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Recreative Minds: Imagination in Philosophy and Psychology


Reviewed by Peter Carruthers

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Page 1


Recreative Minds is an insightful and wide-ranging discussion of the nature of imagination and its role in human cognition. Topics covered include the distinctions amongst different kinds of imagining (for example, between belief-like imaginings and perception-like imaginings), the mechanisms underlying visual and motor imagery, the role of imagination in mind-reading (that is, in mental-state attribution), the nature and developmental significance of childhood pretence, our emotional responses to literature and theatre, and explanations of autism and schizophrenia as (distinct) kinds of disorder of the imagination. Currie and Ravenscroft write clearly and engagingly throughout, and their careful dissection of many of the issues and arguments that they consider is quite masterful. The book deserves to be widely read by both philosophers and psychologists interested in any of the above topics. I shall say just a little about the main focus of each of the book’s chapters, before zeroing in on, and briefly developing, three lines of criticism.

Following a short introduction, Chapter 1 distinguishes amongst a number of different phenomena that commonly go under the name of ’imagination’, and identifies and marks out one of them that is to be the authors’ main target, which they call ’recreative imagination’. The states of mind involved in episodes of recreative imagination are states that are significantly like states of belief, desire, or perception, but they lack the full causal roles of beliefs, desires, and perceptions. Chapter 2 then investigates the nature of recreative imagination somewhat further, and shows how imagery, fantasy, and supposition are all forms of this sort of imagination.

Chapter 3 takes up the simulation / theory debate about the nature of our mind-reading abilities. It defends a modest version of the simulation approach, showing how this implicates the imagination and distinguishing it from the more extreme views of some other simulationists (notably Robert Gordon). Chapter 4 examines what is known, and what can plausibly be inferred, about the mechanisms underpinning imagery, particularly visual and motor forms of imagery. Then Chapter 5 argues that there are important differences between propositional kinds of imagination and perceptual kinds.

Chapter 6 looks at the development of imagination in childhood and at its relationships with pretence. Chapter 7 argues that autism is best understood as involving a deficit of imaginative capacity. Chapter 8 discusses recent explanations of schizophrenia and argues that it, too, is best understood as a (different) kind of disorder of the imagination. (Schizophrenia is said to result from a failure to introspectively monitor one’s own acts of imagination properly, as opposed to a failure of imagination per se, as is the case in autism.) And then finally, Chapter 9 discusses our emotional responses to literature and the performing arts, paying special attention to our emotional response to tragedy.

While the book’s treatment of the simulation / theory debate (in Chapter 3, and then again in Chapters 5, 6 and 7) is in many respects admirable, there is one regard in which the authors make life far too easy for themselves. For they characterize theory-theorists about our mind-reading capacities as claiming that such capacities involve nothing but theory. Not surprisingly, they are able to show that such a view is highly implausible, and they therefore declare that simulationism is the victor in the debate. But I know of no-one who calls himself a ’theory-theorist’ who believes any such thing. (I certainly don’t; nor do Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich.) In recent debates, the real locus of conflict between theory-theory and simulationism has come to concern the character and origins of our mental-state concepts, like belief andattention, as well as the sources of our capacity to make basic inferential moves amongst mental-state types, so that, for example, one will go from, ’X is perceptually attending to a situation in which it is the case that P’, to, ’X (probably) believes that P’. Theory-theorists now accept (convinced by the arguments of simulationists like Alvin Goldman and Jane Heal) that mind-reading often involves the re-deployment of our regular reasoning and decision-making capacities, and hence is partly constituted by a form ofsimulation of the minds of other people. But they continue to insist that our core knowledge of the nature of the mind is theory-like, and arises in development either through a process of theorizing, or through the maturation of a domain-specific and innately structured ’module’, or by some combination of both.

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