Daydreaming as spontaneous immersive imagination: A phenomenological analysis


Maladaptive daydreaming
Phenomenal presence
Spontaneous thought

How to Cite

Lawson, E., & Thompson, E. (2024). Daydreaming as spontaneous immersive imagination: A phenomenological analysis . Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 5.


Research on the specific features of daydreaming compared with mind-wandering and night dreaming is a neglected topic in the philosophy of mind and the cognitive neuroscience of spontaneous thought. The extant research either conflates daydreaming with mind-wandering (whether understood as task-unrelated thought, unguided attention, or disunified thought), characterizes daydreaming as opposed to mind-wandering (Dorsch, 2015), or takes daydreaming to encompass any and all “imagined events” (Newby-Clark & Thavendran, 2018). These dueling definitions obstruct future research on spontaneous thought, and are insufficiently precise to guide empirical studies. They also fail to illuminate the phenomenal core of daydreaming, namely, its dreamlike qualities. Although daydreaming is related to both mind-wandering and narrative imagination, it is not reducible to either. We argue that daydreams are experiences of spontaneous, immersive imagination in the waking state. The main task of our investigation is to distinguish daydreaming, conceptually and phenomenologically, from mind-wandering, on the one hand, and night dreaming, on the other. Although daydream experiences can vary widely, we distinguish prototypical experiences of daydreaming from adjacent imaginative activity, including fleeting imagery and “focused daydreaming,” or crafted visualization. We consider our phenomenological analysis as preparatory work for conceptually distinguishing different spontaneous and imaginative states so that they can be investigated accordingly with questionnaires and qualitative methods. We argue that precision about the phenomenal character of daydreaming can guide neurophenomenological investigations, help delimit studies on individual variance in daydreaming features, and identify differences among daydreaming, mind-wandering, and night dreaming conceptually and phenomenologically, and possibly eventually in terms of neural correlates.


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