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classed as an internal sense by the philosophers of the
Peripatetic school. This view was based on the facts that
the imagination operates by means of a physical organ — the
brain ; that it represents particular concrete objects ; and
that these have only an internal or subjective existence. It
was accordingly defined to be an internal power of the
sensuous order. It was distinguished from the sensiis communis,

1 Qq. Disp. De Malo, III. a. 3, ad o


by the circumstance that while the function of that faculty-
was held to be the apprehension and distinction of the actual
operations of the several senses, and of the qualities of objects
hie et nunc perceived by them, the imagination forms repre-
sentations or images of objects even in their absence. Modern
writers commonly describe this aptitude of the mind as an
intellectual power, but that this opinion is erroneous wil
become evident later on.

Productive and Reproductive Imagination. — Several forms
of the activity of the imagination have been allotted special
names. The most commonly accepted division of the faculty
is that into Reproductive and Productive Imagination. The
former term is employed to designate the power of forming
mental pictures of objects and events as they have been
originally experienced, while the Productive Imagination
signifies the power of constructing images of objects not
previously perceived. The term Reproductive Imagination
is used by some writers to denote the faculty of memory
in general. This usage is objectionable. The differentia of
memory is not reproduction, but recognition. All imagination,
as we urge above, is essentially reproductive. The chief
features in which remembrance differs from mere revival of
images are : (i) The freedom of the imagination as to the
number and variety of its acts, the Hmited character of our
recollections; (2) the casual and variable order of the former
states, the serial fixity and regularity of the latter ; (3) the
isolated nature of imaginary events, the solidarity or related-
ness of remembered occurrences, which are inextricably inter-
woven with multitudes of other representations ; (4) finally,
the peculiar reference to my own actual experience involved
in the act of identification or recognition, which forms part of
the recollection but is absent from the creations of fancy.

The spontaneous action of the faculty is sometimes called
the passive imagination as contrasted with the active or
voluntary exercise of its powers."^ The epithets constructive
and creative, are frequently applied to Productive Imagination,
especially when the product is of a noble or beautiful kind.
Strictly speaking, however, the imagination does not create
0r produce anything completely new; it merely combines
into novel forms elements given in past sensations. These
fresh combinations are effected under the guidance of will
and judgment, and accordingly Hamilton has styled this
aptitude, the " Comparative Imagination," and the " Faculty
of Relations." It has also been asserted that its range is not
limited to objects of sense. This view is gravely erroneous.
The scope of imagination is rigidly confined to the reproduc-
' Cf. Mark Baldwin, op. cit. p. 224.


tion of former data of sense, and the congenital absence of
any faculty correspondingly limits the field of the phantasy.
The imagination, moreover, should not any more than external
sense be called a faculty of relations, since both alike are
equally incapable of apprehending such supra-sensuous reali-
ties. It is the intellect which in one case as in the other
perceives abstract relations, and it is as serious an error to
confuse rational activity with the power of forming sensuous
images as with the capability of experiencing sensations.

Functions of the Imagination. — The Imagination plays an
important part in artistic and mechanical construction, and
in the more concrete branches of physical science. In all
forms, however, of constructive imagination the three factors,
purpose, attention, and discrimative selection co-operate. There
must be at least in dim outlines before the mind an aim or
object to be realized. Then, as in order to satisfy this vague
desire the spontaneous activity of the faculty brings forward
its materials, the attention is fixed on those likely to fit in to
the wished-for ideal. Finally, selective discrimination retains
those judged to be appropriate and rejects the remainder.

