Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the creative ability to form images, ideas, and sensations in the mind without direct input from the senses, such as seeing or hearing. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process. A basic training for imagination is listening to storytelling (narrative), in which the exactness of the chosen words is the fundamental factor to "evoke worlds".
It is accepted as the innate ability and process of inventing partial or complete personal realms within the mind from elements derived from sense perceptions of the shared world. The term is technically used in psychology for the process of reviving in the mind, percepts of objects formerly given in sense perception. Since this use of the term conflicts with that of ordinary language, some psychologists have preferred to describe this process as "imaging" or "imagery" or to speak of it as "reproductive" as opposed to "productive" or "constructive" imagination. Imagined images are seen with the "mind's eye".
Imagination can also be expressed through stories such as fairy tales or fantasies. Children often use such narratives and pretend play in order to exercise their imaginations. When children develop fantasy they play at two levels: first, they use role playing to act out what they have developed with their imagination, and at the second level they play again with their make-believe situation by acting as if what they have developed is an actual reality.
The common use of the term is for the process of forming new images in the mind that have not been previously experienced with the help of what has been seen, heard, or felt before, or at least only partially or in different combinations. Some typical examples follow:
- Fairy tale
- A form of verisimilitude often invoked in fantasy and science fiction invites readers to pretend such stories are true by referring to objects of the mind such as fictional books or years that do not exist apart from an imaginary world.
Imagination, not being limited to the acquisition of exact knowledge by the requirements of practical necessity is largely free from objective restraints. The ability to imagine one's self in another person's place is very important to social relations and understanding. Albert Einstein said, "Imagination ... is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
In various spheres, however, even imagination is in practice limited: thus a person whose imaginations do violence to the elementary laws of thought, or to the necessary principles of practical possibility, or to the reasonable probabilities of a given case is usually regarded by mental health professionals as insane.
The same limitations beset imagination in the field of scientific hypothesis. Progress in scientific research is due largely to provisional explanations which are developed by imagination, but such hypotheses must be framed in relation to previously ascertained facts and in accordance with the principles of the particular science.
Imagination is an experimental partition of the mind used to develop theories and ideas based on functions. Taking objects from real perceptions, the imagination uses complex IF-functions to develop new or revised ideas. This part of the mind is vital to developing better and easier ways to accomplish old and new tasks. In sociology, Imagination is used to part ways with reality and have an understanding of social interactions derived from a perspective outside of society itself. This leads to the development of theories through questions that wouldn't usually be asked. These experimental ideas can be safely conducted inside a virtual world and then, if the idea is probable and the function is true, the idea can be actualized in reality. Imagination is the key to new development of the mind and can be shared with others, progressing collectively.
Regarding the volunteer effort, imagination can be classified as:
- voluntary (the dream from the sleep, the daydream)
- involuntary (the reproductive imagination, the creative imagination, the dream of perspective)
Psychologists have studied imaginative thought, not only in its exotic form of creativity and artistic expression but also in its mundane form of everyday imagination. Ruth M.J. Byrne has proposed that everyday imaginative thoughts about counterfactual alternatives to reality may be based on the same cognitive processes on which rational thoughts are also based. Children can engage in the creation of imaginative alternatives to reality from their very early years. Cultural psychology is currently elaborating a view of imagination as a higher mental function involved in a number of everyday activities, both at the individual and collective level that enables people to manipulate complex meanings of both linguistic and iconic forms in the process of experiencing.
Memory and imagination have been shown to be affected by one another. "Images made by functional magnetic resonance imaging technology show that remembering and imagining sends blood to identical parts of the brain." An optimal balance of intrinsic, extraneous, and germane forms of information processing can heighten the chance of the brain to retain information as long term memories, rather than short term memories. This is significant because experiences stored as long term memories are easier to be recalled, as they are ingrained deeper in the mind. Each of these forms require information to be taught in a specific manner so as to use various regions of the brain when being processed. This information can potentially help develop programs for young students to cultivate or further enhance their creative abilities from a young age. The neocortex and thalamus are responsible for controlling the brain's imagination, along with many of the brain's other functions such as consciousness and abstract thought. Since imagination involves many different brain functions, such as emotions, memory, thoughts, etc., portions of the brain where multiple functions occur—such as the thalamus and neocortex—are the main regions where imaginative processing has been documented. The understanding of how memory and imagination are linked in the brain, paves the way to better understand one's ability to link significant past experiences with their imagination.
