise of
cognitivism in the 1960s and 70s, when new experimental techniques were developed that enabled a truly experimental study of the
phenomenon, current views about, and attitudes towards, mental imagery cannot be properly understood without an awareness of this history,
versions of which, of varying degrees of accuracy, have passed into the folklore of psychology.

3.1 Early Experimental Psychology


The following supplements discuss ideas and research about imagery in early (late 19th and early 20th century) scientific psychology:
Supplement: Founders of Experimental Psychology: Wilhelm Wundt and William James
Supplement: Edward B. Titchener: The Complete Iconophile
Supplement: The Perky Experiment

3.2 The Imageless Thought Controversy


Perhaps Wundt's most important German student was Oswald Klpe, who had for several years served as Wundt's assistant professor, but
eventually left to set up his own laboratory in the philosophy department of Wrzburg University. He and his students there developed a
direct challenge to the prevalent imagery theory of thought. Under the influence of both Machian positivism and, later, the act psychology of
Brentano and the phenomenology of Husserl, Klpe, like Titchener (whom he had helped train), rejected what he saw as Wundt's
unnecessarily strict methodological restrictions on the scope of empirical science, and encouraged his students to extend the scope of the
introspective method to the study of the higher processes of thought and reasoning (Danziger, 1979, 1980; Ash, 1998). In 1901, two of
these students, Mayer and Orth, performed a word association experiment in which subjects were asked to report everything that had passed
through their mind between hearing the stimulus word and giving the response. Note that it was normal practice, in this era of psychology, for
experimental subjects, or observers as they were more often called, to be drawn from among fellow researchers within the same laboratory,
often including the supervising professor. Present day psychologists would, with good reason, suspect such subjects of being liable to produce
results strongly biased by theoretical preconceptions (Orne, 1962; Intons-Peterson, 1983). Great pains are usually taken, today, to ensure that
subjects in psychological experiments have no idea what hypothesis the experiment is supposed to be testing. In 1901 however, it was
thought that experienced and knowledgeable observers were more likely to produce consistent and meaningful results than the
psychologically untrained. In the case of the Meyer and Orth experiment, two amongst the four subjects were Meyer and Orth themselves.
Nevertheless, they professed to be surprised by some of their findings. In particular:
The subjects frequently reported that they experienced certain events of consciousness which they could quite clearly designate neither as
definite images nor yet as volitions. For example, the subject Meyer made the observation that, in reference to the stimulus word metre a
peculiar event of consciousness intervened which could not be characterized more exactly, and which was succeeded by the spoken response
trochee. (Meyer & Orth, as quoted and translated by Humphrey, 1951)
The jargon term bewusstseinslagen (states of consciousness Humphrey, 1951) was coined to designate these indescribable non-sensorial
states, and they soon began to turn up in more and more profusion in the introspective reports generated in the Wrzburg laboratory, taking
on an increasing theoretical significance as time went by. In 1905 another Wrzburg researcher, Ach, also introduced the largely overlapping,
but more explicitly intentionalistic concept of bewusstheit or awareness, an unanalysable impalpably given knowing (Ach, quoted and
translated by Humphrey, 1951), and by 1907, Karl Bhler, perhaps the most radical of Klpe's students, was simply referring
togedanken (thoughts). Bhler's experiments might, for example, involve giving a subject (often professor Klpe himself) a somewhat
gnomic sentence to interpret (e.g., Thinking is so extraordinarily difficult that many prefer to judge) and then collecting introspective
reports of the conscious, but allegedly non-imaginal, gedanken that had occurred between the hearing of the sentence and the giving of the
interpretation. Although the Wrzburg school never denied that imagery does occur, by this time the greater part of the conscious contents of
minds examined in Wrzburg seemed to be non-imaginal.
Unsurprisingly, Wundt, and others, refused to accept these new methods and conclusions, and a heated debate, the so called imageless
thought controversy, ensued. Though Wundt was surely skeptical of the existence of imageless thoughts, his primary criticisms were
methodological. He was very much concerned with the fact that the experiments were necessarily constructed so that the introspective reports
were given after the completion of the experimental task (word association, sentence interpretation, or whatever). The Wrzburg research
thus involved discursive recollection (or was it reconstruction?) of conscious contents that were no longer present to the mind. Such
experiments, Wundt argued, were open invitations to suggestion, and, indeed, were
not experiments at all in the sense of scientific methodology: they are counterfeit experiments that seem methodical simply because they are
ordinarily performed in a psychological laboratory and involve the coperation of two persons, who purport to be experimenter and observer.
In reality, they are as unmethodical as possible; they possess none of the special features by which we distinguish the introspections of
experimental psychology from the casual introspections of everyday life. (Wundt, quoted and translated by Titchener, 1909. Original German,
1907.)

Titchener (see supplement) also strongly objected to the alleged demonstrations of imageless thought, but for different reasons. He did not
object to the aims or the introspective methodology of the Wrzburg school, but to their purported results, and, for him, the experiments were
not so much misconceived as incompetently executed: In particular, he felt, the observers (experimental subjects) in Wrzburg had been
inadequately trained in the art of introspection. According to Titchener, the main pitfall of introspection was what he called the stimulus
error, the strong tendency to confound the conscious experience itself with whatever it might represent. Thus, to report, when looking at a
rectangular table top, that one experiences a rectangle, would be to commit the stimulus error: The real conscious content would (on
Titchener's view) have the trapezoidal shape that the table top projects upon the retina. For Titchener, the intentionality generally ascribed
to imageless thoughts was clear evidence that the Wrzburg introspectors were committing the stimulus error systematically: They were not
reporting the intrinsic nature of their conscious contents, but what those contents signified. Titchener suggested that the
purportedbewusstseinslagen etc. were, in fact, faint and fleeting kinaesthetic sensations, feelings of muscular tension and the like (Tweney,
1987). In Titchener's own laboratory, experiments quite similar to those done in Wrzburg, but carried out using introspective observers well
trained in avoiding the stimulus error (Titchener himself, or his own graduate students), produced no reports of imageless thoughts. Instead,
they found the fleeting imagery or the subtle bodily sensations that Professor Titchener's theory predicted (Titchener, 1909; Humphrey, 1951).
This work of Titchener's (like other responses to the imageless thought controversy from America, Britain, and elsewhere) had relatively little
impact in Germany, which, with some justification at that time, still regarded itself as very much preeminent in psychological science.
Nevertheless, on both sides of the Atlantic the controversy was recognized as touching on deep foundational issues in the science of mind.
Although largely forgotten today, it seems to have had a lasting impact on the development not only of psychology, but philosophy as well.
The Wrzburg school's claims, despite their shaky basis, undoubtedly contributed to a sense that imagery could not be so psychologically
important as had traditionally been assumed, and that an alternative way of thinking about cognitive content was needed. Many psychologists
and philosophers of this era came, partly for this reason, to feel that thought should be understood in terms of language per se, and that it was
a serious mistake ever to have believed that the representational power of language derives from some more fundamental form of
[20]
representation, such as mental imagery.
But the imageless thought controversy was never satisfactorily resolved, at least in the terms in which it was originally posed. Indeed,
philosophers are still arguing over the issues involved (e.g., Lormand, 1996; Mangan, 2001; Pitt, 2004; Robinson, 2005). Although the
Wrzburg school has been lauded for drawing psychology's attention to the intentionality of mental contents, and for the introduction of once
important concepts such as mental set into the science, it would certainly be grossly misleading to suggest that their work provides
evidence for the existence of non-sensorial conscious mental contents (i.e. imageless thoughts) that comes anywhere close to meeting present
day scientific standards. Indeed, the fact that Klpe's and Titchener's laboratories each produced results that fitted their directors' contrasting
preconceptions did not go unnoticed by their contemporaries. The irresolvable dispute contributed significantly to a growing sense of
intellectual crisis within psychology, leading to a deep loss of confidence (persisting to the present see Schwitzgebel (2002a,b, 2008)) in the
scientific value of introspection. It also led to a precipitous decline in scientific interest in imagery, especially in the United States after the
Behaviorist movement took hold. On the one hand its importance in the cognitive economy (or even its very existence) was now subject to
doubt; on the other hand it had come to seem that it was very difficult, if not impossible, to study it experimentally and objectively.
Further discussion of the consequences of the imageless thought controversy:
Supplement: European Responses: Jaensch, Freud, and Gestalt Psychology
Supplement: The American Response: Behaviorist Iconophobia and Motor Theories of Imagery

3.3 Imagery in Twentieth Century Philosophy


By the early 20th century, particularly in the United States, where it most flourished, psychology had progressively established a disciplinary
identity distinct from the parent discipline of philosophy. However, interest in and attitudes towards imagery amongst philosophers followed
a very similar trajectory to that seen in psychology. Early in the century, philosophers as otherwise diverse as Russell (1919, 1921) and
Bergson (1907) still gave imagery a key role in their theories of meaning and cognition (although it may be significant that Bergson seems to
regard what he called the cinematic imagery-based thought of ordinary and intellectual cognition as distinctly inferior to the nonimaginal philosophical intuition that also played a large role in his epistemology). However, before long, and especially in the wake of the
imageless thought controversy, doubts were beginning to emerge, in the work of philosophers such as Schlick (1918), Sartre (1936, 1940),
Ryle (1949), and especially the later Wittgenstein, both about imagery's importance in cognition, and about whether the whole notion of
pictures in the mind really made sense.
Indeed, even in the late 19th century Frege (1884 5960) had already argued against the traditional view that the meaningfulness of
language derives from the mental images that we associate with words. Images, he pointed out, are subjective and idiosyncratic, whereas
word meanings are objective and universal. However, the almost unanimous scorn with which the imagery theory of meaning was regarded
by late 20th century analytic philosophers seems mainly to be due to the influence and arguments of the later Wittgenstein (Candlish, 2001;
Nyri, 2001). Today, it is largely thanks to Wittgenstein's efforts that,
an imagistic account of thinking such as is outlined in Russell's Analysis of Mind (Lecture X) [Russell, 1921] or elaborated in H.H.
Price's Thinking and Experience [Price, 1953] is usually no more felt to deserve critical attention than is, say, a geocentric account of the
universe. (Candlish, 2001 2).

