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(in romantic literary criticism, esp that of S. T. Coleridge) a creative act of perception that joins passive and active elements in thinking and imposes unity on the poetic material



(fantasy), mental activity consisting of the creation of ideas and mental situations that were never wholly experienced by the individual in reality. The imagination operates with concrete sense images or visual models of reality, but at the same time it has features of mediated, generalized knowledge that link it to the process of thought. The departure from reality characteristic of imagination permits us to define it as a process of the transforming reflection of reality.

Imagination is a specifically human form of mental activity originating in the practical transformation of reality. Developing along with the increasing complexity of the process of labor and of social relations, imagination becomes one of the basic elements of human consciousness and activity. The chief function of imagination in human consciousness is to represent in ideal terms the goal of activity before it is achieved in reality. Another function of imagination is connected with the planning of action, which is essential to the process of labor. “A spider conducts operations resembling those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch. 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 189). In this case, it is especially hard to separate the activity of imagination from thought. But in the actual unity of all mental functions in the subject imagination maintains its specific character: the anticipation of that which does not yet exist, either in a given individual’s personal experience or in reality generally. Connected with this is the ability to make discoveries, to find new ways and means of solving the problems that confront mankind. Conjecture and intuition leading to a discovery are impossible without imagination. Thus, imagination is a component in the creation not only of those products of activity that are saturated with imagery but also of those involving abstract concepts. V. I. Lenin wrote about fantasy: “It is wrong to think that only poets need imagination. That is a silly prejudice! It is needed even in mathematics; and it would even have been impossible to discover the differential and integral calculus without imagination” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 45, p. 125). Logic and imagination can “work together” because their opposition is not absolute. In thought there is a constant reencoding of verbal and conceptual logical structures into visual ones employing imagery and vice versa, with the latter frequently carrying the basic heuristic burden in the solution of intellectual problems. Precisely this circumstance is one of the obstacles still to be overcome in formalizing heuristic processes and turning them over to machines.

A distinction can be made between imagination that recreates and imagination that creates. Recreative imagination consists of the creation of images of previously unperceived objects in conformity with descriptions or conventional representations of them by such means as drawings, topographic maps, or literary texts. The creative imagination consists of the independent creation of new images which are then embodied in original products of activity. It is one of the psychological factors behind scientific and technological progress, and it appears most vividly in artistic creation. There it becomes a special form of knowledge and, at the same time, a portrayal and “objectification” of the essence of living reality. The daydream is a special kind of creative imagination, the creation of images of a desired future that are not embodied immediately in products of activity. Daydreams can play an activating role in the life of the individual and society if the ideas they contain lead to further practical transformations.

The extremely broad range of the manifestations of imagination—always appearing united with other aspects of mental activity—also conditions the mental devices (varied in nature and complexity) for transforming an individual’s ideas and perceptions. The mechanism of these transformations generally can be reduced to the analysis and synthesis of initial “material” by the imagination. In simple cases there is a combination of heterogeneous elements (“agglutination”), an exaggeration or minimizing of various aspects of reality, a discovery of similarity in difference, or a breaking up of that which is a unity. In complex cases, creative imagination requires broad conceptual generalizations and comparisons, evolving through quests for concrete facts, characteristics, situations, visual models, and artistic constructions—all of which reflect the general ideas and law-like regularities that must be revealed or discovered. Thus in artistic creation the typical is portrayed through the individual and laws of natural science are discovered through observations of concrete phenomena or through the creation of an experimental model.

The activity of the imagination can be more or less voluntary, ranging from the spontaneous fantasies of children to the sustained goal-directed efforts of the inventor. Dreams are an example of the involuntary activity of the imagination; however, they can be determined by a goal set during waking hours, as in the well-known instances of scientific problems solved in dreams.

Imagination develops in the process of creative activity under the influence of social demands. A prerequisite for a highly developed imagination is its cultivation from childhood through games, schoolwork, and access to works of art. The accumulation of varied life experiences, the acquisition of knowledge, and the formation of convictions are an essential source of imagination.


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