Human existence perpetually oscillates on two different planes, that of reality (which manifests itself through its direct participation in physically tangible events) and that of subjectivity (which results from the way in which each individual experiences their world. interior). In other words, between perception and imagination.
While there is a clear line between the two, we cannot deny that there are certain points of contact: what we imagine tends to come from events experienced in the past, when a myriad of realities have to begin with. were designed with a restless mind.
The ability to create mental scenarios is a hallmark of our species, and this allows it to transcend the limits imposed by nature to discover strategies from which it can benefit, even if it has at times been detrimental to the planet.
In this article we will deepen the detail in which lies the phenomenon of the imagination and its functions. We will also delve into those everyday areas in which it plays a key role, with the aim of illustrating its reach in our lives.
Imagination: what is it and what is it for?
Imagination is the ability to create, at the cognitive level, images (or scenes) that are not present in the perceptual field of those who articulate them, Can be spiced up by the inclusion of evoked elements in any sensory modality. In this way, it is possible to reproduce situations from the past that involve not only visual content, but also the sensations that accompanied them (positive and negative). It also allows you to explore intangible ideas or concepts, and even combine them to generate new products that never existed or that were not experienced in a direct way.
In this sense, we distinguish two subtypes of imagination, the reproductive (simple evocation of the past, distorted by the passage of time and the limitations of storage in memory) and the productive (mental construction of new content from the amalgamation of lived experiences). This phenomenon also includes the well-known counterfactual thoughts, that is, the hypothetical formulation of alternative scenarios to illustrate what life might have looked like had a climax of it been different (a different decision , for example).
And this is it imagination is a common activity in human beings. Thanks to it, we have posited possibilities and conditionings (which often begin with an “what if”) which are the essence of creative or divergent thinking; hence the advancement of technology, science and art is made possible.
From the very wording of a research hypothesis to the creation of a plastic or literary work, they all have an imaginative element of enormous magnitude that it shapes the artistic and scientific heritage of humanity. Even the stories, tales and mythologies of each culture, which have a moralizing purpose and serve to provide an identity substrate for the community, are born and nourished by this symbolic capacity.
Parts of the brain involved
Imagination is a very demanding function in terms of cognitive resources, And for this reason, it has only been described in a very limited number of mammals (among which the human animal is exceptionally distinguished). When a person’s brain is observed during a task in which it must imagine, an intense activation of its occipital cortex (linked to visual processing of information), the parietal cortex (which integrates sensory perception), the frontal lobe (the seat of the ability to think about objective / abstract things) and the precuña or precune (also known as the “eye of the mind” and responsible for dimensions related to self-awareness).
The power to imagine is so powerful in human beings that it motivates a response in the brain very similar to what would be appreciated if the fact actually happened in front of them. When it is pathologically distorted (generalized anxiety disorder, for example), it becomes threatening to our old limbic structures, on which emotional regulation in the face of danger depends. that’s why an imagination of an adverse nature bombards without quarters the physiological resources for the management of stress and ailments, Which is particularly harmful if metacognition is diluted (the ability to differentiate what is true from what are mental products), as is the case with psychotic disorders.
Processes in which the use of the imagination is involved
Below we show the seven most important processes in which we resort to the use of the imagination. Dreams will be excluded from such a list, as they are considered an involuntary expression of them, to focus only on those cases in which they are used deliberately (through the activity of the prefrontal cortex). As we will see, it is an elementary cognitive phenomenon that is omnipresent in human activity.
The mere evocation of a memory involves the use of the imaginationAs a scene that is not present at the immediate moment is transferred to consciousness. Such a process has a very important reconstruction component, since the information initially addressed loses its detail over time, only retaining the general outline of the stimulus. Items that cannot be accessed (due to the effect of conventional forgetting or because they have not been filtered into consciousness) are supplemented by the subjective contribution of the individual; which usually results in distortions, misunderstandings, errors and inaccuracies.
Through the imagination, it is plausible to elicit scenes and / or situations that never really happened, and that these are placed between the actual memories that merge into them. This is an extreme example of how the content we create with our own mind can come to interfere with the inner experience, even to the point of living as a piece of an artificial past.