^Esthetic Imagination. — In the creation of works of art the
fancy of the poet, painter, sculptor, or musician, is employed
in grouping and combining his materials so as to awaken
admiration and satisfaction in the mind. At times his aim
will be to hold the mirror up to nature, in order to delight by
the exquisite skill and fidelity with which he reproduces an
actual experience recalled by the memory. At other times
he assumes a nobler part, and seeks to give expression to
some thought embodying an ideal type of beauty or excel-
lence, which is never met with in the commonplace world of
real life, but is dimly shadowed forth in rare moments by our
own imagination. The Beautiful is indeed the proper aim of
the aesthetic fancy, as that of the scientific imagination is the
True, and so discriminative selection directs the attention
towards those elements which when combined will result in
an Ideal. This function of the Imagination is called Idealiza-
tion. Intellectual and volitional activity, however, are involved
in such operations. The ideals formed may be artistic, scien-
tific, ethical, or religious. Analysis of past experience and
synthetic recombination of the elements constitute the
essential stages of the process in each department. Both
operations involve attention, abstraction, and comparison, so
that the highest powers of the soul are employed in this
exercise.^ This faculty is said to be rich, fertile, or luxuriant
when images of great variety issue forth in spontaneous
abundance. Taste, on the other hand, implies judicious or
=^ Cf. Dr. Porter, op. cit. §§ 353 -37 - .


refined, rather than luxuriant fancy. Great genius in any of
the branches of art presupposes a fertile imagination, but
true excellence is attained only when this power is controlled
and directed by good judgment. The importance of Imagi-
nation in mechanical contrivance and invention is obvious.
The power of holding firmly before the mind a clear and
distinct representation of the object to be formed is one of
the most necessary qualifications of constructive ability.

Scientific Imagination. — The relations between
imagination and science have been the subject of
much dispute, some writers holding that a rich and
powerful imagination is adverse rather than favour-
able to scientific excellence, while others consider
this aptitude to be "as indispensable in the exact
sciences as in the poetical and plastic arts." And
that "it may accordingly be reasonably doubted
whether Aristotle or Homer were possessed of the
more powerful imagination."*

Concrete Sciences.— To answer the question we must
distinguish different branches of science. In departments of
concrete knowledge, such as geology, botany, animal physi-
ology, and anatomv, the imagination is exercised almost as
much as in history ,'oratory, or poetry ; and even in astronomy
and chemistry it plays an important part. The acquisition
of information, and the extension of our command over any
of the fields of physical nature involve careful use of our
powers of external sense-perception ; and progress is
measured by the number and quality, the clearness and com-
plexity, the readiness and precision of the ideas gathered.
Fresh species, new properties, novel modes of action, must
be more distinctly apprehended, more firmly retained, and
more easily reproduced in imagination with every successive
advance. The native efficiency of this faculty must, conse-
quently, largely determine the rate of improvement and the
limit of excellence attainable by each individual. In the
region of original research, and especially in the construction
of^hypotheses, fertility of imagination is an essential element
of success ; and the leading men in the history of these
sciences have almost invariably been endowed with a bold
and teeming fancy.

'^ Hamilton, il/^l'fl///. ii. p. 265.


Scientific HypotJicscs. — Discoveries in Science, where they
are not directly suggested by some lucky accident, generally
start from hypotheses more or less erroneous which are
gradually revised and corrected till they embrace all the
tacts. Scientific hypotheses differ from the guesses we are
constantly making in all matters merely in the clearness with
which they are conceived, and the rigour with which they
are tested. All guesses involve exercise of the Imagination,
and so in proportion to the fertility of this faculty will be the
mind's readiness in framing hypotheses of every kind. An
efficient imagination contributes much to clearness and
precision in the suppositions put forward by the intellect,
and if well under control, it facilitates their retention in
distinct consciousness and so renders them susceptible
of searching examination. The great scientists, such as
Newton and Kepler, have been even more remarkable for
their rigorous severity in testing, than for their originality
in inventing their hypotheses. But the accurate represen-
tation of possible causes and effects, the firm and distinct
grasp of such conceptions, the anticipation of probable
consequences, the comparison of diverse modes of action
likely to happen under different contingencies, and the
careful following out of trains of reasoning from conditional
assumptions are all much facilitated by superior natural
aptitude and judicious culture of the imagination.

