The Futures of the Past The Evolution of Imaginative Animals

Oryan Zacks, Simona Ginsburg, Eva Jablonka

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We discuss the evolution of imagination in vertebrate animals within the framework of an evolutionary-transition approach. We define imaginative consciousness and the cognitive architecture that constitutes it and argue that the evolution of full-fledged imaginative consciousness that enables planning can be regarded as a major transition in the evolution of cognition. We explore the distribution and scope of a core capacity of imaginative cognition in non-human vertebrates — episodic-like memory (ELM) — by examining its behavioural manifestations as well as the organization and connectivity of the hippocampus, a central hub of episodic memory processes in vertebrates. Although the data are limited, we conclude that ELM evolved in parallel several times through the enrichment of minimal consciousness capacities, that there is a general correspondence between enhanced behavioural capacities and the size and complexity of the hippocampus during vertebrate evolution, and that the evolution of prospective, planning-enabling imagination is a major transition in cognition and consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-61
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Consciousness Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • consciousness
  • episodic-like memory (ELM)
  • imagination
  • prospective imagination
  • unlimited associative learning (UAL)


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