Free Download Sign-up Form
* Email
First Name
* = Required Field

Mind Your Head Brain Training Book by Sue Stebbins and Carla Clark
by Sue Stebbins &
Carla Clark

Paperback Edition

Kindle Edition

Are You Ready to Breakthrough to Freedom?
Find out
Take This Quiz

Business Breakthrough CDs

Over It Already

Amazing Clients
~ Ingrid Dikmen Financial Advisor, Senior Portfolio Manager

~ Mike M - Finance Professional

Social Media Sue Stebbins on Facebook

Visit Successwave's Blog!

Subscribe to the Successwaves RSS Feed

Experience and Theory as Determinants of Attitudes toward Mental Representation: The Case of Knight Dunlap and the Vanishing Images of J.B. Watson.

Nigel J.T. Thomas

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Page 1



Galton and subsequent investigators find wide divergences in people's subjective reports of mental imagery. Such individual differences might be taken to explain the peculiarly irreconcilable disputes over the nature and cognitive significance of imagery which have periodically broken out among psychologists and philosophers. However, to so explain these disputes is itself to take a substantive and questionable position on the cognitive role of imagery. This article distinguishes three separable issues over which people can be "for" or "against" mental images. Conflation of these issues can lead to theoretical differences being mistaken for experiential differences, even by theorists themselves. This is applied to the case of John B. Watson, who inaugurated a half-century of neglect of image psychology. Watson originally claimed to have vivid imagery; by 1913 he was denying the existence of images. This strange reversal, which made his behaviorism possible, is explicable as a "creative misconstrual" of Dunlap's "motor" theory of imagination.


For most of the history of human thought in the West, at least since Aristotle wrote his pioneering psychological treatises De Anima and the Parva Naturalia (Ross, 1931), the mental image - the quasi-perceptual experience that can occur in the absence of the relevant perceptual object - has been almost universally considered to be the primary form of human mental representation. If this strong tradition is correct, then a proper understanding of the nature and functional role of the mental image would clearly be of absolutely fundamental significance for psychology. In fact, the tradition has been much questioned in the twentieth century. But, even so, we may still say that debates about the reality, significance, and underlying mechanisms of imagery are debates about the nature, or the very reality, of mental processes, and thus about the nature, possibility, and proper direction of psychological science. Furthermore, I believe that the mechanisms of mental imagery may have an important bearing on basic issues in epistemology and philosophy of science (Thomas, 1987), and the psychological study of imagery probably holds out our best hope of getting a scientific purchase on the obscure, but culturally very salient concept of "imagination" (cf. Nadaner, 1988).

There have been at least two major debates about imagery among psychologists during this century. The first, at the beginning of the century, was the so-called "imageless thought" controversy in which both Wundt at Leipzig and Titchener at Cornell hotly disputed (on rather different grounds, it should be said) the claims of Külpe and his students at Würzburg to have introspectively discovered cognitive mental contents which were not mental images (of any modality) (Humphrey, 1951; Thomas, 1987). The second was the so-called "analog-propositional" dispute of the 1970s, in which Paivio (e.g., 1971, 1977, 1986), Shepard (e.g., 1975, 1978b, 1981; Shepard & Podgorny, 1978), Kosslyn (e.g., 1980, 1981, 1983; Kosslyn, Pinker, Smith, & Shwartz, 1979; Kosslyn & Pomerantz, 1977), and others argued for imagery as a distinct form of mental representation in its own right, whereas Pylyshyn (e.g., 1973, 1978, 1981) and others (e.g., Anderson & Bower, 1973; Hinton, 1979; Moran, 1974, 1979; Simon, 1972) maintained that all mental representation could best be accounted for within a uniform quasi-linguistic or "propositional" format. It is important to realize that neither of these disputes has ever been properly resolved. The imageless thought controversy came to an end not through the victory of one side or the other, nor with a satisfactory synthesis of both points of view, but, in America at least, with a thoroughgoing denial of the problem. Behaviorism rejected the whole notion of psychology as the science of mental life, and effectively brought discussion of mental imagery to a halt.

