Imagination is the faculty of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses, and the action or process of forming such images or concepts. The common use of the term is for the process of forming in the mind new images which have not been previously experienced, or at least only partially or in different combinations.
It helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge. It is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world and it also plays a key role in the learning process. A basic training for imagination is listening to storytelling narrative, in which the exactness of the chosen words is the fundamental factor to evoke worlds.
When two existing perceptions are combined within the mind the resultant third perception is referred to as its synthesis, and on occasion a fourth perception called the antithesis can often become the inspiration for a new invention or technique. It has been proposed that the whole of human cognition is based upon imagination. In a sense, nothing we perceive is purely observation but is a morph between sense and imagination.
Some cultures and traditions view the apparently shared world as an illusion of the mind as with the Buddhist maya, or go to the opposite extreme and accept the imagined and dreamed realms as of equal validity to the apparently shared world as the Australian Aborigines do with their concept of dreamtime.
The world is an interpretation of data arriving from the senses. As such it is perceived as real by contrast to most thoughts and imaginings. This difference is very slight and can be altered by several historic causes, namely changes to brain chemistry, hypnosis or other altered states of consciousness, meditation, hallucinogenic drugs, and electricity applied directly to specific parts of the brain.
Imagination, because of having freedom from external limitations, can become a source of real pleasure or unnecessary suffering. A person of vivid imagination often suffers acutely from the imagined perils besetting friends, relatives, or even strangers such as celebrities. Crippling fear can result from taking an imagined painful future too seriously.
Imagination can also produce some symptoms of real illnesses. In some cases, they can seem so real that specific physical manifestations occur such as rashes and bruises appearing on the skin, as though imagination had passed into belief or the events imagined were actually in progress.
One hypothesis for the evolution of human imagination is that it allowed conscious beings to solve problems and increase an individual’s survival by use of mental simulation. Most famous inventions or entertainment products were created from the inspiration of one’s imagination.