Dr. Zenon Pylyshyn

Center for Cognitive Science
(Department of Psychology, Center for Cognitive Science)
(848) 445-1609
Email: zenon at ruccs.rutgers.edu

[Note: replace " at " with "@" -- this is to frustrate spammers who get their email addresses by automatic web-page scanning]

Brief biography for Professor Pylyshyn

Cognitive Science Society Presidential Address Spring and Fall Fashions in Cognitive Science!

If you are browsing at this site you may also be interested in a talk I recently dug out. As president of the Cognitive Science Society in 1986 I was asked to inaugurate the tradition of after dinner Presidential Addresses. The talk I gave was partly a serious plea for a certain view of the field of Cognitive Science I felt had led to the creating of the Society, and partly it was stand-up comedy, aided by a variety of cartoons purloined from the New Yorker and from Gary Larsen. Since that time I keep running into people at parties who remember me, not for the brilliant research I have done, but for the talk. I have even had people perform some of it better that I could have done!

If you are interested in the talk you can access it here, but I would urge you to click on the cartoons and other visual aids only after they have been introduced in the talk.
Click here for the talk Spring and Fashions in Cognitive Science.


* What's this work about?  For more information click Here

* To view some neat demos of our experiments, click   Here

* Laboratory Web Site click on  Visual Attention Lab

* For a short description of the Multiple Object Tracking experiments click on:
            Zenon Pylyshyn (2007) Multiple Object Tracking. Scholarpedia, 2(10):3326.

 Dr. Pylyshyn's research interests are in:

1) Visual attention and Preattention

The visual system does some things in parallel and some things serially. Not only does the eye move in rapid saccades several times each second, but attention also moves independent of any eye movements (so-called "covert attention scanning"). But a serial process which scans a display requires a mechanism to keep track of which things it has already visited and which things it should scan to. A number of people have referred to this process of keeping track of objects as "marking", but the marking metaphor is misleading because it suggests that we have a "picture" or some other display somewhere in our heads where we can place a marker. Since there are many reasons to refrain from hypothesizing such a pictorial display in the head, we have over the past decade developed an alternative view of how places in the visual field are "marked" or, to use our terminology, they are “FINSTed”.

The theory of indexing has motivated most of our experimental research over the past 8 years and has led to the exploration of a number of new phenomena (e.g. the ability to track several identical visual targets which move independently in random motion, weaving in and out among identical non-targets; the ability to visually separate a subset of items from others by brief location markers), and we have provided an new account of known phenomena, such as many of those arising from studies of "mental imagery" especially when they are superimposed onto visual percepts, of "subitizing" and of the visual stability of our percepts despite eye-movements. The theory has been described in (Pylyshyn, 1989) and a brief summary of the findings have been reported in (Pylyshyn, 1994).   For more on the FINST Visual Index theory and demos of the Multiple Object Tracking paradigm click The Visual Index Theory.

For a quicktime movie demo of Multiple Object Tracking (with occluders) M.O.T. DEMO!
* {You need the Apple Quicktime Plugin to view this demo. If you don't have one you can get it free by clicking Download Quicktime}

2) Application of Visual Index Theory to saccadic integration. See lab notes at Chris Currie's ongoing FINSTs and eye movement research report.

3) Studies of Mental Imagery

A number of studies were done some years ago in our laboratory showing that many of the phenomena of mental imagery are a result of subjects' understanding of the imagery task and their tacit knowledge of what happens in real perceptual circumstances (Pylyshyn, 1981). We are now continuing these studies in order to show that the visual system is not involved in mental imagery and, in fact, that "imagery", in the pictorial sense in which it is understood by many psychologists, is not involved in vision either.  (see below for recent references)

4) Applied Research

Applications of spatial indexing theory in the design of interfaces to computers and to communications systems such as involved in teleconferencing and telelearning. This is based on the observation that space and 3D spatial location plays an important role in individuating ideas and in communicating complex ideas. Gestures and pointing (as well as indicating by other means such as acoustically) in order to keep track of separate ideas and relationships is common and aids communication. multimodal communication, including gestures, can help widen the psychological communication bandwidth.

