Greetings to all of you.
The study of creativity is by large a post WWII phenomenon. But the
study of imagination has been going on for thousands of years. The
phrase "creativity and imagination" is now often found in sources of
information, sometimes to the extend that they are considered as
synonymous. But are they? What is the actual relationship between
creativity and imagination? Is there any sense in seeking for this
Education in many countries is falling apart. Why? Perhaps the reason is
what Alfred North Whitehead wrote on p139 of 'The Aims of Education'
The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively.
At least, this is the function which it should perform for society.
A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence.
This atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration,
transforms knowledge. A fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested
with all its possibilities. It is no longer a burden on the memory: it is
energising as the poet of our dreams, and as the architect of our
On p140 he continues with:
"The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but
slight experience, and those who are experienced have feeble
imaginations. Fools act on imagination without knowledge; pedants
act on knowledge without imagination. The task of a university is to
weld together imagination and experience."
It is for me a great tragedy that so many hundreds of great thinkers
have penned down their thoughts on imagination, but that hundreds of
thousands of teachers and lecturers toil in education without having
read even one book on imagination. Perhaps it is one of the symptoms
of the pathology of the information explosion. But i think it is much
worse and will come to it at the end of this essay.
People are so deluged by external information that they do not
distinguish it any more from personal knowledge which dwells within
them. And would they have done it, perhaps they would have realised
what Albert Einstein once wrote:
"I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited.
Imagination encircles the world."
Yes, imagination is the eye of the mind. With it even the unimaginable
can be seen, leaving the body far behind. This gives the mind the
wings to roam the universe from the inside of an atom to a far distant
galaxy. Ultimate meaning emerge from what the body barely can detect
with most powerful measuring instruments. All Creation then becomes
the canvas on which imagination paints what the Creator had intended.
We often speak of a LO (Learning Organisation) on this list and using
the five disciplines to let it function optimally. But all this depend
on each learner in it being able to explore the mind of every fellow
learner. This can only be done by using the imagination. Survey bodily
responses and react to them under the guidance of love. This exploring
is far better than trying to control minds with fear, rules, dogma or
If you fellow learners want to read about serious accounts of imagination,
you can hunt the web for information using a search engine like Google.
Type in the top window
and then next to it anyone of the following names:
Aristotle Gregory Descartes Bacon Spinoza Hume Goethe Hegel
Wordsworth Vico Kant Blake Ruskin Husserl Chesterton Coleridge
Lewis Steiner Dewey Jung Satre Barfield Cooper Ricoeur Ponty
Put in the third window
philosophy theory study
otherwise you will get thousands of hits to rather useless information.
What is most striking of the far majority of such accounts is that
imagination is considered to be an abstract phenomenon of the mind,
even though it emerges from the neurological system which is material.
What is also very striking is how much imagination is related to many
other psychological processes. It is as if bright imagination tests
the wholeness of the soul.
It is this wholeness which makes me think of the relationship between
imagination and creativity. When i began to study creativity in the
seventies, i assumed it to be a pure abstract phenomenon like
imagination. The reason was that i subscribed to the dialectical claim
that body and mind are opposites of each other and mutually exclusive.
There was not a single piece of literature suggesting that this claim
Then i made an empirical discovery (1982-83) that LEP (Law of Entropy
Production) works in the mind just as much as in the body. Suddenly i
was confronted with the fact that the concrete and abstract worlds
were not disjunct, but that they had a bridge between them and that
they may even overlap each other. For example, Osborn's brainstorming
technique in creativity is like an emergence at the edge of chaos in
dissipative self-organisation (Prigogine).
A few years later i set out to discover a second bridge. I took two
systems, one from each world, of which their elucidation had to be
superior and which involved much creativity to do so. I selected the
chemical system (concrete) and the mathematical system (abstract).
Then i began to search for corresponding patterns. I found seven
patterns. I began to test them for their essence in other systems too,
using the eidetics of phenomenology. They were indeed essences. I
decided to call them the 7ES (seven essentialities of creativity). For
example, wholeness is one of the 7Es.
Two bridges or two regions of overlapping between the
concrete-physical and abstract-spiritual worlds? I could not make up
my mind. I began to look for a third bridge or region and found it in
something which i had been doing for a long time. It was the
identification of what i call the elementary sustainers for creativity
(ESCs). It had to be an activity in which most humans could
participate as well as at least one kind of animal. Up to now i have
identified five of them. For example, game-playing is an ESC.
Since animals play such an essential role in their identification
while we do not know for sure they have an abstract world, an ESC is
definitely material. Since the human mind plays an essential role in
each of these ESCs, they are also abstract. I thus had my third bridge
or region of overlapping.
