Imagination, again and again

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 13 Jun 2023


Oh to be a child again. To possess that same fertile imagination which provided us with hours of sheer joy, by just playing with inanimate objects. We gave our toys names and functions and told them stories about our own lives and experiences, often fabricated.

As children we are encouraged to think and play creatively. Being creative is vital to a child’s cognitive development, helping to create an understanding of reality and develop emotional capacity.

Why, oh why do we have to lose it? As we grow older the amount of time spent on practicing playful curiosity and creative imagination starts to decline.

Ah, the pity of it. We have time for facts and figures, reality and practicality as we focus on logical thinking, avoiding our imagination behaviours. No more castles in the air, or man in the moon, choosing knowledge and intellect in its stead.

What would our world be like without imagination? We would be stuck in a monochrome world were nothing changes.

A society that has lost touch with its creative side “is an imprisoned society”; a generation of close-minded human beings.

Imagination is not inferior to reason. It is imagination that made our world go around. It is a mighty power. Without it science would never have existed.

Early man, born with science and imagination in his DNA. How else did he evolve? He figured what is light and dark, what is thunder and lightning, what is time, seasons, life, death and a myriad questions that only his imagination triggered.

First came the imagination and then the knowledge. He planted seeds, constructed monuments, gazed at the moon and stars, not through knowledge, but creative imagination that kept growing, feeding him with experience, besides his instincts, and imagination: the ability to create in one’s own mind what does not exist.

First comes the imagination that is necessary to creativity, not the other way around.

Without imagination we would be without art, architecture, music, literature, TV, cell-phones, transportation, technology, ad infinitum.

What kind of race would we be without our cultural history?

How did the ancient Egyptians encompass features like symmetry, balance, and grandeur?

Grandeur indeed is the imagination which afforded us Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, and H G Wells, George Orwell, JRR Tolkien. They raised us to worlds heretofore unknown, only through the potent power of their imagination.

Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) called it “sub-creation”, the realm of myth and fable. “We have come from God”, he wrote, “and inevitably the myths woven by us… reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.” We created those myths only by becoming “sub-creators”, inventing stories that may contain error but not falsehoods.

Even Shakespeare is guilty of recasting past events, through his creative imagination.

Imagination differs from the intellect. Intellect is informed not by sensual images but by universal, abstract ideas. On the other hand, imagination is derived from sensual experience we have had, sensual images such as sights, sounds, taste and smells. Has the smell of a certain food or perfume evoked your imagination to a different time and place? That is because imagination is that faculty whereby we preserve sensual images.

Our senses preserve within us the sensual experiences we have had.

Using our imagination makes more neurons in our brains and reduces the likelihood of developing memory problems that lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Utilise your imagination, as you would your muscles. Dream about your success and how you can reach your goals. Specific types of imagery are proven to stimulate attentional brain networks that help you focus.

When specific brain regions are activated you can unconsciously plan your path to success. And you thought it was a useless waste of time.

Imagination is a key to brain-boosting. Imagine.

It helps develop creative skills and memorise information in a faster way.

Studies have proved that it sews the seed for the intellect, therefore creative individuals are always intelligent. Think of the intellectual geniuses that have enriched our world’s history. Surely they were intelligent.

The key ingredient that complements intellect is imagination — a sure recipe for success. It is the fuel that keeps the fire of the intellect burning.

Knowledge is to be commended, but on its own it loses its true potential and gets reduced to a merely interpersonal merit. How boring to spend time with a knowledgeable associate, with no imagination.

It has been rather confining to name researchers and academic institutes who have undergone research on imagination, because of our limited space.

However, we find it obligatory to mention the latest research by University of Colorado and Kahn School of Medicine on their Brain Imagery Study. Tor Wager, Director of the Colorado Lab declared that “imaging is a powerful tool in helping people with phobias, anxiety attacks and related disorders.”

You can use your imagination constructively to shape what your brain learns from experience. Rather than avoid the fears by thinking of other, pleasant events, face the fears repeatedly until you overcome them.

Manage your imagination and what you can permit yourself to imagine. If time has crippled your memories they can be revived by using your imagination. It is a biological function that is vital to human experience.

And here is a bonus: enhance your memory, think of old friends, remember your classroom, you will live longer and remain forever young.


“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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