This chapter explores the cognitive underpinnings for the imaginative simulations that literature affords. Having briefly evoked the history of imagination as a powerful but also dangerous instrument of cognition, it focuses on Paul Harris’s claim that children’s pretend play is essential to their cognitive development. This leads to the argument that the literary imagination as a mode of cognitive fluidity belongs to a broad spectrum of mental representations that includes counterfactuals (past and future), thought-experiments, alternative thought-worlds of all kinds. These presuppose a constant process of calibration, ‘tagging’, or ‘epistemic vigilance’, cognitive mechanisms acquired to prevent confusion or delusion. The chapter then discusses ‘imagination’ as the ability to entertain mental images (representations) in the absence of perception. These images seem pale, imprecise; yet literary images are often said to be especially vivid. This may be explained in terms of the triggering by skilled writers of motor resonance and similar effects.
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