How thinking about what could have been affects how we feel about what was

A Post by Felipe De Brigard.

Our tendency to imagine alternative ways in which past personal events could have occurred instead is frequent and ubiquitous. Traditionally, researchers have argued that these episodic counterfactual thoughts play at least two fundamental functional roles in human psychology (Roese, 1997). On the one hand, upward and additive counterfactuals, which tend to generate negative emotions (e.g., regret), are thought to serve a preparative function in anticipation of similar events that may occur in the future. The idea, to put it simply, is that mentally simulating episodic counterfactual thoughts helps us try out hypothetical versions of events that may re-occur in the future. On the other hand, downward and subtractive counterfactuals, which tend to generate positive emotions (e.g., relief), are thought to serve an affective function in helping agents feel better about their experienced outcomes. However, certain results have proved difficult to explain by this traditional view. For instance, it has been shown that not all downward counterfactuals produced the positive emotions previously associated with their affective role, and that not all upward counterfactuals generated the motivational affect previously associated with their preparative role.

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Knowledge through the scientific imagination

A post by Fiora Salis.

The problem of how scientists gain knowledge of reality through imagination in scientific models is still largely unresolved. Consider the Lotka-Volterra model of predator-prey dynamics. The model is usually identified with two differential equations interpreted as describing the growth rates of two populations, one prey and one predator, dynamically interacting with each other. To facilitate mathematical treatment, the model makes a number of assumptions, including that predators have infinite appetite, prey have limitless supplies of food, and the environment never changes. These assumptions enable the isolation of certain features of predator-prey interaction (including for example the density of the two populations) not by abstracting away from some particular predators and prey interacting with each other, but by stipulating that some populations having certain features interact in such and such a way. These assumptions, of course, are false (the idealized populations do not exist in reality), but they are not lies either. They are the product of creative uses of imagination that divert from reality to generate a model system as the object of study. They describe two imaginary populations interacting with each other under imaginary conditions. And this enables the generation of certain hypotheses and the assessment of their truth-likeness. The model predicts that the dynamic interaction between predators and prey will show a cyclical relationship in their numbers. Imagination is therefore vital both to the construction and development of the model and to the generation of plausible hypotheses.

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Practical Problems and Imaginative Confabulations

A Post by Magdalena Balcerak Jackson.

I am standing in front of the classroom with my co-teacher Sara, a smart female graduate student. It is her turn to lead the discussion today. She explains all the ideas and arguments clearly and competently. Most students listen and cooperate. And yet, two male undergraduates keep interrupting her, making provocative, unhelpful comments and undermining her. I see her getting more and more insecure about how to deal with the situation. As I stand in the corner observing, I ask myself: What to do?

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The Potential Importance of Considering Visual Perspective in Representations of Pretense

A post by Jennifer Van Reet.

My own thinking about how pretense is represented has certainly evolved over the years. Most recently, my conception most closely resembles Picciuto and Carruthers (2016)’s characterization of pretense as a state of “embodied imagination” in which individuals act as if P (without believing it) while imagining that P”.  What I appreciate about this characterization is how it makes clear that imagining is a necessary component of pretending, but that pretending is something more, and thus, different from imagining. Picciuto and Carruthers clearly specify how “acting as if” can mean not acting at all (e.g., when you pretend to sleep by lying completely still) or not acting any differently from how one would act in the real world (e.g., when you pretend to have painted fingernails just by acting like you). 

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Embodied Constraints on Imagination

A Post by Max Jones and Tom Schoonen.

If we want to use our imagination to acquire knowledge, it has to be constrained (Kind 2016). After all, if the imagination were completely unconstrained then it would be equally likely to generate truths as falsehoods; possibilities as impossibilities. Some of the constraints on the imagination are within our control. When we’re imagining whether we can visit each other this weekend, it serves us well to constrain our imagination to be reality-oriented. Yet, on other occasions, we might choose to imagine being able to instantly transport ourselves from Amsterdam to Leeds and back. Importantly, these constraints cannot be too tightly under our control: if we always imagine what we intend to imagine, imagination can’t give us anything more than was already part of our intentions (Langland-Hassan 2016).


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Imagistic Cognition

A post by Christopher Gauker.

A softball player can visualize the trajectory of a fly ball and her own spatial relation to the ball and by means of that visualization arrive at the spot where it will approach the ground just in time to catch it.

An experienced builder of bird houses can knock out a pretty good bird house without having to measure all the pieces, just by visualizing the pieces he needs and cutting them to size accordingly.

I can take apart a leaky faucet and replace the washer and then put it back together again.  In doing this, I form a sequence of mental images representing the pieces and the order in which they came apart.  After replacing the washer I play this mental movie in reverse, until the faucet has been reassembled.

Our ability to solve problems on the basis of visualizations in this way depends on the visual knowledge we have of how things move around and interact in space.  Our possession of this knowledge is most evident in the distinctions we draw between visualizations of realistic sequences of events and visualizations of fantastic sequences of events.

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Embodied imagination: why we can’t just walk in someone else’s shoes

A post by Adriana Clavel-Vázquez and María Jimena Clavel Vázquez

It is commonplace to hear that meaningfully understanding each other requires us to walk in each other's shoes. But what does this mean? Presumably, when asking someone to walk in our shoes, we are asking her to inhabit our perspective: not simply to imagine the sort of circumstances I'm facing, but to imagine what it is like for me to face the sort of circumstances I'm facing. We can say that engaging with perspectives different from our own involves an exercise of imagination that goes beyond imagining that something is the case. Imaginatively engaging with different perspectives involves vividly imagining what it is like to inhabit a different perspective, it involves summoning the relevant affective responses to the circumstances others encounter. And this exercise of imagination is not trivial: it seems to be involved in empathizing with others, in moral imagination, and in our engagement with fiction.

