Situated Models of Imagination and Some Political Implications

A post by Julia Jansen.

New models of the mind have conquered much of contemporary research in philosophy of mind and cognitive science. They replace the classical model that, put in very simple terms, pictures the mind as internal to an individual and populated by mental representations. Under the general titles of ‘situated’ cognition or ‘4e’ cognition embedded, embodied, enactive, and extended models have quickly gained currency since the turn of the millennium. What these models share, despite significant differences between them, is the departure from the individualist, internalist, and representationalist models that had reigned for so long. However, while ‘cognition’ is cited as what receives more appropriate and fruitful explanation by these models, imagination is routinely left behind as an ‘offline’ mental activity that, in the absence of its objects and de-coupled from its environment, must rely on representations (‘mental images’) that replace those objects ‘in the imaginer’s mind’.

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On the Genuineness and Rationality of Fictional Emotion: A Phenomenological Approach

A post by Michela Summa.

While reading a novel, watching a movie or a play, we are often emotionally touched by what is described or represented. This very common phenomenon has prompted a complex and multifaceted debate on the status of so-called “fictional emotions”, i.e., of emotions directed at something merely fictive or imagined  (cf. Currie 1990, 182f.; Friend 2016; Gendler and Kovakovich 2005; Radford 1975; Tullmann and Buckwalter 2014; Walton 1978, 1990; Gendler 2010). The main questions raised in this debate are whether these emotions can be considered to be genuine and rationally grounded. These questions are mainly motivated by the two following remarks: (i) fictional emotions are not based on the belief in the existence of what moves us, and (ii) they do not motivate us to act in the same way as emotions for something real or possibly real do.

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The Birth of Human Imagination out of the Spirit of Language

A post by Daniel Dor.

In Dor (2015) and subsequent work, I develop a new general theory of human language and its evolution that I think the readers of this blog may find interesting – because it carries far-reaching implications for our understanding of human imagination, its nature and evolution.

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Happy Birthday to The Junkyard

A post by Amy Kind

Today we celebrate the first birthday of The Junkyard!  We’re very pleased with how our first year went.  We have thus far featured Wednesday posts from 41 different authors – scholars ranging from philosophers to psychologists to legal scholars.  We’ve also run a book symposium, a roundup of recent work on imagination, and a conference report.  There were about 9K unique visitors to our blog in its first year, and almost 23K page views.

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Putting Imagery in its Place

A post by Dan Cavedon-Taylor.

One issue that has recently gained attention in the literature on mental imagery is the existence of perceptual-imagery hybrids. Consider the following:

Seeing Constellations: Seeing a constellation in the night sky may be partially a matter of projecting into one’s visual experience imagery of lines connecting stars (Briscoe 2011)

Seeing Cats: Seeing a cat that is partially occluded by a picket fence, as a whole object, may be partially a matter of projecting into one’s visual experience imagery of the occluded parts of the cat (Thomas 2009; Nanay 2010; Kind forthcoming)

Avoiding Skunks: Seeing what path to take to avoid a skunk may be partially a matter of projecting into one’s visual experience the trajectory of the skunk’s spray (Van Leeuwen 2011)

The fact that imagery can combine with perception in these ways seems to tell us something important about the nature of mental images: that they are fundamentally perceptual. After all, what imagery does in these examples is aid perception in discharging its essential functions: tracking the objects before us, identifying the objects before us and guiding our actions with respect to those objects.

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Conference Report - Imagination: Diverse Approaches & Perspectives

A report prepared by Anna Abraham

On the miserably cold and wet day that was the 16th of March of this year in West Yorkshire, a group of grownups, mostly strangers to one another, assembled together at Leeds Beckett University. The gathering was decidedly mixed, with people hailing from a variety of educational and sociocultural backgrounds, and included members of each circle of the academic world from first year undergraduates to seasoned professors. The congregation had two things in common. All studied, worked or lived in North England. And everyone was there to learn about the human imagination.

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Imagination in Infants

A post by Claudia Passos-Ferreira.

Can infants imagine?  What sort of imaginative phenomenology might they have?  The answer is not obvious.  For a start, it depends on what we mean by imagination.  There is not much evidence that infants can engage in propositional imagination, the cognitive process of imagining that something is the case (e.g., a child imagining that her mother is in the next room).  However, infants may have the capacity for sensory imagination, the sensory/motor process of imagining an object with a mental image or imagining an action through motor image (e.g., an infant forming a mental image of her mother’s face when her mother is not present).  In this post, I will outline the evidence for these claims, and then explore the question of infants’ imaginative phenomenology.

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Embodied Imagination

A post by Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei.

