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. (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
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. (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.
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
Press & media
‘The secret to creativity – according to science’, The Conversation, 3 January 2018