Using Imagination to Empathize with Space Robots, Demons, and Other Weird Stuff

A post by Mike Stuart.

When I get mad at my smartphone because it freezes, or when I plead with my car because it won’t start, I’m treating a non-human object as if it had beliefs and goals. This is mostly harmless, but in science it can obscure the truth. For Aristotle, rocks fell down because they were trying to get to the centre of the universe, and flames reached up to rise above the air. It took more than a millennium to overturn this natural way of thinking. Similar sentiments can still be found in scientific practice towards everything from molecules to economies.

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The Scope of the Imagination

A Post by Samantha Matherne

How capacious a role does the imagination play in our lives?  Here’s one more restrictive answer: the imagination is exercised in a relatively narrow set of experiences, like visualization, make-believe, and some aesthetic experiences, like reading a novel or going to the theater.  It seems that what these experiences have in common is that they involve a sensory experience of something that is, in some sense, not real.  I say ‘in some sense’ because sometimes the object imagined is not real in the sense that it cannot possibly be real, e.g., when my niece pretends she is riding a unicorn.  At other times, however, the object that we imagine is not per se impossible.  For example, when I imagine brunch with Stevie Nicks, although I am sadly not at brunch with her right now, were I so lucky, I could be.

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Imagination is a powerful tool: why is philosophy afraid of it? (A post republished from Aeon by Amy Kind)

Philosophers have a love-hate relationship with the imagination. René Descartes, for one, disparaged it as ‘more of a hindrance than a help’ in answering the most profound questions about the nature of existence. Trying to imagine one’s way towards metaphysical truth, he wrote in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), is as foolish as falling asleep in the hope of obtaining a clearer picture of the world through dreams.

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Who Killed The Faculty?

A post by Nick Wiltsher.

Contemporary philosophers of mind tend to deprecate faculty psychology, by which I mean the tidy division of mental states into a small number of faculties, each typified by a certain power, and the description and explanation of aspects of the mental in terms of the expression and interaction of those powers. (Many such philosophers find the tidy division of mental states into a large number of modules, each typified by a certain function, and the explanation of aspects of the mental in terms of the interaction of those functions, much more edifying.) In some domains, faculty talk nonetheless enjoys some kind of afterlife. Most obviously, perception is often discussed as if some states share a certain essential capacity, and thus form a small and exclusive club. In other domains, however, the faculty is dead. When it comes to imagination, few philosophers seem keen, even implicitly, to suppose that the motley selection of acts commonly called “imaginative” are united as a kind by some common power. One might wonder what’s lost by abandoning this way of thinking, but here I just want to ask the ostensibly simpler question of who killed the imaginative faculty.

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Questions of Realness

A post by Thalia Goldstein.

Theatre is obviously artifice. An audience pays money, sets a date and a time they will go to the theater, walks in, sits down all facing the same way, and waits for the lights to go out.

Meanwhile, actors, directors, and designers rehearse, prepare, raise money, and rehearse some more, and then arrive backstage 30 minutes before the audience walks in to put on costumes and make up, and warm up their bodies, voices, and minds to portray fictional characters in a fictional world.

Yet at the same time, theatre is particularly real. All art relies on a language of representation. Visual art uses paint, sculpture, decoupage, etc, to express an idea. Music uses sound; Literature, the written word. Dance uses the body and face, but in a way we hardly ever see in daily life. Theatre is unique. Theatre uses real humans, saying real words, and interacting with each other in realistic ways. Even if the play is not realistic, even in the most experimental of theater, humans are still there, behaving. How do we understand this realness? How do we balance automatic reactions (e.g. person processing) with an imagined, presented scenario?

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Imagination, Emotion, and Desire

A Post by Peter Langland-Hassan

Here is a popular view:  when we take in a fiction, we do so by imagining the propositions it contains (perhaps in addition to others it suggests or implies).  These imaginings—and not any beliefs—are then partly responsible for the emotions we experience in response to the fiction.  In this post I want to explore some tensions in this view as it appears in the work of some influential philosophers (e.g. Nichols (2004a, 2006); Weinberg & Meskin (2006); Schroeder & Matheson (2006), Carruthers (2006), Kind (2011), Spaulding (2015), Van Leeuwen (2016)).

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Scientific Imagination

A post by Fiora Salis.

Scientific models crucially involve imagination. But what sort of imagination is this? Answering this question is crucial to an understanding of the ways in which scientists construct and develop models in order to learn about reality. Philosophers of science do not offer explicit analyses of imagination but they commonly associate it with mental imagery. Some authors see the imagistic character of imagination as an asset in explaining how scientific models work, but most scientists and philosophers dismiss the imagination as soon as it is linked to mental imagery. I share this scepticism and I offer reasons for it toward the end of this post. But one cannot see the imagination as being crucial to scientific models and also dismiss it because of its allegedly imagistic character. The solution I have offered to this apparent puzzle consists in arguing that the sort of imagination that is really crucial to scientific models is propositional imagination of the make-believe variety (Salis 2016, Salis and Frigg forthcoming). Here I will briefly state the main argument in support of this idea.

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A post by Anna Ichino.

