Seeing and Visualizing





In Seeing and Visualizing, Zenon Pylyshyn argues that seeing is different from thinking and that to see is not, as it may seem intuitively, to create an inner replica of the world. Pylyshyn examines how we see and how we visualize and why the scientific account does not align with the way these processes seem to us "from the inside." In doing so, he addresses issues in vision science, cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive neuroscience.

First, Pylyshyn argues that there is a core stage of vision independent from the influence of our prior beliefs and examines how vision can be intelligent and yet essentially knowledge-free. He then proposes that a mechanism within the vision module, called a visual index (or FINST), provides a direct preconceptual connection between parts of visual representations and things in the world, and he presents various experiments that illustrate the operation of this mechanism. He argues that such a deictic reference mechanism is needed to account for many properties of vision, including how mental images attain their apparent spatial character without themselves being laid out in space in our brains.

The final section of the book examines the "picture theory" of mental imagery, including recent neuroscience evidence, and asks whether any current evidence speaks to the issue of the format of mental images. This analysis of mental imagery brings together many of the themes raised throughout the book and provides a framework for considering such issues as the distinction between the form and the content of representations, the role of vision in thought, and the relation between behavioral, neuroscientific, and phenomenological evidence regarding mental representations.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262162173 584 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 116 illus.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262661973 584 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 116 illus.


  • Pylyshyn's book is to be commended as a thorough and persuasive defense of the information-processing approach to vision and visualizing. It should be essential reading for psychologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers.

    Paul Coates



  • Over the past thirty years, Zenon Pylyshyn has played a leading role in developing theories of high-level visual cognition. In this book, he brings together his long-standing interests in the modularity of visual processing, the relations between visual attention, spatial indexing, and 'seeing', and the relationship between imagery and vision. The work not only summarizes his influential views, but also raises important questions for future research. It will be of considerable relevance to all interested in high-level vision, from psychologists to computer scientists and philosophers.

    Glyn Humphreys

    University of Birmingham

  • Pylyshyn's book is an impressive achievement and a refreshing approach to vision science. Written with characterisitic flair and erudition, the book provides a comprehensive synthesis of research and theory in the field. Pylyshyn combines masterful exposition with incisive critical evaluations, including his own significant experimental contributions and theoretical analyses. Sensitive to key philosophical and methodological issues, Pylyshyn offers a radical critique of receieved views and dispels deeply entrenched and misconceptions to which much theorizing about vision has fallen victim.

    Peter Slezak

    Program in Cognitive Science, University of New South Wales

  • Pylyshyn's work is cognitive science at its best, briging detailed experimental results to bear upon a number of important theoretical questions, all in amiably clear prose. Anyone interested not only in the nature of vision, but in imagistic experience, attention, or demonstrative reference, will find here a wealth of relevant data and argument. Although Pylyshyn is largely concerned to defend his own theory of 'visual indices,' he is quite sensitive to competing views, as well as to the (sometimes misleading) deliverances of introspection. I emphatically recommend the book not only to the specialist, but to anyone wanting an up-to-date text on the topic generally.

    Georges Rey

    Professor of Philosophy, University of Maryland

  • Seeing and Visualizing offers a persuasive account of why visual perception and visual imagery do not depend on internal pictorial representations, and puts forward the deeply counterintuitive notion that the machinery of visual thinking does not use mental pictures at all. Pylyshyn's masterful defense of this idea is a 'must-read' not only for committed Fodorians but also for those who believe that mental representations resemble the things they depict. The book is challenging and provocative—and even occasionally infuriating—but always thoughtful and immensely readable. I recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered about how we see and visualize the world.

    Mel Goodale

    Canada Research Professor in Visual Neuroscience, University of Western Ontario