In fact, Wittgenstein implicitly rejected the imagery theory of meaning even in his early work the so called picture theory of meaning of
the Tractatus (Wittgenstein, 1922) is not a version of the imagery theory but an explicit critique appears only in his posthumously published
later writings (although the arguments were already influential during his lifetime, long before they saw print). Perhaps the most sustained
critique of the imagery theory of meaning occurs in the opening pages of The Blue and Brown Books (Wittgenstein,1958), although the
pithier remarks in thePhilosophical Investigations (1953 especially 139f) may have been more influential. Many other remarks and
arguments scattered through Wittgenstein's other posthumously published writings, particularly in Zettel (1967), the Remarks on the
Philosophy of Psychology (1980a, 1980b), and theLast Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology (1990), demonstrate that he was fascinated
by imagery, but deeply skeptical not only about the large cognitive role traditionally assigned to it, but also about the traditional
understanding of the image as a sort of inner picture (see, e.g. 1953 I 301, II pp. 196e & 213e).
No-one could seriously doubt that Wittgenstein himself recognized the experiential reality and philosophical importance of imagery: he
expends so much effort wrestling with the concept. Nevertheless, as Nyri (2001) remarks, Wittgenstein's untiring endeavor [is] to relegate
mental images to a merely secondary place. He determinedly rejected the traditional empiricist view that thinking is primarily a play of
images, that language is semantically grounded in imagery, and that the principal role of language is to communicate the results of our inner,
imaginal thought processes to others. Instead, Wittgenstein regarded language itself as the preeminent vehicle of thought, and he held that the
meanings of linguistic expressions arise from the various uses to which they are put. He thus saw no need (and no room) for language to be
semantically grounded in any other form of representation. In support of this position, he strove to show that imagery (the only real candidate
for the job) could not possibly be the semantic ground of language, and he is very widely believed to have succeeded.
The two themes of the cognitive unimportance of imagery and its non-pictorial nature were taken up, and argued more fully, by numerous
post-Wittgensteinian philosophers in the latter half of the twentieth century. Although there may be some tension between the themes (most
arguments against the imagery theory of thought and meaning seem to turn upon mental images being, in some sense, picture-like) in practice
they have rarely, if ever, come into conflict; rather, both have played their part in setting the iconophobic tone of the era.
Even in the wake of the revival of scientific interest in the cognitive roles of imagery in the 1960s and 70s, the handful of postWittgensteinian philosophers who have attempted to defend imagery-based theories of thought and meaning (Price, 1953; Lowe, 1995, 1996;
Ellis, 1995; Nyri, 2001) still find themselves swimming very much against the tide. Philosophers such as Harrison (19623), Goodman
(1968), and Fodor (1975) have reinforced, restated and extended Wittgenstein's arguments for the irrelevance of imagery to semantics, and
have made a powerful and influential case. One point that is often made is that there seems to be no natural way of representing certain
linguistically expressible concepts in an image. Logical relations are often mentioned in this context. It is hard to see, for example, how it
might be possible to form a mental image of not (isany image in which John does not appear an image of John is not here?), or or (how
would an image of A or B differ from one of A and B?), or ifthen (see Barsalou (1999) for some tentative suggestions in rebuttal).
The image theory of linguistic meaning might seem to be on its strongest ground when it is applied to nouns (or, at least, concrete nouns). On
the face of things, it is plausible to think that one understands the meaning of the word 'dog' if and only if as the word is able to arouse an
image of a dog in one's mind. Berkeley's argument against general ideas had long brought this simple picture into question, however
(see section 2.3.3). Can my mental picture of a dog represent any dog, or dogs in general, or is it, at best, just a representation of Rover?
Twentieth century philosophers, however, would soon point to an even deeper problem. They assumed, probably often correctly, that the
traditional image theory of meaning was based upon the assumption that images themselves get their meaning through resembling their
objects: an image of a dog represents a dog because it resembles or looks like a dog, in the same way that a painting of Queen Elizabeth
represents Queen Elizabeth because it looks like her. This resemblance theory of representation is not always explicitly stated by image
theorists of thought and language (perhaps it is thought to be too obvious to be worth saying, or perhaps not all of them are really committed
to it), but Russell (1919,1921), for one, explicitly takes the view that words represent because they are associated with mental images, and
that the images themselves represent because they resemble their objects.
This resemblance theory became the main focus of attack. Consider a photograph of Leo the lion. It would certainly be reasonable to say both
that it resembles and that it represents him. But now suppose we have two such photographs. Each photo resembles the other more than either
resemble Leo (both photos are small, rectangular pieces of card, with a white border around a gray or vari-colored rectangle, and neither is
carnivorous or furry), yet we would normally want to say that they each represent Leo, and not that they represent each other. Of course, a
photograph of Leo does resemble him, when the right aspects of resemblance are considered, but in this regard Leo equally resembles the
photograph. We are unlikely, however, to want to say that he represents the photo. Resemblance is a symmetrical relationship, and
representation is not. None of this necessarily means that resemblance never plays any role in representation, but in order for it to do so,
therelevant aspects of resemblance have to be recognized, and the resembling object has to be used (or, at least, taken) as a representation.
But surely, before a cognitive system can recognize or use the relevant aspects of resemblance between a photograph (or an inner quasipicture) and an object (or a percept), it must already be able to represent the picture and its object, and their various features, to itself. The
mind's power to recognize resemblance seemingly depends on its power to represent things, rather than vice-versa. On grounds such as this,
Goodman (1968) argued that even physical pictures paintings drawings, photographs, etc. do not represent their subjects because they
resemble them. Indeed, he held that what a picture represents is just as much a matter of interpretation and convention as is what a word or
sentence represents, the implication being that pictorial representation is no more natural or fundamental, no more a ground for meaning,
than linguistic representation itself. Clearly the argument applies to mental pictures quite as much as to physical ones.

Fodor (1975), borrowing liberally from the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations (1953 139 f.), made a compelling case that
mental pictures cannot be the foundational bearers of intentionality because what they resemble is too indeterminate (cf. Goodman, 1970). A
mental image of John, who is a tall fat man, might mean John, it might mean fat man (or John is a fat man), or tall man, or just man, human
being, or even physical object. On the other hand it might mean John in just the particular pose and situation in which he is imagined. After
all, it resembles all those things (and indefinitely many more). What an image means, according to Fodor, what it is an image of, will
necessarily remain radically indeterminate unless it is pinned down by an associated linguistic description. Fodor himself holds that what our
mental images represent is determined by an associated description couched in mentalese, an innate, unconscious, computational language
of thought (Fodor, 1975) (see: language of thought hypothesis); others, such as Kaufmann (1980), apparently think that the necessary
descriptions may be couched in the natural language that the imager speaks. On either view, though, the traditional semantic dependency is
inverted. Instead of the meaningfulness of language being grounded in imagery, the meaningfulness of imagery seems to need grounding in
some sort of language.
Arguments against the pictorial nature of imagery, which are scarcely more than hinted at in Wittgenstein's published works, were developed
much more explicitly by Ryle (1949). As part of a broader (and very influential) attack on what he called Descartes' myth (i.e., Cartesian
dualism), Ryle argued that the notion of private, non-physical, mental pictures is an absurdity, and proposed instead that imagining, seeing
in the mind's eye, and so forth, is better understood as akin topretending (to ourselves) to experience ordinary, external things. Other
philosophers influenced by both Wittgenstein and Ryle soon carried forward this critique of the inner picture: Shorter (1952) and Dennett
(1969) (in some respects anticipating the work of Pylyshyn (1973) see section 4.4.1below, and especially note 31) suggested that imagery
might be more akin to describing or depicting something to oneself, rather than to pretending to see it; and, from a detailed exegesis of Ryle's
arguments, Ishiguro (1966, 1967) developed a theory of mental images as intentional objects(in the sense of Anscombe (1965)) having a
merely grammatical existence: Although the grammar of our language may sometimes make it very awkward to refer to our imagery
experiences without seeming to imply that they are caused by certain entities (mental images), it does not follow that such entities actually
exist.
Although expressed in very different terms, Ishiguro's position on imagery is not altogether unlike the view developed earlier in the century
by Sartre (1940). (See Ryle (1971) for an interesting comparison of his own views about the mental, including mental imagery, to views in
the phenomenological tradition, to which Sartre belonged.) Under the influence of Husserl rather than Wittgenstein, Sartre also stressed the
intentionality of imagery and denied that mental images (conceived as entities) exist:
The fact of the matter is that the expression mental image is confusing. But since the word image is of long standing we cannot reject it
completely. However, in order to avoid all ambiguity, we must repeat at this point that an image is nothing else than a relationship. The
imaginative consciousness I have of Peter is not a consciousness of an image of Peter: Peter is directly reached, my attention is not directed
on an image but on an object (Sartre, 1940 p. 8).
It is important to be clear that just because Sartre (and Ryle, Shorter, Ishiguro, and others) hold that mental images are not inner pictures, nor
even, indeed, any sort of entity, they are not thereby denying that people have quasi-perceptual experiences, or even that these may
sometimes be very vivid. Unfortunately, perhaps because the notion that such experiences are caused by inner pictures is so entrenched in our
folk psychology, this point does not always seem to have been clear to critics of such views, and it has even been occasionally suggested that
[21]
they could not possibly be held by anyone personally familiar with the experience of imagery. However, a careful reading of these
apparently iconophobic authors soon reveals that they in no way intend to deny the experiential reality of imagery, and most of them make
[22]
their personal familiarity with it quite clear. They deny only that such experience, however vivid it might be, is caused by (or embodied as)
inner pictures.
By contrast, in his Mental Images A Defence, Hannay (1971) vigorously championed the reality of inner pictures (see also Hannay, 1973,
and for a counterargument see Candlish, 1975). But, despite the fact that he had no thought of reinstating imagery to its traditional importance
in cognitive and semantic theory, Hannay clearly saw himself (in 1971) as a lonely dissenter, a voice crying in the wilderness against
philosophy's virtually monolithic iconophobic consensus. In the subsequent decades that consensus has been fractured, but by no means
shattered, by developments in cognitive psychology and cognitive science (discussed below). In particular, in the wake of Kosslyn's (1980,
1994) seminal work on the cognitive psychology of imagery, a growing number of philosophers are now ready to defend the reality of mental
pictures, and show no sign whatsoever of feeling embattled (e.g., von Eckardt, 1988, 1993; Tye, 1988, 1991; Mortensen, 1989; Brann, 1991;
Cohen, 1996; Rollins, 2001). Many other philosophers, even if not entirely convinced about pictures, now take a serious interest in the
cognitive science of imagery.
Nonetheless, the post-Wittgensteinian consensus that imagery cannot be as important as it once seemed to be, that it cannot be the ground of
linguistic meaning or the prime vehicle of thought, remains strong. Furthermore, Bennett & Hacker (2003) have recently made a powerful
restatement of the Wittgensteinian case against mental entities in general and mental pictures in particular. Despite all that has happened in
cognitive science, imagery has by no means regained its former prominence in philosophy.

4. Imagery in Cognitive Science


A revival of interest in imagery was an important component of the so called cognitive revolution in psychology during the 1960s and early
1970s, a period when the Behaviorist intellectual hegemony over the field was broken and the concept of mental representation was

established as central and vital to psychological theorizing (Baars, 1986; Gardner, 1987; but see also Leahey, 1992). The first (and formative)
textbook of the emerging cognitive approach to psychology (Neisser, 1967) devoted substantial space to mental imagery, and the end of the
1960s brought the publication of a spate of books reviewing and reporting new findings on the psychology of imagery: Richardson (1969),
Horowitz (1970), Paivio (1971), Piaget & Inhelder (1971), Segal (1971a), Sheehan (1972).
Although the emergence of computational models of mental processes probably played the leading role in the rise of cognitive psychology
and cognitive science, the new interest in imagery was independently motivated, and contributed significantly to the growing feeling,
amongst psychologists, that both the ontology and methodology of Behaviorism were excessively restrictive, and that inner mental processes
and representations could, after all, be useful, or even indispensible, scientific concepts. Quite apart from the broader talk of revolution in
psychology in this era (e.g., Hebb, 1960), there seems to have been a real sense, at the time, that the revival of interest in imagery was, in
itself, an insurgent movement liberating psychologists from entrenched but outworn Behaviorist dogmas. The imagery revival was depicted
in dramatic terms as the return of the ostracized (Holt, 1964; cf. Haber, 1970), as a dimension of mind rediscovered (Kessell, 1972), and
as marking a paradigm shift in psychology (Neisser, 1972b).

