The Science and Philosophy of Imagination

September 15, 2021 - September 17, 2021
Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Cotham House, Cotham Hill,
Bristol BS6 6JL
United Kingdom

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  • Thought Trust
  • British Society for the Philosophy of Science


École des hautes études en sciences sociale
Trinity College, Dublin
University of Antwerp
University of York
University of Exeter


University of Bristol
University of St. Andrews
University of Exeter

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The Science and Philosophy of Imagination Conference will be held as a hybrid online/in-person event from 15-17th September 2021. Wednesday 15th September will be online only, with Thursday 16th and Friday 17th September as hybrid online/in-person and hosted at the University of Bristol. The deadline for in-person registration is Monday 23rd August 2021. The deadline for online registration is Monday 13th September 2021.

Recent years have seen a proliferation of research in the philosophy of the imagination. On one hand, researchers have been interested in understanding the role of the imagination in creativity, in both the arts and the sciences. On the other hand, researchers have been interested in its role in knowledge acquisition in everyday circumstances, in science, in philosophy. Given that the content of imaginative episodes usually diverges from reality, there is a puzzle as to how it can provide us with knowledge that is applicable in everyday circumstances or knowledge of scientific principles. Furthermore, the imagination is often seen as particularly important for philosophical reasoning, which tends to focus on what’s possible or necessary as well as the way the world happens to be.

Despite this newfound focus on the imagination, more attention needs to be paid to recent findings from psychology and neuroscience that have the potential to shed light on the nature of the imagination and the mechanisms that give rise to it. One of the reasons behind the relative neglect of the science of the imagination may be the fact that the imagination is a notoriously difficult subject to study from a scientific perspective, owing to imaginative episodes often lacking clear behavioural effects. As such, the conference will also aim to address methodological issues with the scientific study of the imagination from the perspective of the philosophy of science. The conference aims to address these issues by providing a forum for interdisciplinary exchange of ideas, with the hope that philosophers of imagination can develop more empirically-informed practice, and scientists involved in studying the imagination can develop an understanding of some of the philosophical implications of their research

The conference aims to address a broad range of research questions including (but not limited to): What is the link between mental imagery and imagination? How do people imagine counterfactual scenarios, and how does this relate to philosophical thought? Is imagination embodied? Is the imagination rational? How can 4E approaches to the mind impact on our understanding of imagination? How can the predictive processing framework impact on our understanding of the imagination? What are the underlying mechanisms of imagination? Is imagining a natural capacity or a culturally-mediated practice? Is there a unified capacity of imagination or are there many distinct capacities? How did a mind that evolved to act in the here and now develop the capacity to creatively imagine radical departures from reality?

We plan to run the conference as an in-person event. However, we will take steps to ensure that accepted talks can be presented remotely if required due to pandemic-related restrictions. In the event that there are stricter restrictions in place in the UK in September that prevent the conference from going ahead in person, the event will be moved online.

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August 23, 2021, 11:45pm BST

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