Marilyn Merritt in Science:
The Evolution of Imagination, by philosopher Stephen Asma, is an ambitious and exciting book about creativity, rich with eclectic disciplinary references and enlivened with personal anecdotes. Charting new territory, Asma emphasizes the biological bases of imagination—sensory perception, emotions and affective systems, neurology, biochemistry, brain size and differentiation, and capabilities for motion and action—and casts these elements in evolutionary perspective.
One of Asma’s most striking claims is that imagination preceded human language. His main evidence for this assertion is that most biological requisites for imagination—including a limbic system to process affective states such as fear and attachment and sensory capability to recognize particular individuals—evolved in most social mammals, not only in primates.
Asma does not downplay the role of language in hominid evolution. Instead, he frames it as a powerful contributor to imagination and to the broader adaptive capability of improvisation—a type of performative creativity driven by intentionality and subject to real-time evaluation through feedback loops that monitor activity.
The book itself is a “jam session in six chapters,” each moving between occurrences of real-time improvisation and explanations of evolutionary origins, accounting for life span and species development, and individual expressive art, as well as group practices such as dance and storytelling.