5) Theoretical Research

Behind the research on attention, on mental imagery, and on the interaction of vision and cognition, lies a long standing interest in the nature of what is called the "cognitive architecture" of the human cognitive computer (Pylyshyn, 1991). Consequently another line of research has been on theoretical analyses of claims about architectures, whether they are so-called "connectionist" or "analogue" or symbolic. This also brings the empirical research into contact with hypotheses concerning the decomposibility of the cognitive system or its "modularity". Much of our research bears on the question of whether vision or imagery processes are sensitive to knowledge_i.e. whether they are "cognitively penetrable". The connection of the research to issues of cognitive architecture is described in detail in my books (Pylyshyn, 1984; 2003).


Pylyshyn, Z.W. (1994). Some primitive mechanisms of spatial attention. Cognition, 50, 363-384.
Pylyshyn, Z.W. (1991). The role of cognitive architecture in theories of cognition. In K. VanLehn (Ed.), Architectures for Intelligence. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Pylyshyn, Z.W. (1989). The role of location indexes in spatial perception: A sketch of the FINST spatial-index model. Cognition, 32, 65-97.
Pylyshyn, Z.W. (1984). Computation and Cognition: Towards a Foundation for Cognitive Science. MIT Press
Pylyshyn, Z.W. (1981). The imagery debate: Analogue media versus tacit knowledge. Psychological Review, 88, 16-45.


Papers by Z. Pylyshyn available for downloading

* (The preferred format for downloading is PDF. If you would like a free PDF reader click here: Download PDF reader

Poster for VSS2012 is here:  Effect of Occlusion and Landmarks on Single Object Tracking During Disrupted Viewing

PUBLICATIONS (and PREPUBLICATIONS) *For actual reprints for papers marked with * please email the author

Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2009). Perception, Representation and the World: The FINST that binds. In D. Dedrick & L. M. Trick (Eds.), Computation, Cognition and Pylyshyn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The empirical case for bare demonstratives in vision.  In R.J. Stainton, C. Viger (Eds.) Compositionality, Context and Semantic Values: Essays in Honour of Ernie Lepore, Springer (2008).

(With S. Franconeri, J.Y.Lin, B.Fisher, A.T.Enns). Evidence against a speed limit in Multiple Object Tracking.  Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 2008, 15(4), 802-808.

(With H. Haladjian, C. King & J.Reilly) Selective nontarget inhibition in Multiple Object Tracking (MOT). Visual Cognition,  16(8), 1011-1021

(With D. Dulin, Y. Hatwell, and S. Chokron). Effects of peripheral and central visual impairment on mental imagery capacity.  Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews,  32 (8),  1396-1408.

Imagery. In Gregory, Richard. Oxford Companion to the Mind (Second Edition, 2006) Oxford University Press

(With V Annan) Dynamics of Target Selection in Multiple Object Tracking (MOT) (Spatial Vision, 19(6), 485-504)

Some puzzling findings in multiple object tracking (MOT): I. Tracking without keeping track of object identities Visual Cognition, 2004, 11(7), 801-822

Some puzzling findings in multiple object tracking (MOT): II. Inhibition of moving nontargets Visual Cognition, 2006, 14(2), 175-198

(With Brian Keane) Is motion extrapolation employed in multiple object tracking? Tracking as a low-level, non-predictive function Cognitive Psychology , 2006, 52(4), 346-368

Return of the mental image: Are there really pictures in the head? Trends in Cognitive Science, 2003, 7(3), 113-118

Mental Imagery: In search of a theory Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2002, 25(2), 157-237 (html version)
or click here for the long PDF version of the full reprint (including commentaries).

