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The Imaginative Type

Let us try now, by way of conclusion, to present to the reader a picture
of the whole of the imaginative life in all its degrees.

If we consider the human mind principally under its intellectual
aspect--i.e., insofar as it knows and thinks, deducting its emotions
and voluntary activity--the observation of individuals distinguishes
some very clear varieties of mentality.

First, those of a "positive" or realistic turn of mind, living chiefly
on the external world, on what is perceived and what is immediately
deducible therefrom--alien or inimical to vain fancy; some of them flat,
limited, of the earth earthy; others, men of action, energetic but
limited by real things.

Second, abstract minds, "quintessence abstractors," with whom the
internal life is dominant in the form of combinations of concepts. They
have a schematic representation of the world, reduced to a hierarchy of
general ideas, noted by symbols. Such are the pure mathematicians, the
pure metaphysicians. If these two tendencies exist together, or, as
happens, are grafted one on the other, without anything to
counterbalance them, the abstract spirit attains its perfect form.

Midway between these two groups are the imaginers in whom the internal
life predominates in the form of combinations of images, which fact
distinguishes them clearly from the abstractors. The former alone
interest us, and we shall try to trace this imaginative type in its
development from the normal or average stage to the moment when
ever-growing exuberance leads us into pathology.

The explanation of the various phases of this development is reducible
to a well-known psychologic law--the natural antagonism between
sensation and image, between phenomena of peripheral origin and
phenomena of central origin; or, in a more general form, between the
outer and inner life. I shall not dwell long on this point, which Taine
has so admirably treated. He has shown in detail how the image is
a spontaneously arising sensation, one that is, however, aborted by the
opposing shock of real sensation, which is its reducer, producing on it
an arresting action and maintaining it in the condition of an internal,
subjective fact. Thus, during the waking hours, the frequency and
intensity of impressions from without press the images back to the
second level; but during sleep, when the external world is as it were
suppressed, their hallucinatory tendency is no longer kept in check, and
the world of dreams is momentarily the reality.

The psychology of the imaginer reduces itself to a progressively
increasing interchange of roles. Images become stronger and stronger
states; perceptions, more and more feeble. In this movement opposite to
nature I note four steps, each of which corresponds to particular
conditions: (1) The quantity of images; (2) quantity and intensity; (3)
quantity, intensity and duration; (4) complete systematization.

(1) In the first place the predominance of imagination is marked only by
the quantity of representations invading consciousness; they teem, break
apart, become associated, combine easily and in various ways. All the
imaginative persons who have given us their experiences either orally or
in writing agree in regard to the extreme ease of the formation of
associations, not in repeating past expedience, but in sketching little
romances. From among many examples I choose one. One of my
correspondents writes that if at church, theatre, on a street, or in a
railway station, his attention is attracted to a person--man or
woman--he immediately makes up, from the appearance, carriage and
attractiveness his or her present or past, manner of life,
occupation--representing to himself the part of the city he or she must
dwell in, the apartments, furniture, etc.--a construction most often
erroneous; I have many proofs of it. Surely this disposition is normal;
it departs from the average only by an excess of imagination that is
replaced in others by an excessive tendency to observe, to analyze, or
to criticise, reason, find fault. In order to take the decisive step and
become abnormal one condition more is necessary--intensity of the

