Consider Miles Davis, horn held high, sculpting a powerful musical statement full of tonal patterns, inside jokes, and thrilling climactic phrases—all on the fly. Or think of a comedy troupe riffing on a couple of cues from the audience until the whole room is erupting with laughter. Or maybe it’s a team of software engineers brainstorming their way to the next Google, or the Einsteins of the world code-cracking the mysteries of nature. Maybe it’s simply a child playing with her toys. What do all of these activities share? With wisdom, humor, and joy, philosopher Stephen T. Asma answers that question in this book: imagination. And from there he takes us on an extraordinary tour of the human creative spirit. Guided by neuroscience, animal behavior, evolution, philosophy, and psychology, Asma burrows deep into the human psyche to look right at the enigmatic but powerful engine that is our improvisational creativity—the source, he argues, of our remarkable imaginational capacity. How is it, he asks, that a story can evoke a whole world inside of us? How are we able to rehearse a skill, a speech, or even an entire scenario simply by thinking about it? How does creativity go beyond experience and help us make something completely new? And how does our moral imagination help us sculpt a better society? As he shows, we live in a world that is only partly happening in reality. Huge swaths of our cognitive experiences are made up by “what-ifs,” “almosts,” and “maybes,” an imagined terrain that churns out one of the most overlooked but necessary resources for our flourishing: possibilities. Considering everything from how imagination works in our physical bodies to the ways we make images, from the mechanics of language and our ability to tell stories to the creative composition of self-consciousness, Asma expands our personal and day-to-day forms of imagination into a grand scale: as one of the decisive evolutionary forces that has guided human development from the Paleolithic era to today. The result is an inspiring look at the rich relationships among improvisation, imagination, and culture, and a privileged glimpse into the unique nature of our evolved minds.
Darwinian evolution is an imaginative problem that has been passed down to us unsolved. It is our most powerful explanation of humanity’s place in nature, but it is also more cognitively demanding and less emotionally satisfying than any myth. From the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has pushed our capacity for storytelling into overdrive, sparking fairy tales, adventure stories, political allegories, utopias, dystopias, social realist novels, and existential meditations. Though this influence on literature has been widely studied, it has not been explained psychologically. This book argues for the adaptive function of storytelling, integrates traditional humanist scholarship with current knowledge about the evolved and adapted human mind, and calls for literary scholars to reframe their interpretation of the first authors who responded to Darwin.
Dominated by Darwinism and the numerous guises it assumed, evolutionary theory was a source of opportunities and difficulties for late Victorian novelists. Texts produced by Wells, Hardy, Stoker, and Conrad are exemplary in reflecting and participating in these challenges. Not only do they contend with evolutionary complications, John Glendening argues, but the complexities and entanglements of evolutionary theory, interacting with multiple cultural influences, thoroughly permeate the narrative, descriptive, and thematic fabric of each. All the books Glendening examines, from The Island of Doctor Moreau and Dracula to Heart of Darkness, address the interrelationship between order and chaos revealed and promoted by evolutionary thinking of the period. Glendening's particular focus is on how Darwinism informs novels in relation to a late Victorian culture that encouraged authors to stress, not objective truths illuminated by Darwinism, but rather the contingencies, uncertainties, and confusions generated by it and other forms of evolutionary theory.
Christopher Collins introduces an exciting new field of research traversing evolutionary biology, anthropology, archaeology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and literary study. Paleopoetics maps the selective processes that originally shaped the human genus millions of years ago and prepared the human brain to play, imagine, empathize, and engage in fictive thought as mediated by language. A manifestation of the Òcognitive turnÓ in the humanities, Paleopoetics calls for a broader, more integrated interpretation of the reading experience, one that restores our connection to the ancient methods of thought production still resonating within us. Speaking with authority on the scientific aspects of cognitive poetics, Collins proposes reading literature using cognitive skills that predate language and writing. These include the brainÕs capacity to perceive the visible world, store its images, and retrieve them later to form simulated mental events. Long before humans could share stories through speech, they perceived, remembered, and imagined their own inner narratives. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, Collins builds an evolutionary bridge between humansÕ development of sensorimotor skills and their achievement of linguistic cognition, bringing current scientific perspective to such issues as the structure of narrative, the distinction between metaphor and metonymy, the relation of rhetoric to poetics, the relevance of performance theory to reading, the difference between orality and writing, and the nature of play and imagination.
