From the standpoint of the old psychology, a chapter bearing the above title would be considered quite out of place in a book on Thought-Culture, the Imagination being considered as outside the realm of practical psychology, and as belonging entirely to the idealistic phase of mental activities. The popular idea concerning the Imagination also is opposed to the “practical” side of its use. In the public mind the Imagination is regarded as something connected with idle dreaming and fanciful mental imaging. Imagination is considered as almost synonomous with “Fancy.”
But the New Psychology sees beyond this negative phase of the Imagination and recognizes the positive side which is essentially constructive when backed up with a determined will. It recognizes that while the Imagination is by its very nature idealistic, yet these ideals may be made real—these subjective pictures may be materialized objectively. The positive phase of the Imagination manifests in planning, designing, projecting, mapping out, and in general in erecting the mental framework which is afterward clothed with the material structure of actual accomplishment. And, accordingly, it has seemed to us that a chapter on “Constructive Imagination” might well conclude this book on Thought-Culture.
Halleck says: “It was once thought that the imagination should be repressed, not cultivated, that it was in the human mind like weeds in a garden…. In this age there is no mental power that stands more in need of cultivation than the imagination. So practical are its results that a man without it cannot possibly be a good plumber. He must image short cuts for placing his pipe. The image of the direction to take to elude an obstacle must precede the actual laying of the pipe. If he fixes it before traversing the way with his imagination, he frequently gets into trouble and has to tear down his work. Some one has said that the more imagination a blacksmith has, the better will he shoe a horse. Every time he strikes the red-hot iron, he makes it approximate to the image in his mind. Nor is this image a literal copy of the horse’s foot. If there is a depression in that, the imagination must build out a corresponding elevation in the image, and the blows must make the iron fit the image.”
Brodie says: “Physical investigation, more than anything else, helps to teach us the actual value and right use of the imagination—of that wondrous faculty, which, when left to ramble uncontrolled, leads us astray into a wilderness of perplexities and errors, a land of mists and shadows; but which, properly controlled by experience and reflection, becomes the noblest attribute of man, the source of poetic genius, the instrument of discovery in science, without the aid of which Newton would never have invented fluxions nor Davy have decomposed the earths and alkalies, nor would Columbus have found another continent.”
The Imagination is more than Memory, for the latter merely reproduces the impressions made upon it, while the Imagination gathers up the material of impression and weaves new fabrics from them or builds new structures from their separated units. As Tyndall well said: “Philosophers may be right in affirming that we cannot transcend experience; but we can at all events carry it a long way from its origin. We can also magnify, diminish, qualify and combine experiences, so as to render them fit for purposes entirely new. We are gifted with the power of imagination and by this power we can lighten the darkness which surrounds the world of the senses. There are tories, even in science, who regard imagination as a faculty to be feared and avoided rather than employed. But bounded and conditioned by cooperant reason, imagination becomes the mightiest instrument of the physical discoverer. Newton’s passage from a falling apple to a falling moon was, at the outset, a leap of the imagination.”
Brooks says: “The imagination is a creative as well as a combining power…. The Imagination can combine objects of sense into new forms, but it can do more than this. The objects of sense are, in most cases, merely the materials with which it works. The imagination is a plastic power, moulding the things of sense into new forms to express its ideals; and it is these ideals that constitute the real products of the imagination. The objects of the material world are to it like clay in the hands of the potter; it shapes them into forms according to its own ideals of grace and beauty…. He, who sees no more than a mere combination in these creations of the imagination, misses the essential element and elevates into significance that which is merely incidental.”
Imagination, in some degree or phase, must come before voluntary physical action and conscious material creation. Everything that has been created by the hand of man has first been created in themind of man by the exercise of the Imagination. Everything that man has wrought has first existed in his mind as an ideal, before his hands, or the hands of others, wrought it into material reality. As Maudsley says: “It is certain that in order to execute consciously a voluntary act we must have in the mind a conception of the aim and purpose of the act.” Kay says: “It is as serving to guide and direct our various activities that mental images derive their chief value and importance. In anything that we purpose or intend to do, we must first of all have an idea or image of it in the mind, and the more clear and correct the image, the more accurately and efficiently will the purpose be carried out. We cannot exert an act of volition without having in the mind an idea or image of what we will to effect.”
