Untying the knot: imagination, perception and their neural substrates

Synthese 199 (3-4):7203-7230 (2021)
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How tight is the conceptual connection between imagination and perception? A number of philosophers, from the early moderns to present-day predictive processing theorists, tie the knot as tightly as they can, claiming that states of the imagination, i.e. mental imagery, are a proper subset of perceptual experience. This paper labels such a view ‘perceptualism’ about the imagination and supplies new arguments against it. The arguments are based on high-level perceptual content and, distinctly, cognitive penetration. The paper also defuses a recent, influential argument for perceptualism based on the ‘discovery’ that visual perception and mental imagery share a significant neural substrate: circuitry in V1, the brain’s primary visual cortex. Current neuropsychology is shown to be equivocal at best on this matter. While experiments conducted on healthy, neurotypical subjects indicate substantial neural overlap, there is extensive clinical evidence of dissociations between imagery and perception in the brain, most notably in the case of aphantasia.

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Dan Cavedon-Taylor
Open University (UK)


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