Space to Reason
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Space to Reason

A Spatial Theory of Human Thought

By Markus Knauff

An argument against the role of visual imagination in reasoning that proposes a spatial theory of human thought, supported by empirical and computational evidence.





An argument against the role of visual imagination in reasoning that proposes a spatial theory of human thought, supported by empirical and computational evidence.

Many scholars believe that visual mental imagery plays a key role in reasoning. In Space to Reason, Markus Knauff argues against this view, proposing that visual images are not relevant for reasoning and can even impede the process. He also argues against the claim that human thinking is solely based on abstract symbols and is completely embedded in language. Knauff proposes a third way to think about human reasoning that relies on supramodal spatial layout models, which are more abstract than pictorial images and more concrete than linguistic representations. He argues that these spatial layout models are at the heart of human thought, even thought about nonspatial relations in the world.

For Knauff the visual images that we so often associate with reasoning are only in the foreground of conscious experience. Behind the images, the actual logical work is carried out by reasoning-specific operations on these spatial layout models. Knauff also offers a solution to the problem of indeterminacy in human reasoning, introducing the notion of a preferred layout model, which is one layout model among others that has the best chance of being mentally constructed and thus guides the further process of thought. Knauff's "space to reason" theory covers the functional, the algorithmic, and the implementational level of analysis and is corroborated by psychological experiments, functional brain imaging, and computational modeling.


$45.00 S | £35.00 ISBN: 9780262018654 312 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in 16 figures


  • The strength of this book is that it provides substantial converging Knauff's particular domain of research....I was particularly impressed with the computational model discusses in chapter seven....I hope that Markus Knauff eventually writes a sequel to Space to Reason.

    Review of Metaphysics

  • The main strength of Knauff's research program lies in its plurality of methodologies. This results in a coherent picture of the cognitive mechanisms underlying relational reasoning... the book provides a wealth of empirical and theoretical contributions... Space to Reason is certainly going to become the key reference on relational reasoning for the years to come.

    Künstliche Intelligenz


  • If you think you use mental 'pictures' to reason, this book puts you straight. Images impede reasoning. The book uses experiments, brain imaging, and the intuitions of a Nobel prize-winning novelist to show that what you rely on are spatial representations. Every psychologist's bookshelves should make space for Space to Reason.

    Philip Johnson-Laird

    Stuart Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Princeton University

  • Markus Knauff presents and analyzes core questions of human thinking in a clear and enjoyable way. He discusses highly controversial issues of cognitive science and points out implications from research of several disciplines that establish a solid basis for future research. This book is a must for everyone interested in cognitive science, the imagery debate, spatial cognition, and human reasoning.

    Christian Freksa

    Cognitive Systems, University of Bremen

  • Markus Knauff marshals an artful combination of behavioral, neural, and computational evidence to analyze the interactions of visual and spatial representations in reasoning. This novel contribution will be interesting to anyone concerned with mental imagery or spatial cognition.

    Kenneth Forbus

    Northwestern University

  • Markus Knauff provides clear evidence and an engaging, scholarly argument that spatial reasoning is at the center of human thought in this excellent, comprehensive, and original contribution to our understanding of spatial imagination and the rational mind.

    Ruth Byrne

    Professor of Cognitive Science, Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin

  • Space to Reason offers a creative and compelling analysis of the role of spatial representations in human reasoning, one that is based on scientific evidence and grounded in research-based theory. Within the context of human reason tasks, Markus Knauff builds the case for a distinction between visual images (which can impede reasoning) and spatial representations (which can aid reasoning). If you are interested in understanding how people use their imagination in reasoning, this book belongs on your bookshelf.

    Richard E. Mayer

    Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Multimedia Learning: Second Edition