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Visions Of Hope: Imagination

"So much of modern education concentrates on the primacy of the intellect that we miss out on the imagination—much to our cost,'' writes William Sykes.

Imagination—imagining, mental faculty forming images of external objects not present to the senses; creative faculty of the mind


A reflection group was under way. There were three of us in this particular group, wo undergraduates and me. As usual they had each been given a cup of coffee list of topics. After two or three minutes they chose Imagination. We reflected on the material for about half an hour. I then asked them if they had got through the material and were they now ready for discussion? They nodded atively. My first question was the usual one. 'Was there any particular reason for choosing Imagination?' 'Yes,' they said. 'In reading law we are encouraged not to use our imagination. We have to stick to the facts and use our powers of critical analysis and reason. It is such an exacting discipline we are beginning to feel more dead than alive, and that is why we chose imagination.' "I see, and did you find anything helpful in this section?' 'Yes, it's very revealing. It seems as though the great people of the past were those with vivid imaginations—the great scientists, philosophers, artists, musicians, writers, poets, playwrights—even lawyers. Most of these quotes stress the importance of the imagination and suggest that it is one of our most valuable faculties. Maybe that has pinpointed our problem of the moment,instead of dampening down our imaginations in the study of law, we ought to be veloping them in other areas of university life.'

They brightened up as they considered the implications of all this. It seemed as though they were beginning to come alive before my eyes. So much of modern education concentrates on the primacy of the intellect that we miss out on the imagination—much to our cost.

out of my understanding a spirit answers me. Do you not know this from of old, ice man was placed upon earth?
Job 20:3

rGod speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men.
Job 33:14-16

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

Faith means a sanctified imagination, or the imagination applied to spiritual things.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 183

There is no power on earth like imagination, and the worst, most obstinate grievances are imagined ones.
Laurens van der Post, Venture to the Interior, Penguin Books, 1968, page 26

For God hath made you able to create worlds in your own mind which are more precious unto Him than those which He created.
Thomas Traherne, Centuries, The Faith Press Ltd, 1969, page 90

Learn to foster an ardent imagination; so shall you descry beauty which others pass leeded.
Norman Douglas, An Almanac, Chatto & Windus in association with Seeker & Warburg, 1945, page 43

Meditation, experience of life, hope, charity, and all the emotions—out of these the imaginative reason speaks.
J.B. Yeats, Letters to his son, W.B. Yeats and others, Faber and Faber, 1944, page 87

The imagination is the secret and marrow of civilisation. It is the very eye of faith. The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 25

The proper use of the imagination is not to conjure up false things and foolishly believe them to be true, but to take true things and make them vivid in the life of to-day.
W.E. Sangster, The Secret of Radiant Life, Hodder and Stoughton, 1957, page 210

'What is imagination?' asks Rider Haggard in the midst of his narratives. And he answers: 'Perhaps it is a shadow of the intangible truth, perhaps it is the soul's thought!'
Henry Miller, The Books in My Life, Village Press, 1974, page 84

When the pioneer in science sends forth the groping fingers of his thoughts, he must have a vivid intuitive imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by an artistically creative imagination.
Max Planck, in F.C. Happold, Religious Faith and Twentieth Century Man, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1980, page 41

... I cannot tell you how strongly I feel that the kind of imagination which the gods have given me is more than imagination! In fact almost all the power we call 'imagination' may come from an actual tapping of some great reservoir of planetary, if not cosmic, experience.
John Cowper Powys, Autobiography, Macdonald & Co. (Publishers), 1967, page 436

Imagination is distinct from the mere dry faculty of reasoning. Imagination is creative—it is an immediate intuition; not a logical analysis—we call it popularly a kind of inspiration. Now imagination is a power of the heart:—Great thoughts originate from a large heart:—a man must have a heart, or he never could create.
F.W. Robertson, Sermons, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1907, First Series, page 8

I have always believed that the imagination and the will have a creative power. What a person wills and what a person imagines become a mysterious part of what is. It is madness to spend your days trying to eliminate what your own will and spirit and imagination are perpetually adding to the mystery of life.
John Cowper Powys, Autobiography, Macdonald & Co. (Publishers), 1967, page 360

... Without imagination—and of the kind that creates—there is no love, whether it be love of a girl or love of a country or love of one's friend or even of children, and of our wives. Lawyers, mathematicians and practical people, that is the minor sort, have logic and can destroy—and the energy of destruction brings with it its own emotion, which is hatred.
J.B. Yeats, Letters to his son, W.B. Yeats and others, Faber and Faber, 1944, page 276

If I were asked what has been the most powerful force in the making of history, you would probably adjudge of unbalanced mind were I to answer, as I should have to answer, metaphor figurative expression. It is by imagination that men have lived; imagination rules all our lives. The human mind is not, as philosophers would have you think, a debating hall, but a picture gallery. Around it hang our similes, our concepts.
W. Macneile Dixon, The Human Situation, Edward Arnold & Co., 1937, page 65

