Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training

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.”