This pioneering volume offers an expansive introduction to the relatively new field of evolutionary studies in imaginative culture. Contributors from psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and the humanities probe the evolved human imagination and its artefacts. The book forcefully demonstrates that imagination is part of human nature. Contributors explore imaginative culture in seven main areas: Imagination: Evolution, Mechanisms and Functions Myth and Religion Aesthetic Theory Music Visual and Plastic Arts Video Games and Films Oral Narratives and Literature Evolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture widens the scope of evolutionary cultural theory to include much of what “culture” means in common usage. The contributors aim to convince scholars in both the humanities and the evolutionary human sciences that biology and imaginative culture are intimately intertwined. The contributors illuminate this broad theoretical argument with comprehensive insights into religion, ideology, personal identity, and many particular works of art, music, literature, film, and digital media. The chapters “Imagination, the Brain’s Default Mode Network, and Imaginative Verbal Artifacts” and “The Role of Aesthetic Style in Alleviating Anxiety About the Future” are licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
At the close of the eighteenth century, Erasmus Darwin declared that he would 'enlist the imagination under the banner of science,' beginning, Michael Page argues, a literary narrative on questions of evolution, ecology, and technological progress that would extend from the Romantic through the Victorian periods. Examining the interchange between emerging scientific ideas-specifically evolution and ecology-new technologies, and literature in nineteenth-century Britain, Page shows how British writers from Darwin to H.G. Wells confronted the burgeoning expansion of scientific knowledge that was radically redefining human understanding and experience of the natural world, of human species, and of the self. The wide range of authors covered in Page's ambitious study permits him to explore an impressive array of topics that include the role of the Romantic era in the molding of scientific and cultural perspectives; the engagement of William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley with questions raised by contemporary science; Mary Shelley's conflicted views on the unfolding prospects of modernity; and how Victorian writers like Charles Kingsley, Samuel Butler, and W.H. Hudson responded to the implications of evolutionary theory. Page concludes with the scientific romances of H.G. Wells, to demonstrate how evolutionary fantasies reached the pinnacle of synthesis between evolutionary science and the imagination at the close of the century.
The quest to understand the evolution of the literary mind has become a fertile field of inquiry and speculation for scholars across literary studies and cognitive science. In Paleopoetics, Christopher Collins's acclaimed earlier title, he described how language emerged both as a communicative tool and as a means of fashioning other communicative tools—stories, songs, and rituals. In Neopoetics, Collins turns his attention to the cognitive evolution of the writing-ready brain. Further integrating neuroscience into the popular field of cognitive poetics, he adds empirical depth to our study of literary texts and verbal imagination and offers a whole new way to look at reading, writing, and creative expression. Collins begins Neopoetics with the early use of visual signs, first as reminders of narrative episodes and then as conventional symbols representing actual speech sounds. Next he examines the implications of written texts for the play of the auditory and visual imagination. To exemplify this long transition from oral to literate artistry, Collins examines a wide array of classical texts—from Homer and Hesiod to Plato and Aristotle and from the lyric innovations of Augustan Rome to the inner dialogues of St. Augustine. In this work of "big history," Collins demonstrates how biological and cultural evolution collaborated to shape both literature and the brain we use to read it.
Stimulating and often startling discussions between three friends, all highly original thinkers: Rupert Sheldrake, controversial biologist, Terence McKenna , psychedelic visionary, and Ralph Abraham , chaos mathematician. Their passion is to break out of paradigms that retard our evolution and to explore new possibilities. Through challenge and synergy they venture where few have gone before, leading their readers on an exciting journey of discovery. Their discussions focus on the evolution of the mind, the role of psychedelics, skepticism, the psychic powers of animals, the structure of time, the life of the heavens, the nature of God, and transformations of consciousness. “Three fine thinkers take us plunging into the universe of chaos, mind, and spirit. Instead of leaving us lost, they bring us back with startling insights and more wonder than we knew we had.” —Matthew Fox, Original Blessing and Sheer Joy "A jam-session of the mind, an intellectual movable feast, an on-going conversation that began over twenty years ago and remains as lively and relevant today as it ever was. Sadly, Terence had to leave the conversation a little earlier than planned. But the appearance of this book of trialogues at this critical, historical juncture is a reaffirmation of the potency of the optimistic vision that the trialogues express." —Dennis McKenna, brother of the late Terence McKenna Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of many books including The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. Ralph Abraham is a mathematician, one of the pioneers of chaos theory and the author of several books including Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History. The late Terence McKenna was a scholar of shamanism, ethno-botanist, psychedelic researcher and author of many books including Food of the Gods and True Hallucinations.
A bold new synthesis of paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and anthropology that overturns misconceptions about race, war and peace, and human nature itself, answering an age-old question: What made humans so exceptional among all the species on Earth? Creativity. It is the secret of what makes humans special, hiding in plain sight. Agustín Fuentes argues that your child's finger painting comes essentially from the same place as creativity in hunting and gathering millions of years ago, and throughout history in making war and peace, in intimate relationships, in shaping the planet, in our communities, and in all of art, religion, and even science. It requires imagination and collaboration. Every poet has her muse; every engineer, an architect; every politician, a constituency. The manner of the collaborations varies widely, but successful collaboration is inseparable from imagination, and it brought us everything from knives and hot meals to iPhones and interstellar spacecraft. Weaving fascinating stories of our ancient ancestors' creativity, Fuentes finds the patterns that match modern behavior in humans and animals. This key quality has propelled the evolutionary development of our bodies, minds, and cultures, both for good and for bad. It's not the drive to reproduce; nor competition for mates, or resources, or power; nor our propensity for caring for one another that have separated us out from all other creatures. As Fuentes concludes, to make something lasting and useful today you need to understand the nature of your collaboration with others, what imagination can and can't accomplish, and, finally, just how completely our creativity is responsible for the world we live in. Agustín Fuentes's resounding multimillion-year perspective will inspire readers—and spark all kinds of creativity.