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8.1: Chapter Overview

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    Zenon Pylyshyn is one of the leading figures in the study of the foundations of cognitive science. His own training was highly interdisciplinary; he earned degrees in engineering-physics, control systems, and experimental psychology. In 1994, he joined Rutgers University as Board of Governors Professor of Cognitive Science and Director of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science. Prior to his arrival at Rutgers he was Professor of Psychology, Professor of Computer Science, Director of the University of Western Ontario Center for Cognitive Science, and an honorary professor in the departments of Philosophy and Electrical Engineering at Western. I myself had the privilege of having Pylyshyn as my PhD supervisor when I was a graduate student at Western.

    Pylyshyn is one of the key proponents of classical cognitive science (Dedrick & Trick, 2009). One of the most important contributions to classical cognitive science has been his analysis of its foundations, presented in his classic work Computation and Cognition (Pylyshyn, 1984). Pylyshyn’s (1984) book serves as a manifesto for classical cognitive science, in which cognition is computation: the manipulation of formal symbols. It stands as one of the pioneering appeals for using the multiple levels of investigation within cognitive science. It provides an extremely cogent argument for the need to use a cognitive vocabulary to capture explanatory generalizations in the study of cognition. In it, Pylyshyn also argued for establishing the strong equivalence of a cognitive theory by determining the characteristics of the cognitive architecture.

    As a champion of classical cognitive science, it should not be surprising that Pylyshyn has published key criticisms of other approaches to cognitive science. Fodor and Pylyshyn’s (1988) Cognition article “Connectionism and cognitive architecture” is one of the most cited critiques of connectionist cognitive science that has ever appeared. Fodor and Pylyshyn (1981) have also provided one of the major critiques of direct perception (Gibson, 1979). This places Pylyshyn securely in the camp against embodied cognitive science; direct perception in its modern form of active perception (Noë, 2004) has played a major role in defining the embodied approach. Given the strong anti-classical, anti-representational perspective of radical embodied cognitive science (Chemero, 2009), it is far from surprising to be able to cite Pylyshyn’s work in opposition to it.

    In addition to pioneering classical cognitive science, Pylyshyn has been a crucial contributor to the literature on mental imagery and visual cognition. He is well known as a proponent of the propositional account of mental imagery, and he has published key articles critiquing its opponent, the depictive view (Pylyshyn, 1973, 1979b, 1981a, 2003b). His 1973 article “What the mind’s eye tells the mind’s brain: A critique of mental imagery” is a science citation classic that is responsible for launching the imagery debate in cognitive science. In concert with his analysis of mental imagery, Pylyshyn has developed a theory of visual cognition that may serve as an account of how cognition connects to the world (Pylyshyn, 1989, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003c, 2007; Pylyshyn & Storm, 1988). The most extensive treatments of this theory can be found in his 2003 book Seeing and Visualizing—which inspired the title of the current chapter—and in his 2007 book Things and Places.

    The purpose of the current chapter is to provide a brief introduction to Pylyshyn’s theory of visual cognition, in part because this theory provides a wonderful example of the interdisciplinary scope of modern cognitive science. A second, more crucial reason is that, as argued in this chapter, this theory contains fundamental aspects of all three approaches—in spite of Pylyshyn’s position as a proponent of classical cognitive science and as a critic of both connectionist and embodied cognitive science. Thus Pylyshyn’s account of visual cognition provides an example of the type of hybrid theory that was alluded to in the previous two chapters: a theory that requires classical, connectionist, and embodied elements.

    8.1: Chapter Overview is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Michael R. W. Dawson (Athabasca University Press) .

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