2. Prediction of future events
imagination not only is it directed to events that have happened in the past, but it is also directed to those that are about to happen.. In this case, the imagination aims to create a range of potentialities based on previous experiences.
Expectations and aspirations, which have inescapable emotional nuances, play a role in the design of a prediction; but the probabilistic and logical foundations also come into play which combine the available information and the knowledge on the variables involved in the estimation (cause and effect experience of what has already been experienced).
3. Predicting your own reactions and planning what to do
The imagination participates in processes such as problem solving, planning and / or prospective memory; all associated with the activity of the prefrontal cortex. This involves one more step from the above and includes the performance itself in a planned scenario. It aims to facilitate good adaptation to the environment; including the anticipation of contingencies, the sequence of coping strategies to deal with them and the development of a method to respond to a threat.
Creativity involves an unconventional style of thinking and thinking, which was also coined as divergent. As the name suggests, it is about creating new ideas using as raw material concepts or procedures that already existed before, but which were used in a linear fashion by most people. Therefore, a new knowledge is obtained which transcends the previous one, And which is more useful or effective in its application to real life. This form or style of information processing has its fundamental ally in the imagination, because without it it is impossible.
Creativity has been linked to thought patterns that require a special interhemispheric connection. The degree or level of complexity that has been observed in humans is not reproduced in any of the other animal species, and may be one of the things that have contributed to our standing on this planet being (for better or for worse) that is.
5. Emotional changes
The imagination can be used, in the field of psychotherapy, as a tool to induce positive emotional states or to attenuate the negatives which seize the subject. There is an infinite number of procedures which use it and which are described below the general “display” tag..
For its application, the therapist must use evocative words, and that these translate into the mental creation of multisensory contents on the part of his patient (visual, auditory, taste, etc.), which deserve modifications in the internal experience.
In general, the proposed “instructions” seek to generate relaxing scenes that relieve emotional tension, facilitate experiences that help overcome a fear (exposure to fear in the imaginary), increase confidence in a task (creative visualization of oneself performing an action, especially in the sports field) or by coordinating diaphragmatic respiratory activity with the help of a supportive means (a vessel that gently oscillates on the horizon and helps to regulate the rate of inspiration / expiration). In the event that the person has difficulty imagining, they may need prior training.
6. Escape or enjoyment
Imagination can also be used to recreate itself with a memory that has already occurred, or for the purpose of constructing a desired scene that (for whatever reason) is not accessible on the individual reality map. This would translate into the colloquial phrase of ‘daydreaming’ and would be fertile ground for those who yearn for a ‘change’ in the dynamics of their daily lives. Others turn to the imagination only because through it they access moments of enormous emotional depth that were part of their lives (for the presence of a loved one and for the longing for a time that will not return).
In some cases, the imagination can be used in times of existential difficulty, as the mechanism by which escape from reality is possible. In this case, it is about generating a positive and empowering experience when life itself becomes hostile or unbearable. Like this way, imagined thoughts are used for playful or compensatory purposes, Enrich the memories that are precious when the circumstances of the present do not allow full satisfaction. Finally, boys and girls also use their imaginations in “playful” ways when interacting with their peers, and more specifically in what we call symbolic play.
7. Create a self-image
People turn to the imaginary in order to forge a concrete meaning in relation to their social ties and the goals they seek to achieve. In this sense, it is perhaps the “ideal self” which conceals the most remarkable links with the imagination, understood as the model or the guide of conduct to which we aspire. People nurture the ideal self with many and disparate attributes, which would be followed by behavior aimed at reducing the distances between it and the “real self” (resulting in better or worse self-esteem). It is for this reason that the imagination it indirectly influences the way we live and the way we value ourselves, By its effects through the satisfaction of expectations.
- Gendler, T. (2002). Assessment: The work of the imagination. Ment, 111, 414-418.
- Faranda, F. (2016). Image and imagination: immerse yourself in our experience of the mind. Psychoanalytic Research, 36 (8), 74-77.