Piaget posited that perceptions depend on the world view of a person. The world view is the result of arranging perceptions into existing imagery by imagination. Piaget cites the example of a child saying that the moon is following her when she walks around the village at night. Like this, perceptions are integrated into the world view to make sense. Imagination is needed to make sense of perceptions.
Imagination is different from belief because the subject understands that what is personally invented by the mind does not necessarily affect the course of action taken in the apparently shared world, while beliefs are part of what one holds as truths about both the shared and personal worlds. The play of imagination, apart from the obvious limitations (e.g. of avoiding explicit self-contradiction), is conditioned only by the general trend of the mind at a given moment. Belief, on the other hand, is immediately related to practical activity: it is perfectly possible to imagine oneself a millionaire, but unless one believes it one does not, therefore, act as such. Belief endeavors to conform to the subject's experienced conditions or faith in the possibility of those conditions; whereas imagination as such is specifically free. The dividing line between imagination and belief varies widely in different stages of technological development. Thus in more extreme cases, someone from a primitive culture who ill frames an ideal reconstruction of the causes of his illness, and attributes it to the hostile magic of an enemy based on faith and tradition rather than science. In ignorance of the science of pathology the subject is satisfied with this explanation, and actually believes in it, sometimes to the point of death, due to what is known as the nocebo effect.
It follows that the learned distinction between imagination and belief depends in practice on religion, tradition, and culture.
A study using fMRI while subjects were asked to imagine precise visual figures, to mentally disassemble them, or mentally blend them, showed activity in the occipital, frontoparietal, posterior parietal, precuneus, and dorsolateral prefrontal regions of the subject's brains.
As a reality
The world as experienced is an interpretation of data arriving from the senses; as such, it is perceived as real by contrast to most thoughts and imaginings. Users of hallucinogenic drugs are said to have a heightened imagination. This difference is only one of degree and can be altered by several historic causes, namely changes to brain chemistry, hypnosis or other altered states of consciousness, meditation, many hallucinogenic drugs, and electricity applied directly to specific parts of the brain. The difference between imagined and perceived reality can be proven by psychosis. Many mental illnesses can be attributed to this inability to distinguish between the sensed and the internally created worlds. Some cultures and traditions even view the apparently shared world as an illusion of the mind as with the Buddhist maya, or go to the opposite extreme and accept the imagined and dreamed realms as of equal validity to the apparently shared world as the Australian Aborigines do with their concept of dreamtime.
Imagination, because of having freedom from external limitations, can often become a source of real pleasure and unnecessary suffering. Consistent with this idea, imagining pleasurable and fearful events is found to engage emotional circuits involved in emotional perception and experience. A person of vivid imagination often suffers acutely from the imagined perils besetting friends, relatives, or even strangers such as celebrities. Also crippling fear can result from taking an imagined painful future too seriously.
Imagination can also produce some symptoms of real illnesses. In some cases, they can seem so "real" that specific physical manifestations occur such as rashes and bruises appearing on the skin, as though imagination had passed into belief or the events imagined were actually in progress. See, for example, psychosomatic illness and folie a deux.
It has also been proposed that the whole of human cognition is based upon imagination. That is, nothing that is perceived is purely observation but all is a blend between sense and imagination.
- Fictional countries
- Imagination inflation
- Intuition (psychology)
- Sociological imagination
- Norman 2000 pp. 1-2
- Brian Sutton-Smith 1988, p. 22
- Archibald MacLeish 1970, p. 887
- Kieran Egan 1992, pp. 50
- Northrop Frye 1963, p. 49
- As noted by Giovanni Pascoli
- Laurence Goldman (1998). Child's play: myth, mimesis and make-believe. Oxford New York: Berg Publishers. ISBN 1-85973-918-0.
Basically what this means is that the children use their make-believe situation and act as if what they are acting out is from a reality that already exists even though they have made it up.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Kendall Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Harvard University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-674-57603-9 (pbk.).
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- Imagination on In Our Time at the BBC. (listen now)
- Imagination, Mental Imagery, Consciousness, and Cognition: Scientific, Philosophical and Historical Approaches
- Two-Factor Imagination Scale at the Open Directory Project