Language and imagination: Evolutionary explorations

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Abstract

This article provides a functional analysis of the conditions for language to emerge, and analyzes its role in imagination. It starts with some initial reflections on imagination and its evolutionary beginnings in relation to the role of working memory and tool use by chimpanzees and humans up to modernity. It then presents an analysis of what it takes to develop language, and how language gives rise to higher orders of imagination. An important theme in the discussion is which of the changes in the development leading to language may have been gradual and which changes must reflect a discontinuity. It concludes with a paradoxical property of imagination: One part of our mind is able to imagine and create systems that another part of our mind is unable to deal with. It shows how this tension manifests itself in the notion of an impossible language, but crucially also in conceptions of human society at large.

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