Seeing: It's Not What You Think

Lecturer:      Prof. Zenon Pylyshyn
Seminar in Cog Sci I:  16:185:600:01, Index #28759S

Meets on Thursdays, 9:50am to 12:30pm, in the RuCCS Playroom, A139.
Cross-listed as Psychology 16:830:637
Prerequisites: Permission of the instructor (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This course will deal with some common misconceptions about the nature of visual perception and how it relates to cognition and to mental imagery.  It will also deal with how visual representations connect with the world; ­­how they get “grounded”.  The title is deliberately ambiguous: It refers to the misconceptions many people have about what vision does (misconceptions that arise from the phenomenology of seeing), and it also refers to the thesis that vision is distinct from cognition (the modular view of visual perception).  A large part of the class this year will consider the question of whether the visual system is involved in mental imagery and if so, what this might tell us about the nature of mental images.

The seminar will cover four main topics:

  1. The (mistaken) view that vision is a process that at some stage constructs an internal image, which includes pictorial details.
  2. The (mistaken) view that what we see is largely a function of what we know and expect, so that vision is continuous with cognition.
  3. A discussion of how visual apprehension and objects in the world connect, which will get us into a discussion of the nature of object-based attention and of Visual Index Theory and the so-called "situated" view of vision.
  4. A detailed critical analysis of the proposal that reasoning using mental images involves the visual system and therefore that a mental image must be something that we "see".

The reading for this seminar consist of a draft of my book-in-progress (with the same title as the course) and some additional readings, including an in-press BBS article on mental imagery.  These will be distributed in class and will also be available on the Web.