The Intellectual Factor

Considered under its intellectual aspect, that is, in so far as it

borrows its elements from the understanding, the imagination presupposes

two fundamental operations--the one, negative and preparatory,

dissociation; the other, positive and constitutive, association.

Dissociation is the "abstraction" of the older psychologists, who well

understood its importance for the subject with which we are now

ned. Nevertheless, the term "dissociation" seems to me preferable,

because it is more comprehensive. It designates a genus of which the

other is a species. It is a spontaneous operation and of a more radical

nature than the other. Abstraction, strictly so-called, acts only on

isolated states of consciousness; dissociation acts, further, on series

of states of consciousness, which it sorts out, breaks up, dissolves,

and through this preparatory work makes suitable for entering into new


Perception is a synthetic process, but dissociation (or abstraction) is

already present in embryo in perception, just because the latter is a

complex state. Everyone perceives after an individual fashion, according

to his constitution and the impression of the moment. A painter, a

sportsman, a dealer, and an uninterested spectator do not see a given

horse in the same manner: the qualities that interest one are unnoticed

by another.

The image being a simplification of sensory data, and its nature

dependent on that of previous perceptions, it is inevitable that the

work of dissociation should go on in it. But this is far too mild a

statement. Observation and experiment show us that in the majority of

cases the process grows wonderfully. In order to follow the progressive

development of this dissolution, we may roughly differentiate images

into three categories--complete, incomplete, and schematic--and study

them in order.

The group of images here termed complete comprises first, objects

repeatedly presented in daily experience--my wife's face, my inkstand,

the sound of a church bell or of a neighboring clock, etc. In this class

are also included the images of things that we have perceived but a few

times, but which, for additional reasons, have remained clean-cut in our

memory. Are these images complete, in the strict sense of the word? They

cannot be; and the contrary belief is a delusion of consciousness that,

however, disappears when one confronts it with the reality. The mental

image can contain all the qualities of an object in even less degree

than the perception; the image is the result of selection, varying with

every case. The painter Fromentin, who was proud that he found after two

or three years "an exact recollection" of things he had barely noticed

on a journey, makes elsewhere, however, the following confession: "My

memory of things, although very faithful, has never the certainty

admissible as documentary evidence. The weaker it grows, the more is it

changed in becoming the property of my memory and the more valuable is

it for the work that I intend for it. In proportion as the exact form

becomes altered, another form, partly real, partly imaginary, which I

believe preferable, takes its place." Note that the person speaking thus

is a painter endowed with an unusual visual memory; but recent

investigations have shown that among men generally the so-called

complete and exact images undergo change and warping. One sees the truth

of this statement when, after a lapse of some time, one is placed in the

presence of the original object, so that comparison between the real

object and its image becomes possible. Let us note that in this group

the image always corresponds to certain individual objects; it is not

the same with the other two groups.

The group of incomplete images, according to the testimony of

consciousness itself, comes from two distinct sources--first, from

perceptions insufficiently or ill-fixed; and again, from impressions of

like objects which, when too often repeated, end by becoming confused.

The latter case has been well described by Taine. A man, says he, who,

having gone through an avenue of poplars wants to picture a poplar; or,

having looked into a poultry-yard, wishes to call up a picture of a hen,

experiences a difficulty--his different memories rise up. The experiment

becomes a cause of effacement; the images canceling one another decline

to a state of imperceptible tendencies which their likeness and

unlikeness prevent from predominating. Images become blunted by their

collision just as do bodies by friction.

This group leads us to that of schematic images, or those entirely

without mark--the indefinite image of a rosebush, of a pin, of a

cigarette, etc. This is the greatest degree of impoverishment; the

image, deprived little by little of its own characteristics, is nothing

more than a shadow. It has become that transitional form between image

and pure concept that we now term "generic image," or one that at least

resembles the latter.

