Thinking Through the Imagination

John Kaag’s 2014 book Thinking Through the Imagination explores the imaginative side of cognition in a manner complementary to Turning Signs, drawing upon Peirce’s insights regarding esthetics and abduction, and upon recent neuroscience to explain how these creative aspects of mind are embodied in the functional dynamics of the brain. Kaag cites many of the same philosophical and scientific sources cited in Turning Signs, though often with a different emphasis. One of his sources not used in Turning Signs is Donald Tucker, Mind from Body: Neural Structures of Experience (2007). The following excerpt, despite some differences in terminology, closely parallels what Turning Signs says about ‘modelling’ and ‘guidance systems’ with their ‘practice-perception cycles.’

The true insight in regard to the imagination— an insight that Kant and Schiller glimpse, an insight that Peirce begins to develop, an insight that Tucker unpacks to an impressive degree— is that the imagination is to be associated with a cognitive process laden with feeling and meaning. It is a process that at once reflects an activity and a genuine receptivity. This active receptivity develops over time in order to bring about a harmonious relation between a particular organism and the world. The process of the imagination is one that cannot be described exhaustively or determinately. It is embodied and develops spontaneously but, at the same time, is constrained and guided by past developments. It is a process that provides an effective bridge or interface between an organism, its embodied history, and novel environmental conditions. It is a process that “handles” the new possibilities that the world affords.

These points come to light in the details of Tucker’s account. Depending on environmental circumstances, the neural traffic flows predominantly in one of two directions. Tucker explains that when memory or habit dominates a situation, the activation pattern radiates from the limbic system toward the sensory modalities. When novel sensations occur, however, the activation patterns reverse, proceeding from the somatic-sensory shell toward the visceral core, where it acquires meaning and associations. This is a temporal process in which new environmental stimulation continually affects, adjusts, and renews the structured activation patterns that form the physiological basis of human habit and conceptualization. Tucker develops an interesting metaphor when he writes, “it is like the mind breathes. In then out— weaving a confluence of distributed representations, weaving visceral meaning with external reality.” This process of weaving generates new patterns by returning to the latent patterns in our neural architecture and re-turning these patterns in novel ways.
— Kaag 2014, Kindle Locations 3268-3282; quote near the end is from p. 166 of Tucker, Mind from Body: Neural Structures of Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

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