4.1 The Imagery Revival


Holt (1964) indicates a number of developments that began to lead some psychologists, in the 1950s, to begin to pay significant attention to
imagery again. These include research on hallucinogenic drugs, developments in electroencephalography, the discovery of REM sleep and its
correlation with dreaming, and Penfield's (1958) finding that direct electrical stimulation of certain brain areas can give rise to vivid memory
(or pseudo-memory) imagery. More significant, however, (according to Holt) was a line of psychological research that was originally inspired
by practical, rather than theoretical, concerns: by the perceptual problems experienced by people such as radar operators, long-distance truck
drivers, and jet pilots, whose work requires them to remain perceptually alert whilst watching monotonous, impoverished, and barely
changing visual stimuli over extended periods of time. In the laboratory, subjects experiencing such sensory deprivation often spontaneously
reported vivid, intrusive, and sometimes bizarre mental imagery, like having a dream while awake (Bexton, Heron, & Scott, 1954; but see
Suedfeld & Coren, 1989). Despite the introspective nature of the evidence, the practical implications of these findings (for such things as road
and air safety) made them hard to dismiss.
Beginning in the 1960s, and perhaps stimulated by some of the research mentioned by Holt, there was also a growing interest in the
application of imagery based techniques in psychotherapy and psychosomatic medicine (see, e.g., Assagioli, 1965; Horowitz, 1970, 1983;
Korn & Johnson, 1983; Sheikh, 2003). By the 1970s, something of a self conscious imagery movement had taken hold, in which discoveries
and theoretical developments coming out of experimental psychology and cognitive science helped to fuel and legitimate an enthusiasm for
the application of imagery to psychotherapy, and even to personal growth, consciousness expansion, and the like. More recently, imagery
based techniques, including, but not limited to, so called mental practice (Richardson, 1967; Ryan & Simons, 1982; Nordin et al., 2006),
have come to be extensively applied in sports psychology, where they are widely believed to have the potential to boost athletic performance
to a significant degree (Paivio, 1985; Sheikh & Korn, 1994; Driskell et al., 1994; Morris et al., 2005; Short et al., 2006; Weinberg, 2008). A
journal dedicated to the subject, theJournal of Imagery Research in Sport and Physical Activity commenced online publication in 2006. Great
claims are also made, by some, for the healing powers of guided imagery, whereby clients (or patients) are encouraged to visualize particular
scenes or scenarios thought to have therapeutic value (e.g., Rossman, 2000). Guided imagery techniques have been claimed to be effective for
purposes ranging from chronic pain relief and the preparation of patients for surgery (Fontaine, 2000; Tuseket al., 1997), to breast
enlargement and global spiritual renewal (Willard, 1977; Ekstein, 2001)!
It is sometimes claimed or implied that these sorts of techniques are based upon ancient oriental, and particularly Indian, spiritual practices
(e.g., Samuels & Samuels, 1975; Gawain, 1982), and it thus may not be coincidental that a prominent figure in the psychotherapeutic imagery
movement is a Pakistani born psychologist, Akhter Ahsen, known not only for his clinical and theoretical work (e.g., Ahsen, 1965, 1977,
1984, 1985, 1993, 1999), but also because he was instrumental, in the later 1970s, in the foundation of the International Imagery Association,
and the peer reviewedJournal of Mental Imagery (which began publication in 1977). The Association's mission, stated on their web site, is
to further the understanding of mental imagery and advance its potential in the development of human consciousness (see Other Internet
Resources). The journal publishes articles on imagery from a wide range of psychological perspectives, including the cognitive. AnAmerican
Association for the Study of Mental Imagery was also founded in 1978, with a mission to promote the study of mental imagery as a part of
human science and the application of scientific knowledge about mental imagery in the relief of human suffering and the enhancement of
personal development. Its journal, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, commenced publication in the early 1980s. (The Association
may now be defunct its web site has disappeared but the journal continues to be published.)

4.2 Mnemonic Effects of Imagery


Despite the developments outlined above, interest in imagery amongst experimental psychologists remained at a fairly low level until the mid
to late 1960s. It was the recognition, in that period, of the powerful mnemonic effects of imagery that changed the situation, leading to a
thriving tradition of experimental research, and securing imagery a firm place in cognitive theory. These mnemonic effects, it turned out,
could be clearly demonstrated in readily repeatable experiments that did not rely in any way upon introspective reports.
[23]

According to Bugelski (1977, 1984), an important stimulus to the flowering of experimental research on imagery and memory was the 1966
publication of Frances Yates' celebrated and widely read historical study, The Art of Memory. Yates details how imagery based mnemonic

techniques, particularly versions of the so-called method of loci, were in widespread use amongst European intellectuals, educators, and
orators from classical Greek through to early modern times, and she argues that the knowledge and use of these techniques may have had
quite significant effects on the development of Western philosophical, theological, and early scientific thought. (seeSupplement: Ancient
Imagery Mnemonics).
Around the same time, Soviet psychologist Alexander Luria's (1960, 1968) extensive case study of the mnemonist Shereshevskii first
became available in English, and well known amongst English-speaking psychologists. Shereshevskii's truly prodigious feats of memory
were apparently made possible by an abnormally vivid visual imagination, often harnessed to his own version of themethod of loci.
Experiment soon confirmed that the imagery method of loci, as described by Yates and Luria, was extremely effective in enhancing memory
performance in ordinary people (Ross & Lawrence, 1968).
Actually, a revival of scientific interest in imagery mnemonics seems to have been nascent in North America, even before Yates work
appeared, or Lurias was translated into English. According to Hoffman & Senter (1978) the stimulus came from the tradition of magic
shows, and, particularly, the performances of memory men (or sometimes memory women), who would use traditional mnemonic
systems to perform impressive feats of memory for entertainment purposes. Some of these memory men (or people who had learned from
them) also promoted mnemonic systems as useful in business, or wrote popularizing books that explained how to use mnemonic techniques,
mostly imagery based. Books of this type by Lorayne (1957), Roth (1961), and, especially, Furst (1954, 1957) seem to have been amongst
those that influenced psychologists to take in interest (Hoffman & Senter, 1978; Morris & Hampson, 1983). According to Hoffman & Senter
(1978) the first real scientific study of imagery mnemonics was carried out at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1950s, by Wallace,
Turner, & Perkins, who were attempting to explore the limits of human information storage. Turner had formerly worked as a stage
magician and memory man, and suggested that the subjects be taught an imagery mnemonic technique to help them to realize the full
potential of their memories. As a result, however, the experiment was deemed a failure; when the subjects used the mnemonic technique,
there seemed to be no practicably measurable limits to their information-storage capacity! Because of this, the study was never published, but
word of the findings does seem to have got out, particularly via Eugene Galanter, who had also been at the University of Pennsylvania at the
time. The enormously influential book that he co-authored, Plans and the Structure of Behavior includes a brief account of the findings of
Wallace, Turner, & Perkins, and of the imagery mnemonic they used (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960 pp. 136f). This book is considered
one of the key, foundational works of the cognitive revolution in psychology, and was enormously influential in the field (although it is better
known for its introduction of concepts from computing and Artificial Intelligence research into psychology, rather than for its account of
imagery mnemonics) (Gardner, 1987; Hirst, 1988; Galanter, 1988; Neisser, 1988 p. 85).
But, almost certainly, the most important figure in the study of the mnemonic effects of imagery was the Canadian psychologist Allan Paivio,
whose interest in the subject seems to have originated quite independently of any of the influences mentioned so far, going right back to
1950, when he witnessed an impressive demonstration of the power of an imagery mnemonic, and was taught how to use it, as part of a
course on public speaking that he attended (Paivio, 1991c, 2007 pp. 22-24; Marks, 1997). (The connection between imagery mnemonics and
public speaking goes right back to their origins in ancient times: see Supplement: Ancient Imagery Mnemonics.) Despite this, perhaps
because of the still generally iconophobic character of North American psychology through the 1950s (see Supplement: The American
Response: Behaviorist Iconophobia and Motor Theories of Imagery), his first publication to (very tentatively) suggest a role for imagery in
memory did not appear until 1963 (Paivio, 1963). However, bolder claims and much further experimental work soon followed, and, by the
end of the decade (by then, no doubt, abetted by awareness of the more eye-catching historical and anecdotal studies of Yates and Luria)
Paivios theoretical speculations about the central role of imagery in memory, and painstaking quantitative experiments with which he
supported them, were attracting a great deal of attention. By the later 1960s, and in the 1970s, many other psychologists had taken up
research in this area, but Paivio was well established as the fields leading figure, and discussion centered largely upon the implications and
merits, or otherwise, of the Dual Coding (imagery code and verbal code) theory of mental representation that he proposed to explain his
results (Paivio, 1971, 1986, 1991a, 1991b, 1995, 2007). Note, however, that, although they inevitably became entangled, the ensuing
controversy between the Dual Coding and the rival Common Coding theories of memory (see Supplement: Dual Coding and Common
Coding Theories of Memory) should not be confused with the better known debate between analog (pictorial) andpropositional (descriptive)
theories of imagery (see 4.4). The former debate is about the functionof imagery in cognition, the latter is about the nature and mechanism
of imagery itself.
The findings of this extensive experimental research program on the mnemonic effects of imagery, can be crudely summarized as the
discovery of two principal effects. First of all, it was demonstrated quite incontrovertibly that subjects who follow explicit instructions to use
simple imagery based mnemonic techniques to memorize verbal material (typically lists of apparently random words, or word pairs)
remember it very much better than subjects who do not use such techniques (Bower, 1970, 1972; Bugelski, 1970; Paivio, 1971; Neisser &
Kerr, 1973). Secondly, and somewhat more controversially, Paivio and others claim to have shown that imagery plays a large role in verbal
memory even when the experimental subjects are not given explicit instructions to form imagery, and make no deliberate effort to do so. To
demonstrate this, Paivio and his associates initially determined quantitative imagery values for each of a long list of nouns: that is to say, the
relative ease with which subjects could generate a mental image appropriate to the word, or the likelihood that an image would spontaneously
[24]
be evoked by the word in question (Paivio, Yuille, & Madigan, 1968). (On the whole, concrete nouns such as cat have high imagery
values, and abstract nouns such as truth have low ones, although there are exceptions to this rule.) Once these quantitative imagery values
were established, Paivio was able to show, in various experimental designs, that words with high imagery values were consistently
remembered significantly better than those with lower ones, quite regardless of any conscious intent on the subjects' part to form relevant

images (Paivio, 1971, 1983, 1991a). Much controversy ensued, however, as to whether the imagability of the referents of the words in
question is the truly causally relevant factor, or whether it is some other feature of the words (or their referents) that happens to be well
[25]
correlated with this imagery value.
Further discussion of theories of the mnemonic properties of imagery:
Supplement: Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories of Memory
Supplement: Conceptual Issues in Dual Coding Theory

4.3 The Spatial Properties of Imagery


By the end of the 1960s, the work of Paivio and others on the mnemonic properties of imagery had established a strong empirical case for the
functional importance of imagery in cognition. The phenomenon could no longer be ignored by psychologists, or treated as a mere subjective
epiphenomenon of no scientific interest, as it had been in the Behaviorist era. However, this work had done very little to illuminate the nature
of imagery itself, or of the cognitive mechanisms that generate it.
This began to change in the early 1970s when Roger Shepard and his students began to publish experimental demonstrations of the mental
rotation of images (e.g., Shepard & Metzler, 1971; Shepard & Cooper et al., 1982). Soon after, Stephen Kosslyn and his collaborators
produced experimental evidence for the mental scanning of visual images, showing that it took longer for subjects to consciously scan
between image features that were relatively further apart than between those that appeared close together (Kosslyn, 1973, 1980; Kosslyn,
Ball, & Reiser, 1978; Pinker & Kosslyn, 1978; Pinker, 1980; Finke & Pinker, 1982, 1983; Pinker, Choate, & Finke, 1984; Borst et al., 2006;
Borst & Kosslyn, 2008).
Kosslyn also demonstrated that the subjective sizes of visual mental images (and the relative sizes of their sub-parts) measurably affect the
times it takes to inspect and report on particular details of imagined objects. The presence of larger features of an object could be reported
more quickly (from an image of the object) than smaller features. As this size-time relation, did not appear unless the subjects used imagery
to do the task (i.e., to confirm that some named object type has some particular feature or sub-part), these experiments provided further
evidence for the notion that imagery is a sui generis form of mental representation, with distinct properties from linguistic or purely
conceptual representations (Kosslyn, 1975, 1976a, 1976b, 1980).
Kosslyn and his associates also claim to have experimentally measured the visual angle of the minds eye, and to have mapped differences
in acuity across the visual field of imagery, just as one can for the real visual field (Kosslyn, 1978a; Finke & Kosslyn, 1980; Finke &
Kurtzman, 1981a,b; Farah et al., 1992).
It should be noted that the methodology of many of these experiments leaves them vulnerable to the charge, pressed by several critics, that
the results reflect not so much the normal workings of cognition, and the properties of the representational structures (such as mental images)
that enable them, but, rather, what psychologists call the demand characteristics of the experimental situation (Orne, 1962; Rosnow, 2002)
(see supplement). This is a well-known pitfall of psychological experimentation with human subjects, and experimenters are, for the most
part, well aware of it, and take what precautions they can to rule out the possibility that demand characteristics might significantly influence
their findings. Nevertheless, certain types of imagery experiment, including most of those discussed in this section, appear to be particularly
susceptible to such influence (Intons-Peterson, 1983), and it may sometimes be effectively impossible to rule out the possibility that demand
characteristics have played a large, or even predominant, role in determining the results. Thus, some of the results obtained in this area of
research remain open to question. This is particularly true of the claims to have mapped the visual angle of the minds eye and the visual
field of imagery. The demand characteristics of these experiments, whose results are not supported by any other, converging, experimental
evidence, seem particularly strong, and the work has thus been the target of particularly severe methodological criticism (Intons-Peterson &
White, 1981; Banks, 1981; Thomas, 2014 p. 153). The work has been defended by Finke & Kurtzman (1981c; Finke, 1989 ch. 2), and the
claims about visual angle continue to be presented as established fact by Kosslyn (1994; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006), but not
everyone may be convinced. On the other hand, converging evidence from several different types of experiment seems to have been enough
to establish a consensus amongst most cognitive scientists that the processes of mental scanning, mental rotation, and the size effects in image
inspection are real and significant components of cognition.
Shepard, Kosslyn, and others argued that these results show that visual mental imagery has inherently spatial properties, and represents in an
analog fashion that is quite different from the way in which language and other symbolic systems represent (Shepard & Chipman, 1970;
Shepard, 1975, 1978b, 1981; 1984; Kosslyn, 1975, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1994; Kosslyn, Pinker, Smith, & Shwartz, 1979; Kosslyn, Thompson &
Ganis, 2006). However, others, particularly among those who were strongly committed to a (digital) computational view of the mind, firmly
rejected this conception of imagery (Simon, 1972; Anderson & Bower, 1973; Baylor, 1973; Moran, 1973; Pylyshyn, 1973, 1978, 1981, 1984,
2001, 2002a,b, 2003a,b,c, 2004, 2007; Hinton, 1979; Slezak, 1995). A lively and high-profile theoretical debate ensued, about the nature of
mental imagery and of mental representation in general.
Further discussion of experiments on the spatial properties of imagery:
Supplement: Mental Rotation
Supplement: The Problem of Demand Characteristics in Imagery Experiments

