Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
California State University, Fullerton.
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[Published in Cognitive Science, 23, (1999) 207-245, © The Cognitive Science Society]
from the Philosophy Documentation Center
"This paper is a breath of fresh air, a welcome
departure from the usual imagery fare. It is lucid, to the point, and . . .
bound to stimulate useful discussion of the issues."
[John Heil, Professor of Philosophy at Davidson College, and author of Perception and Cognition (California, 1983), The Nature of True Minds (Cambridge, 1992), & Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 1998).]
"This is the first paper I have seen in many
years that seems to have something conceptual to say about imagery that is
worth considering carefully."
[Stephen M. Kosslyn, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and author of Image and Mind (Harvard, 1980), Ghosts in the Mind's Machine (Norton, 1983), Image and Brain (MIT, 1994), and countless experimental and theoretical articles on imagery.]
Can theories of mental imagery, conscious mental contents, developed within cognitive science throw light on the obscure (but culturally very significant) concept of imagination? Three extant views of mental imagery are considered: quasi-pictorial, description, and perceptual activity theories. The first two face serious theoretical and empirical difficulties. The third is (for historically contingent reasons) little known, theoretically underdeveloped, and empirically untried, but has real explanatory potential. It rejects the "traditional" symbolic computational view of mental contents, but is compatible with recent situated cognition and active vision approaches in robotics. This theory is developed and elucidated. Three related key aspects of imagination (non-discursiveness, creativity, and seeing as) raise difficulties for the other theories. Perceptual Activity Theory presents imagery as non-discursive, and relates it closely to seeing as. It is thus well placed to be the basis for a general theory of imagination and its role in creative thought.
Note 1: This is a highly interdisciplinary article, grappling with fields as diverse as Cognitive Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, the History of Ideas, Romantic Literary Theory, and the Philosophy of Mind. I should admit that it is long (over to 15,000 words of text and notes, including extensive references) but I am very proud of it and would strongly urge you to download and read it if you are at all seriously interested in the nature of either mental imagery or imagination. - N.J.T.T.
Note 2: Since this article went to press I have come across several books and articles (mostly very recently published) that provides further support for the Perceptual Activity Theory of mental imagery. I have begun to detail these new developments in a bibliographic essay, available here. It is to be expected that more citations will be added to this essay, both as I find the time to add to it, and as I come across more relevant material. - N.J.T.T.
Note 3: In A Note on "Schema" and "Image Schema" I attempt to clarify the key concept of schema, which has rather special connotations in the context of Perceptual Activity Theory, where it means something rather different from what it means in certain more fashionable theoretical contexts. - N.J.T.T.
The published version
now available here supersedes all earlier drafts.
(Final published version uploaded 11/1/99)
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"Are Theories of Imagery Theories of Imagination?
An Active Perception Approach to Conscious Mental Content."
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"Are Theories of Imagery Theories of Imagination? An Active Perception Approach to Conscious Mental Content."
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