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.
Nigel J.T. Thomas
The above "quote" was solicited
from me by the editor of a prospective "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 asked me for a photo!).
However, it looks very much as though the plans for AfterFive
fell victim to the Bush recession. I have not heard from them since
late 2002, and their Website has now disappeared. However, I am still
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
up my claims. - N.J.T.T. (November
Site created & maintained by
Nigel J.T. Thomas Ph.D.
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.
Encyclopedia and Dictionary entries (relatively introductory):
An Introduction to the Science and Philosophy
of Mental Imagery.*
This is now published in the Encyclopedia
of Cognitive Science (Macmillan/Nature Publishing,
2003) under the title "Mental Imagery, Philosophical
Issues About". However, it provides a brief
but comprehensive guide to imagery theories in Cognitive Science generally,
and not just in philosophy, so it seems appropriate to give it a more
meaningful title here. Although not nearly as extensive as what I plan
for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (below), this article
has the advantage of brevity, and of actually being completed! As well
as providing and defending a definition of "mental imagery", it covers
the history of ideas about the topic in philosophy, experimental psychology,
and cognitive science, and outlines the latest theories. It also considers
the relevance of imagery theory to philosophical issues such as the nature
of intentionality, mental representation, and consciousness. There is
a glossary of key terms, references, and
a brief "further reading" list.
on Mental Imagery from the Stanford Encyclopedia
of Philosophy.*(Major update and additions, August 4 2005)
I am still working on this, but sections are now available
on the definition of "mental imagery", the subtle but significant terminological
problems that have bedeviled discussions in the field, the history
of imagery research in scientific psychology before the advent of cognitive
science (covering 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
rejection of imagery), imagery in 20th century philosophy, imagery in
the cognitive revolution, and the mnemonic effects of imagery. There is also a large annotated bibliography (with work from psychology and AI as well as philosophy).
For now, for a concise overview of contoversies about imagery in current
philosophy and cognitive science, see An Introduction
to the Science and Philosophy of Mental Imagery.
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) when they spoke of imagination, and
were any of them actually talking about imagination?
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.
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 or leave
a note on the site discussion board.
Also please leave
a note on the discussion board with any comments or questions you might
have about this site or my work. The discussion board provides a forum allowing
for feedback from others (who may be better qualified to answer some queries),
as well as from me. I will try to reply to most polite and relevant queries
and comments posted on the board, and if you want to post your email address
with your message then I can also send you a direct email reply. Please note,
however, 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!
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.) Although my views on cognition are probably
consistent with the possibility of visualization being an effective psychological
tool, I have no real expertise in this area. I am notrecommending or endorsing any of the techniques or services
described on these sites.