Superimposed Mental Imagery: On the Uses of Make-Perceive

In Fiona Macpherson & Fabian Dorsch (eds.), Perceptual Imagination and Perceptual Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 161-185 (2018)
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Human beings have the ability to ‘augment’ reality by superimposing mental imagery on the visually perceived scene. For example, when deciding how to arrange furniture in a new home, one might project the image of an armchair into an empty corner or the image of a painting onto a wall. The experience of noticing a constellation in the sky at night is also perceptual-imaginative amalgam: it involves both seeing the stars in the constellation and imagining the lines that connect them at the same time. I here refer to such hybrid experiences – involving both a bottom-up, externally generated component and a top-down, internally generated component – as make-perceive (Briscoe 2008, 2011). My discussion in this paper has two parts. In the first part, I show that make-perceive enables human beings to solve certain problems and pursue certain projects more effectively than bottom-up perceiving or top-down visualization alone. To this end, the skillful use of projected mental imagery is surveyed in a variety of contexts, including action planning, the interpretation of static mechanical diagrams, and non-instrumental navigation. In the second part, I address the question of whether make-perceive may help to account for the “phenomenal presence” of occluded or otherwise hidden features of perceived objects. I argue that phenomenal presence is not well explained by the hypothesis that hidden features are represented using projected mental images. In defending this position, I point to important phenomenological and functional differences between the way hidden object features are represented respectively in mental imagery and amodal completion.

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Robert Briscoe
Ohio University


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