Pylyshyn's Critique of Mental Imagery

From: Phillips Barbara (
Date: Tue May 21 1996 - 09:51:28 BST


There are two theories as to how mental images are represented. The
first is by depictive representations. This is where mental images
look exactly like the real image of the object. I.e the same size,
shape and orientation. The second theory is that mental images are
propositional representations. These are sentences that represent
the real objects using symbols. These do not look like the object -
they just describe the object through symbols.

Each concept has supporting and contradictory evidence. Some of
which involves mental scanning and PET experiments. Pylyshyn (1973)
disagreed with the idea of depictive representations. He maintains
that if mental images were depictive a 'little man' would be needed
to look at the pictures to interpret them. This is the homunculus
problem. If a man looks at the pictures and sees and interprets the
pictures - how do we interpret what is going on in the little man's
head? This is Pylyshyn's critique of mental imagery. For this
reason, Pylyshyn believes in propositional representations.

Barbara Phillips

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