Mental representation

Last updated

A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, [1] or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol: "a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this". [2]

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as "attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and thinking". Much of the work derived from cognitive psychology has been integrated into various other modern disciplines such as Cognitive Science and of psychological study, including educational psychology, social psychology, personality psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, linguistics, and economics.

Neuroscience scientific study of the nervous system

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary branch of biology that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits. The understanding of the biological basis of learning, memory, behavior, perception, and consciousness has been described by Eric Kandel as the "ultimate challenge" of the biological sciences.

Contents

Mental representation is the mental imagery of things that are not actually present to the senses. [3] In contemporary philosophy, specifically in fields of metaphysics such as philosophy of mind and ontology, a mental representation is one of the prevailing ways of explaining and describing the nature of ideas and concepts.

Contemporary philosophy

Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the early 20th century with the increasing professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy.

Metaphysics branch of philosophy

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between possibility and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among the [study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

Ontology study of the nature of being, becoming, existence or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations

Ontology is the philosophical study of being. More broadly, it studies concepts that directly relate to being, in particular becoming, existence, reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology often deals with questions concerning what entities exist or may be said to exist and how such entities may be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

Mental representations (or mental imagery) enable representing things that have never been experienced as well as things that do not exist. [4] Think of yourself traveling to a place you have never visited before, or having a third arm. These things have either never happened or are impossible and do not exist, yet our brain and mental imagery allows us to imagine them. Although visual imagery is more likely to be recalled, mental imagery may involve representations in any of the sensory modalities, such as hearing, smell, or taste. Stephen Kosslyn proposes that images are used to help solve certain types of problems. We are able to visualize the objects in question and mentally represent the images to solve it. [4]

Stephen Michael Kosslyn is an American psychologist, neuroscientist, and expert on the science of learning. Kosslyn is President and CEO of Foundry College, an online two-year college designed to help working adults develop skills and knowledge that will not be automated in the foreseeable future. Prior to that, Kosslyn was Founding Dean and Chief Academic Officer of the Minerva Schools at KGI. And before that, he was the John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James and Dean of Social Science at Harvard University.

Mental representations also allow people to experience things right in front of them—though the process of how the brain interprets the representational content is debated.[ citation needed ]

Representational theories of mind

Representationalism (also known as indirect realism) is the view that representations are the main way we access external reality.

Direct and indirect realism

The question of direct or naïve realism, as opposed to indirect or representational realism, arises in the philosophy of perception and of mind out of the debate over the nature of conscious experience; the epistemological question of whether the world we see around us is the real world itself or merely an internal perceptual copy of that world generated by neural processes in our brain. Naïve realism is known as direct realism when developed to counter indirect or representative realism, also known as epistemological dualism, the philosophical position that our conscious experience is not of the real world itself but of an internal representation, a miniature virtual-reality replica of the world.

The representational theory of mind attempts to explain the nature of ideas, concepts and other mental content in contemporary philosophy of mind, cognitive science and experimental psychology. In contrast to theories of naive or direct realism, the representational theory of mind postulates the actual existence of mental representations which act as intermediaries between the observing subject and the objects, processes or other entities observed in the external world. These intermediaries stand for or represent to the mind the objects of that world.

An explanation is a set of statements usually constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequences of those facts. This description of the facts et cetera may establish rules or laws, and may clarify the existing rules or laws in relation to any objects, or phenomena examined. The components of an explanation can be implicit, and interwoven with one another.

Idea mental image or concept

In philosophy, ideas are usually taken as mental representational images of some object. Ideas can also be abstract concepts that do not present as mental images. Many philosophers have considered ideas to be a fundamental ontological category of being. The capacity to create and understand the meaning of ideas is considered to be an essential and defining feature of human beings. In a popular sense, an idea arises in a reflexive, spontaneous manner, even without thinking or serious reflection, for example, when we talk about the idea of a person or a place. A new or original idea can often lead to innovation.

Concept mental representation or an abstract object or an ability

Concepts are mental representations, abstract objects or abilities that make up the fundamental building blocks of thoughts and beliefs. They play an important role in all aspects of cognition.

For example, when someone arrives at the belief that his or her floor needs sweeping, the representational theory of mind states that he or she forms a mental representation that represents the floor and its state of cleanliness.

