Empirically investigating imaginative resistance: Many questions and a few answers

A post by Jessica Black.

Imaginative resistance (IR) has been addressed various times in this forum, namely by Kengo Miyazono, Eric Peterson, Kathleen Stock, Emine Hande Tuna, and most recently by Hanna Kim.  With the exception of Kim’s explanation of her recent work with Markus Kneer and Mike Stuart, the treatments of IR have been exclusively philosophical.  Some pose questions that have been—to varying degrees—tested empirically in our lab, although much of our results remain unpublished.  In this post I will share some of our more intriguing findings, some of which attempt to probe the phenomenon of IR directly, and others which are relatively independent of philosophical debates. I hope these will raise more questions about the causes and consequences of IR, especially as it appears in cases outside of the more traditional philosophical thought experiments.

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Creative Thought, Emotion, and Imagination

A post by John F. DeCarlo.

The famed Shakespearean actor, Edmund Kean, supposedly declared on his death bed: “dying is easy; comedy is hard.” Might the same be said about ‘doing’ science? For while Newtonian equations are still used for their ease and quickness, they are conditionally limited, and fundamentally, misleading. Accordingly, I would like to address the Quine/Duhem Paradox and offer a critical evaluation of the Bayesian response of abiding by self-credences and offer an alternative procedural methodology. 

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Belief, Knowledge and Imagination – a common thread

According to a very popular view of imagining, belief and knowledge, the three dramatically contrast with one another.

For example in his poem L’enfant (‘The child’)), Maurice Carême implicitly opposes, through a careful word choice, on the one hand beliefs about the actual observable world, knowledge, objectivity and shared perspective; and on the other hand what the child imagines when he closes his eyes and plays, a world to which only he has access through his mind’s eye.

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A Dual Process Model of Imaginative Resistance

A post by Hanna Kim.

The phenomenon of imaginative resistance has been widely discussed in the philosophical literature, including a number of times on this blog (e.g., see here, here, and here). Imaginative resistance has been defined as occurring “when an otherwise competent imaginer finds it difficult to engage in some sort of prompted imaginative activity” (Gendler and Liao 2016). And one of the oldest and most widely discussed puzzles concerning the phenomenon has to do with an asymmetry between imagining counterevaluative propositions and imagining counterdescriptive propositions (Hume 1757, Moran 1994, Walton 1990, Gendler 2000). The empirical assumption underlying the puzzle is that people experience more imaginative resistance when they attempt to imagine scenarios that are evaluatively deviant (counterevaluative) rather than descriptively deviant (counterdescriptive). This “curious asymmetry” (Kieran and Lopes 2003, 8; Matravers 2003, 91) has been widely observed, not very often argued for, and frequently restricted to moral deviance. Given this backdrop, my collaborators, Markus Kneer and Mike Stuart, and I wondered: What motivates this asymmetry? Why should it be any more difficult to imagine a countermoral claim (or counterevaluative claim more generally) than it is to imagine a counterdescriptive claim? Could the puzzle, according to which a difference in imaginative resistance is due exclusively, or at the very least predominantly, to claim type (i.e., evaluative vs. descriptive) largely be a myth?

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Winter Hiatus

The Junkyard will be on hiatus for the next month.  We will return in mid-January with new weekly postings.

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Why Belief Isn’t Enough

A post by Neil Van Leeuwen.

The question I’m thinking of was probably rhetorical. I want to answer it directly nonetheless. But before I can quote the question usefully, I have to do some set-up.

The general issue is the psychology of how humans comprehend fiction. What, for example, are the key features of mental states that encode ideas like Hermione knows spells or Bilbo is a Hobbit or Mark Zuckerberg wore pajamas to an important business meeting (with the last being prompted not by reality but by the 2010 film Social Network)?

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Rehearsal in Imagination

A post by Adam Morton.

Some acts of imagination are so ordinary that we hardly notice them. Some of them are never noticed because they are not conscious. Unconscious perceptual imagination is probably controversial (but see below). On the other hand imagining physical actions, of oneself or other people, seems to be both a very familiar part of life and not to fit a standard idea of what is conscious. Not conscious experience at any rate. One form it takes when the imaginer imagines herself is rehearsal. You are preparing to do something, or anticipating having to do it, and you pause while the things you will have to do and their sequence get organized in your mind. You may have conscious images of yourself performing the acts, or of sensations in your muscles. But you may well not: you simply wait while something happens, and then you are ready to go.

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Imagining as Mental Action

A post by Michael Brent.

When imagining is a conscious mental action we perform, we typically bring content to mind and manipulate the qualitative features that such content possesses, and we do so intentionally. Right now, for instance, I am imagining the visual appearance of my old friend Matt, my flatmate in graduate school. I have intentionally brought to mind an image of Matt smiling, standing in the kitchen of our apartment, cooking dinner. With relative ease, I can manipulate the qualitative features of this image, now imagining him wearing his favourite t-shirt, now imagining him cooking risotto, and now imagining him drinking from a glass of wine. (Life in graduate school was tough, I know.) All of this imagining is intentional mental action, par excellence. How, exactly, do we do this? That is, how do we bring content to mind when intentionally imagining something?

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Resisting an invitation to suppose

A post by Catherine Wearing.

There’s some disagreement in the literature as to whether supposing and imagining are distinct activities, and if they are, what exactly distinguishes them. But one fairly widespread point of agreement is that supposing is less constrained than imagining: we can suppose things that we can’t imagine. And not only does supposing seem to be less constrained than imagining, it is often taken to be completely unconstrained. One can suppose anything, even a contradiction, if it’s for the sake of carrying out a proof by reductio ad absurdum.

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Fake News and Imagined Narratives

A post by Marianna Bergamaschi Ganapini.

Fake news can be found everywhere, from traditional news outlets to personal websites and social media. Examples of fake news are conspiracy theories, trolls’ social media campaigns, and many of RT’s headlines. There is now a vibrant debate on how to define the term ‘fake news’. Here I will attempt to shed some light on the type of speech act the term ‘fake news’ refers to by looking at the kind of reactions this speech act is meant to elicit in the audience.

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Vivid descriptions and intense imaginings

A post by Julia Langkau.

Imagine walking through a winter landscape: there is fresh snow on the trees, on the hills and rocks around you, and in the background, you see the snow-covered mountains. It has stopped snowing and a little bit of blue sky and sunlight is getting through the clouds and reflecting in the snow. 

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Update to the SEP Entry on Imagination

A post by Shen-yi Liao.

As you may have seen by now, there is a new Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on imagination. (For comparison, you can still access the archived old entry.) In this post—speaking only for myself—I want to talk about the main changes and their rationales; and also invite this blog’s community for suggestions for further improving this resource.

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Actually Imagining and Foreseeing Imagining

A post by Luke Roelofs.

Can imagination make a difference to what you ought to think or do, even when you don’t imagine anything?

I’m assuming here that, as several philosophers have recently argued (e.g. Dorsch 2016, Williamson 2016, Kind 2016, 2018) properly-constrained imagination (meaning roughly ‘imagination that seeks to accurately match some part of reality) can have epistemically and practically significant results.

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How Similar are Imagination, Memory, and Perception?

A post by Bartek Chomanski.

In this post, I argue that the phenomenological similarity between imaginative, recollective, and perceptual experiences is a complex matter, and that accounting for it is made difficult by empirical data which suggests that there is closer similarity between imagination and perception, and imagination and memory, than there is between memory and perception. I then explain why I think the empirical results raise a potential problem for a certain style of accounting for this similarity and sketch some solutions.

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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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