I recently spotted in PSYCHE, the Australian interdisciplinary journal on consciousness research, a review by Casey Woodling of the book, Mindsight, a philosophical take on the role imagination plays in how we represent the world. Colin McGinn's Mindsight makes the rationalist's case for the autonomy of imagination separate from any sensual faculty.
As described in the review, McGinn makes a couple larger points that interest me.
He uses David Hume's distinction between impressions and ideas to make an initial point about imagination and causality. For Hume, impressions are what we physically perceive and ideas are, essentially, perceptions of past perceptions. Ideas live at the end of a chain of physical events. In this, McGinn believes Hume was mistaken.
One reason Hume is mistaken is that imagination, image-making if you will, is human-directed, not received, as is perception. It is in part voluntary. To amplify McGinn's point, Woodling asks us close our eyes and imagine Bill Clinton, then asks if, perhaps, we were visualizing the color of his shoes. The point is that our imagining and perceptual fields are different.
Ideas and imagination also require our attention in ways that sensing does not. They are acts of will.
Imagination is closely tied to creativity, and of course, to belief and meaning. Recent empirical research in childhood cognition suggests that imagination is a form of future reasoning and that perhaps we possess a rich conceptual life before being able to express it in language. If so, meaning making precedes the tools, such as language, that we create to augment and extend that knowledge. So rather than sit at the end of a long physical causal chain, imagination allows us - in part - to fact check, to conceive of the conditions under which our everyday beliefs might be true.
Mindsight is another book to add to my reading list.