Daily Philosophy

Entry #2: Our Imagination is Not Imagination, At All

But rather, a collection of pieces and bits from previously collected memories and mental images.

Let me give some context to the background of this particular blog post. I’m a fond reader of philosophy and psychology in general, but have been rather lazy about it. Most of what I do is browse through Brain Pickings, read books that look interesting and slightly related to them (review of “Man’s Search for Meaning” is coming up, by the way), and read existential articles here and there to try and at least scratch the surface of the field.

I was living on the presumption that skimming through articles is a legit way to gain knowledge about a certain field of subject. But the more I read, the more I realize that the pieces of knowledge I gained are too scattered for them to morph into something substantial.

Which is when I found this course on Coursera: Introduction to Philosophy by the University of Edinburgh. I got enlightened upon the first week of the lessons itself.

What Is and Why Philosophy?

According to the course, philosophy is the activity of working out the right way of thinking about things. Now, there are a lot of ways in itself to argue with that statement. You will either think that 1) There is no such thing as “the right way” or 2) Thinking about such things will be a waste of time. For both lines of thoughts, the course’s first week topic has a wonderful way of answering them. Even if you’re only remotely interested in philosophy or fundamental thinking, this will be an interesting course for you. PLUS, it explains the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument. An amazing resource for a complete philo noob.

Well, you might ask: “how does asking questions help improve quality of life?” Sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t. But think about it, curiosity is the basis of discoveries in the world. If scientists and journalists and economists of this world don’t have the slightest sense of doing philosophy, we wouldn’t have had modern day medicine or economic discoveries and in that case, quality of life wouldn’t improve.

Philosophizing Our Imagination

Now, after getting into the mindset of questioning everything, finding evidence for each question, reasoning with sound arguments, and therefore coming to a conclusion, let’s pursue the topic of imagination, which is the one thing that occupies our mind 90% of the time. Note that while I’ve done my part of researching studies for this, it will be far more interesting if you would join me in trying to dissect this topic by means of philosophy.

Taken from this website, imagination is the ability to mentally represent sensations that are not physically present. And according to John Green in Looking for Alaska, “imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia”. Now, he might have said it for romantic purposes, but could it be that he’s on to something? Is there a fraction of truth, if not the whole truth, in what he said?

I’ve always been interested in analyzing my own imagination at times. it is amusing to hear your own mind having a mind of its own. Sometimes we recollect memories, other times we try and invent a world different than the ones we’re living in, or perhaps we even try to mask uncomfortable memories and mutate them in our favor. Through such different ways our mind processes imagination, I find that all of them have one thing in common: they’re made up of things that we have perceived before.

But don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you try analyzing your own way of imagining things. What sorts of visualization or sensations come to you during such moments? Do they look or feel familiar in a way of sorts? Whether you’re recounting lovely memories or thinking about a new kind of animal that should exist in this world, can your mind visualize something completely different than what you have seen before? Say perhaps, can the imaginary animal have completely different body shape or materials than any animal that you have known? Can you completely forgo the notion of “animal” that exists in this world?

While you’re trying to come up with your own version of animal, there’s an interesting counterargument that scientists have already pinned down to prove that imagination is not memory. To summarize, the article states that our brain processes memory and imagination separately, although it didn’t mention that we can create new imagination, instead of synthesizing collected mental imagery. Perhaps this is the nature of our mind anyway; it synthesizes. This is the way we solve daily problems, challenges at work, creating work of art, learn new skills, and so on. We absorb what is available around us and turn them into something meaningful for our lives.

The Conclusion

Upon reflecting on the way I imagine, and after researching the logic and reasoning behind, this is the argument that I come up with:

  • Imagination is the ability to mentally represent sensations that are not physically present
  • In our mind, we can only recreate sensations that we have perceived before, whether through sight, hearing, or other senses
  • Therefore, imagination is a mental representation of sensations that we have perceived before

You might agree or disagree to the above argument. And there are many ways you can challenge the argument. You may challenge the first statement, second statement, or the concluding statement. For example, you’re not convinced with the second statement and think that we have the capability of creating completely new sensation. From there, you can build your own argument that challenges this statement with your own way of reasoning and research. This is the way I’m building up my argument that challenges the notion of imagination.

Then, What?

Philosophy aside, what does it mean if our imagination is after all, synthesis of memories? Does that serve as a reason to be optimistic or rather pessimistic about the future or our lives in general? In my opinion, if it does prove to be true, it gives us all the reason to be optimistic. If our imagination can only come from reality, then the inverse must be true as well. It means whatever we can imagine can also become reality.

That would wrap this blog post. Do discuss and philosophize! The bits of interesting discussion and newfound discoveries are the things that make the world go round!

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