A mental image is an experience that, on most occasions, significantly resembles the experience of perceiving some object, event, or scene, but occurs when the relevant object, event, or scene is not actually present to the senses. There are sometimes episodes, particularly on falling asleep (hypnagogic imagery) and waking up (hypnopompic), when the mental imagery, being of a rapid, phantasmagoric and involuntary character, defies perception, presenting a kaleidoscopic field, in which no distinct object can be discerned.
The nature of these experiences, what makes them possible, and their function (if any) have long been subjects of research and controversy in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, and more recently, neuroscience. As contemporary researchers use the expression, mental images (or mental imagery) can occur in the form of any sense, so that we may experience auditory images, olfactory images, and so forth. However, the vast majority of philosophical and scientific investigations of the topic focus upon visual mental imagery. It has been assumed that, like humans, many types of animals are capable of experiencing mental images. Due to the fundamentally subjective nature of the phenomenon, there is little to no evidence either for or against this view.
Philosophers such as George Berkeley and David Hume, and early experimental psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt and William James, understood ideas in general to be mental images, and today it is very widely believed that much imagery functions as mental representations (or mental models), playing an important role in memory and thinking. Some have gone so far as to suggest that images are best understood to be, by definition, a form of inner, mental or neural representation; in the case of hypnagogic and hypnapompic imagery, it is not representational at all. Others reject the view that the image experience may be identical with (or directly caused by) any such representation in the mind or the brain, but do not take account of the non-representational forms of imagery.
In 2010 IBM applied for a patent on how to extract mental images of human faces from the human brain. It uses a feedback loop based on brain measurements of the fusiform face area in the brain which activates proportionate with degree of facial recognition.
Read more about Mental Image: How Mental Images Form in The Brain, Philosophical Ideas About Mental Images, Mental Imagery in Experimental Psychology, Training and Learning Styles, Mental Imagery, Visualization and The Himalayan Traditions
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