Marks & Paper: Imagination and no Imagination

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Amongst the most widely-discussed are the role of imagination in understanding other minds section 3. The variety of roles ascribed to imagination, in turn, provides a guide for discussions on the nature of imagination section 1 and its place in cognitive architecture section 2.

Mindreading is the activity of attributing mental states to oneself and to others, and of predicting and explaining behavior on the basis of those attributions. Many such hybrid accounts include a role for imagination. On pure versions of such accounts, imagination plays no special role in the attribution of mental states to others. For an overview of theory theory, see entry on folk psychology as a theory. For early papers, see Goldman ; Gordon ; Heal ; for recent dissent, see, for example, Carruthers ; Gallagher ; Saxe , ; for an overview of simulation theory, see entry on folk psychology as mental simulation.

How this metaphor is understood depends on the specific account.

Imagination - how and where does it occur in the brain?

Though classic simulationist accounts have tended to assume that the simulation process is at least in-principle accessible to consciousness, a number of recent simulation-style accounts appeal to neuroscientific evidence suggesting that at least some simulative processes take place completely unconsciously. On such accounts of mindreading, no special role is played by conscious imagination see Goldman ; Saxe Alvin Goldman , for example, argues that while mindreading is primarily the product of simulation, theorizing plays a role in certain cases as well.

15 GENIUS DIYS FOR KIDS

Partly in light of these considerations, the relative lack of spontaneous pretense in children with autistic spectrum disorders is taken as evidence for a link between the skills of pretense and empathy. Pretending is an activity that occurs during diverse circumstances, such as when children make-believe, when criminals deceive, and when thespians act Langland-Hassan Consequently, they also disagree about the mental states that enable one to pretend. Different behaviorist theories explicate behaving-as-if in different ways, but all aim to provide an account of pretense without recourse to the innate mental-state concept pretend.

Philosophical and psychological theories have sought to explain both the performance of pretense and the recognition of pretense, especially concerning evidence from developmental psychology see Lillard for an early overview. On the recognition side, children on a standard developmental trajectory distinguish pretense and reality via instinctual behavioral cues around 15—18 months; and start to do so via conventional behavioral cues from 36 months on Friedman et al.

Learning outcomes

Not surprisingly, the debate between theories of pretense often rest on interpretations of such empirical evidence. Specifically, they argue that behavioral theories do not offer straightforward explanations of this early development of pretense recognition, and incorrectly predicts that children systematically mistake other acts of behaving-as-if—such as those that stem from false beliefs—for pretense activities. In response, Stephen Stich and Joshua Tarzia has acknowledged these problems for earlier behaviorist theories, and developed a new behaviorist theory that purportedly explains the totality of empirical evidence better than metarepresentational rivals.

The debate concerning theories of pretense has implications for the role of imagination in pretense.

Political Imagination, Otherness and the European Crisis

Behaviorist theories tend to take imagination as essential to explaining pretense performance; metarepresentational theories do not. However, arguably the innate mental-state concept pretend posited by metarepresentational theories serve similar functions. Currie and Ravenscroft give a broadly behaviorist theory of pretense that does not require imagination. Most recently, Peter Langland-Hassan , has developed a theory that aims to explain pretense behavior and pretense recognition without appeal to either metarepresentation or imagination.

While Langland-Hassan does not deny that pretense is in some sense an imaginative activity, he argues that we do not need to posit a sui generis component of the mind to account for it. Autism and delusions have been—with much controversy—characterized as disorders of imagination. That is, the atypical patterns of cognition and behavior associated with each psychopathology have been argued to result from atypical functions of imagination.

The imaginative aspect of autism interacts with other prominent roles of imagination, namely mindreading, pretense, and engagement with the arts Carruthers The degree to which an imaginative deficit is implicated in autism remains a matter of considerable debate. Particularly striking examples would include Capgras and Cotard delusions. In the former, the sufferer takes her friends and family to have been replaced by imposters; in the latter, the sufferer takes himself to be dead. More mundane examples might include ordinary cases of self-deception. One approach to delusions characterize them as beliefs that are dysfunctional in their content or formation.

However, another approach to delusions characterize them as dysfunctions of imaginings. That is, a delusion is an imagined representation that is misidentified by the subject as a belief. There is an entrenched historical connection between imagination and the arts. Roger Scruton develops a Wittgensteinian account of imagination and accords it a central role in aesthetic experience and aesthetic judgment.

When one engages with an artwork, one uses it as a prop in a make-believe game. As props, artworks generate prescriptions for imaginings. When one correctly engages with an artwork, then, one imagines the representational contents as prescribed.


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Out of all the arts, it is the engagement with narratives that philosophers have explored most closely in conjunction with imagination see Stock for an overview. Gregory Currie offers an influential account of imagination and fiction, and Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen discuss literature specifically. For example, Kathleen Stock argues that a specific kind of propositional imagination is essential for engagement with fictions. In dissent, Derek Matravers argues that, contra Walton, imagination is not essential for engagement with fictions.

Philosophers have also done much to articulate the connection between imagination and engagement with music see the entry on philosophy of music ; see also Trivedi Some philosophers focus on commonalities between engagement with narratives and engagement with music. For example, even though Walton , a, acknowledges that fictional worlds of music are much more indeterminate than fictional worlds of narratives, he maintains that the same kind of imagining used in experiencing narratives is also used in experiencing various elements of music, such as imagining continuity between movements and imagining feeling musical tension.

