[Avery Andrews 930926.1612]
I'm as much in the dark about how this stuff actually happens as anyone,
but three points on imagination:
i) people actually aren't very good at it. In step 3. of my repair saga,
I had the bright idea of first tying a knot in the cord to keep it
from retreating into the pulley mechanism again, and then another
one to hold the little metal bar that sits transversely in the
handle, it wasn't until I actually saw this arrangement and that
it sucked that I realized it was hopeless. Imagination failed here.
Dennett notes that failures of imagination probably contain hints
about the kinds of structures and representations being used, but
I don't recall any substantive proposals.
ii) we have reasonably clear ideas about how imagination in symbolic mode
might be made to work - it's called `exploring problem spaces'.
The methods are basically those of logic, and thus go back way
beyond the birth of digital computers--to Peirce, Boole and
Aristotle. Perhaps it is the applicability of com>puters to
implement these basically rather old ideas that led to their
quick acceptance as a substrate for intelligence, as opposed to
the analog approach, wihtout such prestigious antecedents,
and a large body of pre-existing results to draw on.
iii) humans are the only creatures that talk, and appear to be by far
the best at solving problems in imagination, tho monkeys and
apes seem to have significant abilities in this direction (as
when they get the hanging banana by shifting a crate to under
it, and standing on the crate). So maybe symbolic ability
*evolved* to support problem-solving, with the possibility of
linguistic communication a fortuitous exaptation (SJ Gould's
word for when a structure evolved for one purpose gets adopted
for another, with concomitant further development.
As for me, I think it's time to follow Michael's advice and read UTC.