Journal of Consciousness Studies 26 (11-12):33-59 (2019)

Fabrizio Calzavarini
University of Turin (PhD)
Advocates of the pictorial theory of meaning claimed that the meaning of a word is a mental picture and that lexical semantic competence --i.e. knowledge of word meaning -- is closely connected to visual imagery. As a philosophical theory of meaning, the pictorial theory was discredited in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, there is evidence that visual imagery -- the generation of visual mental images -- does play a role in semantic processing and is not just a possible side effect of it. The aim of this article is to critically assess the neuroscientific status of the pictorial theory of meaning as a hypothesis about the neurocognitive underpinnings of lexical semantic competence. I will assess relevant neuroimaging, behavioural, and patient data, as well as data from congenital blindness studies.
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