- The formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses.
- The mental image so formed.
- The ability or tendency to form such images.
“Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which are everything in this world.“ Blaine Pascal
“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.” Lauren Bacall
Imagination. One of the most potent words in the English language. But what does it mean? Is it the exclusive domain of artists and thinkers? Do we fear it? (madness lies there!). So many other words are spawned by it. Imagination. Take it away, and what are we left with? We can’t imagine our own possibilities or dream about our children’s future. We can’t build cities to the sky, create masterworks of art, make deep scientific discoveries, or fly to the moon without it. Imagination. It penetrates, pervades and informs every aspect of human life. Without it, we are merely animals.
“…enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.”
It is difficult to consider imagination without its attendants; inspiration, intuition, illusion, and delusion. Intuition is where our imagination acts as the synthesizer, the integrator, the very engine of creativity. In our imagination, the connections, similarities and differences, concepts and objects all work together to create a new and different object. Inspiration and enthusiasm are impossible without imagination. Whether it’s inspiration in religion, art, politics, love; it’s imagining the possibilities that “takes our imagination by storm” with its result being inspiration.
Illusion is perception vs. imagination. This is the heavyweight bout for many of us. We’re not crazy, maybe just a little unwell. “He/she loves me, I know it.” Our imagination can interpret every action to fit the illusion of love. Delusion is illusions big, ugly sibling. It is mis-perception and pathologically distorted imagination. When our imagination starts to take over our life, this can be where we wind up.
“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshiping we are becoming.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Imagination may not be where character development begins, but it is the launching pad for it. With our imagination we develop empathy, compassion, and other uniquely human characteristics. We walk a mile in another’s shoes only through our imagination. If one can only learn through fear, then it is the fear of imagined consequences that controls behavior. Lacking any tangible evidence of a hereafter, we picture heaven and hell in our imagination, and behave accordingly.
Can you imagine a world without imagination? Yet there are those who think they don’t have it and don’t use it. This is usually because they don’t have skills in “creative arts”. Ha! If you’ve ever obsessed about the latest disease, or driven yourself half mad foreseeing the next terrorist attack, or can’t board a plane because you’re sure you’ll die in the most horrible, fiery crash imaginable (see!), then you have imagination. You can imagine the unimaginable! Imagine that! Joe the plumber might be a dull guy to some, but chances are has a fascinating inner life. In his imagination, he may be a superhero. Freud said “Every man is great, in his own mind.” Where is his own mind is Joe the plumber great? In his imagination.Albert Einstein famously stated that most of his discoveries were through intuition, not knowledge or conscious thought. One of the fathers of organic chemistry discovered the “ring theory” while dosing at his fireplace. Exhausted after a fruitless day at the blackboard, he sat at the hearth and as he began to drift off, he had a vision of a snake eating it’s own tail and correctly intuited that this was the way organic compounds were created!
“Imagination is the living power and prime agent of all human perception.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
All the great thinkers believed the sentiment embodied this quote from Emerson. It is also borne out in the philosophies of the the modern day “human potential” movement. “What you conceive, and believe you can achieve.” What we focus on, becomes greater in our lives. Therefore we need to be careful what we imagine for ourselves. Like the poet said, “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!” It’s interesting to note that an aspect of Buddhist philosophy is the notion that the entire world is an illusion, a metaphysical creation of God and human imagination! One implication of this philosophy is that we can manifest in the physical world anything that we can imagine clearly and consistently. There was even a scientific study done on basketball players who practiced free throws in their imagination. They improved every bit as much as the players actually practicing them on the court!
Artists are special people. Fine or performing arts or high craft, the successful ones are universally viewed as extraordinary human beings. But what is special about them? Certainly they have training, formally or informally, in their specific art, but anyone can undergo training. That doesn’t make them an artist. The singular characteristic of successful artists, is that they have become world class experts at using their imagination. The Renaissance represented an explosion, a supernova of imagination.
Imagination operates in every aspect of human life. It is integral to what it means to be human. Every human creation in this world, beautiful or horrifying; art, architecture, film, war, crime, all came from the imagination. Every living soul has it and uses it. It is part of our human heritage and it embodies our destiny.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Albert Einstein