Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Open Peer Commentary

What we imagine versus how we imagine, and a problem for explaining counterfactual thoughts with causal ones

Winston Chang and Patricia Herrmanna1

a1 Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.


Causal and counterfactual thoughts are bound together in Byrne's theory of human imagination. We think there are two issues in her theory that deserve clarification. First, Byrne describes which counterfactual possibilities we think of, but she leaves unexplained the mechanisms by which we generate these possibilities. Second, her exploration of “strong causes” and enablers gives two different predictions of which counterfactuals we think of in causal scenarios. On one account, we think of the counterfactuals which we have control over. On the other, which counterfactuals we think of depends on whether something is a strong cause or an enabler. Although these two accounts sometimes give the same predictions, we present cases in which they differ, and we would like to see Byrne's theory provide a way of reconciling these differences.

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