Consciousness, and Cognition:
Scientific, Philosophical and Historical Approaches.
A resource for the study of imagination and mental images and their relevance
to the understanding of consciousness and cognition, as approached primarily
through the methods of analytical philosophy, experimental psychology, cognitive
science, and the history of ideas/intellectual history.
Imagination is what makes our sensory experience meaningful, enabling us to interpret
and make sense of it, whether from a conventional perspective or from a fresh, original, individual
one. It is what makes perception more than the mere physical stimulation of sense organs. It also
produces mental imagery, visual and otherwise, which is what makes it possible for us to think
outside the confines of our present perceptual reality, to consider memories of the past and possibilities
for the future, and to weigh alternatives against one another. Thus, imagination makes possible
all our thinking about what is, what has been, and, perhaps most important, what might be.[Note]
Nigel J.T. Thomas
This "quote" was
solicited from me by the editor of a "lifestyle" magazine called AfterFive that
was supposed to begin publication in late 2002 or early 2003. It was going to be included in a
brief feature on Imagination that was planned for the first issue, possibly along with
a few words about me and my work (they even asked me for a photo!). However, AfterFive seems
never actually to have appeared. I did not hear from them after late 2002, and their Website disappeared
some time after that. Nevertheless, I am quite pleased with the "quote" I wrote for
them. Of course, any fool can make magniloquent claims about the imagination, and many do, but
I actually have arguments and evidence to back mine up. - N.J.T.T.
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Site created & maintained by
Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
I would like to put in links to more sites dealing with related topics, particularly imagination
and mental imagery approached from serious scientific, philosophical or historical
perspectives (there is plenty of consciousness and cognition on the
web already). If you have, or know of, any such sites, or if you have work that
you think might be appropriate to have made available here, please email me.
Also please email me with any comments or questions you
might have about this site or my work.I try to reply to most polite and relevant
queries, at least if I have something useful to say, but I cannot promise replies. Please
note that I am neither qualified nor willing to give medical or psychiatric
advice. I am not going to do your homework or class assignments for you either!
Each of the links listed below leads to an article of mine, or sometimes to
an abstract linked to the article itself. Items that have already been formally
published in refereed journals, books, etc., or are accepted for publication and
currently in press, are marked with an asterisk (*).
Most of the other items were presentations at academic conferences. Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
Visual Imagery and Consciousness.* (Expanded, Web-Only Version)
Published in the Encyclopedia
of Consciousness (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2009). Considers
whether imagery should be understood as a form of conscious experience
that can function as mental representation, or as a form of mental
representation that can sometimes be consciously experienced. Outlines
the history of ideas about the cognitive importance of conscious imagery,
and of attempts to study individual differences in the subjective imagery
experience. Describes the three basic types of imagery theory (picture
theory, description theory, and enactive/perceptual activity theory)
and considers their implications for our understanding of conscious
experience. It is argued that picture and description theories are
directly challenged by the "hard problem" of
consciousness, but that enactive theory may be able to circumvent it.
The expanded version now provided here
includes extensive citations and explanatory notes not included with the formally published version,
but retains the original, concise main text.
Mental Imagery from the Stanford Encyclopedia
A comprehensive account of the philosophical and scientific study
of mental imagery, and of its history, now very much revised and expanded,
compared to the very incomplete versions available before mid-2007. The
fact that some sections are presented as supplements is due to pressure
from the editors to keep the main entry from becoming too long. In
fact, however, the entry will be best understood if the supplements
are read at the positions they appear in on the main page, as if
they were regular subsections.
The topics now covered include: problems about definition of "mental imagery," and
the subtle but significant terminological problems that have bedeviled discussions
in the field; other quasi-perceptual phenomena; imagery in ancient times and
in other cultures; imagery in Classical and Early Modern philosophy; the history
of imagery research in scientific psychology before the advent of cognitive
science (i.e., the work of Wundt, James, Külpe and the Würzburg school, Titchener,
Perky, the imageless thought controversy, Jaensch's Nazi eidetics, Freud's
attitude to imagery, Gestalt psychology, motor theories of imagery, and the
behaviorist rejection of imagery); imagery in 20th century philosophy (especially
the views and influence of Wittgenstein); imagery in the cognitive revolution;
the mnemonic effects of imagery; Paivio's dual coding (imagery and
verbal) theory of human memory, and the conceptual issues it raises; experiments
on mental rotation and mental scanning, and other evidence that imagery has
inherently spatial characteristics; the problem of demand characteristics
in imagery experiments; the notorious "imagery debate" (a.k.a. the "analog-propositional" debate)
of the 1970s; Kosslyn's quasi-pictorial theory; and more recent theoretical
and empirical developments, including enactive (a.k.a. perceptual
activity) theory, research on the neurological syndrome of representational
neglect, and recent attempts to revive something very like the traditional
image theory of cognition. There is also a large annotated bibliography (covering
work on imagery from psychology, Artificial Intelligence research, neuroscience, and other disciplines,
as well as from philosophy).
me with any comments or suggestions concerning the Stanford Encyclopedia
entry. It can always be revised.
A report on a conference held in Claremont,
California, February 6-8, 2003. It was supposed to be about imagination,
but were the different presenters all talking about the same thing
(or even significantly related things). Were any of them actually talking
The False Dichotomy of Imagery.*
and Brain Sciences commentary on the latest move in the notorious
"analog/propositional debate" (an incisive new critique
of the "analog" or (quasi-)pictorial theory
of imagery, by Z.W. Pylyshyn). Perceptual Activity
Theory provides a real, empirically and conceptually viable
alternative to both "analog" (picture) and "propositional"
(description) theories of imagery.
Are Theories of Imagery Theories
of Imagination? An Active Perception Approach to Conscious Mental
The Perceptual Activity Theory
of mental imagery - a radical alternative to both 'quasi-pictorial' (or
'analog') and 'description' (or 'propositional') theories
- is described and defended. I consider this my major position statement
and my principal contribution to date to both philosophy and cognitive
science. It deals with consciousness, intentionality, and creativity
in both the arts and the sciences, as well as imagination and imagery.
A Note on "Schema" and "Image Schema".
A brief note clarifying the intended meaning and the provenance
of one of the key concepts of Perceptual
Activity Theory of imagery, as presented above. I distinguish
it from the concept of "image schema" as found in Lakoff &
Johnson's theory of metaphorical thought, and speculate on how the two
theories might be reconciled.
Color Realism: Toward a Solution to the "Hard Problem".*
A new (I think) perspective on how to outfit an expedition across
the explanatory gap in order to bring qualitative, phenomenal
consciousness within the purview of science. Qualities, not qualia! (See
the next two items for more on this issue.)
Review of Michael Tye's Consciousness, Color,
A brilliant, though difficult and, in parts, tedious book. Tye's
representationalist answer to the "hard problem" seems, in
many respects, like a more fully articulated version of the view I sketch in
the two brief articles listed above. However, Tye's theory as it stands is implausible;
I believe because it relies on an untenable understanding of mental representation
in general, and imagery in particular.
Imagery based techniques have been used quite extensively in clinical
psychology and psychotherapy, psychological and even spiritual "self-help," sports
training, pain control, etc. (Material on mnemonic applications
of imagery, which may overlap with educational ones, can be found on the
Mental Imagery - Theories
and Experiments page.) I am notrecommending or endorsing any of the techniques or services
described on these sites.