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Brian Keane; Contour interpolation: A case study in Modularity of Mind. Journal of Vision 2017;17(10):1366. doi: 10.1167/17.10.1366.
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In his book Modularity of Mind (1983), Jerry Fodor postulated perceptual and linguistic mechanisms that draw upon a limited range of stored information to execute specialized operations. Do modules exist? There have been hundreds of articles on the topic, but debates thus far have been framed in very general terms without any detailed case studies. The topic is important not just because of its historical interest but also because it provides a viable overarching framework from which to further understand and make hypotheses about the mind's structure and function. Here, I consider the modular nature ("modularity") of contour interpolation, which is a visual process that represents non-visible edges on the basis of how surrounding visible edges are spatiotemporally configured. Interpolation is examined because it is a prima facie likely candidate: it helps recover fundamental scene characteristics like object shape, number and persistence; it is phylogenetically primitive, appearing throughout the animal kingdom; and it impressively determines at each moment how hundreds of scene segments form contours and closed surfaces (objects). I argue that interpolation qualifies as a module in Fodor's original sense of the term. I present evidence that interpolation is domain specific, mandatory, fast, and developmentally well-sequenced; that it produces representationally impoverished outputs; that it relies upon a relatively fixed neural architecture that can be selectively impaired; that it is encapsulated from belief and expectation; and that its inner workings cannot be fathomed through conscious introspection. Upon describing results that are seemingly inconsistent with a modular interpolation process, I argue that interpolation is modular to the extent that the initiating conditions for interpolation are strong. As interpolated contours become more salient, the modularity features emerge. It is concluded that the empirical evidence, taken as whole, confirms Fodor's original speculation that at least certain parts of the mind are modularly organized.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2017
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