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Aphantasia and unsymbolized thinking: philosophical considerations

Grant number: 21/07117-7
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Post-doctor
Effective date (Start): December 17, 2021
Effective date (End): December 16, 2022
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy
Principal researcher:Plinio Junqueira Smith
Grantee:Raquel Albieri Krempel
Supervisor abroad: Edouard Machery
Home Institution: Escola de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (EFLCH). Universidade Federal de São Paulo (UNIFESP). Campus Guarulhos. Guarulhos , SP, Brazil
Research place: University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), United States  
Associated to the scholarship:18/12683-9 - Concepts and words: the case of colors, BP.PD


According to a common view, conscious thoughts necessarily involve quasi-perceptual experiences, or mental images. This is alleged to be the case not only when one entertains conscious thoughts about perceptible things like cats or waterfalls, but also when one thinks about more abstract things, like the impact of philosophy on society. In the case of conscious propositional thoughts, the idea is that they occur in inner speech, which is taken to involve imagery (typically auditory) of words in a natural language. This view about conscious thoughts is generally coupled with a view about cognitive phenomenology, according to which the phenomenology of conscious thoughts can be reduced to the phenomenology of mental images. Both views are defended, for instance, by Prinz and Carruthers. Also related is a view about the nature of concepts, according to which they have a perceptual format. I will argue that unsymbolized thinking and aphantasia cast doubt on all these views. Unsymbolized thinking is the experience of conscious thoughts that does not involve any kind of imagery. Aphantasia, in its extreme form, is the inability to produce mental images of all sensory modalities. In this research project I intend to assess the empirical evidence available for unsymbolized thinking and aphantasia, and to draw some consequences of their acceptance for philosophical debates about conscious thoughts, cognitive phenomenology and the nature of concepts.

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