By imagination I intend the capacity in man to grasp with the whole of his being, by rapport between him and what he is confronting, that which is not himself; I mean his ability to experience at levels deeper than mere sense-perception and deeper than rational awareness; I mean his empathetic identification with some 'other' which comes alive to him and with which he finds himself strangely 'at one'. Call it intuition, if you will, call it sensitive apprehension—whatever it may be called, there is in man an imaginative quality which enables him to see, to hear, to feel, what is not immediately and obviously present on the surface of things.
Norman Pittenger, The Christian Situation Today, Epworth Press, 1919, page 85

I do not think we can put the true scientist on the left and the true poet on the right and think of them as in different categories. They are in the same category: they are both artists. In both the main faculty is imagination. Imagination is the power to see what is there... Imagination sees what is there with full concentration in combination with the faculty of love—indeed imagination has also been defined as 'Intellectual Love' and as 'Reason in her most exalted mood.' This is man's highest faculty, the power to see, to be a seer, to fasten upon the total significance of phenomena—and even to image further. It was by his 'wonderful imagination', we are told, that Newton was constantly discerning new tracks and new processes in the region of the unknown. This imaging into the centre of reality seems to belong to the great scientists as much as the great poets. There is nothing to choose here in force of imaginative power between a Rutherford who can penetrate into the very heart of matter and a Tolstoy who can penetrate into the very heart of man.
John Stewart Collis, The Vision of Glory, Charles Knight & Co., 1972, page 61

The all-important fact is that imagination is not only superior to the intellect, but is a different, independent faculty. It is the source of originality and invention, the framer of hypotheses and cause of discoveries in science and philosophy, and the inspiration of art and poetry. It is the 'divine afflatus' of the ancients, without which, as Cicero said, no man could be truly great. (William Blake thought it the essential attribute of God.) It is clearly differentiated from intellect, since it acts indepen¬dently of the conscious mind and will. An artist will consciously plan out his work, but, as it proceeds, he finds his scheme so altered (and improved) that he is startled at the ultimate result....
The difference between intellect and imagination is that between reason and insight. In the state of knowledge of Newton's time no amount of conscious intellectual work would have given him the idea that the universe was balanced by gravitation. When Shelley wrote those marvellous lines in 'Adonais,'
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity, he rose as high as the stars above mere intellect, and gave us a sublime truth whose meaning it would take volumes to adequately express.
J.T. Hackett, My Commonplace Book, Macmillan and Co., 1923, page 175

Men are ruled by imagination: imagination makes them into men, capable of madness and of immense labours. We work dreaming. Consider what dreams must have dominated the builders of the Pyramids—dreams geometrical, dreams funereal, dreams of resurrection, dreams of outdoing the pyramid of some other Pharaoh! What dreams occupy that fat man in the street, toddling by under his shabby hat and bedraggled rain-coat? Perhaps he is in love; perhaps he is a Catholic, and imagines that early this morning he has partaken of the body and blood of Christ; perhaps he is a revolutionist, with the millennium in his heart and a bomb in his pocket. The spirit bloweth where it listeth; the wind of inspiration carries our dreams before it and constantly refashions them like clouds. Nothing could be madder, more irresponsible, more dangerous than this guidance of men by dreams. What saves us is the fact that our imaginations, groundless and chimerical as they may seem, are secretly suggested and controlled by shrewd old instincts of our animal nature, and by continual contact with things. The shock of sense, breaking in upon us with a fresh irresistible image, checks wayward imagination and sends it rebounding in a new direction, perhaps more relevant to what is happening in the world outside.
When I speak of being governed by imagination, of course I am indulging in a figure of speech, in an ellipsis; in reality we are governed by that perpetual latent process within us by which imagination itself is created. Actual imaginings—the cloud-like thoughts drifting by—are not masters over themselves nor over anything else. They are like the sound of chimes in the night; they know nothing of whence they came, how they will fall out, or how long they will ring. There is a mechanism in the church tower; there was a theme in the composer's head; there is a beadle who has been winding the thing up. The sound wafted to us, muffled by distance and a thousand obstacles, is but the last lost emanation of this magical bell-ringing. Yet in our dream it is all in all; it is what first entertains and absorbs the mind. Imagination, when it chimes within us, apparently of itself, is no less elaborately grounded; it is a last symptom, a rolling echo, by which we detect and name the obscure operation that occasions it; and not this echo, in its aesthetic impotence, but the whole operation whose last witness it is, receives in science the name of imagination, and may be truly said to rule the human world...
Whilst dreams entertain us, the balance of our character is shifting beneath: we are growing while we sleep. The young think in one way, the drunken in another, and the dead not at all; and I imagine—for I have imagination myself—that they do not die because they stop thinking, but they stop thinking because they die. How much veering and luffing before they make that port! The brain of man, William James used to say, has a hair-trigger organization. His life is terribly experimental. He is perilously dependent on the oscillations of a living needle, imagination, that never points to the true north...
Imagination changes the scale of everything, and makes a thousand patterns of the woof of nature, without disturbing a single thread. Or rather—since it is nature itself that imagines—it turns to music what was only strain; as if the universal vibration, suddenly ashamed of having been so long silent and useless, had burst into tears and laughter at its own folly, and in so doing had become wise.
George Santayana, Soliloquies in England, Constable and Company, 1922, page 122


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