When I was at High School, I always used the same pen for written tests as I took notes with in my classes: after all, it already knew the right answers. When I cycle to work, I always make sure to get over the same ‘lucky crack’ in the road. At the supermarket, I always pick the second item in the row on a shelf. And I read my horoscope every Thursday. I feel slightly ashamed in reporting all these small rituals and superstitious practices that punctuate my everyday life; but I know I’m in good company. Students, athletes, politicians, musicians are all categories of people well-known for the propitiatory rituals and lucky charms they engage with. You may know for instance of David Beckham’s famous pre-game rituals, like stepping in the pitch with the right foot first (to ensure right shots), or wearing a brand-new football outfit at each match. And apparently Beckham’s fans are ready to pay quite some money to possess his ‘old’ outfits – as indeed people do for such things as Lady Diana’s wedding dress, or John Lennon’s hand-written lyrics. As these particular objects seem to mean a lot to us, by the way, so we tend to charge with special meanings some events in the lives of their owners: think of the sort of conspiracy theories circulating about Diana’s car-crash (which, obviously, ‘couldn’t be just an accident’). We also perform a variety of more traditional superstitious actions, like touching wood, crossing fingers, and so on.

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Thought Experiments in Law: Practice and Theory

A Post by Maks Del Mar.

Recent years have witnessed a surge in studies of the role and value of thought experiments (TEs) in a range of fields, especially in philosophy, history, economics and the natural sciences. Within this literature, however, very little acknowledgement is made of the pervasiveness of TEs in legal practice.[i] This is a great pity, for TEs – in the form of hypothetical variations on existing facts or new and sometimes fanciful hypothetical narratives – are a key mode of legal thought and an important engine of legal change. Whether one looks at legal education (and the Socratic, case-based method), exchanges between Bar and Bench, or the reports of case judgements, one cannot miss just how much the law is full of them. Studying their varieties, and their role and value, in legal thought can thus bring a whole swag of new examples to the interdisciplinary study of uses of the imagination, while of course also illuminating the practice of legal thought itself.

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Sensory Imagining, Perception, and the Significance of Etiology

A post by Lu Teng.

Sam just broke up with his girlfriend and does not want to go to class this morning. In the past, Sam’s school always closed during severe weather, so he hopes that a blizzard will arrive soon. When Sam looks out the window, this hope causes him to imagine seeing snow. Clearly, Sam’s imagining does not give him justification for believing that it is snowing. But what explains the lack of justificatory power of Sam’s imagining?

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Lying and Pretending

What’s the relation between lying and pretending?

More broadly, what’s the relation between deception of any sort (verbal or otherwise) and the pretend play humans engage in from about 18 months onward?

If you explore the philosophical literatures on deception and on pretense (“pretense” in this context meaning pretend play), you might conclude there’s not an interesting relation to be found. Most philosophical literature that explores pretending makes no effort to shed light on deception. And most philosophical literature on deception and lying is little concerned with pretend play.

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Seeing a shade of green that I couldn’t imagine before

A post by Neil Sinhababu.

I recently tried on color vision correction glasses that would help me see green for the first time. In addition to being excited about seeing green, I was curious about whether I’d see a color I wasn’t able to imagine before. I think I did! Amy Kind suggested that I tell you about my color imagination experiment, so here I go.

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Reading fiction is like riding a bike with training wheels

If only we could just sit in our cozy sofa, read an enthralling novel and, without having to go through any real-world trouble, become better people. How great would it be if all we needed to do in order to raise a good person was raise a fiction lover. Of course this is not how it works. But some philosophers, most famously Martha Nussbaum[1] have argued that engaging with certain kinds of fiction can change our outlook on the world, our values, and our personality. In empathizing with fictional characters, we practice our empathic skills for real life: we practice feeling with other people, we practice understanding people that differ from us. And we thereby practice what motivates altruistic behavior in real life.

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Recent Developments in the Philosophy of Imagination?

A post by Shen-yi Liao.

The introductory post to this blog tells a brief history of the philosophy of imagination. From Aristotle’s time to ours, the imagination has been asked to explain mindreading, pretense, engagement with the arts, modal epistemology, etc. And, not surprisingly, there remain little agreement about its nature.

In this post, I want to zoom in the timeline and ask: What has changed in the philosophical study of imagination in the last 10 years or so? To operationalize the question, you might take a look at the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on imagination and ask: What has changed since that snapshot? What are the entry points from philosophical subfields or cognate areas? What are some general tendencies? Which new discussions have emerged? Which discussions seem to be maturing, or even becoming stale?

This post is more of a bleg than a blog. I’ll offer my own—no doubt esoteric—answers. But my primary interest is in learning from the community’s response.

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Damage and Imagination

A post by Adam Morton

Our ability to treat one another well, or even decently, depends on our capacities to imagine, simulate, sympathize, empathize, and intuit other people. These are a wide array of different, similar, and overlapping, capacities, essential to human social life. I shall lump them all together as imagining (but see). We imagine what it is like for one another, and we act accordingly. We tend not to give people presents they will hate, or to spare people experiences they will enjoy.

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The Imagination and The Intellect

A post by Magdalena Balcerak Jackson

On first glance, the intellect and the imagination have little in common. The purest expression of the intellect appears to consist in explicit and formal reasoning that utilizes our understanding of concepts and our mastery of the rules of logic, and that abstracts away from how anything seems and feels. The purest expression of the imagination can be found in free play and artistic expression that utilize our ability to vividly and imagistically represent worlds and situations very much unlike the ones we are confined to in everyday life. But intuitive associations as well as philosophical orthodoxies can be misleading. Indeed, the more general idea that there is an intimate connection between experience and rationality can be illuminated by looking at how imagination makes certain things intelligible to us in ways that matter for making better decisions about what to think, what to do and how to treat others.

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