In Things and Places, Zenon Pylyshyn argues that the process of incrementally constructing perceptual representations, solving the binding problem (determining which properties go together), and, more generally, grounding perceptual representations in experience arise from the nonconceptual capacity to pick out and keep track of a small number of sensory individuals. He proposes a mechanism in early vision that allows us to select a limited number of sensory objects, to reidentify each of them under certain conditions as the same individual seen before, and to keep track of their enduring individuality despite radical changes in their properties—all without the machinery of concepts, identity, and tenses. This mechanism, which he calls FINSTs (for "Fingers of Instantiation"), is responsible for our capacity to individuate and track several independently moving sensory objects—an ability that we exercise every waking minute, and one that can be understood as fundamental to the way we see and understand the world and to our sense of space.
Pylyshyn examines certain empirical phenomena of early vision in light of the FINST mechanism, including tracking and attentional selection. He argues provocatively that the initial selection of perceptual individuals is our primary nonconceptual contact with the perceptual world (a contact that does not depend on prior encoding of any properties of the thing selected) and then draws on a wide range of empirical data to support a radical externalist theory of spatial representation that grows out of his indexing theory.
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) and Computation and Cognition: Toward a Foundation for Cognitive Science (1984), both published by The MIT Press, as well as over a hundred scientific papers on perception, attention, and the computational theory of mind.
"Pylyshyn's bold and provocative thesis, that primitive object tags in early vision constitute a form of basic intentional contact with the world, brings much-needed empirical illumination to such hot philosophical topics as nonconceptual content, conscious experience, and demonstrative thought. A must-read for any philosopher of mind."
—Joseph Levine, Professor of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
"Pylyshyn takes on the hoary question how vision manages to represent objects and spatial relations, proposing a theory of a nonconceptual, demonstrative tracking of objects, as opposed to locations. With his usual lucidity and imagination, he shows how such an account might begin to explain a wide range of facts about conscious visual experience and therelation of thought to reality. There's a lot to argue with here. But that's precisely the merit of the book, that it focuses attention on issues over which both philosophers and psychologists will fruitfully disagree, enriched by the variety of conceptual and experimental considerations heraises."
—Georges Rey, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland
"This is one of the most provocative and challenging books to have appeared in philosophy or psychology in the last twenty years. It marks out distinctive and forcefully argued positions on fundamental topics: the perceptual basis of reference to objects, and the relation of object-identification to spatial representation. Pylyshyn's writing is sharp, direct, and full of unexpected and arresting ideas. His extended development of his notion of a visual index, its role in binding, and its relation to spatial representation, provides an exhiliratingly fresh perspective on basic questions."
—John Campbell, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley
"In this masterful book, Pylyshyn lays out his important research program on attentional indices. He draws out the theoretical significance of his (and others') empirical work on early vision and attention for foundational issues in cognitive science, including the problem how representations are grounded in the world as well as the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptual representations. The synthesis of his empirical research program is in itself sufficient reason to read the book, but the broad theoretical context in which he puts the work makes it a thrilling ride."
—Susan Carey, Department of Psychology, Harvard University