David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Not long ago, I received an email from a man who had been trying to get his seven-year-old son interested in science, and teach him a little bit about the workings of the brain. He had been showing his son one of those diagrams of a brain with various regions labeled as "speech center," vision center," and the like (something similar to this, I suppose), when the little boy suddenly asked, "Daddy, which part of the brain does imagination come from?". It was not on the diagram, and the father, although he studied human biology at college, realized he did not know the answer. As we do these days, he got on the internet to try to find out. It was not as easy as he might have expected. "Imagination" is certainly a word that is found on a lot of web pages, and there are plenty that seem to be devoted to celebrating or promoting it, but very few of them seem to have anything at all to say about what it is, how it works, or where in the brain it might be implemented. Eventually, he found his way to this site. Even here, however, he could find no straightforward answer to his son's apparently straightforward question. (The truth is, the question is not nearly as straightforward as it appears.) He thought I might be a good a person to ask, however, and sent me an email. What follows is a lightly revised version of the reply I sent. It is not written in terms that a seven-year-old could understand (I am not clever enough to do that), but neither is it pitched at the professional, academic level of most of the material on this site. I would like to think that it answers the question (inasmuch as it can be answered in the current state of scientific knowledge) in a way that a layperson should be able to understand, and that they might then be able to explain to a curious and intelligent child. If you want to know the detailed reasons, and see the citations to the scientific literature, that justify the claims made here, you can find them in the other articles on this site..
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