Chapter XXVI. Riding The Winged Horse
To think, and to feel, constitute the two grand divisions of men of genius - the men of reasoning and the men of imagination.
- Isaac Disraeli, Literary Character of Men of Genius.
And as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.
- Shakespeare, Midsummer-Night's Dream.
It is common, among those who deal chiefly with life's practicalities, to think of imagination as having little value in comparison with direct thinking. They smile with tolerance when Emerson says that "Science does not know its debt to the imagination," for these are the words of a speculative essayist, a philosopher, a poet. But when Napoleon - the indomitable welder of empires - declares that "The human race is governed by its imagination," the authoritative word commands their respect.
Be it remembered, the faculty of forming mental images is as efficient a cog as may be found in the whole mind-machine. True, it must fit into that other vital cog, pure thought, but when it does so it may be questioned which is the more productive of important results for the happiness and well-being of man. This should become more apparent as we go on.
I. What Is Imagination?
Let us not seek for a definition, for a score of varying ones may be found, but let us grasp this fact: By imagination we mean either the faculty or the process of forming mental images.
The subject-matter of imagination may be really existent in nature, or not at all real, or a combination of both; it may be physical or spiritual, or both - the mental image is at once the most lawless and the most law-abiding child that has ever been born of the mind.
First of all, as its name suggests, the process of imagination - for we are thinking of it now as a process rather than as a faculty - is memory at work. Therefore we must consider it primarily as
1. Reproductive Imagination
We see or hear or feel or taste or smell something and the sensation passes away. Yet we are conscious of a greater or lesser ability to reproduce such feelings at will. Two considerations, in general, will govern the vividness of the image thus evoked - the strength of the original impression, and the reproductive power of one mind as compared with another. Yet every normal person will be able to evoke images with some degree of clearness.
The fact that not all minds possess this imaging faculty in anything like equal measure will have an important bearing on the public speaker's study of this question. No man who does not feel at least some poetic impulses is likely to aspire seriously to be a poet, yet many whose imaging faculties are so dormant as to seem actually dead do aspire to be public speakers. To all such we say most earnestly: Awaken your image-making gift, for even in the most coldly logical discourse it is sure to prove of great service. It is important that you find out at once just how full and how trustworthy is your imagination, for it is capable of cultivation - as well as of abuse.
Francis Galton1 says: "The French appear to possess the visualizing faculty in a high degree. The peculiar ability they show in pre-arranging ceremonials and fetes of all kinds and their undoubted genius for tactics and strategy show that they are able to foresee effects with unusual clearness. Their ingenuity in all technical contrivances is an additional testimony in the same direction, and so is their singular clearness of expression. Their phrase figurez-vous, or picture to yourself, seems to express their dominant mode of perception. Our equivalent, of 'image,' is ambiguous."
But individuals differ in this respect just as markedly as, for instance, the Dutch do from the French. And this is true not only of those who are classified by their friends as being respectively imaginative or unimaginative, but of those whose gifts or habits are not well known.
Let us take for experiment six of the best-known types of imaging and see in practise how they arise in our own minds.
By all odds the most common type is, (a) the visual image. Children who more readily recall things seen than things heard are called by psychologists "eyeminded," and most of us are bent in this direction. Close your eyes now and re-call - the word thus hyphenated is more suggestive - the scene around this morning's breakfast table. Possibly there was nothing striking in the situation and the image is therefore not striking. Then image any notable table scene in your experience - how vividly it stands forth, because at the time you felt the impression strongly. Just then you may not have been conscious of how strongly the scene was laying hold upon you, for often we are so intent upon what we see that we give no particular thought to the fact that it is impressing us. It may surprise you to learn how accurately you are able to image a scene when a long time has elapsed between the conscious focussing of your attention on the image and the time when you saw the original.
1 Inquiries into Human Faculty.
(b) The auditory image is probably the next most vivid of our recalled experiences. Here association is potent to suggest similarities. Close out all the world beside and listen to the peculiar wood-against-wood sound of the sharp thunder among rocky mountains - the crash of ball against ten-pins may suggest it. Or image (the word is imperfect, for it seems to suggest only the eye) the sound of tearing ropes when some precious weight hangs in danger. Or recall the bay of a hound almost upon you in pursuit - choose your own sound, and see how pleasantly or terribly real it becomes when imaged in your brain.
(c) The motor image is a close competitor with the auditory for second place. Have you ever awakened in the night, every muscle taut and striving, to feel your self straining against the opposing foot-ball line that held like a stone-wall - or as firmly as the headboard of your-bed? Or voluntarily recall the movement of the boat when you cried inwardly, "It's all up with me!" The perilous lurch of a train, the sudden sinking of an elevator, or the unexpected toppling of a rocking-chair may serve as further experiments.