Mapping the Visual Icon

Philosophical Quarterly 72 (3):552-577 (2022)
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It is often claimed that pre-attentive vision has an ‘iconic’ format. This is seen to explain pre-attentive vision's characteristically high processing capacity and to make sense of an overlap in the mechanisms of early vision and mental imagery. But what does the iconicity of pre-attentive vision amount to? This paper considers two prominent ways of characterising pre-attentive visual icons and argues that neither is adequate: one approach renders the claim ‘pre-attentive vision is iconic’ empirically false while the other obscures its ability to do the explanatory work, which motivates positing pre-attentive visual icons in the first place. With this noted, I introduce the notion of an ‘Analogue Map’ and argue that it provides a superior characterisation of pre-attentive vision's iconicity. I then argue that this forces a reassessment of debates which have traditionally presupposed the iconicity of pre-attentive vision, emphasising ramifications for the viability of a format-based perception-thought border.

Author's Profile

Sam Clarke
University of Southern California


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