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Seeing and Visualizing: It's Not What You Think (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology) Paperback – January 20, 2006

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Editorial Reviews


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 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 Metapsychology)

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)

About the Author

Zenon W. Pylyshyn is Board of Governors Professor of Cognitive Science at Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science. He is the author of Seeing and Visualizing: It's Not what You Think (2003), Things and Places: How the mind connects with the world (2007) and Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science (1984), all published by The MIT Press, as well as over a hundred scientific papers on perception, attention, and the computational theory of mind.


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Product Details

  • Series: Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology
  • Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; 1 edition (January 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262661977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262661973
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Zenon Pylyshyn received a B.Eng. in Engineering-Physics from McGill University, an M.Sc. in Control Systems from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Saskatchewan for research involving the application of information theory to studies of human short-term memory. Following his Ph.D. he spent two years as a Canada Council Senior fellow and then joined the faculty at the University of Western Ontario in London, where he remained until 1994 as Professor of Psychology and of Computer Science, as well as honorary professor in the departments of Philosophy and Electrical Engineering and Director of the UWO Center for Cognitive Science. In 1994 Pylyshyn joined the faculty of Rutgers University as Board of Governors Professor of Cognitive Science and Director of the Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science.

Pylyshyn is recipient of numerous fellowships and awards. He was awarded the Donald O. Hebb Award from the Canadian Psychological Association in June 1990, "for distinguished contributions to psychology as a science". He is a fellow if the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. He has been a Killam Fellow, a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a fellow at the MIT Center for Cognitive Science and a fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIAR). In 1998 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2004 he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize in Paris and delivered the Jean Nicod lectures. He is past president of two international societies: the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and the Cognitive Science Society. For 9 years (1985-1994) he was national director of the Program in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. He is on the editorial boards of eight scientific journals and has been on several industrial or academic scientific advisory boards.

Pylyshyn has published well over 100 scientific articles and book chapters, including a paper designated as a Science Citation Classic ("What the Mind's Eye Tells the Mind's Brain", Psychological Bulletin, 1973) and has given over 200 talks and keynote addresses. He is author of Things and Places: How the Mind Connects with the World (Jean Nicod Lectures Series, MIT Press, 2007), Seeing and Visualizing: It's not what you think (MIT Press, 2004) [Winner of the Association of American Publishers Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Annual Awards competition], Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science (MIT Press, 1984), as well as contributor/editor of five books, including: Perspectives on the Computer Revolution (1988); Computational Processes in Human Vision: An Interdisciplinary Perspective (1988), The Robot's Dilemma: The Frame Problem in Artificial Intelligence (1987), Meaning and Cognitive Structure: Issues in the Computational Theory of Mind (1986), and The Robot's Dilemma Revisited (1996). As chairman of an NSF-sponsored panel on artificial intelligence, Pylyshyn also helped to produce a major survey of the state-of-the-art in artificial intelligence which appeared as part of the book What Can be Automated? (1980).

For the past fifteen years, Pylyshyn's personal research has dealt with two general areas. One is the theoretical analysis of the nature of the human cognitive system that enables humans to perceive the world, as well as to reason and imagine. This has led to a number of theoretical investigations of the "architecture of the mind". On the experimental side Pylyshyn has been concerned with exploring his Visual Indexing Theory (sometimes called the FINST theory), dealing with how human visual attention is allocated and how humans cognize objects and space. This theory hypothesizes a preconceptual mechanism by which objects in a visual scene can be individuated, tracked, and directly (or demonstratively) referred to by cognitive processes prior to their properties being encoded. Over a dozen papers have been published on this theory and its experimental investigation, as well as its implications for understanding how vision is connected with the world, making perceptual-motor coordination possible. The theory has implications for philosophical issues concerning the semantics of visual perception as well as practical applications for the design of human-computer interfaces.

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia S. Haggard on January 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
Seeing and Visualizing: It's not what you think, a new book by Zenon Pylyshyn due out in December , is a thorough review of what we know about vision with intriguing twists along the way. Pylyshyn articulates a point of view that he has developed, in a career spanning 40 years, about how people look at the world around them and think about what they see.

Pylyshyn's thesis - captured in the second part of his title - is that when it comes to vision, our ordinary everyday experiences "rest largely on a grand illusion" (x).
Pylyshyn's aim in this book is "to try to persuade you that when you look around, the impression you have that you are creating a large panoramic picture in your head is a total illusion" (xi). "But what is the problem?" you might say. "I'm sitting here at my desk, and I see my books, my papers, my computer screen and my coffee cup, I feel these objects when I reach out to touch them: What is illusory about that?" The problem is that scientific findings force us to accept that "there is more to vision than meets the eye" (5).

Pylyshyn unpacks the scientific evidence in Chapter 1, by asking us to consider what the brain has to work with. We have light-sensitive surfaces of the eye (the retinas), but they are two-dimensional, so our sense of depth must come from something else. We know that at least part of the information comes from the differences between the patterns that the two eyes receive, but how does this produce the experience of seeing a three-dimensional world?

The story gets even more puzzling as we look more closely at the information that the brain receives from the eyes. The retinas themselves are not uniform.
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