Role of Imagination

November 9, 2006

Imagination plays such a large role in our lives. The idea that the knowledge we access through the imagination might be important is often overlooked in favor of more rational ways of knowing. In most cases, we are encouraged throughout our childhood schooling to emphasize the development of rational processing and that is as it should be, for such processing is surely important in how we make sense of the world and share that knowledge. However, the emphasis on the rational may be overemphasized at the expense of subtler, intuitive knowing such as mental imagery, sensing, and feeling. I do not mean this to be an anti-rational polemic. I do hope to be able to express ideas that support the balance of knowing through the various ways of which we are capable.
The great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, wrote that there are four functions of consciousness- thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting. While the definitions of the first three are pretty straightforward and mean pretty much what you might think, the fourth, intuiting, seems to be based mostly, if not entirely, in the domain of the imaginal, according to my reading of his description. This suggests that, ideally, knowing can be understood as a balance of the four. My interest is in finding ways to develop and increase our access to knowing using the imagination and to understand applications for that process.
Through the use of guided imagery, active imagination, dream work, meditation, creative activity of various kinds, and dialoguing with inner parts and guides we can develop the ability to use the information from the domain of the imagination in together with the information and organizing ability of the domain of thinking, the intellect. The use of these two domains together, in dynamic balance, can provide a context for a synthesis of the two into a more comprehensive kind of knowing.
I hope these thoughts will begin to generate some comments by you, the readers so that we can begin a conversation that will gather momentum and influence later entries to these posts.

5 Responses to “Role of Imagination”

  1. Geoff Says:

    I wonder what the difference is between a rational imagination process, like hypothesizing, and a more purely imaginative process like dreaming, if there is any. It’s fascinating to think of how the four types of learning Jung mentioned can blur together. An example I once saw at a museum involved a block of metal and a challenge to the visitors to determine if it was cold or hot. My senses couldn’t figure it out, but my rationality kicked in and I knew that they wouldn’t burn me.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Geoff. I’m sure the various ways of knowing work together, as you suggest. But I don’t think I would call rationality an imaginative process. I will get to this in a comment eventually, but each way of knowing has it’s own logical system and to apply the logical system of one to another transforms the way of knowing. I like to use my imagination to explore and expand, and my intellect to organize what I have discovered.

  3. Geoff Says:

    What I meant by calling hypothesizing a “rational imagination process” was that it is a sort of imaginative visualization, a creative exploration of future possibilities, but in an explicitly rational way. Perhaps that’s stretching the the concept of imagination though, since the thought objects all come through the medium of rationality and actual past experience.

  4. Geoff, perhaps you are referring to what I would call visualization, as opposed to imagination? When I visualize the structure of something I want to write, I would call that visualization. If I were to invite a guide to arise in my imagination who would tell or show me what to write, I would call that imagination. If I use imagination to find ideas I can then use visualization and/or other rational processes to help organize those ideas, to be coherent or linear, for example. I guess, technically, any activity of the mind producing images could be called imagination. But I tend to think that if you do so within a rational context, rationally directed, you have visualization.

  5. Geoff Says:

    Gotcha, thanks. That makes sense.

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