How can it be true that one sees a lake when looking at a picture of a lake, since one's gaze is directed upon a flat dry surface covered in paint? An adequate contemporary explanation cannot avoid taking a theoretical stand on some fundamental cognitive science issues concerning the nature of perception, of pictorial content, and of perceptual reference to items that, strictly speaking, have no physical existence. A solution is proposed that invokes a broadly functionalist, naturalistic theory of perception, plus a double content analysis of perceptual interpretation, which permits non-supervenient, culturally autonomous modes of reference to be generated and artistically exploited even in a purely physical world. In addition, a functionalist concept of broad or ‘spread’ reference replaces the traditional precise intentional concept of reference, which previously made reference to non-existent items theoretically intractable.

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