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The Motor Nature Of The Constructive Imagination


It has been often repeated that one of the principal conquests of
contemporary psychology is the fact that it has firmly established the
place and importance of movements; that it has especially through
observation and experiment shown the representation of a movement to be
a movement begun, a movement in the nascent state. Yet those who have
most strenuously insisted on this proposition have hardly gone beyond
the realm of the passive imagination; they have clung to facts of pure
reproduction. My aim is to extend their formula, and to show that it
explains, in large measure at least, the origin of the creative

Let us follow step by step the passage from reproduction pure and simple
to the creative stage, showing therein the persistence and preponderance
of the motor element in proportion as we rise from mere repetition to

First of all, do all representations include motor elements? Yes, I
say, because every perception presupposes movements to some extent, and
representations are the remnants of past perceptions. Certain it is
that, without our examining the question in detail, this statement holds
good for the great majority of cases. So far as visual and tactile
images are concerned there is no possible doubt as to the importance of
the motor elements that enter into their composition. The eye is very
poorly endowed with movements for its office as a higher sense-organ;
but if we take into account its intimate connection with the vocal
organs, so rich in capacity for motor combinations, we note a kind of
compensation. Smell and taste, secondary in human psychology, rise to a
very high rank indeed among many animals, and the olfactory apparatus
thus obtains with them a complexity of movements proportionate to its
importance, and one that at times approaches that of sight. There yet
remains the group of internal sensations that might cause discussion.
Setting aside the fact that the vague impressions bound up with chemical
changes within the tissues are scarcely factors in representation, we
find that the sensations resulting from changes in respiration,
circulation, and digestion are not lacking in motor elements. The mere
fact that, in some persons, vomiting, hiccoughs, micturition, etc., can
be caused by perceptions of sight or of hearing proves that
representations of this character have a tendency to become translated
into acts.

Without emphasizing the matter we may, then, say that this thesis rests
on a weighty mass of facts; that the motor element of the image tends to
cause it to lose its purely "inner" character, to objectify it, to
externalize it, to project it outside of ourselves.

It should, however, be noted that what has just been said does not take
us beyond the reproductive imagination--beyond memory. All these revived
images are repetitions; but the creative imagination requires
something new--this is its peculiar and essential mark. In order to
grasp the transition from reproduction to production, from repetition to
creation, it is necessary to consider other, more rare, and more
extraordinary facts, found only among some favored beings. These facts,
known for a long time, surrounded with some mystery, and attributed in a
vague manner "to the power of the imagination," have been studied in our
own day with much more system and exactness. For our purpose we need to
recall only a few of them.

Many instances have been reported of tingling or of pains that may
appear in different parts of the body solely through the effect of the
imagination. Certain people can increase or inhibit the beating of their
hearts at will, i.e., by means of an intense and persistent
representation. The renowned physiologist, E. F. Weber, possessed this
power, and has described the mechanism of the phenomenon. Still more
remarkable are the cases of vesication produced in hypnotized subjects
by means of suggestion. Finally, let us recall the persistent story of
the stigmatized individuals, who, from the thirteenth century down to
our own day, have been quite numerous and present some interesting
varieties--some having only the mark of the crucifix, others of the
scourging, or of the crown of thorns. Let us add the profound changes
of the organism, results of the suggestive therapeutics of
contemporaries; the wonderful effects of the "faith cure," i.e., the
miracles of all religions in all times and in all places; and this brief
list will suffice to recall certain creative activities of the human
imagination that we have a tendency to forget.

It is proper to add that the image acts not altogether in a positive
manner. Sometimes it has an inhibitory power. A vivid representation of
a movement arrested is the beginning of the stoppage of that movement;
it may even end in complete arrest of the movement. Such are the cases
of "paralysis by ideas" first described by Reynolds, and later by
Charcot and his school under the name of "psychic paralysis." The
patient's inward conviction that he cannot move a limb renders him
powerless for any movement, and he recovers his motor power only when
the morbid representation has disappeared.

These and similar facts suggest a few remarks.

First, that we have here creation in the strict sense of the word,
though it be limited to the organism. What appears is new. Though one
may strictly maintain that from our own experience we have a knowledge
of formication, rapid and slow beating of the heart, even though we may
not be able ordinarily to produce them at will, this position is
absolutely untenable when we consider cases of vesication, stigmata, and
other alleged miraculous phenomena: these are without precedent in the
life of the individual.

Second, in order that these unusual states may occur, there are required
additional elements in the producing mechanism. At bottom this mechanism
is very obscure. To invoke "the power of the imagination" is merely to
substitute a word where an explanation is needed. Fortunately, we do not
need to penetrate into the inmost part of this mystery. It is enough for
us to make sure of the facts, to prove that they have a representation
as the starting point, and to show that the representation by itself is
not enough. What more then is needed? Let us note first of all that
these occurrences are rare. It is not within the power of everybody to
acquire stigmata or to become cured of a paralysis pronounced incurable.
This happens only to those having an ardent faith, a strong desire that
it shall come to pass. This is an indispensable psychic condition. What
is concerned in such a case is not a single state, but a double one: an
image followed by a particular emotional state (desire, aversion, etc.).
In other words, there are two conditions: In the first are concerned the
motor elements included in the image, the remains of previous
perceptions; in the second, there are concerned the foregoing, plus
affective states, tendencies that sum up the individual's energy. It is
the latter fact that explains their power.

