Pictures, Parables, Paradoxes
Edited By András Benedek and Kristóf Nyíri
Mental Imagery as a Sign System
The query about the nature of mental imagery (MI) is one of the most controversial and yet important questions for cognitive science to solve. Two dominant rival theories were proposed – quasi-pictorial/analogue1 and descriptive/propositional2 – to account for the mental imagery phenomenon.
According to the (quasi-)pictorial theory, mental images are picture-like representations in the mind. Such analog representations are, according to Kosslyn,3 viewed on a surface display (or as Kosslyn calls it, “visual buffer”) and possess properties similar to those that can be found in ordinary pictures: spatiality, size, colours, shapes, dimensions, distances, etc. Yet another popular account of MI – description theory or propositional theory – states that images might better be thought of as being a description rather than pictures, and presumably are formulated in language(-like) terms (see for example J. Fodor’s “language of thought” hypothesis). Many of the adherents of the propositional theory severely criticize the notion of inner mental pictures that are reproduced on some visual inner display and then reperceived by the “mind’s eye”4. This controversy between the ← 99 | 100 → two theories constituted the well-known Mental Imagery Debate, which yet has not been solved.
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