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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