4.4 The Analog-Propositional Debate


The analog-propositional debate, occasionally also called the picture-description debate, or sometimes just the imagery debate (as if there
were no other debatable or hotly debated issues about imagery) is an ongoing and notoriously irreconcilable dispute within cognitive science
about the representational format of visual mental imagery. The huge impact it had on the early development of the field appears to have
resulted in a widespread belief, amongst both philosophers and cognitive scientists, that analog and propositional theories (those terms being
understood in the rather special senses that they have acquired in this context), together, perhaps, with hybrid theories that claim to
incorporate elements of both (e.g., Tye, 1991; Chambers, 1993), completely exhaust the space of possible or empirically plausible scientific
accounts of imagery (Thomas, 2002). That is not the case, as we shall see in section 4.5.
To a first approximation, the analog side of the debate holds that the mental representations that we experience as imagery are, in some
important sense, like pictures, with intrinsically spatial representational properties of the sort that pictures have (i.e., pictures do not just
represent spatial relationships between the objects they depict, but represent those relationships, at least in part, via actual spatial relationships
on the picture surface). The propositional side, by contrast, holds the relevant mental representations to be more like linguistic descriptions
(of visual scenes), without inherently spatial properties of their own. Although it began as a dispute amongst scientists, the debate clearly
touches on fundamental issues about the nature of mind and thought, and perhaps the nature of science too, so it soon attracted a good deal of
interest from philosophers as well.
It is good to be aware that the terms analog and propositional, although they have become entrenched usage in this context, are both
potentially misleading. On the one hand the propositionswhich are supposed by some to constitute the descriptions that constitute imagery,
are not really propositions at all in the established philosophical sense of the word: rather they are a sort of sentence (albeit not sentences
[26]
natural language, but of mentalese). On the other hand, the quasi-pictorial theory of Kosslyn (1980, 1983, 1994, 2005), which has
become very much the dominant theory on the other side of the debate, in fact models mental images as digitized pictures generated within a
[27]
simulation program running on a digital computer (Kosslyn & Shwartz, 1977; Kosslyn, 1980).
Although the debate began, and was at its fiercest, during the formative years of the discipline of cognitive science in the 1970s, it has yet to
reach a generally accepted resolution. Despite Kosslyn's (1994) unilateral declaration of victory for the analog side, the controversy has flared
up anew, and continues in the 21st century (Slezak, 1995, 2002; Thomas, 1999b, 2002, 2003, 2009; Pylyshyn, 2002a,b, 2003a,b,c, 2004;
Kosslyn, Ganis & Thompson, 2003, 2004; Kosslyn, 2005; Grueter, 2006; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006; Dulin et al., 2008; Lewis et
al., 2011). The Behavioral and Brain Sciences target article by Kosslyn, Pinker, Smith, & Shwartz (1979), together with the appended
commentaries, provides a good sense of the debate at its height, and many of the most important philosophically oriented contributions to its
early stages can be found in two collections edited by Block (1981a,b). However, it may be difficult to understand the scientific and
philosophical issues at stake unless one has a sense of the historical and intellectual context in which the dispute originated.
Matters became so hotly contested during the 1970s that some participants, most notably Anderson (1978) and Palmer (1975b, 1978), came
to the conclusion that the disagreement was quite impossible to resolve by the methods of scientific psychology, or perhaps at all. Indeed,
Anderson (1978) offered a formal proof purporting to show that the two main contending theories are empirically equivalent. Anderson's
arguments in particular aroused much interest at the time, and were themselves vigorously disputed (Hayes-Roth, 1979; Pylyshyn, 1979b;
Cohen, 1996) and defended (Anderson, 1979). However, the main debate continued, and it is probably fair to say that most observers have
come to the conclusion that the empirical equivalence claimed by Anderson is ultimately not particularly interesting or important. It can
probably be regarded as just a special case of the well known Duhem-Quine underdetermination of theory by evidence: many philosophers of
science hold that any theory can be made to fit any evidence provided one is allowed freely to supplement the theory with arbitrary (and
perhaps ad hoc, complex, and implausible) auxiliary hypotheses, which is essentially what Anderson was doing. Nevertheless, the fact that
such claims could be seriously proposed and discussed is testament to just how acrimonious and intractable this debate about imagery had
come to seem at the time, and how important it was to those involved. The very possibility of a science of cognition seemed to be under
threat.
Despite this, the debate's focus has, in practice, been quite narrow. Although it is often understood to be a debate about the nature of
imagery per se, it may more truly be seen as about what theory of imagery will best account for the facts within the parameters of a
computational functionalist theory of the mind, i.e., a theory that holds that mental states in general are to be identified with states of the brain
as individuated in terms of their computational/functional role in cognition. Although this computational functionalism still has many
adherents, it no longer dominates the philosophy of mind and cognition to the extent that it once did. However, in the early 1970s it was new
and exciting, and the computational approach to cognitive theory that it sanctioned was being taken up with great enthusiasm by many
psychologists (Baars, 1986; Gardner, 1987). Both the cognitive psychologists and the functionalist philosophers drew much of their
inspiration from Artificial Intelligence research in the "physical symbol systems" tradition of what Haugeland has called GOFAI (Good Old
Fashioned AI) (Newell, 1981; Haugeland, 1985).
Initially, the concurrent rises of imagery research and computational psychology, through the 1960s and into the 1970s, played mutually
reinforcing roles within the cognitivist revolution against Behaviorism, because they both implied that the concept of mental representation
should play a central role in the science of the mind. However, a tension soon became apparent between the symbolic and syntactic concept
of mental representation that came from Artificial Intelligence and the, on the face of it, very different concept of representation implicit in

the work of the imagery researchers. The analog-propositional debate, and much of the passion and partisanship it aroused, grew out of that
tension, and, more particularly, the desire to bring imagery within the fold of computational functionalism.

4.4.1 Pylyshyn's Critique, and Description Theory


The analog-propositional debate may be said to have begun when this tension found its first clear expression, in a very influential article by
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Zenon Pylyshyn (1973). Since then, Pylyshyn has continued to extend and defend his critique of pictorial (or analog) theories of imagery in
many subsequent publications (e.g., Pylyshyn, 1978, 1981,1984, 2002a,b,2003a,b, 2005). Although a number of other cognitive scientists and
philosophers have taken positions, and made empirical and theoretical arguments, similar to and supportive of those of Pylyshyn (e.g.,
Anderson & Bower, 1973; Reed, 1974; Palmer, 1975a, 1977; Kieras, 1978; Hinton, 1979; Lang, 1979; Slezak, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995,
2002), and others continue to reject picture theories for different reasons (e.g., Neisser, 1979; Heil, 1982; White, 1990; Thomas, 1999b, 2009;
O'Regan & No, 2001; Bartolomeo, 2002; Bennett & Hacker, 2003; Bartolomeo et al., 2013), Pylyshyn remains, indisputably, the best known
and most influential critic of pictorial theories of imagery.
Clearly Pylyshyn objects, as many philosophers have before him, to the notion of inner mental pictures that are somehow called to mind and
reperceived by the mind's eye. In his 1973 article he raised a number of objections to this notion, some of which have withstood criticism
better than others, but the underlying worry was clearly that the inner-picture theory of imagery inevitably commits the homunculus fallacy: it
implicitly relies on the assumption that there is a little man (or rather, something that is the functional equivalent of a full-fledged visual
system, including eyes), or, at the very least, something with inexplicable mental powers, inside the head to reperceive, experience, and
interpret the image. The broad functional architecture of Kosslyn's theory, in fact, closely parallels that of Descartes' account of imagery
(see section 2.3.1, and Supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery), and, of course, Descartes notoriously relied upon a conscious
homunculus, the immaterial soul, that is placed forever beyond the reach of natural science. Modern defenders of the pictorial/analog theory
protest that they cannot have committed the homunculus fallacy (let alone committed themselves to Cartesian dualism) because a computer
model of the theory has been implemented, and they have outlined an account of how picture-like representations, formed at an early stage of
visual processing in the brain, are subject to several more stages of neural processing before they give rise to visual knowledge and
experience (Kosslyn, 1980, 1994; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2002, 2006).
However, their critics remain unconvinced that they have truly even recognized this pitfall, let alone successfully avoided it (Slezak, 1993,
1995; Thomas, 1999b, 2002, 2003, 2009; Pylyshyn, 2002a,b, 2003a,b,c, 2004, 2007). For instance, the computer simulation just mentioned
(Kosslyn & Shwartz, 1977, 1978; see also Kosslyn, Flynn, et al., 1990) can do without a homunculus only because the role of the
homunculus is filled for it by the full-sized humans who program and operate the computer, and who see, and so consciously experience, the
images that it outputs to its VDU screen. What the program actually does is construct and display a picture on the computer's screen, on the
basis of a stored file, and then move it about on the screen in various ways, in order to model some of the ways in which people can
supposedly manipulate their mental images (such as in mental rotation and mental scanning). These images are conscious only if, and
inasmuch as, a conscious person sees then on the screen. (The pictures, of which only two examples were actually programmed into the
system, were, in fact, quite crude ASCII art: for an example of one of the pictures, and a more detailed account of the program and its
capabilities, see Supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery, and its Problems, particularly figure 2 and its accompanying
explanation.) At the time when the program was written, when computer graphics were in their infancy, and when few people had ever even
seen a computer, it may not have been an entirely unimpressive achievement. However, nothing in the program (nor, so far as I am aware, in
any computer simulation of a pictorial theory of imagery written since) implements, or even attempts in any way to simulate or model, a
conscious awareness of the pictures. Kosslyn & Shwartz (1977) mention that they hope, one day, to add a minds eye function to their
simulation, to look at the image within the computer, as it were, but, unsurprisingly (given how difficult an AI problem naturalistic
computer vision turned out to be (Brooks, 1992, 1999)), this was never done. Arguably, given their assumptions about the essentially passive
nature of the earliest stages of vision, it never could be (Thomas, 2009, 2014 5).
As consciousness, nothing in the Kosslyn & Shwartz simulation even pretends to correspond to a grasp of what it is that the pictures that it
produces represent (or even that they are supposed to be representations). Only the human onlooker consciously experiences the pictures,
knows that theyare pictures, and can tell what they might be pictures of (Thomas, 2009). If quasi-pictorial theory were capable of accounting
for the representational and conscious nature of imagery without appealing to a homunculus, then the Kosslyn-Shwartz program might
constitute a heuristically useful (if crude and preliminary) model of how images might be built up and transformed. However, despite
vehement claims to the contrary (e.g., Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006 p. 41), the existence of the program in no way shows that the
theory can avoid making the appeal to a homunculus.
In a subsequent paper, Pylyshyn (1978) introduced an important new argument against pictorialism, based on the concepts (which he
introduced) of cognitive penetrability and impenetrability. The distinction between cognitively impenetrable and cognitively penetrable
processes closely parallels Fodor's later distinction between modularized and unmodularized, central cognitive systems (Fodor, 1983).
Cognitive processes are said to be cognitively penetrable if their workings can be affected by the beliefs and goals of the person, and
cognitively impenetrable if they cannot be. Pylyshyn argues (and Fodor (1983) concurs) that there are good reasons to believe that early
visual processing, i.e., the processes by which visual inputs give rise to beliefs about our surroundings, is cognitively impenetrable. For
example, he points out that well known visual illusions, such as the Ponzo and Mller-Lyer illusions, continue to deceive us even when we
know perfectly well that they are illusions (figure 4.4.1_1). The two horizontal lines in both the Ponzo and the Mller-Lyer figures continue
to look as though they are of different lengths even when we have measured them and are quite convinced that they are, in fact, the same.

