What is the role of imagination in producing knowledge about a real world? Can imagination reveal truths that reality hides? What is the role of the imagination in understanding others?

Imagination is often identified in a narrow sense as the capacity to form a mental representation of something without the stimulus of sense experience. Traditionally, imagination has been associated with imagery and making a mental image of something. However, more recently interest in the imagination has also focused on exploring propositional imagining, or “imagining that”. The importance and power of the imagination is highlighted by a number of medical conditions which impact upon it, for example, conditions which can impair imagination such as severe autism, or conditions which can cause delusions such as severe schizophrenia.

Imagination is sometimes viewed in a broader way as being associated with creativity, problem-solving and originality. Here it might be the making of connections between otherwise disparate ideas in order to solve problems. This might be useful in model making or theory creation in the sciences and solving structural problems in the arts. Imagination is, however, also sometimes distrusted, in part because it is regarded as something that is derived in the mind of the individual and therefore subjective. Imagining is also sometimes associated with counterfactual reasoning; imagining “what would happen if …”, or “what would have happened if …”.

Imagination is also sometimes associated with possibility, in that it can be argued that only things which are possible can be imagined. In this way, the imagination is seen by some to provide evidence of what is and is not possible. In daily life, imagination has a particularly prominent role in entertainment, for example, fictional films or television programmes. However, it can be argued that imagination also plays a deeper role, for example, in moral education, developing empathy, or providing opportunity for self-expression and an increased understanding of the self.
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