When Goethe’s Faust appeals to the ‘wings that lift the mind,’ and Wordsworth describes wandering ‘as a cloud,’ an imagination is invoked that seems to leave behind the limits of the physical world. The truth in these metaphors lies in the fact that we can imaginatively exceed our bodily capacities, thwart physical laws, in contemplating possibilities.  Yet in recent decades, the mind itself has come to be understood as embodied and embedded in its world, as correlative to enactive perception. This unraveling of Cartesianism has made embodiment relevant to understanding of imagination in a number of ways. The capacity for internal representation may arise in material interaction with the surrounding environment, conditioning the emergence of imagination in human cognitive evolution. Social empathy for others may be facilitated by responses to their embodied actions and experiences.  Literary experience can be understood to draw upon the resources of embodied life, while the body is the medium of expression for many feats of creativity. 

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A post by Anna Abraham.

A 1969 treatise by Jeremy Walker begins as follows. “One of the most striking features of nearly all philosophical psychologies has been their failure to deal at all adequately with imagination … This 'conspiracy of silence' is puzzling, and I can think of no hypothesis to account for it. For it cannot be denied that imagination is a power, or web of powers, which plays a central part in the structure of human activity and consciousness; and so a failure to consider this power adequately must lead to a philosopher's giving a distorted, or one-sided, account of the distinctively human. For the powers of imagination are clearly related in a close and complex way with the other central human powers, such as belief, the passions, intention and the will. And it follows that any philosopher who systematically underplays the role of imagination must at some point introduce a corresponding distortion into his account of, say, the role of belief or the role of intention in human affairs” (Walker, 1969: 575).

Substitute the term ‘philosopher’ with ‘psychologist’ in this passage, and the accusation holds water. Down to the present day.  

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A post by Jennifer A. McMahon.

Art or fiction considered as a source of information, say as historical artefact, reporting or journalism is different from art as insightful. The former can be expressed as a series of propositions, the latter not. It is the latter that concerns me here.

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Imagination, Literary Fiction, and Virtue

A post by James O. Young.

Philosophers from Aristotle onwards have held that reading literary fiction can make people more virtuous. Nussbaum (1990) was among the first contemporary philosophers to maintain that literary fiction is a valuable source of moral knowledge. On her view, reading literary fiction assists readers to understand social situations and to understand the complexities of making moral decisions. Similarly, Currie (1995) believes that imagining ourselves in the situations of fictional characters can lead to moral growth. Other philosophers, such as Vogler (2007), have been sceptical about the suggestion that reading literary fiction has any moral benefits. She believes that time spent reading literary fiction is, from a moral point of view, wasted. The only way to become more virtuous she believes, is to perform virtuous acts. She writes that, for example, “if I seek to cultivate generosity, I give….Since silent reading induces retreat from my circumstances, silent reading is the opposite of habituating myself to noticing what’s going on in my world by noticing.” (Vogler 2007: 33) The hypothesis that reading literary fiction makes readers more virtuous is an empirical hypothesis. The most recent empirical evidence suggests that it is true.

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Imaginative resistance and disgust

A post by Emine Hande Tuna.

The phenomenon of imaginative resistance (IR) has been discussed in some other Junkyard posts, such as Eric Peterson’s post which examines implicit IR, Kengo Miyazono’s post about truth in fiction, Margherita Arcangeli’s commentary on Kathleen Stock's recent book, Only Imagine: Fiction, Interpretation, and Imagination, which touches on the issue of IR since it is the topic of Stock’s fourth chapter. Here, I will attempt an alternative interpretation of the phenomenon.

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Imaginative Transportation

A post by Samuel Kampa.

“Andy came back to make his movie. And Andy did what Andy does. And Andy turned it upside-down. And it still got made.” – Jim Carrey

The movie that “still got made” was Man on the Moon (1999), an Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey. Fans of comedy fondly remember Kaufman: an idiosyncratic “song-and-dance man” who deconstructed the art of stand-up with his Mighty Mouse lip-synching, his wrestling matches, his bizarre interactions with fans (milk and cookies, anyone?), and of course, his performance as Tony Clifton, a boorish lounge singer who both hated Kaufman and routinely opened for him.

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Imagining Being Someone Else

A Post by Heidi Maibom.

Recently, various objections have been raised against empathy in what seems to be a serious backlash against Panglossian attitudes to the construct, whether in its affective or cognitive form. We are told not only that empathy is not necessary for morality, but that it actually is bad for it (Jesse Prinz and Paul Bloom). Moreover, in his provocatively titled article “Anti-Empathy” the late Peter Goldie insists that we can never fully succeed in taking another person’s perspective because we would have to represent her background beliefs, moods, attitudes, and other features of her personality. This would obviously be impossibly cognitively onerous. However, even if it were possible we would now explicitly represent what is normally implicitly represented, and that, he maintains, would make a substantial difference to these states’ functional role. Instead of influencing the person’s thoughts and actions in the background or, if you like, unconsciously, such psychological features would have to be factored in consciously in any simulation of another. In other words, even if we could amass knowledge of all the various beliefs a person might have, we would never be able to make them play the functional role in our cognitive economy that they would in the target’s. This obviously raises serious concerns about the entire enterprise. I think this way of thinking about how and why we imagine being in someone else’s situation is wrongheaded, and below I outline why. More details will be found—apologies for this shameless bit of self-promotion—in my upcoming book “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.