Today i am convinced that creativity has a dual nature. It is
concrete-physical and it is abstract-spiritual. Herein lies for me the
actual difference between creativity and imagination. Imagination is
purely abstract-spiritual. However, finding the actual relationship
between them is much more difficult. At present i think that the
imagination is a phenomenon which emerge from the creative activities
of a human. In other words, "to imagine is to create" just like "to
learn is to create".
Since wholeness is essential to creativity, I will now use merely
physical or spiritual to distinguish between these two worlds bridged
or overlapped by creativity. To distinguish between psychological and
spiritual practices has become silly academics for me. For example, it
is said meditation is a spiritual practice with therapeutic benefits,
but that it is not part of psychotherapy as a discipline of
So what is imagination? For me it is to create a world in the spirit
any time as complex (or even more) as the physical world. It is like
making a movie. But nobody else has seen or will ever see any such
movies. It is something which is intrinsically personal. Yet a writer
will use his/her imagination to write a book. Someone else who then
reads that book, will use his/her imagination to create self a mental
movie. The movie of the writer and the movie of the reader will have
some similarities, but they never be the same.
As a teacher of chemistry i have often contemplated how a poorly
developed imagination hinders students to learn chemistry. Take for
example the imagination of a molecule consisting of atoms. To tell
with words how a molecule looks and reacts is frustrating since most
students cannot use these words to create a mental movie. To do it in
writing is even worse because of functional illiteracy among many
students. To do it with a physical model consisting of balls and
sticks is the worst. They try to remember the macroscopic model of
balls and sticks which they are looking at rather than trying to
create a mental image of the tiny molecule which cannot be seen. The
more they get informed about the properties and behaviour of
molecules, the more they try to remember such information rather than
making a mental movie upon that basic image of the molecule. The sight
of the balls and sticks model stands between them and their
Letting them create with their hands a model out of plastic clay works
much better for most of them. Tell them that the molecule consists of
say three atoms and ask them to put three balls of clay together. Then
tell them that the one atom is much larger than the other two. Most of
them will have to recreate their model. Afterwards tell them that the
bigger atom is between the two smaller atoms. Again most of them will
have to modify their model. Penultimately, tell them that the two
smaller atoms are closer to each other on the side from which they can
be seen. Again most of them will have to modify their model. Lastly,
tell them that they have created a model of the water molecule. Many
will be surprised. But they have given the first steps in using their
Ask them how they felt by creating the molecule over and over again.
Most of them will say that in the beginning it was fun, but that they
later became frustrated. It is then when i hit them potshot by saying:
"You could have questioned me." The session so far has given me enough
opportunity to connect their emotional experiences to sensual and
rational experiences. After having talked how important it is to take
all faculties of the spirit into account by questioning them, i tell
them to close their eyes and create once again that molecule in the
mind. For many of them it becomes a great thrill to use their
imagination first ever in learning chemistry. I can see it in the
smiles on their faces.
So called molecular sets can be bought in the trade. They consists of
balls which can be connected together in a regular manner. They have
been designed and manufactured to do so. Hence the possibility of
making errors is far less. The student may have to reassemble them to
get the correct model, but they learn far less to use their
imagination. Why? Because the imagination is our primary mental
faculty to create what may be possible. Imagination and possibility go
hand in hand.
I still remember the essay
To Imagine or not to Imagine
< http://www.learning-org.com/02.01/0010.html >
which i wrote a little bit more than two years ago. Only one person
replied to it - Bill Hancy. I was disappointed.
I will not be disappointed again when not even one person replies to
this essay. Since that time i have become increasingly aware how
imagination is dwindling in the minds of people. In the beginning of
this year there was a great controversy here in South Africa of how
schools prepared pupils for life and some for university. No one even
I think the problem is far bigger than being merely an educational
problem. It is the problem of imagination disappearing from society.
Is it because imagination is commercialised so much that little is
left over for imagination? Is it because the information explosion is
eroding personal knowledge? Is it because creativity is confused with
imagination? I think that questions such as these point to
contributing factors. But i also think that the root of the problem is
something much worse.
We are losing our sense of living together as a community. Humankind
is a flocking species like the vast majority of other kinds of
mammals. When the art and practise of a learning organisation cannot
help us to become sensitive once again to living together as a
community, then we are in for deep trouble. We need our imaginations
to live together as a community. I ought to imagine you spiritual
world and you ought to tell me how close i am. But are we doing it?
With care and best wishes,
At de Lange <email@example.com> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa
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