Zenon Pylyshyn

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Zenon Walter Pylyshyn (born 1937) is a Canadian cognitive scientist and philosopher, and Professor of Psychology and Computer science at the University of Western Ontario. He is known for his work in the field of computation and cognition.


  • No one , to my knowledge, has suggested that the image must accelerate and decelerate or that the relation among torque, angular momentum, and angular velocity has a,1 analogue in the mental rotation case. Of course it may tum our that it takes subjects longer to rotate an object that they imagine to be heavier, thus increasing the predictive value of the metaphor. But in that case it seems clearer that, even if it was predictive, the metaphor could nor be explanatory (surely, no one believes that some images are heavier than others and the heavier ones accelerate more slowly).
    • Zenon W. Pylyshyn, "The rate of “mental rotation” of images: A test of a holistic analogue hypothesis." Memory & Cognition 7.1 (1979): 19-28; p. 19-20
  • What people report is not properties of their image but of the objects they are imagining. Such properties as color, shape, size and so on are clearly properties of the objects that are being imagined. This distinction is crucial. The seemingly innocent scope slip that takes image of object X with property Pro mean (image of object X) with property P instead of the correct image of (object X with property P) is probably the most ubiquitous and damaging conclusion in the whole imagery literature.
    • Pylyshyn (1981, 18-19), as cited in: Ken Clements, "Visual imagery and school mathematics." For the learning of mathematics 2.2 (1981): 2-9.
  • When taken as a way of modeling cognitive architecture, connectionism really does represent an approach that is quite different from that of the classical cognitive science that it seeks to replace. Classical models of the mind were derived from the structure of Turing and Von Neumann machines. They are not, of course, committed to the details of these machines as exemplified in Turing's original formulation or in typical commercial computers—only to the basic idea that the kind of computing that is relevant to understanding cognition involves operations on symbols.. In contrast, connectionists propose to design systems that can exhibit intelligent behavior without storing, retrieving, or otherwise operating on structured symbolic expressions. The style of processing carried out in such models is thus strikingly unlike what goes on when conventional machines are computing some function.
    • Jerry A. Fodor, and Zenon W. Pylyshyn. "Connectionism and cognitive architecture: A critical analysis." Cognition 28.1-2 (1988): 3-71.

Computation and cognition, 1984[edit]

Zenon Walter Pylyshyn, Computation and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT press, 1984.

  • [A computer program for Task A qua an explanatory model and how a human cognizer actually carries out Task A are equivalent in the strong sense when it can be shown that]... the model and the organism are carrying out the same process.
    • p. xv; As cited in: Journal of Intelligent Systems, Volume 4. (1994), p. 313
  • [If] we equip the programmed computer with transducers so it can interact freely with a natural environment and a linguistic one, as well as the power to make inferences, it is far from obvious what if any latitude the theorist (who knows how the transducers operate and therefore what they respond to) would still have in assigning a coherent interpretation to the functional states so as to capture psychologically relevant regularities in behavior. If the answer is that the theorist is left with no latitude beyond the usual inductive indeterminism all theories have in the face of finite data, it would be perverse to deny that these states had the semantic content assigned to them by the theory.
    • p. 44
  • Rather than a series of levels, we have a distinguished level, , the level at which interpretation of the symbols is in the intentional, or cognitive, domain or in the domain of the objects of thought.
    • p. 95
  • The term knowledge raises philosophical eyebrows (strictly speaking, it should be called belief).
    • p. 130

Quotes about Zenon Pylyshyn[edit]

  • Pylyshyn complains that Kosslyn's model is "more like an encyclopedia than a theory" [Pylyshyn, 1984, p. 254]. Because it is essentially ad hoc, the fact that it "predicts" the empirical evidence is hardly surprising.
The Pylyshyn-Kosslyn debate has occasionally been criticized on the ground that it, like other disputes about representation, is irresolvable.
  • Without a specification of a creature's goals, the very idea of intelligence is meaningless. A toadstool could be given a genius award for accomplishing with pinpoint precision and unerring reliability, the feat of sitting exactly where it is sitting. Nothing would prevent us from agreeing with the cognitive scientist Zenon Pylyshyn that rocks are smarter than cats because rocks have the sense to go away when you kick them.
  • During the late 1970s and early 1980s there was vigorous debate about the nature of visual mental imagery. One position (championed primarily by Pylyshyn 1973, 1981) held that representations that underlie the experience of mental imagery are the same type as those used in language; the other position (which my colleagues and I supported, e.g., Kosslyn, 1980, 1994) held that these representations serve to depict, not describe, objects. The debate evolved over time... but always centred on the nature of the internal representations that underlie the experience of visualisation.
    • Stephen M. Kosslyn, "Mental images and the brain." Cognitive Neuropsychology 22.3-4 (2005): p. 333
  • The expression 'cognitive penetrability' is borrowed from a cognitive scientist, Zenon Pylyshyn. He distinguishes between our cognitively penetrable mental functions on the one hand and our functional architecture on the other.
    • Stein Bråten (2006), Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny. p. 360
  • Some skeptics, such as the cognitive scientist Zenon Pylyshyn, argue that images are “epiphenomenal.”
  • Cognitive scientist Zenon Pylyshyn objected that Shepard's mentally rotated images and Kosslyn's mentally compared images had to be constructed from imageless propositions in the central nervous system—propositions containing all of the information necessary to identify the correct answer without constructing any imagery.
    • Irving B. Weiner, ‎W. Edward Craighead (2010), The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology - Volume 3. p. 984

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