Upon the importance of a scientific use of the Imagination in every-day life, the best authorities agree. Maudsley says: “We cannot do an act voluntarily unless we know what we are going to do, and we cannot know exactly what we are going to do until we have taught ourselves to do it.” Bain says: “By aiming at a new construction, we must clearly conceive what is aimed at. Where we have a very distinct and intelligible model before us, we are in a fair way to succeed; in proportion as the ideal is dim and wavering we stagger and miscarry.” Kay says: “A clear and accurate idea of what we wish to do, and how it is to be effected, is of the utmost value and importance in all the affairs of life. A man’s conduct naturally shapes itself according to the ideas in his mind, and nothing contributes more to his success in life than having a high ideal and keeping it constantly in view. Where such is the case one can hardly fail in attaining it. Numerous unexpected circumstances will be found to conspire to bring it about, and even what seemed at first hostile may be converted into means for its furtherance; while by having it constantly before the mind he will be ever ready to take advantage of any favoring circumstances that may present themselves.”
Simpson says: “A passionate desire and an unwearied will can perform impossibilities, or what seem to be such, to the cold and feeble.” Lytton says: “Dream, O youth, dream manfully and nobly, and thy dreams shall be prophets.” Foster says: “It is wonderful how even the casualities of life seem to bow to a spirit that will not bow to them, and yield to subserve a design which they may, in their first apparent tendency, threaten to frustrate. When a firm decisive spirit is recognized it is curious to see how space clears around a man and leaves him room and freedom.” Tanner says: “To believe firmly is almost tantamount in the end to accomplishment.” Maudsley says: “Aspirations are often prophecies, the harbingers of what a man shall be in a condition to perform.” Macaulay says: “It is related of Warren Hastings that when only seven years old there arose in his mind a scheme which through all the turns of his eventful life was never abandoned.” Kay says: “When one is engaged in seeking for a thing, if he keep the image of it clearly before the mind, he will be very likely to find it, and that too, probably, where it would otherwise have escaped his notice.” Burroughs says: “No one ever found the walking fern who did not have the walking fern in his mind. A person whose eye is full of Indian relics picks them up in every field he walks through. They are quickly recognized because the eye has been commissioned to find them.”
Constructive Imagination differs from the phases of the faculty of Imagination which are akin to “Fancy,” in a number of ways, the chief points of difference being as follows:
The Constructive Imagination is always exercised in the pursuance of a definite intent and purpose. The person so using the faculty starts out with the idea of accomplishing certain purposes, and with the direct intent of thinking and planning in that particular direction. The fanciful phase of the Imagination, on the contrary, starts with no definite intent or purpose, but proceeds along the line of mere idle phantasy or day-dreaming.
The Constructive Imagination selects its material. The person using the faculty in this manner abstracts from his general stock of mental images and impressions those particular materials which fit in with his general intent and purpose. Instead of allowing his imagination to wander around the entire field of memory, or representation, he deliberately and voluntarily selects and sets apart only such objects as seem to be conducive to his general design or plan, and which are logically associated with the same.
The Constructive Imagination operates upon the lines of logical thought. One so using the faculty subjects his mental images, or ideas, to his thinking faculties, and proceeds with his imaginative constructive work along the lines of Logical Thought. He goes through the processes of Abstraction, Generalization or Conception, Judgment and the higher phases of Reasoning, in connection with his general work of Constructive Imagination. Instead of having the objects of thought before him in material form, he has them represented to his mind in ideal form, and he works upon his material in that shape.
The Constructive Imagination is voluntary—under the control and direction of the will. Instead of being in the nature of a dream depending not upon the will or reason, it is directly controlled not only by reason but also by the will.
