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The Homunculus Objection

This "picture-in-the-head" or "Cartesian theatre" concept of visual representation has been criticized on the grounds that there would have to be a miniature observer to view this miniature internal scene, resulting in an infinite regress of observers within observers.

Adapted by Dave Cantrell, originally published in Smithsonian 16 (1) (April 1985):97.

But this argument is invalid. For in fact there is no need for an internal observer of the scene, since the internal representation is simply a data structure like any other data in a computer, except that this data is expressed in spatial form. For if a picture in the head required a homunculus to view it, then the same argument would hold for any other form of information in the brain, which would also require a homunculus to read or interpret that information. In fact any information encoded in the brain needs only to be available to other internal processes rather than to a miniature copy of the whole brain. The fact that the brain does go to the trouble of constructing a full spatial analog of the external environment merely suggests that it has ways to make use of this spatial data. In other words, the brain employes an analogical paradigm of perceptual computation to make use of the analogical data in spatial perception.

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