Is the "imagery debate" over? If so, what was it about? Cognition: a critical look. Advances, questions and controversies in honor of J. Mehler. E. Dupoux (Ed). Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. (or click here for the PDF version)

(With E. Blaser and A.O. Holcombe) Tracking an Object Through Feature Space, Nature, 2000, 408(Nov 9), 196-199 [PDF]

Visual Indexes, Preconceptual Objects, and Situated Vision Cognition, 2001, 80 (1/2) (PDF file).

(With B. Scholl & J. Feldman) What is a visual object: Evidence from target-merging in multiple-object tracking Cognition, 80 (1/2) 159-177 (PDF file).

(With B. Scholl & S. Franconeri) The relationship between property-encoding and object-based attention: Evidence from multiple-object tracking. (Unpublished: If you would like a copy of the manuscript, write to one of the authors).

Situating vision in the world Trends in Cognitive Science, 4(5), May 2000, pp 197-207 (PDF File)

Is vision continuous with cognition? The case for Cognitive impenetrability of visual perception. [pdf file] In Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol 22, No 3, Jan 1999, p341-423 or Abstract Only (ascii), or in html
or click here for the long reprint file of the entire article (including commentaries)

(with C.R. Sears) Multiple object tracking and Attentional Processing. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2000, 54(1), 1-14 [PDF file]

(with B. Scholl) Tracking multiple items through occlusion: Clues to visual objecthood. Cognitive Psychology, 1999, 38(2), 259-290. [PDF file]

The role of Visual Indexes in Spatial Vision and Imagery. In R. Wright, Visual Attention. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. [PDF File]

What's in Your Mind?. In: E. Lepore & Z. Pylyshyn (Eds), What is Cognitive Science? [PDF File]

(with J.A. Burkell) Searching through subsets: A test of the visual indexing hypothesis. Spatial Vision, 1997, 11(2), 225-258.

Computing in Cognitive Science. In Posner, M. Foundations of Cognitive Science. Cambridge: MIT Press (A Bradford Book), 1989.

Computers and the Symbolization of Knowledge. In Morelli, Anselmi, Brown, Haberlandt & Lloyd (Eds.) Minds, Brains and Computers: Perspectives in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence. Ablex, 1993)

(with Burkell, Fisher, Sears, Schmidt & Trick) Multiple parallel access in visual attention.. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1994, 48(2), 260-283.

Primitive Mechanisms of Spatial Attention.. Cognition, 1994, 50, 363-384.

The role of location indexes in spatial perception: A sketch of the FINST spatial-index model.Cognition, 1989, 32, 65-97.

(with R. Storm) Tracking multiple independent targets: evidence for a parallel tracking mechanism. Spatial Vision, 1988, 3(3), 1-19. (formulae under construction)

Rules and Representations: Chomsky and Representational Realism. In A. Kashir (Ed.), The Chomskian Turn. Oxford:Basic Blackwell, 1991.

Connectionism and Cognitive Architecture (with J. Fodor) Cognition, 1988, 28, 3-71

How direct is visual perception? Some reflections in Gibson's `Ecological Approach' (with J. Fodor) Cognition, 1981, 9, 139-196



_____ Information for Class Use _____ 


** Seeing and Visualizing: It's not what you think is available at:
Seeing and Visualizing (Amazon) or at Barnes & Noble


What is Cognitive Science:  PowerPoint slides of Lecture
(If that does not work, try the html version) Lecture Slides in html form
Lecture Outline
Readings: What's in your mind? (revised version)

Readings for course "The medium of thought"  Course Cog Sci: 16:185:600
Do we think in images? (html) or click here for the PDF version

Additional Readings for course "Things and Places"
Manuscript of MIT Press book "Things and Places: How the mind connects with the world"


Special Courses and Readings for Spring 2012

16:730:675 Seminar in Philosophy of Mind (Phil department listing)

16:185:600 Philosophy of mind (Cognitive Science Listing)

Readings can be found at:

Readings for the Fodor/Pylyshyn course (including paper by Joe Levine)