Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training



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 the _mind_ 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.”