The image, then, is subject to an unending process of change, of

suppression and addition, of dissociation and corrosion. This means

that it is not a dead thing; it is not at all like a photographic plate

with which one may reproduce copies indefinitely. Being dependent on the

state of the brain, the image undergoes change like all living

substance,--it is subject to gains and losses, especially losses. But

each of the foregoing three classes has its use for the inventor. They

serve as material for different kinds of imagination--in their concrete

form, for the mechanic and the artist; in their schematic form, for the

scientist and for others.

Thus far we have seen only a part of the work of dissociation and,

taking it all in all, the smallest part. We have, seemingly, considered

images as isolated facts, as psychic atoms; but that is a purely

theoretic position. Images are not solitary in actual life; they form

part of a chain, or rather of a woof or net, since, by reason of their

manifold relations they may radiate in all directions, through all the

senses. Dissociation, then, works also upon series, cuts them up,

mangles them, breaks them, and reduces them to ruins.

The ideal law of the recurrence of images is that known since Hamilton's

time under the name of "law of redintegration," which consists in the

passing from a part to the whole, each element tending to reproduce the

complete state, each member of a series the whole of that series. If

this law existed alone, invention would be forever forbidden to us; we

could not emerge from repetition; we should be condemned to monotony.

But there is an opposite power that frees us--it is dissociation.

It is very strange that, while psychologists have for so long a time

studied the laws of association, no one has investigated whether the

inverse process, dissociation, also has not laws of its own. We can not

here attempt such a task, which would be outside of our province; it

will suffice to indicate in passing two general conditions determining

the association of series.

First, there are the internal or subjective causes. The revived image of

a face, a monument, a landscape, an occurrence, is, most often, only

partial. It depends on various conditions that revive the essential part

and drop the minor details, and this "essential" which survives

dissociation depends on subjective causes, the principal ones of which

are at first practical, utilitarian reasons. It is the tendency already

mentioned to ignore what is of no value, to exclude that from

consciousness. Helmholtz has shown that in the act of seeing, various

details remain unnoticed because they are immaterial in the concerns of

life; and there are many other like instances. Then, too, emotional

reasons governing the attention orientate it exclusively in one

direction--these will be studied in the course of this work. Lastly,

there are logical or intellectual reasons, if we understand by this term

the law of mental inertia or the law of least resistance by means of

which the mind tends toward the simplification and lightening of its


Secondly, there are external or objective causes which are variations in

experience. When two or more qualities or events are given as constantly

associated in experience we do not dissociate them. The uniformity of

nature's laws is the great opponent of dissociation. Many truths (for

example, the existence of the antipodes) are established with

difficulty, because it is necessary to break up closely knit

associations. The oriental king whom Sully mentions, who had never seen

ice, refused to credit the existence of solid water. A total impression,

the elements of which had never been given us separately in experience,

would be unanalyzable. If all cold objects were moist, and all moist

objects cold; if all liquids were transparent and all non-liquids

opaque, we should find it difficult to distinguish cold from moisture

and liquidity from transparency. On his part, James adds further that

what has been associated sometimes with one thing and sometimes with

another tends to become dissociated from both. This might be called a

law of association by concomitant variations.

In order to thoroughly comprehend the absolute necessity for

dissociation, let us note that total redintegration is per se a

hindrance to creation. Examples are given of people who can easily

remember twenty or thirty pages of a book, but if they want a particular

passage they are unable to pick it out--they must begin at the beginning

and continue down to the required place. Excessive ease of retention

thus becomes a serious inconvenience. Besides these rare cases, we know

that ignorant people, those intellectually limited, give the same

invariable story of every occurrence, in which all the parts--the

important and the accessory, the useful and the useless--are on a dead

level. They omit no detail, they cannot select. Minds of this kind are

inapt at invention. In short, we may say that there are two kinds of

memory: one is completely systematized, e.g., habits, routine, poetry

or prose learned by heart, faultless musical rendering, etc. The

acquisition forms a compact whole and cannot enter into new

combinations. The other is not systematized; it is composed of small,

more or less coherent groups. This kind of memory is plastic and capable

of becoming combined in new ways.

