Imagination - Reflections

    This report focuses on the theme of Imagination, and in particular the question of where and how I'm aware of it in some specific areas of my experience.

    It seems clear to me that there is no area of normal waking experience that is not woven through with imagination.

    I found it easy to notice and describe a rich variety of aspects of imagination in action.  Here are a few reflections on the play of imagination within my experience in the last few days.

    Other Minds

    I was sitting in a cafe, watching people.  At the next table there was a boy playing with some irregularly shaped blocks.  He was tossing two of them repeatedly, one from each hand.  I saw him moving, and then imagined he had some purpose or intention in what he was doing.  I imagined myself as him throwing the blocks physically.  I then imagined that I could imagine what that purpose is.  This was a decision to use imagination to see if I could glean any insight into another mind.  I imagined I could set a predictive thought experiment.  I decided he was trying to get both of the blocks to land "right side up" at the same time when tossed.  I decided that if the blocks landed that way, and he responded differently, I would take it as confirmation.  I watched for a while.  At a certain point the blocks did land "right side up" together.  Then he stopped throwing them and regarded them lying there in that state.  After that he seemed to lose interest in the game of block throwing.  I imagined that I had been correct in my conjecture about his intention in playing with the blocks.

    Creativity and Process

    When I was writing the homework proposal I was visualizing ideas, and they were kind of unformed and involved fragments of language.  I also had a "felt sense" in my body of the meaning I wanted.  I had taken the time to relax and open up some mental "space" to experience this felt sense more clearly.  I used the felt sense as a kind of container or marker -- it implicitly represented a whole connected set of meanings I wanted to unpack.  Later I could return to that felt sense -- from a word or phrase, to the felt sense, then opening the package to the related issues.  When opened, the package of the felt sense would shift and develop.  The felt sense seemed to give feedback on whether my writing was on track.  I cycled between writing and sensing and verbal thinking.

    The Thinking Dream Body

    When I'm sleeping, or in a near-sleep state near dreaming, I observe the play of "images" which include feelings of motion, sound, body sense, emotion, and other sense modalities. The "felt sense" I experience can shift and change, expecially if I am rested and have been relaxing and meditating recently.  I believe these "felt sense" objects are "about" something.  It is the opposite of the creativity process in that rather than having a meaning and filling in the associated felt sense, I have a felt sense and seek the associated meaning and let that emerge.  I believe that in meditation states the felt sense activity alone has some useful side effect on latent "meanings" and that this subtle activity is a form of creative "thinking".  If I have a general issue or concern in my life experience that working with this felt sense can lead to new insights and flexibility in understanding.


    I am designing a scripted object for the Second Life world.  I visualize (imagine) its behavior and imagine myself doing the activity of writing the software and observing what it does in a simulated world of the objects and avatars that it controls.

    Social Interaction in the Second Life Setting

    I'm visualizing from memory, a recent group meeting in Second Life.  I'm aware of the flat image of the avatars on my laptop screen, and of my body sitting in the chair.  I'm aware that I have different choices about how much attention to pay to the avatars and in what imaginative way.  I know that my choices among those options determine the quality of my experience.  I have memory of past experience and can imaginatively project that into the current situation or into an imagined scenario.  It's fundamental to imagination that it allows useful experiences to be gleaned and learning to occur while imagining the simulaton of an actual scenario.  Imagination is at also at work, perhaps in a more constrained way, when I'm acting in a "real" situation.  It's clear that some of the latent possibilities imagined in a simulation can be transfered to a "real" scenario. 

    I can "see" the avatars sitting in a circle, and review some of the ideas I had at that time and some of the feelings I had about expressing those ideas.  I observe that I take a fixed camera position in which I do not closely visualize the other avatars.  This means I focus on the text chat and the ideas there and how I feel.  I note that these feelings are not in relationship to the sense of presence of other minds, so much as to the idea "content" of what's represented verbally in the chat window.  In other more intimate chat settings I change the camera such that I see the view of the avatar that I would have in a meeting with a real person.  I have found this makes me more attentive and aware of there being other minds present, and perhaps more "empathetic" and "in relationship".  I am not sure how to do this in a larger meeting.  I imagine that I can "cycle" among the avatars and zoom in on each one.  I also imagine that this would be distracting to be manipulating the controls rather than projecting myself into the image.  I further imagine that there are ways to enlist my "felt sense" of the meeting "as a whole" as an alternative channel to deeper understanding and empathy, if that's what I wish.

    General Comments

    Much of the process of imagination is unconscious and not immediately evident to the "observing self".  The self is far from transparent to itself.  At the same time there is an ability for the focus of attention to shift into different areas ("attend" to them) and "notice" what was previously active but unconscious.  And being conscious of things can change them and lead to changes in behavior.  This may be the main reason for there being such a thing as a conscious mind.

    In all the above experiences there was a rich world of elements -- ideas, thoughts, concepts, attitudes, real and imagined sensations in all the sense modes, movements, interactions with others and the world, and so on.  Imagination does not reside in any of these elements, but seems able to influence -- and be expressed by -- all of them.

    It seems to me that to investigate the phenomenology of imagination it is important to set aside any number of implicit considerations about the value and use of imagination, and just take it as is.  Actually I think it is more participative a process than just "observing" as if one's experience were a movie and one were a passive spectator in the theater of the mind.  I think it is important to be able to "entertain" (identify with, credit, inhabit) imaginative scenarios -- to give them the "power" of a provisional Being or As-If status.  To do this -- to "take things on" -- requires one to set aside implicit control scripts and attitudes about oneself or about conventions of social interaction.  This is a key to making "identification" and conceptual object-formation more flexible.

    I see myths and paradigms as imaginative structures consisting of mostly unconscious participation in an implicit imagined story, with roles, constraints, settings, values, and intentions.

    It also seems important to think about and become familar with the many implicit scripts that hold imagination in thrall to concerns of survival and maintenance of the "self model".  To start with it might be good to contemplate the "self" in broader perspectives,  and in a a wider variety of perspectives.  Some of those scripts masquerade as ideas about spiritual practice and/or intellectual hygiene.  It seems useful to let go of the fixed ideas that a "self" is somehow deluded, broken, separate, embattled with reality, in need of salvation or redemption, or in need of a makeover like a fixer-upper house.  This is not to suggest passivity or lack of passion however.  There are areas of life in which more passion, intention, and poignancy would be a useful condition (at least for a while).  To hold a fixation on the idea of moving consciousness toward some imagined "transcendental" state seems inconsistent with effective spiritual practice.  As the Lojong Mind Training proverbs counsel -- "don't be consistent".  Somewhere between the Scylla of static (conceptual) certainty and the Charybdis of chaos there is a middle course in which intelligence functions best, and in which experience -- patterns / identifications / phenomena -- have their greatest richness and flexibility. 

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