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.
The daylong event was the ‘Imagination: Diverse Approaches & Perspectives’ Symposium organized by the Centre for Psychological Research (PsyCen) at Leeds Beckett University, UK. The main objectives were to showcase a sampling of the heterogeneity of perspectives on offer when exploring the human imagination and to promote cross-disciplinary dialogue. Much was discovered about disparate aspects of imagination that are examined across different disciplines, and indeed what is unique about each of these diverse approaches. The more fundamental question of what the imagination is and isn't, was the invisible thread running in the background.
The event was divided into three presentation and discussion panels. The first was the ‘philosophy panel’, the second the ‘music and performing arts panel’, and the third the ‘cross-disciplinary/uncategorizable’ panel. Although the last panel appeared on the face of it to have the most varied of perspectives, the truth was that the diversity of viewpoints and themes on offer was evident across all panels.
The first panel commenced with Greg Currie (University of York) distinguishing between two ways of thinking about imagination: as a faculty (the imagination) and as a way of doing things (i.e., imaginatively). Currie focused on the former, and made a thoughtful case for viewing the faculty of imagination as having two kinds, one that is a counterpart of belief and another that is a counterpart of desire, akin to how visual imagery is a counterpart of to vision and how motor imagery is a counterpart of to movement [Title of the talk: Belief, Desire and Imagination].
By posing the question of what the similarities are between food and art, Aaron Meskin (University of Leeds) took the audience into the fascinating conceptual space of the gustatory imagination in the multimodal experience of eating. Via the active ingredients of taste notes in gustatory imagery and mock foods in imagined eating, Meskin weighed the explanatory power of different theoretical models in an attempt to pass a verdict on which model best explained the workings of this type of imagination [Title of the talk: The Gustatory Imagination?].
The sensuous imagination, which is involved in the perception of expressive properties, was the next theme on offer with Paul Noordhof (University of York). Sensuous content was defined as the kind of imagining that resembles sensory content and, just as the case of cognitive content, one that can be active (initiated by the person) or passive (triggered within the person) as well as recreative or non-recreative. In doing so, Noordhof introduced a comprehensive and useful scheme of multiple types of imaginings [Title of the talk: Imagination & Sensuous Content].
In arguing that human beings are creatures that are fundamentally ruled by our imaginations, Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad (University Of Lancaster) gifted the audience with a snapshot of rarely considered classical Indian perspectives in the philosophy of imagination. Some focus on the emanation of imagination from impressions in memory and attention, others on linguistic aspects of imagination, and still others on the imaginative act as a cognitive experience [Title of the talk: Other Ways: Imagination across Classical Indian Thought].
The second panel featured Dee Reynolds (University of Manchester) who introduced the world of kinesthetic imagination where rhythm occupied the central focus. Following the ideas of Rudolf Laban, the factors of weight, space, time and flow were used to conceptualize rhythm. The role accorded to rhythm was that of enabling one to prepare for what comes next, an idea that allows for expansive generalizability in comprehending and inferring movement across mediums from dance choreography to visual art, and extending to environmental rhythms [Title of the talk: Kinesthetic Imagination].
Karl Spracklen (Leeds Beckett University) took us on a trip to vistas of the sociological imagination and the inseparable connection of music-as-leisure and leisure-as-music. Using the example of Led Zeppelin, a case was made for how popular music and places of leisure are sites of interest where meaning is constructed by purposefully invoking gaps in history and indulging in deliberate mythmaking as well as through the invention of imaginary communities [Title of the talk: The Symbolic Construction of Imagination in Rock Music: A Case Study of King Arthur and Middle-Earth in the Work of Led Zeppelin and Beyond].
In defining music imagery as conscious, endogenous representation of music, conscious insofar as there is an awareness of having a music-like experience, Freya Bailes (University of Leeds) explored the question of how such imagery acts on the creative process. A beautifully detailed analysis of the freedom that musical imagery brings to this process was presented alongside the posing of key open questions, such as how to approach the problem of building an adequate and accurate understanding of the ability to go beyond what is known [Title of the talk: Musical Imagery in the Creative Process].
The final panel kicked off with a fast-paced, action-packed show by Simon Morris (Leeds Beckett University) who pushed the audience through his brilliant examples to question what, in fact, is a book. Exploring this question is central to those who occupy the space between art and literature. Going to the limits of what is possible in manipulating form and content has the effect of transporting the recipient to an unfamiliar “huh” space where one is faced with the raw limits of one’s own understanding [Title of the talk: Re-imagining the Book].
A calm immersive experience followed as the audience was treated to a slideshow of evocative photographs with live narration by Jacqueline Butler (Manchester School of Art). Using blurred photographs from the ill-fated 1987 arctic balloon expedition led by S. A. Andrée alongside other historical and self-created images, Butler explored how photographs have the power to create imaginary landscapes that afford the opportunity to step out of the real towards the spaceless intangible of unchartered territories [Title of the talk: To See the View, I Close my Eyes].
The final perspective on offer was a neurophilosophical one by Anna Abraham (Leeds Beckett University), the subject of a previous post at The Junkyard blog. A five-part framework was outlined which distinguished between imaginative operations that stem from perceptual-motor related imagery, exceptional phenomenology in the aesthetic response, intentionality or recollective processing, novel combinatorial or generative processing, and altered states which range from commonplace to dysfunctional [Title of the talk: A Neurophilosophical Approach to the Imagination].
The warm and gracious disposition of every member of this gathering of individuals, which boasted veritable stars of the academic arena, enthusiasts reaching for the stars, and even one who was named after the stars (true story!), made for an inviting and generous atmosphere where curiosity was appreciated, discourse was welcomed, and wonder was the order of the day.
A line from the novel ‘The Discovery of Slowness’ by Sten Nadolny reads as follows: “There are three points in time: a correct time, a missed time and a premature time” (page 32). The utility of the symposium was roundly acknowledged in that it informed the collective about little considered perspectives and was in itself an exercise in the great value of cross-disciplinary engagement. So may this be the verdict to stand for this event: this was the correct time.
Image: Fragment of a Queen's Face. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public Domain).