The Evolution of Imagination and Fiction through Generativity and Narrative

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The puzzle of the evolution of imagination and fiction is that realistic representations of the world are expected to be more helpful for survival than fictional ones. In this chapter, I argue that this puzzle disappears when one understands that imagination relies on the brain network that also supports remembering and experiencing, and that memory—typically considered a realistic representation of events—is reconstructive like imagination is. The flexibility of the recombination of memory details lies at the basis of mankind’s adaptive capacity for creative generativity, allowing them to think of a wide variety of events and ideas. Narrative allows for this generativity of events and ideas to be shared efficiently with others, and fills in the gaps between prediction and experience, while balancing accuracy and consistency. Moreover, imagination and narrative imbue events with meaning and motivate people into action, thus crucially supporting human culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture
EditorsJoseph Carroll, Mathias Clasen, Emelie Jonsson
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-46190-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-46189-8
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Valerie van Mulukom is a Research Fellow at Coventry University, United Kingdom. Valerie completed her PhD in the cognitive neuroscience of imagination at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, after which she held postdoctoral positions at Aarhus University and the University of Oxford, where she did research on memory and the cognitive science of religion. Currently, she combines her backgrounds to do research on the cognitive science and evolution of imagination, memory, and belief at Coventry University.


  • imagination
  • evolution
  • fiction
  • narrative
  • memory
  • belief
  • neuroscience
  • creativity
  • prediction
  • storytelling
  • simulation

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