“Imagination will take you everywhere”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”Albert Einstein

From an archeological perspective, “Chimpanzees and bonobos are able to learn hundreds of words. Although, apes that know the names of objects, colors, and sizes cannot identify a large red pencil’ among multi-colored, multi-sized pieces of Lego, crayons, and pencils. This suggests that apes cannot mentally integrate color, size, and objects together. Thus, voluntary constructive imagination must have been acquired by humans after our ancestors split from chimpanzees 6 million years ago.

The ability to imagine alternative scenarios to the one currently perceived – is a cornerstone of human cognition and plays a key role in various cognitive processes such as memory, planning, and navigation.

Imagination and Memory:

They are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, memory provides the building blocks for things to be imagined. Past research has determined the hippocampus as a critical area in constructing novel potential scenarios based on past experiences. Researchers have found that patients with hippocampal damage also have deficits in imagining future scenarios. On the other hand, Aphantasic individuals (Aphantasia is a phenomenon in which people are unable to visualize imagery) also experienced less vivid memories of their past and described a significantly lower ability to remember past life events in general.

Imagination influences the perceived and actual likelihood an event occurs and improves intergroup relations, and shares a neural basis with memory. 

Imagination and dreaming:

Aphantasics reported dreaming less often, and the dreams they reported seemed to be less vivid and lower in sensory detail. This suggests that any cognitive function involving a sensory visual component is likely to be reduced in Aphantasia.

Imagination and hallucination:

There is a strong overlap between imagination and hallucination, meaning that both are internal representations of external stimuli that are not present at the time. Connections between hallucinations and aspects of imagination are complicated, with an insufficiency of precise evidence. There seems to be a relationship between the brain areas responsible for veridical, imagined, and hallucinatory perception and more data is needed. However, how activity varies within and outside these areas to create different types of imagination is unclear. 

Imagination and creativity:

Imagination is not the same as creativity. However, both are nearly related. While creativity is hard to restrain strictly, it’s, as a whole, considered the ability to create something using the imagination.

Creativity is the act of creating something in the real world, while imagination behaves toward ‘unreal’ thoughts that are free from the barriers of reality.

The use of imagery as a tool has been linked to many compound cognitive processes, and imagery plays a crucial role in neurological and mental disorders and treatments.

Author: Azadeh Mozhdeh Farahbakhsh


Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020
Pearson, J. The human imagination: the cognitive neuroscience of visual mental imagery. Nat Rev Neurosci 20, 624–634 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41583-019-0202-9
Whiteley, C.M.K. Aphantasia, imagination and dreaming. Philos Stud 178, 2111–2132 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01526-8

 Image: Child’s Imagination by Garth Laidlaw

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