Behavioral and Brain Sciences



Short Communication

The illusion of explanation: The experience of volition, mental effort, and mental imagery


Zenon Pylyshyn a1
a1 Center for Cognitive Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Piscataway, NJ 08854-8020 zenon@ruccs.rutgers.edu http://ruccs.rutgers.edu/faculty/pylyshyn.htm

Abstract

This commentary argues that the “illusion” to which Wegner refers in The Illusion of Conscious Will is actually the illusion that our conscious experience of mentally causing certain behaviors explains the behavior in question: It is not the subjective experience itself that is illusory, but the implied causal explanation. The experience of “mental effort” is cited as another example of this sort of illusion. Another significant example is the experience that properties of the representation of our mental images are responsible for certain patterns of behavior observed in mental imagery experiments. Examples include the increase in reaction time found when details are reported from smaller images or when attention is switched between different places and features (imagined as further apart than they are) within a single image. These examples illustrate the nature of the “illusion” involved: It is the illusion that certain observed regularities occur because of the content of the experience, as opposed to the converse – that experience has the content it does because of what the person figures out would happen in the imagined situation.