The original or "classical" representational theory probably can be traced back to Thomas Hobbes and was a dominant theme in classical empiricism in general. According to this version of the theory, the mental representations were images (often called "ideas") of the objects or states of affairs represented. For modern adherents, such as Jerry Fodor, Steven Pinker and many others, the representational system consists rather of an internal language of thought (i.e., mentalese). The contents of thoughts are represented in symbolic structures (the formulas of Mentalese) which, analogously to natural languages but on a much more abstract level, possess a syntax and semantics very much like those of natural languages. For the Spanish logician and cognitive scientist Luis M. Augusto, at this abstract, formal level, the syntax of thought is the set of symbol rules (i.e., operations, processes, etc. on and with symbol structures) and the semantics of thought is the set of symbol structures (concepts and propositions). Content (i.e., thought) emerges from the meaningful co-occurrence of both sets of symbols. For instance, "8 x 9" is a meaningful co-occurrence, whereas "CAT x §" is not; "x" is a symbol rule called for by symbol structures such as "8" and "9", but not by "CAT" and "§". [5]

Canadian philosopher P. Tagard noted in his work “Introduction to Cognitive Science”, that “most cognitive scientists agree that knowledge in the human mind consists of mental representations” and that “cognitive science asserts: that people have mental procedures that operate by means of mental representations for the implementation of thinking and action" Thagard, P. (1996). Mind. Introduction to Cognitive Science.

Strong vs weak, restricted vs unrestricted

There are two types of representationalism, strong and weak. Strong representationalism attempts to reduce phenomenal character to intentional content. On the other hand, weak representationalism claims only that phenomenal character supervenes on intentional content. Strong representationalism aims to provide a theory about the nature of phenomenal character, and offers a solution to the hard problem of consciousness. In contrast to this, weak representationalism does not aim to provide a theory of consciousness, nor does it offer a solution to the hard problem of consciousness.

Strong representationalism can be further broken down into restricted and unrestricted versions. The restricted version deals only with certain kinds of phenomenal states e.g. visual perception. Most representationalists endorse an unrestricted version of representationalism. According to the unrestricted version, for any state with phenomenal character that state's phenomenal character reduces to its intentional content. Only this unrestricted version of representationalism is able to provide a general theory about the nature of phenomenal character, as well as offer a potential solution to the hard problem of consciousness. The successful reduction of the phenomenal character of a state to its intentional content would provide a solution to the hard problem of consciousness once a physicalist account of intentionality is worked out.

Problems for the unrestricted version

When arguing against the unrestricted version of representationalism people will often bring up phenomenal mental states that appear to lack intentional content. The unrestricted version seeks to account for all phenomenal states. Thus, for it to be true, all states with phenomenal character must have intentional content to which that character is reduced. Phenomenal states without intentional content therefore serve as a counterexample to the unrestricted version. If the state has no intentional content its phenomenal character will not be reducible to that state's intentional content, for it has none to begin with.

A common example of this kind of state are moods. Moods are states with phenomenal character that are generally thought to not be directed at anything in particular. Moods are thought to lack directedness, unlike emotions, which are typically thought to be directed at particular things e.g. you are mad at your sibling, you are afraid of a dangerous animal. People conclude that because moods are undirected they are also nonintentional i.e. they lack intentionality or aboutness. Because they are not directed at anything they are not about anything. Because they lack intentionality they will lack any intentional content. Lacking intentional content their phenomenal character will not be reducible to intentional content, refuting the representational doctrine.

Though emotions are typically considered as having directedness and intentionality this idea has also been called into question. One might point to emotions a person all of a sudden experiences that do not appear to be directed at or about anything in particular. Emotions elicited by listening to music are another potential example of undirected, nonintentional emotions. Emotions aroused in this way do not seem to necessarily be about anything, including the music that arouses them. [6]

Responses

In response to this objection a proponent of representationalism might reject the undirected nonintentionality of moods, and attempt to identify some intentional content they might plausibly be thought to possess. The proponent of representationalism might also reject the narrow conception of intentionality as being directed at a particular thing, arguing instead for a broader kind of intentionality.

There are three alternative kinds of directedness/intentionality one might posit for moods. [6]

In the case of outward directedness moods might be directed at either the world as a whole, a changing series of objects in the world, or unbound emotion properties projected by people onto things in the world. In the case of inward directedness moods are directed at the overall state of a person's body. In the case of hybrid directedness moods are directed at some combination of inward and outward things.

Further objections

Even if one can identify some possible intentional content for moods we might still question whether that content is able to sufficiently capture the phenomenal character of the mood states they are a part of. Amy Kind contends that in the case of all the previously mentioned kinds of directedness (outward, inward, and hybrid) the intentional content supplied to the mood state is not capable of sufficiently capturing the phenomenal aspects of the mood states. [6] In the case of inward directedness, the phenomenology of the mood does not seem tied to the state of one's body, and even if one's mood is reflected by the overall state of one's body that person will not necessarily be aware of it, demonstrating the insufficiency of the intentional content to adequately capture the phenomenal aspects of the mood. In the case of outward directedness, the phenomenology of the mood and its intentional content do not seem to share the corresponding relation they should given that the phenomenal character is supposed to reduce to the intentional content. Hybrid directedness, if it can even get off the ground, faces the same objection.

