Mental image  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A mental image is an experience that significantly resembles the experience of perceiving some object, event, or scene, but that occurs when the relevant object, event, or scene is not actually present to the senses (McKellar, 1957; Richardson,1969; Finke, 1989; Thomas, 2003). The nature of these experiences, what makes them possible, and their function (if any) have long been subjects of research and controversy in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science and, more recently, neuroscience. As contemporary researchers use the expression, mental images (or mental imagery) can occur in any sense mode, so that we may experience auditory images (Reisberg, 1992), olfactory images (Bensafi et al., 2003), and so forth. However, the vast majority of philosophical and scientific investigations of the topic focus upon visual mental imagery. It is often assumed (e.g., by Aristotle: On the Soul III.3 428a) that, like humans, many types of animal are capable of experiencing mental images. However, owing to the fundamentally subjective nature of the phenomenon, there is little evidence either for or against this view.

Philosophers such as Berkeley, and Hume, and early experimental psychologists, such as Wundt and James, understood ideas in general to be mental images, and today it is very widely believed that images function as mental representations (or mental models), playing an important role in memory and thinking (Paivio, 1986; Egan, 1992; Barsalou, 1999; Prinz, 2002). Indeed, some have gone so far as to suggest that images are best understood as by definition a form of inner, mental or neural representation (Block, 1983; Kosslyn, 1983). Others, however, reject the view that the image experience may be identical with (or directly caused by) any such representation in the mind or the brain (Sartre, 1940; Ryle, 1949; Skinner, 1974; Thomas, 1999; Bartolomeo, 2002; Bennett & Hacker, 2003).

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mental image" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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