Figure 4.4.1_1
The Ponzo Illusion (left) and the Mller-Lyer Illusion (right).
In both cases, the two horizontal lines are the same length, but appear to be different lengths.
As Pylyshyn sees it, the view that he rejects, the view that visual mental imagery involves a representational format that is peculiarly visual
and is distinct from the format in which beliefs and propositional attitudes in general are represented, amounts to the claim that images are
generated within this cognitively impenetrable, early visual processing module. If that were the case, imagery should be a cognitively
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impenetrable phenomenon, but it is not. The way we experience our mental imagery is clearly affected by our beliefs and goals. Not only
do we have a large degree of voluntary control over the content of our imagery experiences, but it has also been experimentally demonstrated
that extra-visual beliefs can influence the course of supposed imagery processes. For example, the times taken to mentally scan between
different landmarks on a mental image of a map (see section 4.3 above) are affected not only by the actual relative distances between the
points on the map, but also by information that is verbally given about those distances. Subjects tend to take longer to mentally scan over a
distance marked as representing 80 miles than over a distance marked as 20 miles, even though the actual distances depicted on the map
(which they have learned and are supposedly imagining) are the same (Richman, Mitchell, & Reznick, 1979a,b; see also Mitchell &
Richman, 1980; Goldston et al., 1985; Reed, Hock & Lockhead, 1983).
Pylyshyn's views about the cognitive impenetrability of early vision, the relevance of this to our understanding of imagery, and the concept
of cognitive penetrability/impenetrability itself, all remain controversial (see, for example, the commentaries published with Pylyshyn
(1999)), but he has continued to develop and refine the concept (which also has applications outside the imagery debate), as well as the
associated argument, over many years (e.g., Pylyshyn, 1984, 1999, 2002a, 2002b, 2003b).
Pylyshyn also argues (1981, 2002a) that most if not all of the experimental evidence that is supposed to show that imagery has inherently
spatial properties (such as Kosslyn's work on mental scanning (Kosslyn, Ball, & Reiser, 1978; Kosslyn, 1980)) can be explained away as the
result of the interaction of the experimental subject's tacit knowledge of the properties of visual experience and the experimental instructions.
For instance, he holds that if subjects are asked to scan their mental gaze from one point to another on a mental image of a map, what they
interpret these instructions to be asking them to do is to behave as if they were actually looking at the relevant map and scanning their gaze
between the points. Because they know from their history of ordinary visual experience that it takes longer to scan between points that are
further apart, this will be reflected in their performance. Thus, the fact that people instructed to scan across their images take longer to scan
longer distances is not evidence of the existence of some inner, mental, image-space. Rather, it is a reflection of people's implicit
understanding (which they may not necessarily always be able to articulate) of the visual properties of the actual space around them (cf,
Morgan, 1979).
Pylyshyn's critics have often been inclined to conflate his tacit knowledge theory with the view that the results of imagery experiments may
be fatally contaminated by the effects of experimental demand characteristics (see supplement). However, although he clearly does think
experimental demand plays a large role in determining many of the results on imagery, he resists this interpretation of his position. He is not
saying (as is sometimes implied) that experimental subjects are, as it were, consciously faking their performances in order to please the
experimenter. Rather they are doing their best to comply with experimental instructions that turn upon the slippery concept of mental
imagery. The fact that the subjects and the experimenter may share similar assumptions about the causes of quasi-visual experience (the folk
theory of images as inner pictures), so that both interpret the experiment in terms of operations on inner pictures in an inner space, is not
evidence that those assumptions are correct. It is generally assumed that problems caused by demand characteristics can be avoided or
minimized by careful and ingenious experimental design, or by such tactics as post-experimental questioning of subjects to see if they have
guessed the experimental hypothesis (Kosslyn, for one, routinely throws out data from subjects who guess this correctly). However, Pylyshyn
is not saying that what might otherwise be meaningful experimental results are contaminated by the effects of demand characteristics, so
such decontamination tactics are not very relevant. Rather, the problem lies with the basic conceptualization of the phenomena and the
experimental tasks (by experimenter and subject alike).
Of course, Pylyshyn was far from the first person to raise objections to the idea of inner pictures, or to criticize the standard interpretations of
imagery experiments. What made his critique particularly effective was that he began, both in his 1973 article and in subsequent writings

(e.g., Pylyshyn, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2003b), to sketch out an alternative, non-pictorial account of the nature of mental imagery. Instead of
being like pictorial representations of a visual scene, he suggested, images might better be thought of as being a sort of description
(sometimes referred to as a structural description) of that scene. At last, there seemed to be a viable alternative to the pictorial conception of
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imagery that had dominated folk, philosophical, and psychological thinking about imagery since ancient times. Philosophers such as
Shorter (1952) and Dennett (1969) (who both base their position on the oft repeated, but almost certainly unsound, argument from image
indeterminacy, or tiger's stripes argument) had anticipated Pylyshyn in suggesting that mental images might be more like descriptions than
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pictures. However, Pylyshyn was able to make the idea much more concrete and plausible by linking it with concepts of the nature of
mental representation that were emerging from Artificial Intelligence research. Particularly important for Pylyshyn was the work of Simon
(1972) and Newell (1972), and their students Baylor (1973) and Moran (1973), who had already made some progress in devising symbol
systems suitable for the computational representation of the spatial structure of simple layouts or objects (such as rectangular blocks). They
explicitly presented these representations as models of the image representations that people use in doing certain visuo-spatial cognitive
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tasks. By presenting these ideas as the germ of an alternative to the venerable but highly problematic conception of images as inner
pictures, Pylyshyn was able to make a powerful case.
In his original (1973) article, Pylyshyn alludes to a number of disparate schemes developed by various computer scientists, for the
computational representation of visual information, and it is perhaps not altogether clear what these have in common as alternatives to a
pictorial conception of imagery. This was very much clarified, however, when Fodor (1975) introduced the hypothesis ofmentalese, the
language of thought (see Language of Thought Hypothesis), a syntactically structured representational system innate to the human brain,
which Fodor argued, was, in some form, implicitly required by all coherent computational functionalist theories of cognition. The vocabulary
and syntax of mentalese (if it exists) remain unknown, but they are likely to be very different from those of English or any other natural
(actually spoken) language. Nevertheless, Fodor holds that any cognitive theory capable of accounting for the full range of human mental
capacities is bound to make appeal to some such inner language. Pylyshyn has embraced this hypothesis (Fodor & Pylyshyn, 1988), and, in
the light of that, we can say that his view of the nature of imagery is that it consists of descriptions, in mentalese, of visual objects or scenes.
(This means, of course, that Pylyshyn's positive view of imagery description theory is viable only if the controversial language of thought
hypothesis is true. However, many of Pylyshyn's objections to pictorial theories of imagery might still stand even if this were not the case.)
Fodor did not, however, embrace Pylyshyn's objections to pictorial mental imagery. Although he holds that pictorial representations are
not sufficient to support cognition on their own, and are probably dependent on associated mentalese representations for playing any
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cognitive roles that they do play, he nevertheless argues against some philosophical objections to mental pictures, and thinks that the
empirical evidence (from psychologists such as Paivio and Shepard) suggests that images do in fact play a real role in our cognitive processes
(Fodor, 1975 pp.174194).
It is sometimes objected that a description theory, like Pylyshyn's, is incompatible with the phenomenology of imagery (e.g., Fodor, 1975 p.
188). After all, having a mental image of a cat does not seem anything like reciting a description of a cat to oneself. However, this seems to
be based on having drawn too close an analogy between the mentalese descriptions intended by the theory and descriptions in English (or
other natural languages). In the first place, although we can be conscious of English sentences as such, we are (pretty much ex hypothesis)
never conscious of our mentalese representations as such, but only (at most) of what they represent. Thus there is no reason to expect that
entertaining a mentalese description would subjectively seem anything at all like reciting, or reading, or otherwise thinking of a description in
English. In the second place, Pylyshyn presumably holds (quite consistently with mainstream information processing theories of perception
(e.g., Marr, 1982)) that percepts, the end products of visual processing in the brain, are also mentalese descriptions. Thus his theory readily
accounts for the phenomenological similarity between imagery and perceptual experience. (If, as seems likely, the perceptual descriptions are
typically more detailed than those of imagery, this might also account for any phenomenological differences between imagery and
perception.)
This introspectively based argument against description theory, weak though it is, is often prelude to the even stronger claim that the
phenomenology of imagery directly supports the view that mental images are inner pictures. After all, it is said, in contrast to reciting a
description to oneself, having a mental image of (say) a cat does seem very much like seeing a picture of a cat. Although some people seem to
find this argument tempting (e.g., Sterelny, 1986; Lewis et al., 2011), it does not stand up to much examination (Block,1983a; Tye, 1991;
Thompson, 2007). There is little or nothing to the alleged similarity between the experience of having a mental image of a cat and that of
seeing a picture of a cat, apart from the fact that both these experiences in some ways resemble the experience of actually seeing a cat, and
both differ from it in that no cat need actually be present. Pictures and mental images also differ in important ways. It is generally possible,
for instance, to turn over a picture and look at its blank backside, to examine its surface for marks (such as scratches or dirt) that do not have
a depictive role, or to look at its flat surface from an oblique angle so that what it depicts appears distorted. You cannot do such things with a
mental image. (You can of course, imagine looking at a picture in those ways, but then you are not turning over your mental image in your
mind, or looking at its surface, rather, you are forming an image of a picture being turned over, of the back of the picture, or an image of a
pictures surface as seen in a certain way.) It is true that pictures (paintings, drawings, photographs, videos, etc.) provide a familiar and
relatively well understood example of how we can have an experience as of seeing something that is not actually present. Indeed, pictures
(and sculptures) may be our only familiar example of this, apart from mental imagery itself. However, it does not follow that mental images
must therefore be a species of picture. The easy analogy may be a false one. Mental images, after all, are not similar to pictures in many other
respects: you cannot turn them over and look at the back of them; they do not need to be in front of your eyes for you to see them; they do not
normally seem to be located on a surface; and there is little reason to think that they are normally flat (and, indeed, good reason, experimental

as well as introspective, to think otherwise (Shepard & Metzler, 1971; Pinker & Kosslyn, 1978; Pinker, 1980; Pinker & Finke,1980; Kerr,
1987)).

