The New International Encyclopædia/Imagination

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IMAGINATION (from Lat. imaginatio, from imaginari, to imagine, from imago, image). Taken in its broadest significance, thinking in images. In this sense it is synonymous with phantasy. Thus one may imagine a mountain, the sound of flowing water, the fatigue of a long journey, the rhythmic march of an army, or the articulatory ‘feel’ of a word in the throat. The power to image, to imagine, is dependent, first of all, upon past experience. An individual born blind never has visual images; one born deaf never hears words ‘ringing in his head.’ Moreover, the ability to image varies greatly from individual to individual. Visual images predominate in one mind, auditory in another, tactual or motor in a third. See Memory.

In a more restricted sense, imagination covers a single class of mental images. In this significance, ‘an imagination’ is coördinate with a ‘memory image’ or an ‘expectation image.’ Taken as clusters of sensations, these three classes of images are identical. They differ only in their reference and in their setting. A memory imago refers to some part of one's past experience (one has a visual image of one's childhood home, or an auditory image of a familiar piece of music). Its function is to ‘reproduce’ the past. Similarly, expectation images are set within the individual's experience, but within the part that exists only in anticipation. Their function is to connect the present with the future. Finally, an imagination has no direct connection with the course of one's personal experience. As one reads a volume of fiction, one may imagine scenes, voices, movements, situations. The whole narrative is held together by a succession of imaginations, or ‘imagination images,’ as they might be called. This is passive or reproductive imagination. Over against it stands active or constructive imagination, an instance of which is furnished by the artistic productions of the painter and the sculptor. Between passive and active imagination there exists the same difference as between musing and ‘hard thinking.’ In the passive type there is a nucleus—e.g. the text of the novel—about which are clustered various near-lying associations; in the active type, images, more or less discrete and unrelated, are brought together and wrought into a systematic whole. The difference is rather one of degree than of kind. Active imaginations show greater selectiveness; a disjunction of elements succeeded by an aggregation of those most fit to express some feeling or idea. This is evident in a painting of natural scenery, where the artist has modified nature to suit his purposes.

James Mill and Bain confine imagination to those constructions which are produced under the influence of emotion—e.g. ghosts and hobgoblins evoked by terror, or the creations of the poet and the musician. Sully, on the other hand, makes it cover three distinct forms of mental construction—cognitive imagination, practical imagination (or invention), and æsthetic (or poetic) imagination.

Consult: Bain, The Senses and the Intellect (London, 1888); James, Principles of Psychology, vol. ii. (New York, 1890); Sully, Outlines of Psychology (New York, 1891); Ambrosi, Psicologia dell' immaginazione (Rome, 1898); Hoefler, Psychologie (Vienna, 1897).