Philosophers

There is a wide debate on what kinds of representations exist. There are several philosophers who bring about different aspects of the debate. Such philosophers include Alex Morgan, Gualtiero Piccinini, and Uriah Kriegel—though this is not an exhaustive list.

Alex Morgan

There are "job description" representations. [1] That is representations that (1) represent something—have intentionality, (2) have a special relation—the represented object does not need to exist, and (3) content plays a causal role in what gets represented: e.g. saying "hello" to a friend, giving a glare to an enemy.

Structural representations are also important. [1] These types of representations are basically mental maps that we have in our minds that correspond exactly to those objects in the world (the intentional content). According to Morgan, structural representations are not the same as mental representations—there is nothing mental about them: plants can have structural representations.

There are also internal representations. [1] These types of representations include those that involve future decisions, episodic memories, or any type of projection into the future.

Gualtiero Piccinini

In Gualtiero Piccinini's forthcoming work, he discusses topics on natural and nonnatural mental representations. He relies on the natural definition of mental representations given by Grice (1957) [7] where P entails that P. e.g. Those spots mean measles, entails that the patient has measles. Then there are nonnatural representations: P does not entail P. e.g. The 3 rings on the bell of a bus mean the bus is full—the rings on the bell are independent of the fullness of the bus—we could have assigned something else (just as arbitrary) to signify that the bus is full.

Uriah Kriegel

There are also objective and subjective mental representations. [8] Objective representations are closest to tracking theories—where the brain simply tracks what is in the environment. If there is a blue bird outside my window, the objective representation is that of the blue bird. Subjective representations can vary person-to-person. For example, if I am colorblind, that blue bird outside my window will not appear blue to me since I cannot represent the blueness of blue (i.e. I cannot see the color blue). The relationship between these two types of representation can vary.

  1. Objective varies, but the subjective does not: e.g. brain-in-a-vat
  2. Subjective varies, but the objective does not: e.g. color-inverted world
  3. All representations found in objective and none in the subjective: e.g. thermometer
  4. All representations found in subjective and none in the objective: e.g. an agent that experiences in a void.

Eliminativists think that subjective representations don't exist. Reductivists think subjective representations are reducible to objective. Non-reductivists think that subjective representations are real and distinct.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Mind combination of cognitive faculties that provides consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement in humans and potentially other life forms

The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.

Philosophy of perception

The philosophy of perception is concerned with the nature of perceptual experience and the status of perceptual data, in particular how they relate to beliefs about, or knowledge of, the world. Any explicit account of perception requires a commitment to one of a variety of ontological or metaphysical views. Philosophers distinguish internalist accounts, which assume that perceptions of objects, and knowledge or beliefs about them, are aspects of an individual's mind, and externalist accounts, which state that they constitute real aspects of the world external to the individual. The position of naïve realism—the 'everyday' impression of physical objects constituting what is perceived—is to some extent contradicted by the occurrence of perceptual illusions and hallucinations and the relativity of perceptual experience as well as certain insights in science. Realist conceptions include phenomenalism and direct and indirect realism. Anti-realist conceptions include idealism and skepticism.

Franz Brentano Austrian philosopher

Franz Clemens Honoratus Hermann Brentano was an influential German philosopher, psychologist, and priest whose work strongly influenced not only students Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Tomáš Masaryk, Rudolf Steiner, Alexius Meinong, Carl Stumpf, Anton Marty, Kazimierz Twardowski, and Christian von Ehrenfels, but many others whose work would follow and make use of his original ideas and concepts.

Intentionality is a philosophical concept and is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as "the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs". The once obsolete term dates from medieval scholastic philosophy, but in more recent times it has been resurrected by Franz Brentano and adopted by Edmund Husserl. The earliest theory of intentionality is associated with St. Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God, and with his tenets distinguishing between objects that exist in the understanding and objects that exist in reality.

Eliminative materialism

Eliminative materialism is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.

Jerry Fodor American philosopher

Jerry Alan Fodor was an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He held the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Rutgers University and was the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and the language of thought hypotheses, among other ideas. He was known for his provocative and sometimes polemical style of argumentation and as "one of the principal philosophers of mind of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. In addition to having exerted an enormous influence on virtually every portion of the philosophy of mind literature since 1960, Fodor's work has had a significant impact on the development of the cognitive sciences."

The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of thought as possessing "language-like" or compositional structure. On this view, simple concepts combine in systematic ways to build thoughts. In its most basic form, the theory states that thought, like language, has syntax.

The intentional stance is a term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett for the level of abstraction in which we view the behavior of an entity in terms of mental properties. It is part of a theory of mental content proposed by Dennett, which provides the underpinnings of his later works on free will, consciousness, folk psychology, and evolution.

Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behavior is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do.

A mental state is a state of mind that an agent is in. Most simplistically, a mental state is a mental condition. It is a relation that connects the agent with a proposition. Several of these states are a combination of mental representations and propositional attitudes. There are several paradigmatic states of mind that an agent has: love, hate, pleasure and pain, and attitudes toward propositions such as: believing that, conceiving that, hoping and fearing that, etc.

Neurophilosophy or philosophy of neuroscience is the interdisciplinary study of neuroscience and philosophy that explores the relevance of neuroscientific studies to the arguments traditionally categorized as philosophy of mind. The philosophy of neuroscience attempts to clarify neuroscientific methods and results using the conceptual rigor and methods of philosophy of science.

In philosophy, the computational theory of mind (CTM) refers to a family of views that hold that the human mind is an information processing system and that cognition and consciousness together are a form of computation. Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (1943) were the first to suggest that neural activity is computational. They argued that neural computations explain cognition. The theory was proposed in its modern form by Hilary Putnam in 1967, and developed by his PhD student, philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Despite being vigorously disputed in analytic philosophy in the 1990s due to work by Putnam himself, John Searle, and others, the view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is presumed by many theorists of evolutionary psychology. In the 2000s and 2010s the view has resurfaced in analytic philosophy.

Peter Carruthers (philosopher) American philosopher

Peter Carruthers is a British-American philosopher and cognitive scientist working primarily in the area of philosophy of mind, though he has also made contributions to philosophy of language and ethics. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park, associate member of Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program and member of the Committee for Philosophy and the Sciences.

According to Franz Brentano, intentionality refers to the "aboutness of mental states that cannot be a physical relation between a mental state and what is about because in a physical relation each of the relata must exist whereas the objects of mental states might not.

The self-model is the central concept in the theory of consciousness called the self-model theory of subjectivity (SMT). This concept comprises experiences of ownership, of first person perspective, and of a long-term unity of beliefs and attitudes. These features are instantiated in the prefrontal cortex. This theory is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and explaining the phenomenology of consciousness and the self. This theory has two core contents, the phenomenal self-model (PSM) and the phenomenal model of the intentionality relation (PMIR). Thomas Metzinger advanced the theory in his 1993 book Subjekt und Selbstmodell.

Eating recovery refers to the full spectrum of care that acknowledges and treats the multiple etiologies of anorexia nervosa and bulimia, including the biological, psychological, social and emotional causes of the disorder, through a comprehensive, integrated treatment regimen. When successful, this regimen restores the individual to a healthy weight and arms him or her with the skills and resources needed to maintain a sustainable recovery. Although there are a variety of treatment options available to the eating disorders patient, the intensive and multi-faceted program followed in eating recovery is the appropriate option for individuals who require intensive support and are able to commit to treatment in an inpatient, residential or full-day hospital setting.

Joseph Levine is an American philosopher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who received his PhD from Harvard University in 1981.

Higher-order theories of consciousness postulate that consciousness consists in perceptions or thoughts about first-order mental states. In particular, phenomenal consciousness is thought to be higher-order representation of perceptual or quasi-perceptual contents, such as visual images.

Intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Intention involves mental activities such as planning and forethought.

Theories of mental representation are those that rest the cognitive abilities of the mind on the processing of content-laden vehicles, called representations. Naturalizing these theories involves an account of how a representation, initially posited as a theoretical construct, can be realized in a physical system. A central aspect of any account of representation is how they derive and designate semantic content. The possession of meaningful content is the most characteristic property of representations and arguably integral to their functionality. The project of the naturalistic philosopher is to provide an account of the representation relationship between a representation A and its object of intentional content a, such that having content A is entailed by standing in a particular relation with a.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Morgan, Alex (2014). "Representations Gone Mental" (PDF). Synthese. 191 (2): 213–44. doi:10.1007/s11229-013-0328-7.
  2. Marr, David (2010). Vision. A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. The MIT Press. ISBN   978-0262514620.
  3. Mckellar, Peter (1957). Imagination and thinking: A psychological analysis. Oxford, England.
  4. 1 2 Robert J. Sternberg (2009). Cognitive Psychology. ISBN   9780495506294.
  5. Augusto, Luis M. (2014). "Unconscious representations 2: Towards an integrated cognitive architecture". Axiomathes. 24: 19–43. doi:10.1007/s10516-012-9207-y.
  6. 1 2 3 Kind, Amy (2014). Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind. New York: Routledge. p. 118.
  7. Grice, H.P. (1957). "Meaning". Philosophical Review. 66.
  8. Kriegel, Uriah (2014). Current Controversies in Philosophy of Mind. Routledge. pp. 161–79.

Further reading