4.4.2 The Defense of Analog Imagery


In fact, neither Paivio nor Shepard, who were undoubtedly the best known imagery researchers at the time Pylyshyn published his initial
(1973) critique, were committed to the straightforward picture theory of imagery that he seemed to be criticizing. Paivio, in response to
Pylyshyn, quite explicitly rejected the picture metaphor (and related ones, such as the photograph and the wax impression), and suggested,
instead, that imagery is a dynamic process more like active perceptionthan a passive recorder of experience (Paivio, 1977).
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(Unfortunately, however, that is about as explicit as he ever gets about his positive view of the nature of imagery.) Shepard, although he
continued to write about the analog nature of image representations, and to insist on the second order isomorphism between objects and
the brain processes that constitute mental images of them (Shepard, 1975, 1978b, 1981, 1984), was also very wary of the picture metaphor,
suggesting instead that imagery was related to perceptual anticipation or readiness to recognize (Shepard, 1978b; cf. Cooper, 1976).
Two other important early critics of Pylyshyn's position were Ulric Neisser and Ronald Finke. Neisser developed the notion of imagery as
perceptual readiness or anticipation into a theory of imagery explicitly opposed to both the picture and description theories (Neisser, 1976,
1978a, b; 1979 see section 4.5 below). Finke's experimental work on visual illusions and aftereffects induced by imagery (Finke, 1979,
1989 ch. 2; Finke & Schmidt, 1977, 1978) suggested that Pylyshyn was wrong to argue that imagery does not make use of the cognitively
[35]
impenetrable mechanisms of early visual processing, and he argued that there is evidence for functional equivalences between imagery
and perception (i.e., shared mechanisms) at multiple levels or stages of perceptual processing (Finke, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1989).
Neither Paivio nor Shepard, nor, indeed, Neisser, shared the assumptions of the computational functionalist framework from within which
Pylyshyn was arguing: Paivio developed a metatheoretical framework that remained rooted in Behaviorist empiricism, and which he called
neomentalism or behavioral mentalism (1975c, 1986); Shepard speculated about the neural basis of imagery in a style reminiscent of the
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speculative neuroscience of Gestalt field theory (Shepard, 1981, 1984); and Neisser aligned himself with the ecological psychology of J.J.
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Gibson (1966, 1979). In this regard, Pylyshyn was much more in step than they were with the direction in which cognitive science was
going at the time. However, Stephen Kosslyn soon intervened in the debate, proposing a theory of visual imagery that was both explicitly
computational and overtly pictorialist (or, as he prefers, quasi-pictorial), based on an analogy with computer graphics programs (which were
[38]
a fairly new thing back then) (Kosslyn, 1975). Before long, a flood of theoretical and empirical publications from Kosslyn and his
collaborators, including several books (Kosslyn, 1980, 1983, 1994; Kosslyn & Koenig, 1992), had established him as clearly the pre-eminent
figure of the debate, alongside Pylyshyn. As the leading figures on each side were now both firmly wedded to the theoretical framework of
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computational functionalism, the debate's scope was, in practice, greatly narrowed by this development, even as its intensity and
contentiousness (and notoriety) grew. It developed not into an open ended inquiry into the nature and causes of imagery, but a manichean
struggle between the computational pictorialism championed by Kosslyn and his supporters, and the computational description theory still
most ably and enthusiastically represented by Pylyshyn.
In what remains one of the most effective critiques of Pylyshyn's position, Kosslyn & Pomerantz (1977; see also Kosslyn, 1980 ch. 1),
besides going point-by-point through Pylyshyn's original (1973) arguments, and answering many of them very persuasively, go on to
compare how a description theory and a quasi-pictorial theory like that proposed by Kosslyn (1975) might respectively explain various
alleged imagery effects such as mental rotation, selective interference, and the mental scanning and size/inspection time effects discovered
by Kosslyn himself. (It ought to be noted, however, that this discussion largely depends on the speculative ascription of straw-man accounts
of these, at the time newly discovered, effects to Pylyshyn, or to description theorists in general. In fact, Pylyshyns actual, subsequently
published, account of mental scanning, for example (Pylyshyn, 1981, 2002a), does not resemble the straw-man set up by Kosslyn &
Pomerantz in the least; neither, so far as I am aware, has any other theorist ever seriously defended anything remotely resembling it. Despite
this, Kosslyn has continued to set up and knock down this same straw-man, as a centerpiece of his critique of propositional theory, in
subsequent writings (e.g., Kosslyn, 1994 pp. 8 & 12; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006 p. 28)). The general conclusion reached by Kosslyn
& Pomerantz was that description (propositional) theories could only explain these effects by making ad hoc auxiliary assumptions about
how the propositional (mentalese) code is organized and processed, whereas the explanations of quasi-pictorial theory flow naturally from the
core theory itself. Indeed, they pointed out, it was pictorial conceptions of imagery, not propositional ones, that had suggested to
psychologists that these effects might exist, and that it would be worthwhile devising experiments to confirm them. Pictorial theories had
shown themselves to be scientifically fruitful in a way that description theories had not.
On the face of things, description theory predicts that imagery should depend upon the mechanisms and brain structures that subserve
conceptual, non-imaginal thought, and not those that subserve perception. Indeed, one of Pylyshyn's favorite arguments against pictorial
images turns on his view that perception (but not imagery) depends upon a cognitively impenetrable, highly modularized cognitive system
(see section 4.4.1). Thus it can be (and has been) argued that it is difficult, or at the least very awkward, for the description theorist to account
for a wealth of empirical findings from neuroscience research that indicate that there is a good deal of overlap between the neural structures
and cognitive mechanisms involved in imagery and those involved in perception (Kosslyn, 1994, 2005; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006;
Kosslyn & Thompson, 2003; Bartolomeo, 2002; Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001; Kreiman, Koch, & Freid, 2000; Bisiach & Berti, 1990;
Farah, 1988). Although a strong case can be made that (despite superficial appearances) these neuroscientific findings do not provide strong
evidence in favor of the quasi-pictorial (or any other pictorial) theory of imagery (Thomas, 1999b; Abell & Currie, 1999; Pylyshyn, 2002a,b,
2003a,b; Bartolomeo, 2002), it does not follow that description theory can readily assimilate them.

(Incidentally, although it was once widely believed that visual imagery in humans was primarily a function of the right hemisphere of the
brain (e.g., Ley, 1983), more recent research contradicts this. It now appears that imagery involves structures on both sides of the brain, with,
if anything, the lefthemisphere playing a slightly more extensive role (Ehrlichman & Barrett, 1983; Farah, 1984, 1995; Sergent, 1990;
Tippett, 1992; Trojano & Grossi, 1994; Loverock & Modigliani, 1995; Michimata, 1997).)
As well as having continued to duel with Pylyshyn and other critics, Kosslyn has continued to develop his quasi-pictorial theory of imagery,
initially as a computational model (Kosslyn & Shwartz, 1977, 1978; Kosslyn, Pinker, Smith, & Shwartz, 1979: Kosslyn, 1980, 1981), and
latterly as a neurological one (Kosslyn, 1988, 1994, 2005; Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006). He
calls the theory quasi-pictorial, to avoid the implication that he thinks images are pictures in too literal and implausible a sense. Quasipictures are not the sort of thing that can be hung on a wall (Kosslyn, 1978b), and you do not need actual eyes inside the head looking at them
in order to experience them. Nevertheless, they remain like pictures in many important respects. It remains controversial whether there can be
a coherent notion of a quasi-picture that both retains the explanatorily useful properties of true pictures (such as their inherent spatiality, and
their capacity to cause visual experiences as of what they represent) and, at the same time, lacks those properties that make it impossible for
true pictures to be mental, or even neural, representations (such as needing to be illuminated and before our eyes in order to be experienced).
It is clearly Pylyshyn's opinion that there is no such notion, and that much of the superficial plausibility of quasi-pictorial theory depends
upon an equivocation between the relatively well understood concept of a picture in the everyday sense, and the essentially non-pictorial
notion of an array data structure (Pylyshyn, 1981, 2002a, 2003b). The literal picture in the head theory appeals to our folk-theoretical
intuitions, makes interesting predictions, and has the resources to be genuinely explanatory, but it is demonstrably false. On the other hand,
the data-structure theory (to which quasi-pictorialists retreat when literal pictorialism is challenged) is really just a version of Pylyshyn's own
description theory, and, properly understood, has none of the special intuitive, explanatory, or predictive advantages that picture theorists
claim for their views. Any apparent similarity between pictures and two-dimensional array data structures is, according to Pylyshyn, no more
than an artifact of the way we customarily present such arrays on paper (or screen) for the benefit of human eyes. It has nothing to do with
their actual mathematical properties, or with how they might function in cognition.
Despite Pylyshyn's criticisms, however, many philosophers have clearly been impressed by Kosslyn's work. Some have directly defended the
quasi-pictorial theory of imagery, attempting to clarify the notion of a quasi-picture, and to show that it has real content (von Eckardt, 1984,
1988, 1993; Tye, 1988, 1991; Cohen, 1996). Others are more circumspect, or less committed to the specifics of Kosslyn's theory, but are now
persuaded to countenance the possibility of picture-like mental representations of some sort (e.g. Sober, 1976; Block, 1981a, 1981b, 1983a,
1983b; Bower, 1984; Sterelny, 1986; Rollins, 1989, 2001; Mortensen, 1989; Dennett, 1991; Brann, 1991). Yet others, however, for reasons
discussed in the previous section (and the following supplement), remain entirely unpersuaded (e.g., Heil, 1982, 1998; White, 1990; Slezak,
1993, 1995, 2002; Thomas, 1997a, 1999b, 2002, 2003, 2009; Bennett & Hacker, 2003).
Further discussion of the analog-propositional debate:
Supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery, and its Problems

4.5 Beyond Pictures and Propositions


Reading most of the recent philosophical literature on imagery (and, it must be admitted, most of the broader cognitive science literature,
especially textbooks) one might easily form the impression that quasi-pictures and "propositional" descriptions are the only possible
theoretical models for imagery, or, at least, the only ones ever seriously proposed or considered. This is not the case, however.The analogpropositional debate arose, and was at its height, in the 1970s, when cognitive theories based upon symbolic computation seemed to many to
be the only game in town in cognitive science (Fodor, 1975; Haugeland, 1978), and the quasi-pictorial and propositional models are both
products of this mileu. Even in the 70s, however, a number of alternative, non-computational accounts of imagery were being put forward.
On the one hand, Taylor (1973) and Skinner (1974) looked for ways to assimilate imagery into Behaviorism. On the other, several cognitive
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psychologists suggested versions of what may be called enactive (or sensorimotor, orperceptual activity) imagery theories (Hochberg,
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1968; Hebb, 1968, 1969; Gibson, 1970, 1979; Juhasz 1969, 1972; Sarbin & Juhasz, 1970; Sarbin, 1972; Neisser, 1976, 1978a, b). Although
this work had little impact at the time, more recently, spurred by related developments in perceptual theory, there has been some revival of
interest in theories of this type.

4.5.1 Enactive Theories of Perception and Imagery


Enactive theories of imagery may be seen as modern successors to the motor theories of the early twentieth century (see Supplement: The
American Response: Behaviorist Iconophobia and Motor Theories of Imagery). They depend the idea that perception is not mere passive
receptivity (or even receptivity plus inner processing), but a form of action, something done by the organism (Thomas 1999b, 2014 5;
ORegan & No, 2001; Findlay & Gilchrist, 2003; No 2004, 2009; Land & Tatler, 2009; ORegan, 2011). The perceiving organism is not
merely registering but exploring and asking questions of its environment (Ellis, 1995), actively and intentionally (though not necessarily with
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conscious volition) seeking out the answers in the sensory stimuli that surround it. Imagery is then experienced when someone persists in
acting out the seeking of some particular information even though they cannot reasonably expect it to be there. We have imagery of, say, a
cat, when we go through (some of) the motions of looking at something and determining that it is a cat, even though there is no cat (and
perhaps nothing relevant at all) there to be seen. Visually imagining a cat is seeing nothing-in-particular as a cat (Thomas, 1999b, 2003, 2009;
cf. Ishiguro, 1967).

