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Perceptual content and the content of mental imagery

Red, as seen by the mind and not the eye, exercises at once a definite and an indefinite impression on the soul. (Wassily Kandinsky, 1910)

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to argue that the phenomenal similarity between perceiving and visualizing can be explained by the similarity between the structure of the content of these two different mental states. And this puts important constraints on how we should think about perceptual content and the content of mental imagery.

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Notes

  1. See also Smith (2006, footnote 18) “We imagine a tiger by imagining seeing it. It does not follow that because we are imagining an experience we fail to imagine the object of the experience. Given this, there is every reason to think that seeing an F and imagining seeing an F will be phenomenologically similar”.

  2. There are interesting implications of this parallel between the exercise of perceptual attention and of attention in the case of mental imagery. Perceptual attention is often described as some kind of selection: selection from informational overload, selection for action etc. This way of talking about attention seems fitting for perceptual attention. But it is much more difficult to make sense of the selection metaphor in the case of attending to mental imagery as it is not at all clear what is supposed to be selected (given that there is no sensory stimulation). I can’t pursue the implications of this asymmetry here, but one possible way of addressing it would be to give up on the selection metaphor of attention altogether (even in the case of perceptual attention).

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the EU FP7 CIG grant PCIG09-GA-2011-293818 and the FWO Odysseus grant G.0020.12N. I presented this paper at the Fourth Online Consciousness Conference and I am grateful for the comments I received there. I am also grateful for comments by Neil Van Leeuwen, Jake Berger and an anonymous referee for this Journal on an earlier draft.

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Nanay, B. Perceptual content and the content of mental imagery. Philos Stud 172, 1723–1736 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-014-0392-y

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Keywords

  • Perceptual content
  • Mental imagery
  • Attention
  • Determinacy
  • Determinable/determinate properties
  • Dependency Thesis