Historical Reprints Mysteries Creative Imagination

Creative Imagination

Creative Imagination
Catalog # SKU2013
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name T. H. Ribot


Creative Imagination

By Th. Ribot

I revert to the impossibility of making an addition without a swerve of imagination, because plastic figures are always ready before the calculator. The man of imagination is always constructing by means of plastic images. Life possesses him, intoxicates him, so he never gets tired.

Life possesses him,
intoxicates him,
so he never gets tired.

From the Preface:

Contemporary psychology has studied the purely reproductive imagination with great eagerness and success. The works on the different image-groups-visual, auditory, tactile, motor-are known to everyone, and form a collection of inquiries solidly based on subjective and objective observation, on pathological facts and laboratory experiments.

The study of the creative or constructive imagination, on the other hand, has been almost entirely neglected. It would be easy to show that the best, most complete, and most recent treatises on psychology devote to it scarcely a page or two; often, indeed, do not even mention it. A few articles, a few brief, scarce monographs, make up the sum of the past twenty-five years' work on the subject. The subject does not, however, at all deserve this indifferent or contemptuous attitude. Its importance is unquestionable, and even though the study of the creative imagination has hitherto remained almost inaccessible to experimentation strictly so-called, there are yet other objective processes that permit of our approaching it with some likelihood of success, and of continuing the work of former psychologists, but with methods better adapted to the requirements of contemporary thought.

The present work is offered to the reader as an essay or first attempt only. It is not our intention here to undertake a complete monograph that would require a thick volume, but only to seek the underlying conditions of the creative imagination, showing that it has its beginning and principal source in the natural tendency of images to become objectified (or, more simply, in the motor elements inherent in the image), and then following it in its development under its manifold forms, whatever they may be. For I cannot but maintain that, at present, the psychology of the imagination is concerned almost wholly with its part in esthetic creation and in the sciences. We scarcely get beyond that; its other manifestations have been occasionally mentioned-never investigated. Yet invention in the fine arts and in the sciences is only a special case, and possibly not the principal one. We hope to show that in practical life, in mechanical, military, industrial, and commercial inventions, in religious, social, and political institutions, the human mind has expended and made permanent as much imagination as in all other fields.

The constructive imagination is a faculty that in the course of ages has undergone a reduction-or at least, some profound changes. So, for reasons indicated later on, the mythic activity has been taken in this work as the central point of our topic, as the primitive and typical form out of which the greater number of the others have arisen. The creative power is there shown entirely unconfined, freed from all hindrance, careless of the possible and the impossible; in a pure state, unadulterated by the opposing influence of imitation, of ratiocination, of the knowledge of natural laws and their uniformity.


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, coördination, 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.

195+ pages - 8 x 10¾, softcover

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