Farley (1974, 1976) developed a computer simulation inspired by Hochberg's version of enactive theory, and Hampson & Morris (1978,
1979; Morris & Hampson, 1983) discussed and critiqued Neisser's version (which was undoubtedly the most detailed). However, with those
exceptions, in the 1970s and 80s the enactive approach to imagery attracted very little attention. It was not just that these non-computational
theories seemed irrelevant to psychologists and philosophers whose focus was on integrating imagery into the prevalent (symbolic, GOFAI
(Haugeland, 1985)) computational model of the mind. More specifically, the enactive theories do not fit comfortably, if at all, into the
framework of computational information processing theory that shaped most scientists' thinking about perception and perceptual experience.
Information processing theories come in many varieties, but they all, broadly speaking, depict the sense organs as passive transducers of
stimulus energies (light, sound, etc.), whose outputs are then computationally processed and enriched, in the brain, into meaningful mental
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representations (Lindsay & Norman, 1972; Haber, 1974; Frisby, 1979; Marr, 1982; Pylyshyn, 2003b; Boothe, 2002). Kosslyn's quasipictorial theory and Pylyshyn's description theory of imagery were both designed to fit this framework. They differ merely in that Kosslyn
holds that the representations comprising imagery are formed at an early stage of visual processing, whereas Pylyshyn holds that they are
formed at a late stage. This difference, however, gave rise to the impassioned analog-propositional debate, whose sound and fury only served
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to further distract attention from theoretical alternatives that did not fit the information processing paradigm.
But it is well known that GOFAI style symbolic computationalism did not remain the only game in town in cognitive science for long.
Since the mid 1980s its hegemony has been repeatedly challenged, first by connectionism (e.g., Rumelhart, McClelland et al., 1986; Clarke,
1989), then by various versions of situated or embodied approaches to cognition (e.g., Varela et al., 1991; Smith, 1991; Clancey, 1997; Clark,
1997), by dynamical systems theory (e.g., Freeman & Skarda, 1990; Port & van Gelder, 1995; van Gelder, 1995; Garson, 1996), and by
cognitive neuroscience (e.g., Kosslyn & Koenig, 1992; Gazzaniga, 2004).
Connectionism did not challenge the information processing view of perception, however, and thus proved of little significance for imagery
theory, inspiring little more than a handful of variants of quasi-pictorial array theory (Julstrom & Baron, 1985; Mel, 1986, 1990; Stucki &
Pollack, 1992). The robotic system Murphy, designed by Mel (1990), has some interesting features in that it combines such a connectionist
model of visual imagery with a model of trial-and-error learning of motor control, wherein information in the putative image is used to
control the reaching behavior of a robotic arm (although it is not obvious that imagery, as distinct from visual perception, plays any such role
in human reaching). Grush (2004) adopts this model as the basis of his own account of visual mental imagery, within the wider context of his
emulation theory of cognition. Nevertheless, Mel and Grush continue to conceive of the image itself as being a two dimensional array of
elements, just as the quasi-pictorial theory of Kosslyn does, and, indeed, in support of their models both Mel and Grush follow Kosslyn in
appealing to evidence about the spatial properties of imagery and about the involvement of visual areas of the brain in imagery. Thus, despite
the fact that Mel and Grush situate their accounts of imagery in the context of motor control rather than of visual cognition, they remain
quasi-pictorial accounts, and are, in most respects, considerably less developed than (though perhaps consistent with) the version of quasipictorial theory developed by Kosslyn. As such, they share most of the virtues of Kosslyn's version, and are subject to the same objections
(see supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery, and its Problems).
Dynamical systems theory has also had relatively little to say about imagery, although Freeman (1983) has sketched an account
of olfactory imagery in terms of neural dynamics. He explicitly distances himself from both sides of the analog-propositional debate, and
makes appeal instead to the concept of search image as used in the science of Behavioral Ecology. A search image is (to a first
approximation) a specific, learned recognitional capacity, or a form of selective attention, that leads a predator species to recognize and
preferentially prey upon members of the more abundant prey species in its environment, whilst largely failing to notice less abundant types of
potential prey (Tinbergen, 1960; Atema et al., 1980; Lawrence & Allen, 1983; Langley, 1996; Blough, 2002). However, it is less than clear
that Freeman is justified in conflating this concept of search imagewith that of mental image, as used in folk psychology and cognitive
science.
It is mainly the rise of situated and embodied approaches to cognition that has challenged the information processing approach to perception,
and enabled the re-emergence and further development of enactive imagery theory. During the 1980s, robotics researchers interested in
creating robots to operate in real wold environments were finding that getting a machine to process information from sensory transducers into
an internal representation of its surroundings that would provide a suitable basis for action planning was a very difficult computational
problem. Indeed, some became convinced that, even if it could be done in principle, in practice the process would be unacceptably slow,
unreliable, and computationally expensive (by the time the robot knew what was going on, things would have changed). Thus, there was a
turn toward active (or animate) techniques in robotic perception. Instead of attempting to build up detailed internal representations of
their environment, robots began to be designed to deploy their sensors purposively, to actively seek out just the specific information needed at
that particular moment for making an impending behavioral decision (e.g., Bajcsy, 1988; Ballard, 1991; Blake & Yuille, 1992; Aloimonos,
1993; Swain & Stricker, 1993; Nolfi & Marocco, 2002; Lungarella & Sporns, 2006; Suzuki & Floreano, 2008; Rasolzadeh et al., 2010;
Seekircher et al., 2011; Chen et al., 2011; Aydemir et al., 2013).
At around the same time, a number of neuroscientists, perceptual psychologists, and philosophers began, for diverse reasons, to converge on a
similar view of human vision (Ramachandran, 1990; O'Regan, 1992; Churchland et al., 1994; Akins, 1996; Cotterill, 1997; Thomas, 1999b,
2009; Hayhoe, 2000; O'Regan & No, 2001; No, 2002, 2004, 2009). Studies of (amongst other things) exploratory perceptual behaviors
such as eye movements (Yarbus, 1967; Noton & Stark, 1971a,b; Landy et al., 1996; Hayhoe & Ballard, 2005), and recently recognized
perceptual effects such aschange blindness (Grimes, 1996; Simons & Levin, 1997; O'Regan, 2003) and inattentional blindness (Neisser &
Becklen, 1975; Mack & Rock, 1998, 1999; Simons & Chabris, 1999; Eitam et al., 2013; Hyman et al., 2014), cast doubt on the traditional
idea that a rich and detailed inner representation of the visual scene mediates our visual consciousness. Instead, some now argue that

perception depends on a multitude of special purpose neural and behavioral structures and/or routines (Ullman, 1984; Ramachandran, 1990;
Thomas, 1999b, 2009; Roelfsema et al., 2000; Hayhoe, 2000; Roelfsema, 2005), each of which actively utilizes the sensory transducers
(eyes, ears, etc.) in a different way in order to obtain specific types of information as and when needed. We do not have our sense of the
immediate perceptual presence of the world because we have a representation of it in our heads, but rather because these routines operate (for
the most part) so quickly and effortlessly that virtually as soon as we want to know some perceptually available fact, we are able to discover
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it.
Although this way of thinking about perception remains a minority view, and certainly does not dominate perceptual theory in the way that
information processing theory once did, it has nevertheless created a theoretical space in which an enactive/motor theory of imagery can be
more plausibly entertained, and various versions of such theory have indeed been broached again, by thinkers from a diverse range of
disciplines (Thomas, 1987, 1997b, 1999b, 2009, 2014; Newton, 1993, 1996; Ellis, 1995; Ramachandran & Hirstein, 1997 p. 442; Marks,
1990, 1999; Bartolomeo, 2002; Bartolomeo & Chokron, 2002; Blain, 2006; Sima, 2011, 2013, 2014; Sima & Freksa, 2012; De Preester,
2012; Agnati et al., 2013; Troscianko, 2010, 2013, 2014a,b; Bartolomeo et al., 2013). Thomas (1999b) argues that enactive theory can
explain experimental cognitive psychology's findings about imagery (see sections 4.2 and 4.3 above) at least as well as the betterknown quasi-pictorial and propositional/description theories, and, indeed, that it handles the facts about imagery in the blind and image
reconstrual (see Supplement: The Quasi-Pictorial Theory of Imagery) in a more principled and plausible way than they do. It has also been
argued that enactive theory can provide a more satisfactory explanation of the neurological evidence about imagery (i.e., the ways imagery
experience and abilities may be impacted by various forms of brain damage), and, in particular, the syndrome of representational
neglect (see Supplement: Representational Neglect) than other theories can (Bartolomeo, 2002; Bartolomeo & Chokron, 2002; Dulin et al.,
2008).
Other relevant evidence comes from studies of eye movements during imagery. Saccades are quick, mostly unconscious, flicks of the eyes,
which are now known to play an important role not only in vision, but in visual imagery as well. In normal human vision they occur, on
average, three or more times every second (Richardson & Spivey, 2004; Holmqvist et al., 2011), and play a vital role in our visual system's
exploration of the visual world, and the extraction of information from it. The pattern of our saccadic movements is purposeful, under
cognitive control, and depends both on what we are looking at, and on what visual information we hope to obtain, on the purpose behind our
looking (Yarbus, 1967; Noton & Stark, 1971a,b; Stark & Ellis, 1981; Findlay & Gilchrist, 2003; Hayhoe & Ballard, 2005; Rucci et al., 2007;
Rothkopf et al., 2007; Martinez-Conde & Macknik, 2007; Trommershuser et al., 2009). Although the scientific study of saccades began well
over a century ago, in recent years technological advances in eye-tracking technology have led to a rapid growth in understanding and
appreciation of the large role that they play in human vision (Richardson & Spivey, 2004; Wade & Tatler, 2005; Holmqvist et al., 2011;
Thomas, 2014 5). It has also become apparent that saccades (and perhaps other types of eye movement too) play a significant role in visual
mental imagery. Numerous recent experimental studies have shown that, when people hold a visual image in mind, they spontaneously and
unconsciously make saccadic eye movements that (at least partially) enact the stimulus-specific pattern of such movements that they would
make if actually looking at the equivalent visual stimulus (Brandt & Stark, 1997; Demarais & Cohen, 1998; Spivey et al., 2000; Spivey &
Geng, 2001; Gbadamosi & Zangemeister, 2001; Laeng & Teodorescu, 2002; deSperati, 2003; Johansson et al., 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012;
Humphrey & Underwood, 2008; Holnov, 2010; Holnov et al., 2010; Sima et al., 2010; Bourlon et al., 2011; Fourtassi et al., 2011,
2013; Johansson, 2013; Johansson & Johansson, 2014; Laeng et al., 2014; see also Clark, 1916; Jacobson, 1932; Totten, 1935; Altmann,
2004; Martarelli & Mast, 2011).
Furthermore, imagery is disrupted (to a greater or lesser degree) if someone who is holding an image in their mind either restrains themselves
(to the limited degree that this is possible) from making eye movements, or else deliberately moves their eyes in an image-irrelevant way,
thus disrupting the spontaneous saccadic pattern (Antrobus et al., 1964; Singer & Antrobus, 1965; Sharpley et al., 1996; Andrade et al., 1997;
Ruggieri, 1999; van den Hout et al., 2001, 2011; Kavanagh et al., 2001; Laeng & Teodorescu, 2002; Barrowcliff et al., 2004; Postle et al.,
2006; Kemps & Tiggemann, 2007; Maxfield et al., 2008; Lee & Drummond, 2008; Gunter & Bodner, 2008; Lilley et al., 2009; Jonikaitis et
al., 2009; Engelhard et al., 2010, 2011; Laeng et al., 2014). This issue has been much researched lately, not so much because of its
significance for our understanding of imagery, but because of its possible relevance to the understanding of the psychotherapeutic technique
known as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is widely used in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder (PTSD), and which may perhaps owe its effectiveness largely to the fact that deliberate eye movements tend to disrupt any
concurrent imagery. In EMDR treatment, patients are induced to deliberately move their eyes back and forth whilst visually recalling the
events that have traumatized them; it is claimed that this leads to a significant reduction in the vividness of their memories of those events,
and of the distress, and consequent symptoms, that those memories cause (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b, 2001; Shapiro & Forrest, 1997; Mollon,
2005). Studies of therapeutic outcomes seem to bear out claims for EMDRs effectiveness (Carlson et al., 1998; Van Etten & Taylor, 1998;
Shepherd et al., 2000; Power et al., 2002; Ironson et al., 2002; Bradley et al., 2005; APA, 2006; Bisson et al., 2007; Hgberg et al., 2007,
2008; van der Kolk et al., 2007; Rodenburg et al., 2009; Kemp et al., 2010).
Although the mechanisms and real therapeutic effectiveness of EMDR remain controversial (for negative opinions, see: Lohr et al., 1998,
1999; McNally, 1999; Herbert et al., 2000; Davidson & Parker, 2001; Taylor et al., 2003; Justman, 2011; for defenses and more positive
assessments see: Perkins & Rouanzoin, 2002; Schubert & Lee, 2009; Gunter & Bodner, 2009; Cukor et al., 2010), the disruptive effect of
deliberate eye movement upon visual imagery appears to be well established, and it implies that the eye movements that spontaneously occur
when people visualize things (or, at the least, the brain processes that initiate and control these movements) are not mere accompaniments or
epiphenomena of the imagery, but are (as enactive theory would lead one to expect) a true, functionally significant part of the physiological