According as man's memory is well stored with infor-
mation in any branch of science, his fancy becomes fertile
in picturing the action of unobserved causes and agencies,
and in proportion as he is familiar with its subject-matter,
his imagination will instinctively reject guesses likely to
clash with known facts. A certain acquired sagacity controls
and directs his conjectures along likely paths and lead him
to detect those unobtrusive analogies which are the fruitful
parent of so many great discoveries. Mr. Mark Baldwin
thus writes : " The imagination is the prophetic forerunner
of all great scientific discoveries. The mental factors seen
to underlie all imaginative construction are here called into
play in a highly exaggerated way. The associative material
presented covers generally the whole area of the data of the
scientific branch in hand ; familiarity with the principles
and laws already discovered is assumed and in general a
condition of mental saturation with the subject. ... In
most cases the beginning of a discovery is nothing more than
a conjecture, a happy supposition. The mind at once begins
to search for means of testing it, which itself involves the
imagination of new material dispositions. These tests are
made more and more rigid, if successful, until the crucial


test, as it is called, is reached, which cither confirms or
disproves the hypothesis."*^

Abstract Sciences.— When, however, we pass from the
concrete to the more abstract branches of knowledge, such as
pure mathematics, logic, and metaphysics, we find imagina-
tion sinks into a secondary position. The materials with
which the mathematician or the metaphysician deals are not
representations of phantasy, but of intellect. They are
devoid of those impressive concrete qualities which dis-
tinguish the sensuous image from the abstractions of thought;
and the chief difficulty of the beginner is to turn aside from
the obtrusive features of the phantasm, and keep solely in
view the delicate but vital relations which constitute the
essence of scientific knowledge.

It seems to us, then, to be the very reverse of
truth to say that imagination holds a place in
abstract science similar to that which it occupies
in poetry. As all thought is representative, the
abstract thinker must, of course, be capable of
forming representations of the subjects of his specu-
lation ; and the distinctive characteristic of genius
in this direction lies in the power to grasp vigorously
some fruitful notion and to concentrate upon it for
long periods the whole energy of the mind. Still
it is a grave error to confound the rational activity
of the intellect with the operations of the sensuous
imagination. And it should be borne in mind that
although elastic and fertile powers of fancy often
accompany great intellectual gifts, and although
even in the abstract sciences discovery may be at
times materially aided by the power of holding
steadily before the mind concrete images ; neverthe-
less it is the intellect and not the imagination that

5 Senses and Intellect, pp. 236, 237. There are many valuable obser-
vations in his chapter on this subject.


apprehends the universal relations which form the
framework of science.

Dangers of Imagination. — It is needless to point
out how easily richness of imagination may prove
detrimental rather than beneficial to scientific pro-
f^ress. In Ethics or Metaphysics, no less than in
History or Biology, exuberant and prolific fancy
when uncontrolled by reason, may divert attention
from the essential to the accidental, may pervert
and mislead the powers of judgment, and may so
confuse the reason that fiction is substituted for
objective reality, and brilliant poetic hypotheses are
preferred to the prose of commonplace truth.

Fancy. — The term Fancy is sometimes used to
mark the activity of the imagination as exercised in
the production of comic, or even of beautiful images,
provided they be of a minute or trivial type. Fancy,
too, is confined to the sphere of the unreal whilst
imagination may represent the actual. The epithets
merry, playful, weird, which are applied to the
former, indicate the various kinds of action in which
it manifests itself, and it is with that aptitude unt
and humour are mainly connected.

