The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality

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MIT Press, Jan 26, 2007 - Psychology - 268 pages

The human imagination remains one of the last uncharted terrains of the mind. This accessible and original monograph explores a central aspect of the imagination, the creation of counterfactual alternatives to reality, and claims that imaginative thoughts are guided by the same principles that underlie rational thoughts. Research has shown that rational thought is more imaginative than cognitive scientists had supposed; in The Rational Imagination, Ruth Byrne argues that imaginative thought is more rational than scientists have imagined.

People often create alternatives to reality and imagine how events might have turned out "if only" something had been different. Byrne explores the "fault lines" of reality, the aspects of reality that are more readily changed in imaginative thoughts. She finds that our tendencies to imagine alternatives to actions, controllable events, socially unacceptable actions, causal and enabling relations, and events that come last in a temporal sequence provide clues to the cognitive processes upon which the counterfactual imagination depends. The explanation of these processes, Byrne argues, rests on the idea that imaginative thought and rational thought have much in common.

 

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I found the examples and fictitious stories quite helpful! The concepts have a broad range of applications. For example the fact that if there's a forest fire one could think either "if only that lightening had not happened..." or "if only there were no dry leaves in the forest..." really shows how the manner in which we think about events affects what we can learn from them. I can sure do something about dry leaves, but no so much about lightening. The book also made laugh! If I went to a cinema, changed seats, and then if my previous seat were to win a prize, I sure would think "I was so close. That was for me..." I laughed because I know rationally that the prize truly was not quite meant for me--it just feels that way. Finally the ideas of concept combination, category expansion as well as transforming fault lines in general are very well explained.
Recommending for: researchers, innovators
Thank you for such an informative book!
Christopher Luwanga
 

Contents

The Counterfactual Imagination
1
Imagination
2
Counterfactual Imagination
3
What People Imagine
5
Imaginative Thoughts and Emotions
8
What People Do Not Imagine
9
Summary
14
Imagination and Rational Thought
15
Enabling Relations and Prevention
117
Why Counterfactual and Causal Thoughts Differ
118
People Generate More Causal Than Counterfactual Thoughts
119
What Makes People Think about a Cause or Imagine an Alternative?
123
Summary
126
Even If
129
People Imagine Semifactual Alternatives
130
Semifactual Alternatives Deny a Causal Link
132

Rational Thought
16
The Interpretation of If
19
Conditionals and Possibilities
20
Conditional Inferences
22
Inferences and Possibilities
25
Rationality and Conditional Inferences
28
Rational Thought and Imaginative Thought
30
DualPossibility Ideas
34
The Mutability of DualPossibility Concepts
36
The Rationality of the Counterfactual Imagination
38
Summary
40
Imagining How Actions Might Have Been Different
43
Counterfactual Conditionals
48
Why People Imagine Alternatives to Actions
52
Actions and Dual Possibilities
53
Failures to Act
54
Dual Possibilities for Inactions
57
The Inaction Effect
62
Summary
66
Thinking about What Should Have Happened
69
Controllable Events and Acceptable Events
70
Inferences about Obligations
74
Forbidden Possibilities and Inferences
76
Two Forbidden Possibilities
81
Counterfactual Obligations
83
Why People Focus on Forbidden Fruit
87
Imagined Alternatives and Obligations
88
Obligations and DomainSpecific Possibilities
92
Forbidden Possibilities Permissions and Social Contracts
95
Summary
97
Causal Relations and Counterfactuals
99
The Focus of Counterfactual and Causal Thoughts
100
The Causal Chicken and the Counterfactual Egg
102
Strong Causal and Enabling Relations
106
Counterfactual Thoughts and Enabling Relations
107
The Possibilities for Enabling Relations
108
Different Interpretations Lead to Different Inferences
111
How Do People Distinguish Causal and Enabling Relations?
114
Semifactual Alternatives and Weak Causal Relations
135
Even If Conditionals and Inferences
137
Semifactual Conditionals and Inferences
138
Conditionals as Primes
143
Imagined Semifactuals and Causality
145
The Hidden Possibility
149
Counterfactuals Are Not Biconditionals
150
Even If Conditionals and the Third Possibility
152
Summary
155
The Last Chance
157
The Case of Only If Conditionals
158
Only If Conditionals and Inferences
159
Possibilities Preserve Temporal Order
162
Why People Change Recent Events
167
A Program to Simulate Temporal Anchoring
169
Anchored Possibilities and Dual Possibilities
171
The Space of Counterfactual Possibilities
175
Summary
179
Individuals and Creative Thoughts
181
Individual Differences in Imaginative Thoughts
182
Facts and Other Possibilities
183
Multiple Possibilities
185
Heuristics and Strategies
189
Creative Thoughts
190
Concept Combination
192
Insight
194
Summary
196
The Idea of a Rational Imagination
197
Reality and Other Possibilities
198
Possibilities and Principles
200
The Counterfactual Imagination
202
The Rationality of the Counterfactual Imagination
208
Creating Different Counterfactuals
212
Summary
214
References
217
Index
243
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About the author (2007)

Professor Ruth M.J. Byrne is Vice Provost of Trinity College, Dublin University, Ireland.

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