Kosslyn's Definition and Approach
According to Kosslyn, mental images really should be understood in two ways:
First, from the scientific standpoint, mental images are
Mental images are defined, then, as certain unique data structures in the cogntive archetecture of the mind that are processed holistically in a manner that preserves the qualities of images. These data structures exist in our minds and these processes occur according to the computational necessities of our mental machinery. Because of the way these structures and processes function, Kosslyn claims they may be said to have PICTORIAL PROPERTIES.
Second, in terms of our ordinary experience of conscious mental images, we should understand that these derive from the computational functions of the our mental hardware and software.Kosslyn describes the relationship between these two ways of understanding and investigating mental images as follows:
It is important to note that the foregoing claims not only posit properties of the representation per se [i.e., the properties of the unconscious computational states in the mind], but also that we have the interpretive processes to "see" these properties. (Kosslyn, 1980, p. 34)
The unconscious data structures and their manipulations, as he puts it, "give rise" to the experiences we have and our experiences "index" the depictive properties of the underlying unconscious data structures (Kosslyn, 1980, p. 30).
Since our responses to various stimuli can be empirically measured, and these responses will be determined by the mental hardware and software we have, Kosslyn (and others) have assumed it is possible to DIRECTLY measure some of the properties of these computational structures. For example, the time it takes us to solve a problem involving mental imagery can be directly measured. The results of these empirical studies do not (ideally) depend on the quality of our conscious states or our reports about them. This is in sharp contrast to the definition and approach proposed by traditional psychology. This approach recommended by Kosslyn promises to produce a science of mental imagery that is similar in scope and precision to other "hard" empirical sciences.
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