- Review editorials
- The Evolution of Imagination
- Cognitive Science of Imagination and Religion
- Imagination & Flexible Thinking
I write reviews of articles on the evolution of imagination for the Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture.
In issue 5(1), I review articles that argue that social aspects of imagination may have been pivotal in their impact of human evolutionary trajectories: sharing imaginings—stories about people and their situations which constitute understandings of the world—can establish identities, induce group bonding, and motivate adaptive behaviours. postprint
In issue 6(1), I review articles that examine the contributions of imagination to psychological wellbeing, and conversely, how the disruption of imagination is associated with concomitant disruptions in the adaptive functions of imagination—an effect which is associated with poorer psychological health and psychological disorders. postprint
In issue 6(2), I review articles that imagination, like play, is not frivolous, childish, or ephemeral, but structures belief, perception, and interpretation. As such, imagination and play were likely central to the evolution of humans and their flourishing. postprint
In issue 7(1), I review the target article and commentary articles of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences issue 45 (e276). In their target article, Dubourg & Baumard propose an evolutionary theory for imaginary/fictional worlds. The commentaries highlight some issues and focus on counterfactual and future thinking through self-projection, developmental research and the importance of realistic imagination, psychological exploration in social and cultural worlds, and the role of novelty and awe. postprint
The Evolution of Imagination
The puzzle of the evolution of imagination and fiction is that realistic representations of the world are expected to be more helpful for survival than fictional ones. I argue that this puzzle disappears when one understands that imagination relies on the brain network that also supports remembering and experiencing, and that memory—typically considered a realistic representation of events—is reconstructive like imagination is. The flexibility of the recombination of memory details lies at the basis of mankind’s adaptive capacity for creative generativity, allowing them to think of a wide variety of events and ideas. Narrative allows for this generativity of events and ideas to be shared efficiently with others, and fills in the gaps between prediction and experience, while balancing accuracy and consistency. Moreover, imagination and narrative imbue events with meaning and motivate people into action, thus crucially supporting human culture.
- van Mulukom, V. & de Wet, M. (2022) The Importance of Narrative and Intuitive Thought in Navigating our Realities. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture 5(2), 61-64. DOI
- van Mulukom, V. (2021) The evolution of music as artistic cultural innovation expressing intuitive thought symbolically (commentary on ‘Music as a coevolved system for social bonding’ by Savage et al.). Behavioral and Brain Sciences 44: e91. DOI
- van Mulukom, V. (2020). The Evolution of Imagination and Fiction through Generativity and Narrative. In: Evolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture (Springer), editors Joseph C. Carroll, Mathias Clasen, and Emelie Jonsson. DOI
- van Mulukom, V. (2017). Remembering Religious Rituals: Autobiographical Memories of High-Arousal Religious Rituals Considered from a Narrative Processing Perspective. Religion, Brain & Behavior 7(3), 191-205. DOI
Cognitive Science of Imagination and Religion
Religion and imagination both deal with what is beyond the empirical here and now. I argue that imagination as a capacity is highly important for the development, maintenance, and evolution of religion and the variety of components that together make a religion: (Religious) belief, religious cognition broadly, religious events such as miracles, religious agents such as deities, religious rituals and experiences, religious texts and narratives, and finally religious art and creativity. I argue that the cognitive science of imagination can crucially shed light on various aspects of religion that previously may have seemed unrelated, and that in fact, perceiving, remembering, and imagining may not be as distinct processes from each other as we might have thought, and indicate what consequences these suggestions may have for beliefs as we understand them.
- van Mulukom, V. & Lang, M. (2021). Religious Experiences Are Interpreted through Priors from Cultural Frameworks Supported by Imaginative Capacity Rather Than Special Cognition. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 7(1): 39-53. DOI
- van Mulukom, V. (2019). The Cognitive Science of Imagination and Religion. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion 5(1), 5-20. DOI
Imagination & Flexible Thinking
Imagination is hugely important. Without imagination, we would not have had the arts nor science. Creating poetry from scratch, thinking about completely new theories: they require imagination and flexible thinking, or the ability to mentally put things together that do not commonly go together. However, imagination and flexible thinking, and how they support each other, is currently under-investigated. Following my PhD research and with the help of Coventry University’s Early Career Researcher Pump-Prime Funding Scheme, I aim to elucidate the nature of imagination and flexible thinking as two separate but related abilities, and the features of flexible imaginings themselves.
- Wiebels, K., Addis, D.R., Moreau, D., van Mulukom, V., Onderdijk, K.E., & Roberts, R. P. (2020) Relational processing demands and the role of spatial context in the construction of episodic simulations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 46(8), 1424–1441. DOI
- Roberts, R.P., Wiebels, K., Sumner, R.L., van Mulukom, V., Grady, C.L., Schacter, D.L., Addis, D.R. (2016). An fMRI investigation of the relationship between future imagination and cognitive flexibility. Neuropsychologia 95, 156-172. DOI
- van Mulukom, V., Schacter, D.L., Corballis, M.C., & Addis, D.R. (2016). The degree of disparateness of event details modulates future simulation construction, plausibility, and recall. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 69.2(special feature on Episodic Future Thinking), 234-242. DOI
- van Mulukom, V., Schacter, D.L., Corballis, M.C., & Addis, D.R. (2013). Re-Imagining the Future: Repetition Decreases Hippocampal Involvement in Future Simulation. PLoS One 8(7): e69596. DOI
- van Mulukom, V. (2013). Imagining a Brave New Future: The Effects of Novelty and Plausibility on Episodic Simulation. PhD thesis, published online. The University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Press & media
- ‘How your brain decides what to think‘, The Conversation, 20 February 2023
- ‘The secret to creativity – according to science’, The Conversation, 3 January 2018