What is imagination?
If I say the word ‘tree’ we will independently form an IMAGE of a tree in our mind. More or less our images will all be the same tree… because we can relate it to a physical tree. And that is what IMAGINATION is… the ability to create images. Contrary to what being imaginative usually implies, this is not necessarily ‘creative’. If imagination is just the regurgitation of an image from memory, which is the past, then even an artificial intelligence (AI) can be programmed to do the same.
The term imagination is often used in a creative context. Like we might praise someone with a strong imagination… or we use our imagination to solve a problem. In this context it is like an invisible force that inspires artists, seeping through the cracks of our rationality. And true art is anything but regurgitive… it is the novelty factor, the inspiration of the present moment, that defines art.
So there appears to be some contradiction in the application of the word ‘imagination’. It would be useful therefore to examine what imagination actually is… and to see how the mind works.
There are situations where you receive information that may or may not be true. For example you are told, ‘it is scientifically proven that telekinesis exists’. This statement is impressed upon you, urging you to believe it… or that you should check it out. And there also exists a doubt, an inevitable resistance to the information being received. There are two opposing forces applied, each applying pressure… a conflicting voice in each ear. What we have here is a DILEMMA… and this is experienced as mental stress, or cognitive dissonance.
A DILEMMA, which is Greek for “two premises”, has been likened to the front end of an angry and charging bull. And in order to avoid being impaled on either horn (or both) one must get out of the way quickly. This is where imagination kicks in… the rapid response to a charging bull; a challenge or crisis.
Even a scientist must use imagination when presented with a dilemma. It is the fundamental force that drives science… an uncomfortable situation that motivates one to reconcile the observed contradictions between theory and experiment. This process of inductive reasoning applies the same imagination that an artist will use; the ‘Eureka’ moment is not different to the inspiration received by an artist. The output for the scientist is a new hypothesis (that will then be tested via deductive reasoning against experimental data – the inverse of inductive reasoning).
Returning then to the question of what is IMAGINATION, we have already noted that it includes the ability of the mind to hold an image or a memory. We have also noted that imagination responds to conflict or a dilemma. Conflict and imagination are therefore two sides of the same coin; neither exists without the other. The dilemma is what enables the mind to hold the images… and to use these images to reconcile its contradictions.
“Our scientific ideas are of value to the degree in which we have felt ourselves lost before a question; have seen its problematic nature, and have realized that we cannot find support in accepted notions, in prescriptions, in proverbs, nor in mere words. The man who discovers a new scientific truth has previously had to smash to atoms almost everything he had learned, and arrives at the new truth with hands stained with blood from the slaughter of a thousand platitudes.”
~ Jose Ortega y Gasset, Revolt of the Masses
We can see that thought is forever active, processing one image after another… so it would imply there is constant dilemma. And when the mind is restless, when there is undisciplined internal chatter, it is seeking out the satisfaction that only imagination can deliver; like a spark of intelligence that comes to prop up the mind and brings with it a sense of order. In that sense imagination is addictive… since the mind is in perpetual disarray and cognitive dissonance.
We have noted that certain data input triggers this response. It is one thing to say, ‘this is a glass of water’ – to which there is no resistance or disagreement. But when we are presented with an idea, or anything that might be true, the ensuing resistance is inevitable. This is SUGGESTION. And we are perpetually bombarded with ideas, each vying for our attention. It goes very deep, steeped in culture and language… a legacy of history spanning thousands of years.
The difference between IMAGINATION and INTELLECT then is only in time. One looks to the future and the other to the past. Intellect is founded on accumulated knowledge and is therefore regurgitive. Imagination utilizes these images from the past and creates new images for the future. At some point these future images or possibilities become realized and thus the future is manifested from our imagination. This is also how the scientific method works, driven forward by contradiction.
The question remains, if these future projections exist as a response to dilemma, why does the process never stop? As soon as one dilemma is resolved, another one surfaces… and science demonstrates this most clearly. We can solve the multitude of individual dilemmas but are unable to solve the one big dilemma that will bring an end to all dilemmas.
Clearly then the future that we manifest is not conflict-free and is actually the opposite. Imagination doesn’t serve to resolve or end dilemma, but to express it… even to perpetuate it. When presented with conflict, thought finds a way to move away from it. More specifically, thought doesn’t actually move away from conflict… it just pretends that it does. That is what imagination is for. Fiction. What this then means is that for conflict to end, imagination must also cease.
“Negation is the most positive action, not positive assertion. This is a very important thing to understand. Most of us so easily accept positive dogma, a positive creed, because we want to be secure, to belong, to be attached, to depend. The positive attitude divides and brings about duality. The conflict then begins between this attitude and others. But the negation of all values, of all morality, of all beliefs, having no frontiers, cannot be in opposition to anything”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti – Freedom, Love, and Action