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 h
ve 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