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Imagination and neo-Aristotelian epistemology

A post by Dennis Sepper.

Conceptual labels—like ‘empiricism’, ‘rationalism’, ‘idealism’, and so forth—too often substitute historiographical conventions for thinking. I will nevertheless begin by saying that I favor a basically Aristotelian approach to the imagination. As a resolutely psychophysiological thinker, he avoided separating body from psyche. The definition of soul he offers in the first chapter of book 2 of On the Soul presents it as the first activity of a body organized for the sake of life. Without active bodies there are no souls. When in book 3, chapter 7, at a crucial juncture in his examination of the nature of thought, he remarks that the soul does no thinking without phantasms, he is confirming the importance of the body. Phantasms (what we call images) are appearances that originate from the forms of sensation conveyed to our sense organs (not just the eyes) by physical and physiological processes. Rationality itself is the thinking of the forms in the images.

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Field Trips for Philosophers?

A post by Saam Trivedi.

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination - Albert Einstein

As is well-known, unlike our colleagues in the sciences, social sciences, and other fields, philosophers do not often take field trips for their research.  Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if they could go regularly to the San Francisco Bay area or Paris or Greece or China, say?  Patagonia or the Kalahari, anyone?  The Himalayas, maybe?  In what follows, I will indeed propose some field trips for philosophers, though I have something much humbler in mind than the exciting destinations mentioned above. 

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Holiday Hiatus

The Junkyard will be on hiatus for the next month.  We will return in mid-January with new weekly postings.  We have an exciting lineup for 2018, with posts from Saam Trivedi, Dennis Sepper, Heidi Maibom, Samuel Kampa, Emine Hande Tuna, James Young, Jennifer McMahon, Anna Abraham, Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei, Claudia Passos, Dan Cavedon-Taylor, Daniel Dor, Michela Summa, Julia Jansen, Kathleen Stock, Shannon Spaulding, Natalie Fletcher, Melvin Chen, Talia Morag, Thomas Szanto, and many more.

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The imaginarium of politics

A post by Dimitria Electra Gatzia and Brit Brogaard.

In Terry Gilliam’s film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Doctor Parnassus and his ragtag crew travel as sideshow performers luring audience members up on stage and through a magical mirror into the imaginarium, where Doctor Parnassus guides their imagination. Once there, they are presented with a choice between difficult and transient perseverance and “the fabled bliss of ignorance,”[1] mirroring Doctor Parnassus’ own wager with the devil, first winning what appears to be alluring immortality by attracting twelve disciples, and later regaining his covetable youth and beauty in exchange for his daughter’s soul. Deeply infatuated with a young woman Doctor Parnassus chooses youth in exchange for his daughter’s soul but later regrets and engages in yet another wager with the devil: his daughter’s soul in exchange for the souls of five strangers. When gullible spectators choose blissful ignorance rather than difficult and heartbreaking perseverance Doctor Parnassus captures their soul. Doctor Parnassus regretted his rash choices of what initially appeared to be unrivaled among alternatives. But is that the fate for all of us? Can we ever choose and not regret? How do we make choices when their real outcome is only disclosed once the choice has already been made?

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Legal Imagination

A post by Simon Stern.

Just as, according to some realtors, aluminum siding covers a multitude of sins, so “the legal imagination” has been invoked to cover a variety of proposals for bringing imaginative resources to bear on the practices of judges, lawyers, and litigants—involving, for example, the need for judges to cultivate their empathetic capacities; the skill of thinking outside the doctrinal box to develop novel litigation theories and strategies; the adaptation, for legal use, of creative techniques recruited from other intellectual and artistic endeavors; and the importance, for lawyers, of using literature to understand people from other backgrounds, so as to become more proficient in effectively representing clients from all walks of life.

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Moral Imagination and the Problem of Reception

A post by Mavis Biss.

Theorists interested in moral innovation have drawn attention to the ways in which agents, individually or collectively, may imaginatively modify conventionalized moral understandings to conceptualize their experience more accurately and reconceive their possibilities for moral action. Yet the actions of morally innovative agents may be widely interpreted as moral failures, and because shared intelligibility is tightly linked to moral justification, it seems that failed reception may undermine the moral innovator’s attempts to act virtuously. If, as some have argued, social uptake is partially constitutive of moral success, then failed reception entails moral failure. In contrast, one might hold that social uptake is crucial for psychological stability and moral assurance, but cannot determine the meaning or moral content of an agent’s action. I call the problem of explaining the relationship between social recognition and moral action “the problem of reception.” It is a problem for any moral theory that recognizes a role for moral imagination, understood not as a form of moral perception but rather as the capacity to revise or extend the criteria for expressing moral virtue in action.

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