2. Next, the interchange of place, indicated above, occurs. Weak states
(images) become strong; strong states (perceptions) become weak. The
impressions from without are powerless to fulfill their regular function
of inhibition. We find the simplest example of this state in the
exceptional persistence of certain dreams. Ordinarily, our nocturnal
imaginings vanish as empty phantasmagorias at the inrush of the
perceptions and habits of daily life--they seem like faraway phantoms,
without objective value. But, in the struggle occurring, on waking,
between images and perceptions, the latter are not always victorious.
There are dreams--i.e., imaginary creations--that remain firm in face
of reality, and for some time go along parallel with it. Taine was
perhaps the first to see the importance of this fact. He reports that
his relative, Dr. Baillarger, having dreamt that one of his friends had
been appointed editor of a journal, announced the news seriously to
several persons, and doubt arose in his mind only toward the end of the
afternoon. Since then contemporary psychologists have gathered various
observations of this kind. The emotional persistence of certain
dreams is known. So-and-so, one of our neighbors, plays in a dream an
odious role; we may have a feeling of repulsion or spite toward him
persisting throughout the day. But this triumph of the image, accidental
and ephemeral in normal man, is frequent and stable in the imaginers of
the second class. Many among them have asserted that this internal world
is the only reality. Gerard de Nerval "had very early the conviction
that the majority is mistaken, that the material universe in which it
believes, because its eyes see it and its hands touch it, is nothing but
phantoms and appearances. For him the invisible world, on the contrary,
was the only one not chimerical." Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe: "The real
things of the world would affect me like visions, and only so; while the
wild ideas of the land of dreams became in turn not only the feeding
ground of my daily existence but positively the sole and entire
existence itself." Others describe their life as "a permanent dream."
We could multiply examples. Aside from the poets and artists, the
mystics would furnish copious examples. Let us take an exaggerated
instance: This permanent dream is, indeed, only a part of their
existence; it is above all active through its intensity; but, while it
lasts, it absorbs them so completely that they enter the external world
only with a sudden, violent and painful shock.

(3) If the changing of images into strong states preponderating in
consciousness is no longer an episode but a lasting disposition, then
the imaginative life undergoes a partial systematization that approaches
insanity. Everyone may be "absorbed" for a moment; the above-mentioned
authors are so frequently. On a higher level this invading supremacy of
the internal life becomes a habit. This third degree is but the second
carried to excess.

Some cases of double personality (those of Azam, Reynolds) are known in
which the second state is at first embryonic and of short duration; then
its appearances are repeated, its sphere becomes extended. Little by
little it engrosses the greater part of life; it may even entirely
supplant the earlier self. The growing working of the imagination is
similar to this. Thanks to two causes acting in unison, temperament and
habit, the imaginative and internal life tends to become systematized
and to encroach more and more on the real, external life. In an account
by Fere one may follow step by step this work of systematization
which we abridge here to its chief characteristics.

The subject, M......, a man thirty-seven years old, had from childhood a
decided taste for solitude. Seated in an out-of-the-way corner of the
house or out of doors, "he commenced from that time on to build castles
in Spain that little by little took on a considerable importance in his
life. His constructions were at first ephemeral, replaced every day by
new ones. They became progressively more consistent.... When he had well
entered into his imaginary role, he often succeeded in continuing his
musing in the presence of other people. At college, whole hours would be
spent in this way; often he would see and hear nothing." Married, the
head of a prosperous business house, he had some respite; then he
returned to his former constructions. "They commenced by being, as
before, not very durable or absorbing; but gradually they acquired more
intensity and duration, and lastly became fixed in a definite form."

"To sum up, here is what this ideal life, lasting almost from his fourth
year, meant: M...... had built at Chaville, on the outskirts of the
forest, an imaginary summer residence surrounded by a garden. By
successive additions the pavilion became a chateau; the garden, a park;
servants, horses, water-fixtures came to ornament the domain. The
furnishings of the inside had been modified at the same time. A wife had
come to give life to the picture; two children had been born. Nothing
was wanting to this household, only the being true.... One day he was
in his imaginary salon at Chaville, occupied in watching an upholsterer
who was changing the arrangement of the tapestry. He was so absorbed in
the matter that he did not notice a man coming toward him, and at the
question, 'M......, if you please--?' he answered, without thinking, 'He
is at Chaville.' This reply, given in public, aroused in him a real
terror. 'I believe that I was foolish,' he said. Coming to himself, he
declared that he was ready to do anything to get rid of his ideas."

Here the imaginative type is at its maximum, at the brink of insanity
without being over it. Associations and combinations of images form the
entire content of consciousness, which remains impervious to impressions
from without. Its world becomes the world. The parasitic life
undermines and corrodes the other in order to become established in its
place--it grows, its parts adhere more closely, it forms a compact
mass--the imaginary systematization is complete.

