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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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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