The Constructive Imagination, like every other faculty of the mind, may be developed and cultivated by Use and Nourishment. It must be exercised in order to develop its mental muscle; and it must be supplied with nourishment upon which it may grow. Drawing, Composing, Designing and Planning along any line is calculated to give to this faculty the exercise that it requires. The reading of the right kind of literature is also likely to lead the faculty into activity by inspiring it with ideals and inciting it by example.
The mind should be supplied with the proper material for the exercise of this faculty. As Halleck says: “Since the imagination has not the miraculous power necessary to create something out of nothing, the first essential thing is to get the proper perceptional material in proper quantity. If a child has enough blocks, he can build a castle or a palace. Give him but three blocks, and his power of combination is painfully limited. Some persons wonder why their imaginative power is no greater, when they have only a few accurate ideas.” It thus follows that the active use of the Perceptive faculties will result in storing away a quantity of material, which, when represented or reproduced by the Memory, will give to the Constructive Imagination the material it requires with which to build. The greater the general knowledge of the person, the greater will be his store of material for this use. This knowledge need not necessarily be acquired at first hand from personal observation, but may also be in the nature of information acquired from the experience of others and known through their conversation, writings, etc.
The necessity of forming clear concepts is very apparent when we come to exercise the Constructive Imaginative. Unless we have clear-cut ideas of the various things concerned with the subject before us, we cannot focus the imagination clearly upon its task. The general ideas should be clearly understood and the classification should be intelligent. Particular things should be clearly seen in “the mind’s eye;” that is, the power of visualization or forming mental images should be cultivated in this connection. One may improve this particular faculty by either writing a description of scenes or particular things we have seen, or else by verbally describing them to others. As Halleck says: “An attempt at a clear-cut oral description of something to another person will often impress ourselves and him with the fact that our mental images are hazy, and that the first step toward better description consists in improving them.”
Tyndall has aptly stated the importance of visualizing one’s ideas and particular concepts, as follows: “How, for example, are we to lay hold of the physical basis of light since, like that of life itself, it lies entirely without the domain of the senses?… Bring your imaginations once more into play and figure a series of sound-waves passing through air. Follow them up to their origin, and what do you there find? A definite, tangible, vibrating body. It may be the vocal chords of a human being, it may be an organ-pipe, or it may be a stretched string. Follow in the same manner a train of ether waves to their source, remembering at the same time that your ether is matter, dense, elastic and capable of motions subject to and determined by mechanical laws. What then do you expect to find as the source of a series of ether waves? Ask your imagination if it will accept a vibrating multiple proportion—a numerical ratio in a state of oscillation? I do not think it will. You cannot crown the edifice by this abstraction. The scientific imagination which is here authoritative, demands as the origin and cause of a series of ether waves a particle of vibrating matter quite as definite, though it may be excessively minute, as that which gives origin to a musical sound. Such a particle we name an atom or a molecule. I think the seeking intellect, when focused so as to give definition without penumbral haze, is sure to realize this image at the last.”
By repeatedly exercising the faculty of Imagination upon a particular idea, we add power and clearness to that idea. This is but another example of the familiar psychological principle expressed by Carpenter as follows: “The continued concentration of attention upon a certain idea gives it a dominant power.” Kay says: “Clearness and accuracy of image is only to be obtained by repeatedly having it in the mind, or by repeated action of the faculty. Each repeated act of any of the faculties renders the mental image of it more clear and accurate than the preceding, and in proportion to the clearness and accuracy of the image will the act itself be performed easily, readily, skillfully. The course to be pursued, the point to be gained, the amount of effort to be put forth, become more and more clear to the mind. It is only from what we have done that we are able to judge what we can do, and understand how it is to be effected. When our ideas or conceptions of what we can do are not based on experience, they become fruitful sources of error.”
