The structured uses of concepts as tools: Comparing fMRI experiments that investigate either mental imagery or hallucinations

Dissertation, University of Melbourne (2018)
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Sensations can occur in the absence of perception and yet be experienced ‘as if’ seen, heard, tasted, or otherwise perceived. Two concepts used to investigate types of these sensory-like mental phenomena (SLMP) are mental imagery and hallucinations. Mental imagery is used as a concept for investigating those SLMP that merely resemble perception in some way. Meanwhile, the concept of hallucinations is used to investigate those SLMP that are, in some sense, compellingly like perception. This may be a difference of degree. Attempts to reliably differentiate between instances of each type of SLMP remain unresolved. Despite this, the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations are each routinely used independently of the other. These uses are especially interesting in those published accounts of experiments where equivalent findings about the neuroanatomical correlates of SLMP are reported in support of diverging knowledge-claims about the role of SLMP in neurocognitive processes. This practice presents a puzzle. To examine one aspect of this puzzle, I compare the uses of these two scientific concepts in three ways: examining their roles in differentiating between types of SLMP; exploring how their respective historical developments intersect; and analysing their contributions in neuroimaging experiments. In presenting this series of comparative analyses, I will draw on three themes from historical, philosophical, and social studies of scientific practices: interest in material contributions to knowledge; accounts of how concepts are used in experiments; and explorations of the historical conditions within which current practices emerge. Building on this literature, my comparative analyses supports five related claims. My first claim is that the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations are each used as independent tools in neuroimaging experiments. My second claim is that, as experimental tools, the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations are each used for investigating discrete epistemic goals. My third claim is that there are implicit interdependent associations that structure the uses of these two concepts as tools for independently investigating these discrete epistemic goals in neuroimaging experiments. This third claim rests on my analyses of both past and present uses of each concept. Firstly, as seen in their intersecting histories, there are disciplined performances of using the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations that carry-along shared associations about the mediating role of SLMP in thought. Secondly, these interdependent ‘mediator-view’ associations continue to structure the independent uses of each concept as a tool for investigating SLMP in pursuit of specific goals. Taking this further, my fourth claim is that recognising the structured uses of the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations can help to account for how equivalent SLMP-neuro-correlates are generated in support of diverging knowledge-claims. Finally, my fifth claim is that the structured uses of these concepts as tools can contribute to experiments in ways analogous to, yet not equivalent with, the active contributions of material instruments. Bringing these claims together, I argue that the concepts of mental imagery and hallucinations operate as structured tools that can actively contribute to the knowledge generated by neuroimaging experiments. In presenting this argument I seek to demonstrate that examining the structured uses of concepts as tools can complement existing approaches to studying how the heterogeneous dynamics of experimental practices can come to contribute to scientific knowledge in unintended ways.
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