A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that makes use of such a symbol; "a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this."
Mental representation is the mental imagery of things that are not currently seen or sensed by the sense organs. In our minds we often have images of objects, events and settings. For example, If you were asked to recall a birthday party, you could probably remember the people, the place where it was held, and things that you saw and maybe even the things you smelled. You cannot actually smell and see those things but you can imagine them.
In contemporary philosophy, specifically in fields of metaphysics such as philosophy of mind and ontology, a mental representation is one of the prevailing ways of explaining and describing the nature of ideas and concepts.
Mental representations (or mental imagery) enable representing things that have never been experienced as well as things that do not exist. Think of yourself traveling to a place you have never been before, or having a third arm. These things have either never happened or are impossible and do not exist, yet our brain and mental imagery allows us to imagine them. Although visual imagery is more likely to be recalled, mental Imagery may involve representations in any of the sensory modalities, such as, hearing, smell, or taste. Kosslyn proposes images are used to help solve certain types of problems. We are able to visualize the objects in question and mentally represent the images to solve it.
Representationalism and representational theories of mind
Representational theories of mind conceive of thinking as occurring within an internal system of representation. The propositional attitudes of the mind are token mental representations with semantic properties. Representationalism (also known as indirect realism) is the view that representations are the main way we access external reality. Another major prevailing philosophical theory posits that concepts are entirely abstract objects.
The representational theory of mind attempts to explain the nature of ideas, concepts and other mental content in contemporary philosophy of mind, cognitive science and experimental psychology. In contrast to theories of naive or direct realism, the representational theory of mind postulates the actual existence of mental representations which act as intermediaries between the observing subject and the objects, processes or other entities observed in the external world. These intermediaries stand for or represent to the mind the objects of that world.
For example, when someone arrives at the belief that his or her floor needs sweeping, the representational theory of mind states that he or she forms a mental representation that represents the floor and its state of cleanliness.
The original or "classical" representational theory probably can be traced back to Thomas Hobbes and was a dominant theme in classical empiricism in general. According to this version of the theory, the mental representations were images (often called "ideas") of the objects of states of affairs represented. For modern adherents, such as Jerry Fodor, Steven Pinker and many others, the representational system consists rather of an internal language of thought (i.e., mentalese). The contents of thoughts are represented in symbolic structures (the formulas of Mentalese) which, analogously to natural languages but on a much more abstract level, possess a syntax and semantics very much like those of natural languages.
- Representation in dynamical systems models of cognition
- Object of the mind
- Knowledge representation
- Representative realism
- Condensation (psychology)
- Visual space
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- The Ontology of Concepts—Abstract Objects or Mental Representations?, Eric Margolis and Stephen Laurence
- Henrich, J. & Boyd, R. (2002). Culture and cognition: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations. Culture and Cognition, 2, 87–112. Full text