Imagination has, however surprisingly, become a term to conjure with in the sciences of brain and mind. This essay considers the ways “imagination” is currently being constructed by cognitive scientists and neuroscientists in relation to a humanist discourse on imagination going back to the eighteenth century and especially the Romantic era. Recent scientific formulations of imagination at once overlap significantly with long-standing humanist constructions, borrowing some of the term’s luster and cultural resonance, while often delimiting it or diminishing it in the interests of a dubiously instrumental and adaptationist ethos. I propose that scientists and literary scholars stand to gain equally from greater interdisciplinary dialogue on this rich and notoriously problematic topic.

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