(4) The fourth stage is an exaggeration of the foregoing. The
completely systematized and permanent imaginative life excludes the
other. This is the extreme form, the beginning of insanity, which is
outside our subject, from which pathology has been excluded.

Imagination in the insane would deserve a special study, that would be
lengthy, because there is no form of imagination that insanity has not
adopted. In no period have insane creations been lacking in the
practical, religious, or mystic life, in poetry, the fine arts, and in
the sciences; in industrial, commercial, mechanical, military projects,
and in plans for social and political reform. We should, then, be
abundantly supplied with facts.

It would be difficult, for, if in ordinary life we are often perplexed
to decide whether a man is sane or not, how much more then, when it is a
question of an inventor, of an act of the creative faculty, i.e., of a
venture into the unknown! How many innovators have been regarded as
insane, or as at least unbalanced, visionary! We cannot even invoke
success as a criterion. Many non-viable or abortive inventions have been
fathered by very sane minds, and people regarded as insane have
vindicated their imaginative constructions through success.

Let us leave these difficulties of a subject that is not our own, in
order to determine merely the psychological criterion belonging to the
fourth stage.

How may we rightly assert that a form of imaginative life is clearly
pathologic? In my opinion, the answer must be sought in the nature and
degree of belief accompanying the labor of creating. It is an axiom
unchallenged by anyone--whether idealist or realist of any shade of
belief--that nothing has existence for us save through the consciousness
we have of it; but for realism--and experimental psychology is of
necessity realistic--there are two distinct forms of existence.

One, subjective, having no reality except in consciousness, for the one
experiencing it, its reality being due only to belief, to that first
affirmation of the mind so often described.

The other, objective, existing in consciousness and outside of it, being
real not only for me but for all those whose constitution is similar or
analogous to mine.

This much borne in mind, let us compare the last two degrees of the
development of the imaginative life.

For the imaginer of the third stage, the two forms of existence are not
confounded. He distinguishes two worlds, preferring one and making
the best of the other, but believing in both. He is conscious of passing
from one to the other. There is an alternation. The observation of Fere,
although extreme, is a proof of this.

At the fourth stage, in the insane, imaginative labor--the only kind
with which we are concerned--is so systematized that the distinction
between the two kinds of existence has disappeared. All the phantoms of
his brain are invested with objective reality. Occurrences without, even
the most extraordinary, do not reach one in this stage, or else are
interpreted in accordance with the diseased fancy. There is no longer
any alternation.

By way of summary we may say: The creative imagination consists of the
property that images have of gathering in new combinations, through the
effect of a spontaneity whose nature we have attempted to describe. It
always tends to realize itself in degrees that vary from mere momentary
belief to complete objectivity. Throughout its multiple manifestations,
it remains identical with itself in its basic nature, in its
constitutive elements. The diversity of its deeds depends on the end
desired, the conditions required for its attainment, materials employed
which, as we have seen, under the collective name "representations" are
very unlike one another, not only as regards their sensuous origin
(visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) but also as regards their psychologic
nature (concrete, symbolic, affective, emotional-abstract images;
generic and schematic images, concepts--each group itself having shades
or degrees).

This constructive activity, applying itself to everything and radiating
in all directions, is in its early, typical form a mythic creation. It
is an invincible need of man to reflect and reproduce his own nature in
the world surrounding him. The first application of his mind is thinking
by analogy, which vivifies everything after the human model and attempts
to know everything according to arbitrary resemblances. Myth-making
activity, which we have studied in the child and in primitive man, is
the embryonic form whence arise by a slow evolution religious
creations--gross or refined; esthetic development, which is a fallen,
impoverished mythology; the fantastic conceptions of the world that may
little by little become scientific conceptions, with, however, an
irreducible residuum of hypotheses. Alongside of these creations, all
bordering upon what we have called the fixed form, there are practical,
objective creations. As for the latter, we could not trace them to the
same mythic source except by dialectic subtleties which we renounce. The
former arise from an internal efflorescence; the latter from urgent
life-needs; they appear later and are a bifurcation of the early trunk:
but the same sap flows in both branches.

The constructive imagination penetrates every part of our life, whether
individual or collective, speculative and practical, in all its

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