This chapter introduces a biosemiotic view of imagination and its evolutionary understanding of nature and culture as consisting of semiotic relations through and through. It discusses the relation between self and environment (signifying umwelt) and the primary act of imagination as the building of a meaningful semiotic model of the environment in both humans and all other organisms. It identifies the self plus the umwelt as the basic evolutionary unit of survival and argues that this, not technologized, inflexible deterministic models must be the context in which imagination and evolution, which are structurally similar and constitute mind, can operate. Finally, it warns against imagination that takes its hand from the Earth into endless abstraction as a kind of hellish danger and looks at the dangers of attacks on meaning-making as forms of destructive semiocide.
A phenomenological distinction is drawn between what is imaginable and what is conceivable (but not imaginable). This distinction is rooted, historically, in Descartes’ famous discussion of the piece of wax, and he describes as the difference between “imagination” and “intellection.” His example is described, but then the distinction is extended to a number of unexpected other kinds of cases. One is the experience of a native speaker of her own words. She can conceive of these words meaning differently than they do but she can’t imagine this. So too, those brought up with forks can’t imagine experiencing them as objects without a function; although an experience like that is conceivable. The final class of important examples is the conceivability of borders of objects being elsewhere than we experience them to be. One surprising result of the analysis of these examples in this paper is that what’s conceivable isn’t a guide to metaphysical possibility; it’s not even a guide to possible experience.
Realist accounts typically define solidarity on the basis of a static feature of human nature. We stand in solidarity with some other person, or group of people, because we share important features. However, those features are often used to further exclude groups that are already denied entry into the community of those who stand in solidarity with one another. In opposition to such realist accounts, Richard Rorty defines solidarity as a practical tool, within which there is always an “us,” with whom we stand in solidarity, and a “them,” with whom we are contrasted. I argue that by understanding Rorty’s pragmatic solidarity in terms of the relational view of solidarity offered by Alexis Shotwell, it is possible to conceptualize solidarity in a manner that allows for extending the boundaries of the community with whom we stand in solidarity. Furthermore, this pragmatic, relational version of solidarity provides normative force to the responsibility to extend those boundaries.
For Simone Weil, the imagination plays a fundamental role in knowing. In her early work, she describes perception as an interaction between mind and world. She borrows from Descartes the idea that the mind, in imagining, contemplates the image of a bodily thing. But the role of the imagination in her epistemology is ultimately Kantian: the imagination is what integrates active understanding and passive sensibility. What is unique to Weil’s account is its physical dimension. According to her, thinking is essentially activity, but the original action is a reaction of the body to an external stimulus. Such reactions generalize across similar stimuli, resulting in meta-images which are responsible for categorizing things and structuring perception. The imagination is Weil’s answer to the question, “Whence experience?” The raw wash of sensations is necessary, but not sufficient, to answer this question; and similarly with the structured emptiness of concepts. The imagination is what takes the signet ring of the conceptual realm and presses it into the melting wax of sensation—and thus produces experience.
What makes a thought, a poem, a musical idea, a feeling deep? This chapter demonstrates how light-hearted fun or festive frivolity and frolic insofar as it springs from the spirit of play, of non-competitive sport, can be “deep.” I begin with a wild act of imagination to support the analysis of “fun” that follows and, in the process, illuminates the very nature of imagination. This exercise stirs up our imagination both conceptually and culturally: conceptually by raising and displaying the imaginative fecundity of a “what-if” question, and culturally by challenging the stereotype that fun must be shallow. What if Socrates tried to analyze the 21st century concept of “fun?” Making a Socratic use of classical Indian aesthetics of humor and other modern Indian poetics of laughter, I explore the possibility of showing the profundity of the sense of lightness and fun of—even a predominantly painful—human life. Philosophy, thus, turns out to be itself an imaginative activity, namely, an art of combining depth and frivolity through an intercultural dialectical phenomenology of fun.
Imagination plays an important role in depiction. In this chapter, I focus on photography and I discuss the role imagination plays in photographic depiction. I suggest to follow a broadly Waltonian view, but I also depart from it in several places. I start by discussing a general feature of the relation of depiction, namely the fact that it is a ternary relation which always involves “something external.” I then turn my attention to Walton’s view, where this third relatum of the relation of depiction is largely analyzed in terms of the role imagination plays in depiction. I consider the objection to his view that not all cases of depiction involve imagination – for instance, documentary photographs – as well as Walton’s own strategy to face this objection, and I argue that it is partly adequate and partly wrong. As we will see, first, it is an unnecessary mistake to insist too heavily on the fact that photographs are produced in a mechanical way (as opposed to, say, paintings), and second, the notion of “imagining-seeing,” as it is articulated by Walton, is perhaps too strong and does not entirely do justice to the external character of the role imagination plays here.