Similarly, Andrew Kania argues that experiencing musical space and movement is imaginative like our experience of fictional narratives. Other philosophers draw parallels between engagement with music and other imaginative activities, namely as understanding other minds section 3. As an example of the former, Jerrold Levinson argues that the best explanation of musical expressiveness requires listeners to experience music imaginatively—specifically, imagining a persona expressing emotions through the music. As an example of the latter, Scruton argues that musical experience is informed by spatial concepts applied metaphorically, and so imaginative perception is necessary for musical understanding but see Budd for a criticism; see also De Clercq and Kania Stephen Davies , and Peter Kivy notably criticize the imaginative accounts of engagement with music on empirical and theoretical grounds.

Other imaginative accounts of engagement with the arts can be found in entries on philosophy of film and philosophy of dance. Philosophers have sought to clarify the role of imagination in engagement with the arts by focusing on a number of puzzles and paradoxes in the vicinity.

Imagination, Cognition and Personality

The puzzle of imaginative resistance explores apparent limitations on what can be imagined during engagements with the arts and, relatedly, what can be made fictional in artworks. The paradox of tragedy and the paradox of horror examine psychological and normative differences between affective responses prompted by imaginings versus affective responses by reality-directed attitudes. Finally, the puzzle of moral persuasion is concerned with real-world outputs of imaginative engagements with artworks; specifically, whether and how artworks can morally educate or corrupt.

For more detail on each of these artistic phenomena, see the Supplement on Puzzles and Paradoxes of Imagination and the Arts. The idea that imagination plays a central role in creative processes can be traced back to Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure Reason , who takes artistic geniuses as paradigmatic examples of creativity. The unconstrained imagination can thereby take raw materials and produce outputs that transcend concepts that one possesses. As an example, Michael Polanyi gives imagination a central role in the creative endeavor of scientific discovery, by refining and narrowing the solution space to open-ended scientific problems see Stokes — And, in addition to creative processes of geniuses, contemporary philosophers also consider creative processes of ordinary people.

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Berys Gaut and Dustin Stokes argue that two characteristic features of imagination—its lack of aim at truth and its dissociation from action—make it especially suitable for creative processes. There are two points of disagreement regarding the role of imagination in creative processes. First, philosophers disagree about the nature and the strength of the connection between imagination and creativity. Kant takes imagination to be constitutive of creativity: what makes a creative process creative is the involvement of imagination aiming at the aesthetic see also A.

Gaut and Stokes, by contrast, thinks there is only an imperfect causal connection between imagination and creativity: while imagination is useful for creative processes, there are creative processes that do not involve imagination and there are imaginings that are uncreative see also Beaney Second, philosophers disagree about the type of imagination involved in creative processes. By hypothesizing a common evolutionary cause, Carruthers suggests that the same imaginative capacity is involved in pretense and in creativity.

Imagination plays a role in the acquisition of knowledge. The kind of thought experiments that are regularly used in scientific theorizing is also plausibly premised on imaginative capacities see the entry on thought experiments. As already discussed, people use imagination to understand the perspectives of others section 3.

Moreover, people often make decisions via thinking about counterfactuals, or what would happen if things had been different from how they in fact are see the entries on causation and counterfactual conditionals. However, the phenomenon of transformative experience has recently called into question which kind of imaginary scenarios are truly epistemically accessible. Broadly speaking, thought experiments use imaginary scenarios to elicit responses that ideally grant people knowledge of possibilities.

A special, but prominent, type of thought experiment in philosophy concerns the link between imagination, conceivability, and metaphysical possibility. The current prevalence of similar modal arguments can be verified by entries on zombies and dualism.

These modal arguments all rely, in some way, on the idea that what one can imagine functions as a fallible and defeasible guide to what is really possible in the broadest sense. Optimists typically take it as a given that there is some connection between imagination and metaphysical modal knowledge, but focus on understanding where the connection is imperfect, such as when one apparently imagines the impossible.

For example, Kripke adopts a redescription approach to modeling some modal errors: in some cases where one is apparently imagining the impossible, one is in fact imagining a possible scenario but misconstruing it as an impossible one. Other thought experiments are scoped more narrowly; for example, scientific thought experiments are intended to allow people to explore nomic possibilities. In this thought experiment, Galileo asked people to imagine the falling of a composite of a light and heavy object versus the falling of the heavy object alone.

While it is incontrovertible that imagination is central to thought experiments, debates remain on whether imagination can be invoked in the context of justification Gendler b; Williamson or only in the context of discovery Norton , ; Spaulding The role of imagination in counterfactual reasoning—and, in particular, the question of what tends to be held constant when one contemplates counterfactual scenarios—has been explored in detail in recent philosophical and psychological works Byrne ; Williamson , , Williamson suggests that.

When we work out what would have happened if such-and-such had been the case, we frequently cannot do it without imagining such-and-such to be the case and letting things run. Williamson argues that our imaginings have evolved to be suitably constrained, such that such counterfactual reasoning can confer knowledge. Indeed, he argues that if one were to be skeptical about gaining knowledge from such a hypothetical reasoning process, then one would be forced to be implausibly skeptical about much of ordinary reasoning about actuality.

Developing an idea anticipated by Williamson , Margot Strohminger and Juhani Yli-Vakkuri forthcoming argue that the same imaginative mechanisms that capable of producing metaphysical modal knowledge are also capable of producing knowledge of other restricted modalities, such as nomic and practical modality.

In parallel, Amy Kind c, argues that imaginings can confer knowledge when they are guided by reality-sensitive constraints, in a manner akin to computer simulations. Thinking about counterfactuals is just one way that imagination can factor into mundane decision-making. Neil Van Leeuwen , a, b and Bence Nanay a have recently started to elaborate on the connection between imagination and actions via decision-making.


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  • At the same time, the recently prominent discussion of transformative experiences calls into question the extent to which imagination can be epistemically useful for making life-altering decisions.