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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