Aristotle held that perception entails a faculty, the "common sense"/imagination, that transforms the deliverances of the material sense organs into coherent and meaningful mental representations. Its role in creative thinking is derivative from this basic function. How such a faculty might operate has never been satisfactorily explained. Associative mechanisms have been seen to be insufficient, and this has led to either a mystification of the faculty (Kant, Coleridge), or to its marginalization within scientific psychologies (Behaviorism, Cognitive Science), which thus fail to confront the problem it encapsulates.
Although the Gestalt psychologists (the "Berlin school" of Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler) largely avoided the term "imagination", the neurophysiological hypotheses that formed the heuristic core of Gestaltism can be construed as a pioneering attempt to give a non-associationist (yet materialistic) account of its mechanisms. Gestalt physiology turned out to be false. However, it indicates the possibility of devising non-associationistic theories of the function. If this can be done successfully, imagination may yet be recognized as fundamental to cognition.
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