Explaining the illusion of independent agency in imagined persons with a theory of practice

Philosophical Psychology 36 (2):337-355 (2023)
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Many mental phenomena involve thinking about people who do not exist. Imagined characters appear in planning, dreams, fantasizing, imaginary companions, bereavement hallucinations, auditory verbal hallucinations, and as characters created in fictional narratives by authors. Sometimes these imagined persons are felt to be completely under our control, as when one fantasizes about having a great time at a party. Other times, characters feel as though they are outside of our conscious control. Dream characters, for example, are experienced by dreamers as autonomous entities, and often do things that frighten and surprise dreamers. Some imagined persons, such as characters in fiction, start off under conscious control of the author, but over time, can appear to gain an illusion of independent agency. I propose an explanation for different autonomy attributions: characters are by default non-autonomous, unless their personalities are well-practiced. Characters become autonomous because modeling their thinking has become automatized, like many other well-practiced activities.



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Jim Davies
University of Leicester

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