Wit and Humour. — Intellect, as well as imagination, is
involved in the exhibition and appreciation of li^it and
humour, but the happy suggestions of the fancy are the
essential materials which go to make up the amusing
picture. Wit and humour agreeing in some respects are
distinguished in others. Both aptitudes imply the power
of noting and manifesting unexpected points of agree-
ment between apparently disparate ideas ; but wit excels
in brilliancy and pungency. It is, too, of a more in-
tellectual character, while humour appeals rather to the
moral side of human nature. The witty man is quick tc
perceive incongruous associations of every kind, the humouris


is a close observer of the foibles and weaknesses of his
fellow-men. Humour is mainly innate, wit is to some extent
am.enable to education and culture. Humour, implying the
power of sympathy with the feelings of others, is commonly
associated with good nature, while wit is frequently sharp
and unpleasant. This distinction is admirably expressed in
Thackeray's saying that " Humour is wit tempered by love."
The most degraded form of wit is exhibited in puns, where
commonly there is merel}^ an accidental similarity in oral
sound. The felicitous apprehension of a hidden connexion
between incongruous ideas, which constitutes the essence of
true wit, is almost invariably absent.

Illusions. — As the activity of Imaj^ination is the
chief source of certain abnormal mental phenomena of
an important character described as illusions, halluci-
nations, dreams, and the like, this will be, perhaps, the
most appropriate place to treat of them. In ordinary
language the terms illusion, delusion, and fallacy are
frequently used in the same sense to denote any
erroneous conviction. In a more limited signification
fallacy means a vicious reasoning, an intellectual in-
ference of a fallacious character, whilst illusion signifies
a deceptive or spurious act of apprehension, a.nd delusion
implies a false belief of a somewhat permanent nature,
and of a more or less extensive range. These states
of consciousness have in common the note of untruth-
fulness ; and we may, from a psychological standpoint,
define a mental act to be untrue, which disagrees from
its object as that object is known by the normal human
mind. An illusion is thus a deceptive cognition which
pretends to be immediately evident, and it can refer to
mistaken memories and erroneous expectations, just as
w^ell as to false perceptions of the external senses.^

Sources of Illusion. — The causes of illusion we may in
the first place roughly divide into two great classes,
according as they belong to the subjective or the objective
worlds. Our mistakes may arise either from mental
influences, or from irregular conditions of the material
universe, including among the latter the state of our
own organism.

^ Cf. Mr. Sully's Illusions, cc. i. ii. Many of these phenomena
tre very skilfully analyzed by that writer.


Mental influences. — The wide range of the first group
win become evident if we recall the various elements
which we have shown in a previous chapter to be
involved in apparently simple acts of sense-per-
ception. The material directly presented to us, even
by the power of vision, is extremely small. By far
the greater part of the information given through
each act of apprehension is due to memor}^, inference,
and associated sensations of other faculties faintly re-
vived in imagination. Accordingly, the condition of
the mind immediately antecedent to the impression of
any particular object has a most important influence
in determining how this object will be perceived. If
the imagination is vigorously excited, and if we have
a lively expectation of beholding some special occur-
rence, there is a considerable probability that anything
bearing even a distant resemblance to it will be mis-
taken for the anticipated experience. As the ph3^sical
concomitants of the activity of the imagination are
similar in kind to those of real sensation, and as even
in normal perception a large part of the mental product
is furnished by the phantasy from the resources of
previous experiences, it is not surprising that where
anticipation of an event is very strong, and its repre-
sentation very vivid, the mind may perceive an occur-
rence before it happens, or apprehend an object where
none exists. This species of deception, in which a
mental state is excited without any external cause, is
called a subjective sensation. Such simulated cognitions
may work very serious effects on the organism. The
pain or pleasure, according to the agreeable or dis-
agreeable character of the illusion, may be fully as
intense as if the appearance were a reality."

" " A butcher was brought into the shop of Mr. Macfarlan, the
druggist, from the market-place opposite, labouring under a terrible
accident. The man on trying to hook up a heavy piece of meat
above his head slipped and the sharp hook penetrated his arm so
that he himself was suspended. On being examined he was pale,
almost pulseless, and expressed himself as suffering acute agony.
The arm could not be moved without causing excessive pain, and
in cutting off the sleeve he frequently cried out ; yet when the arm
was exposed it was found to be quite uninjured, the hook having
only traversed the sleeve of his coat." (Carpenter, op. cit. p. 15S.)


