When I use the word Imagination, I use it as one may use apprehension. For it is my opinion that the imagination is at root of all human expression. When we experience data either from within our physio-psyche selves or from the external worlds of both corporeality and the epistic realms of word, idea, and image, there is something within our minds (not understood as the brain) that makes sense of this information. In being made sensible the information is altered into specific forms, such as images, thought, 'language' (language here implies all forms of conscious, deliberate communications - from sign language to music to scientific reports). implies specific physical actions, including that which ranges between atavistic reactions and artisianship.
In being formed by that 'black box' aspect of the mind, received information is altered in manners similar to the techniques described by Freud's dream work, Jung's archetypes (look at them as imaginal expressions, their point of focus is the existential experiences that all humans must experience as a result of being, being physical, being in the world, being in relationship [self and others], etc.). This is to suggest that the same kinds of activities which are present in the unconscious, dreaming mind are active in the conscious, sometimes rational mind.
A further presupposition being that rationality is the not only valid epistemology available to humankind. Rather than monological the mind is polytheistic, it has a religious bent to it which Hillman describes as the "thought of the Heart" or, more academically and suggestive, an aesthetic approach to the world and its images.
This leaves us with the problems of relativism: when all forms of human culture are perceived to be imaginal first, then is it not true that all forms of human thought are as potentially as valid expression of the human condition/imagination of that condition as any other? This perspective may appear to provide a sense of empowerment through the subversion of one's pet peeves in their culture, but let me assure you this is not the case. The dilemma is, simply put, if all forms of expression are potentially equally as valid as any other, then how can we justify the examples set by individuals like a serial-murderer or social experiments like Nazi Germany? While it may be true that as products of the imagination, serial-killers and Nazism are valid as expressions of the human imagination, this cannot confer any real and lasting ethical or moral justification.
But, within the logic of the argument as so far presented, how can I justify denying moral sanction to an expression of the imagination? Simply because I make no pretensions to an autonomous, disconnected, purely mental-metaphysical notion of perception, apprehension, and thought. Every individual imagination is rooted in several things: one is his or her physical body, one is in his or her social-cultural relations (from images of family and family to experiences of the cosmos to cosmology; technologies both physical and metaphysical; artifacts and fantasy-histories), one is in his or her specific physical experiences/location/climate/environment. By being connected to all these things a person's or a culture's imagination is kept in check with reality, with the really-real. It is my belief that the physical informs the imagination and the imagination forms the physical - by merely pointing at a plant and calling it "plant" you have super-imposed an imagination onto that physical object; but you could not have called the plant a "plant," if you were not somehow 'connected' to it. (Connections move from sensory perceptions in the scientific- medical sense as well as the metaphysical notion of anima mundi, for instance [the imagination is to the body, as the world's soul is to the world.].)
It is this connection to reality of both the physical and social worlds and bodies (Freud's very useful and suggestive idea of reality testing is operative here, also Objects Relations and Kristeva) that we find our way out of the dilemma presented earlier: how can we provide a social critique of human expressions/actions when we understand them all to be products of the imagination? Simply because we are tied intimately, necessarily to our bodies and worlds, our imaginations are subject to reality testing whether in the form of direct testing in the physical world ("Mommy, why can't I fly?") or in the social world ("She doesn't like me does she. "Or "I need a job bad" Or "The premiere of Ontario is making it impossible to lead an academic career in this province." [I couldn't resist the dig].) As such all imaginings are subject to constant scrutiny by the morality-keepers in both traditional and contemporary society, ranging from the nosy, old-woman across the street to sanctioned, super-secrete policing-intelligence-thought-religion types.
In a functioning, less fascist-world, the optimal situation for judging, validating and justifying one imagination/discourse compared to another would be as follows: 1) those imaginations which (Kuhn) seem to answer all the observed problems best; 2) those imaginations that spark aesthetic reactions in others (if it is deemed 'beautiful' it is considered socially acceptable, if 'Ugly' then it is considered contemptible and in need of repression, if 'Indifferent' then it is not considered at all); 3) those which speak to the Zeitgeist best which potentially allows them to stand the test of time (Shakespeare, for instance, did not right the majority of his plays for any high-culture, as is often the mistaken impression caused by clumsy high-school instructors, but rather for the masses. Because he wrote with such passion and spoke to both the hearts and minds of the majority, his plays have become almost immortalized and now constitute part of what is considered high Western culture.); 4) those which, according to any combination of the above items, people turn into beliefs (to paraphrase William James' pragmatic theory of truth: 'if someone believes in something sufficiently, and if that belief makes a significant difference in their lives, then their belief gives its object some form of 'real' existence.')
How to look at things: use the tools of the imaginative trades - all things. Especially those best suited for an examination of literature, image, sound-music, taste, feel, and whatever sensual metaphor you can think of. Use literary criticism, art and music history and practice, phenomenology, tolerance, the history of ideas (Tarnas), get a feel for poetry, feel from your heart and make aesthetic assessments. Look at the themes and patterns in a person's or a culture's life and life-styles. Get a feel for their desires, hates, goals, Learn their myths, learn their languages, symbols, images, concepts, body language, what they think of the body, the world, the soul, relationship. Learn the approach of the symbolists as described in the Introduction to CE Cirlot's A Dictionary of Symbols.
Most of all remember: all ways of looking at the world are tautologies. That is, they are logical cul-de-sacs which are sensible only within their hermeneutic circle (and those sufficiently related), but once you step far enough outside that circle of thought-time- perspective, its logic diminishes and even may appear irrational (this is precisely what happened in the ongoing, rationalist-scientific assassination of the religious-aesthetic world- of the religious-aesthetic world--view). This imaginal perspective not only recognizes that it too is subject to its own tautologies, it demands it, for to remain blissfully unaware of the tenousness of each and every (Secondary - primary are of the existential types, but this knowledge is learned not instilled instinctively or a priori) imagination including its own. If it has any validity it will arise in the form of social acceptance and sanction (which isn't too likely to happen in any monotheistic, monolithic, or monological praxis).