On Choosing What to Imagine

In A. Kind & P. Kung (eds.), Knowledge Through Imagination. Oxford University Press. pp. 61-84 (2016)
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If imagination is subject to the will, in the sense that people choose the content of their own imaginings, how is it that one nevertheless can learn from what one imagines? This chapter argues for a way forward in addressing this perennial puzzle, both with respect to propositional imagination and sensory imagination. Making progress requires looking carefully at the interplay between one’s intentions and various kinds of constraints that may be operative in the generation of imaginings. Lessons are drawn from the existing literature on propositional imagination and from the control theory literature concerning the prediction and comparison mechanisms (or “forward models”) involved in ordinary perception. A more general conclusion is reached that, once we have the tools to understand how some imaginings are both under willful control and helpfully guide action and inference, we will have what we need to understand the cognitive basis of imagination in general.
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