The multifaceted role of imagination in science and religion. A critical examination of its epistemic, creative and meaning-making functions

Dissertation, Uppsala University (2021)
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The main purpose of this dissertation is to examine critically and discuss the role of imagination in science and religion, with particular emphasis on its possible epistemic, creative, and meaning-making functions. In order to answer my research questions, I apply theories and concepts from contemporary philosophy of mind on scientific and religious practices. This framework allows me to explore the mental state of imagination, not as an isolated phenomenon but, rather, as one of many mental states that co-exist and interplay in our cogntive architecture. Based on the philosophical discourse of philosophy of mind, four types of imagination are indentified and conceptualized: sensory, propositional, experiential, and creative imagination. These categories are then employed on five phenomena that can be found in scientific and religious environments: metaphors, models, thought experiments, aspect perception, and - in the religious case - rituals. In relation to the concept of religious "seeing" I consider how imaginings may influence visionary experiences and visualization, and compare these phenomena with cases of scientific visualization and eureka experiences. In regard to scientific and religious models, a distinction is made between, on the one hand, two notions of truth and, on the other hand, truth-independent meaning-making. In light of these categories, I differentiate between, and critically discuss, the use of imagination in doxastic, non-doxastic and fictionalist accounts. In light of this investigation, I formulate and defend the position of interactivism, which acknowledges a constant interplay between different attitudes and mental states. In my examination of rituals and scientific and religious thought experiments, special attention is given to the mental capacity to recreate the experiences that are entailed in an imagined scenario. At the end of the investigation, I consider the possible impact that my study might have on how we view science and religion as well as the dialogue bewteen these two fields.

Author's Profile

Ingrid Malm Lindberg
Uppsala University (PhD)


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