Index
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Conference Program
 
 
Imagination and the Adapted Mind:
The Prehistory and Future of Poetry, Fiction, and Related Arts
 
 
Conference Theme

A signal feature of all human societies is that people spend a great deal of time telling stories or thinking about imaginary worlds and fictional characters.  Indeed, pretend play is now recognized as so central a feature of human cognition that its absence in a toddler is seen as diagnostic of a neurological impairment (autism).  Yet almost all systematic research concerning human cognition has so far focused on processes designed to make inferences about the perceived world and to choose between alternative courses of action in it.  From a functional, utilitarian, or evolutionary point of view, it is not clear why humans should care to create or contemplate make-believe worlds at all, let alone have the emotive hunger to do so and the economic willingness to support the vast current market for fiction (whether written, performed on the stage, projected to the movie screen, or televised).  By exploring the nature and functions of the imagination, we hope to shed new light on the cognitive architecture necessary to "decouple" sets of mental representations from concurrent concern with their truth-value, to model elaborate counter-factual states of affairs, and to entertain cognitive and emotive reactions to imagined worlds without confusing their denizens and landscapes with those of the world known through memory and perception.

Various cognitive and emotive abilities that may be contributing to the human capacity to create and experience poetry, fiction, drama, and related art forms have begun to be studied in some detail.  Yet a joint inquiry into the imagination by humanistic scholars (who have a sophisticated grasp of the pertinent phenomena) and cognitive neuroscience researchers (who have useful techniques but seldom focus on such phenomena) would be a major step forward.  In organizing the conference, our hope is that the humanistic participants will address aspects of the imaginative arts that might eventually illuminate the nature of the cognitive systems which produce and process cultural representations while the cognitive scientists will help to explore how specific mental capacities play a role in cultural transactions and why highly diversified imaginative activities appear to assume certain typical forms worldwide. We hope that this gathering of humanists and scientists, where each group supplies knowledge essential to the other, will trigger the recognized emergence of an important new area of intellectual collaboration.
 

 

Index
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Conference Program