In addition to expectation, desire, and fear, are
the mental states which have the largest share in the
production of illusion. The strength of the inclination
to believe in that which we like, manifests itself in every
department of human life. Yet, paradoxical as it may
at first sight appear, dislike can also contribute to the
generation of an illusory behef. The most important
constituent in the emotion of fear is aversion, but it is
a matter of frequent experience that a lively fear of
anything tends to create in the mind a counterfeit
perception of it. The timid wayfarer, travelling by
night, sees a highwayman in every gatepost, whilst the
child who has just been listening to ghost stories
converts the furniture of his moonlit bed-room into
fairies and hobgoblins. Inordinate anxiety generates
all sorts of doubts and suspicions, and — •

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmation strong.

The mental process in the case of fear is, however,
fundamentally akin to that of desire. The immediate
effect of both sentiments is intense excitation of the
imagination, a lively picture of the desired or dreaded
event is conjured up by the fancy, and the vivid image
is taken for the reality.

Othey influences. — The second group of causes of
illusion, which may be roughly described as non-
mental, are subdivided according as the deception is
due, {a) to ill-health either of the particular organ
employed, or of the brain and nervous system as a
whole, or (b) to some irregularity in the composition of
the medium intervening between the organism and the
object apprehended.

(a) Organic. — The forms of illusion which may arise
from an unsound condition of the organ are very
numerous. A sense may be subject to permanent defects
such as partial deafness, short-sightedness, and colour-
blindness, or it may suffer transient disabilities such as
fatigue, disarrangement, and temporary disease of the
nerves employed in a particular perception. After
steadily gazing at a small disc of a brilliant colour, the


eye will see a similar spot of a complementary hue if
directed immediately afterwards towards a plain white
surface. Intense stimulation of any of the senses renders
it for a time insensible to lesser excitations. Santonin in-
duces colour-blindness to violet, and other drugs deaden
other modes of sensibility. The disease of jaundice
sometimes gives things a yellow tinge. In certain
cerebral and nervous diseases illusions often take a
more pronounced and extreme form, and the mind
may not only misapprehend real things, but it may
even become incapable of distinguishing between actual
objects and pure phantoms of the imagination. An
aberration of this extreme and permanent kind is com-
monly termed a halliicination. The passenger who, in
a London fog, mistakes a lamp-post for a policeman,
is said to be under an illusion. The fever-patient who
sees his empty room crowded with people, and the
lunatic who believes he is the Emperor of China, are
possessed by hallucinations. The passage, however,
from the one state to the other is gradual, and there is
no rigid line of demarcation separating them. The
cause of these aberrations seems to lie in the abnormal
working of the interior physical processes which
usually give rise to sensations, or which have accom-
panied particular cognitions in the past, and so cause
these latter to be reproduced from memory with such
vividness as to be confounded with real impressions.
The illusions of delirium tremens, and of manv forms
of mental derangement, are probably caused b}'- mis-
taking internal irritation of the nerves for external
natural sensations. And complete lunacy may arise
either from disorder of the functions of the cerebrum,
caused by the presence of poisonous materials in the
blood, or from some organic disease which has already
seized on the substance of the brain.

{h) External. — The deceptions originated by irregular
conditions of the environment are very familiar. If we
gaze at the sun through a piece of red or green glass,
only rays of these colours will be allowed to pass, and
its disc will appear of a corresponding hue. A dull
wintry landscape observed through a transparent sub-


stance of a slightly yellow tint assumes a golden
autumnal appearance. The magic effects of the trans-
formation scene at the pantomime are the result of the
skilful management of coloured lights, and spectral
apparitions are commonly produced by the manipula-
tion of concave mirrors at the sides of the stage. In
operations of this nature, however, the sense is perfectly
truthful as regards its own revelations. It responds in
an appropriate manner to its proximate stimuli, and the
error is due to the abnormal relations between the latter
and the remote object which they ordinarily present to
the mind. ^

Illusion in the strictest sense of the term comes

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 17 of 63)