The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Of Imagination and the Kinds Thereof[edit]

1. As standing water put into motion by the stroke of a stone, or blast of wind, doth not presently give over moving as soon as the wind ceaseth, or the stone settleth: so neither doth the effect cease which the object hath wrought upon the brain, so soon as ever by turning aside of the organ the object ceaseth to work; that is to say, though the sense be past, the image or conception remaineth; but more obscurely while we are awake, because some object or other continually plieth and soliciteth our eyes, and ears, keeping the mind in a stronger motion, whereby the weaker doth not easily appear. And this obscure conception is that we call PHANTASY or IMAGINATION: imagination being (to define it) conception remaining, and by little and little decaying from and after the act of sense.

2. But when present sense is not, as in SLEEP, there the images remaining after sense (when there be any) as in dreams, are not obscure, but strong and clear, as in sense itself. The reason IS, because that which obscured and made the conceptions weak, namely sense, and present operation of the objects, is removed. For sleep is the privation of the act of sense, (the power remaining) and dreams are the imaginations of them that sleep.

3. The causes of DREAMS (if they be natural) are the actions or violence of the inward parts of a man upon his brain, by which the passages of sense, by sleep benumbed, are restored to their motion. The signs by which this appeareth to be so, are the differences of dreams proceeding from the different accidents of man's body. Old men being commonly less healthful and less free from inward pains, are thereby more subject to dreams, especially such dreams as be painful: as dreams of lust, or dreams of anger, according as the heart, or other parts within, work more or less upon the brain, by more or less heat. So also the descent of different sorts of phlegm maketh one to dream of different tastes of meats or drinks. And I believe there is a reciprocation of motion from the brain to the vital parts, and back from the vital parts to the brain; whereby not only imagination begetteth motion in those parts; but also motion in those parts begetteth imagination like to that by which it was begotten. If this be true, and that sad imaginations nourish the spleen, then we see also a cause, why a strong spleen reciprocally causeth fearful dreams. And why the effects of lasciviousness may in a dream produce the image of some person that hath caused them. If it were well observed, whether the image of the person in a dream be as obedient to the accidental heat of him that dreameth, as waking his heat is to the person, and if so, then is such motion reciprocal. Another sign that dreams are caused by the action of the inward parts, is the disorder and casual consequence of one conception or image to another: for when we are waking, the antecedent thought or conception introduceth, and is cause of the consequent, as the water followeth a man's finger upon a dry and level table. But in dreams there is commonly no coherence (and when there is, it is by chance), which must proceed from this, that the brain in dreams is not restored to its motion in every part alike; whereby it cometh to pass, that our thoughts appear like the stars between the flying clouds, not in the order which a man would choose to observe them in, but as the uncertain flight of broken clouds permit.

4. As when the water, or any liquid thing moved at once by divers movements, receiveth one motion compounded of them all; so also the brain or spirits therein, having been stirred by divers objects, composeth an imagination of divers conceptions that appeared. singly to the sense. As for example, the sense sheweth us at one time the figure of a mountain, and at another time the colour of gold; but the imagination afterwards hath them both at once in a golden mountain. From the same cause it is, there appear unto us castles in the air, chimeras, and other monsters which are not in rerum natura, but have been conceived by the sense in pieces at several times. And this composition is that which we commonly call FICTION of the mind.

5. There is yet another kind of. imagination, which for clearness contendeth with sense, as well as a dream; and that is, when the action of sense hath been long or vehement: and the experience thereof is more frequent in the sense of seeing, than the rest. An example whereof is, the image remaining before the eye after a steadfast looking upon the sun. Also, those little images that appear before the eyes in the dark (whereof I think every man hath experience, but they most of all, that are timorous or superstitious) are examples of the same. And these, for distinction sake, may be called PHANTASMS.

6. By the senses (which are numbered according to the organs to be five) we take notice (as hath been said already) of the objects without us; and that notice is our conception thereof: but we take notice also some way or other of our conceptions. For when the conception of the same thing cometh again, we take notice that it is again; that is to say, that we have had the same conception before; which is as much as to imagine a thing past; which is impossible to sense, which is only of things present. This therefore may be accounted a sixth sense, but internal, not external, as the rest, and is commonly called REMEMBRANCE.

7. For the manner by which we take notice of a conception past, we are to remember, that in the definition of imagination, it is said to be a conception by little and little decaying, or growing more obscure. An obscure conception is that which representeth the whole object together, but none of the smaller parts by themselves; and as more or fewer parts be represented, so is the conception or representation said to be more or less clear. Seeing then the conception, which when it was first produced by sense, was clear, and represented the parts of the object distinctly; and when it cometh again is obscure, we find missing somewhat that we expected; by which we judge it past and decayed. For example, a man that is present in a foreign city, seeth not only whole streets, but can also distinguish particular houses, and parts of houses; departed thence, he cannot distinguish them so particularly in his mind as he did, some house or turning escaping him; yet is this to remember the city; when afterwards there escapeth him more particulars, this is also to remember, but not so well. In process of time, the image of the city returneth, but as of a mass of building only, which is almost to have forgotten it. Seeing then remembrance is more or less, as we find more or less obscurity, why may not we well think remembrance to be nothing else but the missing of parts, which every man expecteth should succeed after they have a conception of the whole? To see at great distance of place, and to remember at great distance of time, is to have like conceptions of the thing: for there wanteth distinction of parts in both; the one conception being weak by operation at distance, the other by decay.

8. And from this that hath been said, there followeth, that a man can never know he dreameth; he may dream he doubteth, whether it be a DREAM or no: but the clearness of the imagination representeth every thing with as many parts as doth sense itself, and consequently, he can take notice of nothing but as present; whereas to think he dreameth, is to think those his conceptions past, that is to say, obscurer than they were in the sense: so that he must think them both as clear, and not as clear as sense; which is impossible.

9. From the same ground it proceedeth, that men wonder not in their dreams at places and persons, as they would do waking: for waking, a man would think it strange to be in a place wherein he never was before, and remember nothing of how he came there. But in a dream, there cometh little of that kind into consideration. The clearness of conception in a dream, taketh away distrust, unless the strangeness be excessive, as to think himself fallen from on high without hurt, and then most commonly he awaketh.

10. Nor is it impossible for a man to be so far deceived, as when his dream is past, to think it real: for if he dream of such things as are ordinarily in his mind,. and in such order as he useth to do waking, and withal that he laid him down to sleep in the place where he findeth himself when he awaketh (all which may happen) I know no Kritirion or mark by which he can discern whether it were a dream or not, and do therefore the less wonder to hear a man sometimes to tell his dream for a truth, or to take it for a vision.