Review of the Catholic Encyclopedia's
Entry on Imagination

The Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on "Imagination"
Accessed Feb 21, 1997.

Transcribed by Tomas Hancil

The entry is divided into several subsections. I will follow the original textual divisions.

The Nature of Imagination

The approach in immediately rational as it claims "imagination is the faculty of representing to oneself sensible objects independently of an actual impression of those objects on our senses." Referring to Scholastic thought the imaginations considered of the four 'infernal' senses. It is distinct from the sense of intimacy and the sense of aesthetics and memory as well as distinct from the 'spiritual intellect.' the last distinction is made to emphasize that there is a similarity between certain operations of the imagination and the some activities of the intellect. Specifically, the text refers to the similarity between images and objects of perception. The text takes the position that it is difficult to justify identifying the image with the complete perception of an object. Their reasoning is that
"the imagination is a psycho-physical faculty. To think it can be reduced to the physiological functioning of the brain is an unwarranted and misleading assumption, though it is quite clear that its operations postulate a material basis. Cerebral fatigue, mental disease, and the necessarily quantitative character of its objects leave no room for doubt on this point."

The Object of Imagination

While the imaginations independent of actual impression of sensible objects, the entry claims there can be no doubt that it " can represent only what has in some way passed through the senses." The text goes on to notes that there is a distinct difference between the senses directed toward the external world and those of the internal world. The claim is made that imagination more readily works in terms of visual images and images derived from auditory channels. It also claims that images arising from the other senses (taste, feeling, and smell are much more rare.

The text goes on to consider the notion of affective images. One the one hand, by referring to the work of Ribot, we are informed that affective images exist. Reminiscent to Freudian models of the dream-work and parapraxes, the claim is made that affective images are constituted "by the revival of an affective state, independent of the mental representation of the object which first occasioned it." On the other hand, other claims as to the questionably of affective images are represented by the argument that "so-called "affective image" is not the mere imaginative representation of a past affection, or the actual affective re-echo of an unusually impressive image. "

Divisions of the Imagination

The imagination is divided into two functions: " retentive (reproductive) and creative (productive)." The objects of the former is physical reality, which has been previously observed as such. the later forms its objects by recombining things which were perceived as separable. the creative imagination is considered an important and "mysterious region, which is designated by the very indefinite and certainly collective name of "subconsciousness". " As judged by their relatives 'perfection' (again questions of purity) images are seen as complete or incomplete, schematic or generic. The more rich and complete the image, the closer it comes to objective perception. Incomplete images are less rich and precise allowing certain details of the object being imaged to escape consciousness even while providing enough information to characterize and individual object.

Generic images result for the fusion of several more or less ambiguous images, with incompatible differences being glossed over or eliminated altogether. It is an enable of all the images of a kind ever perceived. For this reason generic images tend to be very incomplete. Schematic images are still more incomplete ('summary'). "It gives only the schema of the object that is to say certain characteristic outlines sufficient to support the intellect in its proper functions." Hence there is a compulsion to complete schematic images with verbal image and, as the text points out, "the part which the word thus comes to play in the process of thought has given rise to serious errors." It is a psychological error that leads to nominalism, because the verbal images takes precedence rather than being seen as only elaboration.

Images are either voluntary or spontaneous. The former are produced freely; they are usually vague, incomplete and are rendered somewhat more complete "by fixing the attention on each part in turn, the grouping of all the parts into a unit being the work of memory." Spontaneous images are also called passive images. they spring suddenly into consciousness and at times represent objects which seemingly have nothing to do with our conscious train of thought. While dream images are a good example of spontaneous images, they are by no means the only way for such images to appear.

The Externalization of Images

The question here is whether images tend naturally to externalize themselves, " i. e. whether the image if left to itself would picture its object as existing outside the mind." This argument has gone on for some time and the text indicates that it is probable that "that every image would project itself were it not inhibited by some other influence." The text refers to dreams as evidence:
"It is, indeed, difficult to recognize in a dream anything else than the play of images. For the animal as well as for man, a dream manifestly runs its course in exterior space, and provokes acts, which, if the externalizing of images be denied, are quite incomprehensible."
The theory, they claim is supported by characteristics of hallucination. this form of inhibition occurs as the hallucination, although checked by reason, attempts to externalize the image itself. The text also refers to hallucination usually occurring during extreme fatigue and intoxication so that "we seize on the subconscious elements and by the circumstances in which these elements come to the surface." Such objects at times appear with distinct clarity, but the space they take up neither correspond to external space, " nor have they any spatial relation with the objects which we perceive by our senses." The text then goes on to indicate that:
" It is consequently when the image is most intense and when another function, especially critical reason, is in abeyance, that images display a tendency to externalize themselves, and, sometimes, are actually externalized. It seems therefore that, normally, the image would be projected, if no other factor intervened."
The conclusion is a solid yes to the externalization of images. Keeping in mind the qualifications listed above, one finds the following sentiment: "it seems necessary to admit that, normally, the image externalizes itself."

