What Is Imagination?

Imagination has this peculiarity that it produces the greatest things with as little time and trouble as little things.

- Blaise Pascal, Concerning the Vacuum

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg investigates the creatives forces of the imagination. Immanuel Kant said, "Imagination is a blind but indispensable function of the soul without which we should have no knowledge whatever but of which we are scarcely even conscious". Imagination has been the companion of artists, scientists, leaders and visionaries but what exactly is it? When did human beings first develop an imagination and why? How does it relate to creativity and what evolutionary function does creativity have? And is it possible to know whether our brains’ capacity for imagination is still evolving?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Imagination

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Imagination is intrinsic to our inner lives. You could even say that it makes up a ‘second universe’ inside our heads. We invent animals and events that don’t exist, we rerun history with alternative outcomes, we envision social and moral utopias, we revel in fantasy art, and we meditate both on what we could have been and on what we might become. Animators such as Hayao Miyazaki, Walt Disney and the people at Pixar Studios are masterful at imagination, but they’re only creating a public version of our everyday private lives. If you could see the fantastic mash-up inside the mind of the average five-year-old, then Star Wars and Harry Potter would seem sober and dull. So, why is there so little analysis of imagination, by philosophers, psychologists and scientists?

Apart from some cryptic passages in Aristotle and Kant, philosophy has said almost nothing about imagination, and what it says seems thoroughly disconnected from the creativity that artists and laypeople call ‘imaginative’...

Continue reading Stephen T. Asma's article: Imagination is such an ancient ability it might precede language

Further Reading

To imagine something is to form a particular sort of mental representation of that thing. Imagining is typically distinguished from mental states such as perceiving, remembering and believing in that imagining S does not require (that the subject consider) S to be or have been the case, whereas the contrasting states do. It is distinguished from mental states such as desiring or anticipating in that imagining S does not require that the subject wish or expect S to be the case, whereas the contrasting states do. It is also sometimes distinguished from mental states such as conceiving and supposing, on the grounds that imagining S requires some sort of quasi-sensory or positive representation of S, whereas the contrasting states do not...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Imagination by Tamar Gendler

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

AestheticsCognitionDreamsIntelligencePsychology | Thought Experiments

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