A Bradshaw Conference at ClaremontGraduateUniversity
February 6-8, 2003
“The act of imagination is a magical one.” Sartre, The Psychology of the Imagination. What is the imagination and what is its role in our lives as self-conscious and social creatures?
The nature of imagination and its place in the understanding of minds is the object of increasing and intensive investigation. Art and literature have of course long celebrated the imagination.
Philosophers, psychologists (social, cognitive, and clinical), neuroscientists, anthropologists, and evolutionary theorists all take the investigation of the imagination to be fundamental to a characterization of distinctively human capacities. For example, it has been claimed that the imagination is central to our ability to predict and to explain the behavior of our fellows. Here in, new guise, then, is an issue of long-standing concern to social and behavioral scientists: Are the methods of the human sciences appropriately modeled on those of the natural sciences, or must they be recognized to be irreducibly distinct?
Some have argued for the latter, largely on the basis of the role empathetic imagination must play in our understanding of the genesis of actions. Much of this work has an experimental bent: It has, for example been alleged that various pathologies (autism, Capgras’s syndrome, schizophrenia, to name just a few) are the result of the breakdown of our capacity to empathize with and to imagine the minds of others. One area that has been especially significant is the pursuit of evolutionary accounts of the development of cognition and its dependence upon the development of various imaginative capacities. Finally, the imagination is increasingly recognized to play a fundamental, but too often ignored, role in our moral and aesthetic lives.
We hope, then, to consider the ways in which the imagination is implicated in aspects of our lives many would regard as distinctively human, while emphasizing that this work is done by investigators in many disciplines. Here, especially, disciplinary boundaries are increasingly recognized as obsolete. It should be emphasized that we hope to consider, in self-conscious fashion, these methodological issues in the context of on-going and exceptionally fruitful investigation.