We have enumerated the spontaneous, natural causes of association,

omitting the voluntary and artificial causes, which are but their

imitations. As a result of these various causes, images are taken to

pieces, shattered, broken up, but made all the readier as materials for

the inventor. This is a process analogous to that which, in geologic

time, produces new strata through the wearing away of old rocks.


Association is one of the big questions of psychology; but as it does

not especially concern our subject, it will be discussed in strict

proportion to its use here. Nothing is easier than limiting ourselves.

Our task is reducible to a very clear and very brief question: What are

the forms of association that give rise to new combinations and under

what influences do they arise? All other forms of association, those

that are only repetitions, should be eliminated. Consequently, this

subject can not be treated in one single effort; it must be studied, in

turn, in its relations to our three factors--intellectual, emotional,


It is generally admitted that the expression "association of ideas" is

faulty. It is not comprehensive enough, association being active also

in psychic states other than ideas. It seems indicative rather of mere

juxtaposition, whereas associated states modify one another by the very

fact of their being connected. But, as it has been confirmed by long

usage, it would be difficult to eliminate the phrase.

On the other hand, psychologists are not at all agreed as regards the

determination of the principal laws or forms of association. Without

taking sides in the debate, I adopt the most generally accepted

classification, the one most suitable for our subject--the one that

reduces everything to the two fundamental laws of contiguity and

resemblance. In recent years various attempts have been made to reduce

these two laws to one, some reducing resemblance to contiguity; others,

contiguity to resemblance. Putting aside the ground of this discussion,

which seems to me very useless, and which perhaps is due to excessive

zeal for unity, we must nevertheless recognize that this discussion is

not without interest for the study of the creative imagination, because

it has well shown that each of the two fundamental laws has a

characteristic mechanism.

Association by contiguity (or continuity), which Wundt calls external,

is simple and homogeneous. It reproduces the order and connection of

things; it reduces itself to habits contracted by our nervous system.

Is association by resemblance, which Wundt calls internal, strictly

speaking, an elementary law? Many doubt it. Without entering into the

long and frequently confused discussions to which this subject has given

rise, we may sum up their results as follows: In so-called association

by resemblance it is necessary to distinguish three moments--(a) That of

the presentation; a state A is given in perception or

association-by-contiguity, and forms the starting point. (b) That of the

work of assimilation; A is recognized as more or less like a state a

previously experienced. (c) As a consequence of the coexistence of A

and a in consciousness, they can later be recalled reciprocally,

although the two original occurrences A and a have previously never

existed together, and sometimes, indeed, may not possibly have existed

together. It is evident that the crucial moment is the second, and that

it consists of an act of active assimilation. Thus James maintains that

"it is a relation that the mind perceives after the fact, just as it may

perceive the relations of superiority, of distance, of causality, of

container and content, of substance and accident, or of contrast between

an object, and some second object which the associative machinery calls


Association by resemblance presupposes a joint labor of association and

dissociation--it is an active form. Consequently it is the principal

source of the material of the creative imagination, as the sequel of

this work will sufficiently show.

After this rather long but necessary preface, we come to the

intellectual factor rightly so termed, which we have been little by

little approaching. The essential, fundamental element of the creative

imagination in the intellectual sphere is the capacity of thinking by

analogy; that is, by partial and often accidental resemblance. By

analogy we mean an imperfect kind of resemblance: like is a genus of

which analogue is a species.

Let us examine in some detail the mechanism of this mode of thought in

order that we may understand how analogy is, by its very nature, an

almost inexhaustible instrument of creation.