To conclude: This group of facts shows us the existence, beyond images,
of another factor, instinctive or emotional in form, which we shall have
to study later and which will lead us to the ultimate source of the
creative imagination.

I fear that the distance between the facts here given and the creative
imagination proper will seem to the reader very great indeed. And why
so? First, because the creative activity here has as its only material
the organism, and is not separated from the creator. Then, too, because
these facts are extremely simple, and the creative imagination, in the
ordinary sense, is extremely complex; here there is one operating cause,
a single representation more or less complex, while in imaginative
creation we have several co-operating images with combinations,
coordination, arrangement, grouping. But it must not be forgotten that
our present aim is simply to find a transition stage between
reproduction and production; to show the common origin of the two forms
of imagination--the purely representative faculty and the faculty of
creating by means of the intermediation of images;--and to show at the
same time the work of separation, of severance between the two.


Since the chief aim of this study is to prove that the basis of
invention must be sought in motor manifestations, I shall not hesitate
to dwell on it, and I take the subject up again under another, clearer,
more precise, and more psychological form, in putting the following
question: Which one among the various modes of mind-activity offers the
closest analogy to the creative imagination? I unhesitatingly answer,
voluntary activity: Imagination, in the intellectual order, is the
equivalent of will in the realm of movements. Let us justify this
comparison by some proof.

1. Likeness of development in the two instances. Growth of voluntary
control is progressive, slow, crossed and checked. The individual has to
become master of his muscles and by their agency extend his sway over
other things. Reflexes, instinctive movements, and movements expressive
of emotion constitute the primary material of voluntary movements. The
will has no movements of its own as an inheritance: it must coordinate
and associate, since it separates in order to form new associations. It
reigns by right of conquest, not by right of birth. In like manner, the
creative imagination does not rise completely armed. Its raw materials
are images, which here correspond to muscular movements. It goes through
a period of trial. It always is, at the start (for reasons indicated
later on), an imitation; it attains its complex forms only through a
process of growth.

2. But this first comparison does not go to the bottom of the matter;
there are yet deeper analogies. First, the completely subjective
character of both instances. The imagination is subjective, personal,
anthropocentric; its movement is from within outwards toward an
objectification. The understanding, i.e., the intellect in the
restricted sense, has opposite characteristics--it is objective,
impersonal, receives from outside. For the creative imagination the
inner world is the regulator; there is a preponderance of the inner over
the outer. For the understanding, the outside world is the regulator;
there is a preponderance of the outer over the inner. The world of my
imagination is my world as opposed to the world of my understanding,
which is the world of all my fellow creatures. On the other hand, as
regards the will, we might repeat exactly, word for word, what we have
just said of the imagination. This is unnecessary. Back of both, then,
we have our true cause, whatever may be our opinion concerning the
ultimate nature of causation and of will.

3. Both imagination and will have a teleological character, and act only
with a view toward an end, being thus the opposite of the understanding,
which, as such, limits itself to proof. We are always wanting something,
be it worthless or important. We are always inventing for an
end--whether in the case of a Napoleon imagining a plan of campaign, or
a cook making up a new dish. In both instances there is now a simple end
attained by immediate means, now a complex and distant goal
presupposing subordinate ends which are means in relation to the final
end. In both cases there is a vis a tergo designated by the vague term
"spontaneity," which we shall attempt to make clear later, and a vis a
fronte, an attracting movement.

4. Added to this analogy as regards their nature, there are other,
secondary likenesses between the abortive forms of the creative
imagination and the impotent forms of the will. In its normal and
complete form will culminates in an act; but with wavering characters
and sufferers from abulia deliberation never ends, or the resolution
remains inert, incapable of realization, of asserting itself in
practice. The creative imagination also, in its complete form, has a
tendency to become objectified, to assert itself in a work that shall
exist not only for the creator but for everybody. On the contrary, with
dreamers pure and simple, the imagination remains a vaguely sketched
inner affair; it is not embodied in any esthetic or practical invention.
Revery is the equivalent of weak desires; dreamers are the abulics of
the creative imagination.

It is unnecessary to add that the similarity established here between
the will and the imagination is only partial and has as its aim only to
bring to light the role of the motor elements. Surely no one will
confuse two aspects of our psychic life that are so distinct, and it
would be foolish to delay in order to enumerate the differences. The
characteristic of novelty should by itself suffice, since it is the
special and indispensable mark of invention, and for volition is only
accessory: The extraction of a tooth requires of the patient as much
effort the second time as the first, although it is no longer a novelty.

After these preliminary remarks we must go on to the analysis of the
creative imagination, in order to understand its nature in so far as
that is accessible with our existing means. It is, indeed, a tertiary
formation in mental life, if we assume a primary layer (sensations and
simple emotions), and a secondary (images and their associations,
certain elementary logical operations, etc.). Being composite, it may be
decomposed into its constituent elements, which we shall study under
these three headings, viz., the intellectual factor, the affective or
emotional factor, and the unconscious factor. But that is not enough;
the analysis should be completed by a synthesis. All imaginative
creation, great or small, is organic, requires a unifying principle:
there is then also a synthetic factor, which it will be necessary to

Next: The Intellectual Factor

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