When asked to imagine a brown cow, what takes place inside your head? This pleasantly winding survey offers some clues.
Per John Lennon, can we really imagine that there’s no heaven? Perhaps, writes Davies (Cognitive Science/Carleton Univ.; Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One With the Universe, 2014), but given that imagination seems to be strongly tied to memory, it may be that we can’t really know what we haven’t experienced—or perhaps we can. Either way, it shouldn’t keep us from trying: Imagination is, after all, a component of creativity and of problem-solving. As the author reveals, imagination is strongly linked as well to the related word “imagery,” which opens onto a universe of symbols with its own grammar, declarative and otherwise. Memory recall is a work of imagination “because memories are reconstructed every time they are retrieved”—and therein lies the possibility of negative consequences, since reconstructed memories can be unhappy ones. Good or bad, Davies examines how thinking works, always in a complicated way, since, as he notes, “there’s a saying in neuroscience: if the brain can do things five different ways, it does all ten.” His discussion covers such matters as hallucinations, which defy description, and imaginary friends: Some readers may take comfort in knowing that there’s no requirement that one abandon them at an early age. “When the child perceives that the parent starts to disapprove,” writes Davies, “the imaginary companions go dark: the children stop sharing information about companions, and only play with them when parents aren’t around.” At the close of his ever engaging book, Davies notes that the visual and spatial components of the brain and the contents it holds are often “bewildering.”
A worthy companion to books by Oliver Sacks, Daniel Dennett, and other students of the always puzzling human mind.