Cartesian Imagination and Beyond

Descartes talks about imagination in his book Meditations on First Philosophy and he very firmly asserts that the act of imagination can never bring us the truth about the material world or even ourselves. Nietzsche, another prominent western philosopher, believes that reason can only explain the cause and effect in the world. But nothing in this world, including yourself is static and in order to explain and understand things that are constantly in motion we need a creative force like imagination.

Imagination, for me, is an act that helps me idealize a world that is quite removed from reality. Fantasy, the act of imagining things that are improbable, is something that I positively associate with imagination. To conceptualize things that are not present in a materialistic sense in an important function of imagination but the dilemma really lies in the question whether fantastical imagination is a good thing or bad thing. Descartes claims that imagination can never lead to the truth and while that may be true, it does not necessarily put imagination in a bad light. Yes, it may not be the truth, but does that directly imply that it can’t be a healthy act as well? Imagination is often coined as the initiator of thought and if that thought involves fictional worlds where magic prevails and dragons fly in the sky, well then where’s the harm in that?

Descartes also wrote that without imagination, he would still remain the same thinking being. But, individuals like JRR Tolkien (Lord of The Rings) or George RR Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) who have written great pieces of fantasy literature and an individual like me, who is the reader of their works possess very different levels of imagination. It is the author of such fictional books who is initiating the act of imagining in me and that definitely makes us both very different thinking beings. If the books had not been written, I myself would never have been able to imagine the existence of creatures like the Hobbits or the White Walkers. And yes, imagination cannot know what is real, but it does give us a sense of what can be and many great literary figures have used this power of imagination which exists within their minds (and not as an outside force) to create numerous possibilities that give nothing but pleasure and happiness to us readers.

I would like to reiterate Neitszche’s point and say that it is imagination that leads to innovation. And it is a known fact that innovation is important for growth or progress of the world. Creation is what helps man develop and imagination is what makes up the base for creation. In today’s world, new gadgets are brought into the market on a daily basis but years ago these gadgets were just a simple figment of imagination of different people. So not only does imagination create new possibilities, if used methodically it helps us turn that image in our thoughts into reality.

As humankind has slowly progressed over the years, it has produced different outlooks on the act of imagining. Some of them disregard it as an act that can only create possibilities and not certainties while some place it at the very base of the process of creation. To be able to voice such thoughts is an act of imagination as well. Imagination is something that is very deep rooted in our thoughts and while it may not be able to show the real truth, it gives us a path of thought and helps us follow that path to make our own reality.

-Ayushi Vats


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