The study of imagination as an approach to consciousness

The concept of consciousness appears to have had little currency before the 17th century. Not only did philosophers before Descartes fail to worry about how consciousness fitted into the natural world, they did not even claim to be conscious. If we are conscious, however, we must assume that they were too, and it hardly seems plausible that they could have been unaware of it. In fact, when the mind was discussed in former ages, both before and within the work of Descartes, the concept of imagination filled most (not all) of the key conceptual roles that consciousness fills today. Although it was not considered uniquely problematic, in the way that consciousness is, imagination continued to be used in these ways long after the Cartesian revolution. It was both the mental arena where thinking took place - where ideas (images) had their being and their interaction - and, implicitly, the power whereby the deliverances of the material sense organs were integrated and rendered meaningful (and, thereby, rendered 'mental'). This suggests that the study of the imagination (in the relevant senses) ought to have a considerable bearing on the study of consciousness, and it may even provide a way to outflank the notorious 'hard problem' that seems to stand in the way of a direct scientific assault on consciousness itself.
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