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Reply to Peter Langland-Hassan

A post by Greg Currie.

I have argued for a certain view about what goes on when, while sitting in the theatre, we “want Desdemona to be saved” as we might unguardedly put it. On my view, this is a case of what is called desire in imagination or sometimes i-desire. And on that view i-desire is not desire. I-desires stand to desires as imaginings stand to beliefs.

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Summer Hiatus

The Junkyard will be on hiatus for the next month.  We will return in August with new weekly postings.  We have an exciting lineup for the fall with posts by Adriana Clavel-Vazquez, Christopher Gauker, Max Jones, Jennifer Van Reet, Magdalena Balcerak Jackson, Fiora Salis, Felipe de Brigard, Mike Stuart, Bartek Chomanski, Luke Roelofs, Shen-yi Liao, Julia Langkau, Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini, Catherine Wearing, Michael Brent, Adam Morton, Shannon Spaulding, and Neil Van Leeuwen.

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To which fiction do your imaginings refer?

A post by Peter Langland-Hassan.

If you have seen The Big Lebowski, you know that The Dude hates The Eagles.  Being sympathetic to The Dude, I don’t want him to hear the Eagles any more than he has to.  Here are three competing options—following Gregory Currie (2010)—for characterizing my desire:

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Imaginative Associations: The Return of the Repressed?

A post by Talia Morag.

Philosophers mobilize the term “imagination” for many explanatory tasks, including empathy, mindreading, counterfactual reasoning, and pretending. The recent flourishing of the study of the imagination favors the active exercise of imaginative capacity. When Amy Kind declares this to be the “primary sense” of the imagination, she reflects a contemporary trend (Kind 2013, 145). Kind contrasts this active sense to occasions where ideas “pop” into one’s mind, which she identifies with what Currie and Ravenscroft call “the creative imagination”, that is, “put[ting] together ideas in a way that defies expectation or convention” (Currie & Ravenscroft, 2002, 9).  I prefer to call this associative capacity “the passive imagination.”

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Imagination Machines

A post by Melvin Chen.

Do androids dream? That is the question that Philip K. Dick’s protagonist Rick Deckard asks himself. Human beings (unless aphantasic) are able to conjure up mental images of the sheep that they count before sleeping. Can machines or programs imagine, daydream, and dream? Mahadevan (2018) proposes that we are at the cusp of imagination science, one of whose primary concerns will be the design of imagination machines.

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Thought Experiments as a Kind of Genre

A post by Eric Peterson.

Often when we engage fiction, we feel affect.  And often when we engage in modal epistemology, we do not feel affect.  Both engaging fiction and modal epistemology seem to be paradigmatic imaginative activities.  As Kind (2013) argues, appealing to imagination to explain the role of affect in each case leaves us with two incompatible explanatory roles for imagination.  Because of this, it is not clear that we can appeal to imagination in order to account for the disparity of affect between the two imaginative activities.  The good news is we do not have to appeal to imagination per se; rather, we can account for the disparity of affect by realizing that philosophical thought experiments act as their own distinct genre.

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Inner World of Music (and other sounds)

A post by Andrea Halpern.

In a famous anecdote, the 14-year old Mozart is said to have accurately transcribed a complex piece (Miserere by Allergri) he had heard only once (and whose score was a secret closely guarded by the Vatican). Presumably at least part of that feat was accomplished by him “hearing” the piece inside his head. But is that skill confined to certified musical prodigy-geniuses? Not at all.  You may wish to think of a favorite tune right now (or a beloved line of poetry… or the sound of fingernails screeching on a blackboard. Sorry.).


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How’d Imagination Become So Hot?

A post by Amy Kind.

Recently at a conference someone remarked to me that since I’d gotten my PhD back in 1997 – actually, he might have said “way back” – I must have been working on imagination before it became a hot topic in philosophy.  And imagination has indeed lately become hot.   Though the subject was largely ignored by philosophers throughout most of the twentieth century, it has been the subject of dramatically increased attention over the last twenty-five to thirty years – and especially so over the last decade or so.  This chance remark – in addition to reminding me how old I’ve become – got me reflecting on how, exactly, we've gotten to this point, that is, how did imagination come to be as hot as it has become?  So I thought I'd use this blog post in an effort to try to answer this question.

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Eating, Drinking and Imagining

A post by Aaron Meskin.

A fabulous new cocktail bar opened near my house recently which serves “narrative” cocktails: drinks designed to produce very specific experiences rooted in the story or setting which inspired them. My favorite is 109 Miles to Filey, a drink comprised of seaweed distilled gin, wildflower eau de vie, Islay seafoam, and edible “pebbles”, which is crafted to provide an experience reminiscent of walking on the North Yorkshire coast. Creative, experiential and, I think, centrally involving the imagination, the cocktails at Below Stairs have got me thinking lately about the role of the imagination in eating and drinking.

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Scientific models, fiction, and imagination

A post by Kathleen Stock.

Scientific models can be physical objects: wind tunnels, scale models, and so on. Equally, they can be presented via descriptions, diagrams, and equations, but not materially instantiated. Examples include Galileo’s famous description of an object moving down an inclined frictionless plane, used to show the effect of gravity on free-falling bodies; Alan Turing’s model of a symmetrical ring of cells to make a point about the mammalian embryo (1952); and John Stuart Mill’s self-interested, exclusively wealth-directed, and wholly rational chooser, “economic man’ (or ‘Homo Economicus’). In all these cases there is no such thing, physically, and nor could there be. Put simply, there are no frictionless planes, ring-shaped embryos (Turing 1952: 56), or wholly rational, exclusively wealth-directed choosers.

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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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