The "analog-propositional" dispute may perhaps be said to be still gently simmering, despite the influential efforts of Anderson (1978, 1979) as well as Palmer (1978) to declare it a nonissue. This attempt to call time on the debate is not in fact neutral, as it purports to be, but rather offers to assimilate imagery as a distinct form of representation only within and very much subordinate to a basically computational and "propositional" representational format. Such an assimilation is lent credence by Kosslyn, perhaps the most energetic polemicist on the "analog" side of the debate, who has propounded a theory of imagery (Kosslyn, 1980, 1981, 1983; Kosslyn & Shwartz, 1977) that does indeed set imagery within just such a computational context. Kosslyn's "quasi-pictorial" theory is probably the most fully worked out theory of the mental image available, but this does not mean that it is not without serious and even fatal flaws, quite regardless of one's position on computationalism in general (see Thomas, 1987). Certainly other leading proponents of "analog" representation, such as Paivio (1977, 1986) and Neisser (1976, 1979), would reject both Kosslyn's "pictorial" understanding of imagery and the broader computational theory of mind within which it is set. (Shepard's position [1975, 1978a, 1978b, 1981, 1984a, 1984b) can perhaps be interpreted as pictorialist, but it is certainly not computational.) Anderson and Palmer were probably right to imply that the differences between Kosslyn and Pylyshyn are really rather trivial - if images are really what Kosslyn says they are, they probably do not matter very much - but this emphatically does not apply to the differences between Pylyshyn (and, indeed, Anderson, Palmer, and other computationalists) and the other "analog" theorists. If Kosslyn's theory is set aside, and indeed there are recent signs that Kosslyn himself is moving away from his earlier conventionally computationalist stance (Kosslyn & Hatfield, 1984), we may agree with Block (1983) in seeing the psychology of imagery as a crucial test case for the adequacy of computational approaches to the mind in general.

The first expulsion of imagery from psychology led to the narrow sterilities of behaviorism. Psychology ceased its attempt to tell us about the human mind and human experience, and told us instead only of rats and reflexes. If we allow imagery to be denied or shunted to the sidelines once again, we may be led to a psychology that tells of computing machines rather than of living people (Yuille, 1983). The point is not that either behaviorism or computationalism is necessarily a worthless approach, but that both of them are narrow - they leave out many of the most interesting issues. The main purpose of my article is to attempt to clear up some of the cross - purposes which have repeatedly led debates about imagery into the confusions that have so often frustrated empirically minded psychologists. Even contemporary views about imagery cannot be neatly divided into "analog" or "propositional" positions - other, and probably more fundamental, differences cut across this division. The distinctions I shall make will be applied to, and illustrated by, the circumstances of the first banishment of the mental image from psychological science, at the hands of J. B. Watson - a strange episode which seems to have been crucial to the origins of his behaviorism. I have no wish to defend the introspective methodologies that Watson rejected rather the contrary - but if we find that his rejection of images was ill founded, then how much more would that be the case today, when far more objective means for studying imagery have been developed.

Experience or theory?

Differences about imagery, then, go much deeper than debates over "analog" versus "propositional" representation. They also go beyond the disciplinary boundaries of psychology. As Dennett (1978, chap. 10) has noted, psychologists and other people interested in the workings of the mind can by and large be divided into two, seemingly passionately opposed, camps. These are the "iconophobes" and the "iconophiles," those who deny and those who assert the reality, or at least the psychological significance, of mental imagery. In the early days of experimental psychology, the iconophiles were well in command. Even the Würzburg "imageless thought" school did not deny that images are real and important, just that they are all-important (Humphrey, 1951; Thomas, 1987, sec. I.B.1). There was also a good deal of interest among clinical psychologists in hallucinations and other "pathological" forms of image (Holt, 1964, p. 255). From about 1920 to 1960, however, as all accounts (e.g., Bugelski, 1984; Haber, 1970; Holt, 1964; Kessel, 1972; Kosslyn, 1980; Morris & Hampson, 1983; Paivio, 1971; A. Richardson, 1969; J.T.E. Richardson, 1980; Sheehan, 1972)1seem to agree, iconophobia, especially in America, reigned supreme. Even a "fringe" area like parapsychology can be seen to turn from an interest in "apparitions"to the study of card guessing and the like (Beloff, 1977; Holt, 1964). Paivio (1971) regards the 1920s and 1930s as "the most arid period" for the mental image, and Holt (1964) dates the first reawakenings of interest to the mid1950s, but even through the 1940s and 1950s, Psychological Abstracts records no more than five references to imagery (Kessel, 1972). Philosophers (e.g., Ryle, 1949; Sartre, 1940/1966; Schlick, 1925/1974; Wittgenstein, 19602) seem also to have turned away from imagery during the same period. Most philosophers are probably still basically iconophobic (although see Hannay, 1971; Johnson, 1987), but in psychology, since about the mid-1960s, the situation has changed again and imagery has been very much back on the agenda (Thomas, 1987, chap. I.C.). (Parapsychology has also again followed the trend with its interest in so-called "remote viewing" [Targ & Puthoff, 1974] and the like.)




1 | 2 | 3 | 4

We Make it Easy to Succeed
Successwaves, Intl.
Brain Based Accelerated Success Audios

Successwaves Smart Coaching Audio