The text then looks at psychological perspectives on externalizing images. Psychologists have noted that certain states of consciousness "give us the impression of the external presence of an object." The probability is that this reactions is an atavistic characteristic and, the real question of interest to psychologists is why images, in certain cases do not display this characteristic. The likely answer to the question, the Entry suggests, seems to be: "the image is inhibited and appears as subjective whenever its externalization would produce incoherence in the things perceived." We know that this effect happens more readily in children than adults, because it is assumed that they possess less of a "critical sense and fewer acquired associations." Hence children more readily believe "whatever comes into their heads." Other states of consciousness in which the externalization of images occurs include severe fatigue, drunkenness, and other states of the sort which are evidently obstacles to objective rationality. Suffice to say, that altered states of consciousness associated with mystical experiences are optimal situations for the externalization of images.

Images are perceived different from natural phenomena. Hence there has been a tendency to put images in a category distinct from perceptions. It is our acquired associations that convince us that images belong to the "unreal, or at least less real, world of the conscious subject." This perspective is said to be corroborated by the phenomenon of normal perception. The sense data works among itself and association images to complete an image. If the latter is in accord with the former, we externalize them spontaneously. For instance, in dreaming we project incoherent images into an outer space, but we also coordinate, complete, and arrange them in a logical way.

For the Catholic Encyclopedia this suggests that "along with this coherence we produce their illusory externalization." They conclude that "there seems to be no doubt then that images of their own nature tend to externalize themselves, and they do so as long as no conflict results therefrom." It has been suggested that while we may not be conscious of this rational criticism demonstrating the logical impossibility of externalizing the images; but the Entry notes that "analytic reason intervenes in exceptional cases only, and that it is nearly always a question of simple acquired associations. Dogs and cats, without an inkling of the principle of causality, seek the cause of sensible phenomena. In like spontaneous fashion we inhibit or suppress our subjective images when they differ too widely from reality."

The Motive Forece or Images

Ribbot formulated the general law that "every image tends to its own realization". Because many images are 'antagonistic', not all are always revealed in consciousness and call for external action. Often, as a result of their antagonistic' nature they result in actions of an opposite sort. This motive force of images, it is said, "makes itself felt at every moment of our lives; but it should be observed that ordinarily it acts only through an emotional state and perhaps, as scholastic philosophers maintain, by means of a special "locomotive" faculty" . Nonetheless, it seems to be case that," in order to influence action and movements, images need not necessarily be in consciousness, much less at its focus."

"Marginal" or even totally subconscious images can act on us and result in very complex movements. It is wrong to think that this occurs only exceptionally and in unusual conditions. It is through spiritual practices - e.g., table turning, automatic writing, etc., - that draws the psychologists attention. The "motive force" of images is only a specific instance of a general law that dominates the totality of psychic life. Each psychic state, tends to spread and produce an equilibrium of sorts, "i. e. the harmonious condition of the whole personality." An image that causes a psychosomatic reactions, such as a muscular contraction, illustrates this diffusion, and this is why such activities of images had been "observed sooner and formulated in a more precise manner than any other."

Elaboration of Images by the Intellect

the most significant statement of this entry is as follows:
"The image is the starting point and in some measure the immediate matter of all our intellectual operations. It is certain that any cessation of imaginative activity puts an end at once to intellectual function; and since these two faculties, imagination and intelligence, are subjectively distinct, this dependence must be of an objective sort, i. e. the intellect borrows from the imagination."

The entry goes on to demonstrate the above by referring to "our higher knowledge" suggesting that

"ideas of the most spiritual things, such as God or virtue, yield through analysis just those elements which are taken from the purely sensible order, and are presented by the imagination. Consequently there can be no doubt as to the objective cooperation of the imaginative faculty in the phenomenon of ideation."
"But," warns the Catholic Encyclopedia, "certain dangerous errors in this matter must be guarded against." To this point the argument insisted on a distinction between the schematic image and the idea. They suggest it is a "serious mistake to admit that any combination of images, however summary and refined, can furnish the object of the idea." That is that images can give rise to the physical object itself.

Rather, an image in its own essence and remains indivisible - i.e., "no separation of parts can bring to view the universal, the non-quantitative, in it." Hence, the role of the image in ideation works differently. It does not determine the intellectus agens, which is inconceivable to this argument. It does, however, determine but the conscious subject's production of the intellectual object. But "there is no proportion, so far as the nature of the processes goes, between the image and the object of the intellect." They claim that "Only a spiritual faculty (the intellectus agens) is proportioned to such an object; but the image is, as it were, a bait, which, in accordance with the nature of its own object, draws out the superior powers of the conscious subject." They conclude that "although everything in our intellectual knowledge is derived from the images, everything in it transcends them."

They complete the Entry by noting that we conceive of higher realities "only by analogy with sensible things." But in no way does it follow that when humans conceive images, they do so only with what is in the material world. "Images play a very important part in all the activities of the intellectual order; but they do not constitute that order itself." This 'truth' is considered a lynch-pin to the very spirituality of the human soul.

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Copyright 1997 Marc Fonda. All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: March 5, 1997.