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process that embodies it. (However, Mast & Kosslyn (2002b) argue that the eye-movement evidence can also be accommodated to quasi[47]
pictorial theory. )
Kosslyn, Thompson, Sukel, & Alpert (2005; see also Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis, 2006 pp. 9092) report an experiment in which subjects
were asked to recall mental images of simple geometrical arrangements while PET scans of their brains were taken. Although all subjects
formed images of the same figures, some originally formed them on the basis of verbal descriptions, whereas others were shown separate
segments of the entire structure to be visualized, and asked to assemble them mentally into the complete figure. The PET scan was not taken
at the time the images were originally formed in one or other of these ways, but when they were later recalled. According to the
experimenters, enactive theory holds that when someone recalls a mental image they re-enact what they did at the time of its original
formation, and since the two subject groups originally formed their images in very different ways, the theory predicts that the two groups
should display radically different patterns of brain activation at the time of recall. In fact, however, no marked differences were seen.
This is claimed to constitute a refutation of the enactive theory. It rests, however, on a demonstrable misunderstanding of the theory. No
version of enactive imagery theory holds (either explicitly or implicitly) what these experimenters claim it holds: that recall of mental
imagery is constituted by re-enactment of whatever was the original act of image formation. What enactive theory in fact holds is that
imagery (recalled or otherwise) is constituted by (partial) enactment of the perceptual acts that would be carried out if one were actually
perceiving whatever is being imagined(Johansson et al., 2010, 2012; Laeng et al., 2014). It is true that in the most straightforward and
paradigmatic case of mental image formation the direct recall of an earlier perceptual experience of something enactment of what
one would be doing if actually perceiving that thing is equivalent to re-enactment of what one did during the original perceptual episode.
However, this equivalence clearly breaks down in most other circumstances, including those of the experiment in question. Since both groups
of subjects in the experiment under discussion were supposed to be recalling an image of the same geometrical pattern when their brains were
scanned, enactive theory actually predicts that the neural activity due to the recalled image should be much the same in each group, just as
was found.
Quite apart from empirical evidence, certain distinctively philosophical advantages have been claimed for enactive theory. It has been
suggested that it is better able than its rivals to explain imaginal consciousness (Ellis, 1995; Thomas, 1999b, 2001, 2009; Bartolomeo, 2002),
and Thomas (1987, 1997a, 1999b, 2014) argues that enactive theory can provide the basis for an understanding of the concept of imagination,
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whereas quasi-pictorial theory and description theory cannot (see also: Blain, 2006; Agnati et al., 2013; Thomas, 2014). Troscianko (2010,
2013, 2014a,b) appears to agree, and, rejecting picture theory, uses the enactive theory of imagery as a framework for her investigation into
how literary texts can imaginatively affect their readers. Traditionally, both philosophers and the folk have thought of the imagination as a
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mental faculty responsible both for mental imagery, and for the most admired forms of artistic (and other) creativity. Unfortunately, neither
picture nor description theories of imagery seem capable of providing a satisfactory account of how one mental faculty could be responsible
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for both these things (which may go some way toward explaining why many recent philosophers doubt whether there is any such faculty ).
However, Thomas (1997a; 1999b, 2014) argues that enactive theory depicts both imagery and creative thinking as manifestations of the more
basic imaginative capacity of intentionalistic perception (or seeing as). Implicit in the argument is the notion that certain types of creative
insights should be associated with changes in the ways that relevant perceptions are enacted; experimental findings by Thomas & Lleras
(2007, 2009; Thomas, 2011) (no relation) lend this idea some support.
It has also been suggested (Newton, 1993, 1996; Thomas, 1999b, 2003, 2009; see also Heil, 1998 ch. 6) that, because it regards imagery not
as a form of representational inscription (whether pictorial or descriptive), but as a form of action, enactive theory may be able to account for
the intentionality of imagery without making appeal either to the controversial language of thought hypothesis, or to the widely discredited
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(see section 3.3) resemblance theory of representation.
However, if mental images are (as just about everybody believes) a species of mental representation, these latter claims are at odds with the
idea that mental representations are token identical to brain states. The majority of cognitive scientists (and sympathetic philosophers) remain
firmly committed to that idea, and perhaps it is largely for that reason that enactive theory remains a minority viewpoint. Certainly it has yet
to receive anything like the amount of attention (either supportive or critical) that experimenters and theorists have devoted to quasi-pictorial
and description theories.
Further discussion:
Supplement: Representational Neglect

4.6 The Return of the Imagery Theory of Cognition?


The analog-propositional debate and the enactive theory of imagery concern themselves primarily with the nature and underlying
mechanisms of the phenomenon, and have thus had relatively little direct impact on views about the function of imagery in cognition. In fact,
both of the best known cognitive theories of imagery, the quasi-pictorial theory of Kosslyn (1980, 1994, 2005; Kosslyn, Thompson, & Ganis,
2006) (especially as philosophically glossed by Tye (1991)), and the description theory of Pylyshyn (1973, 1978, 2003b), portray imagery as
embedded within and dependent upon a more fundamental, language-like mental representational system, mentalese, from which it derives
much or all of its semantic content. Thus neither of these theories did much to challenge the post-Wittgensteinian consensus (see section 3.3)
that continues to give imagery, at most, a minor, auxiliary role in cognition, with most of the burden being carried by either natural language
or the more basic and more flexible representations of the hypothetical mentalese.

Some neuroscientists and psychologists have been little moved by this consensus. Damasio (1994), for example, takes it for granted that
mental representations are imagistic; Bisiach & Berti (1990) and Edelman (1992) argue that mentalese (but not image) representations are
neuroscientifically implausible; and Paivio (e.g., 1971, 1986, 2007; Paivio & Begg, 1981; Sadoski & Paivio, 2001) elaborates a
comprehensive theory of cognition entirely in terms of image and natural language representations, and holds that that the representational
power of language derives from that of imagery (see Supplement: Dual Coding and Common Coding Theories of Memory). However, as
these authors did rather little to address the arguments that have led most contemporary philosophers to think that imagery cannot be
representationally basic, their views (in this regard) have had relatively little impact on philosophy.
However, more recently those arguments have been challenged by philosophers such as Lowe (1995, 1996, 2005), Nyri (2001), and Ellis
(1995). Ellis outlines a theory of how the meaningfulness of language may be grounded in imagery that appears to meet at least some of the
stock objections (see section 3.3, and Thomas, 1997b). The arguments are also addressed, at least in part, by Barsalou and his collaborators,
who have proposed a theory of what they call perceptual symbol systems as an alternative to the language-like, amodal (mentalese)
symbol systems of traditional cognitive science (Barsalou, 1993, 1999; Barsalou & Prinz, 1997; Barsalou et al., 2003; Kan et al., 2003).
Although Barsalou denies that the perceptual symbols of his theory can be straightforwardly equated with mental images (mainly because he
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holds that they may sometimes be active in cognitive processes without our being conscious of them) he clearly conceives of them in a way
very close to traditional conceptions of imagery, and certainly as being the immediate causes of our imagery experience when we actually do
have it.
Barsalou holds that the neural basis of his perceptual symbols is a neural simulation of the brain processes that would be involved in the
actual perception of whatever it is that is being symbolized. Others, such as Currie (1995; Currie & Ravenscroft, 1997; Abell & Currie, 1999)
and Hesslow (2002), have also suggested that imagery is best understood as a simulation of perception. However,quasi-pictorial, enactive,
and probably even propositional/descriptional theories of imagery can all reasonably be classed as simulative theories in the relevant sense
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(see Nichols et al., 1996), so it is not clear that this suggestion advances our understanding of the nature of imagery very much. In any case,
Barsalou's main interest is not in the nature of imagery, but in how perceptual symbols might function in cognition to do the jobs that others
have thought can only be done by a more language-like system of representations, such as representing logical relations and propositions (as
opposed to just representing things). His detailed suggestions about these questions have aroused much interest.
Perhaps inspired by Barsalou's work, Prinz (2002; see also Gallese & Lakoff, 2005) has recently made a detailed defense of something very
like the traditional Empiricist theory of concepts (usually, although not invariably, interpreted as the view that concepts are images (see
section2.3.3)). Like Barsalou (and, indeed, Locke), he does not take any strong position as to the inherentnature of images or perceptual
symbols (and thus avoids embroiling himself in the analog-propositional debate and its aftermath). Instead, he confines himself to trying to
show that it is plausible that our fundamental concepts are perceptual in their genesis and character, a view that he is quite happy to
acknowledge is very close to the traditional imagery theory of cognition. Prinz deals ingeniously with many of the standard philosophical
objections to theories of this sort, and he sidesteps what has been the main philosophical objection to image theories of concepts by avoiding
committing himself to the resemblance theory of representation (see section 3.3 above). Instead, he suggests that his account of perceptual
representations can be combined with a version of the causal (or covariation) theory of intentional content developed by Fodor (1990, 1994),
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Dretske (1995, 2000), and others. However, it remains open to question whether such a causal theory can work (Cummins, 1997; Horst,
1996, 1999).
Gauker (2011), by contrast, aligns himself more closely with the mainstream of twentieth century philosophy (see section 3.3) in arguing that
concepts (or ideas) cannot be identified with, or directly derived from, images, and are dependent upon a shared language, rather than being
prior to it. Nevertheless, he holds that mental imagery plays a crucial role in human cognition and its development, because it forms the basis
of a non-conceptual type of thought (unfortunately, as he admits (Gauker, 2011 p. 145f.), one that is scarcely acknowledged by contemporary
psychological science) that not only plays a continuing role in human thinking, but also makes the learning of a first language by infants, and
the continuing use of language, and thus the development and use of true concepts, possible. This enables him to avoid extravagant
hypotheses, such as the positing of an innate, conceptual, and semantically rich, but introspectively inaccessible, language of thought, that
other philosophers, such as Fodor (1975) have held to be necessary components of any adequate theory of language and learning and
understanding (although, of course, some might consider Gaukers conception of non-conceptual but instrumentally powerful imagistic
thought to be an extravagant or ill-founded hypothesis in its own right).
Other recent work has sought to explore the relationship, or lack thereof, between current conceptions of mental imagery and the more
resonant, but more nebulous, notion of imagination(and related, or putatively related phenomena or concepts such as dreams, hallucinations,
insight,and creativity) (White, 1990; Brann, 1991; Finke et al., 1992; Thomas, 1997a,b, 1999a,b, 2006, 2014; Kind, 2001; McGinn, 2004;
Blain, 2006). Perhaps the most ambitious claims in this regard are those of Arp (2005, 2008), who comes at the matter from the controversial
perspective ofevolutionary psychology. Arp suggests that an innate, evolved capacity for what he calls scenario visualization (which is
perhaps a similar notion the imagistic thinking championed by Gauker) is unique to the human species, and is the crucial factor that has
made our high-level creative problem-solving abilities possible. From this perspective, it is in large part thanks to our capacity to form and
manipulate mental imagery that humankind has been able to out-compete rival species, and develop our complex cultures and technologies.