SubStance 30.1&2 (2001) 3-5
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This volume brings together essays by scientists and humanists representing many disciplines but united in a common purpose: to explore the possibilities of understanding the imagination--both how it operates and what it makes--as the product of evolution. I stress the phrase "explore the possibilities." Few of these contributors would call themselves evolutionary psychologists, but the storm of opposition that EP has aroused and the way that opposition has taken up arms is a cautionary tale about how academic debate can be sidetracked by search-and-destroy operations. In works like Hilary and Stephen Rose's recent Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments against Evolutionary Psychology (New York: Harmony Books, 2000), contributors often freeze their target in order to shoot at it.
Of course, few arguments achieve an interesting bite without some polemical edge (and those on the EP side are no strangers to the practice). So all this heavy artillery may be inevitable, especially when there are political implications (and when aren't there?). But the targets are, almost all of them, moving targets. As thinkers, they evolve, just as species do. And equally important, once the battle is over and the dust settled, the job still remains: working in a deliberate and many-voiced way to find the real possibilities and limits of evolutionary and cognitive approaches to the understanding of human behavior.
Like the 1999 conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which inspired it, this volume is designed polyphonically. The aim has been to allow different voices and counter voices to speak meaningfully in the same space. The conference, "Imagination and the Adapted Mind," focused, as do these essays, on the possibilities of examining from an evolutionary perspective both the capability and the inclination of human beings to imagine things, people, stories, and worlds that have no "real" existence. This conference was ground-breaking not only in its subject matter, but also in the way it brought together both scientists and humanists to speak on this subject out of their often very different disciplinary cultures. In publishing these papers, SubStance continues its long-standing tradition of bringing together scientific and literary discourses. This issue features a wide range of different and often conflicting perspectives on its subject. It starts with three quite different takes on the general issue of the evolution of the [End Page 3] imagination (or more narrowly, the fictive or artistic imagination) and concludes with calls to expand our imaginative grasp of who we are.
Six of the essays--by N. Katherine Hayles, Gabriele Schwab, Ellen Spolsky, Porter Abbott, Frederick Turner, and Eleanor Rosch--are so concerned with developing a mid-course correction, pushing against one or another dominating frame of mind, that I have broken them off into a final section called "Reconsiderations." Of the rest, those in part one, "Formulations," are marked by their own revisionary impulses. The lead essay, by John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, represents a fundamental revision of their earlier view that artistic behavior is wholly accountable as a functionless "byproduct" of adaptations having nothing to do with art. The sharply contrasting essay immediately following is Steven Mithen's striking revaluation of the argument he made in his 1996 book, The Prehistory of the Mind. These two essays and the one that immediately follows, by Paul Hernadi, all introduce fresh new takes on the general subject of the imagination as an adapted capability. The next four essays--by Ellen Dissanayake, Kay Young and Jeffrey Shaver, Patrick Hogan, and Bert States --are grouped together as "Explorations." Each is a lively intervention into a sector of this issue's general subject: the infant etiology of aesthetic imagination, the affliction of dysnarrativia, prototype-based ethics, and metaphor and dreams.
Running through all this diversity of inquiry and argument are certain nodal issues that surface whenever cognitive and evolutionary approaches invade literary and artistic realms. Perhaps the most stubborn and persistent is that of accommodating issues of cultural causation. By now it is impossible to reduce these issues to the business of simply striking a balance between genetic and social determinisms. Though some of the essayists (Tooby and...