Hey! Yeah, you there, staring out the window and daydreaming. Are you paying attention? Hello! Are you even listening to me? Jeez, you have such an overactive imagination, welcome back into the room *scoff*. I wish you’d just pay attention and focus once in a while. You’ll never learn anything otherwise. Now, as I was saying… *blah blah*.
Some of us have probably had this interaction with a teacher, or colleague, boss etc. because some of us do have really big imaginations. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So, what is imagination actually?
“The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” People refer to ‘imagination’ as the ability to be creative, and the ability to create mental imagery – it includes all five senses. Once experienced, it is easy to imagine it again and again, as it is etched into your memory. These images are generated from inside your mind, not from outside influences. But to some people, imagination is a thing of childhood and silliness which couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Why is it good?
Imagination can be good for many reasons. It can be used in the arts – where would we be without movies, paintings (think: Mona Lisa), tv shows, photography, books etc? We’d be barbarians.But it’s not just used in the arts, invention requires imagination – for example we as humans built rockets, technology, toasters, pot noodle (!)… and they were all based on “What if?” questions and ideas in the minds of some brilliant people. Imagination stimulates innovation – thinking outside the box is useful for planning, hypothetical reasoning, and comprehension. Creativity is one of the basic skills that humans develop. Think of children for example; imagination fuels pretend play which helps in the development of vocabulary and appropriate responses to different situations to which they may not experience in ‘real life’. It turns the mundane into a magical experience. Remember when you were a kid and you believed in Santa, the Easter bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Yep, it was all in your imagination… you never actually saw them.
Did you ever have an imaginary friend when you were little? If you did I’d love to know what they looked like and spoke like. Imaginary friends are in fact imaginary, but they provided us with social support before we even made real life friends at school. Imagination allows you to think of and look at any situation from any point of view. You want to look at life from the perspective of a dragon slayer in the middle ages? Done. How about a vampire or a werewolf? Done and done. It’s called perspective taking.
If you’re a dreamer or passionate about something, you can use your imagination for brilliant things. You can look into the future and imagine what could be; it gives you purpose in life and something to aim for. It is the creator of circumstances and events. If you imagine you can do something, it will eventually happen if you put all the work and effort in. And above all, it makes you more interesting.
Why is it bad?
Now why did Leeranney say it was a danger? The power of imagination can work in a negative way. For example, when you’re on the plane to go on holiday and you suddenly imagine that you left the oven on, or that you left the guinea pigs without food. Whoops. You won’t enjoy the holiday because you’ll be desperately waiting to come back home, on the off chance that you did in fact, leave it on, and your house has burned to ashes. It can throw off your peace of mind. You play this terrible event over in your mind until you know for sure that it hasn’t actually happened.
“When information is lacking, it is tempting to fill the gaps”. Imagination can induce emotional issues, such as trust issues, self-esteem issues, suspicion, fear, insecurity – thinking the worst of everyone and everything. Imagination CAN get us into trouble. We want to know what’s happening without having all the facts – you assume something has happened because you try to make sense of the information you do have, and it hurts the people involved in the false accusation. We all jump to conclusions and make errors in judgement about everyone – we make impressions of people within the first 10 seconds we meet them. The might be having a bad day at the time, and we perceive them as arrogant, stubborn and not a nice person. At times, imagination may not be appropriate, e.g. thinking of the ending of the book you just read when asked to speak in a business meeting. It affects productivity and performance, but it is uncontrollable.
Why do we need it/ do it?
Imagination proposes a way of achieving our goals, generating solutions to problems and contributes to the asking and answering of questions. It helps us refine responses to certain situations – you can act the scenario out in your mind multiple times with different outcomes to see which one works best, and then carry it out in reality. Perfect. It doesn’t get you into trouble. Imagination is not always planned, and yes, we can dabble in our imagination at some of the worst times. Reality can be harsh, so we use our imagination to escape from it, to create a safer and better place in our mind.
When do we use it?
We use our imagination every day – from planning a holiday, a party, a meeting, or a date. You imagine how future conversations/ interviews might go, or how an exam might go. It is used when being artistic, or for example, when you read a book you can imagine a character’s feelings or desires, the situations they are in, the places they go. Some people imagine what their apartment will look like before they buy it. When you’re in a meeting and you start daydreaming about what it would be like to be at a beach in the Bahamas right now. Some people come up with great comebacks after the conversation has ended… there’s no getting away from it. Imagination can be both conscious and unconscious.
You need to understand how your imagination can be used correctly. It actualizes what reality can’t provide and we can imagine any action and any consequence. But imagination and reality are closely intertwined. I’m writing a final year project on fiction and social reasoning and it seems that the simulation of social experience from the book allows readers to improve their social understanding. We treat interactions between fictional characters much like we do real-life social encounters.
We have minds. They wander. So what? There are no limitations.
This post is in response to Leeranney’s post about The Danger of Imagination, I decided to explore and elaborate on the idea that Imagination can very powerful.