Galton says: “There is no doubt as to the utility of the visualizing faculty where it is duly subordinated to the higher intellectual operations. A visual image is the most perfect form of mental representation wherever the shape, position and relation of objects in space are concerned. It is of importance in every handicraft and profession where design is required. The best workmen are those who visualize the whole of what they propose to do before they take a tool in their hands.”
Kay says: “If we bear in mind that every sensation or idea must form an image in the mind before it can be perceived or understood, and that every act of volition is preceded by its image, it will be seen that images play an important part in all our mental operations. According to the nature of the ideas or images which he entertains will be the character and conduct of the man. The man tenacious of purpose is the man who holds tenaciously certain ideas; the flighty man is he who cannot keep one idea before him for any length of time, but constantly flits from one to another; the insane man is he who entertains insane ideas often, it may be, on only one or two subjects. We may distinguish two great classes of individuals according to the prevailing character of their images. There are those in whose mind sensory images predominate, and those whose images are chiefly such as tend to action. Those of the former class are observant, often thoughtful, men of judgment and, it may be, of learning; but if they have not also the active faculty in due force, they will fail in giving forth or in turning to proper account their knowledge or learning, and instances of this kind are by no means uncommon. The man, on the other hand, who has ever in his mind images of things to be done, is the man of action and enterprise. If he is not also an observant and thoughtful man, if his mind is backward in forming images of what is presented to it from without, he will be constantly liable to make mistakes.”
Galton says of the faculty of visualization: “Our bookish and wordy education tends to repress this valuable gift of nature. A faculty that is of importance in all technical and artistic occupations, that gives accuracy to our perceptions and justness to our generalizations, is starved by lazy disuse, instead of being cultivated judiciously in such a way as will, on the whole, bring the best return. I believe that a serious study of the best method of developing and using this faculty without prejudice to the practice of abstract thought in symbols, is one of the many pressing desiderata in the yet unformed science of education.”
This consideration of the faculty of, and culture of, the Imagination, may appropriately be concluded by the following quotation from Prof. Halleck, which shows the danger of misuse and abuse of this important faculty. The aforesaid well-known authority says: “From its very nature, the imagination is peculiarly liable to abuse. The common practices of day-dreaming or castle-building are both morally and physically unhealthful. We reach actual success in life by slow, weary steps. The day-dreamer attains eminence with one bound. He is without trouble a victorious general on a vast battlefield, an orator swaying thousands, a millionaire with every amusement at his command, a learned man confounding the wisest, a president, an emperor or a czar. After reveling in these imaginative sweets, the dry bread of actual toil becomes exceedingly distasteful. It is so much easier to live in regions where everything comes at the magic wand of fancy. Not infrequently these castle-builders abandon effort in an actual world. Success comes too slow for them. They become speculators or gamblers, and in spite of all their grand castles, gradually sink into utter nonentities in the world of action…. The young should never allow themselves to build any imaginative castle, unless they are willing by hard effort to try to make that castle a reality. They must be willing to take off their coats, go into the quarries of life, chisel out the blocks of the stone, and build them with much toil into the castle walls. If castle-building is merely the formation of an ideal, which we show by our effort that we are determined to attain, then all will be well.”
It will be seen that, in reality, the Cultivation of the Imagination is rather the training and intelligent direction of that faculty, instead of the development of its power. The majority of people have the faculty of Imagination well developed, but to them it is largely an untrained, fanciful self-willed faculty. Cultivation is needed in the direction of bringing it under the guidance of the reason, and control by the will. Thought-Culture in general will do much for the Imagination, for the very processes employed in the development and cultivation of the various other faculties of the mind will also tend to bring the Imagination into subjection and under control, instead of allowing it to remain the wild, fanciful irresponsible faculty that it is in the majority of cases. Use the faculty of Imagination as a faculty ofThought, instead of a thing of Fancy. Attach it to the Intellect instead of to the Emotions. Harness it up with the other faculties of Thought, and your chariot of Understanding and Attainment will reach the goal far sooner than under the old arrangement. Establish harmony between Intellect and Imagination, and you largely increase the power and achievements of both.