1. Analogy may be based solely on the number of attributes compared.

Let a b c d e f and r s t u d v be two beings or objects, each

letter representing symbolically one of the constitutive attributes. It

is evident that the analogy between the two is very weak, since there is

only one common element, d. If the number of the elements common to

both increases, the analogy will grow in the same proportion. But the

agreement represented above is not infrequent among minds unused to a

somewhat severe discipline. A child sees in the moon and stars a mother

surrounded by her daughters. The aborigines of Australia called a book

"mussel," merely because it opens and shuts like the valves of a


2. Analogy may have for its basis the quality or value of the

compound attributes. It rests on a variable element, which oscillates

from the essential to the accidental, from the reality to the

appearance. To the layman, the likeness between cetacians and fishes are

great; to the scientist, slight. Here, again, numerous agreements are

possible, provided one take no account either of their solidity or their


3. Lastly, in minds without power, there occurs a semi-unconscious

operation that we may call a transfer through the omission of the middle

term. There is analogy between a b c d e and g h a i f through the

common letter a; between g h a i f and x y f z q through the

common letter f; and finally an analogy becomes established between a

b c d e and x y f z q for no other reason than that of their common

analogy with g h a i f. In the realm of the affective states,

transfers of this sort are not at all rare.

Analogy, an unstable process, undulating and multiform, gives rise to

the most unforeseen and novel groupings. Through its pliability, which

is almost unlimited, it produces in equal measure absurd comparisons and

very original inventions.

After these remarks on the mechanism of thinking by analogy, let us

glance at the processes it employs in its creative work. The problem is,

apparently, inextricable. Analogies are so numerous, so various, so

arbitrary, that we may despair of finding any regularity whatever in

creative work. Despite this it seems, however, reducible to two

principal types or processes, which are personification, and

transformation or metamorphosis.

Personification is the earlier process. It is radical, always identical

with itself, but transitory. It goes out from ourselves toward other

things. It consists in attributing life to everything, in supposing in

everything that shows signs of life--and even in inanimate

objects--desires, passions, and acts of will analogous to ours, acting

like ourselves in view of definite ends. This state of mind is

incomprehensible to an adult civilized man; but it must be admitted,

since there are facts without number that show its existence. We do not

need to cite them--they are too well known. They fill the works of

ethnologists, of travelers in savage lands, of books of mythology.

Besides, all of us, at the commencement of our lives, during our

earliest childhood, have passed through this inevitable stage of

universal animism. Works on child-psychology abound in observations that

leave no possible room for doubt on this point. The child endows

everything with life, and he does so the more in proportion as he is

more imaginative. But this stage, which among civilized people lasts

only a brief period, remains in the primitive man a permanent

disposition and one that is always active. This process of

personification is the perennial fount whence have gushed the greater

number of myths, an enormous mass of superstitions, and a large number

of esthetic productions. To sum up in a word, all things that have been

invented ex analogia hominis.

Transformation or metamorphosis is a general, permanent process under

many forms, proceeding not from the thinking subject towards objects,

but from one object to another, from one thing to another. It consists

of a transfer through partial resemblance. This operation rests on two

fundamental bases--depending at one time on vague resemblances (a cloud

becomes a mountain, or a mountain a fantastic animal; the sound of the

wind a plaintive cry, etc.), or again, on a resemblance with a

predominating emotional element: A perception provokes a feeling, and

becomes the mark, sign, or plastic form thereof (the lion represents

courage; the cat, artifice; the cypress, sorrow; and so on). All this,

doubtless, is erroneous or arbitrary; but the function of the

imagination is to invent, not to perceive. All know that this process

creates metaphors, allegories, symbols; it should not, however, be

believed on that account that it remains restricted to the realm of art

or of the development of language. We meet it every moment in practical

life, in mechanical, industrial, commercial, and scientific invention,

and we shall, later, give a large number of examples in support of this


Let us note, briefly, that analogy, as an imperfect form of

resemblance--as was said above, if we assume among the objects compared a

totality of likenesses and differences in varying proportions--necessarily

allows all degrees. At one end of the scale, the comparison is made

between valueless or exaggerated likenesses. At the other end, analogy is

restricted to exact resemblance; it approaches cognition, strictly so

called; for example, in mechanical and scientific invention. Hence it is

not at all surprising that the imagination is often a substitute for, and

as Goethe expressed it, "a forerunner of," reason. Between the creative

imagination and rational investigation there is a community of

nature--both presuppose the ability of seizing upon likenesses. On the

other hand, the predominance of the exact process establishes from the

outset a difference between "thinkers" and imaginative dreamers