Thought-Culture or Practical Mental Training

Kay says: “If we bear in mind that every sensation or idea must form an image in the mind before it can be perceived or understood, and that every act of volition is preceded by its image, it will be seen that images play an important part in all our mental operations. According to the nature of the ideas or images which he entertains will be the character and conduct of the man. The man tenacious of purpose is the man who holds tenaciously certain ideas; the flighty man is he who cannot keep one idea before him for any length of time, but constantly flits from one to another; the insane man is he who entertains insane ideas often, it may be, on only one or two subjects. We may distinguish two great classes of individuals according to the prevailing character of their images. There are those in whose mind sensory images predominate, and those whose images are chiefly such as tend to action. Those of the former class are observant, often thoughtful, men of judgment and, it may be, of learning; but if they have not also the active faculty in due force, they will fail in giving forth or in turning to proper account their knowledge or learning, and instances of this kind are by no means uncommon. The man, on the other hand, who has ever in his mind images of things to be done, is the man of action and enterprise. If he is not also an observant and thoughtful man, if his mind is backward in forming images of what is presented to it from without, he will be constantly liable to make mistakes.”

Galton says of the faculty of visualization: “Our bookish and wordy education tends to repress this valuable gift of nature. A faculty that is of importance in all technical and artistic occupations, that gives accuracy to our perceptions and justness to our generalizations, is starved by lazy disuse, instead of being cultivated judiciously in such a way as will, on the whole, bring the best return. I believe that a serious study of the best method of developing and using this faculty without prejudice to the practice of abstract thought in symbols, is one of the many pressing desiderata in the yet unformed science of education.”

This consideration of the faculty of, and culture of, the Imagination, may appropriately be concluded by the following quotation from Prof. Halleck, which shows the danger of misuse and abuse of this important faculty. The aforesaid well-known authority says: “From its very nature, the imagination is peculiarly liable to abuse. The common practices of day-dreaming or castle-building are both morally and physically unhealthful. We reach actual success in life by slow, weary steps. The day-dreamer attains eminence with one bound. He is without trouble a victorious general on a vast battlefield, an orator swaying thousands, a millionaire with every amusement at his command, a learned man confounding the wisest, a president, an emperor or a czar. After reveling in these imaginative sweets, the dry bread of actual toil becomes exceedingly distasteful. It is so much easier to live in regions where everything comes at the magic wand of fancy. Not infrequently these castle-builders abandon effort in an actual world. Success comes too slow for them. They become speculators or gamblers, and in spite of all their grand castles, gradually sink into utter nonentities in the world of action…. The young should never allow themselves to build any imaginative castle, unless they are willing by hard effort to try to make that castle a reality. They must be willing to take off their coats, go into the quarries of life, chisel out the blocks of the stone, and build them with much toil into the castle walls. If castle-building is merely the formation of an ideal, which we show by our effort that we are determined to attain, then all will be well.”

It will be seen that, in reality, the Cultivation of the Imagination is rather the training and intelligent direction of that faculty, instead of the development of its power. The majority of people have the faculty of Imagination well developed, but to them it is largely an untrained, fanciful self-willed faculty. Cultivation is needed in the direction of bringing it under the guidance of the reason, and control by the will. Thought-Culture in general will do much for the Imagination, for the very processes employed in the development and cultivation of the various other faculties of the mind will also tend to bring the Imagination into subjection and under control, instead of allowing it to remain the wild, fanciful irresponsible faculty that it is in the majority of cases. Use the faculty of Imagination as a faculty of _Thought_, instead of a thing of _Fancy_. Attach it to the _Intellect_ instead of to the _Emotions_. Harness it up with the other faculties of Thought, and your chariot of Understanding and Attainment will reach the goal far sooner than under the old arrangement. Establish harmony between Intellect and Imagination, and you largely increase the power and achievements of both.