How often I’ve heard those discounting accusations leveled at children as though the creative imagination were something less real, therefore less important than what hard thinking adults have. The imagination often gets a bad rap, especially from mechanical-thinking, or concrete–thinking personalities. It’s often assigned the same low respectability as fantasy. Dreams and their meaning have also been folded into this heap of what many consider to be unimportant and distracting ephemera and yet…
Yet, all children interact with and learn about the so-called shared reality through exercising their imagination and fantasy. The pretend play, or narratives of children are their practices for being a healthy functioning adult. It is said that we all use the imagery of fantasy and imagination to create our own individual myth, or world-view. And many psychologists say that imagination and fantasy help to unite our “real world” experiences into an interconnected whole.
Some say that the senses present the “real” world while the imagination presents only a facsimile (read as unreal). Though an imaginary experience is indeed a facsimile, it may not be any the less real than that of the cognitive projections of our biased minds (read as beliefs).
Imagination can be defined as the ability to “see” what the senses cannot see e.g. to see all sides of a three-dimensional cube. It’s what the “cubists” were trying to do in their art i.e. depict all sides of something simultaneously.
Imagination is not limited by physical rules i.e. it can stop a Nova, enter a black hole, or go faster than the speed of light. Einstein used imagination to see into the secrets of the relative universe. Often the imagination serves as proof of what the senses tell us, or uncover what the senses cannot.
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Aristotle thought that imagination existed within a specific place in the mind, and in fact 2300 years later there is MRI research evidence that memory and imagination travel identical blood routes and are linked to the neocortex and Thalamus.
Deductive reasoning requires the imagination in order to see all sides of an issue so as to deduce a solution.
Without the imagination there would be no awareness of the possibilities of higher truths, or even higher order thinking. Without imagination man would not explore the seas, search for other lands, wonder how to communicate across vast distances, harness the power of the wind, or sun, discover how the body works, or explore the vastness of space. Without imagination, man would not know about himself.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
-Antoine de Saint Exupery
Without fantasy we cannot imagine what can be and thus have no dreams to aspire to. Without imagination and fantasy we become prey to the dictator, the theocrat, the oligarch, the tyrant.
“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.
Without imagination there would be boredom. Imagination provides meaning, interest and magic. It is the main ingredient to creativity and invention.
Without imagination there would be no United States of America, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, no industry, no agriculture, no wheel, no clothing. Can anything be named that wasn’t originally the dream, an imagining by someone? Even God dreamed of the world before he commanded its formation.
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
Imagination allows the individual mind to stretch out and enfold all the rest of reality. We would be trapped in the dark emptiness of our minds without it. Without imagination we could not look into the infinite, and be forever trapped in the finite. We could not see into a heaven for it would not exist for us.
“To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.”
A dream becomes so much more when you can embody it through the active imagination. It becomes something more real that can be interacted with so as to reveal so much more information about you in your world than a cold forensic application of a traditional interpretation.
“Dreams connect me to an intelligence that is beyond anything I learned in school. The dream images themselves come with an “intelligence” that opens us to insights and perspectives that are often outside the box.”
So what is imagination and fantasy, but maybe the very spark for the meaning of our lives? Are we even human without it? It seems to me that it stimulates faith and understanding, discovery and ambition, knowledge and learning, love and romance, possibilities and options, even reading and storytelling. We should be doing whatever it takes to cultivate it, not depreciate it.
“Without the playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable…All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?”
Even when the use of fantasy and imagination is used as an escape from the stress of shared reality of the world you live in and assuming you have conscious control regarding when and how often you enter it, fantasy and imagination serves ones health and well being.
“Imagination is the eye of the soul.”
“The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
Finally, I’ve presented an overview of the imagination in support of its usefulness, but I’ve only alluded to where the images of our imagination come from i.e. what is the source of these images? Ahh, you might say that they are rooted in the images of our senses and you’d be right, partially, mechanistically, but it’s what we do with these source images–their processing that makes the difference.
However, are there not some images that seem to come from something, or somewhere, or even somewhen else? What’s that all about? It’s part of the mystery that is life. Part of the mystery that we all must regain and explore in our lives.
That’s the fodder of the mystics, the shaman, prophets, or the Depth Psychologist but also for us and that’s for a future discussion.